Irina Sthapit is an Engineer, Maker, Educator, UX Researcher, and Entrepreneur. She is passionate about promoting and supporting girls in STEM and is fascinated by space and shooting stars. She works as an UX Research PM with Microsoft, where she is responsible for making Engineers and Project Managers within Microsoft more customer-driven in the design decisions they take while making products.
In addition, Irina also co-founded Aji’s with her sister Lorina Sthapit. Aji’s is a social enterprise that empowers the elderly to live healthy and happy lives by providing a platform to showcase their skills and knowledge via products and podcasts.
Irina’s love for making started at a very young age. She used to assist her father in fixing his bike, which helped her to grow comfortable with using tools and making.
“I didn’t know anything about fixing bikes, but I was my dad’s little assistant with a torch. I used to pass his tools, and he would teach me how to use them. Because of this experience as a kid, I was never afraid to use tools.”
Following her parents’ suggestions, Irina joined Kathmandu Engineering College to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering, not knowing what to expect. After a year into the program, she started participating in competitions, like Yantra, and doing projects, which helped her find her interest within the field of engineering and making.
After graduation, Irina joined Karkhana, an educational company and makerspace in Nepal as an educator and coordinator for Karkhana Innovators’ Club. At Karkhana, she got an opportunity to create and work on a diverse set of projects, including android-controlled robots and antennas. As an educator, she taught middle school students about making robots and antennas. Irina says that her experiences at Karkhana taught her not to be scared of failures.
“One major lesson I learned during that time was not to be afraid of failures but to celebrate them. There were many instances when things didn’t go according to my plan, and my projects failed. But that is how you learn, and that is how you grow!”
Irina’s experience at Karkhana developed her interest in teaching and learning. With a passion for STEM Education for girls, Irina joined Stanford University, where she pursued a Master’s degree in Learning, Design, and Technology. While Stanford was a dream for Irina, she said that her time in the university was the most challenging phase of her life, where she was fighting imposter syndrome, anxiety, among other mental health issues.
“From the time I got accepted to the first few months at Stanford, I had major imposter syndrome. I felt like I was not good enough to be at Stanford.”
Living in a different country for the very first time made it even more challenging to adjust for Irina. All these feelings were new to her, and she did not know how to navigate them. Slowly, she started talking to people and understood that imposter syndrome was more common than she knew. Knowing this, she sought professional help from her school’s counseling center.
“I was sad and felt that whatever I was doing was not enough. I used to call my sister and cry for hours and wanted to go back. I used to talk to my friends who came to the US at the same time about how I felt. Talking to them helped me understand that I was not alone, and it is a shared experience; everybody is scared and overwhelmed. That is when I decided to take professional help from a counselor at Stanford.”
After her first quarter at graduate school, Irina actively looked for opportunities to improve herself, academically and professionally. “I have never worked or studied harder in my life before,” sheexplained, “I interned at four different places in one year at graduate school while also taking courses and working on several projects.”
Irina’s hardships did not end there. While she was transitioning from Engineering to UX Research, being an international student and not having her community’s strong presence in tech made the process of job search tedious for her. She applied to several jobs but never heard back, and that is when she realized the importance of having the right connections. She then started reaching out to people, especially UX researchers and recruiters, on LinkedIn.
“I applied to hundreds of places for a job, but I never heard back from them. I did not have a job even after I graduated, and I was terrified. I knew that not having a job by 90 days would mean I would have to go back. I did not want to go back just yet, so I reached out to everyone I knew, and I did not on LinkedIn. I would send at least 100 connection requests to UX Researchers and recruiters every day, and only a few people would get back, but I finally made it!”
After a year, which Irina describes as her most significant learning curve, at Stanford, Irina is with Microsoft doing what she loves the best: learning, and teaching. She is taking all that she learned at Stanford, Karkhana, and Engineering to help design user-centric products and services at Microsoft.
Irina believes anyone can achieve anything with a growth mindset and grit, and while understanding what you are passionate about is important, it is equally important to take care of your mental health.
“If I can, you can too. Just keep on working towards your goal and convert your failures to lessons learned on the way. You’ll be surprised to see how strong you are.”
This article is written by Shreeya Singh Dhakal, the Founder and Advisor of Nepali Women in Computing.