Article - Deepika Nagaraj

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This article is an excerpt reproduced from the Summer/Fall 2011 issue of Diversity Careers magazine.

Women Engineers Bring Unique Perspectives to the Workplace

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Deepika Nagaraj works on the ALMA Band 6 project at NRAO

 

Growing up in India, Deepika Nagaraj was intrigued by computers. "One of my sisters is a computer science engineer and the other is an electronics engineer," she says. "We always had a computer in our home and I played around with it."

She learned C++ in high school and from her sisters. "By the time I finished pre-university, I was pretty sure that computer science was what I wanted to do," she says.

Today Nagaraj is a software engineer III at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO, Charlottesville, VA), which provides state-of-the-art radio telescope facilities for use by the international community. She works in the Band 6 group of NRAO's Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) project.

Nagaraj's main responsibilities include developing database-backed web applications to track Band 6 cartridge construction and testing, and developing software to automate data analysis and documentation.

"The ALMA telescope will consist of at least sixty-six antennas when completed," explains Nagaraj. "Its front-end system is equipped to receive signals of ten different frequency bands. I work for the group that's building and testing the cartridge that houses the Band 6 receiver."

The group of software engineers is small and the software requirements are large and varied, so they all do a little bit of everything. Nagaraj is one of only two software engineers in the mix of astronomers, physicists and scientists. "An important part of my job is to be able to quickly learn and use different technologies," she says.

A typical day starts with a meeting among managers and engineers reviewing priorities for the day. Bugs or new requirements are addressed with the group's customers: the internal NRAO employees who are assembling the components. Software design meetings follow and then Nagaraj sits at her desk writing code.

Nagaraj earned her 2007 BSCS at Bapuji Institute of Engineering and Technology (Davangere, India). A few months after graduating, she came to the U.S. to be with her husband who was studying at the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA). She joined NRAO in early 2008.

To keep current, Nagaraj participates in NRAO's videoconferences for web developers. "We discuss the projects we're working on," she says. "Otherwise, it's hard to know what others are doing."

She also attends one or two conferences each year. High on her list is the annual edUi conference (eduiconf.org), sponsored primarily by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (Charlottesville, VA) in partnership with professionals from other institutions of learning and the private sector in Virginia. "I get to meet other people in my field and learn about emerging technologies," she notes.

"I work at a wonderful place with amazing people and being a woman has never been an issue for me," she says. "The same things are expected of me as my male counterparts, the same quality of work and the same competency."

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