Top of the Class

#55 Interning at Musk's Neuralink, Blockchain, Making Luck and Studying at Stanford

August 28, 2021 Crimson Education Season 1 Episode 55
Top of the Class
#55 Interning at Musk's Neuralink, Blockchain, Making Luck and Studying at Stanford
Show Notes Transcript
Interning at Musk's Neuralink, Blockchain, Making Luck and Studying at Stanford ft. Ananya Chadha

Episode Summary

Ananya has just finished her first year at Stanford and in her spare time, is the youngest intern at Elon Musk's Neuralink specialising in brain/computer interfaces.

In this chat, she reflects on the moments to led her to where she is today, how to increase luck and throws a discomfort challenge open to listeners!

Resources and links

[00:09:33] Ananya's key life moments

[00:20:35] The role luck played and creating luck

[00:28:57] Discomfort challenges

[00:35:44] Dealing with embarrassment

[00:38:44] Box checking or taking your own path

[00:43:50] What Ananya is working on

Quotes from this Episode:

"So I think about this a lot, which is the following, which is how can I maximize my chances of being lucky in a certain situation."  [00:21:08]

"There are so many times where I've sent emails because I felt a little bit of inspiration and 20 minutes later, I'm like, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe I sent that email!' And then they ended up responding positively and I was like, 'Wow, I'm so happy I sent it."   [00:41:45]


people, neuro, brain computer interfaces, world, tech, interested, hackathon, blockchain, ideas, ended, learn, brain, emails, call, project, life, moment, type, link, toronto


Alex Cork, Ananya Chadha

Alex Cork  00:17

Hi Ananya, welcome to the Top of the Class podcast. It is fantastic to have you on the show. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself? 

Ananya Chadha  00:24

Sure. Hello, everybody. I'm Ananya. I'm currently just finished my first year at Stanford. And I'm working at Neuralink which is Elon Musk's brain computer interface startup company. And so I've been spending a lot of time in the brain computer interface space, I first got into it about five years ago, and did a bunch of different projects, which I can talk about later. But now I'm doing helping doing different types of research on the attack working at neural link. And then I've also been interested in startups and tech more broadly for the longest time. So I also on the side, sell bamboo toothbrushes in a bunch of retail stores, and do a bunch of other things in the world of business and tech. So yeah, lots of things, feel free to ask me questions about I would be more than happy to share anything? Well, I'm going to start off and then our listeners can connect with you on LinkedIn or something like that and ask their own questions. But I'm sure I will cover a fair few bases here.

Alex Cork  01:23

Is there more nerds at Neuralink or Stanford? Sorry, to kind of put nerds in there. But I'm going to guess like, when you're looking at brain computer interfaces, there's people who really love this kind of stuff, right? So like, what's the the different vibes between a Stanford class and like computer science, or like working at Neuralink? 

Ananya Chadha  01:42

Right, right. Um, so I would say, everyone in both places, is like, definitely somewhat of a nerd. Like, I don't think I've met someone that's not at all, which is amazing and super inspiring. So and they're like, you're getting people who are excited about big ideas, but also like building putting in their baby steps. And then in college, rightfully so people are exploring what they're interested in. And that's in a bunch of different areas. So you have people not only interested in neuro tech, but also interested in art history and different types of biology and astronomy and physics and, like, just everything across the board. Music so so just being able to see people who are great in different areas and interested in totally different areas. I think it's like a different type of nerd in itself. Yeah, but for sure everyone is excited about something. 

Alex Cork

Right now, how difficult is it to get into Neuralink, though? Because I would assume that that would be extremely competitive. Obviously, Stanford is extremely competitive. Is there like a long application process to Neuralink, similar to what you would go through to get into Stanford? 

Ananya Chadha

Um, yeah, there is an interview and application and an interview process. I'm not sure that like the competitiveness, I can't really speak to that I, I'm not aware, but everyone they hire is really awesome. Like, the people that I've met have been so kind, so welcoming, so intelligent. And like, seriously amazing people. And the same can be said for for my experience in college so far. 

Alex Cork  03:14

Awesome. Now, what's the average age of people working in this space? Because I would imagine that people who are like 50-60 years old, who may be professors, in some fields, may not have kept pace with something like the interaction between humans and computers and those kinds of things. So is mostly you're surrounded by other kind of young people, freshmen, that kind of thing? Or are you one of the youngest people there?

Ananya Chadha  03:40

Yeah, so right now, I'm the youngest person in the company. I'm an intern. So that makes a lot of sense. Yeah, I would say that most of the innovations in the field of breakthrough interfaces are in research. Like there's amazing research groups, both in colleges, as well as at different organizations around the world. And so as a result, the people who have the PhDs who are doing the research and the technology tend to be old, but they tend to be innovative. So it's definitely interesting in that sense, I think I'm like the youngest person I know who knows as much about neuro tech as I do. That makes sense.

Alex Cork  04:13

Well, that's why you're on the show. You know, like, that's why we did that. Because like, this is the kind of people that we want to feature and obviously, like, you've got a huge list of achievements and things we can go into a little bit later.

