Tell us about yourself
One of my earliest memories from my childhood was my sister and I pretending that we were working, like my dad, repeating his standard phrase when called about a work issue - “First go to the command line”. I don’t think we even knew what it meant - just that my dad used to say it ALL the time :D
I grew up in India, where computer classes were offered from 3rd grade onward. I started my programming journey with Logo, later moving onto C and C++. After a rebellious phase, I ended up with a Masters in Computers, and job in a small company in Bangalore, Webyog, building an IDE for MySQL DBAs.
About a year and a half later, my husband and I wanted to do something new - we quit our jobs and move to the US - to live the “American Dream”. I got my first job in the US at Birchbox, where I was part of the platform and CRM teams. Currently I’m at Mark43 where I was a part of the team that built the 911 emergency dispatch system software, and am now leading the team! It’s been an amazing journey so far, and I’ve learned a ton!
How did you first get started in your career in tech?
My entry into software engineering was a fairly traditional one. I learned a lot of the basic skills I use now in high school, and after an undergrad in mathematics, I did my masters in computer applications (it’s a masters course that’s somewhat equivalent to a bachelors in comp sci). As part of the program, we had to do a 6 month internship, which I was able to get through personal connections.
I graduated during the recession, and most companies weren’t hiring. Even those who got jobs through campus recruiting had their offers rescinded or start dates delayed by months. My initial job hunt involved applying to pretty much any opportunity that I found on job portals. Some companies responded, and after interviewing in a couple of places, finally got my first break!
What are the most important skills in your current position? How did you develop these skills?
As a manager and team lead, the skills important to my position are a mix of technical, operational, and people management abilities. Here’s my list
Technical architecture: This is through a combination of what I studied, the software that I’ve built, my experiences in various companies, and learning from my interactions with more senior engineers
Inspiring and encouraging my team: I think I learnt a lot of these skills in school and college - by organizing events, and being a part of sports and music teams. More recently, I’ve been reading books about this topic
Translating technical details to non technical stakeholders and vice versa: This is something I’ve definitely learned “on the job”. The key for me is empathy - understanding the “whys” behind the “whats” that are communicated
Project management: One of the main impact areas I have as a manager is product delivery. I need to be able to come up with a timeline and stick to it by consistently tracking progress, which is basically project management.
Decision making: As a manager, I come across situations where there are multiple solutions and no clear right answer. At those times, it’s important to be able to make a decision - making no decision is a lot of times worse than making a bad one in these situations.
What are some resources that helped you in your journey in tech?
Before I transitioned into management, I didn’t realize the necessity and importance of self driving my own career growth. Over the last 1.5 years as a manager, I’ve read a lot of books and articles on being a good and effective manager, and attended a few conferences where I’ve learned a lot about both engineering management and technical leadership. Here are some that I’ve learned the most from
- Manager’s Path - Camile Fornier
- HBR's 10 Must Reads for New Managers
- The Leaddev conference
- Being glue
- The engineer / manager pendulum
- First Round 90 day manager checklist
What difficulties did you face in your career? How did you overcome them?
The first year of my being a manager, I focused pretty much solely on being a good manager and product delivery. When I did a personal, I realized that I didn’t really have any technical accomplishments I could talk about in the previous year - and that scared me.
As a woman, a lot of times I’m already likely to be taken less seriously from a technical perspective - and that would be a lot worse if I stagnated. I realized I needed to be intentional about devoting time to technical work - coding, architecture, learning new things, etc. and I now schedule recurring blocks of time so that I can work on technical items.
Looking back on your career, what advice do you wish someone had given you that would have helped accelerate your career?
There are a few things I wish I’d known, or understood earlier.
Networking is extremely important for career growth. It’s how you find out about interesting jobs or learn when a company is hiring for an interesting position. It’s how you find out what the next big thing is, or who’s starting a cool startup. Over the last year or so, I’ve been very intentional about networking (I started Women Tech Leaders NYC as a way for me and others to build a network and learn from each other)
When I moved to the US from India, one of the things I was expecting and hoping for, was a better and more equal work culture - where everyone is equal and there’s no gender discrimination. This is basically what the US advertises to the world - and I was really naive in believing it. Over the last year I’ve been able to better recognize and deal with microaggressions but I wish I had known about it earlier rather than constantly doubting myself. My career would have likely progressed differently if I had removed myself from certain situations earlier.
Is there something else you'd like to share with our readers?
As much as I enjoy work, I’m passionate about a lot of different things - I’m a trained carnatic classical vocalist, and last year was a singer + music organizer for an off broadway production of the Ramayana (an indian epic). I currently teach and have about 10 students. I also love playing basketball.
On the side, I handle digital marketing for my husband’s company - Festivya - which works with artisans from India to help them sell their handmade jewellery.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. How can we support you?
Almost exactly a year ago, I started Women Tech Leaders, which is a peer group of women in technical leadership / engineering management.
It has 2 purposes, 1 - to provide peer support and lift each other up by lending an ear and providing advice from experiences, and the other is to normalize women only panels for both technical and “soft skills” topics. We have events once a month, If you’re in NYC and are either in management/leadership, or will be soon - join us!