Gap Inc Girl Geek Dinner Panel Discussion (Video + Transcript)

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Transcript of Gap, Inc Girl Geek Dinner – Panel:

Angie Chang: Welcome, everyone, to the final Girl Geek Dinner of 2020. We are really excited to have an evening with Gap girl geeks!

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So let’s end this year on a great happy note.

Teniola Adedipe: Hi, everyone. I just want to thank you for joining us. So we have three female leaders from our technology team who are leading the way in innovation. We’re excited to really share with you how we’re leveraging the power of our tech platform. And how do we win in a challenging marketplace?

Suja Ramachandran: It’s such an interesting field to be in because it’s changing by the minute. And as all of you have seen this year, it’s changing even faster than that. So how can I learn the fastest, build my career, and be able to provide value? That’s what I was looking for, the connection. And then Gap called.

Shruti Merkhedkar: It’s very important to have good people at work because that’s pretty much your second family. I am a mom of two kids so I have two little ones. And I had both my kids while working at Gap. So having a good work-life balance was very important for me. And I would say at Gap, I was very lucky to have great bosses, great mentors who always supported me throughout.

Belisa Mandarano: In every team that I had a chance to be a part of, you really build a sense of community with that team. And it really feels like a family.

Teniola Adedipe: What advice would each of the panelists have for other females looking to grow their career in tech?

Belisa Mandarano: This should be an even playing field. And everyone has a voice. And you should feel empowered to use that voice.

Suja Ramachandran: Bringing your colleagues along in that conversation, going past the fear to speaking up and then bringing also other women along who you see are hesitating is a big piece of creating that change in the industry.

Shruti Merkhedkar: For me personally, it’s very important for me to learn something new every year. So every time I went to my boss and I was like, “I want to do something new.” And I got it. So the opportunities that were presented to me were so exciting.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is just meant to be another way for people to feel like they can meet other people who are like-minded. And sponsoring companies can meet these amazing people. And so this way you have an in into the company. And you’re not just waiting to be approached when you want to make that career change or that job change.

Angie Chang: Welcome, everyone, to the final Girl Geek Dinner of 2020. We are really excited to have an evening with Gap girl geeks. My name’s Angie Chang, I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. We’ve been doing Girl Geek Dinners in the Bay area for almost for 14, 15 years now. But what we really love to do is keep coming back and going to different events and meeting other amazing women in tech and retail and biotech. And learning about all the new things out there, because we’re always on the cusp of something new. Like this year it’s vaccine or AI. And then the next year we’re always, I think, learning. And that career development part is really important. Especially when you’re going into your 10th, 15th, 20th year on the job. It’s really good to also give back and get to know the next generation of women coming up, as well as support those in our ranks. So here is Sukrutha who is my co-organizer and co-founder of Girl Geek X. And I’ll let her introduce herself.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, everyone. Welcome, just like Angie said, to our final Girl Geek Dinner for 2020. As some of you might know, this was something that–we live in a world now where it’s possible for us to turn our events virtual. So this has been wonderful. At least Angie and I, when we would be driving all around the Bay Area to get to a dinner, we’d reflect on what our wins had been. We’d give each other inspiration. And so this is just meant to be another way for people to feel like they can meet other people who are like-minded. And sponsoring companies can meet these amazing people like yourself. And attendees can get to know about a company before even joining the company or interviewing at the company. They get insight into what it’s like to work at the company.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And so this way you have an in into the company. And you’re not just waiting to be approached when you want to make that career change or that job change. And so always, always be on the lookout for yourself. Build your network, build your knowledge base of what companies might be… the ones that you might want to work at. So whenever you’re ready for that change, you already know what your shortlist is.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: 2020 has been such a challenging year for everyone. Lots of blessings as a result of us working from home and not in an office, but also a lot of challenges. And so let’s end this year in a great happy note. Thank you so much to Gap for sponsoring. And as you all might have seen, we also do virtual conferences. And so if you’d like your company to participate in the conference, do reach out to Angie and I. Our contact details are on the website And we’d love to partner with you. That’s it. Angie, do you want-

Angie Chang: Yeah. So a little bit more. We have our annual virtual conference coming up on March 8th. It is going to be our fourth virtual conference. And the theme is resilience. And we’re really looking and reflecting and thinking about how we’re going to dig in our heels and stay in the game for the next 20 years. We keep hearing that a problem with women in tech is that we’re not retained. So we’re really working on how we can be more resilient ourselves, as well as continue to help mentor and support each other through our careers.

Angie Chang: And one more thing. Let’s see, we have podcasts, we have great schwag on our website. And we’re always excited to hear your questions. So please, please ask them of our panelists tonight, put them in the Q&A below. There’s a Q&A feature. You can submit your questions and chat with other attendees. So right now I’m curious if you can drop in the chat right now, where you’re Zooming in from, so we can say hi to you. Awesome. A lot of the West Coast.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: We see people who have dialed in from Pleasanton, LA, Menlo Park. I wonder who’s the furthest. Half Moon Bay.

Angie Chang: So we have a very strong Bay Area presence. It used to be called the Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners. But now we’re just Girl Geek X. X is a variable for all the different things that we’re doing. And we’re always listening and talking about what’s next. So please keep us in your minds in terms of what you’re working on next. We are always thinking about how we can best support all the girl geeks out there with events like this, our virtual conference, and other things to be developed in the future. So, I guess, we’ve gone on long enough.

Angie Chang: And we are really excited to introduce you to a panel of Gap Inc. girl geeks tonight. So Teni is going to be our moderator. She is the head of operations for Gap special projects where her responsibilities include developing and implementing operational plans, leading and buying inventory, and much more. And before this, she was on the data and analytics team. Before she joined Gap, she spent time in the retail industry, both as a consultant with McKinsey and directly with retailers like Levi’s and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Teniola Adedipe: Great. Thank you so much for introducing me, Angie. So hi, everyone. I just want to thank you for joining us. As Angie mentioned, my name is Teni and head of operations for special projects at Gap. So just wanted to give you guys a couple of things about me before we introduce our three amazing tech leaders who are joining me. And I will introduce in just a couple of minutes. So just want to give you guys the reason why I’ve stayed in retail. And I’ll make sure each of our panelists also answer the same question. So you guys get an idea as to why we love working at Gap.

Teniola Adedipe: So for me, I love retail because it’s tangible. I think there’s very few industries that you can be in and actually touch, feel the product and what you’re working towards every day. I love going into the stores, talking to customers. And all of those reasons are the reasons I stay in retail. So, I think, particularly why I love Gap, one, is just the fact… the people. Everyone that you’re going to meet today is amazing. And all of my colleagues that I’ve worked with at Gap have just been awesome. So, I think that, in addition to the fact that Gap is one of the few places, I think, I can truly be myself. I can bring my whole self to work. And things that I’m involved in inside of work and outside of work, I can do at Gap.

Teniola Adedipe: Another thing that I do with a lot of my time is I’m actively involved in our employee belonging groups. And I’m actually the co-chair of our African-American network group. So I’m actually the chair based out of New York. And we have another one based out of San Francisco. So the fact that I’m able to do a job… used to be in data and analytics and spent a lot of my time there focused on customer analytics. But also spend a lot of my time really giving back and really trying to improve the community at Gap is really special to me. And that’s why I love Gap.

Teniola Adedipe: So I’m going to transition onto our three female leaders. So I will introduce you to them now. So we have three female leaders from our technology team who are leading the way in innovation for our global portfolio brands. So we’re deep in the holiday season right now. So everyone is super entrenched in their work. We’re just coming off Black Friday. So we’re excited to really share with you how we’re leveraging the power of our tech platform. And how do we win in a challenging marketplace?

Teniola Adedipe: We’re also going to spend some time with you guys really just getting their best advice on how to navigate a male dominated industry. So, really excited that we’re here to talk with you at Girl X Geek. And we’re going to kind of jump right into it. And then at the end of our Q&A, we will make sure that we leave time for all of us to answer questions and talk to you guys directly. So please drop questions in the Q&A. We’ll be taking them near the end. I’m looking forward to seeing all of your questions. So with that said, let’s jump right in.

Teniola Adedipe: Would love for our panelists to kind of show their faces. So we have Suja. We have Shruti. And let me make sure. And we have Belisa. So, I think, those are the three. So who wants to start first? I guess, Belisa you’re first on my screen. So why don’t you tell us about yourself.

Belisa Mandarano: All right. Can you guys hear me okay?

Teniola Adedipe: Yeah.

Belisa Mandarano: Awesome. Hi, my name is Belisa. I’m Director of IT Operations. I oversee the change management and IT service level management teams at Gap. I have been working at Gap for about 13 years, a little over 13 years actually. I started working in Old Navy’s online division. And then made my way over to the IT division about eight years ago. So some of the things that I’m doing in the day-to-day is overseeing the daily pipeline of technical platform changes that get made across all of Gap Inc. And so myself and my teams–they are the change gurus and folks who shepherd all of those changes through the organization to make sure that the changes that we’re making across the platform, that we are reducing risk as much as possible. And that we’re making sure that everyone is aware of what’s happening across the platform. That’s me.

Teniola Adedipe: Great. Thank you for introducing yourself. And, Suja, you’re up next.

Suja Ramachandran: Hi, everyone. I’m Suja. I lead the product team that powers our loyalty program at Gap. I love what I do at Gap. And I’ve been here about three years. And in that time I’ve worked both in the supply chain group, as well as the digital group. And loyalty has been in the digital group. What I primarily do is I look at both our credit card program and the program we have, where you can earn points and you use your rewards in the stores. And I try to make sure that the best experience comes to life in everything that you do. So I love what I work on. One of the biggest things that I love about it is very similar to what Teni talked about is how do you really connect with our customers? How do you find out what they want, anticipate it, and bring it to life? And how do we do that with technology?

Suja Ramachandran: So transitioning from supply chain to digital was a big change for me. But it really opened my eyes to we can do anything. So how do we take what we’re really good at and bring it to life regardless of the domain we’re in, and the industry we’re working in is what I like to do with mentoring those that I work with at Gap. One of the things I love at Gap is that I get to not just mentor girls outside of Gap, but mentor employees within. To figure out how do we get a career path for everyone? And how do we get people to be really curious about what’s around them and bring what they enjoy to life? So just a little bit about me. I’ve only been here about three years, but I’m really excited about what I’ve worked on and what’s to come.

Teniola Adedipe: Great. Thank you so much, Suja. And last but not least, Shruti, you’re up.

Shruti Merkhedkar: Thank you, Teni. Hi, everyone. First of all, super excited to be here. So thank you, Girl Geek, for giving us this opportunity today. Can’t see all of you, but just happy to hear so many voices after almost 10 months of lockdown. So this is a good change. And a little bit of background about myself. I’m originally from India. Did my schooling there, did my undergrad there. Came to US in 2006, came as a consultant for Gap. And then decided to stay here. So it’s been 14 years. So it feels like forever. I love working here. As Suja and Belisa said, it’s a great place to be. And I started my career in Gap as a systems analyst. And currently, I’m working as a senior director in the cloud strategy and services space. So, happy to be here.

Teniola Adedipe: Great. So let’s jump right in with our questions. So I know everyone mentioned how long they’ve been here. So let’s start with Suja who’s been here about three years. What made you decide to switch to retail and come to Gap?

Suja Ramachandran: That’s a great question. I would love to say it was a part of this master long-term plan that I’d charted out, but life doesn’t work that way. So for me, I was looking for, not just a challenge, but I wanted to connect the dots with what I was passionate about, what I was good at doing, and what I had never done yet. And my background is primarily in supply chain, but in the technology sector from a services perspective. So I’d worked in B2B technology. I’ve typically been the vendor. So a lot of you on the call know what that is. So you provide the services or software for others.

