In Essay for Refinery29, Wellesley Senior Explains How She Learned to Love Computer Science

May 30, 2018
A student stands by a white board, writing and holding a computer

This spring, Yada Pruksachatkun ’18, a computer science and mathematics major, was one of 29 college seniors chosen by Refinery 29, a news and entertainment website for young women, to write about “the state of their lives.” In her essay, “They Told Me I Wasn’t a ‘Math Person’—This Is Where I Am Now,” she discusses how and why she made the leap from humanities to technology.

Discouraged early on from pursuing math-related subjects, the native of Thailand arrived at Wellesley at the age of 16 and declared philosophy and economics as her majors. To fulfill a quantitative course requirement without having to take math, she enrolled in computer science.

“That decision changed my life,” she writes. “In the class, I found a tool I could use to create the worlds I had written about as a science fiction writer. I discovered that with computer science, I can create apps that make people healthier, programs to help the visually impaired see, and people who are deaf hear.”

Pruksachatkun also learned how math, a subject she once despised, “can be used to build tools to predict the spread of diseases and model how everything in this world works. In the span of two years, I did everything I could to rewire my brain.”

She spent weekends teaching herself new skills and attending hackathons. She completed internships at Facebook, worked with startups, and also worked as a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I became an engineer through late nights with friends [and] managers who helped me find my voice,” Pruksachatkun writes.

Along the way, she wrestled with “imposter syndrome,” a feeling that she didn’t belong in an industry where women are underrepresented. In her piece, she notes that only 18 percent of computer science graduates are women and that not all of these graduates enter the tech sector, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT).

Pruksachatkun writes, “Now, thanks to my coding ability and mathematical maturity, I am determined to use deep technology in research labs and apply it to solve problems in healthcare and education accessibility.”

After she graduates, Pruksachatkun will study natural language processing at New York University’s Center for Data Science. She hopes that her “experience and career path forward will open the doors to balancing the gender scales in tech.”

Photo: Yada Pruksachatkun ’18 writes on a whiteboard while working through an assignment.