Ananya Chadha  04:24

I feel like to begin, I should probably define what neuro tech is for everybody, because they might not have any idea. They're like, what is this magical word? So the general premise is the field of brain computer interfaces is technology that lets you connect your brain to machines or computers. And so in the short term, there's a lot of different brain diseases and brain ailments. Like people have Parkinson's tremors, people have epilepsy and seizures and mental health challenges. And so a lot of these different ailments for the brain can be cured and solved with different therapies. For example, there's almost 200,000 people in the world right? are now living with one type of brain implant, which is called like a deep brain stimulation. So for people with Parkinson's tremors, sometimes their hands shake, but if you put up probes so like a piece of metal into the brain, you stick a deep and you send an electrical signal down into the deep brain within the brain, then people find that the tremors immediately stop. And they've been so so now people are like using this in that in their everyday life. And they've shown studies like you can detect when seizures might come up, and then stimulate signals to counteract the seizures. And there's been interesting work with how might we be able to use different types of neuro tech, maybe some that are non invasive like transcranial magnetic or electrical stimulation to be able to help with depression or different type of mental disease, mental health diseases. So there's a bunch of stuff in that side, and then more broadly, and more futuristically. There's like the whole question surrounding machine intelligence, like artificial intelligence, quantum computing has been increasing exponentially over time. But human intelligence, in comparison has remained relatively stagnant over time. Like we have the same plastic brain as we did centuries ago. But if you like, look in the news, you're always hearing new studies about how like artificial intelligence is, it's just becoming orders of magnitude more powerful than it was before. And so in the long term, it's like, how can we increase our brains cognitive abilities as well, like, make ourselves more intelligent or more compassionate, or be able to like, interface with our brains and merge the gap between digital intelligence and human intelligence? So I think broadly, those are the two areas that neuro tech focuses on. And they're like, what I am so stoked about, because I think that they're the most fascinating things. And, yeah, so the field of neuro tech is wondering how we can interface with our brain and build devices, there's so much in the space, there's non invasive, which means you don't have to go through the skull and make something called a craniotomy, which is a hole in the skull. But then there's the invasive world where you do, and there's a bunch of things in between. And that's just general premise.

Alex Cork  07:04

Well, I'm glad you've given us a bit of a background, you're right, we should have covered that earlier, but kind of swept up in the fact that you were looking at your link as well. But you mentioned that at neuro link, you're working on a lot of big ideas. And how, I guess, if I was to frame this question, How close are we to turning those big ideas into reality or is like the ideas way ahead of the technology at the moment?

Ananya Chadha  07:30

Yeah, so whenever you have a big idea, you have to take baby steps to get there. And you can't only be enamored with the long term vision of anything, you have to keep breaking it down, like breaking down a goal into little steps. And you have to be able to take action on your little steps. I have a friend named Jeremy and he talks about this as and he named it like goal oriented thinking, which is like if you have any sort of like fake dream or goal you, you break it down into steps until you actually know how to take a step. So you like keep breaking it down until you know what to do. So the same thing applies for like a neuro tech startup because the vision is so grand. And like, exceeds even our wildest anticipations. Like how can we take the next baby steps. And so as a result, the technology flows on that kind of timeline. I'm sure you've seen the the monkey video where they showed mcac, which is a type of monkey with a neural link brain implant. And they were able to control a joystick. So move the joystick with their mind signals only. And a lot they were monkey was able to play Pong. And yeah, so that has already been done in our length. And we're moving towards I'm pretty sure it's public information on Ilan podcasts, but the dream is to get it into people. So so that's what everyone internally is working towards right now.

Alex Cork  08:52

Right? That is super exciting. Now, you mentioned baby steps to get to big goals. Can you take us through some of your personal baby steps to get to where you are now? Like how does one go from a student in high school who's obviously going to get pretty good in high school, I'm going to guess like you're getting good grades and these kinds of things. Two, then having a interest, curiosity call what you will into the space of human and computer interfaces to they're now going to Stanford neuro link. You've done a whole lot of other things in the past. So maybe you can give us a bit of an insight into like your timeline as to how you've come to be where you are now.

Ananya Chadha  09:33

Totally, totally. So I started off interested in technology when I was super little because my parents put me in like these summer camps, and like at the Ontario Science Center, and they made science just so so interesting. We would get to do like murder mysteries and scavenger hunts where the clues would involve like little science experiments. And we got to make like sponges with like little motors that That made the sponges fly. And yeah, so I think I was just like broadly interested. I had no skills, though, but I was interested. And then the very first thing I did in in this area was when I was 13, I first reached out to a lab at the University of Toronto, because that's very near where I live. And I ended up shadowing them for a summer. And I met the professor at a science competition that I had done for people my age at the time. And they met her during like the lunch break where they were, the professor was showing her booth with what the researchers were working on. And then, so I shadowed them at the science place. And that blew my mind, like just getting to understand, I still remember, like, I knew nothing. When I did this, like someone in the lab was teaching me like what DNA was like, wow, the DNA, there's like four nucleotides, I just had no knowledge, but just excitement and enthusiasm. And so then from there, I learned a lot. And then at about the same time, one of my friends told me that she was in the Air cadets program, which is like the Canadian government has this organ, this program where kids can learn how to fly planes eventually, and, like, learn more about that field of engineering. And I thought that was so so cool and inspiring. So I told my parents, and then we ended up like, within the next day signing up for airplane lessons at the local flight school. And so I started taking like airplane lessons, because in Canada, you can get your solo pilot's license when you're 14 years old. Yeah. Which is crazy. And so I did that. And then I hopped, this is like the very beginning. So I shouldn't be spending too much time on it. Because so much. Good. Yeah, so I just signed up for these lessons. I didn't know anything. And I learned how to fly a plane. And that was super empowering. Because it just became like really, really clear to me that you can go from having zero skills to be being able to like do like anything like fly a plane that's so random, if you just like take time to learn it and get taught by like people who are excellent at what they do. And so then around then I got really interested in gene editing. I read an article online, it's like, Wow, cool. So I emailed researchers at sickkids Hospital, and then went in and just got their advice and learnings that in the coma, they were like the most kind, welcoming people ever. Same with the first lab that Andrew has a lab. Yeah. And so I just learned more about biology and experiments and science through that. So then that took me into what, yeah, so then at about this time, I realized that blockchain was also cool. As you can see, there's a trend, I just think things are cool. And then I learned more about them. So I went to meetups in Toronto, that were centered around blockchain, and then ended up building crypto tokens because they would teach you how to do these in these meetups like show you how to do these different little projects. And at the same time, I realized like I was helping the gene editing lab and I realized the gene editing world had some unique problems that could be solved with blockchain. So I ended up building a project that took what I had learned from these meetups and what I had learned when I was working in this lab to make a platform to let people upload genetic data to researchers, and I demoed my project at a hackathon. And then there was a judge in the audience who worked at a company called consensus that was a blockchain development company. So then I got to intern there and continue working on my project at consensus. And then I just got thrown more into the blockchain world. And what happened next. And this is about the time that I got interested in brainfeeder interfaces. I was like, wow, bridge interfaces are so cool. Cuz I probably read an article online or something. Yeah. And, and then I wanted to do something about that. This is like the most detail I think I've ever gone into.

