At midnight, in December of 2016, Sneha Advani (C & E'20) heard a knock on the door to her first–year dorm. She opened it to 30 people standing outside, wishing her a happy birthday. They were led there by her sister, a senior at Penn at the time, who had brought a cake and arranged for the residents of King's Court 4th floor to surprise Sneha.
"That was the first birthday I had spent away from my family," she says over video chat from her home in Cary, North Carolina. "Freshman year’s hard for everybody, so it was really nice to have somebody there that was familiar and was able to help me through it."
Sneha considers her sister to be her primary influence in her deciding to apply to Penn early decision, along with the AI dual–degree Penn offered that combined her interests in computer and cognitive sciences. She had no problem adjusting after that surprise birthday party, as it turns out: she joined the Women in Computer Science club (WiCS) and got acquainted with FemmeHacks, an annual hack–a–thon that teaches young women how to code with projects they present for prizes. Beginning as a committee member, she's since been the director of FemmeHacks for the past two years.
"The goal of it is to be more beginner–friendly and less intimidating than a lot of the normal co–ed hack–a–thons, like PennApps, because there aren’t a lot of spaces for women in these. In tech in general, actually."
One of the ways Sneha combats this gender imbalance is with the Percentage Project, a non–profit dedicated to promoting diversity in engineering and computer science. They take action by giving presentations for campus clubs or starting a recent social media campaign where members updated their profile photos with statistics informing of the gender disparities in the field. In addition, Sneha is a sister of Alpha Omega Epsilon, a sorority for women in engineering and technical science.
When she's not managing her time between clubs, Sneha would typically find herself around the Engineering building studying or working on her senior design project, an audio advertising platform called Adio. It plays music from the regular streaming services with ads interspersed, the revenue for which is sent to the drivers with a fee for the maintenance of the program.
Since students left campus, she's been keeping on more or less the same with her studies, the reformatting of which she looks at with a positive attitude. "For one of my Psych classes, my mom actually watched it with me, because she was just curious about it. So that’s something I wouldn’t have been able to do." Sneha isn't fazed by much, a quality which has served her well in trying times.
In many ways, software engineering is both a study and a way of life for Sneha. She credits her AI dual–degree for allowing her to learn what makes humans act the way they do, then applying that to teach computers how to think in that same way. However, she insists she is "currently not building a robot that’s going to take over the world." Instead, she talks about the many doors a proficiency in computer science has opened for her.
"One of the reasons why I chose software engineering is because I feel like it has so many applications and possibilities, so I can really take it into whatever direction I feel most passionate about and wherever I can make the most impact." She says the future for her is somewhat uncertain, especially given the current circumstances, but few people at this age speak with such a steadiness and ardor for their chosen field like she does.
"I feel like I don’t have enough experience right now to be able to say where I want to end up yet. I really want to take the first few years of my career to explore all the different options and learn as much as I can about the industry and the different possibilities there are for things that I could do. And then, once I decide which one I’m more interested in, then just take that more deeply."
While she may not be running SkyNet anytime soon, Sneha has been putting her talents to use at Facebook, where she interned last summer and is returning full–time later this year. "It’s kind of weird now, I don’t know if I’ll be starting virtually or not," she says, adding that she had been trying to move up her start date.
In the meantime, she'll be working on hobbies like piano and crochet. She actually has a blanket back at Penn that she's been working on for two years, that she left there before being sent home. As of this moment, Penn has communicated no clear plans for returning personal items such as these. Sneha doesn't seemed concerned; she's started a sweater for now.