Not confining the celebrations of International Women’s Day to a single day, we begin this month with the focus on a successful woman entrepreneur from the batch of 2004. Meet Deepthi Singh Sharma. A serial entrepreneur, she co-founded Fashiate that was acquired by SnapDeal in 2015. She also founded Trailchain, a blockchain-based tech startup. Now, as Director at Walmart Labs, Deepthi talks about her association with her alma mater and what it means to be a woman in tech.
Tell us about how you came to IIIT-H.
I joined the 3rd batch of IIIT-H. The information about this new institute backed by some of the top companies and the brightest minds was spreading or in today’s terminology, going viral. I, like many others in the initial batches took a leap of faith, given the credentials of the people behind the institute.
What were your special areas of interest then? Are there any courses and/or professors that particularly stand out in your memory?
The only department back then was Computer Science. I was very interested in Image Processing and the Graphics courses. The most popular professors then were – Prof. Kaul, Prof. PJN, Prof. Jawahar, Prof. Govindarajulu and Prof. Shivaswamy. When I meet friends from my batch even today, instances from these classes are topics for discussion.
What did you do after graduating from IIIT-H?
Right after graduation I joined Adobe Systems and got comfortable with millions of lines of C++ code. Adobe taught me how to build products that delight users.
Then, I started a career in Machine Learning at Yahoo Labs. I worked on predicting click through rates on online ads and other large scale ML problems. My foundations in engineering helped my efficiency in research.
With a couple of colleagues from Yahoo Labs, I founded a Machine Learning startup ‘Fashiate’ where we built visual browsing experiences for large eCommerce catalogs. We got acquired by Snapdeal where I led some machine learning and engineering projects.
Then, I founded Trailchain which is a blockchain company enabling building new-age supply chain solutions. Our main focus here is on traceability and supply chain risk management.
What do you do currently?
I’m a Director for Machine learning at Walmart Labs. I am part of the Merchant Technology team that helps redefine how merchants do their jobs everyday – managing the prices, assortment, inventory and competitive intelligence. Our team is invested on some very interesting ML solutions that directly impact our brick and mortar stores in the US.
How has IIIT-H helped you where you are currently?
Teachers at IIIT-H have sparked in me a genuine interest for technology and Computer Science. This has contributed in a fundamental way to everything I’ve done so far.
Why did you choose a career in tech?
I did not make that choice actively. Like most middle-class Indians, engineering and medicine were the only viable choices in front of me. Given my tolerance for anatomical dissections and related smells, engineering was my only option.
What are the challenges facing a woman in tech?
A big challenge I worry about is the confidence gap. I have personally seen this play out a few times. Several women I know, doubt their capabilities in taking on new projects and roles. Now, if you put this in the context of a workplace, this behaviour is compared with that of men who are their peers. Interestingly, men do not display this lack of confidence. On the contrary, studies indicate that men sometimes have an inflated sense of their capabilities. Now, this creates a big confidence gap. This is something that continues to hurt women’s growth and careers.
Another one is that, childbirth and related responsibilities have been putting women at a disadvantage at workplace. As a result, we see a lot of women not staying in tech careers for the long haul. Consequently there are fewer women leaders for women in the industry to look up to. However, a positive change is happening in this space and workplaces have become far more inclusive and friendly to new parents than they were before.
In the same vein, what are the perks (if any) of being a woman in tech?
The perks are same as those for men. It is a great career option with good salaries. It can get stressful at times but often involves exciting technical challenges which I love to solve.
What advice would you give young women considering a career in tech?
Understand that the confidence gap is real. Understand that you need to work harder than others to be taken seriously. There will always be people who will be unhappy with you and will have preconceived notions about your abilities. Do not focus on them. Your additional hard work will take you from being a woman in tech to a rockstar engineer and then most people around you will see you for what you really are!