When sorted by most popular videos, UC Berkeley senior Nikhil Reddy’s YouTube channel seems directed toward a pointed audience. With titles such as “Vantablack: The World’s Darkest Material is Blacker than Black” and “How I Got An Internship at Tesla,” Reddy’s top hits appear to be focused on an intellectual, technology-oriented viewership. Scroll a bit further, though, and the videos begin to diversify. Among titles such as “Get any Software Engineering Internship!” are videos such as “Stop Comparing Yourself To Others!” “Embracing Failure Is Changing My Life” and “Why Engineering Without Humanities Is Stupid.”
When Reddy began his channel in high school, he devoted it to technology-related issues. Growing up in San Jose, “I thought the immediate way to affect people was by talking about technology,” Reddy said in an interview with The Daily Californian. It wasn’t until two years later when he began his studies as an electrical engineering and computer sciences major at UC Berkeley that Reddy considered incorporating more personal, well-being-related content into his channel. “It’s really, really freaking hard to go here and be a successful student,” Reddy said. “But then no one talks about it.”
For Reddy himself, an intimate turning point came during a particularly difficult project for his data structures course within the computer sciences department. Reddy recalled staying up until 4 a.m. working on the project, then having to get up for his 8 a.m. class, for which he had not done the homework. “It was actually the only time I have ever been at Berkeley and woke up in the morning and felt like I didn’t want to be here,” he said.
When a close friend, Neil Bhagat, expressed similar frustrations while taking the same class a couple of years later, the two decided to take action. Reddy and Bhagat went on Piazza and searched phrases relating to the consuming anxieties they had experienced and noticed in other students in the course: “misery,” “depression,” “panic attack” and so on. They came up with about 50 posts, which they compiled into a PDF and emailed to EECS department chair James Demmel. For each of the students “courageous” enough to post such sentiments, Reddy believes that many more share these feelings. “What do we have to do as an institution to prevent (such widespread student unhappiness)? Because clearly it’s not a lack of students trying or of their ambition or intellect. It’s just something that is fundamentally wrong here. We’ve got to figure out what it is,” Reddy said.
Beyond UC Berkeley’s own efforts to address the mental health issues on campus, Reddy sees his YouTube channel as a way to positively impact his peers, viewers in general and himself. Reddy expressed faith in what he called “the network effect,” or the hope that the viewers impacted by his videos will spread empowering messages to those around them, who will in turn speak with their peers, and so on.
Through his videos, Reddy aims to increase awareness of widespread yet infrequently discussed mental health struggles while also inspiring people to support their own friends’ well-being. Calling up a friend and checking in, Reddy said, is “self-inspired” and can often feel less pressing than tasks such as studying. But supporting one another, he insisted, is worth those 45 minutes every now and then.
With graduation just a semester away and eventual plans to take up an engineering job in Orange County, Reddy could easily turn his focus away from making videos, but he continues to produce regular content, uploading a video each week. Perhaps part of the motivation to keep creating content comes from the feedback Reddy receives, such as emails from grateful students at UC Berkeley and beyond expressing how Reddy’s videos helped them get through disappointing test scores, or the peers who stop him on the way to class to say that they love his channel.
But there’s something more driving Reddy’s creation — a belief on a very basic level that students can and should feel better. “It’s so frustrating and heartbreaking for me that (at UC Berkeley) such smart and talented and driven people, who came from being the best of the best wherever they were in life, have somehow been made to feel like they’re inadequate,” Reddy said. “And my goal is just to convince people who are in college, who are my age, who are struggling with all of these things that … I guarantee you we are more similar than you think.”
He shrugged. “I mean, I guess my ultimate goal is just to make people happy.”