Women and Unusual Careers - What Makes Them the Perfect Match?

Recently, I was invited to give a talk at "TechGig Geek Goddess 2018 organized by The Times of India group", and I was asked to speak about "Women and Unusual Careers - What Makes Them the Perfect Match?" 

This pic shows three significant writings of mine - 1. My MS thesis from IIT Madras, titled "Features for Audio Clip Classification", 2004; and two of my published books - 2. "Life, Odds & Ends", fiction, 2014, 3. "Turning Points of Uncommon People", non-fiction, True Stories, 2016
When I read this e-mail request, I thought that unusual career is not a women only thing. 
I authored "Turning Points of Uncommon People" a book that contains TRUE stories of men and women (across age groups, and geographic locations) who have taken a plunge, and made a difference to their own life, and to that of around them, by finding the right equation for their individual needs in the realms of Career, Passion, Family and Well-being. 

Hence, I could confidently say that "unusual career" is more of an individual's exploration, and the individual could be a man or a woman. 
However, career by itself is an unusual thing for women. 
There is a lot of researched data supporting this fact, and I have also articulated my thoughts on working women's longings in my first book "Life, Odds & Ends". Let me also add that after this book was launched I gave a number of talks at various places including UIUC, IL, USA about my research while writing this book. And men present in those talks also read my book, and they came back telling me that my book has helped them support and understand perspective of women who they live or work with. 

Hence, I could say that career is an unusual thing for women because as individuals and as society, we, many times don't understand how to support career oriented women - even if we may have all the good intentions towards it. 
You can read my books to understand and reflect on the same. 
And, for the talk, to highlight "What Makes Them the Perfect Match?" when it comes to "Women and Unusual Careers", I thought of articulating my enablers - qualities that enabled me to progress. 

And I came up with following 9 points as "My Enablers" -

And I substantiated them by adding a few fundamental stories from my life. 
1. Continuous Learning
Let me take you to year 2000, when I applied for an internship project at IIT Kanpur. In the interview Dr. Prabhakar asked me if I could develop website. I didn't know that. Internet was new, and I had limited access to internet at that time. In fact that was the time when I created my very first e-mail id. So I didn't know about website creation. 

And I replied, "I don't know that Sir. But, I'm a fast learner, and I'd be able to learn and do the project." 

Dr. Prabhakar smiled, gave me a thick book and said that make and host your first "Hello World" website in a weeks time and show me. 

I went back to him on the third day - after completing the test. 

And Dr. Prabhakar gave me the project - "Gita Supersite". The project was funded by Ministry of Information Technology, Government of India under their program Technology Development for Indian Languages. I did experiments on various combinations of technologies to build the client-server version of Gita Supersite, that could support Indian language fonts in various scripts, and I worked closely with C-DAC Pune for Indian Language fonts. We enabled 'on the fly' transliteration of the text in various Indian Scripts to save storage. I did a lot of optimization for database storage, compute and faster loading of data for the website visitor. 

At the end of project Dr. Prabhakar told me that I'm one of the best three programmer he had worked with. 

presented this work at "National level Workshop on Building Large Websites" held at IIT Kanpur in Nov 2000, also at STRANS 2001. 

That was in year 2000. And, now, in 2018, Im still the same. If the need arises to learn anything new, I don't fear accepting challenge. And I enjoy it. 
2. Love Thy Work 
 I enjoy it as I love my work. In year 2004/5, when I was working for Oracle, there was a global all hands meeting at 7am. I got late for the meeting, so I went and sat in the back row. The senior VP who was addressing the gathering said certain things and asked a question like who's with him. Very subconsciously, and spontaneously, I raised my hand. 

And the reason being that I really believed in what he said, and I's enjoying my work at oracle, so I raised my hands. 

And after that I also noticed that no other person had raised his or her hand. And the senior VP, who noticed my enthusiasm, asked me to come in front to introduce myself to everyone. At that moment everyone got to know me, my interests, project, and my potential. And very soon, I was also handing the second largest module in my group. 
3. Problem Solving
And loving the work and learning new things happen in the context of problem solving - either at work for business reasons, or driven by life situations.  
4. Calculated Risks
As an individual tries to figure out new and unknown, he takes risks for a possibility of betterment, one had to be calculative. 

I went to IIT Madras in 2001 for joining the MS program. It was a research based program and I was supposed to choose my area for work, and I was given three choices - 1. Databases 2. Distributed Computing 3. Speech Technology. As part of the selection process I was supposed to go and meet all the three faculty members and their groups. I did so, and let me admit that all of them were doing great work, but I was most impressed by Prof. Yegnanarayana. And I thought of working with him. I discussed my choices with Dr. Prabhakar also, and he suggested me to choose between Databases or Distributed Computing - as job options in speech technologies would be limited. 

