Haimantika Mitra’s journey from student with no code experience to app-making intern
Published Jan 28 2021 08:00 AM 18.4K Views

Haimantika Mitra is a third-year student at Siliguri Institute of Technology (SIT), a private engineering and management college in West Bengal, India, majoring in electronics and communications. She won’t graduate until May 2021, but she’s already working as an intern at a major tech company, a step she hopes will lead to a full-time job offer after graduation. She credits her discovery of and training in Microsoft Power Platform—especially the support and inspiration she received from developer and cloud advocate Dona Sarkar and other women in tech—for helping her land this internship. But it’s clear that her own passion for technology and for helping others—especially women—also plays a large role in her journey to success.


Mitra grew up in Siliguri, the third-largest urban area in West Bengal, after Kolkata and Asansol. Her early years of education, from the age of 10 on, were conducted in English, and her focus was on biology. Her family always stressed to her and her two sisters the importance of getting as much education as they could to help them succeed, especially since as women they were likely to encounter hindrances in the working world. So Mitra knew early on that she would continue her studies after high school. She didn’t want to do engineering at all, she says, but in India it’s mainstream and everybody does it. In fact, in India more women are enrolled in engineering programs and other STEM disciplines than in the United States.... However, the only technical college in Mitra’s area was SIT, and as the child of a single parent, she couldn’t move away, so that’s where she applied. “But I did love electronics and devices,” she says, laughing, “so I thought I’d give it a try.”


At SIT, women represented less than a third of the student population. In 2017–2018, the academic year she began her studies, women made up only 29.7 percent of the entire student population in colleges approved by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). In her second year, when she started learning programming and saw how much could be done with technology, she reached out to fellow students for help, since she had zero coding experience. She found that male students hesitated to help women learn coding. The juniors and seniors, for example, often didn’t follow through on answering her questions or showing her how to do things, even though they would politely agree to her requests for help. “This is why it’s so important to me to help women learn coding,” she explains. Her professors, on the other hand, were ready to help, but they were experts in technology that was rapidly becoming outdated and their educational model was more a book-learning one than an experiential one based in real-world learning. To acquire the skills she needed to succeed in today’s world, she knew she had to find ways to augment and amplify her formal technical education. “It’s time for me to do something on my own,” she told herself.


It was only in her third year that Mitra found out about tech communities and other ways that people shared tech knowledge, such as events hosted by Microsoft Learn Student Ambassadors, a global program of on-campus ambassadors who assist students and their communities by taking a lead in their local tech circles and helping them develop technical and career skills for the future. “I was really inspired by the Microsoft Learn Student Ambassador program,” she says. On Twitter she began following Dona Sarkar, a lead for the Microsoft Power Platform Advocacy team, who often hosted events. In April 2020, Mitra decided to attend an event led by Sarkar. That day, Sarkar gave a presentation on building Power Apps with Microsoft Power Platform, told the audience what kind of apps people had created, and gave them homework: try it out for yourself and create your own app.


“That was the first time I had heard about Microsoft Power Platform,” Mitra points out. As a result of showing up for that event, Mitra not only learned about Power Apps but she also built an app that day—in less than 24 hours—and shared it with the Microsoft team. She started by working through the Microsoft Power Platform Fundamentals learning path on her own, including the modules on how to build canvas apps, and then watched the demo, which empowered her to build her own app. The app she created tracked COVID-19 numbers in her area, drawing data from a government site that was open source.


After that experience, Mitra was hooked. “I was amazed to see the power of this particular platform,” she says, “and I got excited about all the things we could do with this.” So she immersed herself in more Microsoft Learn content—mixing and matching learning paths, tutorials, and docs—to teach herself  other parts of Microsoft Power Platform. She was ready for the challenge of creating more apps, not just because she was a curious student but also because she was dedicated to her local community. “Before this, she explains, “I had had a lot of ideas in my head for apps that could help people in my community with real issues they faced every day. So I thought, let’s see how I can integrate these skills with my ideas.”


One of her ideas led to an app to alert people to flooding, which happens frequently in her area. She used Power BI to collect all the data the Indian government had on flooding and then built an app that notifies people through Twitter, Gmail, and other media of possible flooding, so whenever there’s an emergency they can prepare. She also built a custom connector for weather forecasting, so if the temperature gets really high or low, it sends a notification. Currently she’s working on app to help people with speech and hearing impairments, using AI Builder to detect American Sign Language. Microsoft Power Platform is really helpful, she notes, because it empowers you to build solutions to community problems fast.