Suja Ramachandran: What I wanted to do is connect my background in product management, and supply chain, and solving problems, and get closer to the customer. And I knew where I could get exposure to something I’ve never really known before was in retail. It’s such an interesting field to be in because it’s changing by the minute. And as all of you have seen this year, it’s changing even faster than that. So how can I learn the fastest, build my career, and be able to provide value? That’s what I was looking for, the connection, and then Gap called. So when I came to Gap, I was really able to bring that to life. But that transition was something I knew I wanted to make. I just didn’t know how it would come to life. So I was so happy when it came to life at Gap.

Teniola Adedipe: Perfectly serendipitous, love that. So we’ve got someone who’s been here three years. And then we’ve got people who’ve been here more than 10 years. So, Shruti and Belisa, what’s kept you here all this time? Shruti, why don’t you go first?

Shruti Merkhedkar: Sure. So for me, there are two main things. First, is the people. It’s very important to have good people at work because that’s pretty much your second family. I am a mom of two kids so I have two little ones. And I had both my kids while working at Gap. So having a good work-life balance was very important for me. And I would say at Gap, I was very lucky to have great bosses, great mentors who always supported me throughout. So that definitely, was priority number one.

Shruti Merkhedkar: And then second, for me personally, it’s very important for me to learn something new every year. So every time I went to my boss and I was like, “I want to do something new.” And I got it. So the opportunities that were presented to me were so exciting. It kept me current. And that’s what kept me here. So, love everyday working at Gap.

Teniola Adedipe: I love that. So, Belisa, what about you?

Belisa Mandarano: For me, it’s been a very similar journey. When I started 13 years ago, I started in the online division. And the job that I was doing there was related to bringing marketing content to life on the websites. And after doing that for a while, I was like, “I really want to learn more about what happens on the backend side of things.” And so every time I looked and jumped to a different role… because being there that long, you have the opportunity potentially to move to different types of roles. So for me, it was really about building new skill sets. And trying to figure out, “What’s the next challenge for me? How can I solve these problems?” And in every organization, there’s some sort of problem to solve. And that was something that was really exciting for me. I was able to find those opportunities at each step in the road.

Belisa Mandarano: And then of course, both Shruti and Suja, they mentioned people, the people is key. In every team that I had a chance to be a part of you really build a sense of community with that team. And it really feels like a family that you’re with. So being on the online side or being down in the tech side there are so many people who rally together to make you feel like you’re family. And that was something that was really important for me, as well.

Teniola Adedipe: That’s great. Thank you, guys for all your answers. So want to make sure that we’re involving our attendees here. I’m going to ask you guys a question, so I’d love you guys to answer in the chat. How many times have you actually changed career paths or taken on a new role? So just put the number in the chat. It can be one, it could be five. Would just love to get an idea how many times you guys have changed. All right. We’ve got five. Five, two, four. All right. So we’re kind of in the five range. We’ve got a six. Okay great. So we have a huge range of people on the call with different… they’ve taken many different roles. Because clearly people have changed from all the way up from zero all the way up to six is what I’ve seen kind of the highest in every few years.

Teniola Adedipe: I think, the thing that’s great is that we’re a big company at Gap Inc. And there’s a lot of opportunity to take on new roles and career paths. Even myself, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to go from data and analytics, which I love, doing customer. And then actually, switching to an operations role. So I’m able to actually stay at the same company and take on a completely new career path. So I wanted to make sure that we gave Shruti and Suja the opportunity to tell us about Gap Inc. and how it’s helped to foster their own growth and development. So, Shruti, would you like to go first?

Shruti Merkhedkar: Sure. As I said, I started my career in 2006. So I started as a systems analyst in Ohio supporting the warehouses. And as I said, every year I wanted to do something new. Gap gave me all the opportunities that are possible whenever I thought, “I want to get trained on a certain technology to stay current.” That opportunity was given to me. In fact, I did my MBA staying with Gap. So it definitely, helped foster my growth.

Teniola Adedipe: That’s amazing. And even myself, I actually learned how to code when I was at Gap. So able to take part of a bootcamp. And then actually, was able to apply my knowledge. And I work with data scientists every day, or used to. And they were even very surprised at the fact, they were like, “When did you just learn how to code?” And they were like, “How are you so good at this?” And I was like, “See, this is what you can learn at Gap.” So just with that story, we’d love to hear, Suja, how has Gap Inc. helped foster your own growth and development?

Suja Ramachandran: It’s a great question. One of the reasons I also came to Gap is Gap is not afraid to take risks. And that was something I was looking for from a career perspective, a company to go to that be at risk taking on me, my career, as well as the technology I’m working on, investing on different things. How can we take those risks? Because I was working at a startup at one point, too. So I wanted the startup mindset, but the risk taking an investment of a company like Gap. Because there’s a safety net there too.

Suja Ramachandran: So when I came to Gap working in supply chain, being able to invest in different robotics and automation, and supply chain is something I was very interested in. And it was one of those things where you could dive right in. And it wasn’t that, “You’re new and you can’t be a part of it.” It’s, “What ideas do you have? Bring it to the table. Be curious, bring your ideas, talk about the business case, tell me what investment you need. Let’s try it.” That is what I wanted to hear. And it opened up my eyes to what you can try, because Gap is all over, it’s huge. So you can try a lot of different things. And there’s multiple brands as well. So you can try different flavors of what you want to do.

Suja Ramachandran: A part of that growth… another thing I really appreciate about Gap is my leadership teams were thinking about my growth before I asked about it. So even before I could say, “What’s next?” They went, “How about digital? How about leading the loyalty team?” And I said, “Let’s go, let’s do it. Let’s try.” So I love that that risk taking component is not something that requires me to step up. But the company comes forward and says, “How can we help you take those risks?” So that’s something that’s helped me from a career development. Because there’s always a little bit of fear there on what’s next and how am I going to cross that next boundary? But being able to do that with the community that’s there at Gap has helped me a lot.

Teniola Adedipe: That’s a great kind of call out. I’m sure so many people who’ve switched careers or changed roles understand that fear that comes with trying something new. So, really great for you to highlight that, Suja. So I’m sure everyone here doesn’t necessarily think of technology when they think about retail. So what makes working in tech in the retail industry so exciting? So, Belisa, can you help answer that question first for us?

Belisa Mandarano: Sure. What’s exciting for me is learning all about what happens behind the scenes when we implement technologies that help out the customer. So some of the technologies that we have are like ship from store where we’re basically utilizing our stores as little mini DCs, or distribution centers. Other things like buy online, pickup in store, these are technologies that are across the industry. But when we look at how we implement them at Gap it’s so interesting. And being in the IT service management team I get to see how it starts right from the beginning all the way to the end, which is super, super cool.

Belisa Mandarano: So from the moment that we actually procure hardware that’s going to run the applications that these live on. That’s a part of the pipeline in getting this to deployment. And then also working with all of the teams behind the scenes to make sure that when those final deployments are getting ready to go, that they go as seamless as possible. So for me, that’s what makes it exciting for me.

Teniola Adedipe: That’s great. So would love to shift gears a little bit and talk about our favorite topic of 2020, the pandemic. So as you can imagine, everyone’s shopping online, we’re all shopping online. I shopped online yesterday. And you just can imagine we’ve seen a huge growth in the number of online customers. So it’s about literally 165% is what we’ve been seeing already. So would love to get your thoughts on how has the pandemic shifted the work you’re doing? And I would love the panelists to even talk about how has the pandemic shifted the work you’re doing? And just how things are changing for you? Just as our panelists are answering the same question. Shruti, would love your thoughts on how the pandemic has shifted the work that you’re doing day-to-day.

Shruti Merkhedkar: Absolutely. I would say the whole retail industry is going through a major transformation with this pandemic. There are certain features that Belisa talked about ,ship from store, buy online pickup in store. All of these are new features that were introduced. And given that I’m primarily in the tech space, the biggest shift for us was that this year 40% of sales were comprised on our online platform. And that’s a big shift. When we started the online platform, it used to constitute 10% to 20%. Now it is going neck to neck with the stores so that’s a major shift. A lot of emphasis is being given to tech. And being in cloud strategy, I’m just super excited about all the innovation that we are planning to do in the coming year. So very, very exciting times for tech, I must say.

Teniola Adedipe: Love that. So speaking of tech, I think, all of our panelists have wonderful, amazing careers in tech. But we all know, as I’m sure all of our panelists know, tech is a very male dominated industry. What advice would each of the panelists have for other females looking to grow their career in tech? I want everyone to answer this question because I feel it’s super important. So let’s start with you, Suja.

Suja Ramachandran: Sure. No, it’s a great question. I would say a couple of different things. What’s helped me a lot… and I go back to, I think, this theme of resilience. There is this concept of being careful with what you say, being careful about speaking up. And it being challenging sometimes in a room of looking around you and it’s all male. That’s happened in every role I’ve ever been in. At some point, it makes you pause for a minute. And I don’t know why. It’s not something I’ve ever looked at going, “Why should that stop me from asking a question?” The challenge is always powering through it and just asking it. In the end of the day, if you can speak up regardless of the audience, regardless of who’s in the room, regardless of the fear that you may feel about speaking up, that’s always going to move you forward. But you have to get past that feeling.

Suja Ramachandran: And what you should also recognize is that when you look around the room and you find that you are the only one, always be thinking about, “How do I change that status quo? And how do I make sure you’re not the only one thinking that?” So something that opened my eyes is I’m speaking to a male colleague one time about it. And sharing that I was thinking that way. And he said, “That never even occurred to me.” He said, “I’m sitting in a meeting with 50 men and one female.” And never did he look around and say, “Wow, that’s odd. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way,” but I did. And I thought that in every meeting I’m in.

Suja Ramachandran: How do we also change the conversation where it’s not the lone female thinking that, but it’s every member of that 50 person meeting that thinks that. And says, “How do I change the status quo?” So bringing your colleagues along in that conversation, going past the fear to speaking up. And then bringing also other women along who you see are hesitating is a big piece of creating that change in the industry that’s helped me along the way. I’ve had other women who’ve paused and said, “Suja’s trying to say something, let her speak.” And that’s been something that’s opened my eyes to how much it matters. So those are a couple of things that’s helped me along the way.

Teniola Adedipe: It’s great. Let me see, Shruti, why don’t you go next?

Shruti Merkhedkar: Sure. That’s a very good question and a very important topic. I’m sure all of us women go through this through our journey. So my advice based on my experience too all my girlfriends here today. First, the fact that probably you are the only woman in a room full of men, do not let that affect you. Why should it matter? It just should not matter. In fact, you should feel empowered that you are driving the show in a room full of men. So use that to your advantage.

Shruti Merkhedkar: And the second piece of advice that I have, which is more important than the first one is help other women. Help them grow, help them learn, hire more women. And I practice that personally. So we need to look after each other. And that’s what my advice would be.

Teniola Adedipe: That’s great. It’s a great answer. I think looking after each other is super important. And, Belisa, what about you?

Belisa Mandarano: What I would like to say about that is sort of piggybacking off of what Shruti and Suja already said. But I tend to look at this from this should be an even playing field. And everyone has a voice. And you should feel empowered to use that voice. Because what you’re thinking at a particular time, if you’re sitting in a meeting. Regardless if it’s a meeting full of men or a meeting full of women or co-ed you should feel empowered to put your ideas out there. Because that is how really great things happen is when you put new ideas out on the table that maybe other people haven’t thought of. Or maybe other people in the room have thought of the same thing, but they’re too afraid to speak up. So feel empowered to use your voice is what I would say.

Teniola Adedipe: No, I think that’s great. And actually, it’s a great transition into our next question, which is about self-advocacy. Self-advocacy is an important skill to develop a career. What’s your advice for others on that topic? Belisa, I’ll start with you because your answer just kind of transitioned perfectly into that.

Belisa Mandarano: What I would like to say about that is… so when you’re using your voice to get what your ideas are out there… I’m sorry, can you repeat the question one more time?

