The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC) Awards Program partners with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) to honor young high school women for their computing-related achievements and interests. The powerful story of their accomplishments does not end at a recognition ceremony in the spring of each year, it’s just beginning! The 145 young women who have been honored since the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Program inception in 2012-2013 continue to pursue life-changing education and career opportunities and accomplish AMAZING things.
We meet with MNAiC Alumna Sarah Aladetan in the third feature of the “Where Are They Now” series. Sarah was a 2013 Aspirations in Computing Awards national winner and Minnesota state winner from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. She is currently a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student pursuing a joint degree in Humanities and Engineering, focusing on Computer Science and Comparative Media Studies with a minor in music. After graduating from MIT in June 2018, she will be moving to San Francisco, California to begin her career as an Associate Software Engineer at GitHub.
Sarah’s journey to choosing her college degree exemplifies the benefits of having an open mind. When she graduated from Park Center Senior High School, Sarah expected to major only in Computer Science and possibly minor in a different subject. During her first year of college, she took humanities classes and discovered her interest to study the intersection of humanities and engineering. As a result, Sarah enrolled in the joint degree program and chose to minor in music. Sarah has studied software development, artificial intelligence (AI), algorithms, embedded systems, classical media studies theory, internet policy and ethics, digital humanities, and interaction design. “I’ve really enjoyed this interdisciplinary toolkit I’ve acquired over the last 3.5 years of college,” Sarah says. Using her education, she plans to work on human-centered software engineering, study AI and machine learning (ML) ethics, and develop computational safeguards and approaches for “fairness” in AI. Sarah also aspires to create music using computer science and to study classical media studies theories and curation in the history of music. In a few years, Sarah plans to pursue graduate studies in similar fields, with a goal of developing better digital tools and computational methods for the humanities field.
Throughout Sarah’s college career, she has gained a significant amount of experience to add to her tech portfolio. She participated in research opportunities at the MIT Game Lab & Education Arcade and the MIT Media Lab in the Human Dynamics Group. Sarah participated in two month-long internships, as part of MIT’s Externship Program, and she pursued an additional summer internship. As a Johnson & Johnson data science intern, Sarah developed web dashboards to assist the company’s research team in understanding target populations for medication. The dashboards displayed data profiles and visualizations for the Claims and Electronic Health Records databases. As an IBM research intern, Sarah built a prototype of a cognitive personal assistant for IBM employees’ web email clients. In the summer of 2017, she became a software development intern at GitHub. She worked to develop a graph in users’ repositories, which was a new feature on GitHub.com that allowed visual traversal through various project dependencies and sub-dependencies. During her GitHub internship, Sarah learned essential software engineering skills, such as how to navigate large codebases through working on various bug fixes, how to produce effective pull requests for code reviews, and how to collaborate and communicate with remote developers.
Outside of the classroom and her internships, Sarah volunteers and works on developing her skills as a musician. When middle school and high school students from China visited MIT, Sarah volunteered her time by teaching them how to make STEM education games. She also volunteers her time as a student representative on the MIT SHASS (School for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences) department committee. After participating in a campus a cappella group for two years, Sarah has switched gears and is now a member of a R&B/soul band and MIT’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble.
The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards provided Sarah a wealth of opportunities and insight into how she can pursue her interests and passions in the tech industry. “Winning the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing award gave me the confidence and opportunities to turn programming from a hobby to an actual academic and career path. My life would have possibly been a lot different without this award,” says Sarah. Through MNAiC, she interviewed for her first internship! After her junior year of high school, Sarah was an intern at Eden Prairie, MN based HelpSystems, which was an experience Sarah claims was “integral” to her “initial steps into the software development world.” She also learned more about the diverse opportunities in the tech industry when she shadowed two women in the technology field, at Medtronic and at The City of St. Louis Park’s IT Department. As a senior in high school, Sarah expanded her experience in the tech industry when she pursued a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) education job at the Brooklyn Park Library. She developed and planned STEAM-focused curriculum and workshops for local teens and children.
When asked the advice she would give young women who have aspirations in computing, Sarah shared that it’s important to connect with other women in tech groups and to follow your interests. “Support groups are integral to growing and feeling “seen” in your field,” says Sarah. “I would also tell them that if they have other interests outside of STEM, to not let those go. Sometimes, one can feel like they only can be a successful person in STEM if they focus all their energies on their particular field. However, it’s healthy to have other interests and hobbies, to avoid burnout. Also, sometimes you can combine your other interests into your tech goals!”