Top of the Class

#58 How This 16-Year-Old Got Internships Through LinkedIn and Built A Coding Community

September 25, 2021 Season 1 Episode 58
Top of the Class
#58 How This 16-Year-Old Got Internships Through LinkedIn and Built A Coding Community
Show Notes Transcript

How This 16-Year-Old Got Internships Through LinkedIn and Built A Coding Community Ft. Sirihaasa Nallamothu

Episode Summary

Sirihaasa  "happy cried" during FIRST LEGO League competitions so she knew her passion was in all things coding and robotics. She has since created an enthusiastic coding community, secured internships through LinkedIn and has built machine learning algorithms to help diagnose eye disorders.

Resources and links


machine learning, code, people, learning, teaching, convolutional neural networks, create, email, project, community, linkedin, super, internships, students, research, passionate, grant, connect, experience, company


Alex Cork, Sirihaasa

Alex Cork  00:00

Hi, Sirihaasa, welcome to the top of the class podcast. It's awesome to have you on the show. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself? 

Sirihaasa  00:25

Hi, I'm so happy to be here. Hi, everyone. My name is Sirihaasa. I'm a junior at University High School in Illinois. And I'm super infatuated by Machine Learning and Technology, and just spreading my knowledge to kids in my community and using my powers I guess, to create, like social change and create change in the medical systems. 

Alex Cork  00:48

Awesome. Also, infatuated is a good word to bring into the into the podcast, that's for sure. Now, how old are you at the moment? 

Sirihaasa  00:56

I'm 16. I just turned 16. Like a month ago. Yeah. 

Alex Cork  01:00

Awesome, well, happy birthday for a month ago. And when did the infatuation for machine learning tech stem these kinds of things? When did that all start for you. 

Sirihaasa  01:08

So I guess I first got interested in like the tech sort of side of it when I did like FIRST LEGO League robotics, which is for those of you who don't know, you basically take like tons of Legos and you make like a robot, you make a robot and you program it, and you code it to do all these little missions and tasks, and you go to competitions. And I was really like excited about that. Like, I would go to like every practice and like, go like, you know, just be there with the robot all the time. And that's what I knew, like, I wanted to do something in technology. And another thing is, I'd always cry at the competitions. And this is something I always tell people is when I cry about something that sounds so weird, but when I cry about somebody usually means I'm really passionate about are like really into it. So when we went to the first competition, and I started crying for like, no reason, that's when I knew like, this is what I wanted to do. So yeah, that's sort of fascination with like, technology sort of branched out more into like the coding aspect of it. After I started learning HTML, you know, like basic web development programming languages. And yeah, after about like a year of just like diving into that, I started teaching it to other girls, which, when I first started, I was just so bad at teaching. Like I didn't really know how to break down concepts. But it really helped me learn these programming languages better. And yeah, I started my machine learning journey in ninth grade, really. So when I first started, I genuinely did have any idea of what machine learning was, I just decided that I first need to learn how to code in Python, because that was the that was the language I was going to use. Like, obviously, you don't need to use Python for machine learning you can use like Java, and C, but those aren't as popular. So I just was like, I'm gonna learn Python. And then I'm gonna just drop myself into machine learning. Like there was really no, in between, for me, sort of, I just was like, this is the first step. This is the second step. This is what I'm doing with my like, this is what I'm doing with my time in high school. And, yeah, I really started to love the field of machine learning. Like more specifically, I like trading convolutional neural networks, just because image classification is just really fascinating to me, because it's something we take for granted. But the like technologies of like the actual tech that goes behind it is just can be so useful and can be applied to so many different fields. Yeah, so let me just go back there convolution neural networks is that we say, yeah, convolution, all neural networks. So it sounds really complicated. But in short, it's just a fancy term, or fancy way of saying image classification. And there are different types of convolutional neural networks. But typically, what you would see is, I don't know if you guys have heard of, like, photomath. I know, it's like sort of a popular tool for high school kids. But photomath and photomath. You take a picture, and it's able to identify the equation and then solve that equation of your like math homework or math. 

Alex Cork  03:58

I just saw that like, last week, actually, like Google's got a version of that, like Google homework or something. 

