Women Who Code Conversations 62 | Spotify - iTunes - Google - YouTube - Podcast PageBhavya Batra, Blockchain Leadership Fellow at Women Who Code and Product Manager for Google Startups, and Archana Vaidheeswaran, Data Product Manager at Women Who Code, chat about education and women in tech. They discuss bridging the gap between business and tech, how communities can support career growth, and the importance of trying an array of things to know where your interests and talents meet.Bhavya: Let’s discuss your journey through college and what made you choose tech for your study preference.Archana: All of us in tech come from different backgrounds. I have had a very non-traditional start. I studied electrical engineering for my bachelor's. I'm not a computer science student per se. We are both from India, where we are taught computer science in 11th and 12th grade. When we go into engineering, our exams are physics, chemistry, and math, which have something to do with computer science, but not so much.I did electrical engineering for four years and slowly grew a passion for working with tech. Not a lot of people pick electrical engineering, especially women. We had a disproportionate number of men versus women, around 67 to 5. If you know anything about power systems, they use technology that is probably hundreds of years old. Especially in India, you have transformers and circuit breakers that are easily hundreds of years old. They use old technology, so you need to know old stuff to maintain them. Data is revolutionary to power systems. We didn't study data science as such, it was slowly brought up. I realized there was a lot of data that we collect in power systems, and that's how I got introduced to this field. Bhavya: My journey was quite different. My parents focused on me pursuing BTech since I had taken physics, chemistry, and math. I had been introduced to coding early. I started coding when I was in the sixth standard. Our school used to have a lot of competitions around building web pages and websites. I was always learning new technology. The decision was clear I wanted to pursue computer science. I started in a university, which is government funded, so we had more females than males to represent us. My journey has been studying emerging technologies and their applications in their business. I'm pursuing my Master's in Technology and Business Management. I want to create a bridge between technology and business operations. Archana: I love that you're trying to bridge the gap between business and tech. A lot of women in tech leave after a certain period, maybe because of not enough support or because of personal reasons. We have also seen that at Women Who Code. One of our visions is to work with people who have a certain amount of experience but don't know where to go next. Maybe they started learning Python and want to move to Cloud, but they don't know how to do that.Bhavya: When I joined in as a leadership fellow, one major thing I saw first-hand was that there was a lot of support for females looking to enter back into the industry. That was a great initiative. How has your experience been with the internships around college? Archana: Most of my background is in electrical and electronics, so I did not fall into a computer science internship easily. I've learned about computer science via the internet and communities. I always truly believe in giving back. We wouldn't be what we are today if it wasn't for open-source communities and open-source packages. In my internship, we used to work with Texas Instruments. I've also built stuff like inverters. It's very different from where I am today, but the journey has taught me a lot. I relate to tech or the field of data science a bit differently because of my past. I don't necessarily look at it as directional learning. I think, "Okay if I learn data science today, it's a tool. Where exactly can I use it?" And that's what I did as part of my internships as well. It helped me get far because we started clubs in our university where we collaborated with others. As I moved from my first internship, I was right towards the end of college, there was someone who took a leap of faith in me and gave me an internship in machine learning. I had no background in it. I'm glad about finding the right mentors at the right time. What has your experience been with mentors? Bhavya: The best part about the tech industry is the community. The community is what makes this industry so inclusive. You have so much exposure to different opportunities, whether hackathons or coding competitions. I went to Greece for a fellowship program. That's where I found my mentor. He taught me all about blockchain. We researched how technology is evolving. That's how I gained my interest in the healthcare space as well. Mentors have played a huge role in forming my entire career in blockchain. Archana: What made you go towards a post-graduation degree? You talked about the business aspect. Is that what pushed you to it? Bhavya: Once I was through with my graduation, I started working as an associate analyst with Deloitte Insights. My work was focused on research from a tech background, entering into a consulting domain. Suddenly, I was only doing research. I wanted to do so much more, and there were so many elements of digital transformation that I could bring in. One good thing that happened was freelancing. I explored freelancing during my undergrad and started contributing through minor projects. I used to develop websites for startups. I made their content management systems. That's where I gained the confidence to transform the business, taking it online and creating a brand presence for them. That changed my perspective on how I can leverage tech to create a career of my own. I encountered this amazing course teaching technology and business management, so I just took a leap. How has it been for you? Archana: I've just been using machine learning as a tool in whatever I do. I applied to various areas. One area that I was working with was edge computing. Edge computing applies machine learning or deep learning to microcontrollers or edge devices. After my internship, I was offered a full-time position and worked with them for almost two years. They gave me a project on edge computing. I'd been thinking about where I could apply it next, and I wanted to go back to working with power systems and renewable energy systems. I decided, why not do my master's in that and try that out? I would love to know about yours. I took extensive computer vision courses