Teniola Adedipe: Sure. Self-advocacy.

Belisa Mandarano: Oh, self-advocacy. So what I was going to say about that was that there was a time when I was not going to be able to make it for a meeting. And it was a really important meeting with leadership that I really had some ideas that I wanted to put out there. And some feedback that I wanted to give about how we were operating. And I wasn’t going to be able to make the meeting. And I was so upset about not being able to make it. And, I think, Shruti was one of my partners during this timeframe. And so I started brainstorming about how I could potentially get my feedback into that meeting so that my voice could be heard. And what I did is I wound up making a video expressing all of the things and the feedback that I wanted to be able to present. And the video actually got wound up being played in the meeting. And there was some really great stuff in discussion that occurred as a result of me bringing my feedback to the table. So that’s what I would say about that.

Teniola Adedipe: Great. So, Suja, I’ll pass it on to you. Do you have anything to say about self-advocacy?

Suja Ramachandran: Yeah, I had a mentor once tell me that, “There is not ever going to be another voice marketing you, other than you that’s better than you marketing yourself. There’s just not, it’s never going to happen. So you’ve got to be the first person in line knowing how to market yourself. And there’s a certain power in that.” And so one thing I encourage everyone to do is know how to market yourself. And be very prescriptive to the audience you’re marketing to. Because the other thing is, from a self-advocacy having the same statement on how I present myself to everyone doesn’t work. Having a great pitch line, one liner pitch line about myself doesn’t work. It has to be very specific to what I’m trying to get across in terms of a point. Am I trying to get a role on a project? Am I trying to develop my career? Am I trying to get a new mentor? Do I want a pay raise? Do I want a promotion? Depending on what I want, my pitch might be a little bit different. But I have to know how to advocate for myself in these different roles.

Suja Ramachandran: One of the things I did find just from a professional growth perspective is, there weren’t a lot of tools out there to tell me how to do that. What there were tools on is, there’s a lot about how you market yourself from a resume perspective on interviews, et cetera. But once you’re in a company, how do you network and advocate for yourself in the right fashion with the different people? It’s something you learn almost yourself or you have to learn through mentors and network, especially your female network. And that took a long time for me. But once I was able to do it, you start finding the pattern that it works. And when it works, you find out how it works and you grow on top of doing that. But self-advocacy, incredibly important. And not relying on others, just others, to advocate for you, it’s so powerful in terms of your career.

Teniola Adedipe: That’s great. Thank you so much, Suja. And, Shruti, anything you would like to add about self-advocacy?

Shruti Merkhedkar: Suja, you took the words away from me. I just want to say that if you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it. So go ask for it. And I have a very funny but interesting example to share based on my personal experience. So when I was working as a systems analyst in Ohio so my ex-boss, who wasn’t my boss then, he visited me from San Francisco in Ohio. So I was very excited to meet this cool team who has come from the headquarters. And I was like, “Tell me what’s happening.” And I wanted to learn all about what happens in the headquarters. And then I didn’t know how to tell him that I want more work. I want more interesting work.

Shruti Merkhedkar: So I just went to him and I said, “I have nothing to do. I need more work.” And he till date uses that as an example. And he’s like, “This is the first person in my life who has come to a person who’s senior to her and told him that she doesn’t have anything to do. She wants more work.” And as a result, I got promoted. I got a team. So the team that I was working in, I started leading that team. So I don’t know if it’s self-advocacy, but whatever it was just be honest and just ask for it. Go get it.

Teniola Adedipe: That’s amazing. We actually have a question in the chat saying, “Do you have good women role models in your current roles?” I think this is a good kind of segue talking about mentors. So mentors have been a huge part of my career. And they’ve helped me as I’m transitioning and thinking about what I want to do next and how do I get there? And I’m sure a few of you also have mentors. Would love to kind of hear from Belisa about mentorship. So why do you think mentorship is important? And what have you gained from it?

Belisa Mandarano: I’m actually a really huge advocate for having mentor and I’m going to make that plural mentors because I’ve had a few in my time. And I’ve found that the best mentors are folks who are not in the same industry as you are. And the reason that that is, is you get really caught up in the day-to-day work of what you’re doing. And the folks that you’re working with also are sort of in the same environment. But if you have someone who is maybe from the outside or from a different industry to talk to and discuss some of the things that are happening in your space, they can provide an unbiased perspective that can really help you think in different ways about how to tackle maybe an issue that you’re dealing with. Or maybe even how to maneuver career wise where you want to go based off of their experiences in other areas.

Belisa Mandarano: And what I would say about that in addition to that is that a good mentor for me, has always been someone who asks you questions to help challenge your thinking. And also gives you homework. So every time I have a session with one of my mentors, they usually ask me to take something away and go figure out a particular thing. If it’s something that I’m struggling with they’ll give me some homework. And then the next time that I meet with them we sort of have that conversation. And they are also learning from you because maybe the things that you’re dealing with in your particular area is not something that they’ve dealt with. And so it’s really great to have that connection, and you’re sharing back and forth with each other.

Teniola Adedipe: I love that. Thank you so much for that response on mentorship. It seems you’re very passionate about it and very involved with it with your own mentors. So I know we’re running up against time. I’m going to combine our last two questions for you guys into one. I’d love every single person on the panelists to answer this. So the first question that I’d like you guys to answer is, what piece of career advice that someone has given you that’s really stuck with you that you would like to share with all of our attendees today? And because everyone I’m sure wants to know, are you hiring? And what do you look for in a candidate? So if each person could answer those two questions. We’ll just go in a round robin. And then we’ll open it up to Q&A. So let’s start with, Suja.

Suja Ramachandran: Great. I think, what’s helped me it’s when I’ve been concerned… I’ve had about five or six career shifts that have come through with different companies, different things where I’m trying to seek, “What do I want to do?” I’m always striving for figuring out a challenge that I’m passionate about, but that I want to continue learning. And that I feel like I can keep growing in. When I start connecting the dots to say, “Do all of these make sense together? And am I doing things that are too disparate from each other?” I had a mentor give me advice that really helped. That said, “It’s not about connecting the clear dots, it’s about connecting the passion.” Figuring out you may have done a disparate number of career choices. But figuring out what you loved about every single thing you did should help you get one step closer to the next thing that you love doing.

Suja Ramachandran: And at one point you might find a position you want to be in for 20 years, but you also may not. And you might want to keep shifting. And both directions are okay. And that opened my eyes because at some point I would waver between, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I changing roles too many times or too many companies?” And that made me not just feel great, it made me feel like I had a plan all along, and this was what it was. So I try to connect those dots.

Suja Ramachandran: In terms of hiring, I do want to say, I love curiosity. I’m a just innate curious person, but when I’m hiring, it’s not necessarily I’m looking for someone who has skill one, two, three. I’m always looking for passionate, curious people, because that is really hard to teach someone. You can’t teach someone curiosity and drive. You can teach someone a lot of other things. But that thing when it comes to being curious and trying anything to try to get to a solution or to the next step, that’s really hard to teach someone. So that’s what I look for, that passionate curiosity and drive. Bring it to the table, we’ll hire you. It’s less about the skills and that you’ve got exactly what Gap needs. You’ve got curiosity we need you.

Teniola Adedipe: Perfect. So I want to be on Suja’s team. I think I’m passionate and curious.

Suja Ramachandran: You’re hired.

Belisa Mandarano: I think I want to be on Suja’s team.

Suja Ramachandran: Fine, we’ll do it.

Teniola Adedipe: Exactly. Great. So, Shruti, you’re up. So would love to get your piece of advice that you would like to share with our attendees today.

Shruti Merkhedkar: Yes, absolutely. And it ties back into what Suja said. So two advice. One, knowledge is power, so keep learning, keep growing. Never get comfortable with status quo. Always challenge it. And second piece of advice that has helped me grow as well in this company is don’t be a problem spotter, be a problem solver. Get things done. That always makes you stand out. Because believe me, it sounds very simple, but there are not many people out there who want to make it happen. They just want to play the victim card. And that’s where, I think, women have that strength. That’s where women stand out. So get things done. So that’s my career advice to all of you.

Shruti Merkhedkar: And in terms of hiring, I’m not hiring right now, but I will be hiring in the future. So I am looking for cloud strategy specialists. Someone who’s trained in Azure, preferably, GCP would be a good plus to have. So any cloud exposure that you have, interested in all cloud experts out there, reach out to me.

Teniola Adedipe: All right. So if you’re interested in the cloud, Shruti’s your gal. And last but not least, Belisa.

Belisa Mandarano: Hi. So for me, I think, I would say a couple of things. Don’t be afraid to take risks. And don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. So one of the things that’s really helped me along the way is I really want to get into trying to figure out how things work. And being down in it with my team. Because it’s really hard for me to lead a team if I don’t really understand the struggles that they’re going through. And so, typically, what I’ve done is come up, I’ll come into a team, and if it’s something that’s related to managing a project, I’ll manage a project on my own just to see like what it really means and what they’re going through. And so that’s what I would say. I would say don’t be afraid to take risks. And don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and get right in it.

Belisa Mandarano: In terms of hiring, I’m not hearing at the moment. I hope to be hiring. If I were hiring, I would be looking for folks in the IT service management space. With folks who have a change management experience and service level management experience. In the service level management space, there’s a lot of data analysis that happens and coordinating and communicating with multiple business partners across the organization. And so if you have those skills, would love to hear about it.

Teniola Adedipe: Love it. So just want to thank our panelists for the lovely questions they’ve answered and the energy they’re bringing to this. So we’re not done yet. So we have our last 15 minutes. So what we’re going to do is actually answer your questions coming in through the Q&A. So I’m going to read through the questions and anyone who wants to answer feel free to jump right in. So our first question is from Kat. So she says, “What kinds of tech challenges do your sales associates and store managers experience? How does your team address them? And do you provide training to help them?” Would any of you guys have any experience with the store teams?

Shruti Merkhedkar: Yes, I managed the team for five years, so probably I should take that. So one of the most common issues that we used to get from stores is disconnects network issues. Because every store has a local network. And we were in this process of transitioning from the… Belisa, help me here? What were those… 4690s, the big giant… the point of sales IBM 4690s. We were transitioning from those to our cool mobile devices. So the majority of issues that we had were network related where the associates were complaining about app not loading, app getting disconnects on the 4690s or on the mobile devices. So that’s the most common complaint. And what was the second question? I think there were two.

Teniola Adedipe: Hold on. The second question is, “How did your team address them? And did you provide training to help them?”

Shruti Merkhedkar: We have a great support framework. So we have level one store support teams. So the stores call in the issues into the level one store support teams. And then so they have their run books. So they do the first level of triage for any store issues. So just to reduce the meantime to resolve an incident. So they are trained. They are very well trained on all the day-to-day issues, so they help out. If they are not able to triage and resolve issues, then they escalate it to the level two or the product teams. So the necessary advice is given to the stores, and then if they need any specific trainings they are enabled with all of that cool stuff.

Teniola Adedipe: Perfect. Thank you for answering Kat’s questions. So next question we have up here is from Jill. Her question is, “Is there a formal internal mentorship program at Gap?” Anyone want to take that? All right, I will take that one. So, I don’t believe there is a formal mentorship program. I know some of our actual equality and belonging groups, similar to the African-American network group I’m a part of have mentorship programs that they’ve built out. But they’re pretty informal. It’s really just kind of matching people who are interested in being mentors with mentors who are kind of volunteering their time.

Teniola Adedipe: I would say the thing that I’ve learned about mentorship is that it works best when it’s organic. So sometimes you don’t even know who’s going to become a mentor. It could be someone you worked with. It could be someone that you collaborated with on a project and all of a sudden, you’re getting advice from them or asking for their input. And that kind of relationship evolves over time. What I will say is that as I’ve continued to grow in my career, it’s really just having like my spidey sense of just when that’s happening. Because when that’s happening, you start to realize like, “Hey, is this someone I can kind of continue to get to know? How do I make sure I continue to nurture this relationship?” Because, I think, without nurturing it and trying to invest in it, that’s really where you start to see the fruits of mentorship. And also reverse mentorships. There’s a lot of senior people that can also learn a lot from you.