Sirihaasa  04:03

Yeah, yeah, that so they're actually using these convolutional neural networks. And more specifically, they're using like object detection, but they're just taking an image and they're breaking it down into pixels, and then sort of look for these specific features. So if I was trying to figure out like the difference between a dog and a cat, a dog would have like flatter ears, and like, a cat would have like, more of like a triangle ish nose and smaller, and as great first, you're basically just identifying these features with code. And you're building these inbuilt feature detectors with a neural network. And then once you have all of this put together, you'll be able to actually classify an image. So it's just image classification. And that's why I was so interested in neural networks because there's a fancy term for it. And then there's a term we all know like, there's something like we've all used our neural network before like Siri or like Apple photomath was or just talked about. So we've all interacted with it, but actually the technical terms and the technical code behind it, like many of us don't have experience with that. So just learning what goes on behind the scenes was also really cool for me.

Alex Cork  05:07

Awesome. Now, let's go back a little bit to the crying at competitions. And I know you probably don't want to go into that too much. But I think that's a really interesting way of kind of determining what your passion is. And I think a lot of students struggle with this kind of concept. And we've spoken about this on the show before the idea of passion, I tend to think that it's like a really vague advice to give to students, right? Like, follow your passion, right? Like kids are looking around and being like, Who else has a passion here? I don't know, right? Whereas you got to kind of experience or feel passion, like experience that sense of like, Oh, my gosh, I must be really into this because I'm crying for literally no reason. Had you had that reaction in any other fields apart from like, the robotics competition?

Sirihaasa  05:50

Yeah, in terms of like the passionate crying, and like really getting into it. And then just like, trying and be like, this is what I want to do. I have not experienced that, like so intensely anywhere else, like when I get so emotionally attached to something, and so like into it, and just like, involved in like all the intricacies. That's when I know I'm super passionate about it, because I'm the type of person that just sort of, if I know I'm passionate about it, if I know I like that sort of topic, I'll go into it. Sometimes I can't even tell that I like it. Like sometimes I'll just go deep dive into it. And I'm like, oh, come out. Like a few months later, I'm like, Oh, I just learned a new skill. Like I just figured out a new aspect of this field I'm passionate about so I mean, I haven't really experienced the passionate happy crying in any other field, except, like robotics, and except in the technology field. So I mean, other people are probably listening to this mean, like, Okay, this girl is saying that she cried over something. And she that's how she found her passion. But I'm not even kidding. Like, that's how I figured out this is what I want to do in the future. So if you're so passionate about it, or if you're spending a lot of time with the concept, or if you're spending a lot of time with an activity, and if you're just like thinking about it all the time, like I would always dream that sounds weird. But I would always dream in robotics and Lego pieces in code like an FLL, you have to complete like little missions. So like your robot had to go to a specific area on the board and like pick up another Lego piece and come back home with it. So I would always be thinking about Okay, like, how can I move this piece to another side of the robot? So picks it up? Or what line of code? Can I change? So this works more efficiently? Or what data can I collect on my robot so I can make it move faster. So I was literally going to bed and thinking about that and dreaming about it, and then wake up in the morning or in the middle of the night and be like, I need to I need to tell someone about this, like I have a new idea. So yeah, just when I'm so surrounded and immersed by That's how you know you're passionate about something,

Alex Cork  07:45

right? Well, it's, it's actually a real gift that you've given yourself in a way like this opportunity to open yourself up to an experience to the degree that it makes you cry, like that type of thing is, is really an interesting way of finding your passion. And I think you know, rather than seeing that as like any weakness, that is a fantastic strength to be able to open yourself up enough and make yourself vulnerable enough within any new experience to have it affect you that way. I think a lot of people approach a new kind of experience, whenever I a little bit guarded or a little bit like, I don't know how this thing's gonna play out. So I'm just going to like play it safe internally and not let myself get too involved. Whereas like, you were like, I'm only dreaming about it and crying about it. I'm learning about it. Like, I think that's really awesome. But one thing I was interested in in terms of like coding, is it similar to learning code as it is to learning like another language like French, or whatever it might be? Is it that kind of like, you look at the line, and then you have to figure out where it's used. And you know, so you don't stuff it up, and then use that line, like almost like you're having a conversation but with a computer, right? Like you would be having a French conversation with a French person, most likely, you'd be having like this coding conversation with a computer is that kind of way of thinking about it.

