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SheCanCode Spotlight Series: Pallavi Otawkar, Vice President, R&D Operations, ServiceMax

Pallavi Otawkar, Vice President, R&D Operations, ServiceMax

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Born and raised in Mumbai, India, Pallavi Otawkar came to the USA in 1998 on a work assignment and explain how she is now VP, R&D Operations ServiceMAx.

Pallavi became an engineer with a degree in Computer Engineering from University of Mumbai. She was fortunate enough to have been in various technical engineering roles – both customer-facing solutions engineering, as well as product development, and technical lead roles. This changed over time, as she transitioned into engineering program management and then leadership roles. The technical expertise from early on in Pallavi’s career has been a key contributor to the success she has enjoyed in the engineering leadership role.

Currently, at ServiceMax Pallavi is the VP of R&D operations, and her portfolio of responsibilities includes Engineering Program Management, AWS Infrastructure Operations, R&D Budget and vendor management, Technical Publications, and Product Education.

IN THIS PIECE, SHECANCODE SPOKE TO PALLAVI ABOUT HER CAREER, IMPORTANT SKILLS NEEDED IN TECH, AND HER ADVICE TO OTHER WOMEN IN TECH.

HOW DID YOU LAND YOUR CURRENT ROLE? WAS IT PLANNED?

My current role was not planned at all. One of the startups where I was a principal software engineer was acquired by EMC Documentum where a new Engineering Program Management function was being setup. My manager at the time thought I had the right technical and people skillset and asked me if I would be interested in the role. Little did I know what I was signing up for except that I was ready for a new challenge and decided to take it up.  I started as an Engineering Program Manager for a part of a program, went on to manage the entire program and finally all programs for the business unit.  I have been in similar roles at multiple organizations like eMeter – a Siemen’s business, Marketo (now Adobe), and GE Digital. ServiceMax has given me the opportunity to expand beyond Engineering Program Management and take on additional responsibilities which has led to new learnings and growth both professionally and personally.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CAREER, SO FAR?

If I look back on my career journey, what I am most proud of is seeing the positive impact I have had on the organisations and more importantly the people. It has been very rewarding to see the many strong professional and personal relationships that have been forged through this journey. Many of these people are now my go to for advice, bouncing ideas, and candid feedback. It has been most satisfying to see folks that I mentored, scale new heights in their careers.

ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC SKILLS OR TRAITS THAT YOU NOTICE COMPANIES LOOK FOR WHEN YOU’RE SEARCHING FOR ROLES IN YOUR FIELD?

Most of the jobs in my career have been through people I have worked with in past wanting to bring me into their team to drive some key change in their organization. I believe that a few fundamental skills that will set you up for success are:

a.   Being able to marry the technical aspect with the organizational and people aspect in order to successfully achieve end goals

b.   Influencing without authority – this is a fundamental skill for any individual in a leadership role

c.   Building reliance and trust with teams and people. Providing a safety net, coaching, and mentoring your team.

HAS ANYONE EVER TRIED TO STOP YOU FROM LEARNING AND DEVELOPING IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE, OR HAVE YOU FOUND THE TECH SECTOR SUPPORTIVE?

I have been extremely fortunate to have had a supportive environment through my career. Growing up in India, my parents instilled in me the importance of working hard, having strong moral compass, and ignoring the nay-sayers. Through my education and working in a STEM field, I have been a minority as a woman of colour but have never really stopped to think about it until more recently. I have however, always had great support from both my colleagues and leadership who have always pushed me to do better and given me many opportunities that have led me to where I am today.

HAVE YOU EVER FACED INSECURITIES AND ANXIETIES DURING YOUR CAREER, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?

Insecurities and anxieties are part and parcel of learning and growing. Everyone faces them at some point in their career.

One of my previous managers once told me that a little bit of anxiety is a good thing, it makes you more deliberate in your approach.

The key is to not let these insecurities and anxieties take over. Of course, it’s all easier said than done. Some of the tips and tricks I have learnt over the years are:

1.     Know when to ask for help. Knowing what you don’t know requires a level of awareness and maturity. Once you acknowledge the gaps you can go about figuring out who to approach and the best way to address it. Remember, you are not going to solve everything on your own.

2.     Don’t be afraid to say no. You don’t have to be rude about it. This will really help you and your team stay focused on what matters the most.

3.     Take care of yourself – find something that helps you decompress outside of work whether it’s the gym, walking, or yoga, do it consistently.

 WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER WOMEN WANTING TO REACH THEIR CAREER GOALS IN TECHNOLOGY?

We as women tend to be very hard on ourselves. One piece of advice I would give to all the women out there is believe in yourself and be kind to yourself.

Once you have a solid technical foundation, a lot of the success you will see in tech leadership roles, comes from honing your soft skills – trust, team, empathy, organizational and self-awareness, and the ability to deal with ambiguity.

Get out of your comfort zone and aim higher than you think you can go. You will be amazed at how much farther you can get.

Build a support system in your personal life. Whether it is hiring help at home, or spouses distributing the home workload so you can spend your time outside of work with your family, this is what is going to help you avoid burn out and give you the peace of mind to bring your best to your role.

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