Computer Engineering Student Spotlight: Priyanka, Nishalini and Megan
Meet Priyanka, Computer Engineering Student at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana.
Priyanka is a second year Computer Engineering Student. Priyanka attends the Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana.
Can you tell us a little bit about Computer Engineering?
Computer engineers are scientists who combine their knowledge of electricity, math, and computer sciences to think of new ways that computers can be used. We plan and create both hardware and software for computers.
What inspired you to study Computer Engineering? How did you first become interested in STEM?
I first became interested in STEM in high school. My high school was very STEM-oriented, and we were all exposed to STEM fields from a young age. I went about approaching STEM in a roundabout way, however.
Every year, Homecoming was a huge deal because of the sheer scale of the decorations, models, and performances we created. During my senior year, my class’s theme was “magic,” so I decided to build a robotic fortune-teller display. Since I was on a pretty strict budget, I used Legos, ping pong balls, a Raspberry Pi (a small computer I programmed), and a makeup practice head to build it. The cheeks, mouth, and eyeballs moved according to my design using small mechanical RC servos. I’m glad my first foray into electrical engineering in both hardware and software design was such a creative, challenging, and artistic project.
I picked Computer Engineering as my major during my first year at Purdue University because I liked the idea of learning both hardware design and software design in one. I think it’s the perfect balance of breadth and depth across computer science and electrical engineering. I’ve always loved puzzling out logical problems, so I think it fits me well!
What did you know about Computer Engineering when you were a child?
When I was a child, and honestly up until I started college, I thought Computer Engineering was just people sitting at a desk and coding for long stretches of time. I didn’t know what the coding would involve, or how it would be applied. I pictured disparate logic puzzles or circuits that were inside phones and devices I knew about. I wasn’t wrong, I just didn’t understand the wide variety of possibilities Computer Engineering could entail.
Can you tell us about some cool things that Computer Engineers are working on?
Since Computer Engineering is a blend between electrical engineering and computer science, there are so many possibilities and cool things people work on! I know people who work in research labs on campus that investigate networking, optics, and integrated circuits. I also know that part of computer engineering involves embedded systems or programming the communication between hardware components in a larger electrical or mechanical system. That field really interests me. One cool thing I saw was that computer engineers work on electric bikes and cars on the internal processes between hardware components!
What kinds of challenges have you encountered as a woman studying Computer Engineering?
Here at Purdue, the ECE program has nearly the smallest percentage of women represented among all the engineering programs. In and of itself, that can be very intimidating. I remember in my very first lab after transitioning into my major, I was the only girl in my section of sixty people. Sometimes people can underestimate you and they assume that you aren’t smart enough. My favorite thing to do is to prove them wrong and set the curve or be the first one to get my circuit working!
In general, I think the best way to overcome that feeling of pressure or loneliness is to find your people. Find little pockets of community and support to work through difficult classes and situations you
encounter as a woman in STEM! For me, it took some time to find my people, and it will take different people different amounts of time. Once you have it, you’ll have the support you need to make these challenges easier.
Can you tell us about the importance of diversity in Computer Engineering?
There is an importance for diversity in Computer Engineering. As a field of engineering, our work is driven by creativity – and finding solutions to problems (the most elegant, ethical, simple, cheap, and sustainable solutions) is purely driven by individuals working together to be creative. Creativity isn’t something that just happens. It’s the result of making unexpected connections between things we already know. That means creativity depends on our life experiences. Without diversity, the life experiences we bring to an engineering problem are limited. Consequently, we may not find the best engineering solution. There are very few women and people from diverse backgrounds in engineering. This is especially true in Computer Engineering. It’s important that we have a workforce that represents everyone!
One barrier that is often pointed to is the lack of role models women and people from diverse backgrounds can relate to in the field. Because the number of women in the field is low, there are also few women leaders in engineering, which can make it difficult for new generations of female engineers to find mentors with whom they can relate to. This Catch-22 is a hard one to resolve, as the best way to increase representative leadership in engineering is by encouraging more women to enter the field! It’s important to recognize that everyone has valuable contributions to bring to the table in Computer Engineering. We all have different approaches to problems and that comes from how we learn, how we were taught, and that varies based on your background.
What do you love about Purdue University and its Computer Engineering Program?
My favorite part about being a Purdue student is being part of Purdue’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers! Some of my favorite memories from being on campus include our Outreach events with students interested in STEM and engineering. We volunteer and plan events like SWEekend, where high school seniors shadow a SWE member to their classes for a day and stay over in the dorms!
