1) Hi Yada, can you tell us what you’ve been up to since graduating in 2014?
A lot of exploring and a lot of humbling experiences. For the past four years, I have been working towards degrees in computer science and mathematics at Wellesley College. I actually came into college as a creative writer, but realized engineering is a way to actually build the worlds that I wrote about. I’ve had the opportunity to explore my interests by working at different companies (Facebook, Fin) as well as getting back to my language/writing roots with natural language processing, which is a strand of computer science that aims to extract information from text.
Before college, I was also an activist on issues surrounding mental health stigma, and now I am returning to those issues from an engineering perspective. I am interested in helping make technology a more empathetic place, which right now means doing research on computational ways to detect if a mental health forum thread is making the help-seeker feel better (and inversely, feel more distressed), with applications to community moderation.
On a lighter note, I’ve also really gotten into fitness – pilates, kickboxing, and now CrossFit. Who knew doing bootcamps could be so much fun?
2) What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on since graduation?
I’ve had the pleasure of working on several projects. As a woman in technology, I am very invested in giving fellow women the resources to gain information on potentially discriminating environments. I led a team of four engineers and designers to create a Chrome extension (activerank.co), which displays how well a company treats their female employees based on pay gap, percentage of women in the company, and reviews from women who have worked at the company.
Yada speaks at the Grace Hopper Conference
I would also have to say that the work I’m currently doing with Microsoft Research has been incredibly fulfilling. Computational mental health is a small but growing field, and through this project on detecting the trajectory of health-seekers we’re already in partnership with some of the biggest players in digital mental health.
3) Do you feel your experiences at THINK Global School prepared you for life post-graduation? If so, how?
I think my TGS education has given me a good level of grit as well as a sense of purpose. Although I definitely have enjoyed my time as a college student, I also know that, when circumstances allow, I have an internal obligation to use my skillset to help solve social problems in the world today.
Yada and fellow Class of 2014 alumni Mark Surnin in New York City
4) It’s been four years since you graduated. Where do you see yourself four years from now?
Well, I’m currently off to graduate school at the NYU Center for Data Science for two years, where I wish to continue working on problems related to empathetic machine learning and making technology more considerate. In four years, I want to have spread the research I’m currently working on into something that touches the lives of people. Whether that means helping make the current technologies you probably already use more empathetic and working for an established startup or company, or potentially starting my own company, is still flexible.
There have been numerous talks about technology increasing depression, but there is also so much power in technology to deliver mental healthcare to people who otherwise would not have access to it. Current and future generations will grow up with social media and technology, and I think making technology more empathetic is one of the areas my skills as an engineer and researcher can make the most impact in.
5) Any tips for our recent graduates or current students?
- Always reflect (this came from TGS!)
- No one knows what they’re really doing completely – not your peers, perhaps even not your idols and role models. Once you realize that, it’s so much easier to experiment, explore, and not fear failure.
- Prioritize your health! I definitely did not listen to this my first two years of college and my productivity and general happiness went way up after starting.
6) Looking back, what TGS experience has stayed with you the most?
I would usually say Kilimanjaro but honestly, I think it has got to be that trip to the Serengeti during senior year. We were driving through a particularly pothole-filled road when the van got stuck on one of them. We spent the entirety of six hours sitting in a bus tilting at a 45 degree angle, with wild elephants 50 meters from us. Even though we were twenty-some people all crammed into a vehicle, we passed the time with stories, reading, and each other’s company. That was one of the most memorable and endearing memories I have of the community at TGS and it spoke to how strong our bonds were.
Yada and her classmates celebrate ascending Mt. Kilimanjaro
7) Anything else you’d like to share?
I think that’s all!