The girl from Ambarnath who fell in love with computer science - Sheenam Ohrie, VP, SAP India

23rd Oct 2013
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Going from a small unknown town to becoming the VP of one of the largest multi-nationals is no easy task. What makes this leader special? What defines Sheenam Ohrie’s story? Let us find out from her in a freewheeling conversation.Edited excerpts:

Memories of Ambarnath

I was born in a very small town called Ambarnath. Most people would not even have heard of the place. It is a part of Thane in Maharashtra. I did my schooling till class 7 in Ambarnath, in a school called The Inner Wheel Public School. There were only two autos in Ambarnath that could get me to school, so that is the kind of childhood setting I am talking about. For class 8, I moved to Thane because my father shifted to another job. I studied till class 10 in Thane. Later, my father moved to Bangalore for another job. I did my 11th and 12th from Mount Carmel, and did my engineering from Bangalore University. My CET rank was 286. I did my electronics from Bangalore University.

Coming from a small town to a big city like Bangalore was daunting. My first six months in college were extremely hard. However, I started participating in a lot of extra-curricular activities and it gave a great boost for my confidence.

My father’s upbringing helped me a lot. He taught me never to give up in any kind of adversity. If you believe in something, you can make it happen for sure. My father led by example. He is 72 now, but still consults with companies.

I was extremely good in maths and sciences. So, I decided to study electronics. This was in 1987. Computer science had just come in, and we were not sure how things would pan out in that field.

Introduction to computer science

During third year of my college, I was introduced to Fortran. I just loved it. I wanted to explore more. So I learnt C and Pascal on my own. I discovered I could do this pretty well and really enjoyed the creative process. I thought why not give software a chance.

In 1992, i-flex, later taken over by Oracle, was conducting walk-in interviews. I went ahead. I was one of the 20 people they hired that year. I worked with Oracle for almost 15 years and enjoyed my time there. I did everything possible in software development life cycle, right from defining requirements to writing code to managing customers, partners and teams. In 2007, I moved on to Business Objects as a Director. Business Objects was later acquired by SAP in 2009. I became a part of the leadership for the SAP Test Center in India.

Leadership at SAP India

At SAP, I started as the Director of the India Test Center. I was directly managing three product lines and was working with about 130 people. From there, I moved into the Chief Product Owner role where I was responsible for a new product that we were building from the scratch that could potentially change our customers’ lives. Post which, in 2011, I took over operations. My job as COO for test engineering was to increase efficiency.That was one of my best phases at SAP so far. I worked on many meaningful external alliances during this phase. Right now, I look after the Usability Test Lab in India and manage about 170 people.

For me, it has always been about constantly challenging myself and exploring myself so that I truly become the best of what I can be.

Driving diversity and inclusion at SAP India

We have a key focus on gender diversity. We have created a mentorship platform called Ignite where emerging women managers are being mentored by colleagues in leadership. Women who are ready to immediately get on leadership are being coached by our internal leadership coaches; we have about 30 of them.

We are also focussed on sensitizing teams about cultural diversity and generational diversity. We have autistic people on our team. We have just hired two visually impaired people. The other big thing we are working on is creating awareness on LGBT issues among our leadership. We have external leaders coming in and talking to our teams. We have senior technology leaders, artists, authors, activists, designers etc coming in and sharing what is happening in their world. We make sure that our people are constantly learning from external leaders as well as internal.

For me, right now, the big focus is on generational diversity. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in this space. Sensitizing managers on how to work with GenY, and see if tools like reverse mentoring can be used, where not only GenY gets mentored by senior managers, but also ensure the other way round. We are working extensively to figure out how to make our women employees more and more comfortable at our workplace. We have a play school now. We are constantly thinking about how to bring more women into leadership. Women tend to give up on their careers at a phase when they are just about to have children, or they have old parents to take care of. We need to bring about societal and organizational level changes to make our women stay in the workplaces. They come with immense amount of talent, and this issue needs to be fixed immediately.

Personal drive and advice

Creating value drives me personally, and the fact that I am continuously learning. Also, it is important that I am adding value to my environment continuously and not just to myself. Innovating to better myself to add value to my environment is what drives me.

For all the younger ones out there, here is a takeawy from Sheenam’s journey: “Dream. Never give up. Don’t forget your roots and your own learnings and stay in.”

We wish Sheenam all the best for many more victories ahead of her.

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