Teniola Adedipe: So while there might not be anything formal at Gap, I think, a lot of people find mentors at Gap through the way that we work collaboratively across teams, across different functions. And I think there’s lots of opportunities to find people who will help you throughout your career as you continue to grow.

Belisa Mandarano: Teni, what I would also add to that is there is a Mentorloop program that I’m actually a part of. And you can find more information. We can get that information out, right? To folks if we need to?

Teniola Adedipe: Yes, absolutely.

Belisa Mandarano: So it’s That particular program is a formalized program. And there are some folks within the Gap who are a part of that program. But the program pairs folks up with people who are out all over the United States.

Suja Ramachandran: There’s also a new tech mentorship program that’s going to be launching. It’s still early in the planning stages, but I’m very excited to be a part of that. So that’s going to be new. But we will be having a formal tech mentorship, a part of Gap as well.

Teniola Adedipe: Great. Thank you, guys for adding to do that. So I have a question for you, Suja. So we have someone who asked, “What specific challenges did you face while transitioning from product? And how did you overcome them?” It’s similar to a question that’s in the chat talking about transitioning from supply chain to PDM team. So I would say answer the challenges for both.

Suja Ramachandran: Sure. I’ll give a little bit of background there. So when I worked in supply chain originally, prior to Gap, I was in consulting. So when I worked in consulting, I worked for a company that provided product software and services to clients. So I was a consultant as a part of that. What I didn’t know at that point, I didn’t know what product management was. I’d never heard of it. Didn’t know anything about the industry. I went from supply chain to a digital shop, and I did product management there.

Suja Ramachandran: And then you start connecting the dots because in the end of the day, what comes first is your customer. What you’re trying to do for your customer is solve their problems, and then ultimately, making it the most amazing experience that they can go through. That is the job of product management, is figuring out what are the right problems to solve at the right time and providing the most value when you do it. And that process when I was able to connect those dots I went, “That’s right. I can do product management.” It’s something I’d never done before that I was able to connect the dots between a world of supply chain, that I didn’t know what product management was there. To a world of product management that I thought only meant software in the digital world.

Suja Ramachandran: And when I came to Gap, how I could connect those dots is product is the software used to power anything. So if that product is powering your supply chain, your logistics. For us, that product was the tools and automation that made boxes move in our warehouse. That got those boxes to your door. All of the software and automation that made that happen, that’s all that product management helped own, manage, prioritize, strategize, and get out the door.

Suja Ramachandran: So once you connect those dots and you realize those bolts to make that happen is the same. Anybody can do product management. Anybody can do supply chain. Anyone can do digital. You just have to connect the dots to understand how that process works. And of course, there’s mechanics to make sure there’s standardization and consistency of process, but everybody can learn that. So when I was able to transition from a domain to a specific technology, to also a specific role, it was figuring out the basics of what I knew and learning what I didn’t. And then becoming a leader in that field. So it’s something I really do encourage.

Suja Ramachandran: And I want to also circle back to, we’re hiring in product management. So please do come join product management. We are hiring product management across multiple domains within Gap Inc. And those will be posted online. But looking again for strategists, technologists, solution-oriented curious, passionate people to come join at multiple levels of experience. But product management is something you can learn, but bring curiosity and passion to the door.

Teniola Adedipe: That’s great. Great answer, Suja. So we have a question from Tiffany. “What are some things you look out for before making a career switch? How do you know if you’ve learned enough from the current position that makes you think it’s time to move on?” So we’ll open up to the group. Who would like to answer that one?

Suja Ramachandran: I can answer that. I would say when you feel like you’ve stopped learning, that’s a big thing. Also culture fit. You’ve got to feel a part of the culture of that company. If you don’t feel that you’re a part of it or can grow with it, then it’s not a match. And it’s okay if that’s what you find. And I’ve been to this part in my career where you feel guilty about leaving. I’m someone who I just get loyal to a company. I get loyal to projects and teams and people, but sometimes I forget myself. And that’s something always to remember, does the career path you want, the culture you’re looking for, and the passion and the learning that you always want to be a part of, is it there? And if it’s not there, put yourself first. Exit, if you need to. Move to what you want to do and what you’re happy doing. But make sure you have a pulse on that. Don’t just put your projects and the deliverables first. Have a pulse that you’re happy. And that you’re doing what you want to be doing. And you fit the culture.

Teniola Adedipe: And, I think, I’ll build on, Suja’s answer. I think, really what I look for is, “Am I happy in my day-to-day?” If I’m no longer happy and I’m not like, “All right, I’m ready to crank in the mornings.” I’m a morning person. And I get my best work done there. If I’m not excited to do that work, or it feels monotonous and I’m not feeling jazzed about solving the problem, for me, that’s when it’s time to start thinking about something else. Because that means I’m not growing. I’m not learning as much. And I’m really looking to continuously do that. So I’m really all about continuously learning. And the curiosity to drive that. So if any of those things start to wane, that’s really when I start to be like, “All right, maybe it’s time to do something else and do something new.”

Teniola Adedipe: And, I think, this is going back to what we talked about earlier when we were asking the panelists questions, this is why Gap is so great. Because there are so many opportunities to do that within one company. Instead of always having to feel like, “I have to go someplace else in order to get something new.” A lot of companies may not have decided to say, “Hey, we’re going to take someone who is in data and analytics and trust them to be in operations.”

Teniola Adedipe: But the mentors that I’ve worked with were just like, “Hey.” I told them, “I’m looking for something new and thinking about it.” And they said, “Why don’t you think about this?” Things that I’ve never thought about before. So being able to have people that kind of ask you the questions. I think, Belisa mentioned that earlier about having people who ask you the hard questions, and you take away the homework. I think that’s super helpful. And when you’re trying to look for a career switch.

Teniola Adedipe: Great. All right. Let’s see, we’ve got three minutes left. Let me see if I can do anything… I like this question. So there’s a question here. “How do you set yourself up for excellence for your next role?” That’s an interesting one. So would love anyone’s answer on that one.

Suja Ramachandran: I have to think for a second.

Shruti Merkhedkar: How do you set yourself for excellence for your next role? I would say from my personal experience, I would say do not limit yourself. So when you are in a role, do not limit yourself by thinking that you cannot do what the person at the next level is doing. Always work towards that next job. Always work towards that. Because it’s not just going to come to you one day without you working towards it. So that’s my advice.

Suja Ramachandran: I think that’s great. I would even build on that further. I would say identify your transferable skills. So figure out excellence in your next role. If you have certainty on what your next role is, great, you can prepare yourself from every angle. If you’re not sure what the next role is, the next company is, the next anything, concentrate on your transferable skills. What are those? Regardless of domain and industry, whatever those are, which may be that you’re a great… you may be great at collaboration. You may be great at strategy. Maybe you’re great at organization. Whatever they are, double down on it.

Suja Ramachandran: Something I tell my mentees, I’ve told my teams before, “You have a choice whether you can go from a skill that you’re okay at, to great. Or you can sometimes double down on something that you’re good at and make it excellent.” It takes a lot more momentum to go from something that you’re very unfamiliar with to great. But it doesn’t actually take as much time, but you can become from good to great much faster. So find out what those things are. Find out what you’re good at. Find out what are transferrable, double down, and make them excellent. So that when you go to the next role, it’s the first thing people look at you and go, “I love it. I’m so glad I hired you for this role because you brought XYZ to the table.”

Suja Ramachandran: So figure out what those things are. And it almost goes back to that self-advocacy. When you’re marketing yourself, you’re talking about your pitch on what you’re really good at, know what those skills are that are transferable. That you can pitch to others. And what you truly are excellent at. You want to be able to work backwards from that. And figure out how to get there.

Teniola Adedipe: Love that.

Belisa Mandarano: And one last thing that I would add is, does it excite you? Like Suja said, if it’s something that you’re good at, but you could potentially be great at, it’s best to have that if you’re excited about what that opportunity is. Because that’s really going to show when you go to try to sell yourself. If it’s something that you can put your whole heart into and really believe in, that is going to show when you present yourself out. So that’s what I would add.

Suja Ramachandran: Great call out. I’m so glad you brought that up. That’s good.

Teniola Adedipe: Great. So, you guys, we are at time. So I know this hour has flown by. I want to thank all of our panelists for taking the time out. And thank you for all the great questions that you guys submitted in the chat and Q&A. So I know Amy just dropped in the chat, “There is a breakout rooms for networking.” So please feel free to click the link and go to the breakout rooms and kind of meet each other. And some of our panelists may join those as well. But just wanted to say thank you all for joining us. And I will pass it back over to Amy, if you have any parting words.

Angie Chang: Awesome. I learned so much. Thank you, Gap girl geeks for giving us such amazing advice on career mentorship. Our spidey sense, I really liked that. I’m going to listen to my spidey sense in 2021. We are going to be going over. And yes, Gap is hiring. We have an email coming out after this event. We usually do surveys. And in that survey, there are the jobs that Gap is hiring for. And they want to hire you. So please check them out. And if you want to hang out with us for the next hour, we will be doing networking in small groups. So it’s great for introverts like me, where we get into groups of four to six Girl Geeks. And we chat for about 20 minutes in each room on a topic that we set. So for example, a career challenge advice. So click on the link in the chat. And then I’ll see you on the Zoom meeting where we’ll be have having those breakout groups. Thanks for coming.

Teniola Adedipe: Thank you guys.

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Best of 2020 to Read, Watch, Listen – Get Inspired

By Angie Chang

Meeting people was easy until the pandemic in 2020, as events became synonymous with superspreading, and so we socially distanced while hearing from women at companies talk about work, life, industry, challenges, jobs and more on Zoom. In 2020, Girl Geek X hosted 10 events and handed the mic to 84 women speakers: we heard from women at companies like Planet, Confluent, Sentry, CodeSee, Inflection, Cadence and Gap Inc virtually – and at Bloomberg (San Francisco R&D office) and Microsoft (Sunnyvale office) in early 2020.

While sheltered in place, we’ve kept writing lists of inspiring women in STEM, sharing videos from past Girl Geek X events, resurfacing our 21 podcast episodes, and sharing articles on social media.

We found it inspiring to see that the most-shared articles in our circles have been about women finding success mid-life, the importance in raising feminist sons, decolonizing Silicon Valley, and sisterhood.

In 2021, we continue Girl Geek Dinners virtually – and are planning our 4th annual Elevate virtual conference tackling topics familiar mid-to-senior women, with the help of sponsors.