Alex Cork  13:55

I'm loving this. This is a great story.

Ananya Chadha  13:56

I'm trying to break it down into like, baby steps, like, yeah, you like nothing. So far, none of the steps that I've taken have been like, insurmountable. It's just like, Oh, I don't I could take this step. So yeah. Now I want you to do something about neuro tech. Oh, no, no. So sorry, I'm misremembering. But I'm a part of I was a part of a program called The Knowledge Society, which is this program that exposes young people to exponential technologies. And I'd learned about neuro tech from there. There's the whole just that premise of it, like nothing specific. So I was like, This is cool. I want to learn more. So I like to learn stuff online. And something that I saw retro actively was for everything that I learned like crypto, I like filter projects for gene editing. I was like working in a lab and I would help with the research experiments with like flying planes. I would like to go to the airport and fly the plane. So you don't learn things. In theory, you learn things by doing it in practice. So I was like, Okay, how am I going to learn brain computer interfaces by doing things in practice? And, to my sadness, there weren't like the same level. brain computer interfaces like in my area, and the number of people working on it was much less. And I wanted to break from research because I've been doing it a long time. So I purchased ecgs, which are a type of, they look like a kind of sticker that you can place on your brain. And it records your brain signals. So I purchased them from the internet. And I hacked together a little project that would let me record my brain signals to be able to move a remote control car. So I had this remote control car and I can make it go forward, stop, turn left turn right by analyzing my brain signals. And then I grew from there and ended up getting an EMG, which uses the same concept of like brain electrodes, except it's muscle electrodes. And so then I made a prosthetic that could detect my like intended muscle movements and control a prosthetic arm. And then at about this time, I went to a conference in Toronto at Microsoft. And I told them about my projects. And I ended up getting sponsored by Microsoft to continue developing my projects like in this brain computer interface space. So that was really exciting. And then I realized that when I was doing neuro tech, like, the whole premise of why I was interested was like to merge AI with humans, I was like, I should probably learn AI. And it'll also help me if I know artificial intelligence, because then I'll become a better programmer to be able to do signal processing, which is really important for neuro techs. So I feel like I should accelerate my story, because this is this is very detailed.

Alex Cork  16:25

This is good. This is good. Like, I think this is, as you said, and I think for our listeners who are who are listening, obviously, it will give them a bit of an insight, as you said that, like, you know, you look at your profile, and I think this is what I've tried to do on the show is that there's a lot of people out there with amazing profiles, like you look at your LinkedIn profile, for instance. And it is stacked with like achievements. Yeah, a young woman of the year and these kinds of things that you've, you've got along the way, and you're like, Oh, my gosh, how do people like that even exist, right? And this is how they exist. It is baby steps. I love the idea of the flying the plane, because it gave you that sense that like you can, you know, who would have thought like a 14 year old can fly a plane. I mean, I don't know if that's the case here in Australia or elsewhere around the world that you're allowed to do that. But like that is super cool. And that is like a massive confidence boost. And then it's about like, there's a judge at a competition. And you go and have a chat. There's like a lab nearby, and you just email them be like, Hey, can I shadow you. And none of those things, as you said unnecessarily, like, insurmountable. They are all like just taking initiative, you see an article, you think it's cool, do something about it, like, look up meetups in your area for that thing, and then go to it. And then further your interest in it. Like I think that's one thing that a lot of students and adults do is that they see something cool. They say, Wow, that's cool. And then just move on to the next thing. They get distracted. And you know, the moment passes type of thing, but it's saying something cool, and then doing something about it. That I think is the story of you're kind of where you are today. Right?