Sirihaasa  09:06

I'm just gonna use my Spanish teachers as an example, like they'd always talked was in Spanish. And I'm sure this is true for most kids, I take a language like your teacher always tries to immerse yourself, like immerse you in, like the culture and the language. And it's the same way with code, like code is everywhere, like you can't, that's this necessarily escape it. And also, there's so many helpful things online that there's whole, like online communities, like Stack Overflow is my best friend. But Stack Overflow. There's just so many communities that you'll be able to immerse yourself in when you first start coding. And if you like, run into an error, like if you run into like a query or question, you can always look it up online and you can always figure out what's the line of code I use and then learn for next time, right? Like if you're talking like Spanish or French or whatever language and you didn't know a word you'd like say, Well how do I say this word? And then you know to use that word for next time. So Yeah, in a lot of ways, it is similar to language. I just am so appreciative that there's such a cool community. And there's such a cool way that high schoolers like me like just random kids and random towns in the middle of nowhere like me, you can just go on the internet and go on YouTube and literally learn anything they want and immerse themselves without actually being in an area that does tech, I'm in a town called normal Illinois, which should tell you everything about it. It's, it's like basically in the middle of nowhere, Illinois, sort of such a great town, but there's not a great tech scene to it. So my first started out with coding, my middle school didn't have like a Girls Who Code club, the only place that I've ever gotten immersed in like computer science is in like my local activity center. So just the fact that I was able to go online and just be connected to these communities being so far away, is just super cool to think about.

Alex Cork  10:52

Yeah, well, one thing that really jumps out at me when I hear that side side of your experience, is this term, finding your tribe. And like it's used in sometimes a Korea context, right? Like, you know what you're going to do, because, you know, you'll go out and find your tribe. And it will be a group of people who you like, really Joe with, and you're like, Oh, my gosh, you've had this experience, I've had this experience, Oh, my gosh, and you can just talk for hours, right about whatever it is you're passionate about. And it sounds very much like you have found your tribe in StackOverflow, or whatever other communities you're involved in. What made you feel, though, that you're ready to reach out to those tribes, because I know that there's a lot of students who are in that boat where they have an interest, but they kind of don't take that next step of looking for that tribal looking for that community. And so they just do their own research, and then it kind of loses momentum. And they lose motivation after a little while, because you know, they've got no one else around them who shares that passion. So I'm going to guess those wasn't too many people at school, for instance, who are as interested in machine learning and coding, etc, as you are. But yeah, but what made you feel like you're ready to go seek those people out?

Sirihaasa  12:06

Yeah, so in ninth grade I, that's when I first started, like getting into machine learning. And they were, there's like lots of kids at my school that like tech, but none of them really are into or at the time, none of them were really into machine learning. So I did have a great teacher still talking to him now, like, I'm still working on projects with them. And he really encouraged me to go out and find those communities. So just like the extra step of encouragement, to like, go out and use the internet as like my resource and guide and his encouragement as well like helping me out wherever he can was super helpful. And like building up my machine learning journey. And I want to say like, if you're a kid with a passion, and no one around you has that Passion Play, go ahead and like start some momentum on that, like, go out and do your own thing for a while. And then come back to your community and share your knowledge with other people, like, share what you're doing and share interests with other people. And I'm sure those other people will also pay attention to what you're doing. Like when I first started with machine learning in ninth grade, I did a project like a little project the end of the year, and was able to go get some grants and go to like some virtual science fairs. Fortunately, that's when COVID hit 2020. But when I came back to my school with that, sort of like, Hey, here's what I did. And when I sort of like talk to the people around me, I started to notice that more kids were are interested in machine learning. And they're actually interested in this concept. Like I talked to the girls in STEM group. And so I met my school and showed them like what I did with machine learning. And now as a junior in high school, there are a couple kids in my class who are actually doing ml. And I think that it's really cool to see them, like how they sort of looked at me, and they're like, if she can do it, I can do it, which is completely what I want to do for everybody. And I'm able to talk to them now. Like I'm able to share my passions with them. So that's really cool to see. If you can't find your own community that you vibe with, go out search for come back with your knowledge, come back with your newfound passion and inspiration and inspire other people and you create that community in your school.

Alex Cork  14:10

Yeah, that's awesome. That's exactly what you've done. And you've also used vehicles like code like a girl. Is that what it's called code like a girl?

