Student of the Week: Davita Bird
December 25, 2019
Davita Bird has always been interested in how things work, so at the suggestion of her mother, an engineer at Seagate, she started exploring the world of computer programming as a curious seventh grader at Flagstaff Academy. Now in her senior year at Niwot High, that curiosity has blossomed into a passion that has her expanding the frontiers of technology.
"Computers were always the maximum 'how is this doing anything?' for me," she said. "Without the programming, it's just a hunk of metal. We make it do stuff."
"I really like being able to solve the different programming problems. I'm good at figuring out what kind of algorithm you need to solve a certain kind of math problem, for example."
It was Ewing who first urged Bird to join the Girls Go CyberStart competition when it debuted in 2018. She did, and the Niwot team's first-place finish in the state competition gave her passion a new focus.
"Now I'm doing programming plus cybersecurity, like how to program secure stuff and how cryptographic algorithms are programmed."
As her skills have grown, so has her competitive drive. Now a two-time state champion in Girls Go CyberStart, Bird and her teammates Julia Curd and Caitlyn Fong recently qualified for the 16th annual Cyber Security Awareness Week competition, held at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering in Brooklyn Nov. 6-9.
"I've never been in a big city as far as I can remember, and it was weird to have so much city around us," Bird recalled of the all-expenses paid trip. "But the competition itself was really interesting because there were so many cybersecurity challenges. It was so much more challenging than Girls Go."
The competition featured 180 teams from around the world, competing for more than $1 million in scholarships. The Niwot team was one of two all-girls teams invited, a nod to the growing need for women in the high-tech workforce. Unfortunately, Niwot wasn't among the top finishers in the event, but for Bird, it still had a big payoff.
"That competition is more how actual penetration testing works," she said. "Mainly you had to try hacking into fake city websites and find information about this random, made-up city.....At the end of the day, they told us how to actually solve the challenges, and it was interesting to see what we needed to do differently."
The senior also gets a chance to flex her problem-solving muscles at the St. Vrain Innovation Center, where she is a member of the Aquatic Robotics Team (ICART) and working on a project sponsored by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). There she has had a chance to expand her skills in Arduino, an open-source electronic prototyping platform, and also learn more about the interface between programming and hardware.
"We have one programming where we have to get this suite of sensors on a drone to actually measure stuff and send it to a radio," she said of her work with UCAR. "I've programmed the microchip that monitors the sensors, and that was very low-level C."
For ICART, she is designing a drive system for a submersible vehicle that will ultimately be used to monitor water quality and fish habitats for the City of Longmont.
"There are a lot of interesting bugs for both of those teams," she said.
After graduating from Niwot, Bird plans to attend the Colorado School of Mines and major either in computer science or computer engineering and then pursue an advanced degree, hopefully at MIT. Eventually, she hopes to enter the cybersecurity industry.
"I also really like the pen testing stuff and it seems really interesting to do the actual protecting of things," she said.
When she's not behind a screen, Bird likes to read and has recently started crafting with a wood lathe.