[Techie Tuesday] From Atlassian’s first R&D employee in India to a top engineering leader: Sonia Parandekar’s journey
In a career spanning over 15 years, and working across MNCs, startups, and global enterprises, Sonia Parandekar, Head of Engineering for Commerce, Atlassian has always been passionate about learning, building solutions, and giving back to the tech community through her work.
Growing up in Pune, she imbibed a love for engineering from her father, who is a mechanical engineer and an entrepreneur.
“Watching my father work inspired me to solve tough problems, and I believed that engineering equips a person with the skillset to understand and solve problems. So, I wanted to be an engineer … also, my mother too was very talented but never ended up working, so she was very clear that she wanted me to get a strong education and build a career for myself,” Sonia tells YourStory.
A supportive and encouraging environment during the formative years instilled a lot of confidence in Sonia, which later became stepping stones of her understanding of diversity and inclusion.
“I grew up in an environment where I was raised to believe that men and women are equals and hence even when [I was in a situation where] someone else might have doubted me because of my gender, I never doubted myself. Someone else’s thought process has never made me question my capabilities,” she says.
Right from her master’s at the University of Washington to working in MNCs to startups, both in the Bay Area and Bengaluru, Sonia’s diverse experiences have broadened her perspective and outlook towards business problems and opportunities, and have been critical in shaping her as a techie, leader, and mentor.
“Microsoft is where I truly learnt how to be a software developer and write quality codes. My time at Groupon added further depth to the engineer in me and helped me hone the skills of a manager. At Urban Ladder, I joined as a director and eventually took over responsibility for the engineering team, and that journey was very valuable for me because it helped me grow as a leader," she says.
Opportunities at Atlassian
Sonia joinedin 2018 as head of engineering for the Atlassian Marketplace.
“I was the first R&D employee to join Atlassian Bengaluru and fourth overall,” she adds.
Recalling her first experience at Atlassian, Sonia says, “The company had decided in February 2018 that by February 2019, they would transition the Marketplace product over to Bengaluru as the anchor product for the site. So when I joined in June 2018, the clock was already ticking. I had to build out a new team, get ramped up on the Marketplace product, ship some new features, and successfully complete the transition in eight months. The whole experience was unforgettable and its success meant a lot for all of us in establishing our Bengaluru site.”
Sonia is currently heading the commerce team and has been able to put a lot of emphasis on honing her craft as an engineering manager and leader.
“At Atlassian, I’ve had time to reflect and upskill myself in engineering management. I’ve learnt a lot from my colleagues in complementary roles such as architects, designers, program managers, peer mentors, and that has significantly shaped my approach,” she adds.
A holistic approach to D&I
“As I have grown in my career, I feel the need to share my learnings. Some of my most gratifying experiences at work have been when I’ve had these women come up to me and talk about how a nudge from my side helped them embrace a new challenge or question a key decision,” Sonia tells YourStory.
Atlassian’s open and inclusive culture and efforts of reaching out to diverse talents and creating growth opportunities for them, has given Sonia a perfect platform to go after her belief in building a work environment where every employee could thrive.
“I am very fortunate to have been involved in several coaching and mentoring opportunities at Atlassian, with managers, with women, with new joinees, etc. I got a chance to shape a coaching programme for new managers in Bengaluru and run it for two sessions in a row. I’ve been part of our internal Women LeaP program, which focuses on senior women developers. I’ve also led coaching for our Apprentice Manager cohorts for senior developers who are transitioning to a managerial role, on multiple occasions,” she adds while talking about her evolution from being in her shell when it came to diversity and inclusion (D&I) to now, when she’s taking action and acknowledges the responsibility of leaders, especially women, to build an equitable workplace for each and every employee.
Sonia has also been the chair of the Atlassian Foundation Council for two years. The foundation works with a vision of preparing 10 million disadvantaged youth for the workforce of the future.
Mentoring techies of tomorrow
“When you think about growing people, it's not about how you get them promoted, it's about helping them discover their strengths and investing in their growth, and that'll help them succeed in any company,” Sonia states.
In her position as a senior leader, Sonia is cognisant of the change she can drive.
“I am in a position where it’s easier to be a multiplier. A lot of times people, especially women, feel that they aren’t ready for their next big role and hence don’t pursue it the way they should. Sometimes they want to progress but need a little guidance and encouragement. It’s so rewarding to know that you can play a role in someone’s growth,” she adds.
For aspiring young techies and professionals, Sonia shares a few tips and tricks to excel in their journey.
“Learn to make your own decisions and take full ownership of the consequences. That’s a critical muscle to build, not only at work but also in personal life. You have to be the architect of your career. Having great managers, peers, mentors does help but at the end of the day, it's your career so need to be in the driver’s seat. And, don’t forget to find true joy in your work” says Sonia signing off.