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Spotlight Series: Riya Shanmugan, Group Vice President of Global Alliances & Channels, New Relic

Riya Shanmugan, Group Vice President of Global Alliances & Channels, New Relic

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Riya talks to us about facing insecurities, her role models and her advice for those entering the world of tech.

Previously, she was the Global Head of Cloud Adoption and Customer Success at Adobe and a Customer Engineering Leader at Google Cloud. She has also held technical and strategic advisory roles for IBM, AMD, Infosys, and several hyper-growth startups.

Riya earned an MBA from the McCoy School of Business at Texas State University and a bachelor’s degree in information technology from the Amrita School of Engineering. She is also a beneficiary of the Leadership Academy at Harvard Business School Executive Education and the Stanford Graduate School of Business for Executive Education.

HOW DID YOU LAND YOUR CURRENT ROLE? WAS IT PLANNED? WHAT ARE THE KEY ROLES IN YOUR FIELD OF WORK, AND WHY DID YOU CHOOSE YOUR CURRENT EXPERTISE? 

I was raised in a conservative, rural town in southern India. Growing up, I didn’t really consider tech as a career.  I wanted to be a fashion designer, but my parents wouldn’t allow it.  I considered being a doctor, but I just wasn’t cut out for it. It was my father who recognised my aptitude for math and pushed me towards engineering. It was a wise move, and to this day, my dad is still my biggest mentor and cheerleader.

I married quite young, and moved to the US to join my husband. I earned my MBA from Texas State University and began working in tech. At first, I wanted to start my own business, but after a couple of fizzled attempts, I realised my strengths lay in helping build others – both companies and people. Since then, I’ve been employed by some of the most influential names in tech, including IBM, Infosys, and Google Cloud, where I helped lead and build cloud transformation teams grounded in data, culture and customer obsession. I left Google to become the Global Head of Cloud Adoption and Customer Success at Adobe before joining New Relic as the Group Vice President of Global Alliances and Channels. 

DID YOU (OR DO YOU) HAVE A ROLE MODEL IN TECH OR BUSINESS IN GENERAL?

I’ve been very fortunate to have had so many different role models that have helped me throughout my life. My family is my biggest strength. More importantly, my husband has been a true partner in every way possible, supporting me as I take on some big opportunities. Bosses who recognised my talents and made sure my voice was heard. Mentors who gave me the chance to take the next step in my career even when I wasn’t sure I was ready for it.

For whatever reason, the most influential mentors have always been men. Perhaps that’s still a reflection of our world. I have excellent relationships with so many women that I work with and look up to, but it’s always been my male mentors who have presented me with the really big opportunities throughout my career. 

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

Being in tech and living in the United States has offered me a plethora of opportunities that I am so grateful for. However, it did not come without its barriers. When I started my career, gender bias was so ingrained that I don’t even remember the first time I experienced it. And on top of that, being a woman of color often added another layer of difficulty. One of my first jobs in tech was selling legacy technology mainframes.   It’s a known fact that great salespeople build a rapport with their buyers.  They are relatable. None of the people I was trying to sell to could relate to an ethnically diverse woman. 

But while this has made my career more challenging, it has also driven me to become a strong leader.

I have come to believe in my talents and pushed myself to succeed and overcome my massive imposter syndrome.

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

Starting out in my career, I was always battling my own imposter syndrome. I remember there were times when I was working at Google when it would really hit me. I would be in meetings with people who had invented parts of Gmail, as an example.

And once I was in an elevator with Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the internet. It hit me: ‘how the hell did I get here?’.

But over time I’ve used my imposter syndrome to my advantage. That anxiety and humility pushed me to become a better version of myself. As I had an opportunity to get to know and learn from world leaders like Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief at Vogue or Sadhguru from Isha Foundation – I grew to become comfortable with myself and have confidence that I’m good at what I do. I have my own skills, my own talents, and a lot to contribute. 

As I have progressed through my career, I’ve increasingly understood the importance of representation. I’ve often met other women who have characteristics I’d love to emulate. And then I’ve explored more about them and found out they grew up in a similar way or had a similar background to me. And knowing that someone else has paved the way for me is, I believe, incredibly important. 

ENTERING THE WORLD OF WORK CAN BE DAUNTING. DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF ADVICE FOR ANYONE FEELING OVERWHELMED? WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER WOMEN WANTING TO REACH THEIR CAREER GOALS IN TECHNOLOGY? 

Don’t hide who you are.

While I was enrolled at some excellent schools in India, by the time I moved to the US, my speech was still heavily accented. Even though my English was great, I became insecure about speaking because people would often find me difficult to understand. But I persevered, and having the fortitude to do so is essential. Fortunately, I had a boss who would make sure I was given the opportunities to vocalise my opinions. This helped me to break out of my shell. 

Seek out mentors.

Mentors have been immeasurably helpful to me throughout my career. Some have been more active, people I know who have personally taught and guided me. But your mentors don’t have to even be people you’ve met, just those you admire. I’ve learned a lot by observing people from a distance and following their own journeys. 

Take everything one step at a time.

Forget about what you want to happen five or ten years down the road. Instead, apply yourself completely to what you want to achieve next in your personal or professional life. One of the best ways I’ve found of doing this is having confidence in your own skills. It sounds like a cliché, and it’s definitely easier said than done, but having conviction in myself has helped me develop, get stronger, and meet both opportunities and challenges.   

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