Name: Vraj Shroff
Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
Major: Double major in computer science and economics, with an accelerated master’s in systems engineering
34th Street Magazine: You're doing an accelerated master's on top of your undergraduate studies. Why did you choose to pursue this program?
When I came in, I was an economics and computer science major. And [these programs] focused a lot on the technical side, how to make things given we have all the details about [them]. So for example, if you ask me how to make Facebook, the computer science program will help make that happen. But I really wanted to focus on creating systems from a higher level. So focusing more on, "How do I design a system that doesn't exist? What are the things that I need to focus on?" That played a role in my career, as well as my internships. I really wanted to focus on that, to get some practical and class experience on how to understand the systems and how to create them myself.
You're pursuing dual degrees in Engineering and the College, as well as a minor in Wharton. Is there a reason why you chose to study in each of these schools?
Yeah, definitely. I think it allowed me access to different resources and helped me meet new people from all the schools. It was very important for me to work in a team of very diverse experience as a [technical program manager at Facebook last summer]. A lot of my work would be working in groups, leading and collaborating with teams that focus on different aspects. So I really wanted to get that experience in college as well. I have Engineering friends who are really focused on technical things and helped me enhance my skill set there, and it's complemented really well by my Wharton and College friends.
You're the chair of entrepreneurship in the Wharton Undergraduate Healthcare Club. How do your interests align with health care and entrepreneurship?
Actually, I came in as a pre–med when I joined Penn. Almost all of my cousins are doctors. It seemed like the only natural step for me, but I soon realized that there are some other interests I have that I would like to explore, namely computer science. But I was still very interested in health care. I'm taking MBA classes in health care right now, just to expand the network and learn more from Wharton professors. With that, I really wanted some hands–on experience. I think this [health care club] seemed like a really nice step, but it was really missing a very important aspect. A lot of club events are, you bring in a speaker, they give a lecture, and people go home. I wanted to make it more interactive, and that's why I started the entrepreneurship branch. Wharton Undergraduate Health care is the largest health care club on campus, and my committee is the largest committee focusing on that. So I was really excited to help 100 plus students every semester, meet with executives—we brought in the vice president of Johnson & Johnson—and just create a really entrepreneurial–focused environment for everyone in health care.
You created a platform for Wharton Global Health Volunteers. Tell us a little bit about that.
I partner with a lot of Wharton MBAs and a lot of computer science students from Engineering. And I was able to lead this initiative where I was making a platform with a hospital in India. The goal was to find out what things are important for people when they're trying to volunteer, or they want to donate, and find the right places for community service. So I was working with Sarah Mayner (WG '21)—she's a Wharton MBA, amazing person. She was finding out what things are important to [volunteers], and I was leading the tech side of it. How do we make that vision happen? What's our shared vision that we want to implement that will help people do the right things and help the community? So that was the platform. We’re still working on it and making it better.
What is Magic Connects? And why did you decide to develop it?
VS: Last semester, I was in Philadelphia for a few months, and I happened to just run into a [first–year] Penn student. I just asked her, “Hey, have you been to Center City this semester?” And she said, “I really want to, but I don't have anyone to go with.” That really stuck to me. There is this whole new class of people at Penn, and they never had the same New Student Orientation experience and the same opportunities to meet new people like we did. I thought I could make a platform that would help students connect with each other. It's based on common interests, like sci–fi, health care, and computer science. It will find people who like similar things as me and connect me with them. I think students from 65 schools and from 40 different countries have started using [it]. I'm glad it's helping people connect with other students.
What are you hoping for the future of Magic Connects once everything is 'back to normal'?
I think there was always a need for this, even before the pandemic. It was really hard to just go to class and be like, “Hey, let's be friends.” So I think it takes that away, because it's an opt–in mechanism—people who are here are looking for new friends. It makes it less awkward for everyone involved, and it also doesn't limit you to where you live. You can meet people from Drexel, from Temple, from other colleges near you, or other schools where you can find similar people as you—Harvard, Yale, Stanford, all these people that you can't really [meet] without an online platform. So I'm really excited for this platform, even after the pandemic.
If you could impart one lesson on the Penn community, what would it be?
[Have] a really nice community of people. By community I mean that a really nice friend circle is extremely important. I often joke with [my friends], "If I become a billionaire, I'll split it with all of you." It's really because they have been supporting me so much—just things like helping me proofread my resume, helping me draft my cover letters, connecting me with the networks to find internships, and helping me get into their clubs. Also going out on Friday night, and just relaxing, and getting away from the Penn pre–professional world. It's really important—not just for your growth, but even for your mental health—to have a really nice friend group that you can hang out with, watch a movie with, and have fun with. It doesn't matter if you get an A or an A+ in MATH 104. I think people should spend much more time making this happen.
What's next for you after Penn?
I'll be in New York working for Facebook as a technical program manager (TPM). For my internships, I was a TPM intern at Google. Last summer, I was a TPM intern at Facebook. So I really love the role. I'm really excited to go there and finally live in New York without a pandemic.
Last song you listened to?
It's probably a Bollywood song, not going to lie. I don't even remember the name. I've been going back to a lot of Bollywood songs recently.
If you were a building on campus, which one would you be and why?
I think it would be Towne, the Engineering building. People go there a lot—especially [first years] when they’re taking CIS 161 or 121.
Who do you look up to?
I think the big tech CEOs. They're my favorite people. Sundar Pichai, Mark Zuckerberg—they're two of my role models.
What's your favorite sunny day activity in Philly?
Going out with my friends and taking a walk. Crossing the river and going to Center City—just having some time with friends.
There are two types of people at Penn…
I have one for CIS students. Those who love professor Rajiv Gandhi, and those who delay graduation to avoid him.
And you are?
Oh, he’s definitely one of my favorite professors at Penn.