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Talk about your upbringing and how that sparked your love of technology.
From my young age I was always motivated to solve my problems with the use of technology. One example was the mobile app I created when I was in my middle school. It was called Piano Exam Prep which I created to practice my scales and sightreading for my ABRSM Piano exam. When my piano teacher saw me practice with this app, she was very impressed and she asked me if I could share it with other kids who were also practicing for their exams. So I built an Android app and published to Play Store. With the feedback I received from my peers, I was motivated to build other mobile apps.
You created a number of apps since you were 14 including one that is being used by the University of California, Davis for the School of Medicine. Tell us more about how you created the app and how the university found out about it.
When my family and friends started to find out more about these apps that I was building, a professor at the UC Davis School of Medicine asked me if I could help build an app to help 2nd year medical students refresh their memory on the topics they learnt in their freshman year. She was conducting a diagnostics test and wanted to see if she could use the mobile app. So I jumped at the opportunity and started to work on building a video upload platform which enabled the teachers to upload videos of lectures that students can watch and take the self diagnostic test at the end of each video. I decided to call the app Palam, a Tamil word for Bridge. This app bridges the teachers with the students and also bridging the 1st and 2nd year syllabus. This was the first real product I built where I learned a lot of nuances about how to build an app based on a customer's requirements. We successfully rolled out to her class in 2019 and the app has been used since then.
What made you decide to teach Java to beginners and run workshops for various topics for free during the height of the pandemic?
When the Pandemic hit, I really wanted to contribute to the community. I realized upskilling was what the people needed to be ready for the changing world when the entire eco system was going digital. Also lot of students faced challenges because the summer camps, volunteering and classes were getting cancelled. I really felt the urge to teach these kids and adults some of the skills that I knew, so started KnowHow platform, which as the name suggests, was to enable people to share their knowledge with other interested people. I started teaching Java and Python. Hundreds of kids attended and found these sessions useful. Then I invited my schoolmates to come and share other topics that they were skilled at - leadership, motivation, and medical related topics.
You were recently on a student team from Dougherty Valley High School that won the 24th annual National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) back in July. Why was this a big deal?
My friends and I participated in National Oceans Science Bowl which is a quiz program covering wide variety of topics including Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Technology, Math, Marine and Environmental science.
I have been participating for the past 3 years. We came 3rd in my 10th grade, We became National Champions in my Junior year and 2nd in my Senior year. I was very pleased with how our team performed in these championships as it required us to learn about a wide variety of topics. It made me realize that knowledge is infinite. It also made me appreciate nature and take responsibility to protect/preserve our environment.
How have your family and friends supported you along this journey?
My parents are both tech professionals. Right from my childhood, I have been exposed to technology and during one of my birthdays in elementary school, they gifted me with a laptop which triggered my interest in programming. They encouraged me in every step of the way and allowed me to pursue my passion. They are my source of inspiration.
My friends and I always play interesting games like GeoGuessr in which players guess locations from street view imagery. It is a fun way to relax and at the same time learn about various places.
What’s a failure you’ve experienced in the last 2 years and what did you learn from it?
Recently, I have worked on research at many institutions from Harvard to UC Berkeley to UC Davis. Specifically, my research at UC Davis was quite challenging as it involved the analysis of hundreds of proteins to detect a person's chance of developing Diabetic Kidney Disease. At first, I was tasked with performing a machine learning algorithm called Principal Component Analysis on the protein data. This proved to be quite challenging for me as I was quite new to the topic of machine learning and it was tough to get my head around a lot of the medical terminology. However, I continued to debug and optimize my algorithm with the help of white papers on machine learning and the use of online forums, I was able to come up with the optimal method of deducing principal components from the protein data, which gave insight into which proteins can best be used to predict the onset of Diabetic Kidney Disease.
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Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I just graduated from my high school and joining University of Pennsylvania this fall where I am planning to major in Computer Science and possibly in Economics. I would like to build my knowledge and network during my college years to hopefully begin my career doing something useful to the society.
In terms of your personal legacy, in a few sentences, describe how you want to be remembered by your family and friends?
I want to be remembered as an inventor who looks to tackle meaningful problems within our society. I hope that in the future I'll look to tackle large-scale problems in an insightful way by using my unique combination of entrepreneurial, interpersonal, and technical skills so that I can contribute to society.
What is your favourite book(s) you've read recently or a podcast(s) that you've listened to recently that's had an impact on you?
I recently received a book, called Atlas of AI. It has been a very fascinating read for me as it analyzes the true cost of AI, the entire supply chain and the geopolitical and socio economic impact.
What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?
Playing Chess, as it helps me to tune my reasoning abilities and is a great pass time that sharpens my mind.
If you were given $1 billion, how would you allocate the money to change the world?
I would love to invest in climate change technologies which is the need of the hour.
What kind of impact has the California Tamil community had on you personally?
I learnt Tamil from California Tamil Academy during my early school years. The Bay Area cultural events and Tamil festivals help me identify and stay connected with my roots.
What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?
What is your favourite Tamil movie?
I haven't watched many Tamil movies but from the very few I watched, my favorite movie is 3 idiots (although I think it is in Hindi and I watched with English subtitles). I think the same movie came out in Tamil and I liked it too!
What does Tamil culture mean to you?
Tamil culture is an integral part of my identity. Everything in my life has some influence from Tamil culture from the food I eat to the friends I have. Tamil culture has helped me form a high achieving community around me that constantly pursues greatness while still keeping a great sense of camaraderie.
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