Elena Nadolinski is in a dilemma. She has to decide whether she is going to intern with Microsoft or IBM.
The freshman computer science major was recently honored at the White House with the Aspirations in Computing Award from the National Center for Women in Information Technology for her high school computer science career.
The elite world is nationally recognized as one of the highest honors for high school students in the field.
But despite her talent for the subject matter, Nadolinski was not always comfortable being one of the only girls in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
“Some girls really have trouble with it. They’ll go into a class and say they are so nervous because they are the only girl and feel like an outsider,” she said. “I feel like in high school, when I first entered that computer science class, I felt the same way.”
Being a woman, however, has not stopped Nadolinski from pursuing the career she has wanted since the 10th grade. After taking the only computer class that was offered at her high school, she taught herself the skills and joined the robotics club, in which she was a member for three years.
“My motto is that I can solve any problem using my own methods,” she said. “They may not be as efficient, but I’ll get it done. It may not run well, but it will run.”
Nadolinski became the president of the robotics club, which placed second internationally in the Botball Robotics Tournament. For the competition, they took an iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner and created a robot out of it.
The club used an unorthodox strategy to compete.
“We had three robots — usually a team would have two robots — because we had one robot that was pretty much running without a brain,” she said.
The technique worked, as the club broke regional high school records in the regional tournament. However, in the international tournament, the robot encountered technical problems, costing it the first place spot.
But high school isn’t the end of Nadolinski’s passion for computer science — she is pursuing her interest at Virginia Tech and through a summer internship at either Microsoft or IBM.
As part of her interview process for Microsoft, the Fairfax, Va. native was flown to Seattle to see the company.
“Microsoft is like a big playground. It feels like a college with a couple extra billion dollars floating around the campus,” she said.