More specifically, my favorite part about our Computer Engineering program is the community we share. I love sitting with people in our building and working late nights, completing problems on the whiteboards and debugging code and circuits together!
Meet Nishalini, Computer Engineering Student at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia.
Nishalini is a senior Computer Engineering Student. She attends the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. Nishalini plans to graduate in May of 2022.
Can you tell us a little about what Computer Engineering is and what studying Computer Engineering is like?
I like to tell others that Computer Engineering is when you combine Electrical Engineering and Computer Science into one major. Computer Engineering can include coding like a Computer Science major and/or working with hardware and circuits like an electrical engineering major. Computer Engineering really focuses on the question of how computers work and what is in our computers. We learn about this in computer architecture classes.
What made you decide to study Computer Engineering?
I always liked STEM since high school and middle school. I was on the Science Olympiad all four years of high school, and I participated in a lot of different events like experimental design and robot arm. When I got into Georgia Tech, I got in as an Electrical Engineering major. To be honest, at the time, there wasn’t a good reason why I chose electrical engineering. I like robotics and circuits but that was about it. During my second year at Georgia Tech, I wanted to get better at coding, and I liked software, so I switched to Computer Engineering. I really like Computer Engineering instead of Computer Science because I get to work with the hardware and write code specifically for hardware. Computer Science is more focused on writing algorithms and data structures.
What are some cool things that Computer Engineers work on?
The great part about computer engineering is that I feel like people in my profession work on a lot of different things in a lot of different fields. Some people focus on computer architecture after graduating and learn how to make computers better (run faster, not crash, etc.). Some people write code and create circuits for robots and aircraft. Some people go into cybersecurity and machine learning. People who study computer engineering work for a lot of different companies in a lot of different fields, including Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and many other companies.
Tell us about a time when you failed. How did you move on from that?
There are a lot of times I have failed. I failed my circuits class during my second year, and I had to retake it over the summer. I also applied to multiple internships these past few months, and I received a lot of rejections. I got rejected after interviewing with Apple, Tesla, Facebook, and Qualcomm. I have mostly gotten rejected because I need more practice with technical interviews. I am hoping that I can spend this summer practicing and preparing for technical interviews, so I can pass them when I apply again next year. There is always time to learn, grow, and get better, so don’t give up or think that it is too late.
Can you describe a day in your life studying Computer Engineering?
My day to day varies. But I can describe what my day was like yesterday. Yesterday, I had my Technology Entrepreneurship class from 8:25-10:20AM. We have general body meetings on Thursdays at 11AM for Women in Electrical and Computer Engineering. This meeting was an information session with Volvo and free lunch was provided. So, I went to that meeting from 11AM – 12PM with one of my woman Computer Engineering friends.
I had my Advanced Computer Architecture class from 12:30-1:45PM. I work part-time at the Advanced Controls and Communication Branch at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). I walked to the GTRI after class and worked until 7PM. I am also a resident assistant at a freshman dorm. So, I went back home to my dorm room, and picked up the duty bag because I was on duty that night. And then I spent the rest of the evening doing homework until I went to bed. I would consider that a pretty busy “day in the life.” But, as I said before, it varies. Other days I have a lot more free time to relax and do other fun things I enjoy.
What do you love most about Georgia Tech and its Computer Engineering Program?
Georgia Tech has a lot of supportive communities and helpful people. Most people want to help you, whether it is your professor, teaching assistants, peers, and so on. I especially love how supportive the Women in Electrical and Computer Engineering (WECE) organization is to ECE women. WECE provides academic and professional guidance, as well as allows ECE members to meet each other outside of their classes and majors. I also like how diverse the electives are in the Computer Engineering program because it allows you to explore a lot of different fields in computer engineering (computer architecture, signal processing, robotics, embedded systems, etc.) before you head out into the real world.
Can you share some advice for our readers who may be considering going to school for Computer Engineering?
Computer Engineering is a difficult major, and a lot of people struggle with it in the beginning or struggle throughout the entire program. I truly believe that anyone has the capability to get a computer engineering degree. You don’t have to be the smartest person in your high school or middle school classes. You don’t need to be valedictorian or have a 4.0 GPA. Also, it is never too late to get into STEM. Even if you didn’t do well in your chemistry or calculus classes in high school. Getting a degree in Computer Engineering (or any engineering) is about perseverance and motivation rather than sheer intelligence. Try your best. Always move forward despite moments of failure. Meet as many different people as you can. Make connections – in industry, research, and academia. Make a lot of friends in your classes – this will help you feel more supported and less like you are going through this degree alone. If you do all of that, I am confident you will succeed and graduate with a Computer Engineering degree.
