International Alumni Saving the World

Graduation has come and gone, and as we send off our international graduates on their next journey, we wonder about those who came before, where they ended up, and what role their time at UT played in their lives.

We happily stumbled upon a UT alumna while perusing the website of one of our favorite international nonprofits. Nitya Oberoi, originally from India but raised in Kuwait, graduated from UT Austin in 2005 with degrees in Computer Science, Advertising, Journalism and Business Foundations.

With a decade of experience at some of the world’s most recognizable companies like Goldman Sachs, Nitya is now Senior Software Engineer at charity: water. She is responsible for developing, troubleshooting, and leading projects relating to the revenue and fundraising platform.

We asked her a few questions about what she has done since leaving UT Austin and she was kind enough to share her story.

1.  Why did you choose to study at the University of Texas at Austin?

When making the decision to apply to university, I had no idea what I wanted to do for the next 4 years, let alone the rest of my life. I decided that I needed to choose a university that would not only help me make this decision but would ensure that I received a good education no matter what I chose to do. The vast array of educational options that UT provided me with, in addition to each of these schools being placed in the top ranks, is what made the university a great choice for me. 

2.  What challenges did you face as an international student? How did you overcome them?

As an international student, one of the biggest challenges that I faced was the lack of cultural context. In many of my advertising classes, our professor would refer to pop culture context that I had not grown up with, so understanding the context of classes and, sometimes, even conversations with friends would get a little tough. Primarily the main way to overcome this was to talk to a lot of people and ask a lot of questions. I ended up learning a lot, and also had a great time while at it.

3. Was there any faculty member/student organization that helped you accomplish your academic, personal and professional goals? 

I feel lucky to have had one of the best support systems of professors, peers, and advisers I could have hoped for through UT and after. A lot of the professors and advisers at UT have a deep interest in your success - I have personally had many professors give me references and mentored me for future opportunities for jobs and graduate school.

4.  What advantages has your degree from UT Austin given you?

Studying at a university like UT, gave me the option to interview at and get offers from prestigious institutions. This is how I landed my first job out of school in New York at Goldman Sachs, which I believe set me on an upward trajectory in my career.

5.  What did you enjoy the most about your time at UT?

I loved being in Austin - the parks, lakes, campus. What’s not to love? Some of my favorite times at UT were the hours between classes spent sitting in the west mall and the main mall - hanging out with friends in front of the fountain, sitting behind the table of one of many student organizations I was a part of handing out flyers and networking, grabbing food in The Union, studying at the PCL. Classes weren’t so bad either. :)

6.   What was your favorite place on campus and outside campus?

The library in front of the law school was probably one of my favorite places. Outside of campus, it was probably Zilker or Hamilton Pool.

7.   How did your student experiences or your time at UT help shape you as a person? 

On my first day at orientation, I remember receiving what was then a hard copy of the class schedule for the year, and excitedly pouring over it trying to decide my class load for my freshman semester. Over the next few semesters, in addition to the regular curriculum, I started taking classes for fun: Astronomy, Archery, Visual Design, Business Law, etc. Not to sound nerdy, but these were some of my best experiences at UT, and really helped shape the person I became - I’ve always been keen about learning new things and finding my passion, and UT gave me a chance to indulge this. I truly believe that this is what led me to always take a step back to reassess my career at every point - it’s what led me to venture out and learn through enduring physical experiences such as running marathons and completing a week of survival school in the canyons of Utah, and backpacking across South East Asia to experience, learn and find where my passions lay.

8.   In what ways has your international student experience had an impact on your career and who you are today?

As an Indian born and brought up in Kuwait, I was exposed to a multicultural environment since childhood. Every summer, my parents traveled to new places and introduced us to different cultures, languages, and ways of life that instilled in me a great love for travel and adventure. I succumbed to this lifelong wanderlust after graduating from college, and embarked on my first solo, unstructured backpacking expedition to South America with just my phrasebook to lean on. Since then I’ve gone on to visit 6 continents - travels that have led me to new friends, new languages, a deep trust of my own instincts and new perspectives in my career.

9.   What advice would you give to a prospective student who are considering coming to UT?

It’s okay to not know what you want to do for the rest of your life. That’s what university is for. Go out a lot, you’ll make some amazing friends. Get involved with organizations. Volunteer for a cause that you’re passionate about. Take more classes than what’s on your curriculum. Study abroad. Do something every day that scares you.

10.   What were the main reasons you chose to work for charity: water?

After deciding I wanted to work at a non-profit, I spent months talking to over 100 people in the sector trying to find the right fit for me. I was passionate about development and social impact, and I wanted to find the right environment for me to continue to grow as a product developer and iterate and fail quickly, by exercising agile methodologies while also doing good in the world. charity: water stood out to me as a perfect blend of the two. The organization is quick and always open to accepting new ideas and not shy to use technology to its leverage, which was very appealing to me. In addition, the organization was largely motivated by consistently measuring the impact of the work they do, which from an employee’s point of view is great, because you get constant feedback and understand the impact that you are making in the world on a whole. 

11.   What do you enjoy most about your current career position?

I love the autonomy and flexibility that my current position provides me, as well as the ability to validate and see the impact I make on a day-to-day basis. Our organization is largely data-driven which means after a session of brainstorming solutions and prioritizing the right solution to work on, we build the next iteration of our product and analyze the impact that it makes. This is incredibly gratifying as it’s quick, we get a lot of constant feedback and get the experience of mimicking what a startup feels like inside of a non-profit organization.

12.   What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments, personally and professionally?

Since I was 13, I’ve maintained a bucket list of 486 things to do - from climbing mountains, learning new languages, photographing nature over the world. I try to cross off a few goals every year and have completed 278 to the date. The past few years has seen me exercising my passions, and keeps me motivated. I consider this, one of my greatest personal accomplishments.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve moved from a job in the financial industry to startups to eventually working for a non-profit. I consider the personal pleasure I derive from my work to be one of my greatest professional accomplishments.

13.   Looking back, what do you miss the most about your time at UT?

One of my most nostalgic moments from UT was the ability to go to any of the green lawns at UT and plop down with a picnic and a book. I still do that in NY occasionally, but the campus and Austin had its own appeal.