Ananya Chadha  18:07

Exactly, for sure. And like exactly by the same process, I went to more events. And I told you I wanted to learn more about AI at this time. So I went to more events, and I ended up meeting, I was speaking on a panel about my neuro tech, and like AI projects, and the person who was interviewing me led AI at IBM. So then he invited me to come intern with them in the summer. And then I learned more about artificial intelligence there. And then a following like the following year, I went to a hackathon at hack the North. And one of the people at the hackathon worked at the Canadian military. And so she was recruiting interns. And so I ended up working at the Canadian military as well, the year after, and so like this whole thing, increased my proficiency with like data processing, and yet programming to be able to use data and information in interesting ways. And then ended up at Stanford, and, like, took a bunch of neuro tech classes. And then how I got neural link was I went to a conference like three years prior, so a long time ago, and I shadowed so the whole premise of this like venture capital day was young girls get to shadow people in tech, and the person who was assigning which girls had to shadow which venture capitalists knew that I was interested in neuro tech. So then she let me shadow someone who is extremely talented and awesome and kind in the field of neuro tech. And then I ended up keeping her updated with emails like once every quarter about my life, and then I asked her to work at neural link like four years ago and she said I was too young, which is understandable because it was very so then I messaged her again recently saying like, I'm older and I would love to say hi, and then ended up at dinner like now good to summer.

Alex Cork  19:55

Yeah, that's awesome. Well, I love that story. I think you know, from you. You're very early days of like playing with cool science and tech things when you're a kid in summer camps to where you are now. I think the the other thing that I'm saying is that there's been a lot of moments along the way where there has been someone doing cool things, or you've been reading cool things. But usually it's been someone who has, you know, you've been in the same place at the same time, whether it be a competition, there's someone there like a judge, you can chat to there's someone from the Canadian military who you can chat to, and, and then all of a sudden, it's like, how you then turn that conversation into an opportunity or an internship?

Ananya Chadha  20:35

 Yeah, I really want to double click on that. Because Yeah, I think about that a lot. I think because none of this is linear, like something that I really appreciate about doing things that are not guaranteed is that there's less competition. So if I, if I knew the path was guaranteed, then there would be so much competition that may not even be fruitful to try. So the thing that makes this so rewarding is because like, by definition, there needs to be uncertainty. So it's like, how does this happen? That like, you can't just, there's no equation, you can't be like, get in this place at this time to meet this person. Like, it's luck. So it's like how can so I think about this a lot, which is the following, which is how can I maximize my chances of being lucky in a certain situation. And like, if you think about it, there's like, a 0% chance that you sitting in your room in the middle of the night, or like going to get lucky by running into someone? Yeah, then there's like maybe like, like, maybe 10%. Or like 30% more of a chance, if you're in a coffee shop, sitting working on something and you're like some, maybe 10% if you're sitting working in a coffee shop, and then 30% if you have some cool laptop stickers on your laptop, because then maybe someone will walk up to you and be like, Wow, nice laptop sticker about this company, like, let me talk about it. Maybe then if you go to like a conference or a meet up, or an event or a club meeting or hackathon, where everyone is interested in the same thing, and people are talking to each other. Like you've just increased your chances of being lucky by like, a bunch. And then it's like, if you send one email, your chances of being lucky are there, but not that much. But if you send 1000 emails, like can you imagine? So so it's just I think about this a lot, which is like, how can I serve us such that things just click together, because I'm doing so much stirring and so much placing myself in situations where I can be like having the most serendipity happen. So I still remember like a way before COVID, I would just like go and work places just because there was merit and going to work places because it could be lucky. And then along the way, I just have a blast. Like I love going to maker spaces and hackathons and, and meeting people. And so I really enjoy it too. But yeah, that I do think about that a lot.

Alex Cork  22:37

So have that concept, because I think that kind of unnecessarily flies in the face off. But it's certainly different to the whole concept that most people grew up with, which is like, work hard. And you will get results type of thing. But working hard, as you said, like at home, by yourself in isolation is not necessarily going to get you to the opportunities that you might want to get to. Whereas if you start putting yourself out there, networking, meeting people having conversation, but you can see someone across the way and be like, if I speak to them, there is a small chance that they will have some kind of opportunity. And it's just kind of that enthusiasm, and they can see that you're interested, you've taken initiative, these kinds of things. And they're like, Damn, that's kind of the person that we want to fill this internship role. That's kind of the person that we want around our office like she's only 1516 at the time. But hey, like, she's going to make people's day a bit better. Like she's not going to be a drag on everybody there. She's going to help us become the kind of place that we want to become. And I think that's like a really key thing as well, where it's like, don't necessarily think all about working hard, studying hard getting good grades, like when you're growing up, particularly in high school. There's so much more to it than that which you have done so very, very well. Is there any one moment for you? It sounded like the aeroplane, when was a great moment. But out of all those moments, is there any one that you see as like the moment as as kind of helping you become to where you are now? Or is it all added up together?

