In 2010, Vidya Srinivasan canceled Christmas. A computer science graduate student at North Carolina State University by way of Chennai, India, she had scored an unexpected internship interview with Microsoft in Seattle.
“I canceled my vacation,” she said. “I reached out to all the Microsoft connections I could possibly find. I spent my Christmas with books, because I really wanted to nail that interview.”
And she did. Three years into her career in tech, Vidya is now a program manager for OneDrive-SharePoint, still on the same team she interned with in 2011.
Vidya, who could outtalk a roomful of teenage girls on Red Bull, is petite and bubbly. She is also the type of person who works insanely hard for extreme goals, and doesn’t necessarily see rescheduling the occasional holiday as a sacrifice. Originally from Hyderabad, India — Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s hometown — Vidya is an only child born to banker parents who raised her to be highly independent. By age 3, she was training to be a classical singer, a career path she kept open in case computer science didn’t work out. Throughout college, Vidya performed on four Indian television shows, appearing alongside some of the country’s musical superstars. Last year, when her Microsoft Hackathon team, Ability Eye Gaze, appeared to be reaching the finals, she realized her planned trip to Alaska might interfere with presenting the project to Nadella if they won. So she canceled the trip. (And good thing, because they won.)
That’s not to say she’s never had a crisis of confidence. As a new arrival to NCSU, she almost turned around and went home. “I called my mom, and I’m like, ‘Mom, I think I’ve made a mistake,’” she said. Her fellow graduate students had several years of work experience, had already met with professors, and knew what they wanted to achieve with their degrees.
“They were asking, ‘Do you know this, do you know that?’” she recalled. “I said, ‘No.’ ‘Do you have experience?’ ‘No. I graduated three months ago.’ People said, ‘If you don’t have these skills, you’ll never get a job.’” The cultural shift scared her, too. “When I was an undergraduate, the coursework is prescribed. In grad school, you design your own destiny.”
By the time the first career fair came around in October, Vidya knew she needed to land an internship to get ahead. “I couldn’t sleep the night before,” she said.