Mini Shah is a Director of Engineering and site-leader in the Enterprise Solutions Group (ESG), Dell Networking R&D center in Chennai. Mini started her career in Digital Equipment Corp in 1992 and has been climbing the corporate ladder in the field of technology at an aggressive pace ever since.
In this interview with Techstory as a part of Dell Women Leaders series, Mini talks about the challenges and responsibilities she faces as the Director of R&D at Dell, her key goals for her function and priorities for her people and life as a woman leader in the field of Technology !
As a Director of R&D at Dell, what are some of the key responsibilities and challenges that you face on a daily basis? Please tell us more about your role.
I am a Director in the Enterprise Solutions Group, part of the Dell Networking R&D division. The primary mission of my organization is providing scalable, end-to-end solutions for future-ready networks; delivering Dell networking hardware platforms, operating systems, management software and solutions.
My responsibilities are around two key areas; as the R&D Director, I work with the R&D teams in Chennai and the US to make sure that business priorities are aligned, communications are consistent and roadmap planning is effectively implemented. I am responsible for product delivery, engineering optimizations, grooming and building talented teams. Secondly, I am also the site-leader for the Networking R&D center in Chennai and I work to ensure smooth and efficient operations of the site.
I strongly believe in contingency planning and continuous process improvements, and this has helped me in constantly reducing the daily challenges faced by me and my teams
What are some of your key priorities at this point for the Dell R&D team ?
My key priorities are centered around planned product deliverables – on-time with high quality, to meet the business needs of our large and growing customer base.
Dell also has a strong footprint in corporate social responsibility initiatives and creating gender inclusive workplaces – both of these are causes that I have strong conviction in and we have launched several initiatives on-site in support of these.
What is the role of an R&D function in an organization like Dell? What kind of value does the function drive for the organization?
The research and development function is a core strength for organizations like Dell. This helps enabling the organization to invest in and develop new technologies, drive innovation and deploy disruptive technology in a rapidly evolving technical landscape.
What according to you are some of the biggest tech challenges that the world faces today?
Technology is great and with the rapid strides made in the last few years, technology is pervasive in all aspects of our life. It can be effectively used to simplify end-consumer needs, but as we rely increasingly on digitization of data, protecting against cyber-attacks and data theft is very important. Digital and information security is one of the biggest tech challenges we have today.
What according to you will be the main problems that the tech world will work on solving in the next 20 years?
The pace of technology change has been accelerating and will reach a tipping point in the next 20 years. Today, we function in a digital economy. Proliferation of the internet, growing popularity of mobile devices, increased capabilities around cloud and virtualization technologies, and advances in Big Data and analytics – have disrupted legacy business processes and practices. Focus is shifting to applications and software defined strategies, to leverage the advancements in these technologies. Nano-technology and the IOT (Internet of Things) are also significant technology drivers which are revolutionizing the industry. The possibilities out of the technology evolution are endless.
On the flip side, as we get pulled into the digital vortex, human interactions and connections will change, and along with the technology challenges, we will have to deal with the evolution in the way we interact with fellow humans.
Why should more youngsters be wanting to work in your role. What makes your role exciting?
Youngsters today are quite sensible and capable of independent opinion and action. They have more options than were available to us when we started our careers. They should work towards a role and goal that is driven by their passion. They should not want to work in my role, but strive to be in a role in which they can shine to their best of their abilities – bringing value to the organizations/industries that they are part of.
What would your advice be to your 20 year old self?
The same advice that I did give myself when I was 20 which has held me in good stead so far – “work smart and be the best you can be at every moment of your life. There are no shortcuts – believe in yourself, don’t run away from the tough times and start each day with a happy smile”.
Technology as a field is predominantly dominated by men. Are you seeing this trend changing? What steps should be taken to get and keep more women in the tech workforce?
Yes it is and the trend has been changing over the last few years. Often, the challenge is not in getting women to enter the technical field, but lies in getting women to stay in the field as a long term career option.
To get youngsters into the tech workforce, there is a need to imbibe interest towards the career while they are in school itself. Sometimes, there is a disconnect between the computer and IT courses taught in school, vs the realities that exists in the industry. Kids lose interest when they have to learn by rote. Mentoring them, showcasing some of the real-life technical areas, allowing them to explore and innovate on technical projects – are some of the ways to tap into the right talent at an early age. For women especially, socially constructed roles need to be challenged at home. Household responsibilities can and should be shared equally at home. Support from family members is very important in their continuation at work.
Companies like Dell have policies in place which support work at home options, flexi-time, and safety of women team members – all of which are enablers for women to achieve their long-term career goals. Talent and skillset development and career resource centers are available for all employees.
Within the Technical stream, there are so many different options to choose from – product design and development, testing and verification, information development, people management, sales and marketing, etc. All that one needs is motivation and an interest to match one’s talent to the role that will utilize it to the optimum.
Being a woman, was it more difficult for you to climb the ladder? What would be your message to all the women trying to climb the corporate ladder – especially in terms of striking a balance?
No, I have never allowed my gender to be either an enabler or an impediment in my career. I have always relied on my technical abilities, my professionalism and my strengths to move ahead in my career.
Finding and attaining work-life balance is important. It is not always an easy exercise, and may need occasional tweaking, but it is possible. What has helped me along the way is a good support system at home from my family and at work from my boss and peers. Work smart by looking for ways to optimize your efforts and hence improve your productivity. Time management, being organized and planning ahead are also useful skills required for finding the balance. Outside of work, it is equally important to reserve some time in the day away from the technological distractions, where you can focus on your personal commitments and recharge.
There is a lot of debate around whether or not women can have it all – your comments on the same.
Yes, they can. Each woman may have a different definition of “all” and it will be a definition that changes over time. Start with defining what it means to you, identify the steps to make it happen, and actively work towards making it possible.
Communicate with your boss and co-workers. If there is a problem, work towards a solution. Trust-building and strong work ethics is very important. On the personal front, make sure your family understands and supports your decisions.