Ananya Chadha  24:06

Yeah, there are definitely both lowlights and highlights from the journey. I remember that. I went to the to the place that I built the genetic data platform was called the crypto hackathon. And I went into this hackathon. And it was like an emotional experience because originally I was on a team with a bunch of other people who were doing a project for like blockchain for taxes. And I was like, This project is dumb. Like, I just couldn't care about it. And so I went to one of the mentors and I was like, Okay, I have two ideas tell me which ideas better. I explained like the team's idea. And then I explained like my other idea, which was like gene editing and like, genetic data with blockchain. And like, he was like, well, you're clearly more excited about idea number, because I was just way more enthusiastic about the ladder. And he was he then proceeded to say, if you're excited about idea number two, just do idea number two. And so then I ended up leaving the team working with him to build the prototype that ended up winning hackathon. And I still remember like walking up on stage giving the presentation like I was so giddy like so excited to show what we had made. And then I was once they had explained that I won the hackathon unanimously, like every single judge voted for my project. Wow, it was insane. Like the room was standing up and clapping. I've never had a whole room like, celebrate me before. That was like the most insane thing I've ever experienced. Like, I still remember like the excitement I felt in that room so many years later. And in the moment, I didn't think much of it. But in hindsight, it was really empowering. Because it was like all I had was an idea and enough excitement to be able to do it. And then enough excitement to have a mentor helped me through it. And that was it. Another thing that you had alluded to when you ask the question, which was talking about how people are like, excited to have an excited 15 year olds come up to them, I also want to talk about because there's so many kids who always ask me, like, oh, but I'm not ready to go to these meetups or, or get an internship yet, because I don't know anything. And I feel like if I ask a 30 year old this, like, if I asked him, he's like 50, and I say, hypothetically, if a 13 year old kid came up to you, and the 1314 1516 1718 year old was like, Hi, I'm an 18 year old kid who's really, really interested in quantum computing. And I've just been trying to like, learn more about it, there is like a pretty high chance that if you do quantum computing at your company, you'll take this kid in, like for no reason like not because they haven't been skills, but just because you want to help someone out who's like trying so hard to learn. And so if you're just like enthusiastic and excited about learning like that is the only prerequisite like there is no prerequisite of trying to be, you're obviously not going to be more skilled than the people who work at that company. Like, clearly, you haven't studied it for years, but you can be excited. And that excitement, I think, also inspires people to share because people are so kind and generous, and they've had people help them. And then when children become older, like for myself, I know, I'll be so open to help any children who are trying to learn about anything or even older people, because it doesn't matter. But yeah, I think the premise is like, you don't have to be pre skilled to do anything. Like I didn't know anything about like programming on the blockchain before I built that project. Like it was just just being excited. And that was enough.

Alex Cork  27:20

Yeah, well, I can kind of like this. I mean, I gotta admit, when I was your age or younger, I didn't really go out and do all these cool things, which now I regret. But if I can relate this to something that I know, it's of the dancing world, because I have danced for about 10 years. Yeah, partner dancing, which is fun, like salsa and this kind of thing. But I remember like, as a beginner, right, you're very nervous to ask someone for a dance like you're like, Oh, God, I don't want to bore someone because I don't know anything, right? Because you're just a beginner. Like, you're just going to be doing basic steps pretty much. So you generally don't ask people. And then, you know, after a while, I started to teach. And I realized that from my early experience, the best way to go about it is like find the best dancer in the room and ask them, and if they say yes, for a dance, then that's great. But if they say no, at least you've had that opportunity to ask them like you've got over your fear of asking someone. And I think that's the thing that a lot of people may have experienced that they may have been rejected at some point, even if they are in high school, and may have asked someone for help, or may have asked someone for an internship or something like that. And they've got either no reply, or like we're busy, sorry, this type of thing. And then people just say, oh, okay, well, I'll never ask again. And the trick, as you said, as well, like you ask once, you're somewhat more lucky. But if you ask 1000 times you send 1000 more emails, you're going to improve your life exponentially. So are there any moments throughout your journey where you've kind of been knocked back, as it were? And like, how did that impact you or not impact you?


For sure. And I love the concept also just being new at dancing, because it made me remember that, like everybody is new at some point. I started taking like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes recently. Yeah, and I'm back to being a total beginner and I have been doing web development and neuro tech I've neuro link, and I am a complete, complete beginner. And so it's just once you get better at learning things, you just like learn how to learn. And that process becomes rewarding in itself. So as far as for getting rejected, that happens all the time. So through The Knowledge Society program, there was an exercise that we would do to practice getting rejected, where we would call them like discomfort challenges, and they ended up just being hilarious things to do with my friends. And so there there was this one time where we had to sing songs on the packed Toronto subway. So I have so many videos of like, Jay who is my friend just singing let it go on the most packed. Toronto's always like seeing this frozen song? It's the most embarrassing thing in the whole world, right? Yeah,

