I interviewed Kavitha Prasad, VP and GM, Data Center, AI, Cloud & Enterprise Strategy (DACES), Intel Corporation over email in early March 2023. She leads Intel's overall AI strategy and execution efforts. She has held several engineering and leadership roles in her 20+ years tenure in the industry, and her broad hardware and software experience enables her to provide multiple successful products in ASICs, SOCs, FPGAs, and servers across various process nodes.
But on the occasion of International Women’s Day, I had no technical questions for Kavitha Prasad, inviting her to share her journey and experience of navigating her career as a distinguished woman in tech. Edited excerpts follow:
In the last 25 years, I have held various technology and business-focused roles. Coming out of college, I started my career as an ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) design engineer. This role gave me a lot of experience with Ethernet switches, which are foundational to networking and the internet. From there, I went on to work on the Sandy Bridge server SoC (system-on-chip) at Intel and then pivoted my career to FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays). After gaining a lot of technical expertise, I transitioned to product management and other business-focused roles. And now I am leading Intel’s AI strategy and execution efforts. What I realized throughout my career journey is that my greatest asset has been a natural, continuous urge to learn. I never want to be in a position where I am too comfortable as comfort can often lead to complacency.
I had to overcome my most significant challenge early on in my career. I am deeply introverted by nature and assumed that my good work would speak for itself. Eventually, my mentor – who operated both in the role of mentor and sponsor for me – encouraged me to get out of my shell. Once he realized that I could pick up any new technology fast and make it successful, he made sure he put my name forward whenever there was an opportunity. He instilled confidence in me that the world could be my oyster if I wanted it. I learned the delicate balance of being an introvert while pushing myself outside of my comfort zone to confidently contribute ideas to areas where needed. That sense of empowerment has now become my greatest professional asset and has opened a lot of doors.
Another important lesson that has helped me overcome many challenges is that learning starts when we realize that we don't know it all. Saying three simple words -- “I don’t know” -- can open a dialogue that leads to answers we wouldn’t have thought of on our own. The technology field is changing so fast that it is nearly impossible for us to know everything. And for someone like me who is interested in the breadth of technology, we need to be comfortable saying these words. Only then will we learn from others who are experts in the field. And that is the only way I have been able to work on a broad portfolio of technology -- ASICs, SoCs, FPGAs, Software, Hardware, and AI both on the engineering and business side in my 22+ year career. And in these 22 years, I never let anyone define my success. Instead, I define it for myself.
Mid-way through my career, I decided to make a shift. And one of the biggest mistakes I made was assuming that as a leader, I needed to have all of the answers and solve everything. The challenge emerged when I assumed that methods and learnings from my previous role could be blindly applied to the new role I took on. That kind of attitude did not bode well with the organization and led to mistrust, attrition, and reduced productivity. It led to one of the biggest learnings in my career. You can never assume that what got you to where you are today will work in the next phase of your career. You must always maintain a growth mindset. Every organization has its strengths and weaknesses -- and it’s important as a leader to be humble enough to recognize when some things need to change. Preserving stability and reinforcing excellence in an organization happens when you reward and empower your team. It’s equally important to know when it's time to address gaps by bringing in new talent or processes. Striking the right balance here is a vital leadership skill set that enables successful organizations.
To develop leaders, mentorship alone is not enough. So often, women tend to be over-mentored and not sponsored. I believe that while mentoring emerging leaders and being their sounding board is important, we must also be their biggest and loudest advocates when they are not in the room. The balance of these two areas is crucial when developing strong leaders.
Don’t let anyone dictate what you can or cannot achieve. It’s your career, and you pave your path on your terms. Be confident, be assertive, and never take “no” for an answer if you truly believe in something. Be open to learning and remember the power of saying “I don’t know.” Set strong boundaries for yourself and never back down from challenges. And lastly, always pay it forward.
Ambition in women is sometimes misconstrued as being aggressive. Silence in women is often misinterpreted as weakness. Or our passion is sometimes mistaken for misplaced emotions.
The discussion of “balance” often comes up at work and many can assume that being successful means women need to choose between family and work. It’s important to remember that a professional woman taking time to care for her family does not mean work is not being prioritized. Also, being quieter and more introverted doesn’t make women any less ambitious.