Sirihaasa  14:17

Um, yeah, Girls Who Code? Okay. Yes, yeah, yeah. So, in eighth grade, I started a grocery code club at my like local school just to teach HTML and CSS and JavaScript. And by actually teaching those languages, I got better at it. And plus, I actually connected with girls at my school that I would never I would have never talked with. And it's really cool to see because some of them like are also insanely passionate about things like once they latch onto something, they won't let go of it. So I'm still talking to some of the people that I've taught. And it's really cool to see the projects they've done, and like the tech stuff that they've been interested in. So it's really cool. 

Alex Cork  14:55

Yeah, well, you're absolutely right that like sometimes bringing your knowledge back To your immediate community, can all of a sudden create a very close knit community, right? Where you would go to school and there'd be people talking about it. And you'd be surrounded by people physically at school? Well, if you're not doing online schooling that is, but anyway, yeah, so essentially, like, it's a great opportunity for you to go out and find that external knowledge and bring it back and inspire others. And then you have like a much closer knit group of people doing it. When you are planning these kind of lessons, though, that you're doing. I know that there's probably a lot of people out there, right. Like, usually, I'll preface this with by saying that, usually a lot of students go this path of learning a skill, and then teaching the skill, right. And it's that next level of teaching the skill that really gives them the opportunity to learn it a lot better to place themselves within the community as an expert in that field, right? Because people will be like, Oh, yeah, like, you're a teacher, like, you know, your stuff, right? And then it also gives you other opportunities you get, I know, you said, some links with, you know, some Meteor opportunities that you've been involved in as a result of teaching girls, this kind of stuff. So when you did take that leap into teaching, you did say it started off a little bit rough, but you've learned a lot of things along the way. Take me through that process of how you first started to go into teaching, and what you've learned since about it. 

Sirihaasa  16:21

Yeah, so I did start off the year of learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. So in middle school, that was my first ever year of teaching, and it was rough. Like, I didn't know how to create a lesson plan. I look back at my old slideshows and lesson plans, and I like cringe inside and like, how did people listen To hear how, like, what was I thinking, you know, but in high school, I started a program called the dream code project in partnership with my local girl scouts, or Girl Scouts in Central Illinois. And I've been able to teach like tons of girls through that program that I started. And the main difference, I think, is I'm definitely become more patient. Like in middle school, when I first started teaching, I just literally walked like, I just have something up on the board. And I wouldn't really explain it. And I'd be like, here, here it is, like, that's it there it is, like, just look at it, learn it. And now I'm like, Okay, I need to break down like every single step, like I need to show them. Like why this is important. Instead of just throwing like a line of code at them, I need to show them, like, what's the semi code doing here and like, connected back to things that they're interested in their lives. And that's sort of like connection, and like sort of slowing down and connecting with them personally. And explaining like everything and creating a safer environment, like a safer, more supportive environment is sort of what gets more kids interested in coding and interested in continuing with the program. Because if you don't have a good teacher, when you first start off with something, and this goes to self learning, too, if you're not a good teacher for yourself, I guess it's gonna be very hard for you to be interested in that later on.

Alex Cork  17:53

Yeah, yeah. Well, you're absolutely right. You've got to be a good self learner before you can go and teach others. But it's really interesting to look at, you know, what you did at the start, and then still have the patients Well, not just the patients from your side, but the patients from the student side, right? They stuck with you too, right? Yes, yeah. And which is really important. And you realize, particularly and this is one thing that I think is really relevant to coding as well as I guess mathematics, in some sense, is how it's relevant to people's lives. So when you're explaining the application of coding, what do you generally use as examples? Do you use like photos, as you mentioned before, to use, like people's phones? Like how practical do you try and make it?

Sirihaasa  18:33

So when I like sort of connect coding back to the world world, it's really easy to connect it back, right? There's so much technology out there. And there's so many ways to like show like there's a YouTube machine learning algorithm, like what keeps you in the YouTube rabbit hole, or when you go on Instagram, and you like a photo that's like JavaScript and PHP working together to actually create that action. But some of the things I've connected it back to where my own personal project, so I would show them like, Hey, this is what I created with my own skills. I'm not just showing you something that a coal company with like professional engineers, and like professional programmers made I'm showing you something that me as a novice, and someone who's also learning in his teaching right now made, like some of my projects include, like my machine learning projects, so like my, the website I've made, so showing them something I've made, I think makes it much more appealing because it's not like, Oh, well, YouTube can make it because they're like, tons of fancy engineers there. And yeah, so just connecting it back to my own personal projects and then reiterating that if I can make it, you can, you can 1,000% do it.