Ananya Chadha  29:58

but he did it. Nobody cared. Everybody moved on with their lives. Nobody remembers that except us probably. And then we would do things where we would like ask restaurants for free meals. And you know what the craziest thing about asking restaurants for free meals is, is that sometimes they say yes, yeah. And like you wouldn't expect that, right. But like sometimes, like what someone's having a boring day, and they would be more than happy to give you something leftover or, or whatever. So like, for example, I take this ferry to get to the airport, and I asked the ferry driver to drive the ferry. And the dude said, Yes. lesson on how to ride this ferry. And so like, I did it for a little bit, it was like, and that like, what, like, what are the odds that that happens, right. And so most of the time, you do get rejected, like most restaurants will say, No, I asked the bus driver to drive the bus. They said no, because yeah, I didn't. They she actually asked like, do you have a license? And then I said, No. And then she said, No. But But like, most of the times, people will say no, but like, there is a very high nonzero chance that people say yes, I'm trying to think of more examples, because I do this literally all the time. Oh, like, I go to buildings. And sometimes if I'm, like, chilling with my friends, and we're bored, I like ask the security person if we can go take a tour of the roof. And sometimes they say no, but sometimes they say yes. And then we chill on the roof. And like this happens more often than then zero. And what else? What else? Yeah, I guess like, though, the whole point of this thought is that you can do things that seem very random and very, super fluid. And oftentimes people will say no, which is very understandable. But on the off chance, they say, yes, the thing that I like about this also is the downside is the status quo. Like if I don't ask someone to go to the roof, if I don't ask someone for a free meal, if I like that, I don't get it. And then if I ask them, and they say, no, then I don't get it. So if I ask them, and they say, No, that's the exact same situation as me not doing anything in the first place. If you send an email, and they don't respond, it's the exact same situation as if you didn't send an email in the first place, which means that and you're like, oh, what if they don't like me after no one remembers, no one remembers, like, if you send me emails, and I don't respond, I'm just not going to remember you at all. So So literally, the downside of someone not responding or someone saying no, is the exact same as reality at the current moment. So the upside is like, there is only upside. And so I think if you encounter situations where there's only upside and zero downside, you should definitely do it. Like why wouldn't you? And I think sometimes you don't even know that it's a possibility, like I didn't know. But then as you see, more and more people do it, it becomes more and more obvious. And there's so many examples like, like one example, this is not my story. I just heard it recently. And it really stuck with me, which was Reza statue, who is really the next 36 program in Toronto. And he is like extremely prolific businessman. He has like built and sold so many businesses for like 100 million plus, like starting from the bottom and like has done it consistently like for like six times or something like billion dollar companies just from the bottom to the top. And he talks about how like, for example, one day he was in a car driving back from that he was in a taxi driving back from the airport. And he noticed that on the highway, there's like so many storage buildings, like there's like public storage, like store your stuff here, then there was like this other storage company, and there's this other storage company. And he wondered like, Wow, there are so many storage companies like what How interesting. So then he told the the person who was driving the taxi, and stop at one of the storage places, he was not intending to go there, he was intending to go home, but he stopped at one of the storage places. And then he went into a storage place and just asked, Hey, can I check? Check out a room, and they're like, sorry, all our rooms are completely sold out. And he was like, Okay, and then he went to the next one, cuz they're all beside each other. And then they're like, oh, sorry, our rooms are completely sold out. And then he went to the next one. We're like, oh, sorry, our rooms are completely sold out. And, you know, he noted that all of them were so like, dusty, and like, dank and like very sketchy, but they were all sold out. So he was he was like, what, what, well, how are they and then he realized quickly that storage in the middle of nowhere. So it's like an extremely inefficient experience. But they're also out because everyone needs storage. So then he started up this company that does storage in urban locations. So like they would buy an apartment building in downtown Toronto or county XYZ and, and then he sold that company for like 600 million, or I made up that number, but it's like some some hundreds of millions. And in a just like a few years. And so the purpose, like the reason I tell the story is because there is one difference between what he did on the taxi, and what everyone else would do on the taxi. I'm sure he is not the only person in the world to be like, wow, there's a lot of storage companies in the middle of nowhere on the highway. Like what an odd thought. Right? Like I'm sure people have seen that. Right. The only thing he did was he did that was different once he decided let me go explore further, like the downside is the status quo. The downside is these people tell me nothing, but I knew nothing on the highway. The downside is like they're closed or I get kicked out and they won't answer my questions and like I was already doing that on the highway. So there was no downside. And he just decided just like go take action and learn more by going and doing something. And and then he like started this whole thing from that experience.

Alex Cork  34:57

Yeah, absolutely. And I was going to say that think we should give listeners a discomfort challenge, the kind of feeling of embarrassment, it's a feeling or emotion that you put on yourself. No one else is forcing you to feel embarrassed. And I think, you know, if you grow up feeling as though you're moment away from being embarrassed or a moment away from being awkward, you will miss out on so many opportunities because of that. And so is there any kind of easy discomfort challenge we can give listeners to help them on the journey to breaking away from that feeling of embarrassment and awkwardness that could possibly prevent them from taking on some cool opportunities or talking to someone or singing frozen on a, you know, let it go on pack train, for instance, like what's an easy one that we can start this off with?

Ananya Chadha  35:44

For sure. And I've been embarrassed so many times in my life, like so many times, that now it feels like like common emotion. And I'm not that worried about it. Like once I did this magic show, I would do magic shows when I was little. And I did this one in front of my whole grade, and I completely flopped with a magic trick. I was trying to look for their card and I got it wrong. like five times. I wasn't like grade seven, like 13 years old. I cried after that. Nobody remembers that experience, except for me. And then, like, so many times, like I would laugh and I was like drinking water. I would like spray water on people so embarrassed. But like the thing is because it's happened so many times like now, it's not a big deal. But yeah, so what if somebody can do dancing in public seeing in public are always good? Yes. Talking to a stranger on the subway, if they seem like fine, and you get like good vibes is also cool. Like, you can just be like, Hey, I like your hat. And sometimes it's circle a conversation, going to a meetup. Like if you go to And you can like find a meetup that's that's related to an area you're interested in. And then showing up I think, is very fruitful a lot of time. If you send emails, you can send emails as well. That's pretty easy. applying for jobs you're under qualified for. That's pretty easy, and very fruitful. Yeah. So those are some ideas. One guy who gave a TED talk about like, he would get rejected every day, and he would do the most hilarious things to be rejected. I remember watching that video. I think it was awesome. It was absolutely hilarious. His name is Jia Zhang. I'm probably mispronouncing that, but it's about j space JING, what I learned from 100 days of rejection. And then he does a bunch of funny things to be rejected every day.

