I recently interviewed Lavanya Saripalli , who is an experienced PMP, combining Health Sector MBA with extensive technical background including Agile and SDLC software development Methodologies. She is currently working as the Professional Development Chair for GCC HIMSS. In this role, she hosts professional developmental events for students and is enhancing Mentoring program to next level by creating a nexus between mentors and mentees. She holds an MBA from the Kellstadt School of Management at DePaul University.
Lavanya shared her career progression in IT and the challenges she faced along the way. From her experience she also gives us some pointers to grow and Lead IT.
Madhavi: Hi Lavanya, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with us. Your advice will greatly help our readers who aspire to grow in to IT leadership roles.
Lavanya: Thank you Madhavi, I’m really excited about this interview.
Madhavi: For our readers, can you give a brief introduction of your IT journey so far.
Lavanya: Sure, I am Lavanya Saripalli and have been working in Information Technology for nearly 11 years. I have worked in various roles; I started as programmer during my graduate program at Wichita State University. I served in diverse roles such as Java Developer, Sr.Business Analyst, Project Manager and Program Manager. I am currently working as Professional Development Chair for GCC HIMSS. Each of these roles helped me to understand IT and business from different perspective.
Madhavi: That’s great. Can you tell us about some of the challenges that you have faced along your career path and how you handled them?
Lavanya: Professionally I faced challenges, as a developer when I was working with different SME’s at multinational electronics client vendor, as a result the project was delayed, because the out of the box technology doesn’t support the requirement. I did not understand the SME’s perspective that paved way for project delay. I had to sit with her and explain the technology challenges and that requirements needs to be modified and suggested we need to find a work around. And finally we were able to resolve our differences and deliver project with additional features, however the project was delayed by 2 weeks.
In an another instance working with world leader in fast food chain, I was working as a Sr.Business Systems Analyst and I was hired as a consultant to work on big e suite initiative, When I was on boarded the first module of the project was rolling out into production. I was required to do UAT on the features that were rolled out and I had to ramp up myself to know all the features they were testing and this was really challenging. And then approaching stakeholders at this client is really challenging and corporate culture was so different when compared to other clients I worked with in the past. I had to put numerous after hours to ramp up myself to understand the features and test these features in short period. And my client interaction and collaboration, negotiation skills help me successfully gather requirement for my next module of this project.
I had also an opportunity to work with the best retail firm in Chicago suburbs , I was working in the capacity of project manager/program manager we were relatively new team and I had to work with two different business units with different methodologies one business unit implementing projects in Agile environment and other business unit implementing projects Waterfall methodologies. I had to acquire technical infrastructure from the agile team and implement them with in Waterfall framework. This is really challenging task, the team would not provide details unless we provide them with architecture review. I had to learn to work with this team and deliver the high level architecture review in order to obtain the required resources. I used my negotiation skills, leadership and other skills to initiate the collaboration between the teams.
Madhavi: Being Women in Tech and a professional with a different cultural background, did you face any setbacks? If so, what were they and how you dealt with them?
Lavanya: My answer to this question would be YES. Yes I faced setbacks numerous times in terms of culture, I came to this country to do my Masters and as a student you are more restricted to school campus unless you work outside, As a student you would learn about the American culture to some extent not the professional environment acumen and behavior, As international students our behavior should be fine tuned to suite work culture and again each corporate culture is so different. As women in technology we are required to be assertive, confident, character tuned to your status (by status I mean their rank in corporate ladder) and to work with diverse people of nationality. And behavior should adapt to each stakeholder needs, which very hard to attain and am still learning. Proactive learning to know corporate culture and acceptable norms with the firms needs to be understood thoroughly for your success. And women are minorities in the majority of corporation, we are competing with male counterparts and also male have been in business executives positions longer than women. What I have realized being a women sometimes you will not get too far (no offense to bright ladies out there), I would prefer a seasoned male business executive as my mentor. That’s been said I would love to mentor younger men and women when I become more seasoned professional.
I would want to learn the corporate culture if I need to work at certain place and then understand other peoples psychology in general and these days people are sought after their soft skills and then comes Technical skills. Your soft skills get the half work done. And also unconscious bias which plays huge role in your success and it is another ball game all together.
Madhavi: In your current role, where you work with several new and emerging IT leaders, what traits do you commonly see that need improvements?
Lavanya: I cannot comment or speak for someone else on emerging IT leaders, myself being one. Clear vision and holistic view of any venture is essential. As an amature I failed multiple times but learning from our mistakes is key and especially in IT we need to have bigger picture and should be innovative, and again IT is affecting every aspect of the business and overall corporate strategy. We need to keep this in mind while taking up any initiative. As leaders we need to be visionary, Innovative, risk takers. This is my personal view IT leaders are not seen as charismatic people when compares to executives coming from different business sectors, I would want improve in that area. And we always need to look for win-win situations while partnering.
Madhavi: In your current role, you pair up mentors and mentees. Why is this important? What should prospective IT leaders need to keep in mind as they seek mentors to grow in their career?
Lavanya: In my personal experience soon after my MBA I never had any mentor to guide me in right direction. I would go to all conferences and events to find right mentor for me and I would say I haven’t done enough research to find mentor in the area of my interest, and nailing down my own interest. Choosing a right mentor is key for your success and long term career growth ,first we need know our area of interest with in IT, IT is huge it has zillion areas and opportunities we can focus on. And visionary leaders are hard to find, and we have to convince them to be a mentor, we can do this by doing our thorough findings, know about the mentors firm, their research area and make sure it aligns with your interest and vision. I’m glad I’m championing this cause to be bridging gap between mentor and mentee. Often time’s mentors reply back to be because I’m in the role impacts both mentor and mentee.
Madhavi: What advice would you give for someone who is starting their career in IT now to build their foundation for their leadership journey in IT.
Lavanya: Leadership is life term learning, we cannot become leaders overnight. It takes thorough understanding of circumstances, corporate culture, acquiring knowledge about the technologies. It’s like know your ethos and pathos. Leadership starts with in; you need to know your key strength. I personally feel exemplary leadership will get you to the point of being an efficient leader for example take up a project, build it and show to others how it is done. Leaders build leaders not followers in these scenario sacrifices are made. As a leader we are required to stand up for your team and give credit to team for their success.
Madhavi: Thank you again Lavanya for sharing your insights. This will greatly help our readers build the necessary skills and prepare themselves for leadership positions in IT.
What are some of the challenges that you faced in your career path? In the comments below , tell us how you overcame them and any insights that you have to help others grow into IT Leadership positions.