While her initial plan was to become an officer in the Army’s new cyber branch, Balasubramanian chose the engineer branch instead.
“If I was going active duty in the Army, I wanted to learn something that I wouldn’t be able to learn anywhere else,” she said, “The Army teaches values and leadership.”
Balasubramanian’s desire to help people is what drove her to join ROTC in the first place. From a young age, her mother instilled in her principles of Hinduism and its emphasis on charity and service.
“My mom stressed the importance of learning and seeking truth, especially through studying the sciences, and she taught me the most fulfilling professions are those that help humanity and all creatures,” she recalled.
Those values played a major role in the path she has followed as a computer science concentrator at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
Balasubramanian has been interested in STEM at the intersection of service and teaching for as long as she can remember, even founding a club in high school that led educational activities at public elementary and middle schools. She and her peers used small robots to teach younger students basics of computer science and spark their interest in the field.
As a first-year, Balasubramanian served a counselor for Phillips Brooks House Association Summer Urban Program, an enrichment program for low-income youth, despite overcoming an injury in the middle of the program. The next year, she interned at a civic tech nonprofit through a Director’s Internship from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.
She wrote a script that scanned individual web pages on government domains to count the sensitive terms on those pages, like the use of “gender” versus “sex” or “illegal alien” versus “immigrant.” The program would then compare current web pages to past snapshots in the “Wayback Machine” internet archive to see how the number of terms had changed across presidential administrations.
“If you look closely on government websites, you can see that sometimes they change terminology before they make policy changes,” she said.
She continued exploring technology’s role in the public sector through a Civic Digital Fellowship, created by a Harvard student-founded organization Coding It Forward. At the U.S. Census Bureau, she made Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) data from American Community Survey more accessible for the lawyers, policymakers, and other public officials who rely on it to inform important decisions.