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Who said girls can't do tech?

Akshita Gupta never liked Computer Science, but destiny (and her parents), had other ideas. But once she delved deep, she had a penchant for coding. She was one of the 22 women in India to receive the Google Women Techmakers Scholarship. Here she tells the story of her dramatic turnaround.

If I look back and contemplate my choice of a career in sciences, I can only say it's because of my parents' insistence, like most Indian parents. I had a 10 CGPA with an interest in Maths and Science, hence I opted for Engineering. My performance in Computer Science at school made me believe I could choose anything, but Computer Science. I had an aversion to the stream and I was just enduring it till my board exams. But running away was not that easy. When the final results came out, my parents forced me to pick Computer Engineering because it had “scope”. I had two options: one was to keep on detesting it while staying angry with my family for my whole life. The other was to give the stream a fair shot.

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As the first year of Engineering comprised general subjects, I used that time to prepare for upcoming semesters. Starting with Web Development, I developed a website for a small cafe during my second semester. After the successful completion of the project and discovering the fascination with writing backend code, I was ready to explore more. That’s when I delved deep into Data Structure & Algorithms and Machine Learning. Frankly, it turned out that, it wasn’t the subject but my lack of interest and poor quality of guidance that had turned me against it. I had multiple dreams: Great internship, a better job and diverse projects.

Subsequently, I started taking part in events and hackathons and stumbled upon Smart India Hackathon, the largest hackathon of India. Our team was appreciated for our efforts for developing an implementable solution and we walked away with a prize. I was incredibly proud of myself for being selected amongst the 15 Microsoft Student Partners (out of over 500 MSPs in India) who were recognised for their work and was invited to be a part of MSP Asia Summit 2018 held in Taiwan and then again in 2020 for the Summit held in Singapore.

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When I was preparing for on-campus internship interviews, I felt the need for a mentor to help me navigate through the daunting process. Still, I kept on practising and was able to secure an internship with Expedia. During my tenure as an intern, I was the only female on my team. Hence, I came face-to-face with the problem of “Under-representation of Women in Tech”. The ratio is skewed: it's 6:1, in men's favour. I realized we girls don’t step forward that often to prove that we are amazing. As a result, we are not appreciated in the field of science and if we achieve something terrific, we are simply perceived as “lucky”. Respectful environment and recognition of my work as an intern motivated me to show the world how remarkable we women are. Following the old saying of 'change starts at home', I decided to take sessions and workshops on my topics of expertise. Being in an all-girls' college gave me a chance to interact with incredible young women. I encouraged my juniors to participate, apply for opportunities and focus on the fundamental subjects. While working for the cause, I was benefitting as well. Securing a full-time offer at Goldman Sachs was another tick off the list. In August 2019, I became one of the 22 women in India to receive Google WomenTechmakers Scholarship. This International Recognition was a reward for my contribution towards the technical field and empowerment of women in the tech community.

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Yes, I started the journey reluctantly. From being unable to imagine a career in Computer Science to developing a sense of belonging here, I would say fate knows where it is leading us.

You were chosen for Google Women Techmaker's Scholarship. Tell us about the programme. How can a girl student apply for it?

Google's Women Techmakers program provides visibility, community, and resources for women in technology. It is a scholarship awarded to women in tech who have contributed incredibly to their community and field. Applications generally open from March to May and the requirements include a current resume, answers to three essay questions and some supporting proofs. The essays usually consist of a Technical Report on your notable projects. After getting shortlisted, there are a series of telephonic interviews as well. A group of women is chosen from the applicant pool, and scholarships (amounting to $1000) are awarded based on the strength of each candidate's impact on diversity, demonstrated technical skills, leadership and academic accomplishments. All scholarship recipients are also invited to attend the annual Women Techmakers Scholars' Retreat in one of Google’s Asia Pacific offices. This retreat is a great opportunity to connect with fellow scholars, network with Googlers and participate in a number of workshops. My summit was in Sydney, Australia in August 2019.

You said you never liked Computer Science, but eventually, you returned there. How did that happen?

There wasn’t a single incident, but a series of tiny ones that made me like my stream. To mention a few, making my first website live, appreciation from my mentors during online and offline courses, my first hackathon and the sense of satisfaction after successfully compiling code.

How was your first Hackathon experience? That must have been a defining moment.

We worked passionately and won Class Hacks 3.0, my first hackathon. Honestly, I was nervous and anxious as I felt inferior to the people around me.

You say the female ratio in tech is skewed. Are you planning to do anything about it? You have already started training some young women.

For now, I am actively doing the groundwork by making more and more women around me technically strong and confident. I even lead a society related to this on-campus. However, in the future, I want to make a bigger impact.

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

I believe I will be in a Product Lead Position preferably in Silicon Valley. From where I am, the next steps are getting worthwhile work experience and then pursuing MS from a reputable university.

Tell us five of your habits which you think are worth mentioning/emulating?

  • I read many blogs and follow Youtube channels to stay in touch with product launches and ever-changing technology.
  • I love to read before bed, hence I have many novels lined up. Currently reading “The 5-second rule” by Mel Robbins.
  • I am a very social person, so I stay in touch with a diverse group of people and have a fair sense of different fields and opportunities they provide.
  • Usually, I plan my day in advance.
  • I have been exercising regularly for over 2 years now, it keeps me healthy and focused.
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