I’d love to start broad, tell us a little bit about who you are and how you came to be here.
I am a mom and an engineer. I had a tremendous passion for the sciences and math through my formative years. When I was growing up in India, you became either a doctor or an engineer. I knew I didn't want to be a doctor, so engineering was a natural choice for me. I am an electrical engineer by education, my undergraduate degree was in power systems and machines. I worked for a transformer company in India for a couple of years where I was designing large furnace and power transformers. When I moved to the United States, electrical engineering was focused on large scale integrated circuit design so I chose that as my Master’s Major. I joined AT&T Bell labs where I was a chip designer before moving to more application architecture and system design roles. From there, I joined Verizon Wireless where I led various roles before I moved to Capital One last year.
You spent nearly fifteen years at a single company in four different roles. Do you have any advice for people on how to identify and pursue internal opportunities within their organizations? How did you know when it was time to move on?
I joined Verizon in an IT operations role which was a phenomenal learning experience. It’s one thing to build something and put it into production, but it’s another thing to make sure it continues to work as it should. I was then tapped by the Director for Point-of-Sale (POS) Applications to join his team in building the first mobile POS solution. I was hesitant because it was a lateral move, but it was one of the best moves I made in my career. The upside was tremendous and it is an experience that I still take pride in today especially when I walk into the Verizon wireless stores. Myself and a small team pioneered that application and it expanded to become THE sales and service application portfolio that I managed throughout my time there. Later, when our CIO asked if I wanted to manage the Service application portfolio, I took the jump. It was another lateral move but I had the opportunity to learn both sales and service. In my last role, I was tapped by the CRO who was looking for somebody who understood the tech landscape to come and lead a new product organization.
Each time I moved, I did not actively seek these positions but I was tapped and asked to go. My recommendation for folks is that it’s important to go out and get varied experiences. If you feel like you’ve been in one role for too long and you’re not tapped for something new, you should go seek out the role you want. When Capital One reached out to me, I figured that it was an opportunity for me to learn a new domain. I had spent 25 years in the telecom industry, and I had never worked in the finance industry. It was a good opportunity for me to learn a different domain and come back to tech from a product perspective.
You recently moved industries. Because tech-leaders need to be business-aligned, it is so important to know the key issues in your industry. What did you do to prepare when you switched industries from telecom to financial services?
I don't think any amount of learning on the outside would’ve prepared me for this space. It’s been a lot of learning on the go. I didn't anticipate how big the regulatory differences would be. Even though the telecom industry is regulated, it doesn't impact you from a tech perspective. You still have tremendous freedom to build functions and features for the business. In the financial industry, there are regulations that control what we can deploy, how we stay on top of cyber risk, etc. It’s really been a process of learning from the fire hose, understanding your application vulnerabilities, your cloud compliance issues and the importance of being well managed.
You have several patents, women make up 13% of patent holders (with numbers even lower in technology), will you tell us a little bit about your patents and your experience getting them?
The first patent I got was in my very first job as a chip designer building chips for HD TVs. I was working on a small piece of the chip called the Demodulator, which takes analog signals and converts them into 1s and 0s. My patent was for an algorithm for the symbol to byte converter. My second patent was from my mobile POS portfolio. We had a unique challenge where we had a combination of iPads and desktops that store representatives were selling with. I wanted to do the reverse of what Apple TV does where you take what’s on your iPad and project it on a larger screen, I wanted to take what’s on a larger screen and project it on the iPad. We came up with a unique way to do that that Verizon still uses today in call centers and retail stores. It is amazing when you come up with these ideas to solve certain problems and then realize that you have the opportunity to file a patent because it’s a unique solution and there’s nobody out there in the industry doing it.
What can companies be doing to better support women making it to technology leadership positions like yourself?
I have been in places where I really hit the glass ceiling. In one company in particular, I could not grow beyond being a senior technologist, I couldn't get into a leadership position at all. It was really white male dominated. Every time I asked, I would be told “you’re so good at what you do as a technologist, why do you want a leadership role?” I felt very discouraged, so I started to look for other opportunities. Verizon, especially on the IT side, was far more diverse. It wasn’t just purely male dominated. In fact, one of my most important mentors and sponsors throughout my time there was a woman. She was the first person to tell me that I had leadership qualities and promoted me to a leadership position. I subsequently had a male sponsor who enabled an amazing career at Verizon.
I don't see that happening often times. I’ve also realized that it is much harder for Women of Color to really push their way to leadership positions in companies that don’t have as much diversity in tech. I feel that it is somehow harder for us to push the envelope because, unfortunately, as a woman, if you are a little bit pushy then you are considered “aggressive”. We should be given equal opportunities as our male counterparts, and the best man or woman will win. We’re not asking for special consideration, but treat me as an equal and make those opportunities available, I don’t think companies do enough of that.
Any advice for your 25-year old self?
I always believed that if you did good work the recognition followed but that is not the case. You need to learn to advocate for yourself. You should find a mentor and a sponsor because decisions about your career will be made when you’re not in the room. You need somebody in that room who can speak for you and advocate for you. That was the only way my career grew, there was no other way it could happen. Don’t be naive, thinking that if you’re best you will get you where you need to be. You need support.
How do you hire? What do you look for in people?
I was just listening to a Barack Obama interview the other day and he said something that really resonated. It is easy for someone to say “this is a problem”, but a person who looks at a problem and says “oh, I can fix that” and figures out a way, that’s the can-do attitude needed for technology. Problem solving is a huge quality I look for when I hire people. Another one is their ability to work in a team.
I see you’re a member of an organization called “Knit crochet with love”, I love to see fellow crafters using their hobbies for good, will you tell us a bit about that and how you came to be involved?
Knit crochet with love was started almost four years ago by one of my closest friends. The idea was to use their passion for knitting and crochet to make caps for cancer patients. That has grown in leaps and bounds. We have groups all over New Jersey and have donated over 6,000 caps to local hospitals. We get letters from patients about how much they love our caps. We are very particular about using soft wool that doesn't irritate the skin. We donate to children’s and adult hospitals. It has created this wonderful community of knitters and crocheters who are using their passion to do something good for the community.