He’s the son of parents who were engineers in the tech hub of San Jose, but entrepreneurship and computer science weren’t part of Rachit Kataria’s original career plan.
In fact, before joining USC as a computer science student at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Kataria dreamed of becoming a doctor and was initially accepted to USC’s biomedical engineering program as a pre-med student. But he made the switch to computer science before classes started, initially to try it out for a semester — and he hasn’t looked back.
In 2015, at Kataria’s first hackathon, USC’s HackSC, he and his team won the top iOS app award by developing an Apple TV app for real-time image and video manipulation using the coding language Swift. (The prize: an Apple watch he still wears every day.)
The experience also put Kataria in touch with Apple recruiters, which eventually would lead to an internship as a software engineer at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino in 2016.
Then, in 2017, his team placed in the top three at the ACM TrojanHacks 2.0 with a chatbot that uses the Facebook Messenger platform to provide resources for homeless youth.
I realized everyone has an entrepreneurial idea at the back of their mind and started thinking about how I could be the one making ideas happen.
“I realized everyone has an entrepreneurial idea at the back of their mind and started thinking about how I could be the one making ideas happen,” said Kataria, a National Merit Scholar and Viterbi Undergraduate Merit Research Fellow. “As they say, don’t be a cog in the clock — engineer the clock.”
Kataria has been selected for a prestigious fellowship by one of the top venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. He is among 52 students chosen from nearly 2,500 applicants to participate in this year’s Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers (KPCB) Fellows Program.
As one of the top technology investment firms in the Bay Area, KPCB has helped build and accelerate growth at pioneering companies such as Amazon, Google, Nest, Twitter and Uber. The three-month summer internship program offers top U.S. college students experience at prominent Silicon Valley startups and access to a long list of exclusive events, as well as networking opportunities with tech leaders across the Bay Area.
Kataria, a third-year student in the progressive degree program at USC Viterbi, has that internship at Apple — and another at Facebook — on his resume, as well as experience as a USC course producer and a research fellow with the Melady Lab Research Group.
As a KPCB fellow, he will work with Shape Security, a leading cybersecurity firm based in Mountain View, Calif., where he expects to focus on integrating security modules for the company’s clients, which include leading financial and retail organizations.
Getting startup experience
For Kataria, participating in KCPB’s Fellows Program isn’t only a way to gain top-notch computer science work experience, it’s also an opportunity to get his feet wet in the startup world and learn directly from world-leading tech industry luminaries.
“Shape Security employs about 200 people, but they have saved more than a billion dollars in fraud,” Kataria said. “Not only that but having the opportunity to learn from CEOs at leading startups is absolutely priceless.”
As for the program’s highly competitive selection process, it all begins with a resume submission and optional coding challenge, followed by a more technical phone screen, Kataria said. From there, cuts and callbacks are made to advance to subsequent interview rounds.
Successful finalists can choose from six KPCB portfolio companies where they would like to work. After undergoing the internship process with these companies, only students receiving an offer are accepted as members of the program.
An exciting experience
Kataria has served as the former director and head of logistics for HackSC and held various leadership roles with USC student-led entrepreneurship initiative Spark SC while maintaining a 3.95 grade-point-average. After he completes the KPCB Fellows Program, he’s off to Facebook’s New York office for his second internship at the company.
Kataria believes the program is an investment in his future and hopes his experience will encourage more USC students to pursue these opportunities.
“As a KPCB Fellow, it’s not just an internship experience — you are part of a cohort of students where everyone is as excited as you to be part of that experience,” he said.
“I’m really proud and honored to be part of the program, and I’m really excited to meet and learn from the amazing people that are part of this group,” he said. “At the end of the day, if I want to launch a startup company down the line, these will be the 51 people I reach out to.”