1. Why did you choose to go into computer science?
I went into college wanting to become a chemical engineer. To fulfill a requirement, I took an Intro to Java class. I really liked how I could change one line of code and instantly see an output, and how easily I could share that output with the rest of the world. After doing an externship with a pharmaceutical company, I realized that a career in chemical engineering would not work for me. Realizing that computer science and technology is probably going to be the underlying force that will dictate almost every field, I made the move to studying computer science.
2. What is your favorite aspect of your job?
When I was working at Snapchat, I liked getting to shape features and working on a lot of different stacks. You learn a lot and have to pick up new languages quickly. I think that is the fun bit, there is always something new to learn during development. Being able to lead high impact projects, take company-wide initiatives and execute them was the best part of my job on top of the software development.
3. What do you find the most challenging aspect of being at the forefront of technology?
It takes a lot of courage to step out of your comfort zone and pursue an area of interest that is still widely being researched. Augmented Reality is one such area which utilizes existing knowledge and has so many gaps both in terms of design and development that these challenges excite me. Being able to shape the infrastructure, stack and be one of the pioneers in the field able to set the path for future to come is the most challenging yet rewarding feeling you can get by pursuing the road not taken.
4. As a woman of color, what has your experience in Silicon Valley been like?
I think I was sort of prepped for it. When I was in college, I was one of the 10% of women in the CS major, and I did not really have any female mentors in the field to look up to.
I think I did learn to step up though. When I took my first job at Apple, I was the only female engineer on my team for a while. I brought this up to my manager, and we went through the whole resume and sourcing process together. It seemed that by the time you get to the interview portion of the hiring process, women are in the vast minority. Understanding this motivated my manager to be a lot more thoughtful during the sorting stage. They actually hired three more female engineers to our team!
5. On the path to where you are today, what were your roadblocks?
On a day to day basis, figuring out how can I reach more customers. Long term, finding mentors. I did not realize the value of mentorship until I actually got a mentor. He helped me gain a lot of confidence and pushed me to take initiative. I wish I could have found someone like that sooner.
6. What do you believe is the most important thing for girls to know before pursuing STEM?
It’s not just a boy’s thing. STEM is something that girls can pursue as well. I see a lot of girls come in thinking that they are an outsider in these fields so they should not pursue them. If you like it, then you should pursue it, regardless of your gender.
7. How do you think your field will change in the next 10 years?
Computer science as a whole has become so core to us over the last 10 years. There is this enormous demand for software engineers that the country is unable to fulfill. I think that in the next 10 years, a lot more people will realize that there is value in learning how to code.
8. What motivates you?
Problems do. I get so inspired by thinking about all the places the addition of technology could solve problems, whether it is in manufacturing or remote area water management. It is so exciting to live in a time where I actually can make an impact and solve these problems.
9. How do you define success?
I would define success as a series of failures followed by that one moment of luck plus intelligence. I think that we often overemphasize success and forget to celebrate failure. Nobody just became successful one random day. They kept trying and failing and failing and then they became successful.
10. What scientific discovery do you most admire and why?
I most admire the camera. I think they changed the way we preserve memories. When Kodak started, cameras became central to communication. They became like a third eye for us. Now, over a century later, we are using cameras to power visual search, and to share our lives online. It is interesting how important cameras are for us.
11. What one would you recommend everyone read and why?
I would recommend Life 3.0, It discusses how AI is taking over the planet while also looking at how our current technologies will evolve over the next ten years. I would also recommend Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It inspired me to look around the world, see problems and imagine creative solutions.
12. If you could invent anything or make any discovery what would it be and why?
I would invent some software that would manage our limited resources in a sustainable way. I think we could both level inequalities and address the overconsumption that has led to climate change.
13. What advice would you give to your high school self?
Play more sports! There are so many lessons, like self-discipline, teamwork, and decision-making, that I could have learned from playing a team sport. These are all such important skills for running a startup.
14. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be successful in computer science?
- Being able to identify a clear problem and target audience
- A knack for finding the simple solutions
- Being flexible to learn anything that comes your way
Spandana is a seasoned technology leader who has worked at companies like Apple and Snapchat. Spandana is currently leading an augmented reality startup, Hype AR, pioneering 3D ads based on the context in AR. She is a member of the Forbes Tech Council and Silicon Valley Bank Brain Trust program. Spandana graduated from Cornell University with a major in Computer Science. In addition, Spandana is also involved in helping organizations like Facing History, a non-profit which helps break stereotypes in high schools and cultivate an inclusive culture