[International Women’s Day] Irrespective of gender, after a point, it is your work that speaks for you, says Jaya Singh of Texas Instruments
Jaya Singh is a senior leader in a conventionally male-dominated semi-conductor industry. Despite the hidden biases that condition girls to opt for careers other than engineering or STEM, Jaya has, over the years, risen through the ranks to lead a team of over 50 engineers in Texas Engineering, including a team in Dallas, TI’s global headquarters.
An R&D leader in the embedded processing business of Texas Instruments (TI), she has been working with the company for close to 19 years now.
Presently, she is the Worldwide Development Manager for the C2000 Microcontroller, which is a key business for Texas Instruments.
In an interesting conversation with HerStory, on the sidelines of International Women’s Day, Jaya talks about working on technologies that deliver clean energy, safer transport, and others. She says, change needs to happen at various levels to attract more girls to STEM.
HerStory: Can you tell me a little about your growing years?
Jaya Singh: I did my schooling in Kanpur. My dad was a professor and my mum a homemaker. Right from early childhood, Mathematics and Science fascinated me - I enjoyed DIY work at home and spent a lot of my time learning about scientific phenomena. I went on to complete my engineering in Electronics and Communications from IIT-Roorkee. Coming from a traditional background, engineering wasn’t an obvious career choice for me but my keen interest in the field pushed me to get the education I wanted.
HS: Were you always interested in technology? As a child, what made you think of STEM as a career?
JS: I had a natural inclination to science and was always drawn to it. Science helped me make sense of the world around me, providing an answer to my countless ‘why’ questions and giving me the tools and method to think logically. As a child, my standard birthday gift was a science encyclopedia. A career in STEM seemed like a natural extension of this interest.
Though I didn’t have any visible women role models in engineering, I was influenced by my uncles who were engineers. There were moments of self-doubt, but I finally made it to engineering because of my passion for this field and a healthy dose of stubbornness that convinced everybody around me that this was the only career choice for me. I eventually became the first woman engineer in my family.
HS: Tell us about your career journey till you joined Texas Instruments.
JS: I can divide my work experience into ‘before TI’ and ‘after TI’. I started off in the Electronic Design Automation (EDA-SW) domain at Duet Technologies, but I soon became interested in VLSI design and hardware technologies. My manager was kind enough to let me try my hand at it, and while the work was challenging, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It sealed my lifelong fascination with VLSI! A few years later, after marriage, I moved to Hyderabad and joined Mentor Graphics, where I led a team in the domain of test for EDA tools. While this was an enriching experience, I always wanted to be in core VLSI design. That’s when I decided to leave a perfectly good job at Mentor Graphics and join TI in Bangalore, resetting and restarting my career. It was a risk, but it turned out to be a good one.
HS: As Engineering Manager at TI, what are your roles and responsibilities?
JS: I lead the C2000 Microcontroller Development Group in Texas Instruments with a team of about 65 people spread across India and the US. We develop many complex and challenging microcontroller SoCs that make their way into several products in automotive, industrial, and alternative energy. We take care of the entire development life cycle of the device - from conceptualisation and strategy to design and silicon.
A big part of my responsibility is managing the team. When you are working on complex innovations like we do, road bumps and frustration are part and parcel of life. I have to make sure the team stays motivated, engaged, and excited, and continues to think creatively. I am also heavily invested in mentoring and coaching people to develop a pipeline of future leaders.
HS: What do you think are the hidden biases and conditioning that girls opting for STEM careers face?
JS: I think the biggest barrier is self-doubt. Years of conditioning have assigned specific roles to women, dictating our life choices. For generations, we have been bred on gendered ideas of our natural abilities. Boys are more ‘left-brained’ i.e. scientific, analytical, mathematical, and logical, and girls more ‘right-brained’ –creative, emotional, intuitive, etc. This social conditioning defines the toys we play with, the concept of ‘self’ we develop and eventually the careers we choose.
A fairly large majority of people conform to these notions and young girls internalise these ideas too, which sometimes translates into a lack of confidence in their capabilities in STEM. While things are definitely changing – most of these positive developments are limited to urban areas. If you look at girls from less privileged households, they still have little or no access to STEM education.
HS: The semiconductor industry is quite a male-dominated one. What were the challenges in your path and how did you overcome them?
JS: While it is true that there are more men in technology and engineering, things are steadily changing. In my long career at TI, I have never felt that my gender has hindered my growth in any way. I’ve always had very supportive supervisors and my success has been determined on merit, capability, and performance. I believe that irrespective of gender, after a point, it is your work that speaks for you.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t any challenges. Women may find themselves excluded from informal networking that happens between men and miss out on developing and strengthening their own networks. This could limit access to the right resources, mentors, sponsors, etc. Women engineers also tend to pursue non-technical career paths, opting for managerial roles instead. Women shoulder a greater share of the responsibilities at home, and particularly once they have children, they are expected to roll back their aspirations.
But like I mentioned, things are changing. For instance, TI’s Women for Technical Leadership (WFTL) programme supports women who want to pursue a technical career path with mentorship, guidance, and coaching from their managers and technical leaders. We also focus on helping women reintegrate at work after maternity. If I look at my own career, after I had my child, I slowed down for a couple of years. But that didn’t take away my professional growth. Women need to understand that a career spans 30-35 years, and going slow for one or two years will not create a dent in the long run.
HS: What more can be done to attract women in tech and also retain them as a number of them drop out due to various reasons?
JS: Change needs to happen at several levels – from our schools, homes, pop culture, the use of gendered language and much more. We need to encourage girls to interact with science and technology right at the elementary level by giving them opportunities to gain an appreciation for this field through hands-on experience. Things like science fairs, hackathons, school science clubs that recruit more girls, company tours – all this can go a long way in sparking curiosity for STEM at a young age.
HS: What qualities should women adopt to be successful in the tech industry?
JS: Be very good at your job. Understand the technology you are working on, stay abreast of latest trends, sharpen your skills and core competency by taking on new challenges and step out of your comfort zone to do things that don’t come easily to you.
When I look at my career, the assignments that challenged me were the ones that taught me the most. For instance, I was once given the opportunity to lead a team which was working on a technology I wasn’t familiar with, and was going through a difficult period. To leave my current stability for an uncertain future was not an easy decision. Eventually, I did take on this challenge and I believe it shaped me as a leader. I was able to motivate and energise the team and we launched several successful products.
Another quality that will help women in their career, especially when you want to be a leader, is the ability to take calculated risks. Always playing safe is never a great recipe for success and neither is being reckless - you need to arrive at a middle path. Also, build your network and do not shy away from reaching out to people if you don’t know something. Be confident of your capabilities. Finally, dream big and have a long-term career plan.
HS: What are your future plans?
JS: I love what I do at TI. My team works on technology that solves real world problems. We are working towards delivering cleaner energy, safer transportation, factory automation, power efficiency, and much more. For instance, C2000 real-time microcontrollers that go into electric vehicles are enabling better driving performance, longer range per charge, and faster charging. This kind of work is really exciting because it brings real change on the ground, improves lives, and has a positive impact on our planet. I want to do more of this work in the coming years, continuing to grow and broaden the impact I have on the business, industry, and society.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)