11 Questions with Sigalit Perelson
Student at Stanford University
Sigalit Perelson is a sophomore at Stanford University majoring in Symbolic Systems. She is the Industry Relations Chair on the executive board of Stanford WiCS (Women in Computer Science) as well as works part time for Pear VC as a Pear Fellow. She loves to work out and starts most of her early mornings clipping in at SoulCycle.
- When did you know you wanted to be in tech?
When I was in the army I was in a tech unit, but for most of my service I was actually on the analyst side, managing analysts. In the last half-year of my service, I founded a project that entailed developing software. I got a first-hand taste of what it’s like to be a product manager and a software team lead, what it’s like to start a project from zero and within two weeks have a working demo, and what it’s like to have all the challenges you face with a team of software engineers.
I did the highest level of Computer Science training offered in high school, but it’s covered in the first three weeks of CS106A (Stanford’s introductory computer science course), so I had to manage software engineers without having their technical ability. I was really grateful for having done that minimal amount of CS in high school, because it allowed me to have an understanding of what my analysts and my customers needed. That’s when I fell in love with tech and creating stuff from scratch.
I work part-time for Pear VC (Pejman & Mar). I love doing that. As much as I love my academic studies and everything that I’m doing at Stanford, it’s really fun to go back and do real things. We’re doing a lot of projects on campus now, and work with Israeli startups.
2. Who’s been a role model you look up to?
My dad was one of my biggest inspirations. He’s just so brilliant and hard-working. The most important thing that I learned from him growing up is the value of educating your kids on the values that you want to pass down to them. I think a lot of my personality is thanks to how he guided me and pushed me throughout the years. I remember in the 7th grade, my brother was really techie (he’s at Harvard doing Computer Science and Electrical Engineering). He was always very good at those subjects, and I was more artsy, so I said, “I can’t do high-level math, I’m not going to do high-level math.” My dad said, “Of course you can. You’re going to do the highest level math,” and I ended up doing that. I did a lot of CS in high school. I probably would have majored in art or something because I didn’t think I could do it, so I feel very lucky to have a father who has always believed in me.
3. Where is your hometown?
My hometown is Herzliya, a small town north of Tel Aviv in Israel. It’s beautiful, it’s right by the beach, and it’s very dreamy. If you ever come to visit, come around April. It’s the nicest weather. It was a great place to grow up in.
4. What’s something that’s been on your mind lately?
If I think about what worries me for the next few years, it would be gene-editing. It has its obvious advantages, and we can do great things with it, but what’s going to happen when we really start messing with human DNA and nature? The inequalities, especially the economic inequalities, will naturally become larger when the rich will be able to essentially buy super-sapien babies, and the poor won’t. The gap will just get exponentially larger. I’m attempting to take a bioscience class in the winter about the ethics involved in all of these advanced technologies. Hopefully we can try to prevent them from being used for really bad things.
5. Describe a time you were proud of yourself.
My initial response would be to talk about a project that I founded during my time in the military that entailed developing highly complex software. However, I wish to talk about the less sparkly accomplishments that don’t get as much credit, but are just as important. The little things. Having an awareness and sensitivity towards others has allowed me to see past my needs during times of extreme stress.
Whether in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) or on campus, we all tend to feel as if the weight of the world is on our shoulders. Always running to the next class, meeting a deadline, or planing the next big thing, we tend to forget that others might need our help along the way. Whether it’s helping a friend with a math problem set or debugging their code, helping an old lady cross the street, or being there for my best friend who just broke up with her boyfriend, we must stop our busy lives and help others. We must be there for each other.
“Whether in the Israeli Defense Forces or on campus, we all tend to feel as if the weight of the world is on our shoulders… We must be there for each other.”
6. What’s a challenge that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
Before coming to Stanford, I served as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces for nearly four years in an elite technological unit. During my time in the military, I managed several teams totaling in 30 people and was in charge of various special projects. The responsibilities and deadlines I was expected to meet required endless coordination between many departments, both within my unit and out of it. However, I realized early on that before I was a manager, I was a commander. My soldiers had to come first, before anything else, no matter how urgent it was. It was the only path to success.
Being a commander was the most challenging aspect of my role, and the most fulfilling one. I had the privilege to taste what it is like to be a parent. I was responsible not just for technological issues, but for the well-being and daily lives of my soldiers. Looking back, this experience was priceless and shaped the woman I am today. I took everything that I learned on base with me to my dorms and classrooms at Stanford. The relationships I have made at Stanford thus far are life long ones, and I am eager to continue to meet extraordinary people.
“I was responsible not just for technological issues, but for the well-being and daily lives of my soldiers. Looking back, the experience was priceless and shaped the woman I am today.”
7. Favorite food?
Sushi and peanut butter (but not together).
8. Mac or PC?
Mac. Once you go Mac you never go back.
9. If you could try another job for a day, what would it be?
I would be a photographer because I think it would be cool to see the things that a photographer sees in our busy daily lives that we might miss.
10. If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Things will not always turn out the way you expect or want them to, but there are two things that you can do when they don’t: first, don’t get preoccupied by the things you can’t control. Try to figure out what you can learn from the outcome and why it happened. Two, try to figure out how to move forward toward your next outcome. I truly believe that things happen for a reason. When something happens that we didn’t expect or want, we can’t always see the reason behind it immediately, but sometimes down the line it all makes sense.
When I’d just joined the army, I did a few month training course, and we were divided into our bases. I got my top-choice base and my top-choice department was in the base. We had additional training in our base, after which we were asked for our preference on which teams we wanted. I said any team but this team. Then I got that team. It was the least sexy at the time, but it turns out that was the best thing that happened to me, because I got to sit next to the officer of that team throughout my entire journey as an analyst. I did something untraditional. I switched into an officer position, which is very difficult to switch into. This type of jump had only happened a few times in the past several years, but because this officer liked me so much and I did more than I was asked to, she really pushed me to become an officer. Thanks to her, I did become an officer. If I hadn’t been put on that team, I probably would not have had that opportunity.
11. What impact do you hope to have on the world after you graduate?
During my freshman year at Stanford, I was introduced to the issues and barriers we women face in the real world. After experiencing them myself, I decided to take matters into my own hands and speak my mind. Just a few weeks ago, I launched my first ever personal blog Geek Yet Chic, in which I share my personal experiences, thoughts, and passions. I hope to influence young women like myself to join the mission and fight the stereotypes and glass ceiling, as well as encourage them to be their true selves along the way. I am a big believer that the smallest change can make the biggest difference.