for my master's in the first year. We end up discovering a bit more about ourselves through education.Bhavya: I had similar experiences. For my undergrad, I received a BS in Computer Science. That's a very thorough core curriculum. I realized that my expertise is more in understanding what the technology can do rather than implementing that technology. I'm more about technologies that are not being studied very well yet. I'm not sure if you know about the Gartner Hype Cycle, but as it suggests, technology has a phase. The initial phase is when it's driven completely by the opinion of people who are initially studying it. That has been my expertise and had I not had my graduation in DSP, I would never have realized that. Archana: In terms of your college life, and especially post-grad, I just want to know, how did you supplement it? Did you supplement it with work? For example, did you have any loans or scholarships? How did you go about doing your post-grad? A lot of people who get into it have those questions as well. Am I financially able to do this? Bhavya: There are a lot of scholarships for women, especially in the tech space. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship for my master's. That supported me to pursue it and was a big motivation. It's also about the confidence you have in yourself. I was already freelancing, which gave me confidence in my potential to implement global projects. I continued freelancing throughout my master's. That helped me transition easily from technology to business again.Archana: How do you accommodate freelancing with your class schedule and deadlines? Bhavya: It's about the drive. While I was studying business, there was still a part of me that wanted to continue tech. I was a product manager handling a global team, and I had a team of seven developers. I was responsible for scheduling a stand-up call for them. I used to schedule the call from 5:00 AM to 7:00 AM because that was the only time slot I had available. My team hated me at the beginning, but they adjusted. Archana: How has your networking been as part of freelancing projects? Bhavya: Communities have formed 90% of my career. I started freelancing. I saw an ad about Upwork and signed in. I applied for a bid and proposed making a website for $10. It was my first project, and it was cheap for them. They were on board with it. That project went well, and I uploaded it on my website. That's how I started getting contacted more. I attended webinars and conference sessions and used to go to Google development communities for different seminars. That's where I started talking to people. That's when I realized that the industry lacks people who can talk about tech in general terms. Communities give you a safe zone where you are free to ask any questions you want to. There are different things for different people. If you are a beginner or someone coming from coding wanting to shift to a different tech stack, there's something for everyone. My foundation is completely built on community. I'd love to know how it has fared for you.Archana: I have worked in the industry for quite some time. I've also worked in academia and research. When you move from research to academia or research to industry, there's a shift. I love giving back to the community. I love giving talks, etcetera. I'm also building an open-source Python package, it's called ScaleDown. It's primarily meant for edge computing and edge devices. We have realized that a fragmented system exists, especially in terms of frameworks, and we are trying to bring it together for edge devices. We want to have easier ways for people to, for example, start doing TinyML.I'm putting some content out there so people can learn from it. I also started off giving talks in communities. I also had a chance to land gigs by our Women Who Code. LinkedIn was one of our people collaborating with us for the cloud track for an event. They talked to us about their instructor program. I had a chance to apply for the instructor program and to do a course. That's also a way in which you can give back. You can make sure that other people can learn from what you have done. I did a course with Udacity when I was part of my master's program. There's so much to being an instructor. It's almost like reverse engineering. You think about how you learned it, and then you reverse. That helped give me the finances to get through my masters. I would suggest that people keep finding projects, even the ones that they don't think you might fit, like being an instructor or product manager. There are always things out there that you will eventually get if you keep trying.Bhavya: I started giving mentor sessions, sessions for the technical community. I started by teaching students from BTech backgrounds. It was the feedback that helped me improve further. It helped me change how I see things. It helped me change how I taught things. That's how I entered into the Women Who Code space as well. I saw this position open for the leadership fellow. This Women Who Code experience helped me gain a platform to share my knowledge with people willing to create a further impact.Archana: One of the tips that I usually tell folks is to make sure that the community is something that gives you a positive impact. Be a part of it. Feel like you are part of something bigger. There are a lot of communities out there. You can do meetups, but being a leadership fellow and being someone in the community, driving it, you will get wonderful feedback. You will learn a lot, but on top of it, you'll also get feedback. That is something you can carry with you even after this cohort. The best part about this Women Who Code digital community is that you connect to people all across the globe, and that's one of the best experiences.Bhavya: I just started my journey. I'm so excited to meet the volunteers as well. All of the volunteers I have are from different states and have different perceptions of things. One of them is a lawyer who has no coding knowledge but is interested in learning blockchain. It is about the experiences you get from people and how you get support from your internal community. My outgoing leadership fellow has been very supportive throughout, so it creates a lasting impact on you as to how to be a leader. Leadership is not only downwards in the hierarchy; it's also how you impact your peers. That is a very important thing, as women especially. There are not a lot of equal opportunities still. We are moving towards it, but there are still a lot of gaps in those terms.