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Profile: Archana Vemulapalli, Chief Technology Officer, IBM Global Technology Services and General Manager, Managed Infrastructure Services Offerings

Women in Tech: “The tech sector is where tremendous innovation happens”

Dominik Mohilo
women in tech

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 Archana Vemulapalli, Chief Technology Officer, IBM Global Technology Services and General Manager, Managed Infrastructure Services Offerings.

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 Archana Vemulapalli, Chief Technology Officer, IBM Global Technology Services and General Manager, Managed Infrastructure Services Offerings.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Archana Vemulapalli, Chief Technology Officer, IBM Global Technology Services and General Manager, Managed Infrastructure Services Offerings

Archana is responsible for IBM GTS’ offering strategy, development and management. She leads a global team delivering agile and intelligent technology solutions for public and private sector clients in support of their digital and cloud transformation. She is also part of the core leadership team responsible for defining the mission and growth plan for IBM Global Technology Services and NewCo, a planned spin-off recently announced by IBM, which is by far the global leader and innovator in managed infrastructure services.

Previously, Archana led IBM’s Networks Services and Project & Implementation Services globally, securely delivering agile, resilient and intelligent networks for public and private sector clients across the globe in support of their cognitive and cloud transformation.

Prior to joining IBM in January 2018, Archana led next-generation technology initiatives at a variety of organizations from start-ups to major consulting firms to government, including serving as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Washington, DC.

Through her career, she has championed innovation with a focus on developing flexible, scalable solutions for client and organizational problems.

Archana is the recipient of several honors, including the Washington Business Journal’s C-Suite Award, The Washingtonian Tech Titan Award, StateScoop’s Golden Executive of the Year Award & Top Women in Tech Award, as well as DC’s Top 50 Women in Tech Award.

When did you become interested in technology?

I am a STEM advocate. Technology is so powerful, it has the ability to enhance, enrich and transform the world as we know it. I declared (to my parents) in third grade that I wanted to be a scientist and zeroed in on engineering in high school. I like solving problems and I am very practical – I am an engineer at heart.

How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

I was born and raised in India and spent all of my adult life in the United States. I did my undergraduate degree in engineering in India and moved to the US to pursue a master’s degree in engineering at the University of Pennsylvania when I was twenty years old and have been in the US ever since.

My career trajectory naturally followed and was largely shaped by my desire to take on bigger challenges and being comfortable with being uncomfortable – that makes me learn more, work harder and pick up new skills quickly. From my first role as a Network Engineer to now being at IBM, I have had the privilege of working across a myriad of industries and in both small and large companies.

I faced all the usual suspects – inequality, not fitting in, lack of support and unconscious bias. The simple first step to overcoming such obstacles is recognizing that they do exist and then being intentional in addressing it constructively.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

I am lucky to have the support from family, friends and exceptional colleagues. I grew up in India and had the good fortune of a very progressive upbringing – where my grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts each have been ahead of their times and been high achievers.

My father is my role model. I learned and still learn from him the importance of values in everything I do – humility, respect, perseverance and happiness.

Each of us have tough days or feel beat at times, and that’s when your support system kicks in – mine just makes me get it together and get back in the ring quickly.

My father is my role model. I learned and still learn from him the importance of values in everything I do – humility, respect, perseverance and happiness.

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

There has always been someone who tried; I don’t know of any that succeeded. Roadblocks at every stage in my career have been a constant – stereotypes still exist. Societal perceptions and preconceived notions of how one looks, talks, what background or pedigree one has (or lack thereof) still contributes to unconscious bias.

Life is an obstacle course. I have more than my fair share of obstacles – but I move forward and try always to make my own path, not because I want to, because I have to – that is the only way to advance.

A day in Archana’s life

I have the privilege, at IBM, of being globally responsible for the Instructure Services portfolio of Offerings and the worldwide CTO organization supporting 4,600 clients in 175 countries.

My typical day starts at 4am, with 10-12 hours of work a day. I don’t really clock in and clock out – it’s important to me that I am available for my team at all times, so I’ve learned to become flexible with my workdays vs. having a set routine. There are a few things I always make time for – when that happens and how long it happens varies daily – I do spend time with my family, workout and catch up on reading every day.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I still have a long way to go, but I’ve learned to celebrate the journey as much as the personal and professional milestones I achieve. More than pride, I have a deep sense of gratitude for every milestone achieved – towards my teams, colleagues, partners and our clients.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

My view is that there are three broad reasons why: [1] getting women into tech [2] keeping women in tech and [3] addressing women representation.

It starts with education and we need to make STEM a key focus – especially in middle school and high school. We need to encourage girls to persist and we need to dispel stereotypes early.

We also need to keep the women we have – this is where fixing organizational culture and driving active sponsorship (vs. mentorship) is critical.

I know how to get to the top when I see a path, but we can’t expect every woman to be a trailblazer. We need right women representation on boards and top corporate roles. This keeps women in the running vs. giving up. My view is we need to accelerate this action.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

It is still a boy’s club and we need to be explicit about this. Women still actively face challenges with equal pay, still are subjected to sexist adjectives, and unconscious bias. The tech sector is where tremendous innovation happens. Those of us in it need to do our bit to actively reshape the culture, drive more representation, promote more inclusion and call out unconscious bias when we see it.

The pandemic has caused mass disruption – the opportunity it presents is that every organization is redesigning their business model, and this is the opportunity to accelerate representation.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

Without a doubt. More women working in STEM will advance economic opportunities for them, help address the shortage of skilled workers we face today and grow the digital economy. Another aspect is that with more women in tech, the more relevant the products developed become for women as consumers, resulting in more innovation and economic growth.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?

Talking about diversity and embracing it (being inclusive) are two different things. We need to build on the momentum by being bolder. The pandemic has caused mass disruption – the opportunity it presents is that every organization is redesigning their business model, and this is the opportunity to accelerate representation.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

The tech industry is synonymous with innovation and drives transformation and growth. There is tremendous opportunity to learn, contribute and generate new ideas. For every woman in tech and woman looking to get into a tech career, be confident and be persistent.

Work for companies that explicitly promote a culture of inclusion and are willing to engage in the hard and sometimes uncomfortable questions about gender stereotyping – the right company will help you succeed quicker.

More Women in Tech:

For even more Women in Tech, click here

Author
Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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