[Woman in Tech] My biggest learning is the art of influencing without authority: Jaya Jagadish, AMD
As CVP, Silicon Design Engineering, Jaya Jagadish, is responsible for AMD’s R&D work out of India and for enhancing the skill sets of the engineering teams.
As Lead, India Leadership Team, she gives strategic direction for the company’s growth in the region and for fostering a culture of innovation, inclusive growth and corporate responsibility.
Her first stint with AMD was in Austin in 1994. Jaya joined the company after completing her master’s in electrical engineering from University of Texas, Dallas. She moved on from AMD to work with Mentor Graphics as a senior consultant from 1997-2000, followed by Analog Devices as a Senior Design Engineer till 2004.
After returning to India, she joined AMD in 2005 and was one of the first team members of AMD India’s development centre in Bengaluru.
In early 2000, limited engineering design was done in India. Jaya played an instrumental role in shifting this narrative. She built a strong 400+ team that is responsible for designing the very core of AMD CPUs. She hired fresh talent; trained and mentored them.
Over the years, she led this team to successfully execute complex programmes in AMD’s roadmap.
In a conversation with HerStory, Jaya talks about her journey in AMD, changing the design narrative, why we must encourage more women in tech, and her future plans.
HerStory: Can you tell us a little about yourself – your education and growing up years?
Jaya Jagadish: I am from Benglauru and I did my bachelor’s in electronics engineering from BMS College. I moved to the US to do my MS in electrical engineering from University of Texas. Engineering was a natural career choice, mainly because of my love for math and science.
Back in the days, engineering and medicine were the mainstream career choices. I took the former as I always associated engineering with problem solving and innovation. I was fascinated with the creativity that engineering offered.
HS: Can you trace your career journey until now?
JJ: I joined AMD as a Design Engineer, right after my masters’ degree. AMD works in the niche semi-conductor space. Very few women take up a career in hardware engineering, but I was passionate about building and designing products. I knew from the start, that this was my calling.
After a short stint at Mentor Graphics and Analog Devices, I returned to AMD and was part of the founding team that set up the company in India in 2005. I have been with the organisation for over a decade and a half and today, oversee the engineering work out of our development centres here.
HS: As Engineering Lead and CVP at AMD, what are your roles and responsibilities?
JJ: As CVP, Silicon Design Engineering, I lead a strong team of 500+ engineers across our Bengaluru and Hyderabad sites, who play a huge role in driving the company’s CPU roadmap and in turn, AMD’s success globally. I also head the India Leadership Team. In this role, I am responsible for giving strategic direction to AMD’s growth in India and to foster a culture of innovation and inclusive growth among our 2,000+ employees in the region.
HS: How has engineering design changed in India? As Engineering Lead, you played an instrumental role in shifting this narrative. How did this happen?
JJ: When I joined AMD in India in 2005, we had very limited talent in the CPU design space. We hired fresh graduates and trained them internally to build the talent pipeline. One of the high points of my career has been building a high-performing engineering team at AMD India, ground-up. Today, we are a 500+ strong design engineering team.
HS: What can be done to encourage more women into this field?
JJ: While it’s encouraging that we, in India, have a better ratio of women in the ICT workforce at about 34 percent – but less than 1 percent are in the C-Suite. I strongly believe that this needs to change and organisations need to build a conducive work culture for women managers to rise the leadership ranks.
At AMD, we run a mentorship programme for high-potential women employees. They work with senior leaders to build their leadership skills, management capabilities, and strong industry know-how.
HS: A number of women in tech drop out of their career mid-way due to various reasons. What can be done to retain them or encourage women on a career break?
JJ: At AMD, we have several initiatives to support women on maternity leave and those returning to work. For instance, we offer women on maternity leave the option to extend their break, so that they can tend to their care-giving responsibilities at home.
Similarly, the AMD Women’s Forum (AWF) launched a Buddy programme last year, wherein women on maternity leave are assigned a buddy, who helps them stay on track with developments happening at work.
We also provide career development support to women and encourage them to set their own goals. Women are given the necessary guidance and support, to switch between the technical ladder and managerial ladder, as per their career aspirations. We alsfo have mentorship programmes to help women employees learn from senior leaders at AMD.
HS: Do you believe women need to work twice as hard to prove themselves?
JJ: Since it is less common to have women in leadership positions, it is also not always easy to be accepted as a leader. There are times when you have to doubly prove yourself to earn the position and respect from peers. It is important to build your confidence, understand, and play to your core strengths.
Women have the innate ability of being more observant and sensitive. We tend to be more caring and can bring in the much-required sensitivity to understand, comprehend and resolve many people-related issues.
As leaders, we also need to stand firm on what is right, question the status quo, and not shy away from taking bold decisions. Do not give up when the going gets tough. Things do settle down eventually.
HS: What do you think of the gender pay gap that exists when it comes to women?
JJ: I have not really seen this kind of bias at AMD. The only criterion we base our pay on is performance. Twenty-one percent of our workforce is women. But I can understand why such disparities could exist outside.
Sometime, women are not as vocal and aggressive when it comes to asking for pay hikes or bringing up concerns on disparities. We tend to focus on the work that needs to be accomplished and believe other things will be taken care of. Building awareness on parity (what others are paid in the industry) and being open about discussing biases will help address these issues.
HS: Do you mentor women and how?
JJ: I am passionate about enabling women to achieve their career goals and have never missed out an opportunity to mentor women and keep them motivated to succeed in their careers. At AMD, I mentor many women managers through formal and informal sessions.
I discuss various aspects related to problem solving, decision making, people management, work-life balance, career planning, personal goals and more with my mentees.
HS: How can girls be encouraged to take up STEM subjects? Do you think there needs to be a change in the education system to facilitate this?
JJ: Recent industry reports indicate that girls in India are increasingly taking up STEM education and building careers in the tech sector. Initiatives by the Government of India such as Vignan Jyoti, the INSPIRE Awards - MANAK scheme, Atal Tinkering Labs, and Skill India are encouraging girls to take up STEM education.
I also believe we are starting to witness a cultural shift in the mindset of people in India, where STEM fields are seen as natural career paths for women to pursue.
HS: In a career spanning 16 years, what have been your biggest highs and lowest lows? And how did you overcome the latter?
JJ: AMD India has several functional segments and the teams stationed here work for different business units. Each team’s focus was on their functional deliverables and from an India organisation point of view, these were fragmented teams working out of the same location.
There was a clear opportunity to increase our sharing of information and collaboration between groups. To enable more growth and stability in the region, it was important to unite the teams and work towards the vision of “One AMD India”. This prompted the formation of the India Leadership Team (ILT).
ILT was given the mandate to focus on AMD India as one cohesive entity and strengthen collaboration between teams. I was asked to lead the ILT. This role gave me an opportunity to make a big difference to AMD India and came with a whole set of challenges.
I had to work with other leaders who were my peers and learn the art of influencing without authority. Earning the trust of the peer group, bringing various teams together, driving several initiatives with focus on India, and getting executive attention on the region were some of the biggest challenges.
After three-plus years in this role, this experience has been the most challenging, but also the most satisfying in my career. It taught me several leadership lessons, the most important being how to influence without authority.
HS: What are your future plans?
JJ: I am in a good space with great ownership and an excellent team at AMD. I want to continue building the engineering depth and grooming technical talent in the region. My aspiration is to define, design and build AMD products for the India market.
I believe there is immense potential for this, and it will be very satisfying to have teams in India develop a product for the region.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)