Alex Cork  19:37

One thing that comes to mind here is you know, I mentioned that teaching is often the next step that students take when leveling up and knowledge area, right. The other thing that a lot of students do is a project and you've done both they they do projects, they either like internships, I know you've got an internship as well at the moment, right? We'll talk about that in a second. But your internships pro Jake's teaching and I guess to like a, you know, maybe writing an article entering competitions is another popular one as well, obviously, you've done and pretty much almost every one of these things, right in terms of like leveling up your area of knowledge in machine learning, you've done the projects, the teaching, you've certainly, you know, build websites, this kind of stuff, what do you see as being most valuable to you, in your knowledge, leveling up experience, if you were to choose one of those.

Sirihaasa  20:27

So I think the most valuable thing, definitely teaching is obviously a very valuable way to increase your knowledge. But the most valuable thing for me is my projects, just when I start a project, I don't, I don't force myself to know everything, right? Like, it's not like I need to be an expert in the medical field. To create a medical tool I just need to know like enough to be create my own project. And I just need to have the skills to go out there like on the internet and learn for my own, like, learn for myself, and I need to have the skills to like network and talk to like professionals in the field. So yeah, I guess one example of me leveling up my knowledge, sophomore year, all last year, I was online, so I didn't really have much to do other than school and sort of felt kind of a little bit boring and tiring for me, because I wasn't like seeing anybody was just sort of in my own little cage of my room. Yeah. So I decided to like go out there and new world like, see what's out there for me. So like I did an ophthalmology machine learning project. It's called phobia. And the goal was to create these algorithms to diagnose retinal and fundus diseases. And I want in the difference is I'd be using something called model stacking, and which would mean i'd create like eight different binary convolutional neural networks, which is essentially just like eight different image classifiers, and then stack the results and see what the results were on a scale from zero to one. So if the result for like, myopia was one, that would mean you have myopia. So whichever one had like a higher lunians, to one, that would be the ailment you had. So basically, in summer of 2020, I extern, at an ophthalmology company, and I realized the solutions they were doing, they're super accurate. And but they're also really complicated. And we're super expensive and weren't, and we're only there for research purposes, and not there for the general public. So I wanted to create an application that would allow a person to diagnose their own retinal diseases and their own blindness, like ailments and things like that at home. And at least like know what's going on before they go to the doctor's office. So they're not like completely clueless. So I got a couple of grants, just because the data set I was working with there were over 7000 images. And the computer I had when I first started processing the data, my computer literally fried, like I was working off of a family computer. And one day, I was just like, trying to process all these images and like, put them all into different files with code and stuff. And all of a sudden, it just turned black and started making this like, noise and it like was so loud. And it felt like it was raining. And I freaked out. I just ran downstairs and I was like, Dad, this my computer's literally dying in front of me like, what do I do, and he was in the middle of a meeting. And all his colleagues just heard his teenage daughter freaked out. So yeah, so I use some of the grant money, I got to buy a much nicer higher processing computer to help me actually code this algorithm, just because machine learning like actually coding, an algorithm actually coding on neural networks takes so much computing power, especially if you have 1000s of images. So it took me a whole year to figure it out which now looking back, it's like that should have taken me less time. But I was just starting out. So I can't really blame myself really. But I created convolutional neural networks to diagnose myopia, acute macular degeneration and glaucoma, cataracts, just like tons of different elements. And then once I had those models all ready to go, I did something called model stacking, and I took the output. So I passed in an image, I passed an image that the model has never seen before. So it's been training on all these other images. And I kept like 100 or so images aside so that I wouldn't see it's like a test out. So I passed an image to each and every one of those models. And then I took that output and I compared it in whichever one had the closest output to one. That means it has that element. So we were actually like I was kind of sort of surprised because if it's closer to zero, it means it does not have that element or it's normal. Most of the images I ran, they're all like 0.00001 for like all the models and then one of the models would have an output of one and it would be like the correct answer. So got it to work which was really cool and it took it took a lot of time and effort. And a lot of learning experiences like there are just times where after my computer fried on me I didn't touch a computer for like two weeks because I was like so afraid. I was so afraid that I was going to fry on the computer again or I was going to fry a new computer and I didn't really want to try again until my My parents were like, okay, like you need to, you can like, it's okay. You can't be afraid of computers forever. But I was lucky to have mentors to help me out whenever I needed to. And also the internet and stack overflow and YouTube were my favorite things throughout them.

