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Profile: Anjali Doneria, Computer Science grad student

Diversity talk: “We need to ditch the idea that women don’t love their careers as much as men do”

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Last year, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Anjali Doneria, grad student in Computer Science at North Carolina State University, Raleigh specializing in Data Science.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Without further ado, we would like to introduce Anjali Doneria, grad student in Computer Science at North Carolina State University, Raleigh specializing in Data Science.

Anjali Doneria, Computer Science grad student

Anjali Doneria belongs to the city of the Taj Mahal in India. She graduated from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, India in 2014 in Information Systems. She worked for 3 years until August 2017 in eCommerce and travel industry building large, scalable applications using Spring framework, Cassandra and Elasticsearch.

Anjali’s inclination towards the field brought her to the United States last year to pursue higher education. So, currently, she is a graduate student in Computer Science at North Carolina State University, Raleigh specializing in Data Science. Anjali interned with VMware over the summer and now she is again back to school to wrap up her last semester.

What got you interested in technology?

Technology has been all around us in the last few years but it wasn’t so common while I was growing up in India. The mobile phones were a rare spectacle in the 1990s and early 2000s, so technology for me was limited to online games and internet surfing for my school projects on a desktop.

I was always fascinated by the way these things worked but I didn’t quite understand the intricate details well. So, I decided to pursue my undergraduate studies in Information Systems to explore this field better. But somehow I found it difficult to connect with highly technical people around me since all of them came from some background in the field while I had zero formal education in programming or computer science. So, there came a point after four years of academic education when I wanted to switch my field from Computer Science to either Psychology or Arts. But then I tried to give it one last try (following my father’s advice) by joining one of the companies in India as a Software Developer and there it was! As I took up different projects as part of my professional career, I grew more and more interested in tech. The belief that my contribution matters in the real world was a big motivation!

I come from a family of non-engineers dominated by chartered accountants and businessmen. My father was an accountant initially with a private firm and then he moved to his current role of Production Manager with a handloom organization in India whereas my mother has been a homemaker. My brother and I are the only ones in the family who pursued a career in tech.

When I was in the eighth grade, I participated in an essay writing competition where we had to write about our career aspirations in life. Surprisingly, a career in computing wasn’t on the list then! I wrote about studying Aerospace engineering and landing in space at some point in my life. But that didn’t quite work out when I decided to pursue engineering and there has been no looking back since. I got so passionately involved in the field that I decided to step out of my comfort zone, leave my family and flew to the USA to earn a Master’s degree in Computer Science. Honestly, the obstacle that I faced all along was realizing what I want and take that bold step to move ahead in that direction.

The belief that my contribution matters in the real world was a big motivation.

A strong support system

My family has always been there by my side in every way possible. I have been extremely lucky that way. The phases that I assumed I could not get through in my life, they were the huge motivation to get ahead, be it personal or professional. I have this tendency to take risks and they have always offered a helping hand.

I don’t have a certain person as my role model. I believe every person you meet has something to offer you to learn from. You either gain a skill and know the right things to do or learn what to avoid.

A day in Anjali’s life

Currently, I am a graduate student in Computer Science at North Carolina State University, Raleigh (USA). I am specializing in Data Science as part of the program with a personal inclination towards Machine Learning and Software Engineering. In the future, I wish to apply my skills in working towards mental health. I wish to help the community that is currently fighting depression by utilizing natural language processing techniques to better understand the context and relatedness of the variety of text available from a given user.

I also hold the position of Vice President for Women in Computer Science (WiCS) club at the university. We aim to encourage young women to engage in computing across the Research Triangle Park region and host events aimed at their personal and professional development.

My typical day is filled with lectures, meetings and studies. I usually wake up, cook for the day, attend lectures, work on assignments and academic projects, and go to the open source lab where I work as a part-time developer. Evenings are generally occupied by WiCS meetings and events and gym with some personal time towards the end of the day (which involves meditation and Netflix or reading a good book).

In my brief career in the technology industry, I am proud of the way I have grown as an individual and my ability to handle challenges has increased multifold. Being a recipient of 2018 Grace Hopper Scholarship award to attend the conference in Houston this year is the most recent gem that I am proud of. Landing this scholarship after competing with amazing women from across 150 countries all over the world gave me an external assurance of being on the right track in my career path.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

I believe the extent of exposure that we receive from childhood plays a major role in someone getting interested in any field. If you would acquaint me with something in a very interesting way, I would like to explore it further on my own. Women, I feel, aren’t given the preference for that kind of exposure in most of the developing countries. Given the unbalanced gender ratio that we have across the world, it unbalances the industry even further.

Also, men are still considered the bread-earner for families, with their primary focus on career growth while women are expected to strike a balance between their families and career (if they wish to have a career at all). I believe these standard expectations put undue pressure on both men and women leading to chaos at some point of time and at such points women tend to put their career in the back seat.

Women in STEM

If more women worked in STEM, there would certainly be more ideas on the table and a different perspective to approach any given problem. There would be more social equality in the society I think. As I mentioned before, breaking that standard responsibility roles for each gender is necessary, and involving more women in tech is one of the ways to bring that change. The economic health of the family would be better. Technology can start addressing social issues specific to women if more women were available to give a helping hand in the industry.

I think it would take at least 3-4 more decades to see results from these discussions around diversity in technology. Things have happened a certain way for so many years and that takes time to change. We should keep developing countries in mind while looking at these numbers. They are facing bigger challenges at the moment and the women in those countries aren’t receiving proper education in first place, so including them in this diversity race for STEM is a big challenge.

Challenges

The assumption that emotions drive women’s decision-making power in the workplace. One of the obstacles that a few of my colleagues are facing is denial of career growth opportunities, in spite of being better than their competing colleagues, only because they were married and would get pregnant soon or they were pregnant. We need to ditch the idea that women don’t love their careers as much as men do as soon as possible.

Tips & tricks

Be true to yourself about your choices. If you know what interests you, be bold to voice that and take steps to achieve your goals. Things start falling into place once you have a strong mind. Do not hesitate! Programming is something that you would get better at with time, do not lose your hope if you don’t code as well or as fast as your peers. Just start from something and never look back.

My boyfriend gave me a really good advice a few days ago (who also works in this industry): “If you won’t start believing that you are qualified for a certain position in this industry and you deserve it, they won’t believe it either!”.

So, to all the amazing ladies out there, start believing!

 

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Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.