The biggest factor in retaining women in tech is providing equality of opportunity, says Padmini Gopalakrishnan of AMD

By Rekha Balakrishnan
October 17, 2022, Updated on : Thu Oct 20 2022 02:56:20 GMT+0000
The biggest factor in retaining women in tech is providing equality of opportunity, says Padmini Gopalakrishnan of AMD
Our Woman in Tech this week is Padmini Gopalakrishnan, Senior Director, FPGA Implementation Software and AI products at AMD India. She leads a team of over 90 engineers who work on software tools that help customers take designs from a high-level description and implement them on adaptable devices.
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Growing up, Padmini Gopalakrishnan lived in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Saharanpur. The Senior Director, FPGA Implementation Software and AI products at AMD India leads a team in Hyderabad, working on logic synthesis, placement and routing and device modelling among other tasks, crucial in the design of the company’s FPGA Software and Tools.


To Padmini, a stable and conducive environment at home was encouraging for both her sister and herself. It enabled them to be curious and detail-oriented, she says.


“My father was an engineer, my mother is a scientist who later pursued a PhD in management. My father and maternal grandfather were also good at repairing and building things, so from a very young age, I always thought this was a very cool thing to do,” she tells HerStory.


Padmini recalls getting a home computer at the age of 10, an 8-bit Commodore 64, on which she learnt to type, played games and wrote programs in Basic.


In school, she liked science and math, though it took her a while to decide what she wanted to do. “My parents were very supportive of my interests. At the same time, they always emphasised the importance of being financially independent, so I chose the practical route of taking science and math in Grade XI and XII and postponing the final decision about a career by a year or so,” she says.


In high school, she was inspired by her Physics teacher, Gopa Sen and around the middle of Grade XI, was sure she wanted to do something that focused on the subject.


When she got through JEE, IIT-Madras seemed like a natural choice, since it also gave her the option to pursue her interest in Carnatic music in Chennai. After graduating, she went on to pursue her MS in Computer Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

“I worked at Monterey Design Systems, a startup, which built tools for optimising designs from a high-level description all the way to layout. This was a great learning experience for me early in my career – I got to work with very talented and experienced colleagues and wear many different hats,” she says.

This experience motivated Padmini to go back to graduate school and complete a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in 2006 – where she spent time in research, taking a variety of courses, attending talks, and interacting with students, faculty, and mentors from industry. Her PhD advisor, Professor Larry Pileggi a technologist and innovator, it was his approach to research, learning, and teaching that greatly influenced her.


Later, Padmini returned to India after completing her PhD and joined Xilinx in Hyderabad, because by then, she realised she enjoyed “building real products that make a difference.”


“I started out in Xilinx Labs, and after a couple of years, got the opportunity to lead and build up a team to work on design automation and optimisation. The scope of my team has expanded significantly over the last decade and more, and it has been a fun journey for all of us to learn and work together and make a difference to our customers,” she explains.


With the acquisition of Xilinx, she is now a part of AMD and leads a team of over 90 engineers who work on software tools that help customers take designs from a high-level description and implement them on adaptable devices.


“The work in my team involves writing complex and scalable software, but also requires a very close understanding of the underlying hardware architecture and how it can be modelled. This is work that requires very specialised skills.”


To Padmini, one of her key roles is enabling her team to deliver the best results. “It spans a variety of areas – building up the organisation and nurturing a good work culture, connecting teams to customer requirements, strategising on future projects, ensuring that project deliverables are on track and that people have the right opportunities to learn and grow,” she adds.


Padmini counts her team as the biggest success story, in which she had a role.


“Many of us have worked, learnt, and grown together over the years, and continue to contribute to the company with increasing impact,” she adds.


When taking into consideration her biggest challenges, central to it has been learning to change her working style as the team expanded, like for instance letting go of tasks.


“I like getting into technical details, and I had to learn to let go and delegate as my team became larger, to ask the right questions to understand project status and risks better, and to learn from others because that is often the fastest way to get into a new area,” she says.

Emphasis on inclusive workplaces

Padmini is no stranger to a situation where she was the only woman in the room. ! Therefore, she believes one of the biggest things to do in order to attract more women to technology is to ensure there is a critical mass of women who stay in the workforce.


“Women in the workforce at all levels in the organisation serve as role models to other women. I believe that the single biggest factor to retaining women is providing equality of opportunity – whether it is for taking on more challenging or stretch assignments, or for external and internal technical networking opportunities.”


Good organisations, she observes, ensure high-potential employees are given opportunities.

“Tracking metrics like pay parity, retention among women at different levels, leadership opportunities given to women, and publishing these metrics also helps raise awareness in organisations. In my own experience, I have seen that trainings on unconscious bias have done a lot to make common spaces more inclusive, and make hiring fairer to women and other minorities,” she adds.

Padmini maintains that women leaders in tech remain a minority because of various reasons.


“Mid-career women typically face increasing work responsibilities and family commitments at the same time. Often this is when a woman’s career growth could slow down. Women also face a credibility gap and are often expected to prove themselves again and again.”


However, she says it’s heartening that flexible work and being upfront about family responsibilities have both become more acceptable after the pandemic, and this will benefit women in the long run.


Outside of work, Padmini enjoys teaching and is adjunct faculty at IIIT Hyderabad, and takes classes on introductory VLSI design, accelerators, and computer architecture.


Carnatic music continues to be an integral part of her life.


“I spend as much time as I can, listening, learning, and practising. Music helps me relax and stay creative,” she concludes.


Edited by Akanksha Sarma

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