A lot of what we do at ACM-W is aimed at how we can increase inclusivity of women in various fields and guide them to make decisions about certain aspects of life. To give her insights into life and her work field, we conducted an interview with Apoorva, former Chairperson of ACM-W. Apoorva M K is a final year student in NITK, majoring in Information Technology. Her fields of interest include computer vision, app and web development as well as competitive coding. She has interned with reputed companies like Siemens, D. E. Shaw and Optym and even completed a research internship in IISc. Having taken part in GSoC ’19 and GHC ’20, Apoorva truly is an inspiration to all of us here at ACM.
Had you already made up your mind about your career path and fields of interest even in high school? Or was it something you discovered in college?
I mostly just went with the flow. I had CS as a subject in school but I never really realised the scope of the subject. Even in my first year, I didn’t do much apart from my coursework. All of a sudden, in my second year, I saw everyone else preparing for club recruitments and they seemed so far ahead. I was quite intimidated and I felt like I had wasted my first year. My batchmates already knew what they wanted to do while I wasn’t even aware of my options yet! I started with competitive coding because that’s just what everyone else was doing. Then one day, someone on the ACM group asked for people interested in making an app. I didn’t know much about it but I thought I’d just give it a shot. Through this project, I learnt quite a bit and it was a good start. So consequently, when applying to GSoC, I was still a beginner to app dev and open source. But that’s the thing- GSoC doesn’t expect the candidates to be experts. They look for your enthusiasm and your ability to pick up and learn new things. I discovered my interest in computer vision during my internship at IISc. So, like I said, I just went with the flow. I didn’t have any plan in the beginning but from my experiences with club work and internships, I slowly figured out what I liked.
You’ve aced a fair number of interviews with great companies like Google. What advice can you give the rest of us?
Working on technical skills is very important, of course. However, mastering data structures and algorithms is not enough. Improve your communication skills. You need to be the one driving the interview. Even if you’re stuck, you should continuously work on the solution and give them all the observations you can find. Even if the ball is not in your court, you need to be able to handle your interview well and show enthusiasm. Sometimes it’s okay if you aren’t able to come up with the right solution. Keep attacking the question with different approaches and more often than not you’ll end up getting the solution.
Did you ever have to encounter lack of faith from family, professors or interviewers because you’re a woman?
Unfortunately, yes. At home, they pictured me becoming a doctor and they felt that was a profession more suited for women. Even in my coaching institution, they’d openly comment about girls not being good at math or engineering. It was shocking how brazen they were but it ended up making me question myself and made me wonder if I am just kidding myself. Even now whenever I achieve something, I always get a few comments saying that I only got it because I’m a woman and that I had it easy. The same never happens when a man achieves the same things as I did.
Who is your role model among the established women in STEM?
In school, I had a very typical role model – Marie Curie. I was very inspired by the records she set. I was also quite inspired when I read the autobiography of Indira Nooyi. She and I had very similar backgrounds and so I found it very relatable. This was in 12th grade. Recently, I read ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg. I found certain aspects of the book truly eye-opening. I don’t look up to any one person and try to emulate them or try to follow everything they do or preach. I look up to certain aspects of different people that I agree with and I find inspiring. Also, in this respect, it’s not just famous people – I also draw inspiration from women around me – my mother, friends, classmates.
You have a very impressive resume – with GSoc, GHC’20 and research internships at Siemens and IISc. What is the role that ACM and ACM-W played in these achievements?
ACM has played a very important role in gaining technical skills and it gave me the opportunity to network with accomplished seniors. I always had someone to look up to-whom I could approach for advice on how to go about certain things.
ACM-W had a different role. Once I started heading ACM-W, I became more aware of the kind of biases that still exist. I started to notice how much sexism is prevalent in the tech industry. I realised that I had been internalising a lot of this and with ACM-W, I became conscious about it. It made me realise why I do what I do and not bother about what others think about it.
The road ahead…
Immediately, I will be working as a Software Engineer at Google. I still don’t know what I want to do in the long run. I am of course interested in software engineering but I also feel drawn towards the research side of computer science. Even the intersection of entrepreneurship with technology seems fascinating. All of these seem like promising avenues that I would like to explore.
We are grateful to Apoorva for sharing her experiences and time with us. Furthermore, we wish her the best of luck for her journey which will surely bring us nothing but more inspiration and motivation.
Curated by: Navya B