[Women in Tech] Think of your career as a marathon as opposed to a sprint, says Shalini Eswaran of Texas Instruments

As Digital Design Manager at Texas Instruments, Shalini Eswaran is not only responsible for the successful implementation and testing of IPs and SoCs across various sites, but is also passionate about mentoring women in tech.

As Digital Design Manager at Texas Instruments (TI), Shalini Eswaran oversees Physical Design and Design For Testability (DFT) domains in the Connectivity Business Unit, catering to key verticals such as SmartGrid, Industrial, Auto, and IoT. In her current role, Shalini manages a team of 20+ engineers who are responsible for the successful implementation and testing of IPs and SoCs across both domains in the Oslo, Israel and US sites.

Shalini joined TI as a Physical Design Engineer in 2004, and over the last 16 years, she has taken on more responsibilities that have helped her explore the breadth and depth of her domain across multiple verticals.

She is an active member of the ‘Embedded Processing - Diversity and Inclusion WW team’ and co-leads the ‘Retain and Promote’ team at the company. The group discusses ideas and implements them to retain and promote diversity in talent.

Shalini is also a mother of two and in her free time, enjoys kicking the ball with her son and reviewing books with her daughter. Being a fitness enthusiast, she finds time to run, practice yoga or engage in high-intensity interval training. She has recently begun exploring guided meditation as well.

In a conversation with HerStory, she talks about her career in tech, why more women should be encouraged to take up STEM fields, and why networking is essential.

HerStory (HS): Tell us a little about yourself…

Shalini Eswaran (SE): My father’s job in marketing came with frequent transfers and I grew up in multiple cities. The experience taught me to adapt to different cultures. The exposure also helped me develop my coping skills at an early age; having to make new friends and learn new languages to fit in.

My family always encouraged me to pursue my interests in science, including giving me the freedom to move to a different city for my higher education. Living away from family in my formative years taught me to be independent and resourceful. Four years of graduation at BITS were the highlight of my learning years. The academic curriculum and the teaching methods were designed to spark critical thinking and questioning. The way in which assignments, projects and open book tests were conducted was uncommon in those days. It shaped my approach to addressing challenges – from devising creative solutions to bootstrapping with limited resources and bringing a ‘can-do’ attitude to the table. This continues to be my guiding mantra even today.

HS: Were you always interested in STEM? What got you interested in the subject?

SE: I have always been interested in science, particularly in chemistry and math, and have been blessed with very good teachers in school who facilitated my learning. It has always fascinated me that everything happening around us can be explained by chemicals, compounds, reactions, and numbers. I always connected daily chores, like my mother cooking in the kitchen, to chemical reactions. For me, math was never just a subject – it was an all-pervading thing!

HS: Tell us about your career journey until now.

SE: During my college years, I heard about Texas Instruments, and it soon became my ‘dream company’. Although I started my career with ST Microelectronics after my graduation, I quickly made my move to TI as an entry-level Physical Design Engineer in the then newly-formed MSP430 team.

I had several capable mentors and supervisors who gave me the freedom to explore the breadth and depth of my domain. Over the last 16 years, I have worked across Industrial, Automotive, and more recently, the IoT verticals – primarily in the MicroController segment (Embedded Processing).

In 2010, I moved into a people manager role, starting with a small team. Today, I manage a team of 20, contributing to project executions across three locations – Oslo, Israel, and India.

In many ways, 2020 has been a good year for me on the professional front. Although the pandemic posed its own challenges, our strong roadmap ensured our team had strong execution and could carry out key deliverables across devices out of Oslo, Israel and India sites. Managing and interacting with teams from diverse backgrounds comes with its own set of complexities, but I also find it uniquely rewarding to be able to work together with a team that has such rich and diverse experience.

HS: Tell us about your roles and responsibilities at Texas Instruments.

SE: Currently, I manage the Physical Design and Design for Testability (DFT) domains in the Connectivity Business Unit. Across the two domains, my team and I are responsible for the successful implementation and testing of IPs and SoCs. We ensure timely delivery of PGs while meeting Power, Performance and Area (PPA) commitments. The team supports designs being executed across our Oslo, Israel, India, and US sites under the SmartGrid, Industrial, Auto, and IoT verticals.

HS: What does Physical Design entail?

