Reddit Tech Talk with CTO Chris Slowe Presents One More Opportunity for Involvement

12/2/2021 9:32:45 AM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

A sophomore undergraduate student majoring in computer science, Drshika Asher conducted a tech talk at the end of October with Reddit Chief Technology Officer, Chris Slowe. This one-hour discussion presented students with the opportunity to digitally meet Slowe, listen to him speak and ask questions.

Illinois CS student Drshika Ashar posing for a portrait outside on a sidewalk.
Illinois CS undergraduate student Drshika Asher helped organize and execute a recent discussion for students with Reddit CTO, Chris Slowe.

“I honestly think it’s so amazing that we can speak to influential people in the industry,” Asher said. “While we cover the technical components in class – which ensures that we learn the skills that make us effective in this industry – these discussions offer something we can’t learn in class. We’re learning how the things we take from our classes actually do apply in the real world.”

Asher fulfilled a technical component for Slowe’s discussion by moderating it. She took questions from more than 50 students who attended, making sure everyone had their chance at a question if they chose to participate.

Beyond working the event, Asher absorbed Slowe’s message and said there were a couple eye-opening moments.

This is no small feat, either, considering that Asher is already involved in research at the undergraduate level through CS Stars. She researches Reddit, uses Reddit, serves as a moderator for Reddit and, generally, enjoys the product.

Still, Asher reveled in the opportunity to learn more about the company’s inner-workings and came away with two primary findings.

“To hear Chris talk about it, one thing I had never truly understood and now am impressed by, is the immensity of their infrastructure. Reddit undertook an entire redesign, but to do so they had to account for the legacy code while also incorporating new aspects to it,” Asher said. “The other thing he emphasized that I hadn’t thought of is that engineers are not designers. He spoke about the need for an entire, interdisciplinary team to accomplish major initiatives.”

For a comparison, the previous version is still available for anyone to access, but the new site appears when anyone navigates to Reddit.com.

Additionally, Asher came away with a couple more important takeaways from Slowe’s discussion.

He mentioned an approach to new work as “fail fast and iterate.” Asher enjoyed this line of thought because it “doesn't make sense to strive to get 100% on the first shot but you should try to get 80% and fix the next 20% as you go.”

Another point Slowe made was to emphasize that an entity’s values are “iterative” and just as important as a code base. He believes that as a company grows, so should its values.

Events and learning experiences like this one represent why Asher chose Illinois CS for her computing education.

Actually, there were two primary reasons.

First, she enjoys the way Illinois CS covers computing fundamentals in its course structure, while simultaneously encouraging students to think big picture through its corporate connections.

Second, she was impressed with the department’s dedicated effort to diversity through its Broadening Participation in Computing initiative. As a woman in CS, Asher understood that her high school experience was unlike most. She found a teacher who identified her strengths as aligning well with computing. She was encouraged to delve further into coding. That led her to prioritize CS departments when identifying colleges.

Other female student at the high school level, she believes, do not have those thoughts impressed upon them all that often. With that in mind, she has made the most of each opportunity presented at Illinois CS.

As corporate chair with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) at Illinois, an active participant in Women Who Code events, content chair for Reflections|Projections and in outreach for HackIllinois, there is much more is in store for Asher this academic year.