As part of the Asia Pacific Week of Code, 21-27 April 2014, we are highlighting YouthSpark stars in Asia Pacific who have learned to code and have found success in school, competitions and career by understanding this language. We hope their stories will inspire you. What are you waiting for? Learn to speak Code now. #WeSpeakCode.
Name: Kanika Agarwal
Occupation: Consumer and Commercial Communications Specialist, Asia Pacific Public Relations, Microsoft Asia
As a passionate advocate for coding, Kanika hopes to see more people equipped with programming skills, which she regards as “must-have” knowledge. She completed a Computer Engineering degree at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, and minored in both Business Studies and Communications Studies. She currently combines her passion for technology and marketing as a Consumer and Commercial Communications Specialist at Microsoft Asia, and finds time to volunteer at several organisations.
Can you describe some coding projects that you have done?
I completed about 10 coding projects in university. In one project, I built a working elevator model using Java language, where I had to create an algorithm that considers all sorts of complex scenarios, including the elevator’s response when calls for different directions are made concurrently. One of my biggest projects was to programme an intelligent Line-Following Robot with sensors where the robot only followed black lines. If it came upon white lines, it would locate the shortest path to get back to a black line and continue following it.
Share with us what you’ve been working on for the past three to six months. Was there something that was particularly exciting/rewarding for you?
Of the various projects I’ve done at Microsoft, the most exciting one has been an International Women’s Day project where I wrote web articles about how women in Asia are using technology to empower others.
I’ve also embarked on several personal projects. I’m helping women entrepreneurs on digital strategies for their start-ups. In addition, I’m about to kick off an independent project on women and education; it’s called “The Unspoken Voice”, and it covers stories of underprivileged people who have been able to receive education through help. I also volunteer at aidha, an organisation that provides financial, management and computer training to foreign domestic workers in Singapore.
More girls tend to go into the social sciences and humanities. Seeing as there is a gender imbalance in computer engineering, what were some challenges that you faced in school.
There is an unconscious bias that men have an ‘innate’ ability to excel in coding and other STEM subjects, and I think I had internalised that to a certain extent initially. Right from the first day, I realised that I was surrounded by guys who already knew quite a lot of coding languages. I would take a full day to understand what my male classmates could get in an hour. I felt stressed, but really, all I needed was to spend more time and effort—just as my male classmates had already done before beginning university.
The YouthSpark WeSpeakCode campaign aims to encourage young people to learn code. If you were to speak to the younger generation, what kind of advice would you give them (on coding)?
Coding will soon become a basic need, just as how Microsoft Office knowledge has become essential at school and in the office. There is a high demand for coders by businesses, particularly start-ups. Basic coding knowledge comes in handy when you need to create customised websites, blogs or mobile apps.
Would you advise them on learning a specific kind of programming language?
HTML 5 is a must for those who intend to work in a creative field. For others who wish to pursue software engineering, C++ is recommended because its gives you an idea of both C and Java.
Seeing as how the majority of those working in coding are male, what advice would you have for other young women who wish to pursue computer science studies or jobs?
I would say, if you love it, go for it. Women may not be able to control external factors such as recruitment practices, but they can manage their attitudes. I have seen women passing up chances because they felt intimidated by the dominance of males. They have to overcome their reservations, and give their passion a chance. If our generation doesn’t do it, who will?
It’s a myth that women can’t code or are mediocre at it. Many women from Asia are top coders. A perfect example would be Ruchi Sanghvi, the first female engineer hired by the social-networking website Facebook and is now the Vice President of Operations at Dropbox. Don’t be afraid of taking the road less travelled.
For a video of Kanika’s congratulatory speech at the School of Computer Engineering’s convocation ceremony, click here.