Alex Cork  25:14

Yeah. Well, that that's awesome. Man. I'm interested in the grant have is a student go about finding those grants. And I'm sure like a lot of students would love to get a new computer if they weren't going to Well, firstly, you fried your first one. So it needs a new one. So but in terms of finding these grants, I know that it's going to be different for everyone around the world. But for you, they're in normal Illinois, how did you go about finding a grant that was open to you that you applied for that you got funding for a new computer for?

Sirihaasa  25:45

Yeah, so the grant covered part of the computer, but it was still like a good amount, I think it was called a grip tape learning grit. They're, they're super generous in their money. I'm sure a student listening to this can go out there and get the grant and apply for it in terms of finding grants in terms of like finding opportunities for you to like, show your work. LinkedIn is such a great source, it's such a great way to connect with other students and see what they're doing, or like, find different grant pages or find different organizations. So really, I think the key to unlocking most of my machine learning like knowledge, I guess, or like the key to unlocking most of the resources I got was LinkedIn. Because I had the LinkedIn, I had a LinkedIn, I was able to connect with other students. And because I had a LinkedIn, I was able to like, try and find these internships and these research opportunities. So LinkedIn, I'm sure a lot of students listening have written. And then also Google search. I mean, there's always Google looking at Yeah, Instagram, that's such an unlikely place to look at. But Instagram, there's tons of like pages out there that are run by organizations or companies that offer these like grants and money for you to run your research project. So that's also a good resource.

Alex Cork  26:51

Yeah, yeah. And you mentioned as well that you did a external, so not an intern, you were an extern for this ophthalmologist. So basically, you were off site, but doing research for them. How did you get that opportunity?

Sirihaasa  27:05

LinkedIn, so I was able to connect with the CEO. And I was able to, like send out, I'm not even gonna lie sound like 30 emails to find a position summer 2020. And I was able to get an internship and an externship, and an externship, I mostly read up on their patents, still a little market research for them, just like basic stuff, just to know like the ophthalmology field and I wanted to see like the tech behind it. And I worked with the CEO who was super nice to me the whole time, like I was, I'm still an annoying high schooler, but I was just lucky that he was just like, wanting to sit down with me and actually teach me these things. So I learned like the patenting process, I like read up on the reports, I did market research for them, stuff like that.

Alex Cork  27:48

Oh my gosh, high five to that CEO, you know why that CEO is probably so nice to you, is because they were probably a quote unquote, annoying high schooler as well, one time. So they're like paying back the kindness that they probably once received as well, which I know is a very common thing. But yeah, like you sometimes, you know, sending out 30 different inbox, you know, messages to CEOs that is that just what you were doing. You were just like looking at CEO and it didn't matter what field they were in, or you were just sending a message to any CEO in any kind of company that took your interest.

Sirihaasa  28:20

Yeah, so I was looking for companies that combined like medicine and technology, and I sort of stumbled upon the website, like I several upon their company website, I was like, this looks really cool. And I really want this, like, I want this more than the other people that I've been emailing. So I like reached out on LinkedIn. And I like emailed him. And the CEO was super, like, he was so nice. And I was so lucky that I was able to work with him and talk to him. And I hope that I can repay that kindness somewhere in the future sometime in my career. Because like, I was just lucky to have these people that were able to just take me in, I guess they're like taking you under their wing, and show me like, the real world sort of so yeah.

Alex Cork  29:01

That's great. And I'm sure you got a few probably, you know, either non responses or like no go away type messages. Yes. What do to your kind of confidence level in that space? Because I bring this back to a quick little video that I saw yesterday by Mark Manson on YouTube, Mark Manson is the author of How to not give a f word. Right? So yeah, and he spoke about that particularly confidence and he said was like an audience related question is it confidence doesn't come from thinking you're always going to succeed. confidence comes from not worrying too much about failure, like being okay with failure, and that's where confidence comes from. So from your side, like, Did you just know that it was kind of like a matter of sending 30 or so emails, sending a video send messages, and eventually someone would reply and say, yeah, we're happy to have you on board, right? Like it's just a matter of playing the odds sometimes, right?

