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Women’s History Month: Sonali Chellappa

How did you get into this role? 

I first learned about UX design in high school during a summer internship at an educational technology nonprofit, where I had the chance to shadow the company’s UX team. Having grown up in Silicon Valley, I knew I wanted to work in tech, but I couldn’t decide what to specialize in, and I knew I didn’t have an interest in coding. When I learned about UX design and that it was a combination of several disciplines, including engineering, psychology, research, and visual design, I knew it was the career path I wanted to follow! 

I studied Cognitive Science at UC Irvine and continued pursuing UX design through student-led design and engineering organizations at my school and internships at companies, including Nvidia and Otis Elevators. I graduated from UCI just a few months ago, and I’ve been a Product Designer at Pronto’s mobile connectivity subsidary, Pollen Mobile, ever since!

What is a typical day like for you? 

My day-to-day tasks usually vary, but a typical day includes creating concepts and designing wireframes and prototypes on Figma, collecting user insights from our current products, drafting product requirements for new projects, gathering team feedback on my designs, and working closely with the engineering team to implement my designs.

What excites you about working here? 

I am most excited to be able to design, own, and ship a variety of web and mobile applications from 0 to 1! It’s a big responsibility, but it allows me to flex my creativity and problem-solving skills, address issues that our users face, and put my education in cognitive science to good use.

What keeps you excited and busy outside of work? 

Outside work, I love hiking, skateboarding, cooking, playing field hockey, and making pottery!

Could you share a story about a woman who helped you as a leader or mentor and what she meant for your career today? 

Although countless women have helped me succeed, my college Informatics professor, Dr. Arpita Bhattacharya, has shaped my work and completely transformed my understanding of Human-Computer Interaction. I took a class with Arpita called Social Analysis of Computing, in which I learned about the social and political implications of technological innovation, including the ethics of AI, privacy, and surveillance in Big Data, and how marginalized groups are affected by biased information technologies. 

Arpita taught me to think critically about what it means for technology to be intersectional and truly neutral and how we can work to negate the biases perpetuated by information technologies. I keep these lessons in mind every day, and I hope to continue designing products that promote intersectionality, inclusion, and accessibility.