Student Spotlight: Balancing Graduate School and Marriage-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Student Spotlight: Balancing Graduate School and Marriage

From left: Kate Liu, Owen Chu, Rashmi Devarahalli, Madhok Shivatre
From left: Kate Liu, Owen Chu, Rashmi Devarahalli, Madhok Shivatre

Owen Chu and Kate Liu received their B.S. degrees in Computer Science from National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan. Rashmi Devarahalli earned her undergraduate degree in Electronics and Communication from SJ College of Engineering in Mysore, India and Madhok Shivatre earned his undergraduate degrees in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from RV College of Engineering in Bangalore, India.

What do these four Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley students have in common? For one, they all moved to the Silicon Valley to pursue their Masters degree and hope to work in industry upon graduation in 2013. More uniquely, they also make up the two married couples undertaking the full-time Software Engineering program at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley together. We sat down with Owen, Kate, Madhok and Rashmi this Valentine’s Day to learn about how they make it work – both in school and in marriage.

CMUSV: How did you meet?

Owen & Kate: We were college classmates twelve years ago at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan. (Wow, that’s a long time ago.) We became good friends but were both dating someone at the time. It took us three years before we finally realized maybe we should become a couple and so we finally started dating. We dated for seven years before getting married in 2010. That’s also a long time but we wanted to wait until we were financially stable first.

Madhok & Rashmi: We worked at the same company in India. We joined in 2005 but it wasn’t until Madhok got transferred to [Rashmi’s] location in 2006 that we met. We never worked on the same team but his friends were on my project team so during breaks, we’d get coffee and tea together. That’s how we got to know each other. We started dating in 2007 after becoming good friends and got married in June 2010.

CMUSV: What is your favorite or most romantic memory together?

O&K: Our honeymoon was the best. We didn’t plan it out. That’s our style. We just booked tickets to the Czech Republic and then didn’t plan anything from there. Sometimes we’d even sleep in until lunchtime! We’re very casual and relaxed. We also had a fun time driving down to Los Angeles during a school break this year. Once again, we didn’t really plan things thoroughly and ended up driving through Big Sur at midnight. That was pretty scary. But we stayed at a friend’s house in L.A. and played Settlers of Cataan, our favorite game, so it all worked out! We had somewhat of a plan but we were agile. I think our professors would be proud to hear that.

M&R: Our best memory together is of our honeymoon in Leh and Ladakh in Kashmir. Oh and the happiest is when we both got into CMU-SV! Romantic memories-wise, I remember one year at Valentine’s Day, [Madhok] got me a t-shirt and hand painted some really nice thoughts on it. Then he gave me flowers but he forgot cancel the flowers he had already ordered to be delivered to my office. So I got two bouquets of flowers that year!

CMUSV: Was the plan all along to enroll in the same program?

O&K: Yes, because we’re married! We wanted to be together no matter what. In terms of studying, we always knew we wanted to be in the U.S., especially the Bay Area because of the job opportunities.

M&R: We both had a lot of experience in the software industry as developers and always knew we wanted a degree in software. In software engineering, the first name that came to mind was Carnegie Mellon. After going through the website, we knew about the location in Pittsburgh, but when we concentrated our search on software, we found out about the Silicon Valley campus. This program appealed to both of us because of the software focus and its one-year duration.

CMUSV: What are the positives to joining your academic and personal life?

O&K: Honestly, everything has been great. We love that we are in the same program because we can support each other when the schoolwork gets crazy. Sometimes it gets really crazy and we can get upset at our performance but luckily we’re never upset at the same time. That way, one of us can always balance the other. We’re able to encourage each other and work together. When one person has to stay late at school, maybe until midnight, it’s nice to have someone there who can help practice for presentations or discuss problem sets. We really haven’t come across any negatives in our situation.

