By Anisha Srivastava

At the end of my sophomore year in the business program at the University of Texas at Austin, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was on the wrong track.

Most of the students in my program were working toward careers in fields like finance or consulting for large firms and corporations.

I had tremendous clarity that I wanted something different, but I didn’t know what it was. Within a year, I had won a national app development contest and I am still certain that entrepreneurship will be a big part of my future. What happened?

Making A Change

I had to stop and examine what I was doing and where I’d rather be. I remembered that I’d always been interested in doing projects outside of the academic realm. In high school, my brother and I started a non-profit.

So I started exploring my options and saw a strong connection between innovation and technology. I found opportunities to work with small companies and went to tech meetups. I started carving an unconventional path, combining diverse academic and personal interests. It became clear that the intersection of creativity, technology and business drives the most powerful innovation.

Having no background in tech, I took a risk and made a bold decision take a semester off from UT to enroll in an immersive coding course with The Iron Yard, a code school in Austin, Texas.

Creating Lightpath

The pace of the bootcamp was intense. Concepts were cumulative so I had to internalize previous material quickly to move forward and continue learning. I found myself buried in information overload, making studying inefficient. I wanted a more efficient, targeted way to keep track of the specific content bringing understanding, and that’s when I came up with the idea for Lightpath.

When learning, there is typically a moment when a concept suddenly clicks. I wanted to build an application to preserve those moments and the understanding for easy future access. Filling a notebook with pages of notes to filter through later or going through old assignments and lecture videos is too tedious and time-consuming.

Lightpath is an app that tracks your lightbulb moments–those moments where a concept suddenly clicks. You can record a video of yourself or an audio file, or save article links. In a classroom environment, you can even share your insights with classmates. Those instants are precious for learning and help light a path through a course–hence the name Lightpath.

With my initial knowledge of coding, I built a minimal version of the app. Then I saw that the Pearson Student Coding Competition was accepting entries for applications that impacted learning, so I took a leap and entered.

Pearson’s tech team worked closely with me to help me develop my app work with their application program interface (API). When I was invited to present my app for the contest finals, I got so much feedback from experts in the field–people in education, technology and business, and I learned so much. At the end of the entire process, and a lot of time and work from all sides, I won first prize.

So from my own experiences, this is my advice for those who want to explore their own path:

  • Take a pause. So many times we find ourselves moving along a trajectory because it’s what we’re “supposed” to do. I had to think, “Is this where I want to be going? Is there something else out there for me?” I imagined what I’d be doing if I continued along the path I was on, and what other directions might be more appealing.
  • Remember what you liked when you were a kid. Thinking about what I’d rather do, I remembered how I’d always been interested in creating something new and how I loved taking action.
  • Taking a risk is okay. Taking a semester off school was a big step, and one that could be really uncomfortable for a lot of people. But it was the right step for me. I learned so much during that semester off. Not just coding itself, but that I had the ability to create and collaborate and build something new. Even if I hadn’t won the contest, I know that future partners or employers would respect that I took the initiative. We’re still young. Any experience helps you learn.

Back To School With A Fresh Perspective

I’m back at UT Austin now, and I won’t lie and say it’s been a perfect transition back to academia. I am behind some of my peers in my original academic programs, and I’m far behind those who have been involved in tech for the last three years.

I have a long way to go, but I am energized by this new beginning. I know I cannot suddenly become the best entrepreneur or programmer, but I am far closer than I was 12 months ago.

For others who want to explore the unconventional, the time is now. It’s always a good time to learn something new, and that knowledge will be with you for life. Don’t be afraid to try.

About “GenDIY”

eduInnovation and Getting Smart have partnered with The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation to produce a thought leadership campaign called Generation Do-It-Yourself (GenDIY)–how young people are hacking a pathway to a career they love–on The Huffington Post and GettingSmart.com. This campaign about reimagining secondary and postsecondary education and career skills will explore the new generation building a global economy and experiences that are impact driven and entrepreneurial. For more on GenDIY:

Anisha Srivastava is in her junior year at the University of Texas at Austin studying information systems, business and liberal arts. Follow her on Twitter: @anishasrii.


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3 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Anisha,

    I love your thoughts on the importance of risk-taking, pattern-breaking, and following your passions. Your story is inspiring and informative. I work at a school that is undergoing an awakening, led by our administration, that is focused on exactly those principles. Recently, we held what we called “Creativity Day”. It was a day where our staff and community members taught courses on things they were passionate about. We gave students choice over which courses they took, which allowed them to explore and get experience with disciplines and areas of life that: 1) they were interested in; and 2) they might not have otherwise had a chance to interact with. It was awesome. Here’s a link to news story about it:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddeMt1KwHoo

    As evidence of the type of work this mentality produces, check out this awesome video of our faculty performing our annual act at our school’s Talent Show:

    We try to model the type of risk-taking and passion we want our students to put into their work and life.

    Thanks for your article.

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