Interview – Shivani Chander (B.Tech 2016-2020)

Please introduce yourself and explain your current profile.

I’m a final year B.Tech student pursuing Computer Science and Engineering, at the National Institute of Technology Tiruchirappalli. I’m passionate about building products with technology and the cause of representation of Women in Technology. I’ve interned at Microsoft and Rubrik in the last two summers and have job offers from both of them post my graduation. I am also a Cargill Global Scholar, Google Women Techmaker Scholar and a Western Digital scholar for STEM.

How did you approach the process of applying for the scholarships and identify the essential requirements?

Once I identify a scholarship to apply for, I first set my deadline as a date five days before the actual deadline. I split the time between the present and my deadline into the various stages of the application, including filling out basic information, writing essays, getting letters of recommendation and acquiring and uploading the required documents. I first make sure I have the means to acquire the documents and work on getting them. Since this process usually takes a while, I use this time to fill out the straightforward factual portions of the application. 

Two crucial steps that helped a lot in my applications were:

  • Detailed research about the scholarship programme, its expectations and the strategies past applicants have used
  • Contacting past scholars personally with proper queries, seeking their help and guidance with my essays

Writing the essays takes up most of the time during the application, and while the needs of the essays vary from one application to another, I would advise being genuine and introspecting heavily. I iterate through my essays around ten times and obtain feedback from multiple sets of eyes, some of whom are past scholars I cold message on social media.

What is the Western Digital scholarship for STEM, and how did you stumble upon it? What did you get as a part of the scholarship package?

The Western Digital Scholarship for STEM is a program funded by Western Digital in eight countries, where they look for students who show academic excellence and demonstrate leadership in extracurricular and community activities and provide them with a financial reward. I was not aware of this scholarship until one of my fellow Women Techmaker scholars informed me that she received it in her second year and that I should also try for it. So, I applied for it in my third year and received a scholarship amount of $2000.

How beneficial has the mentorship experience from the Cargill mentors, as a part of the scholarship, been? What were the key takeaways from the in-country and the global seminar?

My experience with the Cargill mentors has been very positive and resourceful. 

The program assigns an in-country mentor during its first year and a global mentor from another country where Cargill’s offices are located, for the second year. The program conducts an MBTI assessment of personality for the scholars and pairs them with mentors with similar personalities. My in-country mentor was a specialist in the import/export and trade aspect of the supply chain at Cargill, Gurgaon. Our conversations were exchanges of our knowledge on technology and trade. I used to talk about my projects, especially those with Machine Learning, and she spoke about her work as a trade execution specialist. Understanding my interest in ML and seeing a potential to leverage it for Cargill’s line of work, she connected me with the Head of the Data Science lab of Cargill, at Bangalore. After a few conversations with him and a few tasks, he offered me a Machine Learning internship at Cargill. 

My global mentor, Michelle, is the Head of IT at Cargill and an advocate of Women in Business – she is a part of multiple organisations, including the National Association of Women MBAs (NAWMBA). This gives us ample opportunity to deliberate on topics around the representation of women, especially with fresh, different perspectives of the two countries. We converse at least once a week and update each other on our latest progress. She helps me make better choices and makes me strive to do something I can proudly report during our call. She makes sure to do the best she can to support my actions; for instance, she is connecting me with a blockchain expert at Cargill because my final year project is on Blockchain in Supply Chain. On a lighter note, we also talk about our trips, pets and bulletproof coffee. 

The mentorship program has been really beneficial, as I got to acquaint myself with, and nurture a relationship with my mentor, an experienced person in the corporate world, with whom I can discuss the trends in the industry and receive guidance on the dos and don’ts.

The in-country and global seminars focus a great deal on values and how to be a better leader. This involves discussions on Inclusion and Diversity, Values, Global Mindset, High Performing Teams, Networking, etc. Getting to interact and bond with scholars from six different countries contributes to a multitude of opinions and many different perspectives we usually don’t think of, and it served as an eye-opener for most of us. 

How does the Google Women Techmakers program differ in terms of the exposure and experience provided, with respect to the Cargill Scholarship?