Alex Cork  37:29

I'll put that link in the show notes. Because I do think that, yeah, what often differentiates outgoing high schoolers versus no high schoolers who are talented, but not necessarily like, taking their talent to the world, is this kind of weird perception that they need to stick with the status quo, that they're afraid of embarrassment that they're afraid of awkwardness that, you know, this embarrassment or awkwardness moment will stick with them for the rest of their life type of thing, which is so not true? Like, it's definitely not a thing. I always thought that, like, public speaking is one of those things that people immediately because you're up there, they immediately think that Oh, wow. Like, they're impressed because at least you're up there, right? There's not too many people in the audience who are like, Oh, I hope they fail, right? Most people are like, hey, you're up there. That's awesome, like good on you for putting yourself out there. And giving yourself the chance to potentially be awkward and be embarrassed and be failed. So that that's brave in and of itself, right. And I think, you know, if you're feeling as you probably have felt as well, that moment of awkwardness, or that moment of embarrassment, that's a good sign that you're doing the right thing, right.


Exactly. Because the whole concept, I think, is in life, a lot of us were taught to check boxes. And I think like, even if you're like, 'oh, not me', like I think we're the most likely people to fall for it. Like go trying to get into the best schools trying to do the best activities like we've just been box checking our whole life. And so if we're not even able to do the slightest things that are different from what the status quo allows, like, we're just spending our entire lives as intellectual prisoners. Like I think one question is, is like how much of your intellectual dependence Do you want to give up? And just the process of being able to do things that are different, that have the potential to be rejected because they are different? Like That is the only way that you can gain back your freedom. And I think like when you choose to like unshackle yourself from from like what is expected within society, you gain back your freedom and you learn that like anything is possible you start doing work on yourself, and nobody sees the work that you do on yourself. But and like sometimes people like joke about it or derive it when you talk about it, but I think it's this work and this rejection, that is like the most important thing. So Yeah, I totally agree that this process is so important and so cool, because it's like doing things that that are a little bit different. And like, why would you live life? If you're just following someone else's rulebook? Like, don't you want to live a life that's like, at least mildly interesting or different? Or like you have some sort of freedom in your decision making? Yeah, so I think about that a lot.

Alex Cork  40:17

Whereas is that is some wise thoughts. They're kind of this philosophical side of you. Is that through just experience? Or do you have people that you love talking about this kind of stuff with? Or is it something that you read? Or like, how is the source because you've mentioned a couple times that are one of these big philosophical ideas you do spend a lot of time thinking about? So like, yeah, just interested as to where that comes from. And also, how much of your you know, quote, unquote, success is attributable to, you know, the math and science side of you versus like, how you live your life and the philosophy side of you?

Ananya Chadha  40:53

Yeah, this varies for everyone. And what I say is like, not the only way I know so many people who think very differently from me who have done awesome things. Yeah, this is by all means not the only way. For me personally, that's the only thing I can speak to, when I did a lot of the things it's hard to do the calculations in the moment of like, is this action good? Is this action bad? Like when I go to this event, like do this thing, like what am I like, you can't overthink it, you just have to do it. And so some people call this bias to action. But I like did it before I knew the word bias to action. Like you just do it like you don't think so hard when you try and send an email. Like if you get a tiny bit of inspiration, act on the inspiration, the moment you feel the inspiration, because that will fade like as soon as you get the littlest bit, don't think like just do. And like there's so many times where I've sent emails. And because I felt a little bit of inspiration. 20 minutes later, I'm like, Oh, my God, I can't believe I sent that email. Like, that's crazy. Like, that's so weird. Why would anybody do that? And then they ended up responding positively. When I received the email response A few days later, I was like, Wow, so happy I sent it, but like, so yeah, you have to act before you start doubting yourself. And so most of the success, especially in the early days, I think, was solely attributed to not thinking. And only as I got older, I think I got more involved in communities that did a lot of thinking, like the knowledge has had, he introduced me to philosophy at Stanford, everybody loves philosophizing, and having pseudo intellectual discussion, discussions about everything. And I also really enjoyed as well. So it seems like 100% of my time is spent around people now that really enjoyed discussing ideas. And when I consume information on the internet, oftentimes, it's garbage material. But a lot of the time, it's also very interesting. And so I have like, very much developed my ability to think and break down problems and, and be more rational. And that has been really exciting as well. But yeah, I think people are driven in different ways. And people consume and process the world in different ways as well, whether that be emotional or logical. And I think it doesn't really matter, whichever one you are, as long as you take action. Because like, ultimately, like thinking is not going to make your life better. Like when you think hard about something, your world is still the same on the outside. And it can be helpful for like internal state, like you can be happy, regardless of the world on the outside. But if you actually want to change your reality, like you have to take action to do that.

Alex Cork  43:15

Yeah, yeah. 100%. And I think that's such a fantastic message. So many messages in here for students listening or for anyone listening really, you know, take away from and for me, as well, like, I'm thinking there's a lot of implications from this conversation. But I know you're, you're it's getting a little light there in Toronto, as it is known as. So, tell me a little bit more about what's next for you. And, you know, like that you're at neural link. Now you're at Stanford as a freshman. What are some of the next things that you have in your sights?

