inspiration · women who reign

Women Who Reign: Saloni Shah

“Climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.”

Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
Hi! My name is Saloni Shah, and I am a sophomore Computer Science major at University of California, Berkeley. I am also an undergraduate researcher at the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS). Outside of academics, I’m President of the Association of Women in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (AWE), an organization at UC Berkeley that creates a network of female CS and EE students through weekly lunches and events with engineers from various tech companies, social events, and Lean In Circles. I am also Lead Organizer of CS KickStart, an intensive one­week program at UC Berkeley designed to retain women in CS by providing incoming freshmen girls interested in CS with hands­ on experience and exposure to the field as well as encouragement and support through mentors and peers. We’re currently looking for colleges to expand our program into. I also love to compete at hackathons because I get to learn new technologies and make something tangible by the end of it (winning is pretty fun, too :P). Last summer I did some Android work at an internship at a company called Mobileum. This summer, I’ll be interning at Google, which I’m really looking forward to!

A fun fact about me is that I’m into nail art! Some of my favorite designs have been sunset/palm tree nails, Disney nails, and Minion nails. You can check out my designs on my nail Instagram account: @nailgalsal.  My next design is Pacman nails in anticipation of my upcoming Artificial Intelligence midterm (we do a lot of Pacman­related projects). Who said nail art and computer science were unrelated? 🙂

What # would define your life journey?
My family made up a motto called “Start Somewhere to Go Somewhere.” It means that even if your goals seem really far off, you have to start somewhere, even if the first step seems insignificant, in order to eventually get to where you want. It’s something that motivates me in all my academic, extracurricular, and professional endeavors! The next time you have a huge programming project due and you’ve only written the function header, that’s okay! Because, you’ve got to #StartSomewhereToGoSomewhere.

Favorite website / app:
Pinterest! I love browsing things like food presentation, decor, and DIY projects, so naturally I get easily distracted for hours on Pinterest.

Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted (if any):
My mom and dad inspire me. My mom is a Technical Lead at Cisco, works long hours, makes time for my two younger sisters and me, and likes to learn the latest technologies on top of all that. My dad is a Chief Enterprise Architect at Nissan, and recently became a lawyer on the side just for fun. Both of my parents are super sincere at everything they do, and they’ve passed on some of that sincerity to me. Their success and thirst to learn inspire me, and I hope to get where they are one day!

Song that makes you want to dance:
This changes almost on a daily basis. Today, I’m going to go with Problem by Ariana Grande. (I’ve even got the rap part down.)

Technical challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
Whenever I work on a hackathon project or research, I’m faced with technologies I’ve never used previously. That has always been really daunting, especially when there’s time pressure. However, that is part of what makes computer science great! It’s great that you can always learn something new and have a practical use for it. Through my experiences, when faced with things I don’t have any background in, I’ve learned that the best thing to do is to take it slow and give yourself the time you need to understand what it is you’re working on. Even if it feels like you’re going turtle slow at the beginning, investing that time is important to eventually ramp up. It’s better to have a solid understanding of half the material than have a hazy understanding on all the material. This mentality has helped me learn things quicker and make cool things!

Ideal job:
I would like to work as a Software Engineer on a product that creates great social impact and make life easier for many people. Later in my career, I would like to explore other roles like Technical Lead and possibly Project Manager, because it involves both technical and management skills, but I’ll definitely spend a good number of years honing my programming skills first as a Software Engineer!

What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Be your whole self. Many times, I’ve felt self­conscious at a technical meeting if I have brightly colored nails or a dress on in fear of standing out too much and being judged. I’ve realized this past year, especially after hearing inspirational keynotes delivered by Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington, just how ridiculous that fear is. The time I could be spending on coding and learning is instead spent on worrying about what others are thinking of me. Many women experience this, so I would encourage others to be confident in yourself ­­ your whole self; don’t silence parts of your personality in fear of what others might think. You can only produce your best work when you’re your best self. And you can only be your best self when you’re your whole self!

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