Women in Tech: “Develop advocates, mentors, or like-minded people who are different from you.”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Three years ago, 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 Sohini Roy, Product Manager at Canonical.
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?
Three years ago, 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 Sohini Roy, Product Manager at Canonical.
When did you become interested in technology?
My love for technology and innovation comes from my love for art. My parents have always encouraged me to discover the beauty of the world around me. This is where the joy that comes from when I turn ideas from my imagination into reality came from.
As a child, I didn’t see it as a tech or non-tech passion, I only saw tools to create something out of nothing.
It wasn’t until I attended a summer program before college that I had access to the right tools and software to learn and experiment with sound engineering and interactive music software.
How did you end up in your career path?
In my twenties, I tried my hand at different jobs to test my strengths, develop new skills, and find a role in which I could develop myself. I completed my basic studies in materials science and biomedical engineering.
By the time I graduated, I had worked as an intern and in laboratories for several years and contributed to award-winning publications. I also held some leadership positions in student administration, but I wondered if I had other skills that would help me excel in other professions. Initially, I tried my hand as a consultant in health care facilities where I wanted to help the community more efficiently through technology.
Frustrated by the speed with which our technology offerings were developed, I ended up building functionality for my clients myself. This led me to product management, which I believe combines the best of both worlds – business and technology.
Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?
The vice president of my department noticed my penchant for asking questions and took me to lunch one day. I asked her what leadership meant to her, and she said, “True leadership is when you bring out the best in everyone around you, above and below you.”
I have countless role models in industry and history. The people who I think stand out the most are those who have acted as mentors for others. In return, I do my best to pass this on to others with whom I work.
I asked her what leadership meant to her, and she said, “True leadership is when you bring out the best in everyone around you, above and below you.”
Have any obstacles been put in your way?
I failed entire courses, I was told I was too ambitious, I was told to find a new career, and I was completely ignored.
Whenever I feel like a failure or frustrated by the world, I recall one of my favorite quotes from Randy Pausch, a professor at my Alma Mater: “Walls are not there to keep us out. They are there to give us the chance to show how much we want something. Because brick walls are there to stop people who don’t want something so much. They are there to stop other people.”
I am extremely competitive. That drives me to be better and to give everything, especially after I have failed.
A day in Sohini’s life
I am a product manager at Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, where I am mainly responsible for new initiatives. I am responsible for defining and implementing product strategies to help us expand our market presence and grow as a company.
I have to keep track of market developments and trends on the pulse of time. To do this, I need to be deeply rooted in the huge open source community to understand how we can support our customers’ needs. Then I work to translate those needs into solutions, from seemingly endless brainstorming sessions to developing with our engineers, implementing go-to-market strategies, and working with partners and associations.
What stereotypes have you encountered with regard to “Women in Tech”? What problems does this create?
There is still the cliché that women are more absorbed in family life and that they are not reliable if they are to devote enough time to the job. Due to possible interruptions in their careers to have children or care for other family members, it would not be worthwhile investing in them in the long run. This thinking is one reason why there are fewer women in management positions.
However, I think that positions in the IT industry offer women the greatest flexibility to work from home. They can make their contribution at times that are convenient, so that they can be there for their families and still take on leadership tasks and develop. This also promotes a strong culture of work-life balance in a company, which is often lacking and leads to employees burning out, being less productive, and leaving quickly.
How would our world look different if more women worked in tech?
When I ask how the world could be different or what the benefits would be if more women worked in the technical field, I have to think of a team meeting. It was about a popular, inexpensive computer board. The team presented a slide on the demographics of the average user, according to which 96 percent are male, and began discussing how we could market this demographic profile. I had to stop the presentation and said that it wasn’t about who users were, but who they might be.
From a business point of view, there is an untapped opportunity and market share here that I believe is well worth the investment. Especially if you can create loyalty early on with the technical products and win a lifelong advocate for your company.
I think that positions in the IT industry offer women the greatest flexibility to work from home.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
Develop advocates, mentors, or like-minded people who are different from you. Whether they are people who have been in office longer or of the opposite sex, develop a network of people who can help you gain influence and weight. You can do this by publicly supporting their ideas in meetings, getting to know them in one-on-one conversations, helping them with one of their projects, asking them for their help, or getting them to commit to something that you will later present to a larger group. This has not only helped me to test my own theories and get guidance. It also helps me make sure that I have male advocates for my ideas in a room so that I am never ignored or neglected.
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “Experiment, deliver, retrospect, and keep learning!”
- Women in Tech: “You are the best author of your own career path”
- Women in Tech: “Dare to do what you are interested in!”
- Women in Tech: “Join meetups and other women tech groups”
- Women in Tech: “The IT sector requires a lot of energy and will”