Women Who Code – Aparna Shetty
By Arijit Banerjee
Senior System Architect at Philips Innovation Campus
B.E, Computer Science from Bangalore University
Manipal ProLearn salutes the undying spirit of women like Aparna Shetty who have made a mark for themselves in the male-dominated tech industry
Here’s more about her journey
What was the defining moment in your life when you realised you are meant to code?
In the early 1990’s, I opted for the emerging Computer Science stream as I found Medicine quite intimidating. I enjoy problem-solving, so Computers was a logical option. It is also very satisfying to see the products one worked on being appreciated by the customers.
However, my unpreparedness for the experience of my Dad’s death made me realise the importance of Correct Diagnosis, Timely Prevention & Right Healing. Beyond the initial shock, post introspection, I concluded my life would be best devoted to ‘the cause of life’ – using technology to enhance the quality of diagnosis. I am passionate about this and now poetically so, my sister is a Doctor. Thus, all of this makes up for me not choosing medicine and completes our family loop in contributing to life.
Tell us about your role in Philips as a Senior System Architect.
Philips is my second job. Over the past two decades, I have worked in a variety of products ranging from Philips Lighting to Philips Research, Philips Healthcare - within Philips Healthcare in MRI, Nuclear Medicine and Clinical Applications business units.
In my current role, I interact with cross-functional teams involving product marketing, clinical application specialists, UX designers, architects and developers who work together and focus on building high quality products to address the needs of the customer. Currently, I am working on an interesting product, wherein we are completely re-architecting a legacy product while at the same time improving the workflow for the users of the system.
What are the requirements of becoming a technical architect?
The TEC in the word architect is the necessary foundation, and technical acuity is what an architect should have. In addition, an architect should be able to quickly grasp technical issues and support in making the right tradeoffs while picking any solution.
The architect is also the person with the system purview, so the ARCH in the word architect, deals with over-arching concerns and a clear focus on the goals of the product. As an architect one will have sufficient responsibility without the corresponding authority, which would need a good amount of people skills in convincing stakeholders and developers alike.
What are the interesting fields for top coders to work in where their skills are useful?
Coders are either excited by the technology they work in, or about the domain they work in. So based on their interest, there are several options in service industry wherein you get to work in different types of projects, or in product companies wherein in addition to the technology you need to dive deeper to understand the domain be it healthcare, manufacturing, finance, telecom etc.
Why do we see less number of women coders compared to men and how do we bridge the gap?
The women coders I have worked with have been exceptionally good at their work, at times far exceeding their counterparts. The issue, though, is that these talented women drop off post mid-level positions due to reasons of family or corporate fatigue. It is a positive sign that this is finally being recognised and organisations are focussing on getting back their old employees. “Coding and Talent, both are Gender Free”– hence a truly progressive organisation will do everything in its might to not lose its talent.
Name your favourite woman coder or someone who has been an inspiration to you.
Like I said above, “Coding and Talent, both are Gender Free – as is Inspiration too’. Of course would like to mention Grace Hopper – who is inspirational for her un-daunting perseverance in achieving computer programs to be written in English against all odds.
And in India, our ISRO Women Team of Seetha Somasundaram, Nandini Harinath, Minal Rohit – on the Mars Orbiter Mission which had just 18 months from start – to –launch – these 3 getting it right in the very first attempt is a global phenomenon beyond inspiration.
The most fun coding project you have worked on…
When we started the Nuclear Medicine team in Bangalore, we had to build a team from scratch. We also deliver a complete workstation in 18 months. Since we had the opportunity to build something completely new ground up and an amazing team that worked on it was a fun coding project I worked on.
One book or movie you would recommend every budding female engineer to read/watch.
Code Complete by Steve McConnell is an excellent guide to programming style and design concepts. It is a must-read for any software developer.
What are some misconceptions about women engineers?
Why don’t you tell me? I would like to know. :)
Describe your typical work-week. How do you maintain your work-life balance?
There will always be spikes both at work and the home, which need attention. It’s important is to understand and focus on what really matters at any given time, thus maintaining a balance. Also simple but crucial self-disciplined points, like not enabling office mail on mobile, post office hours, helps in having a healthy family time.
Is life particularly difficult for women coders in India who have to give their best at work and are expected to be ideal homemakers too?
Personally, I have been lucky for the support I have received from my family. They have never complained during my travels. And even when I am late from work or when I didn’t cook anything interesting for dinner. Instead of being ideal, I think it is more important to be practical. And then focus on what needs the most attention at any point in time. Balance is the key.
What do you look for when hiring in your team?
In addition to the required technical skills, I would look for people who are keen learners. Also, they should vibe well with the Team. And yes, no one is complaining if more geniuses joined the team J
What is the one thing that most people would be surprised to learn about women coders?
That they are no different from men coders! – I can’t stop stressing enough that, ‘Coding and Talent, both are truly Gender Free’.
Your favourite quote about coding…
“Copy and paste is a design error”
― Steve McConnell, Code Complete (2nd Edition)
“Eighty percent of the errors are found in 20 percent of a project's classes or routines”
“Spend your time on the 20 percent of the refactorings that provide 80 percent of the benefit.”
― Steve McConnell, Code Complete (2nd Edition)
A lot is said about women in technical fields feeling lonely professionally after crossing the mid-level positions. What is your opinion on that? Is there any truth to it?
I don’t think the issue is any longer about feeling lonely. It is not even about being left behind for that matter, thanks to the supportive colleagues. The prerogative is more about how Organisations retain talent or provide better opportunities for women to work from home and pursue their career. Many companies are looking at these gaps-opportunities and it is nice to see many of my female colleagues returning.
Tell us about the challenges you face at the senior architect position and how do you deal with them?
Along with having a healthy, balanced attitude myself, I have been fortunate to work with a set of people who are in this domain since a decade, and are all equally passionate about the products we develop. Thus we take on the challenges as it comes be it technical solutions, stakeholder management or time pressure - always facing it together & focussing on the end customer’s needs.
What is your advice/suggestion to women considering this line of work? Some do’s and don’ts?
For the people who enjoy this line of work – my advice would be
- Don’t be overly self –critical, in your attempt at perfection
- Assert, always in the line of Logic – never for hierarchy.
- Balance is key and Work is only 1 of the 5 Pillars of Life
- Don’t forget to have fun on the way!
Manipal ProLearn is thankful to Aparna for giving us her time. And we wish her the best in her future endeavours.