Interview: Meet Vidya Mandyam, Tynker’s Director of Engineering

Girls Innovate! is very fortunate to have Vidya leading our Programming Workshop with Tynker, hosted generously by nestGSV, on November 24, 2013.

Vidya Mandyam

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Vidya earned a master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Alabama and a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Bangalore Institute of Technology, India. Vidya has been developing software for the last 20 years. At Tynker, she is responsible for back-end product development and building educator features. At Plusmo (AT&T), she built sports applications that were used by fans to track real-time scores. At OnCommand, she built hospitality solutions that are used in hotel rooms worldwide. At Distinct, she worked on packaging the TCP/IP stack as components for developers even before Windows had one. She kindly answered some questions posed by Girls Innovate!

1. What are some of your favorite things about being Director of Engineering at Tynker?

This role at Tynker is great because I not only develop software but also get the opportunity to see children using our software. It’s been fantastic to see these young minds at work. In the past, I’ve worked in enterprise and consumer focused companies but watching children learn and create has been the most rewarding experience so far.

2. At what age were you a girl who liked to innovate? What did that look like?

As a little girl, I’ve always been creative and interested in music and art. At that time, my dream was to become to an architect and design houses. I was exposed to programming in 10th grade and that changed everything! Being able to control a machine with the commands I wrote was really something. After that, it’s been computers all the way. Even now, after two kids, I still love to code.

3. How did you learn to code?

I was introduced the BASIC programming language at my high school in Bangalore, India. After school, I took classes to learn Pascal, another popular programming language at that time. But most of my real training came from my degrees in CS.

4. Why do you think it is important for kids to learn to code?

Today, computer software is at the heart of every industry – from banks, hospitals, to manufacturing. We need to make sure that our children understand how things work rather than just being passive users of technology. I personally believe that computer programming is a 21st century skill that will benefit them in all walks of life.

5. Were there a lot of girls learning Computer Science when you got your degree in India? At the University of Alabama? 

In India, there were about 8 or 10 girls in a class of 40 when I got my BS in Computer Science. In grad school the number of girls pursuing Computer Science dropped even more. In the University of Alabama, there were only 3 of us in the masters/doctoral program among a group of about 40. I hope that more girls get into Computer Science in the coming years.

6. Have you noticed any differences in the way girls approaches computer programming versus boys? If yes, from a business point-of-view, how would you cultivate female engineering talent at a company like yours? 

Yes, girls think differently from boys and hence their approach to programming and code writing is different just like other areas in life. Girls are very good at planning, and typically very focused. Ahem! We are patient and we also have a number of artistic and creative interests. These are the same skills that are required of every good programmer.

It is no surprise that at Tynker, we see a number of well-written projects built by girls. Here are some examples:

A Baylands Story by Alondra, a 3rd Grader

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Catch the Bamboo, by Emily, a 6th grader

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As you can see, these projects display a charm that only a girl could have brought.

I would love to see more girls on the team at Tynker. Go girls!

7. Do you have any advice for girls as they explore programming and push forward at school and in environments that still look very male?

I have a 9-year old daughter who is very interested in both art and science. Often times, her interest in science is considered to be “geeky” by her peers. These are the stereotypes that we as parents must break. I make it a point to encourage her to try out coding clubs and science camps in addition to the usual art classes. Girl clubs are a great way to meet other like-minded girls.

Any girl with an aptitude for learning can become a good programmer. Don’t give up!

 Thank you, Vidya, for offering and leader our Tynker workshop! Girls ages 7-13 and parents are invited to join us on Sunday, November 24, 2013 from 1:30-4pm at nestGSV in Redwood City for a fun, interactive workshop. You can register by clicking here.