Vijaya Tirumalareddy, Director, Software Engineering at Salesforce talks about her career in tech and the role of her mentor in discovering her strengths to step over hurdles and aim higher.
From reading about developments in technology in newspapers as a child to now leading product data engineering teams at Salesforce, Vijaya Tirumalareddy, Director, Software Engineering at Salesforce, shares the importance of pushing the boundaries of comfort to overcome challenges, the role of discipline and patience in achieving goals, and more in this candid interview.
Perseverance is the only way forward
Being raised in a small village in Andhra Pradesh, while also being the first graduate in the family, came with its own set of challenges. The lack of guidance from anyone experienced pushed me to make a lot of my own decisions.
Growing up, small habits like reading the newspaper every day, opened a whole world of opportunities. Where I come from, modes of communication were extremely limited. In a small village, owning a TV, radio or even a telephone, was a distant dream.
Reading the newspaper every morning was how I learnt about all the technological advancements made in the fields of healthcare, telecom and more across the world. This was my first window into the myriad possibilities of technology, which pushed me to think beyond.
The language barrier was one of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome, in order to get ahead. As my entire schooling was primarily in Telugu, I had to work even harder to become fluent in English while entering college. Post-college, I pursued a degree in engineering which helped me understand the basics of programming.
During this period, I was also selected to participate in a project that was conducted at the University of Stuttgart, Germany and Portsmouth University, UK. For a girl from a small town, who had never set foot outside the village, travelling to a whole other country was a huge leap forward.
Born and raised in an agricultural family, one of the main values taught to me early on was hard work, perseverance and patience is the key to achieving what you set your mind on. Observing the amount of effort that goes into ensuring a good yield of crops day in and day out, further reinforced these ideologies.
Mentors and peer groups play a key role in your career growth
After spending several years trying to understand my strengths and a whole lot of hits and misses later, I have particularly grown to realize the impact of having mentors who understand, support and enable your growth from a professional capacity.
My mentors have played a huge role in constantly pushing me to aim higher as well as continue on my career trajectory despite several challenges – from deciding on pursuing higher education abroad, shifts in career to finding a balance between my personal and professional priorities.
My switch to Salesforce in fact was suggested by one of my mentors, understanding how my experience would best suit an open role and also help me level up in my career.
Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Lean In, talks about how women limit themselves from advancing in a career with the fear of rejection, perfect match mindset as they apply for a job only if they meet 99% or 100% of the qualifications while men apply confidently with 60% match.
Personally, I relate to this idea, as my mentors have really coached me to believe in myself that I can take up the role. At Salesforce, initiatives such as speed mentoring help us stay connected and hear from mentors on a regular basis.
Additionally, the Salesforce Women’s Network (SWN) provides us with an avenue to connect and build our network with other women in Technology, where we candidly discuss the common challenges faced and how to get help to navigate.
Why I chose to work at Salesforce
While my path to Salesforce was through one of my mentors, the role also matched up perfectly with my skillsets and passion. What really stood out for me was how inclusive and transparent the entire interview process was.
From the very first conversation, there was absolute clarity on what the role required and what I can bring to the table besides what was mentioned on my resume.
Something that remains a mystery to me even to date is how Salesforce has been able to maintain a culture of openness and a sense of belonging over the last two decades and continues to do so.
Leaders across the organisation, go the extra mile to ensure that your voice is heard irrespective of your tenure or role. I have been in the tech industry for 17 years, and one of the many things that I have experienced is the willingness of everyone to help each other when in need.
Salesforce is also one of the few companies that walk the talk when it comes to Equal Pay for Equal Work. Payscales are evaluated on an annual basis to address any gaps among gender globally.
To date, more than USD $15 million dollars has been spent to ensure our global workforce is paid fairly. I know I speak for my team when I say that we’re delighted to be a part of a company with leadership that really cares.
The concept of giving back to the communities is an integral part of the culture at Salesforce. During my interview is where I initially learnt about the concept of 1-1-1, where the business and philanthropic model pledges 1 per cent of product, employees time, and equity to give back to the communities.
Salesforce employees are given 7 days a year (56 hours) to volunteer with causes they are passionate about. I’ve been a volunteer for two years now, this has given me the opportunity to mentor young girls from smaller towns who aspire for a career in STEM.
Helping equip them with the crucial tasks such as basics of conversation and presentations, goes a long way in building up their self-confidence and working towards choosing a career in STEM. I have also had the opportunity to work closely with young girls in rural households and help with continued enrolment in schools.
While I was always looking for opportunities to give back, my personal and professional commitments kept me from doing so. At Salesforce I am fortunate to find my core values, inner strengths, the opportunity to schedule work and volunteer time to multiply impact knowing that I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.