Innovator to Innovator: Apple VPs Cheryl Thomas and Craig Federighi Offer Advice and Inspiration to #WWDC18 Scholar Jothi Ramaswamy


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 second edition of “Innovator to Innovator,” where NCWIT AiC Community Member Jothi Ramaswamy talks with Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi and Apple Vice President of Software Engineering Operations Cheryl Thomas about the power of curiosity, the challenges of creating a work-life balance, and their shared mission to increase the meaningful participation of women in computing.



Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been intrigued by the wondrousness that is Apple. Even starting off with something as small as the iPod Shuffle, I was blown away. I remember pressing the skip button through all my songs, not necessarily because I didn’t like any of them, but because I was fascinated by the idea that I could control the songs I play on such a tiny device with just the press of a button. I’ve always wanted to learn how Apple creates the revolutionary technologies that it does.

Skip ahead to June 4, 2018 when I found myself at the 2018 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) as one of 350 WWDC scholars. Not only did I get to see Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi’s keynote, but I also got the incredible chance to interview him and Vice President of Software Engineering Operations Cheryl Thomas, who spoke at the WWDC Scholarship Orientation. Finally, I got a glimpse into the minds of those who help to create some of the most revolutionary technologies that the world has ever seen.

Alongside fellow WWDC Scholars and NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (AiC) Community Members Akshaya Dinesh, Gaby Ecanow, Liz Petrov, Ariana Sokolov, and Grace Zhang, we received unforgettable advice on working in the tech sector. Here are several takeaways.


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“When it comes to a critical decision, follow your heart.” - Craig Federighi

If there is one consistent line from Craig, this would be it. He explained that when we analyze too much, we can get it wrong. There is always that intuition that you feel in your gut, and when you listen to that feeling, “that’s where great things happen.”

“Being always curious and always learning throughout your whole life is so important.” - Cheryl Thomas

Who are the people at “the top of their game?” Those who have a “quest for knowledge.” Cheryl noted how the tech industry is constantly changing… We can’t even imagine what the world will look like in the next 30 years.

Craig chimed in with advice inspired by one of his exchanges with Steve Jobs: “Continuously be the student… be an amateur to things.” It is better to not worry about being the expert; instead, focus on areas where you’re not great yet, but could be. If you let yourself “expose your lack of expertise, that opens the door to [expansion].”

“If you're even thinking you're ready… you're ready, and you should go for it.” - Cheryl Thomas

Doing everything before we are perfectly ready is okay, especially since it allows us to learn, and “a lot of the guys are doing it anyway.” I can definitely relate to this. In pursuing my own passions with machine learning research, I was initially afraid that I was trying to do research that was too hard for me -- something I wasn’t ready for. But, in the end, everything was more than alright. I turned my research into an app that helps people self-diagnose their risk for arthritis.

“Life is about trade-offs.” - Craig Federighi

Despite all of their demands as Apple executives, it is still very important for Craig and Cheryl to have a work-life balance. Having four daughters, Craig definitely feels the importance of this and feels lucky that he gets to come home to his family every day. After his WWDC keynote, Craig recounted that his daughters were super excited about everything that Apple announced and were even creating Memojis for everyone in their family. “They really appreciate and connect with what we do, and that helps.”

I adamantly agree that seeing the impact that you have on others really makes any sacrifices you have made worthwhile. With my non-profit ThinkSTEAM, which teaches girls about using their creativity with STEM by integrating the arts (hence STEAM), I am lucky enough to see the influence that I have on other young girls in encouraging them to find their computing passions that they may have never realized on their own. This makes all the time I’ve sacrificed and obstacles that I faced worthwhile.

All in all, it was such an incredible experience to interview Craig Federighi and Cheryl Thomas from Apple, and we learned so much from them! As thought leaders and pioneers in the tech sector, they really gave us awesome advice as young STEM aficionados entering the workforce soon.

About Jothi and AiC

Jothi Photo

Jothi Ramaswamy’s fascination with coding began when she taught herself to build a “Hello, World!” program in fifth grade. Since then, Jothi has conducted machine learning research as a high school intern at IBM’s TJ Watson Research Headquarters, created SafetyPin, an app to decrease the prevalence of sexual assaults and help victims achieve legal justice, and is using her NCWIT AspireIT grant to run Code Matters to introduce middle school girls to code. Jothi’s list of accolades include a 2018 Global Teen Leader, a 2018 Technovation Global Student Ambassador, a 2017 She++ Fellow, a 2017 HERlead Fellow, and a WWDC Scholar (in both 2017 and 2018). Though Jothi doesn't know where she wants to go to college, she wants to continue studying machine learning, and she wants to work in a tech company or launch a startup one day. Jothi also hopes to travel the world and experience different cultures.

Jothi is a 2018 NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing (AiC) national winner, a 2017 national honorable mention, and a New York: Hudson Valley Affiliate Award for AiC winner in both 2017 and 2018, and a member of the NCWIT AiC Community -- an expansive network of more than 10,000 technical women who receive engagement, visibility, and encouragement for their computing-related interests and achievements from peers, volunteers, and NCWIT Alliance member organizations.


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


Aspirations Community: 
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