From conducting experiments on herself to becoming a data scientist and one of country’s leading AI influencers, meet Kyndryl’s Dr Sheela Siddappa

Ranked as one of the top 10 data scientists in the country by Analytics India Magazine (AIM) and top 10 AI leaders by REVA, Sheela Siddappa has a wide experience in the field of data science. She speaks to YourStory on how her family and teachers enabled her to excel as a scientist and tech leader.

“Innovation is everything for me,” says Dr Sheela Siddappa, with a twinkle in her eye and an endearing smile on her face. Working as the Principal Data Scientist at Kyndryl, Dr Sheela boasts of an illustrious career, filled with achievements such as being among the top leaders in the country’s AI space.

As a child, Dr Sheela was a dreamer and conjured up scenarios of being in a fancy laboratory, where she would be conducting experiments with rats. At that point, innovation for her, existed only in the dimension of biology, but over time, she realised that it is not limited to a single domain, but many more areas. And, she also grew passionate about innovations that can rise up from the theory and could be made usable.

“It is also important to take into account how this innovation can be consumed. It must be made more realistic, so that people can consume it. For me, innovation comes first and then technology,” she adds.

In a candid chat with YourStory, as part of the ‘Lead like her’ series focusing on inspiring and successful women leaders at Kyndryl, Dr Sheela opens up about what innovation means to her, how her formative years have shaped her personality, her constant endeavour to solve problems, and be a part of innovations that can have a usable, positive impact.

Her zeal and curiosity towards problem-solving dates back to her childhood. Dr Sheela attributes this to her upbringing and the environment at home, which have helped her be the woman she is today.

Innovation begins at home

Dr Sheela reveals that the environment at home was always conducive to her growth. While her mother inculcated the “can-do” and “never give up” attitude in her, Sheela’s father taught her to be structured and organised.

She recalls an incident when she wanted to see where a coin would land if someone swallowed it, after being inspired by a scene in a movie. “I was just four or five years old at that time and was consumed by the thought of where the coin could have vanished [after it was swallowed by the actor in the film]. So, on a certain day, when there were a few guests at home, I took a few coins and conducted the experiment on myself. My little stunt ended up with me being hospitalised but back then, I wouldn’t mind the consequences because I was just so curious about the whole situation,” she shares.

Carving her career

Dr Sheela credits her success to several professors in college. She had also opted for certain electives such as statistics and operations, that have fanned her appetite to solve problems further.

“Statistics was taken by another faculty, and he would explain more about the design of experiments and how they were conducted. As an industrial engineer, I realised I could connect the same thing to missions, rather than that for a human being. So, all of this just fell in place for me and that itself turned out to be my passion. I did my master’s then, and eventually pursued my PhD,” she says, adding that she also received immense support from her parents.

A culture that fuels innovation

Although Dr Sheela values all her professional experiences to date, she believes that her time at Kyndryl has been rather fruitful. She highlights the freedom that employees receive to achieve what they want, minus hierarchical restrictions.

“There is a lot of encouragement that we receive within Kyndryl. There is immense support and assistance from the management. While there are many organisations that are doing great work, Kyndryl is pro-growth and a professional can really look towards an wholesome growth,” she shares.

Diversity and inclusion

Dr Sheela has lived in various places owing to her father’s transferable job and hence, is accustomed to all kinds of people, their reactions, and behaviours. Experiences of moving and adjusting to new environments constantly has helped her develop a nuanced understanding of diversity and inclusion.

Her understanding of these concepts further developed during her professional years when she saw the gender dynamics playing up. However, Dr Sheela feels that putting forth high quality work is the ideal way to counter sexism.

“During your academic years, the focus is just on hard work and not on gender or anything else. But when I started my professional journey, the realisation of gender bias struck. However, I believe in collecting my thoughts, and assess if I can improve the quality of my work? If something is missing in you, try and work towards that, so that the person on the other side doesn’t see if there is a man or woman speaking. There should be value in your work,” she shares.

Mentoring the next generation of techies

“It is crucial to put ourselves in various challenging situations to build confidence,” says Dr Sheela while talking about the various enablers for the next generation of aspiring professionals. She also believes in a no-discrimination policy when it comes to assigning tasks whilst heavily promoting “making things happen by collaborating and motivating each other”.

Dr Sheela wants to solve problems and brings forth new solutions that enhance convenience for the ecosystem at large. She urges young professionals and techies to understand the value of time and always be open to learning.

An advisor who believes in providing innovative solutions and disruptive thinking in data science, Dr Sheela is a spirited personality with undying zeal for lifelong learning … She’s raring to go.


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