Komal Singh is in the midst of her first book tour – making appearances on talk shows and in bookstores – but she’s not what you’d consider a typical children’s book author. The Google program manager and engineer wrote the book when her then-four-year old daughter casually remarked that only boys were engineers. “It really bummed me out!” she says.
So in August of this year, Ara the Star Engineer was born. It’s the story of a young girl who solves big problems with courage, creativity and collaboration – which are all hallmarks of Singh’s own story, as well.
Singh grew up in India in the 1980s, when female role models in the sciences were few and far between. Now, in Canada, she wants to change that for little girls growing up today. “My anchor was my father,” she says. “He encouraged me to study and never give up on my goals.”
In 2005, Singh graduated from Simon Fraser University with a masters degree in computer science and, after 10 years in the software engineering business, landed her dream job at Google (on her third attempt of the company’s notoriously grueling interview and vetting process). “I loved the idea of doing work that impacts billions of people around the world,” she says. “I wanted to be somewhere I could be a whole person – a mother and engineer and someone with passion projects so I could inspire my kids.”
While Singh says she hasn’t faced overt discrimination as a woman in the male-dominated field of software engineering, she points to more subtle forms – like the fact that when the team scores a win, they sometimes circulate memes of white men high-fiving, or the fact that brainstorming sessions are recorded on whiteboards she’s too short to reach. “These seem like such small things, but over time they make you doubt you belong,” she says. And she hopes that getting more women and girls interested in computer science will help eradicate such continuing challenges through sheer numbers.
With the publication of Ara the Star Engineer, she hopes young girls will see that there is a place for them in engineering and that women will seek out mentors committed to diversity, as she has over the course of her career. As part of her commitment to closing the gender gap in her field, all profits from the book are being donated to charities encouraging girls’ and underrepresented groups’ participation in STEM fields.