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By Chelsea Jubitana, '21, Duke

Textiles and technology seem like an unlikely combination, but Code+ alumna and Duke sophomore Ali Rothberg used Duke’s 10-week summer program to combine her interests in technology and fashion. 

“Code+ gives you the building blocks to get an internship in technology if you want one, but it also gives you creative autonomy; we are given a problem to solve and we are designing with stakeholders,” Rothberg said.  

“You get to shape what the output looks like within your 10 weeks,” Rothberg said of the program that has allowed her to envision Augwe, a fashion line that features clothing designed with an augmented reality interface. Augmented reality, or AR, functions as a simulated version of physical reality.   

In high school she worked on a project designing clothes for people who were non-verbal  and could not dress themselves. This re-imagined clothing relieves points of tension to make dressing easier for people with disabilities. Although she had a limited background in technology, Rothberg had been seeking an opportunity at Duke to learn more about design and in particular about augmented reality. 

“I didn’t realize how little I knew going into the summer,” said Rothberg, who is studying computer science and English with a minor in medieval and renaissance studies.  

“I could go to an informational panel and I wouldn’t even understand the terminology. I didn’t know how you structure a technical resume, what the coding interview was, what software engineering looks like, or what anything looked like. I didn’t know anything about going into the tech industry. To me, tech was just sitting at a computer and writing code. I realized that Code+ makes your coursework practical,” Rothberg said. 

At Duke, Rothberg, is interested in exploring the digital humanities both in academia  and the startup, particularly fashion industry. At the time that she applied for Code+, she had only taken Computer Science 101 and 201. Yet, she was accepted, and participated in Code+ during the peak of the pandemic, challenging her team to communicate across time zones. In her team of six people, there were three people in Eastern time, one person on Mountain time, one person on Pacific time, and another based all the way in Hong Kong. 

“It surprising how close we could become over zoom but once we started working together better our work became infinitely easier. We recognized each other’s strengths and delegated from there, but it also just became more enjoyable. We’d be cracking up about a failed animation or jackbox games—it might have taken a bit longer to get there but we definitely became a team.” 

Time management and division of labor were key factors in the project’s success. Rothberg’s team got to know each other well and became good friends over the course of the summer term. Each member came equipped with a unique background experience that allowed the team to play to each other’s strengths while supplementing each other’s weaknesses.   

“We imagined an app where the user could navigate to different features to make the experience of visiting the basketball museum engaging and intentional. In particular, I worked on the mini basketball game and on the UI/UX design,” Rothberg said.  

“It was certainly an overwhelming project at first, having had no experience in technology, much less artificial reality, but with a supportive team as well as all of the OIT professionals and helpful stakeholders at Duke athletics and sponsors at Adobe, we were able to put together a whole demo, which was an amazing experience.” 

Upon completion of the program, Rothberg gained a number of hard and soft skills, including everything from design thinking, wireframing, Xcode, Swift, Reality Composer, and Blender.  

She plans to work as a project assistant for Code+ during the summer of 2021.  

Rothberg’s experience in the program made it possible for her to create an AR app for the Durham Public Schools as a Duke Ed Tech Fellow. She currently works as a teaching assistant for the course, “Introduction to Computer Science”  and  is also is helping with an adaptive clothing club at Duke called Runway of Dreams. And she continues to work on her own fashion-tech project, attempting to turn clothing into an interface using AR. 

“I’m so grateful to Code+ for showing me the creativity that goes into problem solving in tech. I also am so glad I got more of a sense of the very diverse array of offerings within industry,” Rothberg said.