Carnegie Mellon University

Director’s Scholarship | Aishwarya Jaiswal

What type of leadership roles have you taken on within the MSE community?

During my summer internship at the Human Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) I was the lead overseeing the functional software build of the project — designing and implementing strategies to build asynchronous validation systems leveraging gaming platforms, handling server deployments, and assessing system attributes.

Last year I was involved in the faculty searches. As a student representative on the committee, I was asked to attend the guest lectures and provide feedback on whether or not the person would be an asset to the department. In essence, the role requires one to abstract the department’s needs and then provide informed feedback. It was a privilege to be asked to sit on the faculty hiring committee as a student representative. It felt like an acknowledgement of my capabilities and affirmed that I am a valued member of the program. 

And I took part in the new MSE buddy program. As part of that initiative, I was assigned three incoming students for Fall 2020 admission. My role was to address their concerns, answer questions about the program, and help guide them through the onboarding process. 

Why did you want to participate in the MSE buddy program?

If the program had been available when I was an incoming student, I know it would have made my own onboarding process a lot easier, less stressful. If I can help someone else, especially in a time when there is a lot of uncertainty, I’m happy to do so.

How has your background prepared you to be a leader in the MSE community?

Prior to entering the MSE-SS program, I was working as a software developer for CGI. During the year and a half I was at CGI, I was primarily involved in the research projects, which consisted of building multiple proof of concepts for various clients. My supervisor at CGI, who was also a mentor to me, was incredibly supportive of the work I was doing and encouraged me to excel from day one.

In fact, one of the most interesting things that happened to me during my tenure at CGI happened on my first day on the job. I walked into the office and my supervisor asked me to participate in the preparations for an important client presentation for Talk Talk. Without second guessing myself, I said “yes.” My first day in the office, the first few hours on the job, were spent with the team preparing the presentation. And then I was part of the team that presented the product. 

It was a turning point for me. The fact that my mentor trusted me enough to be part of all of the boardroom meetings  was a huge boost to my confidence. I really appreciate the faith he had in my abilities from day one. 

How has the Director’s Scholarship affected you?

It’s been a humbling experience. I have always been fascinated by the fact that I can build something as a software engineer that can potentially be used by thousands of people whom I’ve never met, and that my work can aid them in some way. In the process of creating new things there are many difficult decisions we have to make. I have found that the courage I have to try something new, or to make a difficult decision — especially in areas where there is great uncertainty — has come from my accumulated experiences. I think being awarded the Director’s Scholarship has helped me to be more confident when I make decisions, and has reinforced my curiosity and my desire to challenge societal norms. 

I’ve been motivated, inspired & sustained by my professors and practicum project mentors, both in a professional and personal way. There are aspects of the field, and society, that are unsettling and disheartening. I remember a time when I was feeling particularly uneasy and went to talk to my academic advisor, Lauren Martinko — who is an amazing listener and is always very willing to listen to someone’s problems. She’s been very kind in that way. During our conversation she asked me what problems, apart from the curriculum, I faced. I told her that I was frustrated by the double standard many women experience. For example, if I get good grades I’m accused of trying too hard, or being a know-it-all, but a male classmate, who gets the same grade, is considered cool. She acknowledged that it’s a problem and that it will take time to level the playing field. I know it will take time, but at that point in time, her hearing me out instilled a sense of support and was the reassurance and motivation I needed to keep working hard, to persevere. 

I think change is a two way process. Change has to come from the upper administration and at the grassroots level. It can’t be a unidirectional flow, we have to meet somewhere at the midpoint. It’s important to me to continue working towards leveling the playing field in the tech industry.

What does leadership mean to you?

With the current ongoing situation surrounding the pandemic, it’s actually a challenging & an exciting time to be in the technology industry. Technology has become more than an enabling tool, it has somehow transformed into a very subtle reflection of how we see ourselves and how we perceive others. Which is why I believe that any kind of bias, if allowed to penetrate, will be exponentially magnified over time. We need more people who want to use technology to engender a sense of common purpose and not make it about belonging to a certain gender or race or nationality. This, I believe, is the most defining aspect of leadership.