by Akanksha Diwedy
I have enjoyed every moment of my journey in computer science — from learning how to use software to understanding the nuances of the algorithms that go behind their implementation to finally building them from square one. I learned programming early on and was intrigued by the things I could do with a dozen lines of code. Having seen the digital revolution powered by this technology, I have been in awe of its tremendous potential. From the excitement I felt holding a mobile phone for the first time to being part of this era of virtual and augmented reality, I have never been more fascinated by any subject than I am of technology. The spectrum of what these machines can do is enormous, and I believe my fascination with technology will empower me to invent and create tools that are part of the technological systems that make an impact.
As I progressed through high school, I always ranked first in my computer science classes and excelled at programming labs, which led to my decision to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the same field. I received the Dean Merit Scholarship for achieving first rank in my sophomore year of high school. During this time, I came across Professor Fei-Fei Li’s Vancouver talk on teaching computers to understand pictures, which intensified my interest in the area of intelligent systems.
As a freshman in college, machine learning and artificial intelligence courses were not in my curriculum. However, I wasn’t going to let that stop me from learning about something I was so inquisitive about. I decided to put in additional hours and completed multiple relevant online courses. I was also a frequent hackathon participant. During one particular hackathon, I was part of the only all-woman team, and we developed the winning application. I am very proud of this achievement as nobody considered us to be “winner-material,” and our team proved everyone in the room wrong.
The time I spent in my undergraduate program cemented my passion for technology and compelled me to pursue further academic study. This decision came with its own set of problems. I had a job offer from a very well-known company in India and everyone wanted me to “settle.” People wanted me to take the job since it was an hour drive from home, stating that home life was more important than work. They told me I should always come home by 7 p.m., even if I still had work to do in the office, and that I should settle down and get married. But how could I settle for a life like this when I knew I was capable of much more? Comfort was never my priority and I wouldn’t allow anyone to stop me from dreaming about a career I was meant for. It took a lot of convincing, but I was so glad my parents supported me with every part of my decision to go abroad for further education.
I knew getting a master’s degree from the U.S. was going to cost a lot and I didn’t want my parents to get burdened financially. Thus, I took an educational loan and came to pursue my master’s degree in computer science in Los Angeles. Coming to live in a new city and a new country from a completely different culture was challenging, and it took a lot of time for me to adjust, but I remained determined. I began searching for a family of friends away from home, started “adulting” by paying my own bills, going to classes, and working on homework and at my part time job. I have fought very hard to be where I am today, and I will never stop working toward my goals despite any number of obstacles. There is still a long way to go on my journey, and I am glad I started it in the City of Angels.