Indian youth-turned-mentor creates a ripple of empowerment
Nearly every day, Indian engineering student Lalitha Gade rides a public bus between home and college. The bus navigates through snarls of notoriously congested and dangerous traffic. If she is delayed—a common scenario—the 20-year-old’s mother calls. It’s no wonder that her mother worries. According to the World Health Organization, well over 200,000 people died in road accidents in India in a recent year, partly because of the country’s horrendous traffic.
“But in the case of school children, they don't carry mobile phones to school for their parents to check in on them,” Lalitha says. Enter TrackYaan, the app Lalitha created that allows parents to keep tabs on the location of their child’s bus—and put the brakes on worrying. Lalitha developed the tracker—from refining the concept to presenting to Microsoft executives and finally launching the free app—as part of her year-long engagement with the Women in Software Engineering (WISE) mentoring program. WISE is hosted by Microsoft India in collaboration with the youth career accelerator TalentSprint, and helps young women, especially those from rural backgrounds, develop the confidence and skills to succeed in the tech industry.
Once she began the mentorship program, she recognized the opportunity (and responsibility) to lift up others by sharing what she learned in WISE mentoring. The ripple effect she’s creating through peer coaching is empowering other young women to power positive change in their communities and their own lives.
Taking advantage of opportunity
Lalitha moved every few years as she grew up in Andhra Pradesh, the coastal southeastern state in India, so she learned to be an independent self-starter. Trying out basic software and building simple web pages in HTML in a middle school class made her hunger for more. Since there were no computer science courses in her school, she taught herself coding during the summer. During those scorching months, she discovered that the lines of code she typed into a computer could actually make things—and she realized how much she loved computer science. “It seemed to me like a game,” she says. “I wanted to explore it more!”
When she made it to college, she gravitated toward STEM classes. She had come a long way with self-taught skills, and she knew she could do even more with the focused attention of mentoring. So she applied to WISE and spent a full year traveling between her college and the Hyderabad Microsoft campus—a day-long trip—to meet with mentors, gain real-world experience, and develop TrackYaan.
The student becomes a teacher
The focus on technology and leadership she gained through WISE fueled Lalitha’s influence on her college campus as well. Lalitha and a classmate are teaching software engineering, presentation, and teamwork skills to several dozen peers at their college. They meet regularly for informal training sessions to learn new interfaces or to troubleshoot buggy projects. Lalitha sees the collective efforts of young women in tech creating a wider ripple of empowerment and economic opportunity.
“I observed a great change in the way the people [I’ve taught] used to think and how they are thinking now in terms of choosing a project, ways of approaching the code, and handling the complexities,” Lalitha says.
After all, women—especially those in underrepresented communities like developing countries and rural areas—still comprise only a fraction of the people studying computer science and working in STEM careers. Once Lalitha finishes her computer science and engineering degree, though, the aspiring software engineer will tip those scales just a little more toward equality. What’s more, Lalitha’s informal mentoring group is providing more young women with the opportunity for a better future. Through mentorship, innovative technology, and setting an example that everyone can pursue her dreams, people like Lalitha are opening avenues for young women to drive positive change.
Women in Software Engineering Mentoring