It’s cold outside! Stay in and check out Girl Geek X’s most popular articles, videos, and podcasts:

Our Top 10 Articles of 2020

  1. 60 Engineering Leaders To Watch in 2020
  2. 60 Female CTOs to Watch in 2020
  3. 21 Insightful Quotes on Leveling Up: Becoming a Manager of Managers
  4. 12 Product Design Leaders To Follow in 2019
  5. Former Salesforce EVP Leyla Seka Speaks Out About Why Women in Tech Need to Ask for More
  6. Spring Reading: 20 Books to Help You Become a Better, More Self-Aware Ally
  7. 16 Female Infosec and Cybersecurity Executives To Watch
  8. 12 Inspiring Female Architects in Software and Data
  9. 4 Tips For Self-Care From 8 Women Working in Silicon Valley
  10. Job Opportunities From Girl Geek X Partners

Top 10 Most Circulated Posts of 2020

  1. Never made the #30Under30list? No worries. You can still be successful in your 40s and beyond [BoredPanda]
  2. Woman who joined high school at 43 earns electrical engineering diploma at 64 [YEN]
  3. If You Want To Protect Your Daughters, Raise Better Sons [MadamNoire]
  4. I’ve Been Mispronouncing My Own Name for 20 Years [Medium]
  5. Feisty. Ambitious. Lucky. Female Writers on the Words that Undermine Women [NPR]
  6. Former Airbnb HR Exec Says Its Time To Decolonize Silicon Valley [POCIT]
  7. 10 Large Bay Area Tech Companies Employ No Black women, Study Finds [SFGATE]
  8. ‘I Did the Math’: Katie Porter Gets Trump CDC Head to Commit to Making Coronavirus Testing Free [CommonDreams]
  9. How ‘Birds of Prey’ Director Cathy Yan Saved Harley Quinn From Joker and the Male Gaze [TheDailyBeast]
  10. Angie Chang is Scaling a Sisterhood of Geeks [bizwomen]

Top 10 Most-Watched Videos of 2020

  1. Girl Geek X OpenAI Lightning Talks in 2019 – most watched: using reinforcement learning to learn dexterity in hand manipulation and ensuring artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity
  2. Girl Geek X Planet Lightning Talks
  3. Girl Geek X Confluent Lightning Talks in 2019
  4. Leveling Up: Becoming a Manager of Managers
  5. Girl Geek X Confluent Lightning Talks
  6. What’s Holding You Back Might Be You: Imposter Syndrome
  7. Girl Geek X Bloomberg Engineering Lightning Talks
  8. Girl Geek X Toyota Research Institute Lightning Talks – 2019
  9. Girl Geek X HomeLight Lightning Talks – 2019
  10. How to Quickly Ramp Up on Open Source

Top 10 Podcast Episodes of 2020

  1. Branding – Girl Geek X Podcast Episode 20
  2. Mentorship – Girl Geek X Podcast Episode 1
  3. Listener Questions – Girl Geek X Podcast Episode 21
  4. Becoming A Manager – Girl Geek X Podcast Episode 6
  5. Introversion, Shyness & Being You – Girl Geek X Podcast Episode 11
  6. Career Transitions – Girl Geek X Podcast Episode 2
  7. Imposter Syndrome – Girl Geek X Podcast Episode 4
  8. Switching Job Functions – Girl Geek X Podcast Episode 19
  9. Self Advocacy – Girl Geek X Podcast Episode 13
  10. Why Hiring is Broken – Girl Geek X Podcast Episode 19

Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

See you in 2021! – The Girl Geek X Team

Girl Geek X co-founders Angie Chang and Sukrutha Bhadouria in San Francisco in 2020.
Find all the virtual Girl Geek Dinner videos – lightning talks – on Girl Geek X’s YouTube channel!

Cadence Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks & Networking! (Video + Transcript)

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Transcript of Cadence Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi everyone, welcome to our Girl Geek Dinner tonight.

Angie Chang: We have an hour of talks tonight for you, from really amazing women at Cadence, and they will be sharing what they’re working on, and also, they have amazing career advice.

Tahrina Ahmed: Tonight, I will talk about Tensilica, a platform that lets computer enthusiasts to create their own [inaudible] specific processors, DSPs, AI accelerator, ensuring most optimized power performance, and area efficiency. And I’m glad to be here, with all of you, my fellow girl geeks.

Sanjita Chokshi: I took the tough decision to press that pause button, in professional side, and today, here I am to share with you all that journey, and what it looked like, coming back to work. Hopefully, it will help some of you, maybe now, or in future.

Rania Hassan Mekky: Today, I’d like to talk to you about a block that has a lot of importance in our daily life, which is SerDes. If you ask yourself what is SerDes, I can tell you that you have kinds of it, at home.

Neeti Bhatnagar: In this world, in this very technical world, in order to succeed in building the next generation engineering product, that ability to zoom into technical details when you need to, and then zoom out to create the larger strategy and vision for the next generation technology is a must.

Alessandra Costa: Think about, if you walk in the hallways of your company, your college, will you be recognized? Are you a familiar face? Will people trust you if they see you? They’ll think, “Oh, okay, so Alessandra, this is a person I can trust.” Lead by example. And so, without further ado, just do it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi everyone, welcome to our Girl Geek Dinner tonight. I’m Sukrutha, from Girl Geek X, we’re seeing so many people coming in, and joining in right now, and that’s amazing. Angie is here, as well. So, a little bit of back history. Angie and I used to, pre-COVID, commute to Girl Geek Dinners all across the Bay area, so each event, each dinner is sponsored by a different company, and post-COVID, we’ve been doing this virtually. So here we are. Angie, would you like to introduce yourself?

Angie Chang: Yes, sorry. Every time I get in Zoom, I feel like they changed something on me, so thank you. Sorry for being a little late today. My name is Angie Chang, and I am the Founder of Girl Geek X, along with Sukrutha. We’ve been hosting these events in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 13 years now. Thank you, LinkedIn, for telling me all the time how many years I’ve been doing this.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: (laughs)

Angie Chang: [inaudible] That’s because we have so much fun going to different companies, when we’re not in a pandemic, and eating their food, seeing their office, talking to people who work there, and then most importantly, hearing and learning from women on stage, who are working on the tech, who are leading departments, and teams, and sharing their tips and tricks, as well as what’s going on, or the new processes and products that they’re working on. But we also love meeting girl geeks, in the networking sessions. So that’s why we have, now, since we’re in a pandemic, we do these on Zoom, and we have a networking session to follow.

Angie Chang: So, we have an hour of talks tonight for you, from really amazing women at Cadence, and they will be sharing their … what they’re working on, and also, they have amazing career advice. So, I learned something, and I think she’ll share it later, but it was a Girl Geek Dinner that someone learned about a returnship, from. So, I was really excited to hear that people are going to Girl Geek Dinners, and they’re learning new things, and continuing to come back, as speakers. It’s really inspiring to see that. Full circle. What else is new? So … we have-

Sukrutha Bhadouria: What else is new? We have potential … we are going to have a female Vice President of this country, which is huge.

Angie Chang: Yes, Madame Vice President, we … I was like, “Oh my God, we have to do something.” So we made some schwag. If you’re familiar with our cute pixel people, we have a new one, celebrating the woman who is going to be in the White House. So we have some schwag available on our website, we have face masks, so you can be very safe, and you can also buy hoodies, and you can get some throw pillows, bumper stickers that talk about how a woman’s place is in the White House, and the Senate. And women deserve to be in places where decisions are made, so you can find those all on our website, at GirlGeek.IO, and all proceeds for those products will be going to Fair Fight, since we believe in fairness.

Angie Chang: So, I think it’s time to introduce our first speaker, her name is Annamarie, and she is the Vice President of Culture and Talent at Cadence. She believes that employee engagement is not a nice to have, it is a key ingredient to creating a great company, and a high performance culture. She holds a JD from Santa Clara University of Law, and a BA in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz. Welcome, Annamarie.

Annamarie Dunn: I can just speak, if that’s okay? Sorry I’m not able to show up there.

Angie Chang: No worries. I know Zoom is like, changing every week, there’s always some new quirk, that we’re like, “Why is this happening?” So, sorry about that.

Annamarie Dunn: Oh, that’s okay. Well, I really just wanted to welcome everyone, and we’re so excited to partner with Girl Geek and highlight our talented innovators at Cadence, to show how they’re helping us solve technology’s toughest challenges. These six women are strong technologists and leaders at Cadence, and so I’m really excited to hear their lightning talks this evening, and for some of you, this morning, around the globe.

Annamarie Dunn: Just a little bit about Cadence, we are a leader in electronic design innovation, we’re building on more than 30 years of computational software expertise, and we’ve also been on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list, for six years in a row, and on their World’s Best list, for five years, highlighting our strong culture.

Annamarie Dunn: Women have played an important role in the advancement of technology throughout our 30 year history, and we’re committed to empowering women across the globe, and elevating more women in technology. Thank you so much, Girl Geek, for the chance to showcase the accomplishments and expertise our speakers bring to the field. And with that, I’ll turn it back to you, to introduce our first speaker.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: All right, so next up is our speaker, Rania. I’m going to do a quick intro. Rania is the Principle Design Engineer at Cadence, she will share about SerDes, a hardware IP that is responsible for transmitting and receiving data. Recently it has been used in several serial link applications like PCI Express, HDMI, and USB. Welcome, Rania.

Rania Hassan Mekky: Hello everyone. This is Rania Hassan-Mekky, I am a Principal Design Engineer in the [inaudible] group. Today, I’d like to talk to you about a block that has a lot of importance in our daily life, which is SerDes.

Rania Hassan Mekky: The outline of this presentation is Data Transfer, Examples of SerDes, Applications, SerDes Definition, Advantages and Disadvantage, History and Future of SerDes, and finally, Conclusion.

Rania Hassan Mekky: Data Transfer. Just ask yourself one question. Do you think how much data you are transmitting and receiving every day? The online meetings, the Zoom meeting, downloads, video streaming, it’s a lot. All this come with heavily infrastructure of network and server kit that serves this purpose.

Rania Hassan Mekky: We have one fast train that is responsible for transmitting and receiving all this data, which I’m going to talk about it in this presentation. I call it SerDes.

Rania Hassan Mekky: If you ask yourself, what is SerDes, I can tell you that you have tens of it, at home. It’s not new. One of the SerDes that you already know is USB, Universal Serial Bus. We all have some of it. This is maybe one of the very famous SerDes probably you have some on your hand, right now.

Rania Hassan Mekky: And it got evolved with time, it’s not only for transmitting the USB data and giving power to systems, but also now we can transmit high definition video, on the type C USB.

Rania Hassan Mekky: It’s not only USB, is the SerDes that we have. We have also other application like PCI Express, it’s widely used in graphic cards, artificial intelligence, and- and machine learning. CCIX it’s used in high performance computing. XAUI, it’s widely used in networking, and ethernet. And SATA, which is famous for storage.

Rania Hassan Mekky: So, what is SerDes? SerDes stands for Serializer Deserializer. Serializer means that a transmitter that takes a parallel data and convert it to serial, and send it to a media. Like, let’s say for example, like a chip, like what’s shown in this photo. Say that we’re going to get 16 bin out of this chip, and say that let’s make this as communication channel. So we will send 16 bit per second.

Rania Hassan Mekky: Instead of using 16 dedicated bins to do so, and of course, 16 BCB trace, we’re going to convert the parallel data to serial, and just use one bin, and eventually one BCB trace.

Rania Hassan Mekky: Deserializer is exactly the opposite, it’s the receiver. It will take the serial data, and convert it back to parallel for it goes to processing.

Rania Hassan Mekky: So, the advantage of this technique is less pin count, instead of using the 16 bit, the 16 bin, we’re going to use just one bin. However, we still need to transmit the data at the same amount, so if this 16 bit was meant to be transmit in one second, we still need to get the communication channel fast 16 times, to transmit the same amount of data then the same time.

Rania Hassan Mekky: We again have the first disadvantage, that we have to speed up the communication, less bit communication, and this will come with faster clocks. So, using faster data clock means that we have to increase the power, and here we’re going to have another trade off. Given that that clock will be faster, then we really have to make it running with lower power.

Rania Hassan Mekky: Another thing that we can use to help us with the challenges that we facing from getting the clock faster, and the power lower, that we can move to advanced technologies, like, say, instead of using 65 nanometer technology, for example, we can go for lower, like 28, 12, 16, something like this. And we still, we’re going to have some challenges in the design and the architecture itself.

Rania Hassan Mekky: So, let’s talk about the history and future for SerDes. Here we have a graph, for the data rate versus years for the [inaudible] data for ISSCC 430s. The green dots, these ones, represents PCI Express, the cyan dots represents storage, and the orange dots represents video.

Rania Hassan Mekky: We can see that at early beginning of series, at 1995, there was as slow as just one gigabit per second. And as time just goes, it just keep going faster and faster to the right top of the curve, here that we can [inaudible] and find that the PCI Express now is running at 72 gigabit per second.

