Name: Vignesh Valliyur
Hometown: Hyderabad, India
Majors: Computer Science, PPE
Activities on Campus: Penn Debate Society (currently ranked 3rd best two–person team in the nation), CIT 593 TA, Penn Poker Club, Penn Club Tennis, Penn Nataak (global contemporary theater group), Penn Effective Altruism, Undergraduate Economics Society, Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity
Street: How did you end up choosing both Computer Science and PPE as majors?
VV: It’s super interesting. So, initially, when I came into Penn, I was very, very social sciences and humanities focused, so I came in as a pure PPE major. And all through high school I had been very focused on political science—like I didn’t take physics or chemistry in high school. When I got to Penn, first semester I took CIS110, and the next semester I took CIS120. I was just feeling it out, and then, I don’t know, some point along the way I realized I really enjoyed Computer Science, and I loved how it taught me to think in a very different way, so some point along the way I decided “alright, let’s go with it.” But I also think there are a lot of interesting applications for these fields, a lot of stuff about fairness in machine learning models, for example, where you talk about how algorithms will systematically discriminate, for example, against people of color. And there are a lot of other interesting applications, like wrongful convictions in that space—legal tech as an industry is growing. So, I could see myself in that general intersection at some point.
Street: Have you personally done anything in the field of law or tech?
VV: I worked as a paralegal at a small law firm that only handles capital death penalty cases for indigent cases … the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center. So all the people they are representing risk facing the death penalty. So that was a very interesting experience, it was interesting going down to the South to have that experience, because statistically that’s one of the places where you have the most executions per capita, or something like that. And yeah, it was a really interesting experience, working in purely grassroots–level law as a legal intern. It ranged from doing investigative work—talking to witnesses, filing reports, going through crime scene photos—then there was a research project I was working on in regards to the Louisiana Pardon Parole Board, and I tried to do all sorts of frameworks in order to understand how often they gave pardons to people, and there was also some very basic legal research as well. Going through motions, compiling motions, looking at all the motions from past cases. So yeah, it was great, a really holistic experience. I didn’t really use tech or coding there, but the project I worked on with regards to the Department Board and the Parole Board involved a lot of statistics, basically just going through a lot of data, trying to understand what that space looked like—how many people were pardoned, what was their background, what were the crimes they were convicted of. And which patterns. It was a lot of subjecting my tasks to a lot of analytical rigor, and I thought that was very interesting. And I mean, of course, that was my first tiptoes—the summer after I worked at Amazon, so I got a very huge tech exposure there. Obviously I’m still sort of finding my way, with regards to all that. But I can definitely see myself working in some sort of intersection [of the two fields].
Street: What’s your most memorable experience with debate?
VV: I think it’s the community. It’s a very lovely community, and the team has grown so much over my four years here. It’s really great to spend time with them ... I guess it’s not really a specific memory or moment—I think that’s the highlight of it for me, at least. Just running really funny cases and troll cases, as well. That’s fun, that’s always fun. It’s hard—I’ve been through so many rounds over the years.
Street: How was it moving from India to Penn?
VV: It wasn’t—I mean, full disclosure, I was born in Boston, I spent about eight years in Boston, and then my family moved to India, where I spent the rest of my childhood growing up, but it wasn’t as much of a culture shock as I thought it would be. I’m fortunate enough that I can pull a pretty decent American accent, so no one can really tell, but—I think it wasn’t a very rough transition. I was able to come in and amalgamate very quickly. I guess it sucks taking all those flights back and forth, but, other than that, it’s all good.
Street: What do you do as part of Penn Nataak, and what got you interested in contemporary theatre?
VV: So, I was always very fascinated by theater in different forms, whether it be voice acting or stage acting or shooting short films, things like that. It was always an artistic passion of mine. And when I came to Penn, I felt I’d like to be part of the theater scene, at least for a little bit, so I joined Penn Nataak because I really like the global contemporary theme to it, and there were a lot of plays that are about Asia, which I had a personal connection to, so I think my second semester freshman year I acted in a production and really enjoyed that, and went on to be a director as part of it and organized shows. It was a great learning experience, it was very eye–opening in terms of what it takes to run these shows, how to set up lights, for example, and other technical aspects. But yeah, it was just one of those things I wanted to experiment with, and I was so glad I got to come to Penn to be able to do that.
Street: What kinds of things does Penn Poker Club do, besides host games?
VV: So, they have a nickname for me, which is Viggy Value, which is a funny name. So there are games that are hosted almost several times a week—someone will post in the group, and we’ll get together, and we play for different stakes, different kinds of games—like sometimes you play Hold ‘Em, sometimes Omaha, and it’s a great group of people, you know. It’s a good community. And we’ll occasionally make a run to the casino together, or sometimes there are tournaments that we go to together as a team.
Street: How successful are you, in general?
VV: I do okay, I do okay. This semester I’m up, like, 2700 dollars playing poker.
Street: Favorite class at Penn?
Street: Favorite tennis player?
VV: Roger Federer.
Street: What song have you listened to most in the past week?
VV: Bohemian Rhapsody.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn…
VV: Chill and unchill.