Sirihaasa  29:57

Yes, yeah. So I knew I was gonna get chopped out Like I just absolutely like there's like, it's just smelt like there's a slim chance that they're going to let a high schooler into someone's company that like, basically, is 15 I was 15 at the time, and there's like a slim chance I knew that so I was like I at least have to try like, you know, there has to be someone out there. And if there's not, that's fine, I'll just focus on my personal research projects are all focused on learnings other programming language. So I emailed for like, two weeks, I put my resume and I followed up and there was some companies are like, just straight up like note, like, we don't want a little high school or here, we don't want you and I was like, okay, that's fine. And some companies were super curious about it. Like, they were like, um, you know, maybe email back when you're in college, or like, when you're looking for a job, some people I didn't even get a response from. So it was a little bit sad when I got my first rejection. But I was sort of prepared for, you know, like, I just sort of knew that it was going to happen, so I was totally fine with it. And once I found a person that was actually like, yeah, you can be a part of this, and you can learn, I'll teach you I was like, so excited. Yeah.

Alex Cork  31:01

So in terms of that email process, I always think it's an interesting one that some students really know how to send a good email to really pitch themselves to pitch the value to the company and and how that would be a good fit for the company, even though they are 15, or whatnot. And some people are just no good at it at all. And like, they look around and they say, Well, I'm not getting any responses, but these other people are and it's probably the the way that they're making that approach. So how did you go about writing that email? Did it kind of evolve as you got rejections? Or did you just go with the one template for everyone?

Sirihaasa  31:37

Yeah, it did definitely evolve, right? Like it's once I got my first rejection, I sort of like looked over my draft. And I was like, I need to make this shorter. Because my first email was a page. It was it was a Google Doc, I know. Yes. Yeah. Very, very common. So when I reached out to these companies, well, I first like, did a little research on them. I was like, Okay, this is what they do. This is what I needed, highlight about me show them that I'm a good fit, right? So I did a couple personal research projects before I like talked about some of the stuff I've done. And it was a page, it was like, This is my first project. This is my second project. This is this is my resume. This is my LinkedIn, this is my website. And it was like everything was a full sentence. I was like, Okay, I can't send this anymore. like no one's gonna read a page. So sort of as it went on, I sort of learned how to, like, shorten it. So my final email that actually got me the ophthalmology, externship, it was just a couple sentences. I was like, Hi, I'm really interested in the medicine field. I know your company works with ophthalmology and tech, that's super interesting to me, I want to do some research in that make it more accessible. I have machine learning research. Here's my resume. I've done a couple projects. And I sort of like just like, linked my GitHub, and I linked some of the research videos I have on my YouTube channel. And then I waited, like waiting is probably the hardest part. Because Yeah, for me, I'm the type of person I have the Gmail app on my phone. So I'll just be chilling and watching TV, and I'm just like, Okay, I need to check my mail, or no, when I was in middle school, I thought that every time I refresh the page, I would get an email. So I just sort of just refresh the page all the time. And it was super hard to wait. Also resisting the temptation to send like that follow up, like, Hi, following up on my last email. That's something I have to suppress so much, but yeah, I just sort of sent a short email and I sort of let let it go, you know, like, I sort of was like, this doesn't work out. It's fine.

Alex Cork  33:26

Wow. Okay. That is some awesome advice packed into a very short answer. I love that. I tend to think like a follow up isn't all that bad. If it's like five days each. Like, that's a good time. Yeah, 24 hours, or they're bad. Like, that's way too short. You know, people need to give it at least five days, I think before they send that follow up.

Sirihaasa  33:49

Yeah, I was resisting the urge to follow up after an hour. Like I was like, why isn't this person looking at their email? Like respond? Like, no, that's not how it works in the real world. In the real world, someone gets their email, and then they're not gonna respond to it after a couple days, because they're busy. And they have other things to do. So. Yeah,

Alex Cork  34:06

yeah. Yeah. Well, also because like, sometimes they see the email, but then they need to check internally with three or four other people as to like, hey, if we were to get this person on board, who would be responsible for her? Like, what kind of projects would we get her to do that? And then they're like, Oh, sweet. Yeah. Hey, like we've got some pretty cool things for you to work on here. So yeah, let's get you on board. But they got to do that process first. And that sometimes can be very hard. Oh, I love that experience. That is awesome. And I'm glad we touched on that because that's, I think super valuable for students. Now you're also doing an internship, you don't worry about that.