Rania Hassan Mekky: Not only getting the clock faster and using advanced technologies and advanced design will help in the development of SerDes. We had also another breakthrough in this technology, which is a change in the modulation. Changing the modulation from [inaudible] to zero, which was the most used modulation in all techniques, to band four, pulse amplitude modulation four, that easily can double the rate. We can go from 28 gigabit per second, to 56 gigabit per second just by changing the modulation. And this will come at the cost of … more advanced architecture and more advanced designs.

Rania Hassan Mekky: This can go not only to 56, getting everything combined, it can lead us to a faster SerDes at 112 gigabit per second, not only making it high speed, but customers need other stuff, too. Needs more flexibility and configurability. We at Cadence can provide a multi-protocol SerDes that has different links that each link can be configured to serve as a certain protocol, like the photo that we’re seeing here, that we have four different lanes, that each one can be configured. Like, one to serve as a PCI Express, one to serve as a CCIX, one to serve as SATA, or whatever. This will provide more SOS configurability, maturity, flexibility and ease to use.

Rania Hassan Mekky: To summarize, you have SerDes at home, I am pretty sure of that. It’s an essential block that we use every day. Not only for the less bin counts, and fewer communication channels, it open the lead for more data to be transferred. More design challenges from faster clocks, needing lower power, using band four, and all this opens a new era for innovation. Thanks so much for your attention, I’m going to give the mic back to Angie.

Angie Chang: Awesome. Thank you. That was an excellent talk on the importance of SerDes. So, our next speaker is Sanjita, and she will be talking about jump starting her career after a care taking break. She is a lead application engineer at Cadence, and she’s a member of Cadence’s first return to work initiative, and she’ll share her experience tonight about getting back into the tech world after choosing to be a full time Mom for four years, and how her returnship, what enabled her to go back to designing cutting edge Cadence tools. Welcome, Sanjita.

Sanjita Chokshi: Thank you, Angie. Hello, everyone. My name is Sanjita. Glad to here with you all, virtually today. I joined Cadence as a returnee, as Angie mentioned. And before I took this role, I have tried my hands at different engineering fields in industrial automation, to wireless, to various software fields, before I finally realized and settled down with ASICs, which is also popularly known as silicon chips.

Sanjita Chokshi: On personal front, I am a mother of two boys, and a first generation immigrant, which means life is something … and my presentation is stuck. Oh. There you go. That’s my life. You’ve got to be the village, for your child, raising them here, and my only ally being my husband, life was full and I somewhere felt like I am not able to juggle enough and give the kind of attention I wanted to give to my kids.

Sanjita Chokshi: At one point, when they were going through crucial transitions in their lives, I took the tough decision to press the pause button on professional side. And today, here I am to share with you all, that journey and what was it like coming back to work? Hopefully it will help some of you, maybe now, or in future.

Sanjita Chokshi: What was it like? As I look back, I realize the most important part of this whole journey was managing my thoughts, and my decade long meditation habit has played a very crucial role in that aspect. Constant thoughts of, “Oh, what will people think of me? Am I making the right decision? Am I losing out on my career?” This whole circle of fear, negativity, anxiety, meditation really helped me to keep [inaudible].

Sanjita Chokshi: Over time, it was multiple different times, at points of time, that I had to remake that decision and reevaluate my choices. At the end of it, I realized one thing. I became completely unapologetic about the choices I had made. I stopped explaining to people why I took the break, why I chose to be a stay at home Mom. I could accept within me, that I have done this for myself and not for others. And all that was thanks to a meditation. I strongly recommend for any challenges you’re going through in life, this was one thing that worked wonders.

Sanjita Chokshi: Realize one more side effect of being on a break, I had a lot of time for myself. I could dig deeper, and that was the time when I really spelled out and embraced my strengths. As a result, when I decided to go back to work, I was very clear on what I bring to the table, what I have got to offer. That positive outlook, that confidence, my own confidence in myself was something I felt was the very foundation, when I decided to go back to work.

Sanjita Chokshi: More than any other [inaudible] and catching up to technology, this was the part that really gave me the jumpstart. One more thing that I would like to mention, I feel looking back, that helped, was continuous learning. As I was on a break, it was not technology, but then I learned a new language, I picked up gardening, to permaculture. At one point, I even considered a career as a edible landscape designer. I explored spice mixes, I picked up things I knew nothing about. That was the joy of learning.

Sanjita Chokshi: Now, as I join back, I am learning new tools, new methods, new stuff every single day, and all those things together, I feel is playing very crucial role, as I come back from my break, to start the journey again, in the corporate world. All in all, this is what I was, as a result of all these three things, in my break.

Sanjita Chokshi: As I decided to come back, get back to work, my very first thing was, I started going out, and when I say it, I really mean it. I attended almost 40 events, Angie was mentioning about Geek Girl. Over six months, 40 events, Geek Girl was on top of that list. Back in the day when life was more normal, and events were in person, it was a lot more fun. I look forward to see how it works in breakout rooms, now.

Sanjita Chokshi: I attended a lot of women-centric events wherein I got to meet with the whole range of women in tech, which was pretty unusual experience for me, because all this time, wherever I worked, there were very few women around me. So this was a really liberating experience. I learned a lot on semiconductor focused events, as well, on where the world is going, that gave me a perspective on how market has moved and where things are going forward.

Sanjita Chokshi: At the same time, I connected with a lot of people, learned a lot from other women. At the same time, learned about returnship initiative, which I knew nothing about. I realized, this was something … for people who don’t know what this is, lot of corporates have started programs wherein, it’s like internship, but meant for professionals who have prior experience and they have decided to take a break, to take care of family. So it was tailor made for me.

Sanjita Chokshi: Another thing that I did, and discovered more on LinkedIn, there is a setting that you are open to opportunities. As I turned that on, recruiters started reaching out to me. A few of the things, already I could see there’s a lot of traction in the market. I had to just prepare myself, and I knew that it was a process of going and finding the right match.

Sanjita Chokshi: I started talking to people and I realized, even when there is a 10 or 20% match, they are willing to engage with me, and talk forward. As I was going through all those experiences, I realized, it’s only a matter of time when I find my right match. And sure enough, I see a rec one day on LinkedIn, from Cadence, which was 100% match. I look at the job description, I look at the requirements, the minimum three years of break, three years of experience, and two years of break. I fit right in.

Sanjita Chokshi: By then, I was already ready to face that interview, and I knew that the job is going to be mine. What was life at Cadence like, as I joined? It was a 16 week program that gave me perfect time to ramp up where I had left off. In my previous job, I was a design engineer. I took customers’ designs, made it work on the silicon, as [inaudible], and the goal was to make it first time right. And I had met it 100% success rate.

Sanjita Chokshi: Now, in this job, I was offered to do the same, make it happen for the customers who are using Cadence’s state of the art technology leading tool set. So, I started with the product training first, and then I got on-the-job training, wherein I got to see, A, what is the real life experience in this job, as an application engineer, which was really going on the other side of the table.

Sanjita Chokshi: I found one thing, working at Cadence, that was one Cadence – one team, this motto that they are writing trickled down everywhere, across the teams. It was about collaboration and achieving success as a team. And I felt right at home, being in that culture. So at the end of 16 weeks, when management offered me a full time position, it was a no-brainer, for me. I knew this was the place where I’m going to be happy.

Sanjita Chokshi: Another thing that drew me was management’s commitment towards employees. This is real, they were not just talking about it. I could see it, they were walking the talk. Second thing was, focus on women. This was my first job, actually, never seen anything like this in any other company, the kind of focus that is there, on women. I am yet to finish my five months in this company, and this is the sixth women-centric event that I am attending. That tells they’re really walking the talk.

Sanjita Chokshi: All you ladies out there, one thing I would say is, make the bold choices, be confident in what you’re choosing for yourself, and go for it. Cadence is hiring, if you are matching, whether any of the profile you have the skillset, this is a place to be. One more thing I would like to put out there is returnship. See if your company is also open to starting programs like this. It’s a win/win for both sides. Down the road, it will offer professionals like us that crucial choice at some part in our life when we feel that juggling of too many balls is too much. Even the professional life ball can also be put down, temporarily.

Sanjita Chokshi: So with that, I would like to thank you all. And thank you, Angie, for giving me this opportunity here, and the platform.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, that was such an interesting and personal story to share. We always are hearing more and more about people wanting to take a break, but then being afraid about how that will impact their career also. It’s especially important to share your side of the story, as well. Thank you so much.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: All right, so our next speaker is Tahrina Ahmed. Tahrina is a senior director at the Design Enablement Group in the Tensilica IP group at Cadence. So yeah, welcome Tahrina.

Tahrina Ahmed: Good evening, everyone. I’m Tahrina Ahmed, senior director of Design Enablement Group at Tensilica IP, in Cadence Design Systems. A little bit about myself. My academic career and professional background is in computer architecture. I completed my PhD from Stanford University, where my thesis was on distributed domain specific architecture.

Tahrina Ahmed: Well, from very young age, I had keen interest in math and logic that later led on to my love for engineering. And I’m glad to be here with all of you, my fellow Girl Geeks. Tonight I will talk about Tensilica, a platform that lets computer enthusiasts to create their own domain specific processors, DSPs, AI accelerator, ensuring most optimized power performance and area efficiency.

Tahrina Ahmed: In this presentation, I will cover the basics of embedded systems, followed by the definition of hardware and software co-design. Then I will go over a concise technical overview of Xtensa architecture, a quick guide to build and customize Tensilica processors and DSPs. And finally, I will end with some PPA data.

Tahrina Ahmed: Tensilica develops IP blocks to be included on the chip designs, such as a system on a chip for embedded systems. So, what is an embedded system? An embedded system is a microprocessor based computer hardware system, with software that is designed to perform a dedicated function, either as an independent system, or as a part of a large system.

Tahrina Ahmed: Some of the key characteristics of embedded systems are low cost, lower power, with high efficiency, high reliability and minimal user interface. Cadence Tensilica processors and DSPs are based on Xtensa architecture that exploits hardware-software co-design.

Tahrina Ahmed: To implement hardware and software co-design, the developers need to specify, explore, refine a flexible design strategy. It enables hierarchy of models at different abstraction levels, with hardware and software iterative interaction. After evaluating PPA trade offs, the developer finalize the design.

Tahrina Ahmed: Essentially, two major requirements for the design practice are first, each developer to embed their own design specification. Second, hardware with optimal PPA, tuned for application software.

Tahrina Ahmed: So now let’s delve into Tensilica solutions. Tensilica based architecture is a 32 bit reduced instruction set architecture, with low gate count design, which is around 20K gates for a five stage pipeline. The base instruction set supports 24 bit, as well as 16 bit encoding. Thus, the modeless 24/16 intermixing provides great code density.

Tahrina Ahmed: This architecture comprises efficient branch instruction. For example, combined compare and branch, zero-overhead loops, etc. For bit manipulation, it [inaudible] funnel shift, bit test and branch, field extract operations, etc. As mentioned earlier, that Xtensa is a flexible architecture by design. The robust nature of this architecture allows designers to scale from tiny low powered micro-controller to high performance VLIW controlled CPU. Designers can extend performance further, with application specific single instruction multiple data, very long instruction work, and IO features.

Tahrina Ahmed: So, how can you build your own unique processor and DSPs? If you have access to the basic [inaudible], using the Xtensa processor generator interface, you can choose from pre-configured templates. Then simply configure utilizing the click button features, and only include what your application needs. For example, the application could benefit from half precision, single precision operations, single or multiple load store or FMAO needs. Similarly, you’ve got a very wide range of data types, from eight to 64 bits. You can choose from 20 plus application specific DSPI cells.

Tahrina Ahmed: Finally, you can customize adding instructions, and/or IOs to meet application requirements and optimize and differentiate. So the bottom line is, with Tensilica solutions, it is easy to build, easy to optimize, easy to program. You get one development environment, with automated tools generation. And you always get to write your program in C, you don’t have to worry about assembly coding.

