Gaining confidence and skills to change the world
Growing up, Aishwarya didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do, but she was pretty sure her future wouldn’t revolve around computers. It’s no wonder: She thought that working with computers was for men, and computer science meant sitting in front of a laptop typing code by yourself—not exactly an appealing prospect for this outgoing young woman, who also plays tennis and loves to bake.
“My burning drive is to somehow change the world for the better, whether it is small or big. If I can help even one person realize their potential to better the world through the medium of technology, information and computer science, then I have reached my goal.”
When she took TEALS AP Computer Science her junior year, though, she realized her image of programming was wrong. When she looked around the Woodinville High School classroom in Washington State, she saw other girls getting excited about CS. And then she met her volunteer teachers—professionals in the tech field who taught her class programming on their own time, who worked in diverse careers and who didn’t fit the mold of a stereotypical coder.
The computer science course taught her the fundamentals of programming and helped her earn college credits, but it did so much more. It inspired Aishwarya to dedicate herself to diversity in tech.
Finding her place in CS
Aishwarya began studying computer science and informatics at the University of Washington. Many of her classes are overwhelmingly male, which is indicative of the nationwide gender gap in STEM education and technology.
“It’s hard when you feel like an outsider. When I see people who don’t look like me, I ask, what am I doing here?” Aishwarya says. Confidence she gained from TEALS—and especially from a mentor and role model—buoys her when she faces this self-doubt.
That role model, TEALS volunteer teacher Arti Gupta, is a software development engineer at Microsoft. Her success in a male-dominated field proved to Aishwarya that she could make room for herself in a STEM career. “She showed me that this field isn’t just for men,” Aishwarya says.
Gupta is glad that teaching computer science to young people like Aishwarya gives them the grit to pursue their passions. “Being a role model means a lot to me,” Gupta says. “A lot of women find it intimidating to enter the CS field. But it is very important for the young girls to feel a sense of being accepted for who they are.” Aishwarya thinks of her mentor when she feels like she doesn’t belong. She says, “Remembering Ms. Gupta’s belief in me reminds me that I’m in the right place.”
Woodinville High School, Woodinville, WA
Changing the world through diversity
Aishwarya is now working to ensure the computer science field makes room for women, people of color and others who may not feel welcome. That passion has put her on a panel moderated by Chelsea Clinton discussing diversity in STEM, a stage in front of 17,000 people at the annual youth event WE Day Seattle, and a teaching opportunity closer to home: showing her 8-year-old sister how to code.
But the crowds aren’t what drive Aishwarya push past the challenges she and other women of color face. “Through the TEALS program, I discovered the endless possibilities to give back and to better the world with the power of technology,” she says. Although she’s still working her way through introductory classes at the University of Washington, she’s already brainstorming tech-based solutions to make life easier for people in her family’s hometown in India and to show young people how humans impact natural resources.
Aishwarya believes that diversity within the field is the only way to generate the innovation needed to tackle complicated challenges from poverty to climate change. Through her hard work, she’ll not only contribute to those fixes, but she is already inspiring others to pursue their passions—no matter what they look like or who they are.