Ambika Krishnamachar is a 23-year-old product manager at Uber where she works with teams of software engineers, designers, and data scientists to create new products. She graduated from MIT with a degree in computer science.
1. What did you want to be as a kid?
An Astronaut. I thought that space was awesome. I realized that it was not the career for me around the same time I took AP Physics if you know what I mean!
2. What is the best thing about your job?
At Uber, I love that I get to collaborate with a lot of interesting and intelligent people.
3. What is the hardest part of your job?
There are two hard things about being a product manager. Firstly, you can’t get as deep with all facets of your project as you want. Secondly, you interact with many people, and issues can pop up, sometimes it is tough to motivate people. You have to figure out how to motivate a group around one vision.
4. What does being a computer scientist mean to you?
There is a lot of misunderstanding about this. It is not just about coding. Computer science is about making the world better through technology. It is a very deep and varied field.
5. What has been your greatest failure? What did you learn from it?
At MIT I got started with a project with a professor. I set myself up in a situation where I could not succeed. I did not give myself the time, or the ability to collaborate, or the resources. I ended up dropping out half way through the term. I learned that to be successful, I had to make sure that I had to put myself it in a situation where I could succeed.
6. What has been your greatest achievement in computer science?
I few years ago I interned at a small company. Over the course of a summer, I studied how people move around a grocery store. I coded an algorithm that predicted where customers would move and showed them relevant coupons. It actually got patented. I’m really proud of that!
7. What problem would you most like to see solved by science in the next 10 years?
I would love to see an ecosystem of self-driving cars, which is cheap and reliable. This would reduce pollution and accidents.
8. What motivates you?
People. I have always tried to surround myself with the smartest, most interesting people. I love working with people who inspire me. I also get really inspired by the fact that my decisions are important, and could impact millions.
9. How do you define success?
For me, it is about whether my product does well or not. Then again, it is not black and white. True failure is doing badly and having no idea why. If you understand what went wrong then you have not totally failed. Perhaps fully understanding why something happened is success.
10. What one discovery in science do you most admire and why?
One invention I admire is the Internet. It has changed the way we live. It really impresses and inspires me. The engineers who built the internet did not know that it would be so big, but they still engineered it so it had the potential to. It is always growing!
11. What is your favorite movie?
Lord of the Rings!
12. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Several people have told me not to worry about things that you can’t control. Focus on what you can do.
13. How has your gender shaped your experience as a computer science?
It can be really tough to be a woman in computer science. It can be intimidating and not very inclusive. In college, I felt like I didn’t belong. There were very few other girls in my classes. I am a lot more comfortable now, but I still notice that only about 10% of software engineers are female. I think girls in computer science, and in STEM, in general, need to receive more support and mentorship. It is really important to remember that you are definitely good enough. Be confident and you will do great.
14. What are the three most important skills for a computer scientist?
15. What is your advice for seniors applying to college?
I know that this is hard, but try not to stress about it. You will all get into amazing colleges. It can seem like you need to go to a particular school or the Ivy League, but there are so many great computer science programs. As well as this, especially in computer science, employers can overlook GPA and which school you graduated from. What really matters is your talent, and your ability problem solve.