Today we celebrated International Women's Day at Maplesoft. As part of our celebration, we had a panel of 5 successful women from within the community share their experiences and insights with us.
Hearing these women speak has given me the courage to share my personal experience and advice to women in technology. If what I write here helps even one woman, then I will have accomplished something great today.
What do you do at Maplesoft?
My name is Karishma. I'm the Director, Product Management - Academic.
Where did you grow up and where did you go to school (Diploma/degree)?
I was born and raised in Montreal to parents of Indian descent. Like most Indian parents, they “encouraged" me to pursue a career in either Law, Medicine, or Engineering, despite my true calling to pursue a career in theatre (at least that's what I believed it to be at the time).
Given that I had no siblings to break the ice, and that rebelling wasn't my Modus Operandi (that came much later), I did what any obedient teenager would do: I pursued a career in Electrical Engineering at McGill University. In my mind, this was the fastest way to landing a job and fleeing the proverbial nest.
Electrical Engineering was far from glamorous, and after two years, I was ready to switch. It was due to the sheer insistence of my mother that I completed the degree.
So how did I end up pursuing a graduate degree in Biomedical Engineering at McGill University? It wasn't the future I envisioned, but the economic downturn in 2001-2002 saw a massive decrease in hiring, and the job that I had held-out patiently for during those four years became a far-off dream. So I did the thing I never imagined I would: I accepted the offer to pursue a Master's and the very generous stipend that came with it. In case you are wondering, I only applied because my father nagged me into submission. (Insistence and nagging are two innate traits of Indian parents).
Contrary to what I expected, I loved my Master's degree! It gave me the freedom to immerse myself wholly in a topic I found exciting and allowed me to call the shots on my schedule, which led to my involvement in student government as VP Internal. But apart from the research and the independence, pursuing a master's degree opened doors to opportunities that I couldn't have imagined, such as an internship with the International Organization for Migration in Kenya, a job offer in Europe, and the chance to work at Maplesoft. (I guess my parents did know what was best for me.)
What is the best part of your job?
It's figuring out how to solve problems our users have as well as the ones they might not realize they have.
At Maplesoft, I work with some most brilliant minds I've ever encountered to build a product that makes math more accessible to our users, whether they be a student, researcher, scientist, or engineer.
Some of the aspects of my role that I love the most include:
- speaking to and learning from our customers,
- interpreting the meaning behind their words, facial expressions, vocal intonations, and body language, and
- collaborating with the sales, marketing, and development teams to turn what was 'said' into tangible actions that will enhance the product and user experience.
Most nights, when I leave work, I do so with a sense of excitement because I know my actions and the actions of those I work with will help our users achieve their goals and ambitions. There's no better high.
What advice do you have for young women interested in a career in your field?
Throughout my career, I've had the privilege to work with some amazing women and men who've given me advice that I wish I had known when I was an undergraduate student. If you are a woman pursuing a STEM degree or starting your first job in a tech firm, here are three tips that may help you:
1. Don't be scared of the 'N' word.
Don't be scared of NETWORKING. I know it can be intimidating, but it truly is the best way to land a job, advance your career, or meet the person you admire most. Remember that networking can take place anywhere - it's not exclusive to networking events. Some advice that I received that helped me overcome my fear of networking:
- Smile - Before you approach a person or enter a networking session, force yourself to smile. It will help you diffuse any tension you are holding and will make you appear more approachable.
- Research - Take the time to research the person(s) you would like to meet. Find out as much as you can about them and their company. Prepare some icebreaker questions and other questions to help carry the conversation forward ahead of time. Remember that people like to talk about themselves and their experiences.
- Don't take it personally - The person you approach may find networking equally tricky. So if they seem disinterested or aloof, don't take it personally.
- Just do it - Networking gets easier with practice. Don't let a failed attempt set you back. The worse thing that will happen is that you don't make a connection.
2. It's ok to ask for help.
If you are a woman in an environment that is dominated by men, you might hesitate to ask for help. DON'T! There's nothing wrong with asking for help. That said, many women ask for help in a way that undermines their confidence and thus erodes others’ perception of them. Next time you need help, have a question or require clarification, take a moment to phrase your request, so you don't inadvertently put yourself down.
3. Play to your strengths
Don't think you need to know everything. Nobody expects it. If you landed a new job or co-op placement, and you are finding yourself doing things you've never done and don't come naturally to you yet, don't let your brain convince you that you don't deserve it. Remember that you earned it because of your qualities and strengths.