Sirihaasa  34:42

So over the course of my sophomore year, right, that was the year I was doing like machine learning projects and actually creating my phobia which is what I call the convolution of neural networks I created to diagnose the retinal ailments. So I sort of So I sort of learned from my I'm not going to say mistakes, but like experiences from last year, or last summer looking for internships and externships. Because I didn't really know that I wanted to do something like that over my, over the summer until summer started, which usually I wish someone would talk about this more. But usually you start looking for internships and externships in like January, or like March like months before summer starts. But summer of 2020, I did it like a week after school ended, which was probably why I was a little bit more difficult to find those opportunities. So I was able to show that my project was successful. And I was able to show that I had like coding experience. And I was able to show that I wanted to learn more about machine learning, I want to see what it was like to work at a startup. So I was just so lucky to find the CEO on LinkedIn. And I was just so lucky that she's so open and passionate. And she's like one of the most amazing people I've ever met. And I want to be here when I grow up. Basically, I want to have my own company, I want to be like her. So I sort of sent her a message and was like, hey, you're a female CEO, like I want to be you basically, can I like come work, like, Can I come work for you? And she like responded really quickly, and was like, Yes, you can come work for us. So I worked with like the ML team, and I am still working there have just took like reduced hours to school and everything. But I created like ml demos, like machine learning demos for their platform, I do a little bit of research on their platform as well and like come up with like data and statistics. And also I read lots of papers, and I sit in on meetings and I sort of absorb what's going on.

Alex Cork  36:34

Awesome. That's such a cool experience. And again, like reaching out to someone with a targeted message of I want to pay you which is much more targeted than that. Right? And you know, it yielded result and you've been there now how long? 

Sirihaasa  36:48

Well, I started in May it's been like, five months. I don't know how months work?

Alex Cork  36:52

Yeah, five ish months, a four or five months. That's awesome. So that's really, really cool, great experience. But even perhaps a little bit closer than starting your company would be looking at college, you just turned 16. So I know it's a few years away. But you've got some great colleges, they're in Illinois, Chicago, Northwestern, Northeastern, etc. Are you looking to study in state or out of state overseas? Potentially you've got any kind of ideas in mind.

Sirihaasa  37:17

So you are you see you have I had such a great Computer Science program. I did some research with one of the professors, like for a year last year, still looking for new research opportunities since that ended. But that's such it's close to home. It's seems like a great program. But also maybe we'll go to California, we'll see. There's some there's like I know, everyone's like Oh, go to California for tech. But like it's cool. It's like super cool. And plus, being an Illinois, the weather is always like, man, like it's like one time there was a hailstorm and a rainbow at the same time. And I don't even know what to do. Yeah. So I want to go to California and experience like the tech scene and see the weather and be with other people outside of my small town.

Alex Cork  38:03

Yeah, yeah. Well, we'll see how you go. And obviously some great options there in America, no matter kind of where you are this fantastic computer science machine learning programs. But is there any advice that you would give to our lovely listeners to kind of sum up your experiences of which there are many and varied? Like, is there any kind of, you know, life motto that you live by as a result of going through what you've been through, or any other kind of golden piece of advice that students generally ask you about? And you always given? They're always like, oh, wow.

Sirihaasa  38:34

Well, to the listeners. Thank you for listening to me blab for an hour. And thank you for listening to me talk about my passion in machine learning. And I guess if you're passionate, don't wait till tomorrow. Just start now. Like start go online. Start at your passions. Now talk to people reach out to people, there's always somewhere in your there's always someone in your community, if they don't know what's exactly going on. Even if they don't know the technical aspects. There's always going to be someone at your school, your community, your family, who's going to be willing to support you and listen to you and talk about your computer frying open and that emotionally damaging experience. There's always going to be someone out there that's going to support you no matter what. And if there's not someone just up that someone for yourself. Yeah.

Alex Cork  39:19

Yeah, absolutely. And the students wanted to connect with you what would be the best way to do that?


Ah, LinkedIn if you can find me on LinkedIn.

Alex Cork  39:28

I'll put it in the put it in the show notes.


And then I'd love to connect with you on LinkedIn. I usually scrolling through it most of the day, because just to see what what's going on in there. And I also have a snap Siribot28 add me. Yeah.

Alex Cork  39:43

Awesome. Awesome. Well, Siri house it's been awesome having you on the show. But yeah, we look forward to sharing this episode far and wide. And thank you for joining us on top of the class.