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This Amazon employee is not your typical tech bro

KUOW Photo/Marcie Sillman
Varsha Raghavan, backstage at Cafe Nordo in Seattle's Pioneer Square

Varsha Raghavan defies the tech-bro stereotype.

For one thing, as a woman, technically she’s not a bro. And while Raghavan works as an Amazon programmer, she isn’t obsessed with all things computer.

The 24-year old Chicago native moved to Seattle in 2015 to work on Amazon’s Prime Air program, the drone initiative. She’s not allowed to explain much more about her work, except to say she really loves the project and the people on her team.

But Raghavan is equally enamored of her second love: musical theater.

Raghavan traces that passion back to the summer before fifth grade.

“When I was a child, my parents really wanted to foster a love of math and science, so they sent me to science camps,” the petite brunette explains.

But Raghavan’s parents noticed their daughter was very shy and not making any friends. So they put her into a theater camp, to help her develop some self-confidence.

They didn't anticipate that young Raghavan would fall head over heels in love with the stage.

“I recall coming back home,” she says, “and being like, ‘Mom, being onstage is the only true happiness in life!'”

Her parents were taken aback. They told her they hadn’t emigrated thousands of miles from India to the United States for their daughter to become a starving artist.

So Raghavan continued her academic focus on math and science. But she also joined a choir and performed in almost every high school play.

When the time came to apply to colleges, Raghavan was interested in musical conservatories. Her parents encouraged her, strongly, to consider other options.

When she was accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she felt she had to go. She majored in electrical engineering and computer science, but Raghavan spent every spare moment singing in MIT’s show choir, the Chorallaries.

When Amazon offered her a job, Raghavan didn't accept until after a thorough vetting of the Seattle art scene.

“I didn’t know anything (about Seattle) except coffee, rain, trees and hipsters,” she laughs.

She was delighted to discover the range of theatrical organizations here,  and she started to audition for shows almost as soon as she moved to town.

This month Raghavan appears in Café Nordo’s musical dinner production, “Twister Beach.”

She finds both live performance and computer engineering satisfy her creative urges.

“I can write a beautiful piece of code, that’s art. I can sing a beautiful aria, and that’s art, too,” says Raghavan. “I think that I’m really able to supplement both sides of my creativity through the dual life I lead.”

Right now, Raghavan is happy with the path she's on at Amazon. She loves what she does; she also loves the fact that her well-paying job makes it possible for her to pursue theater jobs.

But every so often, the practical young woman with the advanced degrees from MIT takes a minute to dream about her future.

“About once a week, I look up MFA programs online,” she laughs. “I have my eye set on musical theater!”