I met Lauren through the Google scholars retreat and have been amazed by her ever since. I’m so excited to share her journey and story with the rest of you!
Tell us a little about yourself!
I just graduated from North Carolina State University majoring in Computer Science, Political Science, and Economics. Recently I finished up an internship on the data science team at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. I was also pretty involved on campus, and I care a lot about interdisciplinary education, tech policy, and equity & social justice (particularly as it relates to tech). I’ll soon be working at Google as a software engineer.
How did figure out what you wanted to do and how did you go about doing it?
As a kid, I discovered HTML through the online pet simulator Neopets, where I was able to customize my online shop’s text size and color contrast just by changing a couple numbers in the code. As a legally blind kid, I was ecstatic to find something that could make my digital world more accessible to me, and I spent hours playing with hexadecimal codes and inline CSS to make shopfronts and profile pages that were both appealing for others to look at and easier for me to read. Years later, I took a programming class and really enjoyed it, so I decided to major in Computer Science.
However, I always had a lot of different interests, and I knew going into college that I didn’t want to have to sacrifice my interest in the humanities & social sciences in order for me to study Computer Science. My family has always been politically engaged, and instead of shying away from difficult or painful conversations about politics & economics, my parents embraced them as dinner-time conversation. I grew up going to school board meetings and city protests, and I knew that I wanted to study something that would give me a better understanding of political structures and policies that deeply impact our lives. I initially decided to major in Economics and minor in Political Science through my university’s engineering & humanities dual-degree program, but at the start of my junior year I realized that Political Science was a better fit for my interests and I decided to convert my minor into a major. Around the same time, I also realized that I didn’t want to silo my interests off into their own corners of my life, and instead wanted to study the intersection of tech + public policy. I was able to reach out to Political Science professors whose classes I had enjoyed, and I was able to study data privacy public policy in the United States, research the tech for social good movement, and currently am working to end gerrymandering through the Princeton Gerrymandering Project as a data science intern. Even though I’ll be starting my career post-graduation as a software engineer, I hope to move into public policy after a few years in engineering.
What advice do you have for other students with a disability and minority students?
Find & create community wherever you can. I’ve found that having a support system that can understand me has been crucial to my successes, even if that support is virtual. There aren’t a ton of blind/low vision folks in software engineering, so email list-servs, Facebook groups, Twitter, etc. have actually been pretty important to my support system. These are also some of the best people to ask about company culture and hiring practices when you’re looking for jobs or internships.
Know your worth. This is absolutely one of those ‘easier said than done’ sorts of things, and I think most of us are on a continuous journey when it comes to valuing ourselves. The more intrinsic self-valuation you have, the harder it is for external factors (e.g. not getting an internship, doing poorly on an exam, etc.) to have a long-lasting impact on how you think about yourself. I also mean this in both a professional and personal sense — decoupling your overall self-worth from both your professional achievements and personal life expectations is incredibly powerful. Also, if you are in a situation where therapy/mental health care is accessible to you, utilize those services. Mental health care isn’t just for when “something bad happens”; mental health maintenance is just as important.
What is something you are proud of accomplishing during your time in university?
One of the things I think I’ll miss the most about college is being able to do so much outside of coursework through student organizations. Currently I’m the president of my university’s engineering + humanities dual-degree program, the Benjamin Franklin Scholars; an ambassador for the Computer Science department; co-founded a non-profit that runs Lego robotics workshops in my hometown with a focus on accessibility; facilitate equity & inclusion workshops through my university scholarship program; and am a lead TA for an intro computer science class. I absolutely love all of the things I do, and I’m always happy to chat with people interested in STEM education, interdisciplinary studies, or equity, inclusion & social justice workshops.
How can people reach out to you?
Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram! Always happy to chat with marginalized folks in tech.
About the Writer
Dasani is a Program Manager at Microsoft and Career Coach at Dasani Decoded. Subscribe to our mailing list for more valuable content.