My interview with Kaveri Jain, Scribe Layout/DFM Principal Engineer at Micron Technology, is a great mix of her personal experiences blended in with professional learnings on what being one of the women in tech entails. Edited excerpts of my email interview follow:
I was fortunate to grow up in a household that encouraged a girl to disassemble the cassette player even though she had no way of putting it back together. A spirit of inquiry, learning through trial and error, never hesitate to roll up your sleeves and do a menial task and learning to deal with failure are all lessons I was lucky enough to learn early. As a chemical engineer working for one of the largest semiconductor companies in the world, transferring skill sets to the context of the industry was one of the biggest challenges I faced.
Mentorship played a key role in the early days, finding and building relationships with people who will give you perspective and context is the single most important aspect of early-stage career success. Fortunately for me, Micron was full of capable mentors who brought vast technical skills and personal investment to my journey. As I moved up Micron’s engineering ranks and with over 30 patents under my belt, I developed my own unique style and intuition towards approaching complex engineering problems and used it to build global teams around solving these problems.
In the 90s, the industry had a moderate representation of women in the engineering teams, and I found that I was often the only female voice in the room. Overcoming my own inhibitions and being over-prepared and detail oriented helped me gain the respect of my peers. Mentorship played a key role in the early days, finding and building relationships with people who will give you perspective and context is the single most important aspect of early-stage career success. Fortunately for me, Micron was full of capable mentors who brought vast technical skills and personal investment to my journey.
As I moved up Micron’s engineering ranks and with over 30 patents under my belt, I developed my own unique style and intuition towards approaching complex engineering problems and used it to build global teams around solving these problems.
It can be an unequal growth opportunity as unconscious bias may play a role that women will not be able to devote the time required for the job due to family commitments. Micron has multiple women role models that have defied this perception and have excelled in increasingly harder roles and are active mentors to remove unconscious biases. Additionally, Micron Operations India has a “Return to work” initiative that offers opportunities for return to work after a break in career.
Even with changing times, I still see that a woman has to prove her worth and may not be immediately accepted for a higher position until she proves herself. If she is outspoken, she may be considered rude or if she is mild, her voice may be buried even before expression. However, I see an opportunity here, gender bias at times has the potential to drive women more while challenging the stereotype. Defying the norm and defining her own unique path brings immense confidence and drives her to further success and freedom.
India has seen enormous expansion in the tech world in the last two decades and it is evident in the number of engineering and technology firms that have established a foothold here. The reason can be attributed to the focus and training of the young generation as well as the allotment of funds in this sector. With investments and tie-ups with different countries and strong initiatives by the Govt of India, like the recently announced Design Linked Incentive scheme, I see India becoming the engineering engine room of the world.
I believe that each of us shares the responsibility to develop an all-inclusive workplace, irrespective of our role in a company. Over the years, I have learned to be mindful of meeting flows and if I notice a person not getting a chance to express or hesitating to discuss comfortably, I make sure I address that and call out the person to speak up. I have seen a paradigm shift over the years and Micron’s DEI efforts to build a more empathetic culture and inclusivity has us all being a lot more aware of our inherent biases and consciously challenging them.
With research updates getting wide exposure on the world wide web, it has become much easier to stay up to date from, say, two decades ago when I remember I was still relying on paper hard copies to be delivered through a postal medium during my postgraduate thesis work. Micron leads regional IEEE conferences and ensures there is active participation by Micron team members. There are also extensive opportunities provided to participate in international conferences and proceedings are made available to all members. Additionally, Micron has a very strong internal conference program as well as peer-reviewed journals that are accessible to all team members. Micron’s workforce development team also provides opportunities for a plethora of courses through external universities. All these resources are what make Micron stay competitive and up to date on current industry trends.
Building relationships with people is the most important phase of my approach to building a strong mentorship network. Over the years, I have also realized how valuable mentorship is and for collective progress and moving forward as one team, one must take up the role of a mentee or a mentor as and when opportunities present themselves. A mentor should show care and patience in their mentorship and that has the potential to significantly influence growth as a professional, for everyone involved. As they say, if you want to really master a skill, try teaching it to another person.
One sore spot I observe in the industry is the lack of relatable figures and role models in diverse and underrepresented groups. Micron’s senior leadership has established employee resource groups to build strong internal communities. Additionally, women leaders take a very active role in being available and mentoring the crop of new members that are just starting on their professional journey. This is also reflected in Micron having won “Great Place to Work” awards across geographies.
Diversity and inclusivity lead to a melting pot of innovation and creativity at work. Individual experiences bring together an unpredictable combination of ideas, which is crucial for progress like Micron which is on the bleeding edge of memory and storage technology. Micron celebrates inherent differences and that is reflected in the company's impressive patent portfolio with over 51k patents that the company holds. Our products serve everyone, it is only natural to be inclusive to get the best-designed product. One example I recently came across while leading the internal technical conference, a conscious effort was made to select the committee which brought together members with diverse backgrounds. And it clearly brought out a more holistic approach with diverse, sometimes opposing viewpoints that led to a more comprehensive conference agenda.
I am passionate about children’s welfare in underprivileged sections and animal welfare. I have been a part of the Association for India’s Development (AID) which promotes sustainable, equitable and just development. In addition to that, I am an active member of various animal welfare organizations (in India and the US) and volunteer my hours there on a regular basis. Micron has a very active platform for monetary fund matching as well as very strong promotion and tie-ups with various NGOs, scholarship programs and university STEM programs and I am very glad to be a part of these activities.
Recognize and build upon your strength. To complement skills, engage with others and delegate tasks that complete the expertise required for building a strong team. In any role, it is very important to have a support system, both at work and at home.