Innovator to Innovator: AiC Community Members Ashmita and Sierra and Apple VPs Hope and Priya Find Strength in Allies Who Believe in Their Valuable Technical Skills


InnovatorApple and NCWIT present a series of personal essays and stories of innovation, as told by NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (AiC) Community members by way of conversations with Apple executives. Below is the fourth edition of “Innovator to Innovator,” where AiC Community Members Ashmita Sarma and Sierra Schultz talk to Apple VP of Engineering Program Management Hope Giles and VP of Core Technologies and iPhone Operations Priya Balasubramaniam about finding allies and mentors, growing from learning, embracing strengths, and more.



Aspirations in Computing (AiC) Community Members Ashmita Sarma and Sierra Schultz not only marvel at the power of technology and how it works, but also strive to innovate with others. When they both received the opportunity to meet up with fellow AiC Community members, Apple VP of Engineering Program Management Hope Giles, and Apple VP of Core Technologies and iPhone Operations Priya Balasubramaniam, they were delighted to discover common ground with others on learning from technological experiences and peers, as well as mantras that move them forward. Below are takeaways from this group of innovators with various backgrounds and experiences who recently gathered for a roundtable chat at the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) annual conference.

Front Row (L-R): Priya Balasubramaniam, Maria Sanchez Lopez, Ashmita Sarma, Gulnaz Sayed, and Shreya Chowdhary
Back Row (L-R): Zoe Husted, Natalie Broide, Hope Giles, Jillian MacGregor, Sierra Schultz, and Charlotte Thomasson


Learn in Order to Grow

“Change is the only constant, but change happens only when you learn. And, you have to continuously apply those learnings to make sure that you are optimizing whatever you are doing,” says Priya.

Block Quote 1Learning new technologies and programming languages are challenges in which both Ashmita and Sierra have been able to grow:

“This semester, I took a course in functional programming using OCaml. It was a very interesting course because it was my first functional programming language, and it helped me think about traditional programming problems in a different way. Through this class I learned that there are multiple approaches to solving common problems. It was also the first class where I had to learn a completely new programming language very quickly, and it helped me get a better understanding of what specific things to look for when you are trying to learn a new language,” says Ashmita.

“This summer, I interned on a team that required me to learn a lot of new technology very quickly, including Amazon Web Services. While it started as an intimidating task to learn it all, I developed strategies for asking effective questions for my teammates, and we were all able to learn more as a result,” says Sierra.

Find Those Who Believe in You

“It’s finding those sponsors, it’s finding those mentors, it’s finding the advisors, and the people who believe in what you can do. And, it starts from you believing what you can do,” says Hope.

Block Quote 2For both Ashmita and Sierra, there were key individuals who encouraged them to persist in the face of rejection and perceived limitations:

“Maria Gini, a Computer Science Professor at the University of Minnesota, is who I have to thank for encouraging me to pursue computer science. She not only exposed me to research in high school, but she also mentored me in running my first AspireIT program. She does her best to get to know students in the Computer Science Major, and she has encouraged me to persist even if I get rejected from opportunities. She helped me and many other students from our ACM-W chapter attend the Grace Hopper Conference this year through funding from the Computer Science department,” says Ashmita.

“Last year, the former president of my section of SWE pushed me multiple times over the year to take on new projects and responsibilities while staying honest with myself about what I could handle. By the time our officer elections came around, I still wasn't sure that I would be the best person, yet she encouraged me to run and push myself that much further. Having someone who believed in my abilities and gave me the opportunity to explore my strengths was key to me successfully taking on new leadership roles this year,” says Sierra.

Believe in You

Block Quote 3 and 4“Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. You may have towering strengths that the other person may not have,” says Priya.

“You have a lot to add; don’t sell yourself short,” says Hope.

What are Ashmita’s and Sierra’s favorite strengths?

“My favorite strength is probably the ability to adapt. My university experience has put me in a constantly changing environment. Between managing our school’s annual light show and serving as Vice President to our Undergraduate Women in Computer Science Club, I have had to exercise many new technical and interpersonal skills that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to. It’s important to be able to proactively respond to change in Computer Science, since technology is always changing, and there are always new skills to learn,” says Ashmita.

“One of my favorite strengths is my ability to connect with others and understand people on a deeper level. In the computing world, we often hear the stereotype of engineers being introverted or not knowing how to talk to each other, but I believe that having strong communicators and people that can empathize is essential to the future of technology,” says Sierra.

About Ashmita, Sierra, and AiC

Ashita PhotoAshmita Sarma received both the 2017 National Award for AiC and the 2016 Minnesota Affiliate Award for AiC. She became fascinated with computers in middle school, and by 8th grade, she was building websites. Her coding toolkit these days includes HTML, CSS, Javascript, Python, Java, AngularJS, and Ansible. Ashmita’s extensive accomplishments in computing include working a summer gig as a Systems Engineer Intern at SPS Commerce, researching AI at the University of Minnesota, and teaching coding classes, both in person and online. She has also gained experience in a variety of tech settings through opportunities to shadow at major companies Target, Land O' Lakes, and Unisys. She enjoys competing at local hackathons and participating in Capture The Flag cybersecurity competitions, and she hopes to advocate for accessible Computer Science education throughout her career.

Sierra PhotoSierra Schultz received an honorable mention for the 2016 Minnesota Affiliate Award for AiC. Her interest in technology has been a major part of her life since she first pick up a computer game at age 6. These days, she has a wide range of experiences under her belt. Between internships at PeopleNet, Code42, and research in a neuroscience lab at the University of Minnesota, she has developed skills in application development, cloud infrastructure, and mathematical modeling. As the treasurer of the University of Minnesota section of Society of Women Engineers, she has had the opportunity to pursue her passion of lifting up other women in STEM. Her career interests lie in the development of smart technology for urban infrastructure to improve quality of life and safety.


AiC is supported by Apple’s lifetime partnership ​and commitment to change the public perception of who creates technology.

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National Award

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