Women Who Reign: Alison Berkowitz
“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.” — Dolly Parton
Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I am about to start my final semester at Olin College of Engineering, which is a small but mighty engineering school right outside of Boston, very close to where I grew up. It was part of Olin’s mission since its founding (not many years ago) to attract more women in the field of engineering and half of the students are female, which is pretty unique for an engineering school. My peers at Olin got me into coding, teaching me the very basics of Python at a club called “Stay Late and Code,” and now I am a Software Engineer🙂
I also love to travel and experience other parts of the world. In the past two years, I have not lived in the same city for more than 6 months in a row. I studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland for a semester, interned in Seattle at Microsoft for a summer, took a semester off of school to help start an engineering college in São Paulo, Brazil, and now interned at Square for the summer in San Francisco.
Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted:
My college advisor, Amon Millner has inspired me since I started college. He got his PhD at the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab and is just all around an awesome person. When I was unsure about what I even wanted to do with engineering, he helped me see all of the cool possibilities. I was kind of a jock in high school, so once I got to college I was really missing my athletics fix. He pointed out to me that the yellow, electronic first down line for football was a huge engineering feat that made the game of football much easier to watch for viewers at home and therefore more accessible. I realized that it was possible to combine my other interests with my engineering education and this completely brightened my outlook on a career in engineering. I think realizing that it is possible to use your engineering education to improve an experience in seemingly unrelated passions can help motivate students get through some of the difficult parts of engineering studies. Seeing Miral Kotb talk at GHC last year about combining her passion for dance and technology in the founding of iLuminate was super inspiring in this regard.
Song that makes you want to dance:
I’ll dance around my room to Spotify’s top hits, but if I had to choose one right now it might be Cold Water by Major Lazer and Justin Bieber
Challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
I recently was working on a fun project that consisted of building a Wikipedia crawler and search engine. Our database was obviously limited in the number of Wikipedia pages we could index and store. Our crawler originally started at the java programming Wikipedia page. This crawler did not reach a very broad array of topics. The search engine worked well for words related to computing or computers, but not for everyday common words, like colors for example, no results would show up. By changing the Wikipedia page that the crawler started at, I was able to reach a broader array of topics on Wikipedia. Now, when I search “computer”, I only get a fraction of the results I got when the crawler started at the java programming Wikipedia page, but I can search “red” I get the wikipedia page for red in my results.
This is something I’ve really been trying to figure out since I am starting to look for my first full-time role. I used to really want to work in health and fitness technology, and I still think that would be cool, but I also now have new passions and interests. I have become passionate about experiencing other parts of the world and connecting with people from other cultures and backgrounds. I also have a growing interest and passion for social justice issues. I think my ideal job would be combining my software engineering background to improve an experience that I am passionate about for other people.
What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Don’t be afraid to take risks and take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves, even if it may lead you down an unconventional path. Taking a semester off of school to work at an engineering college in Brazil was an amazing experience I never would have had if I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to do so, even though it caused me to delay my graduation when everyone else seems to be in this rush to graduate college. And because I delayed my graduation, I got to have another summer internship, which was another amazing experience! If I had followed the conventional path of studying for 4 years in a row, I would have missed out on so many of my favorite memories and impactful experiences.