CareerPreviews@ASPIRE

Sreerupa Sen is currently a Distinguished Engineer at Cloud Lending, a Q2 company. She topped almost every class she was in and is a rare example of a woman leader in technology.

Shilpa Jain: As our primary cause is making young women financially independent, why is being financially independent important to you?

Sreerupa Sen: To be honest, financial independence isn’t something I’ve never really given much thought to, I just can’t imagine it being any other way. To me it’s just a part of being an adult and living my life and doing my thing – an inseparable, integral part. I had a working mom, so it probably got somehow ingrained into my psyche without me really being aware of it.

SJ: Since our focus this week is on STEM, can you kindly demystify for the young women out there, what is STEM?

SS: Well, STEM is the study of science, technology engineering and mathematics – basically focusing on the left side of your brain. The importance of a STEM education is perhaps self-evident – if we think of the technological advances in our world – from the horse-cart to a spaceship, from a tiny pin to a giant crane, from an unpretentious hut to a massive skyscraper, an abacus to a supercomputer – they all stem from STEM if you will forgive the pun. Take this recent lockdown. We had our groceries ordered online, did our yoga classes online, worked from home together in global teams though separated in time and space – we had some semblance of normalcy in our lives only because of advances in STEM. From the humble dishwasher to that complex sophisticated ER machine to the prosthetic limb of the accident victim – they’re all products of STEM. Your online searches for that perfect date work because of STEM, so do your phone calls, your chats, the TV shows that you watch, the music you listen to, the online games that you play – STEM is ubiquitous. I think of STEM as an enabler. It brings things closer to me. To sing beautifully or act wonderfully you may not need STEM. But to take it to the masses you will.

SJ: What are the advantages of having a STEM education? And how does it fit in within Science Education?

SS: Well having a basic STEM education hones your deep thinking and analytical skills and can be a precursor to a myriad career choice – be it interdisciplinary fields or medicine or engineering or even accountancy and management. STEM potentially makes you a part of that elite group of aspiring or even successful innovators – you can have an amazing influence on the technological progress of the world – you can literally reach for the stars 🌟 

I’d actually also like to debunk the various myths we have around STEM.

Many think of STEM as being more difficult than liberal arts or fine arts. Nothing could be further from the truth. To be successful in a non-STEM field, you need creativity, talent and imagination. In STEM though, you get by fine with skill – you just keep honing what you have. STEM is an amazing equalizer – it’s much easier to be a successful engineer or a doctor than to be a successful painter or writer for example. Yes, you do need to work hard, but to be successful you need to work hard. In STEM you can literally climb to the top by developing your skills – of course creativity and talent play a role but honestly an average engineer needs to possess much less talent than the average musician or writer.

I read on the internet that some think of STEM as a career choice for men. All I have to say is LOL really? In the 21st century? How can a career choice in science and technology be gender specific? It’s kind of funny how we stereotype though. In my first job out of college, my first assignment was to clean up the data model diagrams and make them look better. My manager, who was otherwise a wonderful man, thought that as the only girl in the team I’d be the most artistic. Sadly, he was soon disillusioned!

Finally, and this is going to sound crass, on an average you earn more with a STEM education. Sad, but there it is, especially in a country like ours, where there are hordes of average engineers earning quite a lot, but hordes of talented artists or writers earning much less. Unfair I know, but true worldwide actually.

Having said all that though, STEM as a career choice isn’t the best fit for everyone. Just as liberal arts is not, or fine arts is not. If you think with the right side of your brain and are creative or are passionate about music or literature or world history or politics or any other non-STEM career choice – you must absolutely go for that. Almost all the beauty in the world that’s man-made, are created by people who’re from the fields of fine arts or liberal arts – paintings and books and music. However, even a beautiful painting has a lot of science behind it, and a beautiful piece of music. Something to think about isn’t it?

SJ: Is STEM Education available in India?

SS: Yes of course STEM education is available for everyone in India. We produce engineers and doctors en masse!

SJ: You have had a very impressive academic record. Being a topper all your life, did you always want to pursue this career track?

