In the edition of Above the Glass, Princiya Sequeira, Fellow at Women Who Code, interviews Madhuri Jakkaraju, Senior Manager at Capital One. They discuss Madhuri’s career journey, mentors, and advice for women in tech.
Tell me about your technical journey from Cognizant to Capital One.
As a fresh grad, I joined Cognizant. Back then, there were a lot of open software engineering roles. Even though I was from a non-computer science background, I got the opportunity to be trained in software engineering. My first job was as a.NET developer. I had to relocate for family reasons and that was when I joined Capital One back in 2008 or 2009. I went from a.NET developer to an automation test engineer. I focused more on building test frameworks and getting them up and running. At Capital One, we've had the cloud journey and that was when I was drawn towards the field of DevOps. That was my third, sort of, career change.
Every time I learned something new, it would excite me. I've gotten into the practice that when I think I’m an expert at something, I am no longer interested in it. I want to learn something new. Recently, when I took my strength assessment, I found that my top strength was the love of learning. I'm a continuous learner and I take pride in that. As I've evolved through my career, I've always looked out for new opportunities, new roles, tried to learn and do them well. Currently, I lead technical teams that build and deploy application software for multiple card applications within Capital One.
When did you transition into the managerial role? What were the challenges as a new manager?
The first time I was promoted to manager, I was an automation engineer. I had built functional and performance testing frameworks that several teams within my platform were using. That essentially earned me my first promotion as a manager. Learning to understand when you're required to do versus when you're required to lead your team, was the most challenging part. I knew that I had to get better at it if I was going to succeed in that role. I sought help from mentors and my manager to help coach me in that direction.
Tell us a bit more about mentorship? Was it from the job itself or was it something you did outside of work?
Around the time I got promoted to a manager, there was a Women in Tech initiative being launched at Capital One. Several years ago, as part of that, there was a woman director who spoke at one of the events. It felt very relatable and I reached out and asked her if there were other mentors who could support me. She said she would be happy to do it. I've had regular mentorship sessions with her for at least two years. I have learned a lot from her about how we establish trust and get others to buy into collaborative goals.
My leadership nominated me for a Women in Tech Leadership program. The program was external to Capital One, even though I was nominated as part of Capital One. There, I got to meet with women who had broader experiences. I like having that support and network.
How do you use your privilege as an engineering leader?
I'm always looking to give it back to the community. I'm part of a development advisor group that mentors fresh grads and people that are just starting out their careers. I'm also a Women Who Code Director for the Richmond Chapter. We host events that connect women to share their expertise. Recently, I learned about digital mentoring. It is a way where you can speak at a conference or write a technical blog, and support a lot of people at the same time. These are ways that I try to give back.
You are writing a blog series. What advice do you have for women for building a professional brand and time management?
Let me start by sharing a little context about why I'm writing this series. I met with one of my mentors that I've worked with for the past four years. It was after a Grace Hopper Conference that I spoke at last year. She said she knew a couple of junior engineers who were looking to leave the field because they felt they didn’t belong. It stuck with me. One conversation led to another. I spoke to my mentor, my manager, and a lot of other folks. In the course of putting this five-part blog series together, I met with 15 or 20 women technologists.
The first part is "Establishing a Professional Brand.” I think it starts with that. It’s centered around junior engineers coming in from college, or early on in their career, feeling like they don't belong here. There were times, when I look back, where I felt like the only woman in the room. I was talked over and my opinions were not considered. Whether it is verbal communication, non-verbal communication, body language, or how we present ourselves, how do we speak up for ourselves? I broke it into seven different subsections. I'm not going to go into detail, but you should definitely check it out.
How to manage time is in blog five. It's an integral part of everything. As part of my leadership program, I learned about integrating life. There is no balancing act. I have learned to integrate my work, my life, my kids, and my family. When I sit down with my kids for study time, I pick something up and tell them it’s also my study time. We all sit together, I help them during that time, but I'm also doing my own work.
What is that one piece of advice you would have to deal with salary negotiations or performance reviews for women? What challenges have you seen?
I have seen women advocate more for others than we do for ourselves. Think of yourself as a third party. That is great advice I got from one of my mentors. Write about somebody else, you know the story, you are writing it based on their story and that lens actually helps.