Also, most of the people in speech group were from Signal Processing background, and me being from Computer Sc. background, and not knowing Signal Processing was another reason for me to consider. 

I thought about the two reasons and realized that learning new things is something I enjoy. Since I had also built Gita Supersite before coming to IIT Madras, I was confident that for a mainstream software job, I could always learn a new programming language as required. And based on this calculation, I learnt that I could afford to take risk of working with people who 'I was impressed the most' and I chose to work in Speech Technology. 

In parallel to my research work I also chose core computer science subjects like computer graphics, algorithms etc as electives. In fact, I have been so good in 'Algorithms and Data Structure' course that at some point of time my concerned faculty said that their is no point in her walking through my coding assignments as I'd have done it right anyways. 

With pride, let me add that that in my batch, I was the first one to get job (at Oracle) during campus placements. 

And I also got good remarks for my MS thesis, where Prof. Yegnanarayana wrote 'very good' on my thesis synopsis - which was a rare thing for his students. I published research papers in leading conferences (a complete list @ my Linkedin profile - under Publications). One of the visiting faculty from a top university in the US also said that my MS thesis was more then half PhD, and he asked me to continue with him for my PhD - an offer that I didn't take. 
5. Truthfulness
That decision of working in Speech Technology was taken in 2001, and now, in 2018, in times of Alexa, should I also talk about my "womanly intuition"? 

I don't know, but I was just true to myself; and I continue to be so. 
6. Observations for Innovation 
In times like today, when innovation is the key to success, observation skills are very important for being innovative, timely, and relevant. 

When I wrote my first book, "Life, Odds & Ends"  I was working on a customer segmentation algorithm for building a recommendation engine. And as one talks about recommending right thing to people based who they are, to help solve their problem, I thought deeply about "human problems" in urban context. At one end, this understanding helps define better feature in the software product; on the other, it also enabled me in articulation of my thoughts in form of timely and relevant fictional short stories

After my book was published, I presented my research to my audience as I spoke about my book, which was different from a typical book reading event by an author. And as a result, many people came back to me sharing their stories with me.  

As I reflected on those thoughts, I came up with my second book titled "Turning Points of Uncommon People"

Many times, I talk less, observe and reflect more; and some of the points which really held my attention for a long span of time have taken shape as my books, or my work with startups, or my patents.

Even my current venture SunvAI is a result of my keen observation skills - after I visited civil court bangalore for one of my IP enforcement issue. Apart from signing the needed documents, I also observed how people work there. And I realised the need for such system that resulted me in filing 9 provisional patents initially, and later coming up with the concept of SunvAI. 
7. Finding Thy Unique Balance 
All the stories of my book "Turning Points of Uncommon People" are about finding their unique balance by individuals. 

The back cover of this book also writes "Anvita lives in Bangalore with her daughter and husband, enjoying the integration of her family life and writings with her technology ventures."
8. Anchoring Yourself
As an entrepreneur, when one explores new things, one can't just be a free flowing particle going here and there. Its important that one anchors himself or herself with one most important or strong point/need/skill and explore with rest of the parameters in life for making it interesting and enjoying the process of exploration.

In my case, this anchoring point has been my work in machine learning in past decade or so. I have worked across domains on various projects, consulted startups for building algorithms for high-tech and also wrote my books in the free time that I got while the team/engineers developed said systems. 
9. Empathy
And last but not the least quality is that of empathy. Though all the points listed here are gender-neutral, but this particular quality is stronger in women.  Empathy helps with - 

A. Remaining hopeful when one takes risks, tryout new ventures and fails. It helps one accept and love oneself when one makes mistakes. Helps one build resilience, a needed skill, to live and move forward in life. 

B. Empathy also helps one remaining positive when things don't work out for them because of external parameters and people. 

C. And in the context of technology, in times of IoT (Internet of Things), and RPA (Robotic Process Automation), when it is predicted that soon times would come when tasks would be done by robots, the kinds of qualities needed from employable humans would be human qualities like "Empathy" and "Creativity". 
With these thoughts, I end here.  
I thank you very much for reading this article, I hope that I was able to add some value to you today, or some of my thoughts would resonate with you going forward.
Feel free to write your comments and questions to me, and do like and share this article with people in your network who you think could be benefited by it. 

My momento for giving this talk