Tahrina Ahmed: So here’s some of our automation utilities that make the development experience seamless for processor designers. Essentially, you start with Tensilica ID that provides you with base processor, which is dozens of templates for many common applications, in addition to pre-verified options. For example, off the shelf DSPs, interfaces, peripherals, debug, etc.

Tahrina Ahmed: You can customize your own IP by creating your own instructions, data types, registers, interfaces. Then using the [inaudible] interface, within minutes you develop complete hardware design, and simultaneously, you have access to advanced software tools. Even customization is is highly coherent and straightforward with Tensilica Instruction Extension Language, that is also known at TIE language. This high level language helps you to describe hardware and software aspects of instruction extension.

Tahrina Ahmed: The TIE compiler generates software tools such as compiler, debugger, simulator. It also generates RTL and implementation flows. So now I’m going to show you this chart, that illustrates how by tuning processor ISA for application specific characteristics, developers can achieve PPA efficiency.

Tahrina Ahmed: Considering this best guess scenario, which is ATM header error correction application, by including less than 2K additional case, developers can get greater than 10 access data. How convenient is that?

Tahrina Ahmed: Even the use cases that require higher ideational date count suggest [inaudible 00:35:27] space conversion, by adding around 10K additional gates, you can still achieve around, in fact more than 4x speed up. Finally, when do you see our Tensilica processors and USBs? The good news is, our LX and NX controllers, and audio vision RLC DSPs have footprint in various products, in multiple segments, many of which perhaps you are using in your every day life.

Tahrina Ahmed: For example, in automotive, Bluetooth headsets, digital TVs and home entertainment systems, smart phones, smart speakers and [inaudible] devices. Yes. You name it, you could find Tensilica here.

Tahrina Ahmed: And with that, I would like to thank Girl Geek for giving me the opportunity to present Tensilica solutions in this event, and thank you all for joining this session. Back to you.

Angie Chang: Thank you, that was an excellent talk. So, our next speaker is Alessandra, who is the Vice President of North America Field Engineering at Cadence. She will share her journey, and what she learned along the way, with advice on leadership, insights on the importance of diversity in technology, and the inspiration to help you own your own personal brand to drive your career. Welcome, Alessandra.

Alessandra Costa: Good evening, everybody, and yeah, as was mentioned, my name is Alessandra Costa, and I manage the North America team, and I’m very proud to call Sanjita and Julia two of my members of my organization. Great presentations, you ladies were phenomenal.

Alessandra Costa: So, I’m switching a little bit, the gear from the technical side and actually, I am going to take you on a trip, on a trip to Africa. And this was us, my husband and I, in 2002. It was Fall, and we decided to go on a trip to Africa, and more precisely, Namibia. So we were extremely excited about the prospective of being gone for a couple of weeks, and then the week before leaving, I found out I was pregnant with my daughter.

Alessandra Costa: So, we really wanted a child too, but just we didn’t want the first trimester to coincide with the trip in a land that was far from home. There was a lot of debating, and lot of agonizing over the decision, and then we decided to go. So, we were reassured that the weather would be cool, because it was sort of Spring, there. We were actually going with a group of friends, and some of them I had known for quite some times, and one of them I didn’t know, at all.

Alessandra Costa: Then off we went, and unfortunately once we got there, things were quite different from the way we imagined. So, first of all, the temperature was the hottest Spring that they had in like, the previous 50 years. So it was extremely hot. The roads looked like the one you see here. Actually, some roads are paved with salt, and the terrain is not regular at all. The company, especially the person I didn’t know, was nightmarish.

Alessandra Costa: I would wake up in the morning, super hot, dry, but still super hot. I had the morning sickness. I was completely miserable and the people around me didn’t make my life better. So, every time I woke up, and you might imagine that the first thing I could dream about, could be some oasis along the way, or a final destination, in a hotel. No, all I was dreaming about was potato chips.

Alessandra Costa: Well, if you think about it, potato chips are salty, and that’s all I craved, actually, in the morning. I’m not a big fan of junk food, but I have to tell you, since then, potato chips have become my comfort food, actually, when I travel. You can imagine, my husband and I in this larger group, and every morning, being miserable, and every morning, just looking for the next stop, to get some chips.

Alessandra Costa: And some of the brands were completely unknown to me, and although I am fully convinced that Simba is a very nice guy, I was not willing to trust my morning sickness to a brand that I didn’t know. Okay? So, of course, in the shelves, among the unknown brand, there was something that I could easily recognize, and I felt comfortable with, which is Lays, of course.

Alessandra Costa: And why did I go for Lays? It’s because, again, it’s something that was familiar to me, because of course, in the US we see a lot of it. And it’s something I could trust. Of course, it’s kind of funny to trust junk food. But anyway, it’s something I could know, and I felt comfortable buying and eating.

Alessandra Costa: Now, talking about recognizable brand, can you guess the content of this can, even if you don’t read or speak Arabic? Normally when I do this presentation live, everybody recognizing this can, a can of Coke. Which is really interesting, because it means that their marketing is phenomenal, because the only thing that you can recognize really, again, if you don’t speak Arabic, is the fact that it’s a red can, it’s a particular red, right? But still, red can, white writing, and the swirl on the right, right?

Alessandra Costa: So, I think they do a pretty good job at just nailing these colors and the logo in your brain. If we look at the most valuable brands according to Forbes, which is quite a reputable source, these are the top 10. One thing that is really interesting to me, is that out of the top 10 brands, lots of them, actually, the majority of them, are actually high tech companies, which is very different from what was the reality maybe like, just 10 years ago.

Alessandra Costa: There are these big tech company that really came to the forefront of the scene, and they’re able to brand themselves to the public, and to possible employees. But what does it mean? How did Forbes rank the companies? It was based on three criteria. First of all, the financial performance of the company. Reputable company, good revenues, good margins. So that was the first thing.

Alessandra Costa: The second thing was really the weight of the brand on customer choices. Think about me, in Namibia, potato chips, I went for Lays, right? So, the brand definitely had a weight on my choice. Third, which is really interesting, is the premium, the price premium that companies can charge because of the brand. One example I like to bring up every time is, think about the Louis Vuitton bags. Especially the one with the monograms, the ones that are made of plastic, they are sold for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollar, and it might be very high quality plastic, still plastic.

Alessandra Costa: Now, why branding is important, we talked about recognition, the can of Coke and that you can recognize it just by virtue of the colors, and of the brand, of the logo. Trust, we talked about me trusting junk food, then trusting potato chips. But also, financial value, meaning how much financial value is the brand bringing to a company. And last but not least is also inspiration. No matter where you stand on the political side, if you think about Kevin Kaepernick here in North America, he became the image person for a while, for Nike, and that was decided based on his political stand.

Alessandra Costa: So, companies spend a lot of money to make sure that you recognize their brand and you associate their brand to what they stand for. Well, how about people? That’s me when I was still going to the hairdresser, before COVID. If you think about yourself, and if you work for a company, or you’re in college, think about if you walk in the hallways of your company, your college, will you be recognized? Are you a familiar face in the environment that you work at? Will people trust you if they see you? Will they think, “Okay, so Alessandra, this is a person I can trust. I know she made some decision. I know that she delivers what she promises.”

Alessandra Costa: Financial value. If I think about Cadence, does Cadence see a financial value in me, and on the flip side, is Cadence willing to pay me the right amount of money for the job I do? And then, last not but least, let’s go through inspiration again. Will I be an inspiration for people around me? I certainly hope so, and especially for women in my organization and also outside of my organization.

Alessandra Costa: I want to share a few things that you ladies should focus on when you think about your brand. This is a presentation that normally I deliver like, in half an hour, 40 minutes, and so I am much more than this, but I just condensed, focusing on the most important thing. The first thing is really understanding the priorities of the company you work for, the group you work for, the priority of your manager, even. And then align what you do with the priorities of the companies.

Alessandra Costa: Sometimes, we like going and trying science experiment and we fall in love with a project, we fall in love with a topic, but then, does it matter for people around you? Does it matter for your manager? Does it add value for your company? An example I give, believe it or not, I love knitting, and I love also crochet. I do beautiful things, I believe so, right, that these things are beautiful. I do a lot of blankets, I have one in process, and I like to do it because I can see the result of what I do. There is something that I can touch, right? While my job is kind of immaterial. I don’t work on something and then I can just hold it in my hand.

Alessandra Costa: I do beautiful blankets, I make beautiful blankets. Perfect craftsmanship. Do you think my manager, who by the way, is the VP of Sales, of North America. So he carries basically half the revenue, of our company. Do you think he cares, if I show up at the one on one with my blanket and say, “Look, I’ve been working on this. Are you proud of me?” Of course he doesn’t care. Of course, this is an exaggeration, but every time you do something, think, “Is this valuable for my team? Is this valuable for my company?” And align.

Alessandra Costa: There are ways to align. You can listen to communication meetings, I mean, big organization, we have communication meeting, that our CEO, Lip-Bu Tan holds, we have communication meetings inside, smaller organization inside groups. In fact, my manager had a communication meeting this week. So listen to that. Learn the lingo. Learn what is important and one thing, and for especially the ladies that are part of my team, they know, I push everybody to listen to the earning calls. So, if you work for a public company, they have earning calls where they share, typically the CEO and the CFO, they share the data on how the company is doing. But above all, the analysts ask a lot of questions, about the company.

Alessandra Costa: And so, you’re going to learn very quickly, what matters to the executive of the company, and you’re going to learn how to translate those care abouts to your daily life. Okay? So, understand priorities and align with the priorities of your company. The second one, this is very much a female trait, I hear all the time, for example, when somebody tries to apply for a job, women typically, if they don’t check all the boxes, if they’re not perfect for every single thing, every single requirement of the job description, they don’t go for it. It is this quest for perfection that sometimes is really career limiting, for women.

Alessandra Costa: What you see here, this symbolizes to me the quest for perfection, sometimes imperfection being better than perfection, and this is a pottery technique that is typically in Japan, where something breaks, they fix it and yes, it was broken, but it looks even more beautiful than the original item. So, overcome the sense of the quest for perfection, because that’s detrimental to what you do.

Alessandra Costa: Last but not least, I am asked frequently, how do I change at work, compared to my life at home? Of course there are differences, I mean, the way I express myself, I do much more yelling, at home. You can imagine, right? Italian family. My husband is actually American, but two Italian women. One 100% Italian, the other 50% Italian. So there is a lot of yelling. I don’t yell at work. I try, actually, to customize my message depending on the people I talk to.

Alessandra Costa: But I myself, every single morning, I get up. I wash my face, I look at myself in the mirror, and I bring myself to work. I don’t bring another person, an avatar of what I am in real life. Okay? So, by the way, this is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Now, there is much more than that, for sake of time, I’ll jump to the next thing. Everything I said, if you think about it, it applies equally to men and women. Why am I so keen on giving this presentation to women?

Alessandra Costa: It’s because we’re still a little bit behind, in the way we are represented, and so there is still a big gap between the opportunities we are given, the way we are paid, the political representation that we have, and the one that men have. So, again, for sake of time, I’m not going to go too much into this, but there is the World Economic Forum, it’s an international organization, measures actually what is the gender gap between men and women. As you can see, this year, so we’re talking about 2020, a woman is, let’s say, “worth” 69% of what a man is worth.

Alessandra Costa: So, we have similar opportunities when it comes, for example, to education. But when you look at economical participation, and above all, political empowerment, then we’re very behind. And so, if you think about how big is the progress that we have made since 2006 when they started measuring this, it’s only 4.6%. It’s a very detailed report. I encourage you to look at it, and also the data is split by country. We’re not doing very well in US, and we’re doing even more poorly in my country of origin, Italy.

