Monday, 26 December 2011

Why I Continue to Work in the Technology Industry

One common question that I get asked is, “Why are you still working?”  I don’t understand that question because there is still so much more for me to accomplish and give to the technology industry.
It all started for me in high school. My high school was next to an Engineering college and I would ride my bicycle past the college every day. I always assumed I would go to the Engineering College next to my high school. This was an easy decision since there is precedence in my family with both my dad and brother having studied Engineering. I also had a good aptitude for Math and Science. 
In college, I was surprised to find that the female-to-male ratio was skewed. Although I live in a country which has a skewed gender population ratio, I still found it surprising. I come from a family where it is very much accepted to be a daughter, a wife, a mom, and a working woman at the same time. I now know that it was atypical of Indian families. When I started working, I found that the female to male ratio was again skewed across the industry and across countries. As years passed by more and more female peers dropped out (that is a topic for another blog). Their approach to problems, solutions, communication and leadership style may have been different but I still found them being very effective. Is it possible that some senior managers did not recognize this difference in approach and effectiveness?

I have had the luxury of having some of the best managers to work with who have helped me build my career. Having said that, some people have made it uncomfortable for me to work but overall it has been a positive and rewarding experience. Companies want “out-of-the-box thinkers” – the very fact that I have stayed in this industry for over 20 years and plan to continue, should make me an out-of-the-box thinker, shouldn’t it?! But at the end of the day, I still don’t see myself very different from others. I want the same things (impact, growth, recognition, job satisfaction, etc.) in my career as most other people.
With each year passing, I realize that there are so many more things to learn. Even with over 20 years, I have never done a boring repetitive job. I enjoy having ownership – whether it is a project, a product or a team. I enjoy coming up with goals that are very challenging and then convincing everybody to go after those goals. I celebrate my successes and feel sad about my failures. I enjoy working with and observing my seniors and learning from them. I enjoy hearing from my teams and not just their experiences at work but also their experiences outside of work. I enjoy spending time with the young folks in the industry and understanding them – makes me feel closer to my kids. I enjoy looking at the history of companies, products and teams.
In my twenties, when I was based in the US, I believed in the all-American dream of working hard when you are young and retiring rich early. In my early thirties I realized it is not only financial reasons that make me come to work, it is also about being part of something big and meaningful, and yes, the glory and satisfaction of doing something BIG – whether it was building the first Giga Hertz CPU or the first Indian CPU design, it was always something that I believed in and wanted to be part of.
I am in my forties now.  I would like to continue in the tech industry and keep looking for the next big thing to be a part of. My kids are grown up. For those young moms and dads who are finding it hard to do the balancing act, my only advice is to continue working; it gets easier as the kids get older. You will even find time to write a blog!
So, why do I continue to work – because this is my industry; this is one place where I can make an impact, a difference to the industry, community, company, team and to myself. Why would I not continue to be here for another 20 years? I wish though, that most of my female peers didn’t have to opt out and could reach their potential – there is so much they can give to the industry…

Sunday, 11 December 2011

If Life Offers you Lemons, Make the best Lemonade

I was a panelist at a conference last year and one of the concerns from the audience was, “My manager always asks me to do unappealing jobs and I am not able to say no. Hence I always end up with those types of jobs”. Having managed large teams, I believe that there are all kinds of jobs and all of them need to get done. It is true that some jobs are considered more appealing than others by some folks. However, it is possible to make a difference with any job you have.
A few years ago, I was asked by my manager to take up a Verification Management job. I had worked on all aspects of CPU design and was interested in continuing with design. But the available job was in verification. Typically verification teams are very large teams and the management had confidence in me to pull this through. For some reason, the company had lost most of the senior verification members. It was considered a suicide mission to take over at that point in time. I was open to taking such risks and I decided to take this new challenge in my life.
As I took over the verification job, the management changed. I knew the new management was very anxious and concerned if I could pull this off.  I started the team with a handful of people and we were clearly the underdogs. The goal of the verification team is to certify the quality of the product.  Having just moved from a failed project, there was huge pressure in ensuring that this new project was successfully completed. The team morale and confidence was very low. In addition, there were multiple reasons why verification was not considered THE career choice – scope of verification, lack of process, lack of stake holder management, perception of  being a support organization, etc… - I needed to fix this as well.
I approached the verification management job just like I approached any other problem solution. I split up the problem into multiple pieces, prioritized them and started working on each of them. As I got more involved, I found that Verification Management very difficult and challenging compared to managing the design team. As a Verification Manager you have impact on the product quality, features, feature development and implementation, schedule, people management and cost. Every bug that is not found pre-manufacturing has a direct impact on cost and schedule. In CPU chip design, cost is on the order of millions of dollars and schedule impact of a quarter or more. Without going into more details and cutting straight to the results, we had a very successful product at end of the year. The quality was so good that it was productized a quarter earlier than planned. You get quality by design not by chance. The quest for quality should come from within each engineer and I had the satisfaction of having inculcated this culture.

At this point I knew that my job was only half-done. I still needed to make verification THE career choice for an engineer. I asked to continue as a verification manager for the next project too and I was given additional responsibilities of handling multiple projects.  At the end of the five year journey as a verification manager, we had completed our second product and it was as successful as the first product and again a quarter ahead of plan. The verification team had grown from a handful of people to over 100+ people and we had helped many other programs in the company in addition to our own projects. The team morale and the confidence were at its highest and I knew the team would be able to deliver to any challenges that it faced in the future.
Few months later, when we were very short of designers, I had to ask one of my best verification engineers to move to design from verification. Five years earlier he had moved to verification from design along with me.  He declined!!  He had made verification THE career choice for himself. At that point, I knew I had done my job well.
I believe in giving my best shot in everything I do – on the job, on the field, as a parent. It is what you make out of that job that matters. You need to look for new opportunities, look for the next step up, but don't forget what you already have. For those who don’t believe that they have had the opportunity, see what you can do with the current opportunity you have. It worked for me…