Pooja Sankar is the founder and CEO of Piazza, a college collaboration and recruiting platform that engages all the top technical students around the world for more than 3 hours a night.
The idea for Piazza came from Pooja’s experience as one of only three women in the undergraduate computer science program at IIT Kanpur in the late 1990s. Often she found herself struggling to master challenging programming assignments by herself, as she watched her male classmates huddling in the computer lab asking and answering each other’s questions. The male students benefitted greatly from their collaborations, and Pooja dreamed of a way to empower all students, shy or outgoing, male or female, to benefit from the power of collaborative learning.
Piazza’s Q&A Platform empowers all STEM students to learn collaboratively – male and female alike – and eases the feelings of isolation that can come with studying complex technical subjects. It is a particularly powerful tool for female STEM students, more than 200,000 of which use the platform each year.
In fact, female computer science students ask on average 26 percent more questions via Piazza than men do. More than half of all questions asked in STEM classes are done so anonymously. Without the availability of an anonymous tool, many of those questions might go unasked, and many of those concepts might go unmastered.
After graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, Pooja escaped an arranged marriage and moved to the US to earn a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Maryland. She then worked in software development at Oracle, Kosmix, and Facebook, which she left for Stanford Business School, where she first created Piazza.
Pooja recently expanded her company’s efforts to address another major need for new graduates: getting hired. Piazza Careers matches over 100 sought-after employers like Airbnb, Yahoo!, VMware, Cisco, Morgan Stanley, GoDaddy, Intuit, Juniper, Capital One, Pinterest, and Microsoft with the right candidates for their firms.
Given her personal experiences, Pooja is a passionate advocate for women in STEM and computer science specifically. She speaks and writes frequently about the need for more mentoring and support for female STEM students.