10 Questions with Shriya Nevatia
Software Engineer & Founder of The Violet Society
Shriya Nevatia has worked as a Software Engineer at Course Report and Tradecraft in San Francisco. Before that, she was an employee at two early-stage startups, TenXList and Reforge. She co-founded the Spectra Hackathon in 2016 and graduated from Tufts in 2015 with a degree in Computer Science. Follow her on Twitter at @shriyanevatia.
- Where is your hometown?
I grew up in Queensbury, a really small town in upstate New York. Queensbury was not diverse at all — it’s over 95% white. I think standing out by default (because of my name and skin color) helped me appreciate the things that make me unique. Like most other kids, when I was young, I wanted to fit in. As the years went on, I started to embrace my individual talents and personality.
2. Who’s been a role model you look up to?
I have a lot of respect for my mom, and I’ve realized recently that there’s a huge difference in how you relate to your parents once you’re an adult. She gives everything in life 100%, which I took for granted when I was younger, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how difficult this is! Her determination really makes me think about creating a wonderful life; it’s not about trying to be happy all the time, it’s not about having no responsibilities so you can party and be free, it’s about working hard to make your dreams a reality.
“[My mom’s] determination really makes me think about creating a wonderful life; it’s not about trying to be happy all the time… it’s about working hard to make your dreams a reality.”
If you really want a wonderful family, a wonderful career, and a wonderful support system, you have to put in work to maintain them over weeks, months, and years. I’m extremely thankful that I have her to look up to as a role model, encouraging me to work hard to create a life I’m proud of!
3. How did you get interested in technology?
In high school I did a summer program where I took a class in web design, and it was the first time that I was the only girl in a class. I had enrolled in the class because I had a Xanga blog in the 7th grade that let you customize the blog layout by pasting in your own custom HTML and CSS. I loved it so much, I made about 12 “lays”. When I came to this web design class, I was shocked because no one was actually interested in the design, just the code behind it. When I cared about the aesthetics of my site, other students made comments like, “Of course you like pretty colors, you’re a girl!” I couldn’t help but think, “Isn’t this class called Web Design?”
I’m really glad that I didn’t let that early experience discourage me. As I explored different career options in high school and college, it seemed like everywhere I turned, technology was the unifying factor. I was searching for a job that would simultaneously be mathematically challenging, creatively fulfilling, and allow me to spend lots of time communicating with people. After looking at options that fit into only one or two of these categories, I started to hear more and more about startups. I realized that the three pillars of a technology startup — engineering, business, and design — covered all three areas that I was looking for.
I was excited to learn more about tech startups and started going to meetups around Boston and took classes that would help me learn more. The real inflection point in my journey was when I realized that I could personally make a dent in the tech industry by creating something myself. I looked around me and saw that many male Tufts classmates were building startups with each other, but very few females were doing the same. When I asked them why not, they often had the same excuses that I did — “I want to work for a few years first” or “I don’t think I’m ready” or “I don’t have any great ideas”, but as I talked to more people, I realized that almost nobody was “qualified” at age 19. Everyone was learning as they went along too, which encouraged me to move past that self-doubt and create my own organization. In fall of 2013 I started The Violet Society to bridge the gaps between schools and majors so that more undergraduate women would be empowered to learn and build together.
“Everyone was learning as they went along too, which encouraged me to move past that self-doubt and create my own organization.”
4. So you did a major in Computer Science, but you didn’t want to apply for software engineering roles?
I was eager to not only be in the tech world, but specifically the startup world, because it combined those three aforementioned interests of business, technology, and design. I was more interested in working somewhere where my ideas could have a big impact, rather than somewhere with a lot of technical mentorship. I wasn’t sure what a software engineering job would look like day-to-day, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make product decisions or bring my ideas to anybody as an engineer.
In my first job, a non-technical role as the first employee of a small startup, I started to understand what the unique human challenges are in non-technical roles, since they are so different from the technical challenges tackled in Computer Science classes. I gained an appreciation for what made people great at jobs in Business Development, Product Management, Marketing, and other people-oriented roles. At the same time, something was missing. I didn’t like the feeling that I couldn’t be self-sufficient, in the sense that I couldn’t bring my product ideas to life.
I’m really glad that my career started off in small startups, where I had so much autonomy and influence, because those experiences helped me realize what I’m looking for next. I’m excited now to move back into software engineering with a newfound appreciation for the role and the skills it requires.
5. Can you tell me about a time you faced a challenge? How did you overcome it?
In summer 2016, TenXList had pivoted to a professional networking organization. We were planning and leading high-quality, curated events for tech professionals to meet one another. I was very excited to make these events the best they could be, plan them down to the minute, and ensure that every last detail was ironed out. I was terrified when the CEO told me after our first successful event that I would be leading the next one! These events required a moderator to be fully present and attentive for 3 hours straight, stay on a strict schedule, and be very aware of every person in the room. Some attendees had 10–15 years of experience, while I was not even done with the first year of my career.
I took a few deep breaths and went into a conference room to practice my opening introduction a few times. I checked the schedule to make sure that I had anticipated potential mishaps or pitfalls, and asked the CEO and CTO to check the materials with me before the three of us went to the venue. I listened to some fun music to get myself in a confident mindset and get ready to lead a group of strangers through exercises for a few hours. The event went really well, and for the remaining events, the CEO and I both switched off leading every other meetup. I think it’s really important to believe in yourself, and not underestimate what you’re capable of. If you focus, work hard, and put yourself in a positive mindset, you can do more than you think!
6. Can you tell me about a time you did something that you’re proud of?
I started working at TenXList in September 2015 and knew that the Grace Hopper Celebration — which many users of our product would attend — was in October. I knew we had to be there because we were creating a social network for young women in technology! All the tickets were gone and we didn’t have money to be a sponsor or have a table. I didn’t know what I was going to do.
I asked Andreessen Horowitz, one of our investors, if they had any extra tickets, which thankfully they did. I looked up the Grace Hopper convention center on Google Maps and found an area in a park outside of the venue that looked perfect for gathering a group, since I couldn’t reserve any space inside. So, four weeks after I started at TenXList, I put together a gigantic list of students on our platform who were going to Grace Hopper and planned out meetups with them in six different locations at the conference. I kept a running list in my journal with names and cell phone numbers so I could text reminders to people during the conference, and I also talked over email and Facebook to anyone who was confused about where to go. I knew that if we were going to create a vibrant online social network, we needed people to know each other offline and feel a sense of trust and belonging.
I feel really grateful that I got to have so much responsibility for my first job and that the CEO believed in me enough to let me run this outreach on my own!
7. Favorite food?
Pasta. Oh wait — artichokes.
8. Favorite book?
I really liked The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick. It’s about the history of information theory, but the author also includes profiles of interesting people who were significant in the development of the field. He approached it from academic, historical and commercial standpoints, and I loved getting that entire picture.
9. Mac or PC?
10. If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
My advice to younger self would be to take time to think about what’s really important, so that you can build your confidence. It was a little bit of a blessing in disguise that I thought everyone around me knew more than I did, because it motivated me to learn about many different facets of the tech industry. If I had understood that we were all in the same boat, I wouldn’t have been so full of self-doubt.
It’s okay to focus, take on fewer responsibilities, and set aside time for yourself.