M&R: We can share discussions about the things we’re learning and we can support each other. It’s great that we can pursue an education together rather than apart. Our friends in India were worried that we wouldn’t be able to handle it financially and relationally but I think being in the same program helps in a lot of ways. We know what the other person is going through and we both know the financial constraints. People don’t treat us differently though they do make fun of us sometimes at lighter moments, but we like that! It’s also great that Owen and Kate are here too. It’s like we’re almost sailing in the same boat so we can support each other in that way too.

CMUSV: Are there any challenges to your unique situation of being married and studying in the same program?

M&R: In the beginning, we were worried that if I supported [Rashmi] in an argument, others would think that I was doing it just because of our relationship even if the point was a valid one. So at first we were cautious but now that we’re friends with everyone, it’s not a problem. (I guess if people didn’t know about our relationship they’ll know now!) The only other downside to being in the same program is that we could bring in different perspectives had we gone to different schools but overall, we’re really happy about our situation.

CMUSV: Opposites attract or same side of the coin?

O&K: I think we’re pretty similar personality-wise. We have different ways of working though. She’s more results-oriented and good at solving practical problems. [Owen] is more focused on the tools. He likes to learn how to use tools more effectively. But we both love programming. Our favorite class is also the same – Todd’s Craft of Software Development class – because we both enjoyed having the freedom to work on any project we wanted to in order to improve our weaknesses.

M&R: Academically, we’re pretty similar. We both chose to do the Technical track because we love programming and want to work in the architectural and design worlds. We are actually loving this program because it is focused on implementing things rather than just studying books. It is a practical program. Personality-wise, we’re quite different. Madhok doesn’t like to read while [Rashmi] likes more of the theoretical. We have different taste in food as well. He is more picky and though we do pair cooking, he prioritizes time over quality while I put more importance on quality. I am more detail-oriented while he is not. He also handles stress better while I tend to panic. In the end, we balance each other.

CMUSV: How do you spend your free time together away from school?

O&K: We don’t have much free time. [laughs] The full-time program is pretty intense. When we do get a chance to relax, we like to hang out with good friends here like Madhok and Rashmi. Our favorite activity is playing board games. We are obsessed with Settlers of Cataan! We play it all the time and even invented new rules. We also like to watch T.V. shows. Her favorite is Grey’s Anatomy and my favorite is The Office so we support each other even in relaxing times by watching the other person’s favorite!

M&R: Oh, we hardly get any free time! Whenever we do get some time, we drop by Owen and Kate’s house and play board games. We also like to visit friends and go out to eat. It’s nice that we have a car because it makes things a lot more convenient although the light rail service here is much better than [Madhok] had on the East Coast for work.

CMUSV: Any special plans this Valentine’s Day?

O&K: Well, probably not this year because we’re both pretty busy with schoolwork. Honestly, we have a bad habit dating back to our time in Taiwan of skipping holidays because of work. That’s another way we’re similar. We don't blame the other. We just don't want to put pressure on each other. Instead, we’ll usually plan something later or just celebrate on random days. Now that we’re doing this interview, maybe we shouldn’t skip Valentine’s Day this year! If we had a break from school though, we’d definitely both want to go skiing. Kate would also like flowers.

M&R: We used to celebrate Valentine’s Day but we haven’t planned anything yet since our classes are quite busy. [Rashmi] is waiting for a surprise!

CMUSV: What’s after CMUSV? Would you consider working at the same company?

O&K: We think working in the same company would be a little different from studying in the same program. Say, if we were on the same team and one of us got promoted over the other. That would cause some issues. However, I suppose we wouldn’t be opposed to working in the same company, just on different teams.

M&R: We think it would be a bit too much. We’re both really looking forward to going back to work but it’d probably be in different workplaces. But really, we highly recommend this program to couples because in general, married people don’t have a lot of time to spend on their graduate degrees, so this one-year program is perfect. Also, it’s in the Bay Area, which is really an ideal location for job opportunities, networking and getting to know the latest technologies.