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Women in Tech: Latha Nair, Vice President and Head of Service Delivery, IBS Software, Trivandrum, India

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Tell us a bit about your role and what you enjoy 

I head up the Delivery Unit of the Consulting and Digital Transformation business. I lead a team of 700+ colleagues to build, customize and enhance transformational solutions for travel industry customers. It's a multi-faceted role, where we use collaborative practices like Agile, DevOps, automation with emerging technologies and toolkits to achieve productivity, quality and capability goals

It must be satisfying to lead a team that large – what's the best thing about your role? 

I love that I'm accountable for both employee and customer satisfaction. It's exciting when we come together as a team and use technologies to build business solutions for our customers such as portals, apps, integration platforms and orchestration engines that can transform the travel experience. I'm truly fascinated by the industry, the domain, customers, and technologies.

How did you get started in the industry?

I graduated in Electrical and Electronics Engineering and later took a post-grad in Software Systems. I never planned to be in the tech sector, I wanted to pursue Electrical Engineering but the job opportunities in this field were limited at the time. The tech industry however was booming in India; in 1997 I joined IBS Software, a start-up with a strong vision and values, where I was one of the first 55 employees. I was greatly inspired by its focus on the travel domain and that we could continue to work with the latest technologies.

Tell us about one of your most memorable experiences at IBS Software 

In January 2001, I was assigned to a customer project in Zurich. It sounds strange to say it now, but this was my first flight. I was awestruck by the entire air travel experience and completely mesmerized by the Swiss Alps; they were so beautifully white, covered in winter snow.I realised at that point that the software I'm involved in building, could make a difference to people's travel experiences.

When did you first come across tech?

The English version of Giant Robot, a Japanese TV Series, screened on Doordarshan, an Indian public service broadcast channel. I was 11 years old, and it blew me away, to watch a robot, remote-controlled by a little boy through his wristwatch, which had the power to fight evil. I liked the combination of technology, innovation and power which created goodness and happiness!

Who helped shape your career? 

My mother taught me life lessons. She was a very young widow, who raised two girls by herself. Her positive spirit and life wisdom is what laid the foundation for my professional growth.

I learnt from her to focus on the end goal, to keep faith even when you face risks on your path; to maximise joy by sharing, the power of teamwork, which eases any burden; respecting people as they are, and of course the absolute necessity of being grounded.

Are there any females in tech that you admire and why?

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, for this thought: "In future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders." And when that happens and gets accepted, that's when true gender equality will be established.

How have things changed for women since you started your career? What have you noticed in terms of paths and opportunities? 

Organisations are focusing on elevating and retaining women at all levels. My view is that irrespective of your gender, the key attributes needed for a thriving career path are Performance, Persistence and Perseverance. The new generation of techies practice a much more inclusive culture and hence I'm very hopeful we will see a future where true gender equality is maintained and practiced.

How do you encourage other women in your field? 

Here in Kerala, I'm part of the Techno Park WE – Women Inclusive in Technology community, participating as a leadership mentor for upcoming female leaders.I'm also involved with engineering colleges, mentoring emerging tech talent.  

What are some of the career challenges you've experienced?

There have been two key challenges. The first is thinking 'equal', and that begins with myself. I've felt a resistance to acknowledge my own accomplishments, which combined with self-doubt, were key hurdles to overcome. I have learnt that shying away from speaking about your achievements prevents your voice from being heard or taken as seriously – that's something I'm still working on.

The second is the challenge of being accepted as a leader, without taking the 'expected' aggressive style of leadership. My experience has taught me that you must continue to practice and become acquainted with your style, so that it's eventually natural to you and looks that way to others as well.

What career advice would you give to the next generation of women entering the sector now?

Not necessarily advice but sharing a bit of what I learnt in my career journey. Seek no concession because you are a woman, earn everything on your own merit. You matter, that's why you are here. You are no less an individual or a professional or a leader because you are born a woman. Be a strong version of yourself than a weaker version of someone else

My next trip will be to…

The city of Mississauga in the Ontario state of Canada, where my nieces are growing up fast I have a great connection with these little people in my family, who sometimes share larger wisdoms with me. Looking at anything through the eyes of children is the most fulfilling experience, and it can even simplify or nullify your problems.

I'm currently reading…

…The great Indian epic Mahabharata. I have a different level of appreciation for the characters, their personalities, their stories, and the battle strategies between good and evil. It's fascinating that an epic written several centuries ago has so beautifully captured messages and philosophies that are relevant to a corporate business scenario: like the journey to a destination is as important as the destination itself; adapting and innovating is a basic need for sustenance; teamwork can win you impossible battles; seeking guidance from the right mentor can take you to success.

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