Jinal Foflia is a data analyst at Mapbox and a frequent hackathon attendee. She has taken part in many of our women in tech initiatives, most notably Ms.Hackers. Her performance at the hackathons and at Ms. Hackers landed her a job offer at Mapbox. When not attending hackathons and winning them, she can be found blogging, surfing the internet, writing poetry, traveling and painting. Filled with a passion for learning, this nomad is always looking for new opportunities to improve her knowledge base, and never backs down from a challenge.
We spoke to her about her life, her motivations and her advice to women embarking on their career in the technology domain.
Here is what she had to say.
When and where were you born?
I was born in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on the 6th of January 1993. I’m a Gujarati by nature but Bangalorean by heart.
So, you are a relative youngster. Unlike me, you probably still can remember your school days. Speaking of which, did you ever program in those (for me) far off days? And what was your first program?
I don’t really remember when was the first time I programmed. I formally started learning to program during my PU college, my first program, I guess was “Adding two integers”. I feel a lot of people are afraid of programming, but honestly programming is just like solving a problem in a systematic way such that we obtain a relevant result from it. While in school I used to break down answers into steps (like algorithms) to remember them. I just felt it easy to remember it in a sequence.
How did you find yourself drawn into the technology domain?
I come from a family of engineers, so engineering was something known to me. I was always curious to know how few lines of code could create all the magic on the screen! Living in the “silicon valley of India” it was difficult for me to keep away from this. I can say curiosity to explore this domain got me here. The speed at which things were being developed, the pace at which everything was changing was enough for me to feel the zeal for it. The fact that attracted and motivated me was that technology can do anything and everything.
If you were to name one person who has been the biggest influence on your career who would it be?
I don’t think I can name a single person that has influenced my career. Somehow every person I have met or read about has taught me something. The biggest influences would and will always be my parents, who’ve been my motivation, my uncle, who has been my inspiration and my family for giving me the strength.
“Growing up, I could see technology become the binding agent to a lot of things.”
As a child, did you ever think that you would end up in tech? Who has been a major influence in this regard?
To be honest I was never a tech person, at least not in the beginning. Growing up, I could see technology become the binding agent to a lot of things. Technology was literally everywhere! However, when I stepped into college I did not find a lot of girls interested in tech or even taking a chance at exploring or trying out something new. I was lucky I found a friend, who persuaded and encouraged me to explore this side. And eventually found myself being a part of a larger student tech enthusiastic team.
What do you think the future holds for women in the technology domain?
I’m inspired with this quote “A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things.” It’s a thing of past that women could only limit their career choices. This stereotype is breaking, we are everywhere now. We are matching steps along with men out there. Women with their ability to multitask and their creativity are bringing in a whole new dimension in the world of technology.
Venturesity has been around for 3 years and we’ve now become quite well known. Tell us when and how did you first hear about us.
Venturesity is doing an amazing job in helping loads of young minds realize their dreams. I got to know about Venturesity through my friend who had just then participated in a Hackathon conducted by them.
How many Venturesity hackathons have you attended so far?
I have attended 3 hackathons till date, I’m sure the number will increase in days to come! These hackathons are addictive I must say.
So you are quite a regular! What was like attending one of our hacks?
As I mentioned earlier, Hackathons are addictive! It’s just an amazing experience, I would not be wrong if I say “No one can attend it just once!” The adrenaline rush and enthusiasm that it gives is just insanely addictive. A problem statement to solve, propose a solution for that problem, co-ordinate and work as a team, end result (product), competing with other brilliant teams, judging and presenting – the outcome and all these things happen in a span of 24 hours! How AWESOME is that? It just makes us trust our decisions more, learn from our mistakes and also makes us take risks. It’s just an overwhelming experience on the whole. The learning experience we get here is something that no classroom learning can substitute.
“I always felt safe. I never feared anything at all!”
You’ve mentioned that you are quite happy to stay at the premises for the whole 24 hours. However, as a young woman, one of your main concerns is safety. What can you say to those reading this article to alleviate any safety concerns they might be having?
These hackathons are generally 24 hours, and me being a girl, the first thing any parent would be worried about is safety. With the experience I have had with people and the Venturesity team, I always felt safe. I never feared anything at all! That’s the sort of environment they provide for girls in particular so that they can participate and make the most out of it.
What advice would you give to those who are considering attending a hackathon?
Hackathons are a great way to meet people of varied interests and domains. It gives us an insight as to how the industry works. As a fresher that I was, it was a great opportunity to explore the startup culture. For women, in particular, most importantly – environment provided is very safe. We get an equal chance to compete with all. They help us in overcoming the inhibition that women cannot code. It gives the confidence to express what we feel as individuals and not as men or women.”
At hackathons, you work on a variety of interesting projects. Can you tell us about some of them?
Here are some of the projects that were the outcome of these hackathons:
– Janmat: This was an Android app that we built for Hike messenger – Hikeathon. This was an interesting experience, it helped me understanding a simple approach that “until we face problem, we will not try to find solution for it.” So we started to work on the problems we faced with a chat app, and the outcome was amazing. We built an app which had a public chat, chat aggregator – which finds gist of all the messages, gives a sentimental analysis and also has the option to translate.
– Real Hack: In this hackathon by Housing, our web application aimed at providing a common interface for two or more people to interact. We did so by syncing in their views, broadcasting push notifications, property suggestions based on the location triangulation. We also approximated appreciated value of the property a user wishes to buy/rent and other physical information like soil type and so on.
You might be too young for me to ask this question. But I will ask anyway! What advice would you give to those starting out in their careers?
I’m a novice right now, all I can say is ‘It doesn’t change until it challenges you!’ One has to overcome the inhibition and face the challenges.
We heard through the grapevine that you’ve recently landed a great job at Mapbox. How did this come about?
I have been participating in most of the events conducted by Venturesity. I was here participating for Ms. hackers and I also attended the reverse pitch. At the reverse pitch, I got in touch with the folks at Mapbox. I applied for the position and rest is history. 🙂 All I can say is, it is important to be there at the right time and the right place, and Venturesity provided me that! 🙂
A big thank you to Jinal for taking time out from her busy schedule to answer these questions! We wish her all the best for the future and hope that she has a successful career at Mapbox. For further details about her check out her LinkedIn profile. Also, check out our webpage for more details about hackathons and our women in tech initiatives.