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‘Behind the Screens: The People of OIT’ is a series that features the people working hard behind the scenes to make OIT run.

Position: Web Developer and Educator for the Innovation Co-Lab

Time spent with OIT: Three years   

Located on West Campus, the Telcom building is home to the TEC Studio—the flagship location for the Innovation Co-Lab.

The building’s nondescript exterior doesn’t match the liveliness and innovation that exist through its double doors. In the TEC, Anni Yan contributes to the innovation by wearing multiple hats, dividing her time between coding, teaching, and helping students.  

What she does for OIT:
As a web developer for the Co-Lab, Anni helps manage a couple of websites that keep things running smoothly for the studios. One is Shiftr, which tracks how many hours the Co-Lab student employees across campus have worked. It makes reporting students’ hours to Duke@Work more efficient. The website also makes it easier for Co-Lab coordinators to create schedules for when students should work, because it allows them to autogenerate schedules based on students’ availabilities. Shiftr also displays a daily schedule of each Co-Lab studio’s staffed hours on the Co-Lab website.

Anni also helps manage Pathways. This platform allows members of the Duke community to discover, manage, and track their co-curricular learning opportunities at Duke. Every participant in the Co-Lab’s Roots Program, a series of live and self-paced technology workshops, uses the Pathways website to view, register, and access the workshops.

Along with supporting the Roots Program by keeping Pathways running smoothly, Anni leads some of the workshops.

“I mainly teach front-end development, which means I teach how to develop the website, how to add content, how to make the interactions, and so forth,” Anni said.

One of her favorite Roots workshops she has taught is ‘How to make a web game in Java Script’. She teaches students the fundamentals of game design and how to use JavaScript to make simple games in the web browser. Another one of Anni’s favorite workshops that she co-teaches with her colleague Daniel Davis is the ‘Raspberry Pi Open Hack Lab’. This workshop series is regularly at capacity as students return week after week, eager to learn the full potential of Raspberry Pi. Workshop participants receive different packets of materials during each session and learn how to sync audio with light with GPIO pins; how to harness the power of DC, stepper, and servo motors; and more.

The last but perhaps most rewarding part of Anni’s role is working with students. The Co-Lab hires student web developers each semester to assist with different projects. Through this, the students have the opportunity to learn more about coding while also developing skills that could help them land a future internship.

“I’ve grown a lot by working with them,” Anni said. “I think it helps me to double-check my knowledge to make sure I’m teaching them the right thing. Also, seeing them grow is pretty cool.”

Anni and students posing with wooden cutout figures.

What she enjoys about working in the Co-Lab:
Anni’s favorite part about working in the Co-Lab is that she has so many opportunities to try new things. She shared a recent example of how she learned how to use the Cricut machine to help with the Co-Lab’s First Friday event in December.

“One day, they needed people to help with sticker making,” Anni said. “I didn’t know how to make stickers, so my coworkers taught me how to make them, and now I can easily make them!”

Anni holding a sheet of stickers she printed out with the Cricut.

The impact she hopes to have:
Anni knows that the Co-Lab might not seem like the most inviting space. With the building’s nondescript exterior, many students don’t know about the bright, exciting space lying inside. She also hears that students find the Co-Lab intimidating or think it’s just for engineering students. Anni wants everyone in the Duke community to know that the Co-Lab is a welcoming space and accessible to them.

“I’d like for people to know about the space and know they can come and learn or work on projects,” Anni said. “They don’t have to be engineering students. If they’re curious about these tools, we can help them to learn about them.”

Advice for those new to OIT: 
Anni began working for OIT during COVID-19. She has heard plenty of stories about the days when everyone worked together at the American Tobacco Campus and how everyone seemed to know one another. With OIT’ers working in several different locations or working remotely, it’s a different experience these days. Anni advises those new to OIT to take advantage of opportunities to meet colleagues at events, and she encourages everyone to try to engage with people outside of their units.

“Be friendly to people who are not on your team,” Anni said. “We have events that help us get to know each other, and I think that going to these helps with knowing who is who and how we can network or just make friends.”

A group of Co-Lab employees pose together in front of an inflatable gingerbread man at the OIT End-of-Year celebration at Boxcar Bar and Arcade.

What she’s doing when she’s not at work:
Outside of work, you can often find Anni hanging out with her friends. She loves spending quality time with those closest to her, usually having conversations about life and getting to know each other better. Anni and her friends occasionally play games like Rummikub, Wingspan, or Pandemic, but they mainly enjoy chatting and exploring deeper topics. Anni and her friends meet for dinner at her friends’ home most Friday nights. This time spent sharing food and sharing in each other’s company is something Anni looks forward to each week.

Aside from spending time with friends, Anni also enjoys playing video games. More recently, she has taken an interest in playing The Legend of Zelda on Nintendo Switch. As a gamer and a Java Script web game developer for her Roots workshop, it probably comes as no surprise that Anni created her own theoretical game for her thesis project for her master’s degree in computational media from Duke in 2020. As part of her thesis, she developed the concept of a game that would help people build empathy towards culture shock.

Anni’s new side gig:
Already knowing how to play the guitar by ear, Anni loves how beautiful the piano sounds and became interested in learning how to play. At the end of last year, she purchased a piano on Facebook Marketplace and has been teaching herself to play by ear.

“The difficulty for me is that I don’t read sheet music, so it’s slow,” Anni said. “I can play chords, and I’m trying to learn how to play melodies.”

Undeterred by this, Anni continues learning to play, now practicing for a purpose.

“Two of my friends are getting married in April, and one day, out of the blue, they asked me, ‘Do you want to play for our wedding?’” Anni said. After some initial hesitation, she agreed. “So, I’ve been practicing the wedding march, and it’s been fun.”


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