Reshma Saujani is an Indian American born in Illinois. You might know her as the first Indian American woman to run for the U.S. Congress, as an American lawyer, or as the founder of the non-profit organization ‘Girls Who Code.’
Whatever hat she was wearing when you first heard of her, she stands out amongst the crowd as someone to admire and draw inspiration from! That is why, in the rest of the article below, we’ll be taking a deeper look at her journey thus far and how she was able to get to where she was today.
Reshma Saujani | Personal Background
As mentioned in the beginning, Saujani was born in Illinois to parents who had previously lived in Uganda. Said parents had been exiled from their original home because of their Gujarati Indian descent in 1972, forcing them to migrate to the United States. And, not long after, they had Saujani on November 18, 1975.
As a last note on Saujani’s background: Although much of Saujani’s life is private, we do know that, currently, Reshma lives in New York City with her husband, Nihal Mehta (who is an entrepreneur himself), and their children.
Reshma Saujani | Educational Background
After having grown up in Chicago all her life, Saujani attended and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Even at this early stage, she was already involved in politics — having volunteered for the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1996.
However, that’s a topic for later. She didn’t stop her schooling after graduating from the University of Illinois. Instead, she had applied to her dream school, Yale Law School, hoping to get accepted, only to be rejected and forced to attend Harvard’s Kennedy School as a graduate student instead. During which, she worked part-time so that she can afford her studies and earn herself a Master’s Degree in Public Policy.
What’s really important about all this though, is that, even after having been rejected once, and already attending Harvard’s Kennedy School, Saujani never gave on her quest to attend Yale. She applied to Yale once more the year after getting to Harvard.
And, despite being rejected a second time, Saujani had only been driven to go the extra mile thereafter — even making a deal with the Dean of Yale Law School during a chance meeting and promising to be at the top 10% of her class in exchange for acceptance.
An important factoid to remember as, according to Saujani, finally making it to Yale had pushed her to become a leader. In an interview with Yale, she even said: “That hustle was what gave me the strength to run for office—twice—and after losing so publicly, go on to found a national nonprofit that is making a major difference in our country.”
Reshma Saujani | Career
Now for the breakdown of Reshma Saujani’s career thus far! We’ll be covering the timeline of events of some of the most important moments of Saujani’s journey to where she is today (including all that comes with it.)
Early Career | Practicing Law
Before anything else, Reshma began her early career by practicing law under multiple law firms. The first was Davis Pol & Wardwell LLP, where she was a defendant for security fraud cases (and, on occasion, did pro bono work for asylum cases.)
She didn’t end up staying there, for long, however. She moved on to the investment firm, Carret Asset Management soon after. A position that would later darken Saujani’s reputation, as the principal owner of the firm at the time, Hassan Nemazee, would later be convicted for felony charges (a matter her opponents will berate her for later, even though she had left the firm long after the charges against him had been filed.)
In any case, the felony charges against Nemazee happened long after Saujani had left Carret and moved onto Blue Wave Partners Management — a firm that specialized in private equity. At this stage, you’re probably already starting to see a pattern here.
But in the end, rather than choosing to leave the firm herself, it had actually closed during the market collapse of 2008. Forcing Saujani to find work elsewhere — which she did so over at the Fortress Investment Group, where she was given the position of General Counsel.
Early Political Career | Pre-2000s!
As mentioned above, Saujani has been involved in the political scene from a very young age. Trackable all the way back to 1996 — while she was still working on her college degree at the University of Illinois.
Of course, back then, it had been mainly behind-the-scenes work. With Saujani having been a volunteer for the Clinton-Gore campaign for the 1996 elections. However, it shows an early and persistent commitment to politics and the political scene in general.
Political Career | 2000s!
South Asians for Kerry!
Saujani’s next major step into the political scene was her work during the 2004 presidential election. During that period, she had started a movement called “South Asians for Kerry” to support the Kerry Camp. Saujani had still been quite young at this point of her foray onto the political scene, just 28 years old and still working as an attorney besides!
And yet, in order to support those who she believed would be able to fight for the cause she herself was involved in, she never gave up. Point-proven, mid-August of that same election year, she managed to single-handedly raise over $1 million during the India Day Parade for Kerry’s Presidential Campaign.
In a quote from the Times of India, this is what Reshma had to say about this exciting achievement, “I firmly believe that Kerry will make America more respected in the world.”
Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign!
The next step for Reshma Saujani, at least, in terms of her appearances in the political scene, was to support Hillary Clinton during her 2008 Presidential Campaign!
Based on an interview with The Atlantic, Reshma had been acquainted with Hillary Clinton prior to all this, having even considered her as a bit of an unofficial mentor, saying that she believed that sometimes “mentorship means being able to watch somebody’s leadership from afar” only to occasionally “pop into your life at a critical moment to give you some important piece of advice or word of encouragement.”
This, she said, was her relationship with Hillary Clinton, who she had met all the way back when she was 18 years old (while she had been working as an intern at the White House). They began to officially work together during Clinton’s Senate Campaign.
And, by the time Hillary Clinton was running for president in 2008, they had known each other long enough for her to have been invited to work on Clinton’s National Finance Board. And, later, as the Vice-Chair of the New York Delegation during the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.
“I worked on both of her presidential races,” Saujani said in that same interview. “She taught me the power of resilience. She always gets up to fight another day.”
First Indian American Woman to Run for Congress!
In 2010, not long after moving to the Upper East Side of Manhattan district, Reshma surged onto the political scene by taking on established-representative Carolyn B. Maloney for the House Democrat seat.
