From Silicon To Software

 

Q&A with Latha Venkatachari, VP of Applications Engineering, On Growing Women-in-Tech Leaders

women in tech

As vice president of applications engineering for the Synopsys Silicon Realization Group, Latha Venkatachari is responsible for all of product engineering for Synopsys verification software and as well as an R&D team in the group, among other responsibilities. She is also a champion for inclusion and diversity and founded the Synopsys Women in Networking (WIN) forum. In recognition of her leadership as a role model for up-and-coming women in tech, Latha has been honored with the YWCA Tribute to Women award and a Synopsys Diversity & Inclusion Champion award.

We recently sat down with Latha to hear her perspective on gender diversity in tech, the challenges women face in building tech careers, and how they can overcome any obstacles. Read on to learn more about her fascinating journey.

Q: Can you tell me about your career path in engineering and the work you do for Synopsys?

A: After I received my Master of Science in Computer Science at the University of Mysore in India, I was introduced to EDA as a software developer, using the tools. I worked at a couple of startups early on. One of the companies I worked for was Viewlogic, which Synopsys acquired in 1997. That was also the time when I had my first child. Back then, I was looking for work-life balance, which called for some more structure surrounding my schedule. Over time, I grew into a team lead role, however changes with my husband’s career brought us to the United States. I had to find a new job at Synopsys. The move seemed like a professional step back for me, as I restarted with a new role as a support engineer. However, with support from family and work, I was able to move up in my career to my current role, as a vice president of application engineering at Synopsys. This is my 24th year here. Today, I’m responsible for the entire product engineering team for verification software. This means responsibility for software quality, working with R&D to define new features, making sure we understand the customer requirements, and training. It includes VC Formal™ and Verdi® Automated Debug System. More recently, I started managing an extended team in Sri Lanka, working across all the hardware and software products, and part of that team is focused on software quality.

Q: What are the top challenges women engineers face in looking to grow their careers?

A: Self-confidence and knowing how to present oneself and not hesitating to take up new initiatives at work are definitely top challenges. If you are a woman, you may strive for 99% perfection before you say you are capable, but this is not the case at all. You are capable long before perfection because you can figure things out. You can present yourself, ask for the task, and know that you’ll figure it out through a methodical process of problem solving. And, then you can build credibility by showing results.

Also, you need to understand who your audience is when you communicate. For instance, what level are you speaking to and how do you provide the information in the most effective way? While presenting yourself may be a universal challenge for both men and women, it’s different for women. There are fewer women at higher levels who have already walked the path and are able to coach. Networking for men is easier because there are a lot more of them in technology. This calls for broadening your network beyond other women, too.

We did a sample survey for diversity and inclusion across demographics and various cultural aspects in the Verification Group. As part of that survey, we looked at the experience level of women and uncovered different kinds of challenges across different stages of a woman’s career. Our findings showed that women early in their careers, up to five years of experience, are looking for leadership. They need visibility into the landscape of opportunities and guidance on how to navigate it as well as an understanding of how they can best contribute. The focus in these first years is education. Five to 10 years of experience is an interesting place to be because young women professionals know their technology, and they are good at specific areas. However, they need to learn how to shine and build their career on top of that. To do that, they need to better understand their strengths through a feedback loop provided by a good manager or mentor or some other leader. In the period from 10-15 years of experience, women are trying to balance home, as well as their work. It’s a time that women aspire to grow their careers but because many need to balance this with families, they require a support system and flexibility at work.

Q: Can you tell us about a time in your career where you gained self-confidence, that was pivotal?

A: An early personal experience was important for my learning self-confidence. When I was 13 years old, my mom worked in a high school. She had a lot of health issues, and she could barely walk. Because of this, she was having a hard time managing her work at school. I tried to help her, but it was a bit funny as I had to manage my own teachers who were well experienced, for a period of 12-13 months.  My mother counseled me that it’s not your age or your experience level that matters. If you put your focus on the problem that you are solving, you can solve it in a very methodical way; the key is to dissect the problem to find a solution. It would be accepted regardless of who you are.

I was tasked to go to multiple meetings with educational officers and boards, at that time. My job was to take notes and come back and relay the information to her. Through this experience, I could understand the importance of working with people, how to get alignment, and the need to stay very calm during crises (in other words, working well under pressure!). The main nugget of wisdom that I carried forward was the power of observation, seeing what you can learn from others. I learned from this experience that you don’t have to be worried about setbacks while trying new things

Another pivotal experience for me came from my boss at another company. I was complaining about a colleague and told my boss that I couldn’t work with him because we could not move forward on an issue. My boss told me that I didn’t have to like a person to be able to work with them. That’s a different perspective, right? So then, over time, what I took from that is that somebody doesn’t need to give you power. If moving something forward is the right thing to do, you can build your case. You can move it forward yourself. You need to have conviction to present your case and that the proposal of yours is indeed the right thing to do. It’s good to anchor on a person who can support you before taking action. That helps a lot. Find people you trust who can give you feedback on your idea and approach.

Q: You’ve done a lot of work with inclusion and diversity and have been recognized for it. Why is this important to you?

A: The root of my passion for inclusion and diversity starts with my mom, a working woman who I looked up to a great deal. Then, when I started my career, I was trying to move from an individual contributor to a team lead. I had four to five years’ experience in a startup and had achieved team lead, but in the middle of all of that, I shifted gears to get married, relocate, and find a new job. Every time I shifted gears there was a bit of a setback in my career. That is observation number one. If your ambition is to move your career up the ladder, every time you make a shift, it’s a reset. And if you must take a step back, how do you offset the change?

The second observation is that once you start moving up the ladder, then there are fewer women. I needed to overcome and resolve several challenges at work and at home with a child. All of these experiences were formative, but also, I realized that I’m not the only one with these challenges. There are others out there like me.

Whatever the challenges during this journey have been, I was able to develop best practices to manage them. And I am sure there are many women leaders who have their own recipes for solving these issues.

I thought: Why not create a forum to make sure that we pass these learnings to the people who are coming up? That’s why we started the Women in Networking (WIN) forum in 2016 at Synopsys. WIN is a group whose intent is to grow women’s leadership talent through the sharing of these best practices. It now includes all women in the Verification Group. We regularly hold events on a wide array of topics, from unconscious bias to career building. There is so much talent and experience out there from women that we aren’t leveraging. Today WIN has taken another name called Women Impact Network, as part of Synopsys Employee Resource Groups (ERG), internal employee led communities that serve to foster an inclusive and diverse workplace. My hope is that WIN will continue to be a platform that can help resolve some of these challenges to better leverage women’s talent.

There have been many studies on the benefits of diversity for companies. One of these is the McKinsey report, Why Diversity Matters. They say that “Companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.” So in the end, greater diversity at all levels benefits everyone.

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