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View from India: IIIT-H student to take part in Grace Hopper Celebration

Sreeja Kamishetty, a dual degree student at the International Institute of Information Technology-Hyderabad (IIIT-H), was the only student to represent India at the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa regions) Google Students Retreat 2018, which took place in London last month.

The experience was nothing short of a revelation, she said, as she gears up for the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) to be held in Houston, USA, from September 26-28. GHC is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists.

Tech tools backed by an analytical approach can help mitigate pollution levels and traffic congestion to quite an extent. Kamishetty realised this early in life, so the 20-year-old student is doing research in artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent transportation to create solutions for bringing down pollution levels and improving traffic management. The research has touched the right chord.  “Currently, I am working on solutions for lowering urban pollution. I have designed an algorithm called a pareto max flow algorithm. I will be presenting a poster at Houston on a solution control for urban pollution,” said Kamishetty, sharing her excitement.

Her research into intelligent transport systems hopes to connect the dots between traffic management and emergency situations. Even as she probed deeper, she began to develop a machine learning solution for prioritised (and better quality) routing of vehicles especially during emergencies.

The outcome is evident from the research paper. “During emergencies it’s crucial to evacuate as many people as possible from the affected area. Most police personnel use Ford Fulkerson Algorithm as it gives maximum flow, but we need to prioritise vehicles which carry large number of people to be evacuated to a safe zone,” explained Kamishetty, who is pursuing computer science and engineering at IIIT-H. In order to maximise the flow, an AI technique described as ‘Uniform Cost Search’ is being leveraged along with Ford Fulkerson Algorithm to get the routes into order. This approach has illustrated that it is possible to evacuate many more people than using the standard algorithm.

Having satisfied herself with the research, she is now clear cut about her choice of using AI and machine learning tools. “Right from healthcare to traffic woes, many issues can be resolved with these tools. Recent advancement in AI can help people with mental health, bots are being made which can give suggestions to the user,” she reasoned.

Of course, such out-of-the-box thinking wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the guidance from Professor Praveen Paruchuri of IIIT-H. “The field of machine learning is growing at a tremendous pace in the current times - with a huge number of real-world applications - you name a field, there is a good chance machine learning may have affected [it] in some way,” said Professor Paruchuri. “While India has been playing a catch-up game so far, the scenario is changing quite rapidly in the past few years with a huge buzz for machine learning, not just in academia but with industry and lots of startups trying to make a name for themselves in this space,” he added.

While Kamishetty is preparing for the Grace Hopper Conference, she describes the Google Students Retreat as a learning experience. Google Students Retreat is a three-day event for women in technology to connect. It creates a platform to strengthen skills, network with other attendees and engineers and learn about Google products and culture. Key takeaways of the Retreat include failure as a learning experience, along with panel discussions by Google employees on their failure and success.

What made this experience worthwhile is that it went beyond textbook knowledge. The agenda included sessions and workshops that focus on personality development and improving self esteem.

Sessions like #IamRemarkable have been motivational. Participants got an opportunity to express themselves in matters they were remarkable at. At the end of it, the facilitator made the students realise that each one is remarkable in something different. It boosted their confidence level. Many more anecdotes unfold, like the ‘True Colors’ workshop that left an impression on her. “The workshop taught us how to work with people with different colours where each colour represented a set of behaviours. Through True Colors, I got to know about different characters and how to work with them to bring a better output from the team. It helped in improving the interaction with different people,” she recalled.

A workshop on imposter syndrome turned out to be an eye opener. “Research indicates that women only apply to positions if they are 100 per cent sure that they match all the qualifications and men apply even if they meet 60 per cent of requirements. Through this workshop, I realised that sometimes I end up with this syndrome, a doubt whether I am capable of this role or not now,” she admitted.

It is important to increase women’s presence in the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) fields in India.  “In order to support women in technology, I have taken an initiative to lead clubs like open source developers group, where team members conduct workshops and encourage women to code. Apart from that, I have been a speaker at various events,” said Kamishetty. Future plans would be to form communities and speak at various events and platforms to encourage women to enter STEM fields.

Earlier this year, the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), the country’s leading technology trade body, launched its second Edition of ‘Women and IT Scorecard – India’ report in partnership with the Open University (UK), to obtain new insights into the profile of women in the Indian IT-BPM industry.

The March 2018 report found that the Indian IT sector is on the right path towards recruiting and retaining more women in leadership roles, forecasting that half of firms will have over 20 per cent women in the C-suite level, which is set to increase to nearly 60 per cent at the senior level. Insights showed that on average, women working in IT are more highly qualified than men and that more companies reported a higher proportion of young women aged between 30 and 35 in C-suite roles than men (4.5 per cent) in the same age group. HR policies such as conveyance, flexi-work, work-from-home, parental leave, anti-harassment and better healthcare have led to this positive trend.

However, the findings suggested that women tend to come from more privileged backgrounds than men working in the IT sector, suggesting that more work needs to be done to bring social diversity on course with the trend towards gender parity. Recruitment strategies such as career-entry pipelines and apprenticeship are recommended to harness hidden talent among less privileged social classes.

Let’s hope that women from all sections of society get equal opportunities to take up STEM degrees in times to come. An inclusive approach in education supported by an ecosystem can potentially set the stage for a better representation of women in all manner of STEM careers.

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