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In her 20s, Nikita Mallya has already achieved big things in life. She has already visited the Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And there’s no stopping her. She is set to pursue a Masters in Management Science and Engineering from Columbia University.

It all began in 2013 when I wrote the highly competitive Nirmala Matha (NMCS) entrance and was selected to pursue my senior secondary schooling at NMCS. And like most of my classmates, I just had one big dream, to become a doctor, the same as my parents.

And thus I landed in Thrissur, away from my family in Vadakara, an unfamiliar setting. I didn’t know anybody here and I was all alone. And yes, I considered myself an average student. Along with hectic tuition classes and studies, things were pretty hard.

But, little did I know that God was in fact, very kind to me, because it was at this very school, that I transformed into the “Nikita Mallya” that you see before your eyes today. Those two years at Nirmala Matha taught me a lot about life. I learnt to understand how competitive the entire world before me was and that discipline and hard work were the only way out as taught by my teachers.

I learnt to bend my knee and bow my head before God and trust him with my fears and insecurities every time I attended prayer meetings during after-school hours. I learnt to treat my teachers as my second family. If I start listing names, it is going to be really long and hence I will keep it short. Jyothi ma’am, who was my class teacher, played a huge role in my life.

I learnt to explore my interests and talents. I discovered my talent to move people with my words. I wrote my first-ever article based on my beloved English teacher Meera ma’am. She believed in me when no one else did and I’ll be forever grateful to her. But, what is life without hurdles and obstacles along its way? For when the results arrived, I hadn’t cleared my medical entrance exams. I was devastated, heartbroken. This is where I learnt that things don’t go exactly the way you plan.

Since a) I didn’t want to repeat, and b) I had a decent rank in KEAM for engineering. I decided to go ahead with B.Tech. Today, when I look back — I can safely say that it has been one of the best decisions of my life. I started studying for B.Tech in Computer Science from Govt. Model Engineering College, Kochi. And in my four years, I participated in various clubs and activities serving multiple leadership positions. And all these culminated into me winning the prestigious Grace Hopper Scholarship to attend the world’s largest conference for women technologists held in Houston, Texas in 2018. It was there I got to meet Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg's wife, founder of the Chan- Zuckerberg Foundation among many other computer engineers.I was also one of the esteemed delegates selected to attend the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations conducted at Harvard University, earlier this year in February. I visited Harvard University and MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a result.

And all this motivated me to apply for a Masters in Management Science and Engineering from Columbia University, one of the top and prestigious universities in the world and I am proud to say that I’ve been selected and I’ll leave soon.

To conclude, I paraphrase Steve Jobs: “You cannot connect the dots, looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.” No other quote sums up my journey as perfectly as this..


if there is one habit of yours that has helped you become what you are, what would that be?

  • I know it sounds silly, but talking to people is one habit that has helped me get where I am. I like talking to people, listening to their stories, being there for them.
  • All this stems from the fact that I had a quite lonely childhood and I longed to be heard.
  • As I grew up, I understood that people like to talk about them and their problems. Conversing with people helped me because I could learn from their mistakes and even help them out and establish a long-lasting friendship.

A short chat with Nikita Mallya.

Tell us briefly about the selection process at Columbia University?

The process is pretty straightforward. First, send the application with all your details. You need to write GRE and TOEFL exams. You also must send in your statement of purpose and three recommendation letters from your teachers/employers. Once you send the application, if you are selected, you need to participate in a behavioral interview after which the admission decision is announced.

What about Grace Hopper Scholarship?

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference is the world's largest conference for women technologists hosted by Anitab organization (https://anitab.org). They provide scholarships to exceptional female students across the world to attend the conference, and that’s free. I had the good fortune of winning the scholarship in 2018. I was one of the three winners from India and the only one from Kerala to date. The competition is very intense and has grown steadily over the years but the number of scholarships is also on the rise. Being a scholarship selection committee member this year, I read through many applications. All I have to say is be frank, be you and tell your story. There are also numerous companies offering scholarships to attend GHC such as the Facebook GHC scholarship. Utilise all these opportunities.

As a student, how do you plan your day?

Oh my! I honestly don't think I have a stable study- leisure balance as I only have average grades - not great but not bad either. But I do identify myself as a night owl. My mother who is a doctor, used to sit up till late at night reading her medicine textbooks to keep my sister company (when she was studying for her boards). My sister is seven years older than me and it soon developed into a habit. I'm yet to set up a proper sleep management schedule. But I guess that's how most students my age work these days. I use apps on my phone and Google to keep myself updated. With the rise of social media, I feel that students are more involved in the happenings around the world and this is amazing.

What’s your career goal?

I came into my master's programme right out of undergrad and I'm in a phase in my life right now, where every day, every single moment is filled with numerous possibilities. I want to experiment with working in different domains and industries before I set up a career goal and define my career path. But I will say that I'm Interested in merging my tech skills with my business acumen and working in a field where I can play with different problems and arrive at innovative solutions. Consulting? Analyst? Product Manager? It would be safe to say that it could be one or all the above.


How was the meeting with Jack Dorsey? Was there any interaction? How effective do you think Twitter is for students? (Please mention your handle)*

It was magical for me. I never expected to see him there. He was really humble and there was a huge crowd all around him. He spoke to all the students present there. When I told him I'm from India, he said that he would come to India for a business trip. We just had a very brief conversation. Twitter is a wonderful platform for students, but it’s unfortunately being underutilized. In the US, Twitter is a platform where like-minded professionals meet, post jobs and learn from each other. Students can use it to tap into resources and learn about the latest trends in the industry. But since Twitter is also a social media tool, you have to make sure you filter out the noise and only take in information which is useful to you. I know a lot of students who use Twitter to boost their online presence and share articles and post opportunities. I do it too. My twitter handle is @nikitamallya

Even as a teenager, you have travelled quite widely. How important is that exposure, while travelling abroad particularly?

My life has been drastically different because of the exposure that I've been subjected to. My parents especially my father, always made sure I grew up to be an independent person. Traveling with them, helped me understand this sense of freedom and I'll be forever grateful for their foresight. I've even written an article on my blog about this. When I first travelled to the US, on my own, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity. I had travelled overseas with my parents before and that confidence played a crucial part. Students especially girls should be encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and pursue their dreams. Exposure is intergral to aid this transformation and it’s high time society understood this.

In 10 years, where do you think you will be?

You can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward. This is my favourite quote by Steve jobs and it is also, in fact, my motto in life. I tend to go with the flow. I listen to my surroundings, make use of resources around me and then carve my life in my very own peculiar way. So I don't essentially have a big plan for the next 10 years. I will do my best and I'll strive to be a better person. But who knows? I might be a teacher in a university. Or an author? Perhaps the CEO of my own company? Even probably be working as an employee in a company. I could also be heading an NGO. The possibilities are endless.

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