pooja sethi
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I'm Pooja. I'm a Software Engineer at Facebook and a @UWCSE '17 graduate. I'm from sunny Seattle, where we have coffee and code for breakfast.

2018 in Lemons

31 Dec 2018

When Life Gives You Lemons…

This year, I’m especially thankful for:

  1. My family and roots. In August, I visited India for the first time in nearly 15 years. The best part of visiting my extended family was that even after so many years of absence, they made me feel as if I hadn’t left for a day. Where else besides India would I get to:
    • Take blessings from the Golden Temple (Sri Harmandir Sahib).
    • Ride on the backside of my uncle’s motorcycle on a dirt road late at night without a helmet and narrowly dodge cows, vegetable carts, and chaiwalas.
    • Visit my aunt’s and cousin’s school, and be privileged by the kindness and awed by the intelligence of India’s best students.
    • Hold the hands of my grandparents.
    • Stay up late at night gossiping with my aunts and looking through their wedding albums.
    • Play dress-up with my two toddler nieces and watch them giggle.
    • See the village that I was born in.
    • Tie rakhis for my cousins, and pick out a light-up rakhi for my brother (who knew those exist).
    • Find a crashed plane, plus many inquisitive monkeys and deer, at IIT Madras.
    • Celebrate the marriage of two of my dear friends, with many other friends. Golden Temple
  2. Impactful work and teammates that inspired me to grow. This was my first year working full-time as a software engineer. Working in industry is very different from being a university student. For one, I learned that learning in industry is usually a means to making tangible contributions and impact, and not and end in itself. As a result, carving out time to improve your skills takes more conscious effort. Luckily, I felt that had ample opportunity for both impact and learning. At work, I:
    • Learned how to build a state-of-the-art conversational AI system from the bottom up. My knowledge of semantic parsing, active learning, coreference resolution, and dialogue systems has gone from zero to one.
    • Helped Facebook launch its first home device, Portal, that lets you stay connected with your friends and family. It was really exciting to be a small part of a brand new product release and work closely with many of my teammates to make it happen.
    • Attended two international conferences on NLP and AI:
      • EMNLP – Brussels, Belgium
      • NeurIPS – Montreal, Canada
    • Mentored an intern over the summer, and helped start a mentorship program for women on our team. It felt really nice to be able to give back in a small way. (And I also had a great mentor in return!)
    • Made latte art and planked with my team. As in, we all got on hands and knees on the office floor and held planks for 3 minutes.
    • Met Deborah Liu at a Q&A for Women in Facebook Messenger. I’ve looked up to Deb since I was first interned at Facebook, so it was really inspiring to hear her advice. Facebook AI
  3. Long runs, bike rides, and the friends that accompanied them. I’ve loved running since middle school, but this year I wanted to take things up a notch. My original goal was to finish a half marathon, but I caught a running bug and decided to sign up for three more.
    • Four half-marathons (13.1 miles):
      • Kaiser Permanente San Francisco
      • Woodside/Purisma Creek Crossover
      • Facebook Half
      • San Jose Rock N’ Roll
    • One 5K : San Jose Terrain Race (featuring giant mud pits and a bath at the end)
    • One 10K: Zombie Runner Quarry Lakes I loved being able to run with many of my close friends and teammates. Sweat and mild pain have a wonderful way of bonding people, it turns out. In addition to the running, I also got more into biking this year.
    • Bike rides:
      • My daily commute to work was a 6.2 mile bike ride. I had been nervous about commuting by bike before, but soon enough I got used to it and found it fun to have a daily challenge.
      • A particularly memorable bike ride I did was 20+ miles, from Menlo Park to Mountain View, with one of my best friends. We topped it off with a steaming bowl of pho and boba. Running
  4. Great books, especially audio books. I read (and listened) to 21 books this year. I never thought I would be an audio book person, but I was wrong. Listening to books instead of music while commuting to work, running, or doing laundry adds up like compound interest – it was he best time hack I discovered this year. Audible and even local libraries (try the Libby app) have a great selection.
    • My favorite read was Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight (the founder of Nike). Phil’s Pacific Northwest humbleness and hardiness, love for long distance running, and desire to make the world better struck me. It’s a story I would recommend for any ambitious 20-something.
    • In very close second was The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It’s the first science book I’ve encountered that reads like the Lord of the Rings. It covers topics like Mukherjee’s family battle with schizophrenia, the discovery of DNA by Watson/Crick/Franklin, the eeriness of eugenics, and the promise of human gene editing.
    • Other books I would highly recommend:
      • Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
      • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
      • 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson
      • Becoming by Michelle Obama Books
  5. Lemon trees. When I moved into Redwood City, California I was surprised to find we had a Meyers lemon tree right in front of the kitchen window sill. (If you’re from Seattle, you know that fresh citrus fruit growing on a tree is not a thing.) In India, however, we also had a lemon tree in our yard. For some reason, the small miracle of picking a sour little yellow fruit off a tree again brought a lot of joy. Books

Make Lemonade

Or in my case, a blueberry lemon cake. Cheers to 2018. Lemon Blueberry Cake