There are times when all of us feel like prisoners in our own minds – constantly trying to break free of negative thoughts but unable to. For Monica Sai Kambala, this feeling is an everyday reality.
This Vishakhapatnam girl suffers from Imposter Syndrome – a psychological pattern where people constantly doubt their skills and feel inferior to others. Monica, however, never let her condition get the better of her. She fought to prove herself to her family and to a society that feels that women cannot code. This is her story.
A difficult summer
Monica’s father owns an education consulting firm. And like most Indian parents, he too had big dreams for his youngest child. He hoped that Monica would attend IIT and land a big job in a corporate.
Everything was on track till 10th grade. Monica was a bright student, a basketballer, and she loved her extra-curriculars. After receiving a perfect 10 GPA in her 10th grade, she had to decide whether to attend junior college or remain in school for her higher studies.
She chose the latter. “I didn’t want to join junior college. I knew that if I did, I wouldn’t have time for anything else apart from academics and that I would lose my creativity,” recounts Monica.
This decision backfired.
She scored 72% in 12th grade and couldn’t crack IIT or JEE. And her parents blamed her for her decision to remain in school.
Finally, Monica’s father got her admitted in Gayatri Vidya Parishad College of Engineering for Women.
Love affair with Python
As a child, Monica wanted to study Astrophysics. But something changed during her plus two when she took computer science classes. “I was in awe of what a few lines of code could make a computer do…I felt like a magician.”
Her love for coding intensified when she learnt Python in her 3rd semester of college.
“I experimented with Python and kept playing with the code. I ended up working on face recognition under my principal,” says Monica.
But that didn’t prevent her feeling pressured. There were days when she would remain late in college just to avoid conversation about her future with her family.
The Hyderabad Chapter
At the end of 3rd year, Monica gave the WTEF exam on a whim. TalentSprint’s Women Techmakers Engineering Fellowship (WTEF) supported by Google is a program that aims to address the gender imbalance in the Indian technology industry by grooming 600+ promising female engineers by 2022.
“I gave the test on the last day and to my surprise was selected. I read the mail at least 10 times because I couldn’t believe it,” Monica chuckles.
At the bootcamp in Hyderabad, Monica was apprehensive about how she would perform. She says, “I feared that the girls would be much more advance than me…my imposter syndrome clicked in and I started doubting myself again.”
But the orientation day put her at ease. “I realised I could trust the other girls… we were all on the same boat.”
The bootcamp was a steep learning curve. Monica recalls that she wanted to forget everything she’d learnt in college and start afresh.
“How I met my boss”
For her last project, Monica and her friend worked on face recognition. There was to be a presentation, but before that the students visited the Google office in Hyderabad. “I felt like I was a kid in Disneyland… I knew I had to give the presentation my 100%.”
It was during her presentation at IIIT Hyderabad that she met her soon-to-be boss Dr Anoop Namboodiri. Monica’s project earned her an Excellent Project Certificate and a job at IIIT Hyderabad as a Junior Software Developer.
“That summer was a wakeup call for me. I realised that I am not just a member of the crowd, but I am apart from it.”