How Harkiran Saluja builds her path to UW’s iSchool as a Freshman
Her “old-fashioned” high-school class did not stop her from majoring in Informatics.
For Harkiran ‘Harki’ Saluja, the Informatics homepage was enough to abandon her dream of majoring in Computer Science (CS).
“At first I was confused about the study of Informatics.” Harki recalls, “But after many nights researching about the degree, I was amazed at the possibility of combining programming, design, ethics and humanity together. Thankfully, I was admitted to the iSchool through the Freshman Direct Admissions program.”
Harki grew up in Redlands, California, a small town only an hour away from Los Angeles. She was born to two STEM parents — her father went to medical school to be a doctor and her mother studied Librarian & Information Science to be a librarian. Although the two didn’t know what ‘Informatics’ was until Harki mentioned it, they both are great supporters of her decision to pursue a career in the tech industry.
“I am thankful to have a mother who pushes me to be where I am. She told me to set dreams, set goals in life and do everything to achieve what I want. I’m also thankful for my father who puts me back up whenever I’m feeling down.”
Despite having supportive parents, Harki’s journey to technology was not a smooth transition. When she was in high school, she almost lost an opportunity to take AP Computer Science if it weren’t for one teacher.
“My school got rid of the AP CS course for several years. They didn’t see the value in it and didn’t recruit enough teachers.” said Harki, “However, there was one CS teacher who advocated to bring back the course. His campaign was a success and my class was the first to graduate with AP CS credits.”
As a “first-mover,” Harki noticed a wide gender gap in her school’s AP CS class. “There were only 4 female students out of 17. When I asked my friends why they were not taking computer science, they mostly shied away from ‘how hard it is.’” Harki said, “However, it’s not about how hard it is; many girls are afraid because they aren’t exposed to the community of Women in Tech. This has to change.”
The lack of engineering opportunities at Harki’s school did not stop her from building her career. When Harki was in her Freshman year of high school, she was selected to be a part of the Expressive Robotics (ER) summer camp at the University of California, Irvine. Here, she made a robotic, human-attached cat-tail for her final project.
“You wear the cat-tail like a backpack and played with it through built-in sensors.”
Enticed by her accomplishment, Harki returned to UC Irvine for an iD Tech camp 3 years later. This time, she made a Hangman game from scratch using her programming skills in C++. “It was a mind-changing experience that prepared my coding skills really well.”
Harki previously planned her life in Computer Science, but it wasn’t until her first quarter at UW when Harki became fascinated with Design. “I’ve always liked to manipulate shape, colors, and fonts to create meaning. The INFO 200 class really opened my eyes to wider topics outside of programming. One of my favorite topics is Design Thinking and since then, I’m really inspired to become either a UX Designer or Web developer!”
Outside of her academics, Harki builds her soft skills through her engagement in community service and in sports. She was a volunteer at the Redlands Community Hospital where she provides support for mothers who had just given birth. Her responsibility were to feed the mothers, delivered water, and kept them reassured during their stay at the hospital.
“Such an experience taught me so much about care and empathy. Imagine helping someone who is both experiencing the most stressful and exciting time of their life.”
Beyond her service hours, Harki was also an avid athlete. In her 4-years of Varsity Tennis, she won the girl’s team in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Championship, playing both singles and doubles. Harki highly recommends being active outside of college in order to improve one’s health and sportsmanship.
“Tennis taught me how to communicate and behave on court. When you play doubles, you not only learn about techniques but also the chemistry in teamwork and team attitude.”
Harki’s rich experience in school and in the community has prompted her a smooth transition to UW’s iSchool in the Fall of 2018, a program that she eyed deeply for the past 2 years in California. After one and a half quarters since her Day-1 at UW, Harki is now the Creative Director of RSO Women in Informatics (WINFO). Here, she hopes to continue her passion for building a community of female technologists.
This story is part of Var City’s UW “Women in Design and Technology” series. If you want to be featured in the series, apply here. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.