Swetha’s journey in STEM started in high school. She was on track to go to college as a pred-med student until she had to take a year-long CS class that her magnet STEM program required. Although Swetha was initially unhappy about this mandate, she ended up becoming very proficient with CS and enjoyed her class.
“I had the best teacher ever, Ms. Ria Galanos. The experience of having someone mentor and nurture me to try new things that I didn’t think I was interested in was a complete 180. Ria Galanos was also the reason why I started advocating for diversity in tech and becoming so passionate about paying it forward; I’m still close with her and keep in contact to this day!”
Swetha’s inspiration and motivation came from her family and mentors, who helped her build confidence and demonstrated for her the value of giving back. Her desire to serve others would eventually lead her to starting a non-profit, Everybody Code Now, which empowers the next generation of youth by exposing them to basic programming skills. Swetha’s outstanding philanthropic work led to one of her most memorable career moments to date, when she was invited to speak at the White House during the second term of the Obama Administration. There, she was honored as a Champion of Change at just 15 years of age.
More recently, Swetha is known for her significant role in co-directing and choreographing Microsoft: The Musical as an intern. This musical was a project she and another intern started together. Over 150 Microsoft interns and full-time employees were part of the production, which was completed in 8 weeks.
Swetha is also currently the lead student coordinator for an innovation and entrepreneurship class at UC Berkeley, where she is also a full-time student. The Newton Lecture Series brings together 300 to 400 students to hear from change-agents from around the world in various disciplines. These men and women share their perspective on what makes innovation and the role of innovation in different industries.
In spite of her inspiring accomplishments, Swetha is not immune to dealing with challenges.
“One thing that’s always been hard for me is wanting to do everything all the time all at once. I get impatient with myself and ask why I’m not doing more. But my mentor once told me that I can do anything but I can’t do everything.”
Swetha approaches this struggle of finding a healthy balance in her work and ambitions by taking life one day at a time. To channel her headspace to be free of stress and anxiety, Swetha makes time for dancing, which she has enjoyed since she was young.
Dancing also helps Swetha get out of the tech world, which she believes can sometimes feel like a bubble, especially living in the Bay Area. As a Computer Science and Dance & Performance Studies double major, Swetha gets the opportunity to lead and learn in completely different, yet related spaces.
“Having one foot in both art and tech makes me stronger in both worlds. Some people would see it as being uncertain of what I want, but it’s the thing that makes me unique and powerful. And as a woman in tech, leading in the male-dominated computer lab at school and then going to the dance studio, where it’s predominantly women, is really empowering for me.”
Swetha recalls her first experiences in tech and remembers feeling like she had to do what everyone else was doing and hide the fact that she was a dancer. Swetha wants people to know,
“There’s no benefit in hiding yourself. Your superpower is bringing your whole self to every space and to be authentic. It’s the most powerful thing you could do for yourself and everyone who looks up to you.”
Swetha ultimately links her authenticity to embracing the process of learning, growth, and change.
This story was written by Stephanie Nweke, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Connect with her on LinkedIn.