“Make space for yourself” – an undergrad’s path from undecided to Amazon engineer

“Keep making your way through this field if you feel passionate about it because you’re definitely going to find your place in it.”

Prithika Ramaiyer (BSE Data Science, 2022) was first introduced to computer science in her sophomore year at the University of Michigan, and now she’s a software development engineer at Amazon. After taking EECS 183 to learn a new skill, she discovered that CS was the right fit for her. 

We recently spoke with Prithika about her experience as a student who was new to computer science. Here’s some of what she had to say: 

What brought me to computer science

I started off my freshman year wanting to do biomedical engineering and quickly realized it wasn’t a fit for me. Then, I decided to do economics with a minor in computer science because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do as a career. The first CS class I took was 183 (Elementary Programming Concepts), and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in getting started with programming. It was my first exposure to computer science, and I loved it. The first couple projects were simple and easy to pick up, and the final project in the class gave me a lot of freedom. It showed me the kinds of things you can create using computer science, and that’s what made me interested in the field.

What I love about the CS program at Michigan is…

The department has such incredible classes which have such a wide variety of topics. If I took two classes in one semester, I saw two completely different aspects of the subject. That’s a pretty amazing thing to do as an undergraduate. I also think the methods used at Michigan explore subject matter very deeply, and the Instructional aides who help are an incredible resource. 

The professors were always helpful and  inspirational when I went to their office hours or reached out to them, and I always felt really lucky to have access to all of those minds at the University.  I especially enjoyed taking classes in machine learning, and was able to become an undergrad researcher in the Natural Language Processing Lab, which was a great experience. 

What kept me going

My dad originally encouraged me to choose computer science, but I was terrified because I thought there wouldn’t be any other women in my classes. It intimidated me, and I chose biology at first because I thought it would be a safer space than a male-dominated field. I went down that road for almost three years before I realized what I was really passionate about.

But once I actually started taking upper-level classes, I realized that a lot of the professors are women, and that’s been very inspirational for me. I felt more comfortable reaching out for help and talking about my concerns about the industry and what scared me. Thankfully, my professors helped me to put myself out there and learn how to grow my skills.

The best advice I would give someone unsure about CS

The imposter syndrome within this field is something that you may continue to feel, but you have to keep reminding yourself that it’s all in your head. Just because you think you don’t fit in doesn’t mean you actually don’t. Everyone feels like they don’t exactly know what they’re doing, and that’s completely okay within this field. And if you really want to fit in, make space for yourself. That’s what I did. Keep making your way through this field if you feel passionate about it because you’re definitely going to find your place in it. Nobody in the world knows exactly what they’re doing all the time, so you don’t have to feel like the only one who doesn’t know what she’s doing.