SE: Physical Design is popularly known as ‘RTL GDSii’ flow in the industry and is a complex process that involves transforming circuit descriptions written in code format into physical layouts. The layout will describe the position of transistors or gates in silicon, and the routes and interconnections between the code and layout.

We work with several variables including design feasibility, timing requirements, technology, and FAB specifics required to convert logical representations into a physically fabricable form. Physical design directly impacts circuit performance, silicon area – which would impact manufacturing cost, reliability, circuit power, and manufacturing yield.

HS: Do you think women in tech are a rare breed?

SE: While we can definitely improve the number of women in technology, I don’t think they are a rare breed anymore. From my own experience, I see the number of women in TI increasing every year. I have worked with several female colleagues, including brilliant and capable women leaders. We still have some work to do to achieve parity on all fronts, but the trend is positive and we are on the right track.

HS: What more must be done to attract women to STEM?

SE: The potential I see among women in STEM and technology is high, and I see a lot of young girls interested in science and math. Parents often support their daughters to perform well in academics, but as they enter high school or their pre-university years, we see subtle pressure on girls to evaluate their life choices from a wider angle – is it safe for a girl to go to a different city and study? Is it necessary? Can she pursue a course closer to home? Why study for a Master’s or PhD if you can get a decent job with your Bachelors’ degree? This also extends into the years of professional growth – shouldn’t she think of marriage and raising a family? Should she take up that larger role?

This also sets in a cycle of self-doubt and slowly, the choices narrow down and girls begin closing doors for themselves. What we need are more visible women role models in technology, mentoring opportunities for girls at an early age, and wider conversations in society that will allow them to leverage opportunities and realise their full potential.

When it comes to retaining women in technical jobs, organisations need to provide the required support during crucial life stages. I have been able to build a successful career at TI because of the support I have received over the years, including when I had my children and required flexibility at work.

HS: Do you mentor other women? Why are mentorship and networking essential for women in tech?

SE: As a part of the Embedded Processing - Diversity and Inclusion Worldwide team, I try to network with female colleagues across the organisation, particularly the younger crowd. At times, all they need is someone willing to listen to them, and these conversations help them clear their mind and think through their challenges. I also try and share my own experience with them so they can benefit from what I have learnt over the years.

Networking and mentorship opportunities are extremely important for women in technology. They can leverage each other’s experiences and learnings – both in the personal and professional space. Sometimes, it helps to hear if a colleague or peer have experienced similar challenges. Personally, I have continuously benefited from mentorship – from both men and women, who have brought interesting and fresh perspectives to guide me through several challenges – both personal and professional.

HS: What have been your biggest successes and challenges?

SE: There have been several milestones in my career – whether that is working on different products with different teams, or managing greater technical and people responsibilities. These accomplishments have happened on the back of consistent performance and continuous learning. Thinking of your career as a marathon as opposed to a sprint keeps you grounded, humble, and makes life easier.

There are always going to be challenges. But I view them as part of growth, particularly when we step into new roles and responsibilities.

HS: What have been your biggest innovations?

SE: When you are doing innovation-centric work, there are always going to be challenges. I enjoy finding clever solutions to address them each time. The most recent experience was enabling two PG’s within a few months, while the team was working remotely. Even though these were derivative devices, executing them in these unprecedented times came with its own set of challenges. However, as a team, we did complete them with a significantly reduced cycle time and a lower-than-budgeted cost, resulting in an eye-opening, fulfilling, and a truly humbling experience. Even with virtually onboarded recruits, our team successfully found innovative ways to connect, review, and track deliverables seamlessly.

HS: What do you think would be the future of work post-COVID-19?

SE: For the kind of work we do, nothing can replace in-person collaboration. I can’t wait to be back in the office, discussing and collaborating with my teams, whiteboarding new ideas, and having animated discussions to solve technical challenges. There is an energy that comes from being in the same room and working together that is just not possible in online interactions.

HS: What are your future plans?

SE: Technology is always changing, and presents us with new opportunities. This excites me tremendously and keeps me motivated to learn and do more in my domain. I am also passionate about guiding and mentoring women in technology. I was part of the virtual hiring process this year, and spent more time interacting with STEM aspirants. It is exciting and rewarding to be able to interact with these young women and guide them in their careers. I hope to do more of this in the coming years.

Edited by Kanishk Singh