Q&A With Aniruddha Pokhrel & Kendal Hall Howard University Students
The Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN) Annual Convening was hosted by the City University of New York on Oct. 28 and 29. During the convening, Alexandra Hohenlohe, program associate on the New America public interest technology (PIT) team, spoke with Kendal Hall and Aniruddha Pokhrel, Howard University computer science students who attended the convening. Along with fellow Howard student Justin Stewart and their peers at Boston University, the two co-founded Tech for Change, a network of student organizations focused on using technology as a catalyst to foster a better and more equal society.
Q. How did you initially get involved in the PIT field?
Kendal: My name is Kendal Hall, and I am a second-year master’s student. I am studying computer science but focusing primarily on cybersecurity. I got involved with PIT through the Tech for Change organization at our school, which is an instance of public interest technology. We are trying to demystify technology for other departments at our school, and just trying to have that conversation about what [public interest] technology is.
Aniruddha: My name is Aniruddha Pokhrel, and I am a junior computer science major at Howard University. I got involved with PIT while I was searching for work and research. Dr. [Noha] Hazzazi, our adviser, had this idea of [bringing] PIT [to the Howard campus]. Kendal, [fellow student] Justin [Stewart], and I created Tech for Change. And then we started taking the lead, trying to organize programs, trying to make it a broader network.
Q. How would you define PIT? How would you describe it to a friend or family member?
Kendal: I understand it to be talking about [and] designing technology [with the] greater good in mind, and not [falling into the] capitalistic approach [that] private corporations [take with] technology.
Aniruddha: I have a very similar thinking of how the convening has shaped my thinking on PIT. I would start off by saying: You can see in the streets around you, using technology so much [something about billionaires], but they say it’s for the public that they’re helping people get services and stuff, but do you really think that? And the answer would be, I guess, yes or no, but I will say they are really not. They are showing as if they are, but it’s not for the public, it is using what people want and not helping them out per se. Focus on talking about how we can work together to make technology for the public good, not for just corporations to earn billions of dollars.
Q. What is the most valuable thing you have gotten out of your work in public interest technology?
Kendal: For me, it has been the intersection of different sections, or departments, [whose] perspective on technology I never would have thought about. Just within this conference itself, I have met people from social studies backgrounds [and have also discovered] a lot of cultural implications … [associated] with technology. Our conversation with Amazon labor organizers [helped me] realize how harmful technology can be. And even though that is a negative conversation, it is something that we should definitely consider moving forward, especially considering that the two of us here [Kendal and Aniruddha] are probably going to create technology one day. Making sure we understand these unintended consequences and having those eye-opening experiences is really important.
Aniruddha: For me, the most important thing that I learned was leadership. Having this leadership role, and doing the work, and getting the team together, I learned a lot from other perspectives and opinions, and [explored] how to [create] change for the better.
What do you feel like you’ve gotten out of this conference so far? And going forward, what are you most looking forward to in your PIT journey, student life, career, etc.?
Kendal: I’ve really enjoyed being able to network and meet a lot of different people from this conference, but specifically, I didn’t know there was such a developed infrastructure behind public interest technology. And so I actually discovered there are some organizations that I would love to be a part of in my future career. I’ve always looked at technology in [terms of wanting] to have a career, want[ing] to make money, but I also want to just learn new things. I’m trying to also think: How can I actually contribute to my community, other than just the educational aspect [through Tech for Change]? I can join these organizations, I can actually utilize technology to be able to provide services … or just [bring community members into] that conversation. So that’s what I’m looking forward to, that’s what I’m taking away from this, and hopefully it’s what I’m able to do.
Aniruddha: I think by looking at everyone else and their work [at the convening], I realized that I could have a career in the field of PIT. I never thought of it that way; I see a lot of people doing research, and there are grants, and there are all these new positions that are being introduced. All of this is so new, that I didn’t know [the field] existed this deeply. People have devoted their lives to this, and have careers [in the field].