This turned into a bit of a media circus, with New York Times and New York Daily News both reporting that it was a ‘huge gamble’ pointing towards her history as a hedge fun lawyer as one of the reasons why it would be nearly impossible.
Still, Rehman began her career as a politician without hesitation. Proud of the fact that she was the first Indian American woman to run for congress, and insisting that with her competition “asleep at the wheel” she would be more effective at pushing the district forward. Of course, her opponents fought back with accusations about her connection with Hassan Nemazee (who, as mentioned, had been charged with bank fraud). They also pointed to her lack of accomplishments and connection to the district at the time.
But, she stood strong nonetheless, aiming for the title of the first Indian American woman to not only run for congress but win too!
During her campaign, she was assured by the support of Jack Dorsey, Randi Zuckerberg, Alexis Maybank, Chris Hughes, and many others. Stating that her history, rather than a hindrance, would be of help and that if she had been in Congress before the financial crisis, “we could’ve seen it coming and prepared for it.”
Hers was also the first political campaign to start using technology, ensuring that she made history in more sense than just one!
In the end, Saujani had even managed to outraise Ms. Maloney by at least twice as much! Despite this, however, Saujani still trailed Maloney by several points. Which led her to eventually lose in the primaries — 81% to 19%.
2013 Public Advocate Elections!
The next time Reshma Saujani surged onto the political field was during the 2013 Public Advocate Election to run for the New York City Deputy Public Advocate position.
Unfortunately, however, much like her previous political run, she was not the most successful. Having come third in the Democratic Primary and losing on the race to become deputy public advocate for New York City.
Again, the New York Daily News points to her history of having worked for Wall Street firms as one of the main reasons for her loss. And, at one point, her campaign had even made an active effort to quell the inaccurate telling of said history in order to increase her chances of winning the people’s trust.
Reshma Saujani | Girls Who Code!
After fully embroiling herself in her mission to become the first Indian American woman to make it to the American Congress, Reshma Saujani turned her attention to closing the gender gap instead through her movement, Girls Who Code!
Girls Who Code | Origins
The origins of Girls Who Code had begun all the way back in 2010. It happened back when she was working on becoming the first Indian American woman in congress — Reshma visited local schools in New York City and she was able to witness computing classes firsthand and realizes that there was a significant gender gap there.
This is how Reshma describes this gender gap in technology in an old interview with Yale University, “I visited schools and classrooms along the campaign trail. And though I lost the election, something about my time visiting those schools stuck with me—the lack of girls in computer science classrooms…”
As someone whose campaign was marked by being the first to make use of technology, seeing the gender gap in these computing classes firsthand baffled her. According to Saujani, it was vital that they close the gender gap, saying that “with 1.4 million jobs in the computing fields by 2020, I knew we had to do something to close that gap.”
Girls Who Code | Mission Statement
After Reshma visited local schools during her campaign, she immediately began to think of ways to equip young women with the computing skills and support that was necessary to compete in the field.
However, it wasn’t until 2012, that Reshma began to directly address the gender gap in computing classes. More specifically, she became the founder and CEO of the national non-profit organization, Girls Who Code, a national movement to inspire, educate, and equip young women to pursue careers in a 21st-century world.
Here’s how Reshma describes the humble beginnings of her movement to teach girls code in an effort to close the gender gap: “I pulled together some funding and a team, and together we taught twenty girls how to code in a tiny bit of borrowed office space. And now, six years later, we’ve reached ninety thousand girls, and we’re not slowing down.”
Girls Who Code | Notable Achievements
You might know Saujani from her appearance at the TED Conference in 2016. Reshma’s Ted Talk had been focused on encouraging a national conversation on the subject of the gender gap in computing classes.
Of course, Reshma’s Ted talk was just one of the ways that she urged others to teach girls the importance of being a part of the conversation. As the, then, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, she sparked up a national conversation in many other ways.
This includes starting her podcast, called Brave, Not Perfect, which she launched with the release of her new book of the same name (in February 2018.)
In 2021, she even placed advertisements in both The New York Times and Washington Post to remind others of the message of her national, non-profit organization. Even calling out the Joe Biden administration to be more proactive about doing something to close the gender gap.
Reshma Saujani | Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve answered some of the most pressing questions regarding Reshma Saujani:
Q: What is Reshma Saujani known for?
Undeniably, Reshma Saujani is best known for her bid to become the first female, Indian American to run for congress as well as being the founder and CEO of the Girls Who Code movement.
Q: Where did Reshma Saujani go to college?
Reshma attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Harvard’s Kennedy School, and Yale Law School (her dream university!)
Q: What is Reshma Saujani’s Podcast About?
Reshma began her career as a podcaster after releasing her book “Brave, Not Perfect.” It’s been awarded many times since then and is on the subject of making radical change happen in your life by prioritizing bravery, not perfection.
And, just like her nonprofit organization and movement to inspire, educate, and equip young women to compete in the computer science industry, she developed it to help teach girls how to lead a joyful life by surpassing one’s own expectations with required bravery (not perfection!)
Q: What books did Reshma Saujani write?
Reshma wrote several books: “Women Who Don’t Wait in Line: Break the Mold”; “Lead the Way”; “Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World; and “Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder.”
The aforementioned book “Brave, Not Perfect” is a New York Times Bestseller. Girls nationwide everywhere have loved it!
Reshma Saujani | Famous Quotes
- “Embracing failure is the most important trait I’ve developed in my career. I have tried to learn from my failures, and I believe it has made me stronger, more confident, and more resilient.”
- “‘Fail hard, fail fast, fail often. It’s the key to success.’ This one I learned from experience!”
- “We can’t think of any better way of becoming our best selves, than by finding something we’re great at!”