Commentary & Perspective

Up Close With a Grace Hopper Open Source Day Veteran

Sri Velagapudi knew she just had to code from an early age. Listening to her parents who both have math and computer science backgrounds talk about optimization, Unix and related topics piqued her interest. When she got to college, she knew she had to dig deeper into the topics that had seemed so foreign for so long. Luckily, she had an amazing professor for her first computer science class. She was hooked. “The problem solving and the sense of creating magic with my mind and fingertips [got] me hooked,” she says. She would eventually earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science from Rutgers University.

Sri has been a software engineer for more than 11 years now, but it wasn’t until four years ago, when she joined Google, that she heard of the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC). During her first GHC, she participated in Open Source Day (OSD) as a part of the Google Crisis Response Team. Participating in OSD “gave [her] a chance to viscerally experience the powerful union of creativity, technology, and the drive to make this world a better place.” Over the course of the conference she learned about cutting-edge research, new opportunities in technology, and even made a few friends.

Getting Involved

Her previous experiences with OSD inspired her to give back: she wrote an article about OSD to increase awareness among GHC participants, and last year volunteered as a tech partner for organizations participating in OSD. She was paired with OpenHatch, an organization that helps provide technical knowledge and training to future software contributors, with a special focus on increasing diversity in technology. On the day of the event, she helped with curriculum and set up instruction review. In addition, she ran a git prep session and assisted Code-A-Thon participants throughout the event.

But her work with OpenHatch didn’t stop there. After Grace Hopper ended, Sri worked with OpenHatch and Google to run more events in the New York area. Her only regret? “I wish I had had a similar opportunity earlier in my career!” she says.

Open Source Day 2014

This year, Sri will be working with a group of women to present a session on how to improve your tech portfolio while pursuing social good. “Working on pet projects provides a safe space to experiment, take risks, fail, try again and learn,” she says. The goal of the session is to help female coders understand how important this process is, and provide guidance on how to select a worthy project.

A Family Affair

Even with OSD 2014 fast approaching, Sri says that she’s most excited for the GHC poster session. The poster session allows participants to showcase their solutions to known or emerging problems in technology. Absorbing the enthusiasm and excitement of the contributors is always a highlight of the conference. And this year, the poster session has a personal significance. “This year, my mother and my cousin are presenting posters for the very first time. I can’t wait to cheer them on!” she says.

Advice for a Young Engineer

Interesting in learning to code yourself? Sri has a couple of tips for new or aspiring engineers:

  • Start Small: Create measurable, achievable goals to build your confidence and avoid being overwhelmed.
  • Find a Side Project: These build confidence allow you to discover what aspects of technology most interest you.
  • Work in a Group: Find others with the similar ambitions and go through the journey together. Create a judgment-free zone where it’s alright to create, fail, ask questions, and retry.
  • Keep it in Perspective: Don’t compare yourself to everyone. If you put as much time into learning as the person you’re comparing yourself with, you will be just as good. Be patient and have fun!