SS: LOL no, remember when we were growing up there were no computers around us. That was the era of ginormous computers sitting in “computer rooms” and of floppy disks where you stored your software and then stuck a sticky tape to, to prevent viruses from getting in – somewhat like a small coronavirus mask!  So no, I just got into Computer Science based on my rank in the entrance exam. I was lucky that I grew to love it passionately – it could easily have been otherwise. Today’s children are so much better informed and have so many career choices! For us growing up in Calcutta in the 70’s and 80’s  – it was engineering, medicine, teaching and marriage – those were literally the four career choices that were deemed “suitable” for women in families such as mine. My parents – a professor of engineering and a high school math teacher – wouldn’t have dreamt of marriage being a career choice, so my options were even more limited. I sucked at biology and my patience is a joke, so by process of elimination engineering was the only career choice I had.

Today though, there are multiple resources from which you can draw inspirations for your career. You read the global news, you read books that inspire, you read firsthand accounts of successful women in every field – women who’re Fields Medal winners or Nobel laureates, women who’re astronauts or work on gene crisprs or found innovative tech companies. Today, you can always punch through that glass ceiling!

SJ: Is this career a male dominated one or do you see a diversity balance?

SS: Yeah there are more men than women in engineering jobs especially– but it’s gotten so much better now. Women can be brilliant in engineering and in STEM careers. Without getting into stereotypes, I have found that we are in general organised, disciplined, have a lot of ownership, ask for help when we need to, and can multi-task even at work. We make great individual contributors, we manage with the right balance of empathy and ruthlessness, and I think our BS filters are in general more powerful 🙂 … indeed most of the women I work with give much more candid feedback than the men do.

I think people are sometimes concerned about the long hours and the work pressures … for me it’s all about how much you need your job and how much you love it.

In the past I’ve worked in large global corporations that had programs to hire more women – that in my mind is not the right thing to do. Focus on the girl child, make sure that she gets the same education and opportunities as her male peers – then leave her to bloom on her own. Affirmative actions can undermine confidence and promote ill-feelings at work. In my current job, we don’t focus on women specifically, but we have many women and many of them are doing fabulously well in their careers.

SJ: What are the top careers in computer science? And which of them is most rewarding financially?

SS: There are so many careers in computer science and interdisciplinary fields – you really have the world in the palm of your hands. Cybersecurity, cloud computing, data sciences, fintech, web development, gaming, biocomputing…

Data sciences could be the most rewarding financially – at least that’s what I hear from my peers. But I think these things change ever so often – when I joined my first job 26 years ago, it was sexy to be in compilers, then networking, then security … it just changes with the time.

SJ: During your illustrious career, have you been able to navigate through a variety of roles within your core competency? Did you face any challenges while pursuing your ambitions?

SS: Well yes and no. I love designing software irrespective of the domain, so all my roles have been in software architecture, design and development. I love being an individual contributor and the only challenge I can think of is that several times I have had to convince my manager at that moment why I didn’t want to go into people management J. And a few times I’ve had to turn down women-focused career progression opportunities – I firmly believe that while you could need mentoring and guidance when you’re growing up, when you’re out there working together it must always be a level playing field.

SJ: Is there space for individual innovation and creativity in this industry or is the day to day business more operational in nature?

SS: There’s enormous scope for innovation and creativity. The fintech that I work for started because one of the founders was refused a credit card as a student … he got together with a friend and they wanted to then equalize the lending opportunities and they created software that would help the smaller financial institutions and credit unions attract borrowers and compete with the more discriminatory larger banks. This was 7 years ago and till date we’re very focused on creativity in solving problems, on innovative user experiences. Ours is considered a relatively “tame” field in software and even here innovation is key – so you can imagine the innovations in game development or handling humongous data or storing things in the cloud or indexing search engines. Much of STEM is about innovation and creativity.

SJ: Any message to the members of Aspire For Her? And any message for the Foundation in general?

SS: Girls, remember that you hold your future in your own hands, it’s empowering and liberating and utterly wonderful! May you live long and prosper – may the force be with you!

I love the work that the foundation is doing – we’re looking at girls/women in the right age group and hopefully motivating them into making the right career choices. It’s so important that they take on the world boldly and bravely and all on their own

 

Rapid Fire!

Question: One person, fictional/real and dead/alive that you want to have dinner with 

 Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind

Question: A book on your career field that you would recommend to or readers

I read mostly on the internet … have no books to recommend really.

Question: 3 things on your bucket list

  • Cruise through the glaciers
  • See the northern lights
  • Scuba diving

 

Interviewed by: Shilpa Jain
Executive Director, Indusion Consulting Services
(ex-banker, now a head-hunter)