Mitra knew right away that she could help not only herself and her community with her newly acquired skills but also her coder and non-coder friends by sharing this knowledge with them. In January 2020, Mitra became a Microsoft Learn Student Ambassador herself, exploring Microsoft technologies, organizing events, and speaking about Microsoft Power Platform. Soon after that, she participated in Black Minds Matter Hackathon 2020, in which the organizers set up a bootcamp to help Black students learn about Microsoft Power Platform and build apps with it. She and other student ambassadors helped one of those students build a mental health tracking app for the Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) community. The girl’s app records people’s moods and, based on that, connects them to YouTube videos, calendar reminders for events they can attend, or other resources that can help them calm their mind. The app, known as iFeel, won a prize. Because of that experience, the girl got excited about the amazing things that could be done with Microsoft Power Platform, decided to keep learning this technology, and was inspired to pass along the kind of help she had received from Mitra’s and her team to others. To see some of what Mitra’s been up to recently, including speaking engagements, hackathons, and other events, scroll through her #MSFT Student Ambassador Twitter account.


According to Sarkar, Mitra became such a role model that she was invited to speak at Microsoft Build 2020, a conference for developers, where she gave a presentation, “Low code, no code, more power—Power Platform,” with colleagues Justin Yoo and Phantip Kokilanon. Since then, she’s been speaking at and actively participating in many other events. She spoke at Start. Dev. Change. 2020, a conference and community for people who want to learn to code, including beginners in tech and people switching careers. At Devs Speak: Low Code, No Code, a gathering of developers and tech enthusiasts from communities like Women Who Code, she presented “Empowering Students with Power Platform” (time stamp: 1:11:47). And during Smart India Hackathon (SIH) 2020, an annual nationwide initiative that provides students a platform to solve some of the pressing problems submitted from across India, she used Microsoft Power Platform low-code skills on a use case to help her team become a winner. The solution they created, Smart Flood Prediction and Warning System, predicts flooding in hydroelectric projects and issues warnings to local residents about impending floods.


With all the time she’s been spending on giving presentations, creating videos to share what she’s learned or to point others to how they can learn, winning prizes, and participating in various tech communities and her own community in Siliguri, Mitra has also kept up with her own learning and career goals. She’s worked her way through all the Microsoft Power Platform training and is ready to take Exam PL-900: Microsoft Power Platform Fundamentals in January 2021, the next scheduled date, to earn her Power Platform Fundamentals certification.


Clearly Mitra’s not one to sit around and wait. Instead, she scopes out new opportunities and challenges to help her learn and grow. While anticipating the certification exam and finishing her third year at SIT, she decided to seek an internship. Internships aren’t a requirement or an expectation at SIT, but Mitra wanted an opportunity to gain real-world experience and to test out her app-making skills, so she went looking for a place that would take her on as an intern. Though Cyclotron Group in Austin, Texas, doesn’t have an internship program, she convinced a hiring manager there to give her a shot. “And that’s how I got lucky!” she notes.


Mitra started working at Cyclotron Group in November 2020—the first intern the company has ever hired. As a part-time Power Platform consultant, she’s building solutions using Microsoft Power Platform, that is, Power Apps, Power BI, Power Virtual Agents, and Power Automate. Her internship runs until she graduates in May. “Before the pandemic, I wasn’t even aware of opportunities like this. But during the pandemic I began to seek them out, and this is how the pandemic became a boon for me.”


What excites her most about Power Apps? “I wanted to learn a skill and help people in my community,” she says. “I was interested in Microsoft Power Platform because I’ve always been inclined to help people around me.” And that’s exactly what she does with her Microsoft Power Platform skills. In addition to creating apps to help solve local problems, she also teaches underprivileged students in her local area, and she works as a student mentor at the Siliguri Welfare Organization. Also, in India, she says, there are a lot of startups, most of which are owned by people who have no coding experience. “I hope that by introducing them to this no-code platform they won’t have to hire a third party to solve their problems. They can do it themselves.”


A self-professed Microsoft Power Platform evangelist, Mitra’s mission is to is help make technology easier for everyone by teaching them or introducing them to these tools. Her work with companies, developers, tech communities, and kids proves that. As does her commitment to introducing women to tech and helping them learn it. “A woman helped me get excited about technology and build my skills as a developer,” she explains, “and I want to continue that tradition of women helping women in technology. The world’s been unfair for women for a very long time, and it's time for us to support and empower one another. Through technology and women-in-tech communities, women are now being heard and helped, including me. By carrying the help I received forward to other women, I move a little closer to my goal of technology for everyone." To that end, she often chooses to mentor girls, she participates in developer communities that focus on women, and she’s the Siliguri lead for a women’s developer group. Though in many ways India is a leader in women in technology—with women making up 34 percent of the IT industry (compared to 26 percent in the United States)—there’s still lots of room for improvement. And Mitra is helping lead the way to greater success for women in technology in her country and around the world.

Mitra’s story is unique but not rare. Training and certification in Microsoft Power Platform can help advance your career, whether you’re still a student, you’re just entering the work force, you’re changing careers, or you want to advance your developer skills. Anyone who’s interested in learning how to build apps with low-code techniques to simplify, automate, and transform business tasks and processes can start their upskill journey by checking out the Microsoft Power Platform app maker training and certification on Microsoft Learn. And once you’ve earned your certification, head over to the Microsoft Power Platform LinkedIn Job board to see all the opportunities available and find the one waiting for you. 

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