Alessandra Costa: And talking about political representation, this is G20, few years back. The picture on the left is the original, the one is with men photoshopped out, three women are left. And one is the Queen, by the way. This is the G7, last year, G7 is the meeting of the seven most industrialized countries, in the world. And they send their representative, and here they are. How do you feel about being represented by these middle aged men? So, these people are speaking also on your own behalf.

Alessandra Costa: But alas, I had to change my presentation, because I had sent it a few weeks back. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and yes, Kamala, finally. This Vice President Elect, Kamala Harris. I was listening to her speech, and this is maybe the quote that impressed me the most, because it’s a quote that speaks about ambition, in a positive way, not in a negative way. Speaks about conviction, and speaks about seeing ourselves as deserving, and as having opportunity, even if other people don’t think we do, because they have never seen that before.

Alessandra Costa: But you know, women can have a place in technology. These are two women working on the ENIAC, the first computer that was created. But then what happened, women have sort of disappeared from the technology scene, and in my opinion, it starts at very early, it starts in childhood. If you Google “Best Toys for five year old girls,” look. I mean, it’s all pretend play, and it’s shopping carts and cute girls’ pots and pans. And nothing wrong with cooking, I like cooking. And on the right, look at how much more the toys on the right can influence decisions later in life. Okay? And why can’t men, can’t boys play with pot and pans and learn how to help around the house?

Alessandra Costa: Now, talking about women in high tech, the numbers are not great. 25% of computing jobs are held by women, only 25%. 50 plus percent of women are leaving their jobs in mid-career, and so I’m very proud of the returnship program that we launched, because we could find phenomenal application engineer like Sanjita.

Alessandra Costa: And in Silicon Valley, which is very liberal and advanced, only 12% of engineers in start up are women, and last but not least, only 11% of executive positions in Silicon Valley are held by women.

Alessandra Costa: Anyway, so I don’t want to just sit here and admire the problem, and just close with like, this sad and somber note, because there is a lot we can do. We can support our sisters. I hate the hearing, when that the worst enemies of women are women. So … I don’t buy into that. It comes from … think of scarcity, as if there was a limited number of resources, and if a woman makes it, the other one cannot make it. It’s a fight, with elbows in our faces. I don’t buy into that, because the possibilities are out there, and we need to be able to grab them. Share with younger women the passion for what we do. There are plenty of opportunities to be a mentor, too. I’ve been a mentor in my daughter’s school. Be vocal for women, who do dare to do it. It happens in meetings, it happens everywhere. We are interrupted, people talk over us.

Alessandra Costa: Like, for example, my boss doesn’t hear well, when there are a lot of people talking, so it’s nice when somebody says, “Okay, she’s talking,” or like Kamala Harris has said, right? I’m talking. And there are a lot of other organizations that can be supported worldwide. Girls Who Code, IEEE Women in Engineering, Girl Scout, you have the list there, and why not Girls Geek, too?

Alessandra Costa: So anyway, in conclusion, let’s go back to personal brand. Your personal brand is important. Is important for you, for your company, for your fellow human beings, for the women who are around you. Lead by example. And so, without further adieu, just do it. And with this, I’m done.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Alessandra. Next up is our next speaker, Neeti Bhatnagar, she is a senior software engineer and group director of System and Verification Group at Cadence. Welcome, Neeti.

Neeti Bhatnagar: Let me get started. Since I’m the last speaker of today, and I come after these wonderfully inspiring speakers, I’ll try and keep up. So, good morning, good evening, good afternoon, depending on which part of the world you’re dialing in from, today. Thank you for being here.

Neeti Bhatnagar: My name is Neeti Bhatnagar, and I’m the senior group director for leading Cadence’s product on virtual prototyping, hybrid software, code debug, code validation and so on. I’ve been with Cadence for about over 25 years now, and I’ve had a very rich career working as a technical leader in the R&D organization, driving innovation, especially where hardware meets software.

Neeti Bhatnagar: So, in my career, I’ve gone back and forth a few times between management and being an individual contributor. But across it all, I always had my geek, my technical hat on, because in this very technical world, in order to succeed in building the next generation engineering products, that ability to zoom into technical details when you need to, and then zoom out to create the larger strategy and vision for the next generation technology is a must. So you have to be able to go back and forth between the two.

Neeti Bhatnagar: I have an undergrad and a master’s degree in computer science. On a personal note, I’ve been privileged to come from a extended family of engineers, scientists, economists, including several women cousins who were pioneers and leaders in their chosen scientific fields. So, I never saw these limits. It never occurred to me to do anything else, especially since I loved math and physics in high school.

Neeti Bhatnagar: I’m the proud mother of a 23 year old machine learning researcher. Besides nurturing his passion for math and science, I’m really, really proud to have nurtured that sense of equality across genders. Because I’m very passionate about this, I truly believe it is our job as parents, to not only nurture that sense of equality in our daughters, but to do the same in our sons, because they play just as much of a role in making sure we have a more equitable world out there.

Neeti Bhatnagar: My husband is a senior executive in the tech world, as well. So, as two parents, as two working parents with demanding careers, our responsibilities at home as parents have never been fixed. It really adapted to the time and place, and depending on whose career was on hold, and who needed to travel, it really was a juggle. And I heard the wonderful stories from Sanjita, from Julia, about taking the break when you needed to. I am one of those people who didn’t take that break.

Neeti Bhatnagar: So, life, for the longest time was … I always thought it was just one tiny hair away from disaster. But you know, we got through it. And so to answer, to a lot of you young women who are thinking, “Can I do this?” Do it. Whether you take a break, that’s absolutely the right thing to do, if that’s what makes sense in your life. But persist, because kids grow up. And there is life after kids, and the juggling becomes better, and you have so much more time to do things you really want to, which in my case still happens to be very technical.

Neeti Bhatnagar: So, but kind of moving on to what I’m here to talk about, this is a technical talk. I’m here to talk about intelligent systems, and how they’re all around us, and the role that software, particularly, the growing role of software in these intelligent designs.

Neeti Bhatnagar:

As you know, we’re in this era of design, where intelligence has become integral to pretty much everything we’re doing, right? Learning systems that interact with our environment, and make decisions to optimize the experience of the user are pretty mainstream, now. And this has had a profound impact on design challenges and complexity. You have to consider performance, safety, low power and the cost, so you can deliver that value to the users, right? So, today, we’ll talk about one specific slice of that complexity, which is software.

Neeti Bhatnagar: You can see, intelligent design, especially a company like Cadence, where our job is to help the next generation design, pretty much anyone you can think about is using our software to design their next device, their next complicated electronic system. Intelligent design is really fueling the growth at some of these largest companies, right? It’s driving the design revolution. It is, you know, really a game changer, and it’s not limited to just autonomous … people are very familiar with autonomous vehicles and robots and drones, but the networking and the mobile space are also undergoing the same design revolution with the advent of 5G, you have these self organizing networks in the mobile space, and you have intelligent cloud and data center services that are a absolute necessity to manage that scale.

Neeti Bhatnagar: Intelligent devices are increasingly ubiquitous. This is a very wide range of devices, but examples of intelligent devices are everywhere. You may not even know what you’re using is an intelligent device. So, take modern hearing aids, or take things like built in, real time language translators that are showing up in many next generation devices and applications, so if you’re doing a meeting, and there’s somebody speaking in say, Hindi on the other side, and it could get translated into Mandarin, on one side.

Neeti Bhatnagar: So these things are becoming more and more common, and they’ll show up everywhere. And, of course, if you look at automotive systems, most of the new cars, without even going to autonomous driving, if you look at cars these days, modern cars, they all come in equipped with safety features like proximity sensors, so you get too close to a car, or a car gets too close to you, your sensors go off and alert the driver. Or you wander off from your lane, or even things like how your gears are being changed, that’s being done through intelligence. Much of this adaptive intelligent functionality is implemented through software that interacts with the underlying electronics, and hardware.

Neeti Bhatnagar: To make these intelligence devices deliver that value added experience, a lot of technical details have to come together. It requires high performance, power efficiency, and really, that perfect union between the hardware and software. Let’s take something pretty commonplace. I don’t know if you’ve recently taken a parent, or a child, or a spouse, or yourself to get one of these newer modern hearing aids? I took my mom recently to get one.

Neeti Bhatnagar: I was just blown away by how amazing these devices are. So they can adapt to any environment, they can sense are you in a crowded market space, or are you in a music concert? And then they adapt to mimic the functioning of a normal ear and brain interaction. For instance, if you’re in a concert and you’re listening to music, your brain automatically tunes out some of the ambient noises. So these devices are designed to do the same thing, so that you can maximize the experience of listening to that concert.

Neeti Bhatnagar: In order to do something like this, you need to determine, for instance, as a user, you want to know where that sound is coming from. So that the sound can be amplified in the right ear. In order to do that, it has to classify all the streaming signals. So it streams the full audio bandwidth in real time, bidirectionally, battling, challenging listening situations by simulating what the brain does with sounds from both ears.

Neeti Bhatnagar: For instance, if you get a loud sound and you’re crossing the street, and you hear a sound of a car from your right side, that device will amplify the sound in your right ear. All of this is accomplished by a combination of hardware and software. If that software and hardware don’t work perfectly together, the device doesn’t deliver the functionality for the user, and it can be life threatening.

Neeti Bhatnagar: A little bit about the specialty of this software, especially embedded software. It comes with its own unique set of challenges. The thing about it is, it’s fundamentally hardware dependent. So, many system related bugs can be tied back to this interdependence. Oftentimes, the software team which is developing the software, we talked about all of that adaptive functionality coming through software, these are software algorithms. But these are software algorithms very much designed to work with a specific hardware.

Neeti Bhatnagar: When the software team develops, they’re often developing to a spec, because the hardware is also under development at that time. Very often, the first integration between these two happens when the hardware design is already done. Now, what happens with the late integration is you find that the design functionality doesn’t work together, because they are out of sync with each other. Sometimes you have to respin the hardware design, which is very, very expensive, so this software kit becomes a challenge.

Neeti Bhatnagar: Therefore, it’s really valuable to verify the software with the hardware, before your hardware is committed and the cost of change increases. How do you do that? You do that through starting the software, even though the hardware’s not done, on something called a virtual platform. Now, what is a virtual platform, and how does it let you get this hardware and software integration started early?

Neeti Bhatnagar: The virtual platform is really a high abstraction model of your hardware. But it’s got enough of that interface details captured, that it lets you run the actual software unaltered. And what does this do for your project? Basically, the use of virtual platform enables that software development to begin nearly simultaneously with the hardware design. This is really key. We see across the board, more and more companies have huge delays, something like nine to 12 months in delay, because of the issues related to hardware and software integration.

Neeti Bhatnagar: In conclusion, intelligent designs are everywhere and they’re pervasive, and this is here to stay, and this really complicates our customers’ design challenges. You need power efficiency, you need high performance, if you’re doing something like autonomous driving, it’s all real time. And so, it’s not just hardware and software in one subsystem, these things are very complicated. There are multiple subsystems. They all have to work together in true perfection, because your life may depend on it. And you can’t just design the hardware, and then design the software, and then sign off on the hardware, before you’ve done this integration. Early software development and hardware/software integration has become a absolute reality, an absolute must. And these virtual platforms really help enable.

Neeti Bhatnagar: So, I want to close with a note that one of the most interesting parts of my job, and my team’s charter is to develop that most effective set of tools, technologies that help our customer surmount that hardware/software integration challenge. Thank you. Thank you for your time.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Neeti, that was excellent. So now we are going to be starting the break out sessions. We are going to be clicking on the link that will be going into the chat, that will be taking us to the Zoom meeting, down there. We will see you on the other side, and then I’ll explain more, once we get there, about how this is all going to work. We’re going to be in breakout groups with four to six girl geeks in each room, and we’ll have some prompts, some icebreakers, and we’ll get to know each other a bit. So see you in the Zoom meeting [for networking hour]!

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