Pooja Nath has overcome both gender and cultural obstacles. She escaped an arranged marriage. She has also prevailed with her feet planted firmly atop the IT world, working for innovative leaders, such as Oracle, Kosmix and Facebook as a software developer. Nath is most recently the founder and CEO of Piazza.com and the first woman from her hometown of Patna, India to attend a prestigious engineering school. However, the road to these opportunities was very different than what most of us would expect.
During high school, it was common for Nath’s classmates to drop out of school because their families had found them suitable husbands. However, Nath’s family did not push an arranged marriage on her when she was 15, instead they encouraged her to attend the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur and eventually encouraged her to receive a master’s degree. At age 22, the pressure to conform to her culture’s standards caught up with her, and she married. However, it was short-lived and she left her husband and her job at Oracle to explore her passions in life.
Piazza was dreamt up while Nath was attending her first year at Stanford Graduate School of Business. It was because of the obstacles that she had to overcome while receiving her undergraduate degree in India that made a site like Piazza a necessity.
In India, it is still common to find gender segregation in the education system. Nath grew up in an all girls high school in India. After high school, she did her undergraduate at IIT Kanpur and was one of three women in her class of 50 men who mainly attended all boys high schools.
During her undergraduate days, because of the newness surrounding interacting with the opposite sex, Nath said, “We were too shy to interact with one another.” The men in her class had numerous peers they could team up with and solve homework assignments together and brainstorm, but Nath struggled to complete assignments. She relied on general Google discussion forums, which were not detailed enough to assist with the nuances of many assignments. This created a demand for a site like Piazza.
Piazza was designed to connect students, TAs and professors so that every student can get help when they need it. Students can post questions to their course homepage and other classmates and educators can respond to the questions. There are competitors to Piazza, such as Blackboard, but the main difference is that questions on Piazza are typically answered in 14 minutes. An investor of Piazza said, “With Piazza, it’s about turning data into actionable intelligence. We want to empower people to ask and answer questions, and we’re going to measure every aspect of it.” Through a site like this, students learn to challenge their own thinking skills and those of others.
Currently Piazza is a free service and Nath has said that she is in not in a hurry to make money on the service so she can focus on building the number of users. Because of Nath’s experiences, cultural differences might stand in the way a little less in the world of education because of Piazza.