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Profile: Asha Ramakrishna, Director of Engineering at Dremio

“I think the topic of diversity is viewed very narrowly to only mean race or gender”

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Last year, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Asha Ramakrishna, Director of Engineering at Dremio.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Without further ado, we would like to introduce Asha Ramakrishna, Director of Engineering at Dremio.

Asha Ramakrishna, Director of Engineering at Dremio

Asha Ramakrishna is the director of engineering at Dremio.  In her role, she leads key areas of the Dremio product.  Prior to Dremio she built the security, networking, monitoring and software infrastructure for Nimble Storage collaborating with product management, influenced decision makers and obtained multi-million dollar funding for proposed initiatives increasing addressable market by $5B. She began her career at Informatica and also held engineering roles at Business Objects/SAP and then Molecular Devices.  Asha holds a BS, Electronics & Communication Engineering Bangalore University, India.

What got you interested in technology?

My dad studied mechanical engineering. I grew up watching him fix and build things around the house and was extremely passionate about this work. That naturally influenced me as a child. When it came time to choose my future, it was very simple.

I started my career at Informatica and then spent some time at Business Objects/SAP. Most of my programming years were at these two companies. At SAP, I was in a sustaining engineering role where I worked mostly by myself. That is when I realized how much I missed working with people, working as a team. From there on, I knew I wanted to be in a role that can foster and build great teams and started preparing myself for that.

The biggest obstacle for me has been the sheer number of roles each one of us has to play. Being a first generation immigrant here in the US, trying to have a career and a family and juggle it all is difficult. Just having the will to plow through it all has been one of the biggest obstacles for me.

My husband and kids have been very understanding and supportive of my career aspirations. When I look back, I have come to realize that my dad was my biggest champion in this regard. I grew up in India, where it is very typical to raise girls in a very protected and sheltered manner. From a very early age, he forced me to step out of my comfort zone, be independent, and work towards what I wanted. I did not really appreciate his support at the time. Looking back, I am very thankful.

I cannot say I have a particular role model. I was fortunate enough to have a strong mentor when I first became a manager. Career-wise, he has had the biggest influence on me.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

Not really. No one has stopped me from working, having a career, or advancing in my professional life.

That said, there are multiple people (near and dear ones) that have asked me if I really “need” to work. They all meant well, but there was a lot of guilt, to be honest. Why wouldn’t I want to stay home and take care of the kids and so on. At the end of the day, when you are motivated and driven you will find a way.

A day in Asha’s life

Currently, I am the Director of Engineering at Dremio, the open source Data-as-a-Service Platform company. We build an enterprise software product that is targeted at Global 1000 companies to help them get more value from their data, faster. We are a start-up company going through expansion—in the past year we have grown from around 20 to 60 people. I spend about half of my time on hiring and hiring-related activities. I spend the other half of my time working with our engineering teams to build the product and meet our aggressive goals.

I have changed domains multiple times in my career and continue to grow. I have moved from Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence to Life Sciences, to Storage Systems and Security, and most recently to Data Analytics and the world of open source software. These transitions have been challenging in different ways, but each change has grounded me as an individual and helped me reinvent myself.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

This is something that is really concerning for me. Back when I was studying engineering in India, perhaps 10-15% of the total students were female. I do believe that has changed over time for the better in India.

However, when I look at the number of college grads that are applying for STEM jobs here in the Bay Area, I am alarmed and deeply disappointed. There just aren’t enough women engineers that are coming out of our engineering schools. Even when we do see women engineers, the demographic is very skewed to southeast Asian women.

STEM jobs tend to be some of the best jobs in the economy. These are high paying jobs with good benefits, pleasant working conditions, and they can be very rewarding in terms of the work you are doing each day. I really enjoy working with smart, creative, and passionate people. These are all things I think most women would value and enjoy.

Diversity brings different perspectives to the table. Not having representation from various sections of our society (women included) means that we are potentially making biased decisions. This could be decisions on product design or the way we manage people and projects and risks. I believe that diverse teams make smarter and better decisions.

Sometimes I think the topic of diversity is viewed very narrowly to only mean race or gender. We should also be thinking about age, socioeconomic status, cultural heritage, and other factors.

Obstacles

Technology is an ever-changing and evolving space. There is so much innovation happening at all times. While it is true that “change is the only constant in life”, the pace at which changes are happening in tech is much higher than any other industry that I can think of. It is hard for anyone to keep up.

For women, I find it is extra hard to juggle family (kids) and careers. We constantly face the dilemma, the guilt of wanting to do the best for our kids while we do everything we can to stay ahead in our careers. Taking a year or two off to raise a child makes it so much harder to come back and still remain competitive in a high tech career. I have seen a lot of women dropping off when they start a family. Some come back later on in their life, some don’t.

Even though we hear about the shortage of engineers in technology, women who take a few years off can find it difficult to re-enter the workforce. Companies should do more to make it easier for women to come back after a few years off. I am proud of Dremio in this area—we are supportive of these situations and have a very strong member of the team who rejoined after taking 12 years off to raise her kids. She is very talented and we are fortunate to have her.

Tips & tricks

Tech industry is hard, not just for women. Things are constantly evolving and we need to keep reinventing ourselves every so often to stay competitive. As hard as that can be, this is also an industry that celebrates meritocracy. If you are good at what you do and are willing to get better, this is a great place for women. Yes, the ratio is not great, but each one of us is making it a little bit better.

Take the time to build your network, connect with the people around you. Support each other and seek help when you need it. More often than not, people are willing to help you, teach you if you ask. You don’t have to know everything.

I have seen a huge difference in the way men take on new challenges and roles. When presented with an opportunity, I notice many women find reasons why they are not ready to take that on, while men tend to jump at it. Believe in yourself and work on what you don’t know instead of holding yourself back because you don’t have all the skills required. I guarantee you the men are no different! Most importantly, stop wanting to be the best “female” anything. Aim to just be the best. The best manager, the best engineer, the best anything you want to be.

Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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