The Google Women Techmakers (WTM) program aims to bring together more women in technology. While the Cargill Scholars are only from six countries, the geographical diversity is very high in the WTM program with scholars from more than ten countries. However, all the WTM scholars are female engineers working on computer science, unlike the Cargill scholars where students from multiple majors and backgrounds are present. One can see a different kind of bonding between the women techmakers scholars who instantly connect over the common issues faced and share experiences they’ve had as women in technology. Just like the leadership seminar of Cargill at one of its global offices, mostly Minneapolis, where I went, the WTM scholarship includes a retreat to one of the Google Offices. I got the opportunity to visit the Google Singapore office. The retreat included panel discussions and keynotes on the theme of women in tech, and coding sessions. Google also gives an opportunity for these scholars to obtain a direct interview for an internship position with them. 

Did you face any difficulties during the process of any of the scholarships?

My biggest worry while applying to WTM, WD and GHCI scholarships was that there was no senior who had won or even been vocal about applying to them. So, I spent a lot of time merely thinking if I should take it up and if it was worth applying. I overcame this by thinking beyond our college, searching for past scholars, cold messaging them on social media and getting some of them to guide me.

I have been fortunate to have friendly recommenders and enthusiastic critics to add value to my application, and understanding professors who considered my valid absence, so I did not face difficulty there.

What differences did you notice in terms of the application process or interview questions asked in all of the internships?

Since both my internships at Microsoft and Rubrik were for the role of a software engineer, the screening questions were from Data Structures and Algorithms. Since my internship at Microsoft was through the Codess program, it did not have a conventional interview but a hackathon at their campus in Hyderabad. We were teamed up with students from different campuses in India to come up with an innovative product. They offered internships to some of us based on the judging criteria. My interview with Rubrik involved questions mostly on Graph Concepts and Algorithms and technicalities of my projects. For my internships at the startups at IITM Research Park, which were ML and Big Data based roles, the conversations revolved around my projects and coding skills in Python and R.

In general, for the application process or interviews with software companies, the questions are almost always around data structures and algorithms.

How was your experience with the Microsoft Codess program? How would you compare this experience to other internship experiences you have had?

Being a Codess intern gave me a headstart into the world of big code. Fresh out of second year, working on a prototype of a disruptive product with a huge codebase is a one-of-a-kind experience. I got to work with the best of programming, productivity and code review tools.  On the flip side, the workload can be a little overwhelming.

Comparing my internship at a giant like Microsoft to that at a fast-paced startup like Rubrik, I enjoyed the freedom, flat hierarchy and radical transparency. I researched on possible tech stacks to use and concluded on the one I felt was most suitable for the project. My manager also matched my interest in working with data to add a crucial feature to the framework I was building, for which I learnt a new tool and also took a session to the team on how to use it! Also, the exposure to the business side of things at Rubrik was incredible. I got to dial into the board meeting of that quarter, meet the CEO in person and see the customer deals along with their value.

What are your plans for the foreseeable future?

For the next couple of years, I plan to work as a Software Engineer in Tech, in an environment that allows exploring the business aspect of things as well. Post that, I hope to get a management-oriented education and aspire to be a product manager in tech. I’ve given my GMAT and look forward to applying to an MBA or MEM program.

There is a healthy chance for students to have overseen programs like those discussed above. How do you advise the students to be on the lookout for the same?

My biggest source of information on these programs was social media – especially Facebook and LinkedIn. Posts of past scholars or organisations posting about their scholarship programs were mostly my notification on these programs. It is also useful to follow pages and people who frequently post on such opportunities and be active on LinkedIn with an updated profile.

Another important advice would be to actively network online and offline, especially with seniors in college and other professionals you meet outside college. Talking to seniors and letting them know of your interest will result in them passing over pieces of information on opportunities they get that they think will be suitable for you. 

How was your experience being a GHCI’19 scholar? 

