This 13-year-old who is a cheerleader and a programmer wowed 4,000 people with an inspiring speech about being 'undefinable'

13-year-old programmer Keila BanksYouTube/OSCON/O’Reilly13-year-old programmer Keila Banks

On Friday afternoon, Keila Banks, a 13-year-old inner-city girl who codes, got on stage at the OSCON developer’s conference and blew the room away.

Her speech was called “Undefinable me.”

In a self-confident tone, she inspired the 4,000-strong crowd by telling them she wasn’t going to be limited by how people label her. 

And she encourged the audience to do the same.

Banks taught herself to code at age 9

Banks says she started “getting into tech a long time ago” by firing up a blog when she was six years old (her mother helped her with the typing part). She taught herself to code websites when she was nine by taking a course on W3schools and reading a book her dad gave her. Banks’ dad is an IT consultant.

She gave her first keynote about her life as a kid coder in 2013, at the Southern California Linux Expo SCALE, conference. Banks was talked into it by her dad, who helps organise the conference.

He asked her to talk about some of her projects, which at that point included website coding, creating videos inside of games using a popular programming tool Machinima, and writing a popular blog on Woozworld (a virtual gaming world for tweens and pre-teens). 

She had also learned a couple more web languages including Ruby (and Ruby on Rails) and Python.

She moved on to hack hardware when she broke her iPod and, with her dad’s help, she fixed it. Then she built her own computer from scratch.

People have actually hired Banks to do some social media and coding work too and one of her clients is L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti, she says.

She’s not just a geek

“Not only am I geek, I’m also pretty athletic,” she says. Banks was a cheerleader and soon she will be joining the track team.

Add it all up and she says she’s a coder, hacker/modder, blogger, video editor, former cheerleader, athlete and international speaker.

“How would you define someone like me? Or some like you, too?” she asked during her speech. “You don’t. And that’s why I like to call myself ‘undefinable.'”

And the crowd cheered.

Stormy PetersStormy PetersStormy Peters, VP of Technical Evangelism at Cloud Foundry Foundation

Over the weekend, the tweets, blog posts and praise for her keynote kept piling up.

For instance, Stormy Peters, another trailblazer in the overwhelmingly male world of open source coding wrote a blog post about it.

“When you hear that a 13 year old, black girl is giving a keynote at OSCON, what do you think?” Peters wrote. “The truth is that Keila Banks is pretty awesome. She’s an accomplished blogger/technologist.”

And here are some of the tweets:

Tweets about “Keila Banks”

 Here’s her full, wonderful full 10-minute talk. Do yourself a favour and listen to it.

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