Girls in Tech: “Your profession is a marathon not a dash”

research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Shruti Bhat, Chief Product Officer and SVP Marketing for Rockset.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Shruti Bhat, Chief Product Officer and SVP Marketing for Rockset

Shruti Bhat is Chief Product Officer and SVP Marketing for Rockset, a real-time analytics company. Prior to Rockset, Shruti led Product Management for Oracle Cloud, with a focus on AI, IoT and Blockchain. Previously, Shruti was VP Marketing at Ravello Systems, where she drove the start-up’s rapid growth from pre-launch to hundreds of customers and a successful acquisition.

Prior to that, she was responsible for launching VMware’s vSAN and has led engineering teams at HP and IBM. Shruti has a bachelor’s in computer science engineering and an MBA from UCLA Anderson.

When did you become interested in technology?

A lot of successful people I know have said “I was always interested in tech”, but I will admit that tech did not seem like a career option during my early years. When I graduated high school at the top of my class I decided to pursue STEM simply because I saw it as the most challenging path. More than anything else, I wanted to prove that I could succeed and that I wasn’t any less capable than others. I got lucky because as it turned out, I really enjoyed studying computer science and developed a much greater appreciation for the possibilities the deeper I got into it. I got really excited about how tech can change the world.

How did you end up in your career path?

During my early years as a software developer, I really enjoyed my work but found myself getting frustrated whenever I was solving a piece of the puzzle without having the full picture. For someone who starts with the “why”, it is not easy to jump right into the “how”. So I started finding ways to interact directly with my end customers. I became that one engineer who everyone in sales loved to call on. And having that larger context is what allowed me to contribute a lot more in early design phases so I quickly started leading larger development teams. But it still wasn’t enough. I was feeling stuck.

So I stayed in tech but shifted gears from building the software to building the business. I went back to business school and moved from engineering to product and GTM strategy. I’m a builder at heart so I love building and scaling businesses which naturally led me towards creating early stage products in big companies and eventually to building startups, creating new categories and launching new products.

The point is, good work does speak for itself, but often these inherent biases hold you back to such an extent that you have to run twice as hard just to stay in place.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

Not a person, but I have certainly experienced many forms of gender and even racial bias. I made a lot of early mistakes because I tried too hard to conform to those gender norms, which happen to be all pervasive in my culture. The double bind dilemma for women is very real: you are damned if you do, and doomed if you don’t. I remember this one time when I was struggling through some big company office politics where I was the only woman across the entire technical and business team. I experienced backstabbing, sidelining, mansplaining – so much drama I often felt like I was in a soap opera. But speaking up only made it worse. I was told to man up. I was told to put on my big boy pants. Or to just disengage and find a different team. But the reality is that there is no running away from it. I decided it’s important to learn how to win in any environment and took it as a learning opportunity. I decided to lean in, chose to put on my invisible armor every morning and navigate my way through. Eventually my work was recognized and it got to a point where even if someone tried to take credit for my work, I’d get a note saying “this has your fingerprints all over it”. The point is, good work does speak for itself, but often these inherent biases hold you back to such an extent that you have to run twice as hard just to stay in place.

I was fortunate to work with some of the best leaders early in my career, who have been male allies, role models and strong advocates for me. I would not be who I am today, without support from so many people.

A day in Shruti’s life

I am Chief Product Officer & SVP Marketing at Rockset, a company that’s enabling real-time analytics at a speed and scale that was never thought possible before. I have seen the team at Rockset be committed to diversity from day 1, and I’ve been really impressed that I have never felt any different from anyone on the team. That to me is the ultimate test of an inclusive workplace.

I’m essentially the architect of our go-to-market. On most days I’m obsessing about whether we are building the right product, reaching the right set of customers, growing fast enough and setting ourselves up to scale faster. This involves customer and partner meetings, team brainstorms, product strategy, marketing strategy and most of all relentless day-to-day execution. As a fast-growing startup we feed off of each others energy and have fun brainstorming ideas in the office. My favorite days are the ones I spend in a tiny meeting room scribbling on a massive whiteboard with some brilliant minds. But with Covid-19 my typical workday looks very different with zoom and slack all day long.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am a lifelong learner. I am most proud of the fact that I have developed a growth mindset and acquired the skill of learning fast on the job. I am able to dive into new challenges knowing that even if I don’t have all the answers, I can figure it out quickly. When taking on new responsibilities, I am not afraid to admit that I have never done this before.

This growth mindset is the reason I’ve been able to take on so many different roles through my career and excel at them. I have been a software developer, a QA engineer, a pager-carrying on call support engineer, a product manager, a product marketing manager, a demand generation specialist, a PR manager and a chief product officer. This has given me stakeholder empathy and the ability to weigh things from different perspectives. While breadth of skill is great, depth of knowledge in certain domains is key, and I am glad I was able gain deep domain knowledge in cloud infrastructure and data over the years.

This growth mindset is the reason I’ve been able to take on so many different roles through my career and excel at them.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

We need more women leaders as role models in tech. Not just in software development but also other areas like product management and technical sales. Last week I heard someone say, “the few women sales leaders that I know in tech are really badass”. I attribute this to my observation that a lot of women leaders in tech have had to work twice as hard to get there. But why aren’t there more of them at senior levels? Because at senior levels the job becomes increasingly demanding. Unless women have an equal partnership at home, it is very hard for us to take on this type of responsibility at work. Much has been written about the invisible labor that women put in to keep the house running and to care for the kids.

During Covid-19 stay-at-home this invisible labor has become an impossible burden for most of us. My experience in tech has been that the day-to-day stress is generally high, and then there are frequent phases when the stress is through the roof. What happens if during that phase your partner is also busy and your kid is also sick? Couple the subtle bias at work with the obvious imbalance at home, and women are faced with such a difficult choice. The more this happens, the less appealing it is for the next generation of women to choose tech as their career.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?

My advice is that your career is a marathon not a sprint. When you go through a rough patch, remind yourself that it is just a phase and play the long game. Reach out to your peers and network with women who have been through similar journeys so you can learn from their mistakes. And most importantly choose your life partner wisely because their support goes a really long way. A career in tech can be very exciting, fun and rewarding. If you’re interested in a career in tech, don’t let anything hold you back.

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