#WomeninSTEM · #WomeninTech · imposter syndrome · inspiration · Technology · women who reign

Women Who Reign: Tanya Balaraju

“Just keep following the heartlines on your hand” – Florence + The Machine’s song “Heartlines”

Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I’m a junior majoring in Computer Science at Rutgers University with special interests in cognitive science and artificial intelligence. I’m an organizer at HackRU and the Community Director of USACS, the undergraduate computer science organization at Rutgers. Over the past year, my peers and I at USACS have worked incredibly hard over the past year to make our our organization truly representative of our community. More specifically, I’ve been heavily involved in leading our effort to diversify our community; a large part of this effort has involved boosting our online presence to encourage more students to get involved with USACS. My peers and I have also worked on reaching out to prominent and interesting developers outside of Rutgers to join us for our Speaker Series.

When I’m not coding (these days, that means writing search algorithms for AI), I enjoy photography, writing poetry, making mini sculptures, working out, and being outdoors (in no particular order).

Fun facts: I love the Harry Potter series (proud Gryffindor here!), and I also have two black cats named Boo and Pepper.


What # would define your life journey?
If I had to pick one, I’d say #Strength. The word “strength” has always helped me “recenter” in a sense, reminding me of where I strive to be physically, mentally, and emotionally.

 

Favorite website / app:
Instagram has been a great tool to help me to find and connect with awesome women in the tech industry and invite them to Rutgers for our Speaker Series! It’s also the main platform on which I discovered ReigningIt, so it’s definitely on my list of favorites.

I also really enjoy this one app I’ve had for years called SkyView–it’s an app that uses your location to map the night sky above you and display stars, constellations, planets, and satellites, along with lots of information about each one. I’m hoping to be able to find a place with little to no light pollution soon and use the app to its full potential.

Finally, it might sound basic, but getting a MacBook Pro really streamlined the development experience for me. XCode is (usually) a dream to work with, and I really appreciate the developer-friendliness of MacOS. (Linux is great, too, but the way that MacOS combines basic user friendliness with developer friendliness has been unparalleled in my view.)

 

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Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted:
One of many people who inspire me is the president of USACS, Sakib Jalal. Sakib was actually one of the primary two people who encouraged me to get involved with USACS and make the improvements I wanted to see–he was treasurer at the time, and I really appreciated having a board member support my point of view. Without his supportive and dedicated leadership over the past year, USACS’s efforts couldn’t have been nearly as successful as they have been; time and again, he has encouraged the ideas I’ve had for USACS events and initiatives and cleared the path to make it happen. Through him, the other board members and I really do feel a greater sense of purpose toward our work. For me, this sense of purpose applies not only to my work in USACS, but also in my academic life: Sakib has encouraged me to challenge any perceived boundaries and reservations I might have and pursue the classes and topics I’m interested in. Everyone is a combination of the people they surround themselves with; over the past several years, Sakib’s conscientiousness and work ethic have definitely rubbed off on me.

 

Song that makes you want to dance:
A lot of Florence + The Machine’s songs have really resonated with me for years; it’s hard to pick just one, though!

 

Challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
I think that I’ve faced a series of challenges and crossroads over the past few years; I actually think I’m at a crossroads currently as well, as I consider where I’m headed with my career.

One past “fork in the road” that stands out in my mind is my hesitation to have a voice in the CS community. About a year ago, my friend and I really wanted to be involved with USACS; however, like many others who had wanted to join, we weren’t sure if we could fit into this tight-knit and rather intimidating group of people. With the encouragement of a few very wonderful friends I had (both inside and outside of the organization), I finally showed up to a meeting and voiced my ideas about where I felt USACS could improve; before I knew it, I was helping lead the effort to make it all happen. Looking back one year later, it feels incredible to know that we’ve helped open up USACS to hundreds of students and encouraged an environment that helps us all improve–both from a technical standpoint and as a community as well. Our effort is far from over, but I’m proud to have been a part of it thus far, and I’m beyond lucky to have friends who urged me to voice my perspective.

 

What do you want to be known as? What kind of legacy do you want to create for yourself?
I’m honestly not sure of my own answer to this question, although I’ve always strived to be creative and courageous and to inspire other people to be that way, too.

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What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Respect yourself by being true to yourself and going after what you want. Don’t hesitate because you think you’re “not good enough”–there are enough forces out there trying to knock you down without you being your own worst enemy on top of it all. Be unabashedly curious, bold, and self-aware; recognize your boundaries, but don’t ever be afraid to challenge them (and ask for help if needed). You’re capable of a lot more than you know, and pretty much no one gets to where they are without the help and support of others.

I also think it’s worth sharing a technique that I use to help myself make the best decisions for myself: I find that imagining myself as the leader of an entire nation (where the nation represents me and all the little aspects of who I am) really helps me remember the responsibility that I have toward myself. I think that a lot of women tend to look outward and are inclined to feel responsibility toward others, and viewing yourself as a leader of your own self is a great way to turn that awesome leadership and responsibility inward. You deserve that!

(Funnily enough, I’m telling you to quite literally reign your life. Go ahead, be a queen.)

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