Meet Megan, Computer Science and Environmental Economics and Policy Student at the University of California Berkeley in Berkeley, California.
Megan is first year student double majoring in Computer Science and Environmental Economics and Policy at the University of California Berkeley in Berkeley, California.
What inspired you to study Computer Science and Environmental Economics and Policy?
When I was a kid, the only thing I knew was how to use YouTube, Netflix, and clicking a few buttons to play games online! Despite growing up in the Bay Area, I was never involved in coding from a young age. In fact, I took my first Computer Science class during my last year of high school. Computer Science was never on my radar until high school! I love learning about systems and interdisciplinary topics; realizing that I can apply Computer Science to all the fields I’m interested in piqued my interest. As I began to learn more about not only the applications of Computer Science but also the growing importance of technology in everything, everywhere, I knew that I wanted a degree in Computer Science.
Can you tell us about your typical day studying Computer Science and Environmental Economics and Policy?
I’m usually on campus by 9AM or 10AM for class. Afterwards, I meet up with some friends for lunch before I go to our famous Doe Library, Memorial Glade, Sather Tower, or coffee shops to study. Sometimes, I stop by my sorority house to meet friends for dinner. I try to finish all schoolwork by 7-8PM. Sometimes I spend a few hours working extracurricular activities before doing my nighttime routine. Right now, I’m working on a notoriously difficult but interesting project—creating the WW2 German Enigma machine which uses an advanced algorithm to code/decode messages. I’ve worked on some environmental and public health, renewable energy economics research, and COVID-19 data analysis and visualizations projects for clubs and other organizations.
What do you like about your programs at UC Berkeley?
I LOVE the people at UC Berkeley! Every single time I walk to class and see my peers discussing their interests, walk through Sather Gate, or bask in the Sun on Memorial Glade, I must pause to fully process the fact that I’m attending the #1 public university in the WORLD. I’m constantly surrounded by the most brilliant minds, opportunities, and people. Many of my friends are Valedictorians and/or are working on cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence and Robotics projects, while many tech consulting clubs work with FAANG and startups. I can explore anything I want while living in one of the most dynamic cities in the country! I knew UC Berkeley was special, but my experience thus far exceeds all expectations. This is the school of my dreams, and my Computer Science program is filled with the most hard-working people I’ve ever met.
Can you share anything about challenges you have faced as a woman in STEM?
Despite attending a top university and being in one of the biggest Computer Science programs in the world, I encounter many challenges as a woman in STEM. There is a massive gender gap in Computer Science classes, including our famous CS61A with 1,500+ students. This gap expands in more advanced courses; lecture halls can feel very intimidating with such overwhelming lack of women in Computer Science. Although most of my male counterparts are great teammates, some boys that express toxic masculinity disrupt the welcoming learning environment. Dealing with such people and encounters can be mentally draining and often leaves me exhausted. Leaning on my network of fellow women in STEM – particularly women also studying Computer Science – and male allies re-energizes my interest and commitment to succeeding in this field! Venting to friends helps me express my frustrations. Looking up to mentors and other women that persevered inspires me to do the same for future generations of female Computer Scientists!
Can you tell us about a time when you failed? How did you come back from that?
As a scientist and engineer, I fail relatively frequently but do my best to learn from my mistakes and become better! One time, I got a 20% on an exam. Of course, getting such a low score was very, very disappointing and disheartening; I began to wonder if I should continue with my Computer Science degree, and imposter syndrome started to manifest. Friends, classmates, and other women in STEM were my lifeline! We shared stories about times we failed, ways we coped, and potential changes in our studying strategies so we succeed next time. Failure never feels good, but it’s the best way we can refine our studying skills, become more efficient and effective learners, and practice courage to try again! Building perseverance and patience with oneself is the key to succeeding in anything.
What advice can you share for our SWENexters who might be interested in studying Computer Engineering or Computer Science?
Just jump into it! This might sound trivial, but it’s the best way to get involved with Computer Science! The interdisciplinary nature, various sub-fields, and overall breadth of Computer Science can feel very intimating, especially for women. Pick one programming language (I’d recommend Python to start with), learn the very basic fundamentals of data structures and algorithms, and try to build a project. Above all, be curious and creative about ways you can apply your skills to create or improve something. Be patient with yourself through the learning process. Do what you love and watch your genuine interest in learning blossom into something bigger than you could’ve imagined.