Ananya Chadha  43:50

Yes, so I'm exploring neuro tech more deeply as I have been for many years, and I have been learning so much at neural link and I have been talking to a bunch of researchers. And I've been brainstorming so many ideas. So when my internship comes to a close, I'm probably going to explore those ideas in more detail. And figure out if I can build something unique in the the neuro tech world because I think there's a lot of ways to make it better, and build things that could be really helpful to people and help them with different brain disorders. And so yeah, I'm exploring those ideas. And then on the side, I am I just love like, I seriously love the process of building something and selling it. Like I don't know what it is, but since I was little, I also like, deleted this from the backstory I gave, but I would like do lemonade stands except instead of lemonade, I would hand out freezies and people in the US don't know what they call them otter pops. I don't know what they call them in Australia, just like this type of frozen ice cream. So I was like, okay, that all things at the side of the road. So then on the side, I'm continuing selling my toothbrushes and I'm selling them in retail stores. And now Getting that process as well. So those are like my priorities. And then when school starts, it'll be classes, neuro tech project scaling to grow that, and using different materials for different products to scale that as well. Yeah, those are generally the priorities I'm focusing on right now.

Alex Cork  45:16

Awesome. Well, it does sound like you've got a whole lot of different skill sets to you know, as you have many strings to your bow type of thing to when you are taking on a different initiative, whether it be selling brushes or neuro link, like, you've got a lot of different areas to pull from in terms of your experiences, right.

Ananya Chadha  45:34

I love this. I this point, I think I really resonate with I'm probably extremely biased. But I think when people get older, they're, they're like, I'm a science person, or like, I'm, I'm a writing person, or I don't do math, or, like, you categorize yourself in school into what subjects you like. And then when you get into the world, you categorize yourself by your job. You're like, Oh, I am, I am a programmer. I am a artist I am and then you like, but but I think the thing that's interesting is like, we're all humans, you learned the skills that made you good at what you're at, you can just like you can learn literally any skill. And when you look at a lot of the greatest people in the world, like Leonardo da Vinci, yeah, he was a scientist and an artist. And like, there's literally everybody like Darwin, who made the, the theory of evolution also would do every single thing you can imagine, like not only science, but like all different types of art, and all different types of language. And people who like it, like there was like this concept of this renaissance man. But essentially, people did a lot of different things. And a lot of really excellent people, like Da Vinci did stuff in literally every single field. And so we don't have to, like define ourselves or categorize ourselves based on like, what's convenient. Like, I think if you follow things that you're interested in, and it goes in different areas, that's totally fine. And that I think, should be encouraged more. And it also gives your life a lot more, we're just for me, like, a lot more enjoyment when you when you don't feel like you can't do anything. Like when you feel like anything is just available for you to learn. And then you can pursue it, I think it's very freeing as well.

Alex Cork  47:12

I can see on your LinkedIn for neuro link your job there is human, right?

Ananya Chadha  47:18

It's a joke, and I'm an intern, doing software. But yes, I do a lot of things.

Alex Cork  47:24

But yes, you'd like it's a way of not labeling yourself, which gives you the freedom to do so much more, right? It gives you the permission to go and sell toothbrushes. And as you know, to work at neuro link, and to be a Stanford student, like you're not boxing yourself into any one thing. You're just being a human who is got a wide variety of interests in a wide variety of talents. And I think that's the best approach in many cases.

Ananya Chadha  47:49

That's so cool, because I think I thought that, but I never consciously thought that I just, I didn't think so far to realize that. But that's exactly why I wrote it.

Alex Cork  47:57

Well, this is what I got from when I read that. So you know, and it's, I think, very much the case when chatting with you as well, that it's just like a human who has got a wide variety of interests, and is not necessarily trying to label them. So I think people try and label themselves in a particular direction, to give themselves certainty and also like, give them give their parents and everybody around them a sense of certainty to like, oh, they've got direction, you know, oh, they're going to be a doctor, or they're going to be a lawyer, whatever, oh, they've got direction like that kids. Good, right. Whereas like, you know, if a student says, I don't really know what I want to do, people like, oh, how concerning you don't really know what you want to do, right? But you're like, but I've got a lot of interest. And I've got a lot of talent, I'll figure something out, I'll do a lot of different things, people are all still concerning, because you don't know what you want to do. And I think people need to let go of that idea that if you don't know what you want to do, that's a bad thing. Or if you do know what you want to do, that's a good thing. That's such a terrible way of thinking, generally speaking, I generally think you've nailed it with the human experience.

Ananya Chadha  49:00

And whenever kids come up to me, one of the most common things I ask in emails or on calls, is I don't know what I want to do. And the piece of advice that I always give is, you're never going to know what you want to do in theory, like, you're never going to be able to think about it and decide, oh, I think like I'm interested in this, like, the only way to know is to try all of the options. And once you try all of the options, you'll realize that oh, I actually like this thing better in practice. And, and like so. So if you have like a list of like three things you like, could like you should try all three, and then just see which one takes you further. And it is like the act of people call this process design thinking to just try a bunch of things and see what works but I think it is just like the only logical process which is Yeah, so like, if you're confused on what to do with your life, just like explore all of them. You want to be a doctor maybe shadow at a hospital. So it's like if you want to, like build something like crypto just like try it and see what it's like and then in the process of trying you get way more clarity than you could have known initially.

Alex Cork  49:59

Yeah. 100% Well, and and yeah, it's been awesome chatting if students wanted to reach out to you what would be the best way to do that?

Ananya Chadha  50:06

Yeah, you can, you can contact me on any social media, and I will see it and feel free to ask me any questions you might have.

Podcast Host  50:13

Awesome, awesome. Well, it's been an absolute pleasure having you on the show so many awesome takeaways for our listeners, and I really look forward to sharing the episode far and wide. It was awesome getting to chat with you as well. Thanks for listening to top of the class. subscribe for future episodes for show notes and to plan your best future head to Crimson