GHCI’19 was a fantastic experience, being the largest gathering of women in tech in Asia. The sheer magnitude of the event was a great feeling, to meet and greet so many women in technology. As a scholar and an attendee, the keynotes, inspiring speeches and panels struck a chord with me and reminded me of how much more I have to achieve as a woman. The career fair was a very important part of the conference – not only for the unbelievable amount of goodies, but also because it was a hub for tons of opportunities one could sign up for. I got email invites from at least ten of the companies from the career fair to screen for a full-time role with them. Many companies also interviewed on the spot and rolled out offers.

Apart from being an attendee, I also presented a poster on a project I had done as a part of Spider, the R&D club of the college. The exposure to thousands of people and feedback for my project was very useful, especially since it was coming from experienced people from the industry.

How would you describe a day in your routine, considering applications, teams, and academics?

It varies a lot based on the time of the year and the priorities at that time. My top priorities are Academics, Technical Club work, and Extracurricular Club work or Applications depending on the deadlines.

Every night, I plan my entire day ahead with specifics of what I’d be doing at every particular time of the day. Mornings and afternoons are usually spent in classes and labs. I spend the afternoons that we get off to either work on an ongoing application, get some sleep, or catch up with some series. I generally spend my evenings on projects that I work on or learning new technologies. I make sure to spend a considerable amount of time every day dancing in my room to get that dose of physical activity. Some evenings and nights are spent in preparation for interviews or exams and others on Extracurricular club and application tasks.

This is a very rough outline, and the routine varies hugely with the priorities at that time.

How has the club experience in NIT-T aided your expertise in the field?

I believe clubs are what make NIT Trichy the great institute it is. The peers and resources in a club give a platform like nowhere else for one to showcase and hone their skills.

I joined Spider in my early second year, and even before that, the seniors had been approachable ever since I contacted them after their algorithms workshop in my first year. Participating in Sangam (an inter-collegiate technical competition hosted by Pragyan, NIT Trichy’s techno-managerial festival) with a novel project, one of the main goals of Spider, pushed me to complete a working solution to a social problem with a group of talented peers. This project was extremely crucial for my resume and was a topic of discussion at most of my interviews. The interdisciplinary project possibilities at Spider are my favourite part and I’ve been able to collaborate with other domains than the one I was inducted into (Algorithms). I have been able to produce two papers from these projects, which have been accepted in IEEE International Conferences. 

As a part of the media relations team of Festember, NIT Trichy’s cultural festival, the experience has been great. The professional communication and strategy we learn and use have helped me approach many personal tasks with a similar attitude. It was here that I learnt to cold call or message and to endure until our goal is achieved.  Also, having a bunch of street-smart people to converse with always opens up new ideas and perspectives.

Considering the immense potential of ML/IoT and its corresponding skill development, how far or how close would you attribute NITT’s system to be?

As a computer science student, I must say that the department is making efforts to stay up to date with these trends by offering electives like ML, AI and NLP, which also involve projects in the curricula. However, I don’t see any effective skill development initiatives from the college on these, or they haven’t been promoted amongst students. Short workshops and presentations on these trends can only do so much. Actual usage of the potential is only possible when the students are equipped to use the tools and make working models from them. This, I believe, is possible only when students get their hands dirty and try out and learn via online resources. NIT-T could aid in this by providing better lab facilities that are easy to access, and stable internet in hostels.

What advice do you want to give our freshmen and sophomore readers?

Firstly, I would advise applying indiscriminately to every opportunity you are eligible to apply for. The scholarship programs are free to apply to; you have ample time, and trust me, there is nothing to lose. Building your professional network inside and outside campus is crucial to know about various opportunities and guidance. Try to be a part of clubs to get good exposure and network; if not, you have to be self-motivated and pursue your interests into making solid projects by yourself. Do maintain a good rapport with professors and try to participate actively in the class, and maintain as high a grade as you can. One personal thing I would like to say is also to volunteer for something regularly and do your bit for the community.

Any queries may be addressed directly to Shivani via email or through Linkedin.

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One thought on “Interview – Shivani Chander (B.Tech 2016-2020)

  • March 29, 2020 at 4:53 pm
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    This is very inspiring for me. Because I to want to do something in this field

    Reply

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