“I didn’t always want to be in tech; it was by chance that I ended up here, but looking at how far I’ve come, I feel like it was always meant to be.”
Sushma Giri, Software Engineer at Spotify and a Master’s student at Stockholm University, wanted to pursue a medical degree after high school. But she didn’t get in the first time and didn’t want to waste another year, so she enrolled in the Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science and Information Technology (B.Sc. CSIT) program near her home at her father’s suggestion. Now, she feels she could not have reached her full potential if it hadn’t been for that one decision.
“It was always my dream to become a doctor, treat my grandfather, and establish a hospital in his name. When I joined CSIT, it was quite hard for me to cope up with the sudden change in the decision, and I was still retrying on my medical entrances.”
Sushma lived an alienated life in her first days of college and did not have any interest in what she was pursuing. However, she gradually started blending with the technical environment as she began completing her programming assignments, participating in competitions, winning prizes, and building experiences. She soon felt at home with the field and decided she would become something in it.
Soon she opened herself up to opportunities such as the Women Leaders in Technology fellowship, and involvement in developer communities such as Free Open Source Society Nepal, where she organized and participated in community events. Her WLiT fellowship taught her that there are not enough women in tech, but she was determined to do her best regardless.
At her first developer role at Kathmandu Living Labs, she was the only woman there and the only engineer.
She recalls, “I was new there and didn’t know anything. I was afraid even to voice my opinions because everyone was all too loud and always seemed to be having great ideas. I held back for fear of being dismissed as childish. If only there was a woman in the team who could teach me the ways of the workplace, and someone I could look up to, I could have done so much better!”
She eventually got around it and proactively led projects and workshops and represented the company in external events and panel discussions!
Working at KLL sparked her interest in using open and civic tech for good, leading her to pursue it further in her master’s. So she started applying for courses abroad, and was accepted for a master’s in “Strategic Information Systems and Management” at Stockholm University, Sweden. She didn’t have any scholarship or financial support while starting out, but that didn’t stop her from applying further even after she landed there. Soon, she received Google WTM Scholarship and Palantir Women in Tech Scholarship 2020–2021!
“Coming to Sweden was the biggest and boldest decision I have made so far. I had a teenage sister who needed me, and my mom wasn’t in her best health. Deciding to go abroad for studies without any financial backing, and leaving my family like that felt selfish. It wasn’t easy at all. But I am thankful that I gathered every gut to take that decision, which brought me here to who I am.”
Her involvement with tech communities in Nepal led her to follow the same route in Sweden, and she thus joined Civic Tech Sweden and Open Procurement Sweden, where she worked on more civic-tech projects. She also became an Open Data Institute, UK registered open data trainer, and has designed and delivered 30+ open data, mapping, and ICT training for a broad range of stakeholders. She sits on the board of Open Heroines, a global community for those identifying as women in civic tech and open data fields, where she addresses issues about women’s inclusivity there. She believes that tech communities can help better society if provided with enough support, and the governments should push for them.
“As I compare the development and use of technology in Sweden and Nepal, Sweden has a technology front and center at everything. You see elderly people use mobile apps to track their routes and make payments, while our grandfathers struggle with even a phone call. It’s not just about using and getting familiar with the digital platform; it’s the trust that technology beholds among its users. As far as it concerns Sweden, people trust the technology, and it’s serving them right too. However, it’s difficult to imagine the same in Nepal, and maybe people are right to be skeptical too because we still need a work on our part to build responsible products that people can trust and use.”
Sushma lives by believing that when more women are at the forefront of computer science and technology, gender-specific problems that technology can solve will be addressed.
Her current workplace Spotify makes lots of Diversity and Inclusion efforts to bring and retain more women and minorities, but men still populate the top-level management. Developers come hierarchically pretty low in the decision-making process. Even if there are many developers from underrepresented groups, they still have to abide by the decisions that are passed on from above, which are not always made considering their situations. Those who do not experience this first-hand might have no idea the problems even exist. It is the same at the societal level; the decision-makers exclude more than half of the population, and those problems faced by that demographic go unseen.
She stresses that there should be more women in tech, in technical and decision-making positions, because of these reasons. She hopes that the girls from young generations aspire to become software engineers and technologists just as much as they dream about becoming doctors and engineers.
“In a country like Nepal, computer science is only starting to gain popularity in recent years, and we, as students, didn’t have any role models in tech, least of all women. So if you’re a young girl and are reading this or thinking along these lines, you are already on the right path! Keep going!”
This article was written by Dipti Gautam, the President of Nepali Women in Computing for Nepali Women in Computing — CELEBRATE.