As part of our new Meet the Courserians blog series, we caught up with Priya Gupta, an Engineering Manager at Coursera. During Coursera’s #WomenInTech Week last year, she wrote the blog post “Yes You Can” – Empowering Women Through Education and is active in Coursera’s Women Employee Resource Group.
What was your path to Coursera?
I grew up loving math and science in school, and was introduced to basics of programming in high school. It was amazing to be able to write code and make things happen. After getting an undergrad in computer science from IIT, Delhi and a masters from MIT, I moved to California and joined Google. After about three years, I decided I wanted to work in a startup environment – one where I felt passionate about the mission and can have a large social impact. One day I came across Coursera and knew: this is it. It was the perfect combination of a small company with around 50-ish people, very important mission, and passionate founders. When I came over for the company Happy Hour one evening, I met a bunch of super-friendly, passionate, and smart people – and knew this is the company I wanted to join. That was almost four years ago now.
What is fulfilling about your job at Coursera?
It all goes back to the mission. The fact that we’re able to reach so many people who would otherwise not have access to a high quality education. A great education allowed me to be where I am today – it is a path to freedom. It’s fulfilling to extend it to millions of others around the world.
What is something you’ve found challenging at Coursera?
For my first three years at Coursera, I was happily writing code and leading projects. When the opportunity arose to become a manager, I didn’t know if I was ready or whether I wanted to give up coding yet, even though I had asked for that role. It was quite challenging at the beginning (and still is!) – it was a completely different job, not to mention the huge increase in the number of meetings per day. In the year since, I’ve definitely learned a lot as a manager and am grateful for the opportunity; and there’s still a lot to learn!
What is something you’re passionate about?
Solving challenges via technology, especially in education and health. There is so much that can and needs to be done. Health systems are broken all over the world, and especially back in India, access to quality healthcare is severely limited. So much disruption needs to happen in the health field. On the education side of things, we need to reach people who may not have the access or awareness of services like Coursera. The quality of education needs improvement as well. Particularly in India, there is too much focus on rote memorization and passing tests, rather than learning and understanding concepts.
What advice do you have for young people who are coming to Silicon Valley?
Silicon Valley is an amazing place for ambitious and hardworking young people. When you look at a lot of the new startups these days, they are started by very young people. My advice would be to apply your skills, talents, and energy to something meaningful in the world. Solve the hard problems. You don’t need to start with solving world hunger. There are plenty smaller yet pressing problems to address. Second, always be learning. This is especially crucial in software engineering because technology evolves fast.
What would you say to someone considering an engineering position at Coursera?
If a candidate is comparing us to a bigger company, I would say that as an engineer you can learn a lot more at a startup than a big company. At a startup, you get to build a lot of things from scratch. You get to try, fail, and learn. Often, you get to choose the technologies you want to use. In general, change can happen faster at a smaller company. Aside from learning, if you care a lot about the impact you’re making, it’s easier to tangibly see the effect you’re having on the customer, product, ROI, and mission. If you’re comparing to other startups, I think what sets Coursera apart is the mission, the people, the culture and the possibilities. The engineers here are passionate, kind, and really smart! So if you want to learn, grow, have a large impact and lots of fun at the same time, come join Coursera!
Interested in becoming part of the Coursera team? Check out our Careers Page to learn more about available positions, company values and perks and benefits of working at Coursera.8