In Memory of Laurel the Adventurer (1981–2016)

You may have noticed that our CS Fundamentals courses now include a new collector level type. They feature an adventurous female character who explores caves and collects gems. In designing these levels, we wanted to create open ended challenges. Instead of a “right” and “wrong” answer, many of these levels encourage students to explore new coding blocks to see how many gems they can collect.

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Our, intern, Mei’lani explains the levels in this video in the curriculum.

We’d love to introduce you to the engineer who inspired the design of the adventurous collector. Laurel was an engineer on our team who built many of the tools you use on As one of our first engineers, she touched pretty much every part of the website; creating the teacher dashboard, a “Teacher Panel” for teachers to view student solutions, and the ability for students to pair program together — among many others. She even once saved the Hour of Code from a bug involving a Panda Emoji.

Laurel loved building things. She started young — even as a child, she wanted to learn how things were made. She was accepted to Carnegie Mellon at the age of 13 and graduated at 19 with a computer science degree. When I asked her why she chose to major in computer science, she jokingly replied, “Everyone gets into computer science for the internet or robots. There wasn’t really an internet when I started in 1998, so I figured I’d do robots.” In 2001, she worked on mobile apps before anyone had touch screen phones. You “played” the apps by pushing the numbers on the number pad. She worked across the tech industry for many years and joined in 2014 as one of our very first engineers. She wanted to make a difference and inspire other young women with the opportunity to build software.

Outside of work, Laurel was an adventurer. She was a mentor, teacher, and friend in the Pacific Northwest climbing community. She loved the challenge of scaling a bare rock face or ice wall and tackled some of the most challenging cliffs and mountains in the Pacific Northwest.

Last year, Laurel passed away in a tragic climbing accident. She was doing what she loved — exploring the world from the top of a mountain.

When we started to design the character for our new levels, we couldn’t think of a better role model for students than Laurel. We worked with a designer to create “Laurel the Adventurer” in memory of an engineer and coworker who inspired all of us.

Because he didn’t know Laurel, he gave us lots of options when we told him to draw an adventurous female character with glasses:

When we saw these, we all knew option “I” was the right choice. We wanted students of all backgrounds to see themselves in her, so we chose to make the hair blue (rather than a given color). Also, Laurel once dyed her hair blue, so we knew it fit.

When our team looks at this character, we all remember the amazing woman who inspired us. And, we hope that you’ll think of her too.

We miss you Laurel!

Andrew, Dave, Mehal, Alice, Kiki, Sarah, Ryan, the CS Fundamentals and engineering teams, and all of us at

Written by® is dedicated to expanding access to computer science increasing participation by young women and students from other underrepresented groups.

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