Lessons for Daughters —Building the STEM Girl Pipeline

Last week I was invited to speak at an event, to share my story as a woman in tech. The audience — girls between the ages of ten and eighteen. The objective — encourage them to choose or stay in STEM and/ business.

There were over sixty girls at the event. Each one at varying stages of getting ready for the Technovation challenge.Their ideas were bright, questions thought provoking and commentary insightful. The way I saw it , they were striving to build bridges to their dreams through hard work, diligence and persistence. I left the event feeling — our future is in good hands.

This new piece was born from that interaction. It is my way of continuing the dialog we started (at the event), share the lessons I learned in the hope it will help girls and women everywhere to follow their dreams and passion, and hopefully in some way nudge them to choose STEM and/business as a career.

my roots…

I was born in New Delhi, India into a family of doctors and realized early on- it was a blessing and a curse all at the same time. No pressure I thought! My mother is a force to reckon with. She’s one of the greatest influence in my life. She got her PhD in cytogenetics in the late 1970s and worked at a top research institute in the country to fight Malaria. Later on, she chose to become a social entrepreneur and co-founded a nonprofit to empower under-privileged families through education. She made sure every summer I was teaching a basic literacy class to women and children who couldn’t afford school. It didn’t seem fun at the time but unbeknownst to me, at 6 years old, I was learning the importance of giving back. Later I realized, it was and continues to be the cornerstone of happiness. That was lesson number one. Be stubborn about impact and no matter how old, how wealthy (or not) or how famous (or not) — give back!

for what purpose do I study, ask yourselves this question…

In middle/high school I realized I had to consciously undertake a journey to find what I was passionate about. What was I was going to be when I ‘grew up’? That was one helluva a ‘ride’, details we’ll reserve for another time, suffice to say I learnt to follow my passion through that inward journey. This brings me to lesson number two — take the time and effort to get to know yourself. Self-awareness enables you to hold your own in the face of unwelcome pressure and its a trait of a good leader.

Through high school, I continued in science for the sheer love of it and went on to do a Bachelors in Science, graduated with honors and decided to take a year off to volunteer for the same non-profit. They needed help with mentoring and teaching and that’s what I did.

I taught a remedial class in math to 4th and 5th graders. The kids in my class didn’t get breakfast at home, sometimes dinner was scarce too, which meant they had been hungry for more than fifteen hours when they came to class. They were often physically abused at home and sometimes worked odd jobs to support their families, financially. Lucky for them, the school provided meals for free. But in spite of all adversity, they lacked neither passion nor determination. On the contrary they had a strong will to learn, to do better; be better. What struck me most was their smile. I marveled at how happy they were despite lacking basic necessities. They taught me gratitude and to take responsibility for my life. This was lesson number three. Become capable, so you can help those who are struggling boldly in the face of adversity and never forget to be thankful for what you have.

the very true cliche’ — learning is a life long endeavor…

At some point in my teenage years, a desire to know different cultures and people, and to live in different parts of the world took root. It became a life goal I would actively work toward in the years to come. Keep this little tidbit in mind for now, it will make sense in a few sentences.

Back in graduate school I studied a variety of computer science courses over two plus years and began working with a technology company upon graduating. I took every opportunity at work, including the ones no one wanted, and with that was able travel. Over the last few years I’ve been able to live and work in three different continents. Each experience was uniquely enriching. It shaped me as a person and as a professional. I learned valuable life skills, first of which was to 1. Be open — to another’s point of view. 2. Be a life-long student, everyone can teach you something; sometimes what to do and other times what not to — take both learnings and be able to tell one from the other. 3. Be tolerant and appreciate those who are different. This brings me to lesson number four — invest in travel, it’s the best investment you’ll ever make in yourself.

And here’s lesson number five — “A person who has goals is miles ahead of someone who doesn’t”, have ginormous goals and dreams; write them down. They might change with time and experience, and that’s OK. The most important thing is to work toward them slowly and steadily. You will amaze yourself with what you accomplish.

train your brain…

Seven years ago, in a conversation with a wise friend I made a confession. I told her I am very impatient, and that I hoped to gain life experience which would otherwise come with age, I said to her -I wasn’t willing to wait. She looked at me, smiled and said “Do the things you’ve never done before”. That was the beginning of an experiment — doing one new thing each week. Seven years and counting and there is so much I still don’t know and need to learn.

This was the sixth lesson — be stubborn about challenging your limitations and fear. If you’ll only ever do one thing to be successful, do this. Remember it’s not easy (nothing good ever is), but know that your brain is a programmable machine, give it instructions and it will do your bidding and never underestimate yourself nor sell yourself short.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to apply this lesson in a mega way. It took every bit of ingenuity, creativity, curiosity and then some, to succeed in this challenge and succeed I did. I would describe the experience analogous to a lotus blossom. Lotus only blooms when the pond is muddy but it doesn’t get soiled by the mud. This was lesson number seven. There is no need to lose yourself in order to win. With this experience I affirmed another important lesson I learned growing up- integrity is not a commodity you trade , stay fiercely committed to preserving it.

cherry , peach and plum — it’s cool to be you…

In nature, everything is blissfully unique. The cherry, peach and plum blossoms are different from one another. A cherry cannot be a plum and a plum cannot be a peach and the best part is they don’t even try. Humans, on the other hand tend to compare themselves to others and get in their own way. Which brings me to lesson number eight- it’s cool to be you. Get away from pointless comparison. Strive to be the best version of yourself — that’s the goal!

Personally, I enjoy solving problems using technology and my hope is to change the world for the better, in whatever small way , while at it. I believe, technology of the future will increasingly be an expression of creativity, curiosity and ingenuity instead of just coding skills. So! Let your creativity thrive, let ideas take shape, stay curious and dream as big as you can. Remember technology is one great tool (there are others) in your toolbox to bring those dreams and ideas to life ;if you should so choose.

I’ll leave you with these thoughts — there is unlimited potential in your life and I’d love to see you express it. Regardless of your career choice remember to not be afraid to challenge your limits. Be stubborn about creating impact, and most importantly as long as you don’t give up you will succeed.

I hope to someday work together with you!!!