Carnegie Mellon University

James E. Tomayko Scholarship Winner | Vivek Gupta

What types of leadership roles have you performed within the MSE community?

I was part of the admissions committee for the MSE Scalable Systems applications and I participated in the Student IT in Architecture competition. 

What motivated you to take on those leadership roles? 

The ability to have a deeper understanding of the admissions process motivated me to become part of the admissions committee. There were a lot of things I learned from that experience. As a student applying to a program, you think about how you can demonstrate that you’re a good candidate. When you sit on an admissions committee, it's a totally different experience. It’s not just looking at the profiles of the students and seeing if they check all the boxes. For example, you can select students with certain risks, and the committee has to decide what kind of risks the program can handle. It’s not a skill you will learn just from being a student. 

Plus I wanted to give back to the MSE program. If I can help by serving on a committee, I am always there for it.

Congratulations on your team winning the Student IT Architecture Competition. It looks like it was a lot of work. Why did you enter the competition?

I love software architecture. In fact, that love was the biggest motivation for me to join the MSE program. The competition provided another learning opportunity; a way to deepen my knowledge of architecture and to learn from an industry mentor. That was a huge motivation for me. 

What led you to pursue a masters degree?

I love to build software and understood from my work experience that it’s not just coding. In the three years I was at PayPal as a Software Developer, I saw that my team leads, and the architects within the company, were discussing and building products at a higher level. They understood what to build, what was required in the market, how architects design products and what they think about, and all the other things you have to keep in mind while designing a product. And, when you are a leader on a team, how do you understand the skills within your team, how do you manage all these concerns as well as the people? I really wanted to know, and understand, everything that is required to be in a position at that level.

Why did you apply to the MSE?

When I compared the curriculum of the MSE to similar programs, I thought that this is the only program that would give me exposure to the things I wanted to learn. It is a program that teaches the skills and knowledge you gain in industry over a longer time. The MSE is like expedited learning. In the MSE, you have all these experiences that teach you how to build a software product from end to end. 

I was also looking for a program with mentors. You can certainly find a mentor in an industrial environment. I was lucky that my manager at PayPal was my mentor,but not everyone has this luxury. You learn when you fail. It is beneficial to have a mentor who can guide you, make suggestions for ways to approach a problem, and suggest pathways to explore. Being mentored by members of one of the best faculties in the world, who have experiences in industry, and/or who work at the Software Engineering Institute is one of the best things about the MSE program. 

What leadership experience did you have prior to joining the MSE program?

During my undergraduate time I participated in a lot of volunteer activities. I was a coordinator for College Fest, and I tutored my junior peers as they prepared for their placement programs. When I was at PayPal, I got to learn from observing the leaders in the company. Especially from my manager who was an amazing leader. Learning from him was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. In my last year at PayPal I was essentially driving one of the projects. 

These experiences played a role in making me who I am. It’s not something you get in a very short span of time. It's all these bit-by-bit activities that you gather up. You gain confidence over time, and then ultimately you can encourage other people to excel. That is what I feel is one of the qualities required of a good leader.

How has the MSE helped you to become a better leader?

One of the greatest things I’ve learned here is that the world is not about right and wrong. Making a choice between right and wrong is easy. In reality, you may be faced with choosing between two options that both appear to be good. You need to assess them within the context of the environment, and essentially, that is where creative analysis plays a role in the decision making.  And I think that’s one of the mindsets the MSE instills in you. These are the decisions you have to make. Part of being a leader is making those decisions and being confident about your decisions. Even figuring out what you need to know requires a lot of effort. These are the skills the MSE teaches. All the trade-offs we think about are really important. That’s the crux of being a good software engineer. 

How do you think being awarded the Tomayko Scholarship will affect your remaining time in the program, and beyond that, your future career?

It certainly is an encouragement, in terms of my skills and talents. But I do not want to think any differently. I still want to improve myself day by day and to learn something new every day. For me the learning never stops. These are my core values, and they are not going to change. I am happy to receive the recognition but I still have the desire to keep learning and to keep growing.