Introducing the New Director of TechTogether New York, Soumya Gottipati
Hello! Please introduce yourself and your role in TechTogether New York.
Hi! My name is Soumya and I’m a sophomore studying Computer Science at Princeton University. Currently, I am the Director of TechTogether New York 2020, and I am super excited to help organize this year’s hackathon in New York City.
Why did you join the TechTogether New York organizing team? How can other students get involved with TechTogether New York 2020?
Growing up, I was never really confident in my engineering and technical abilities. As the daughter of Indian immigrants growing up in a small town in Virginia and often one of the few girls in many of my STEM classes and activities, I remember facing a constant feeling of exclusion, and therefore fear, when it came to engineering. This manifested itself in many ways; picking up a screwdriver at Robotics club would start a slight tremor in my hands, and examining Java code would induce a pit of nervousness in my stomach.
Once I got to college, I decided that it was time to conquer this fear and [broaden my] skills, so I began taking computer science classes and trying as many engineering activities as I could. It was during my freshman spring semester that I was introduced to TechTogether after seeing an email about a TechTogether hackathon in Boston. I signed up and participated in what would be my second hackathon.
TechTogether Boston was honestly a life-changing experience for me; seeing so many female engineers and people of color working on such incredible and impactful projects was inspiring, and very important for me to be able to gain confidence in myself. During that hackathon, I worked with a team of students to create an online platform to increase education and support of those affected by mental illness. Despite being new to the field of computer science, it was exhilarating and rewarding to learn from workshop speakers, mentors, and fellow hackers at TechTogether and put together a project that I was really proud of.
This experience is what pushed me to join the organizing team this year, as I want to help create a space — as TechTogether did for me — of support, community, and confidence for everyone and anyone who wants to make a positive difference in the world using technology. If anyone wants to help out with organizing this incredible event, feel free to check out the TechTogether New York website to see open positions for director roles. Even if you don’t want to hold a director position, please fill out the application indicating that you want to be a team member and we can definitely make that happen!
For anyone who wants to be a part of TechTogether New York by attending the event, mentoring, volunteering, etc., stay tuned on the website for more information about the event in the coming months.
What are you most excited about for TechTogether New York 2020? How do you hope this year’s hackathon will be different from last year?
If I had to pick one thing, I would say I’m most looking forward to meeting everyone who participates in TechTogether New York this year. I can’t wait to walk around, learning more about the types of projects hackers are working on, why they are interested in engineering, and hearing their backgrounds and stories. I’m looking to emphasize community and build a TechTogether family, and I’m honestly very excited to be a part of it!
This year, I am also hoping to build a theme involving technology for social good, global community, and health/wellness, especially in the wake of COVID-19. I’m hoping that we will have many attendees of all different backgrounds and experiences make the event a time of bonding and support after such tough times.
What is your favorite aspect of hackathons?
Wow, this is a tough one. I’ve found the workshops at hackathons to be quite rewarding and meaningful. Every single time I’ve attended workshops at hackathons I’ve walked out feeling like I’ve gained a lot of relevant skills that I can make use of, not only in my project at the hackathon, but also in school, extracurriculars, and personal projects. Workshops are definitely great, but I must also add that t-shirts and stickers are a great plus too!
Can you tell me about your first hackathon experience?
My first hackathon experience wasn’t exactly conventional, but I do think it was a great introduction to the hackathon world. I signed up for HackPrinceton in the fall of last year, after just a few weeks of taking introductory computer science classes. It was held at my school, so any student at the school could sign up and attend. Once I got to the hackathon, however, I felt like I wasn’t ready to contribute to a project just yet so I didn’t end up joining a team. Instead, I attended the workshops and speeches, and also went around talking to a lot of teams about their projects, ideas, and experiences.
While I didn’t end up completing a hack, I still had a really great experience in that I learned a lot about technical skills through the workshops and really got a feel for how hackathons work. This gave me a lot more inspiration and comfort when I participated in my second hackathon, TechTogether Boston!
Do you have any advice for someone who’s interested in attending a hackathon but may be intimidated?
I would definitely recommend just giving it a try! Even if you don’t end up completing a project (like my experience in my first hackathon), there’s still a LOT to gain from attending the event and talking to people. I bet that almost everyone felt nervous or intimidated during their first hackathon — but I promise, hackathon organizers do a great job of accommodating rookie hackers (there will probably be other new hackers there!) and providing resources for people to form teams, generate ideas, and seek help from mentors. At the very least, completed project or not, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn more and make some cool new friends. Definitely go into it thinking of it as a learning experience and a chance to have some fun and remember that there’s absolutely no pressure.
Also, I would recommend trying to sign up with a friend or someone you already know — that way, you have someone to explore the event with as well as start a team, (if you are comfortable with that!)
Any secret talents or hobbies?
Hmm… well I’m not sure if it’s a secret at this point, but I really love to do Tae Kwon Do! Not only is it a great workout, but it keeps me grounded, focused, and super energized.
I also love to cook with friends and families, trying new recipes from cultures all over the world. Although, now that I think about it, my love for cooking food is probably also very influenced by love for eating the food… :)
What do you wish I had asked and what would be your answer to that question?
Well, one thing I did want to reiterate is that if I learned one thing throughout my experiences in high school and college, it’s that engineering can be and truly is for everyone, no matter your race, gender, age, etc. Even if you are not an engineer by trade (I for example, am a computer science major who would like to go into medicine in the future), I’ve found that engineering is an incredible vehicle to put ideas and thoughts into actions, and is therefore a tool for making the world a more positive place.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn a new engineering skill, complete a project, or try engineering for the first time, I urge you to give it a go despite any worries or hesitations you may have. Whether it’s through a hackathon or an online class, the world could definitely use more passionate people striving to learn new things and use their skills to help better the lives of others.
Any final thoughts?
If you are interested in organizing and/or participating in TechTogether New York, I am excited to hear from you and see you soon!
Finally, I hope everyone is safe and healthy, and wish you the warmest wishes in these difficult times.