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Meet 2018 Forward under 40 Award Recipient Zainab Ghadiyali MS’12, MS’12

Zainab Ghadiyali’s first foray into engineering was a winner.

Zainab Ghadiyali

UW Majors: Industrial Engineering, Computer Sciences
Age: 32 | San Francisco
Cofounder, Wogrammer
Product Manager, Airbnb

Zainab Ghadiyali’s first foray into engineering was a winner.

As a UW student, she joined a Facebook-sponsored Hackathon team, which won a round of the contest by programming Goodmate, an app to facilitate chores, bill-paying, and other communication among roommates.

Her background in chemistry and health care had earned her a UW fellowship for a PhD in health economics. But the Hackathon win was a game-changer. Ghadiyali interviewed and subsequently interned at Facebook, an experience that convinced her to enter the tech industry. Then she decided to get a master’s in computer sciences as well.

Now in Silicon Valley, Ghadiyali is changing the game for more women in her field — and for generations to come. She cofounded Wogrammer, a nonprofit that celebrates the technical prowess of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

“I knew I wanted to be part of a school with a strong culture of fostering research and supporting entrepreneurs.”

Wogrammer has interviewed hundreds of these women, whose influence and accomplishments, Ghadiyali says, too often go unrecognized. She says that telling the stories of female engineers who are working in programming, coding, design, medicine, and more is a needed contrast to pervasive media coverage about how women look and the challenges of sexism in corporate culture.

“It’s important to highlight biases and the gender gap, but that doesn’t tell the whole story,” Ghadiyali notes. “So we said, let’s start writing these stories ourselves.”

And Wogrammer’s ventures continue to grow. She and her team are working on a book, building international networks, and creating a Leadership Academy for girls from disadvantaged backgrounds to educate them about STEM and support them in breaking stereotypes.

Yet Ghadiyali also makes time to give back to the community that supported her entrance into engineering: she mentors UW students and has visited campus to share her entrepreneurial advice.

“I knew I wanted to be part of a school with a strong culture of fostering research and supporting entrepreneurs,” Ghadiyali says. “I am so proud and lucky that I get to call myself a Badger!”

Q&A with Zainab

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Life isn’t about finding happiness, it is about finding meaning.

What are you reading now?

I tend to multiple books at once. Currently going through: HBR’s [Harvard Business Review’s] 10 Must Reads on Communication; Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John J. Ratey; transcripts of Yo Soy Betty, La Fea by Fernando Gaitan.

What is the one thing every UW student must do?

Take a sailing class and hit the lake.

What advice would you offer to graduating seniors?

Don’t worry too much about five-year/long-term career plans. Find what you love, and give it everything you have got — you will be surprised where life takes you.

What occupies your free time?

I pretty much have no free time these days.

What was your first job?

Tutored Chemistry

Who is your hero? (or who or what inspires you?)

My parents

What lasting memories do you have of UW–Madison?

Sitting in my research lab until 3 a.m. and sneaking out quietly to grab Red Bulls and Coke. Ice skating on the lakes in winter, attempting to sail.

Essay by Zainab

While I wasn’t 100 percent certain on what I wanted to do [in life], I knew I wanted to be part of a school with a strong culture of fostering research and supporting entrepreneurs. This made UW–Madison the perfect choice for me. The school is consistently ranked in the top schools in the United States and has produced many prestigious award winners, including Nobel Prize laureates and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. I quickly immersed myself in the entrepreneurial and research culture once I started.

Attending the Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Bootcamp helped build my confidence in putting a business plan together and brought me closer to the wonderful resources provided by the Business School. Conducting research at NIATx [formerly known as the Network for the Improvement of Addiction Research] further honed my analytical skills.

My research and course advisors were amazing. With their support, I was able to switch to industrial engineering and eventually also computer science programs and graduate in just over two years with no previous engineering background. Some of my warmest memories and closest friends in America are from UW–Madison. I am so proud and lucky that I get to call myself a Badger!

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