Welcome to our interview series, where we introduce you to developers of all levels from all walks of life. Prepare to be inspired!
Today we meet Ipshita Chatterjee, an employee for a leader in our industry! She will talk to us about her choice to earn a degree in Computer Science, which is often seen as an unconventional choice for women.
Where do you work and what is your position?
I am currently working with Adobe as a Member of Technical Staff, based out of the Noida office.
What’s your day-to-day like?
My daily responsibilities include coding, code reviews, collaborations and technical discussions. When not at work, I spend my time learning and keeping up with the latest technologies. I enjoy reading about career and personal development, wealth management, and business.
I also devote my time advocating open source development and diversity in technology and mentoring young girls seeking to venture into tech careers.
Amongst all of this, I also make time for family and friends. I get my regular doses of social media, the latest movies, and different TV series.
Can you tell us about how you got into code and why you chose this career path?
I have been fascinated by the power of computer science from the age of 13, when I took up HTML as an elective in high school. I was immensely intrigued by how a few seemingly simple lines of code could create beautiful web pages and awed by the endless potential applications. Computer Science, to me, is empowering and a tool to shape the future.
Driven by this fascination, I worked towards getting a degree in this field. Coming from an all-girls school in India, my choice of major was uncommon amongst my peers. Skepticism about my ability to compete with my male peers for the top programs in this field is a regular occurrence.
However, I persevered and got admission in the Bachelor of Engineering program in Computer Engineering at NSIT, University of Delhi. It was one of my dream programs.
During my undergraduate degree, I continued to explore various Computer Science domains beyond the classroom through self-study, research, projects, hackathons, open source contributions and more, in a bid to identify my specific interests and prepare myself for a career as a software developer.
Do you think there are advantages to having a degree? Do you think it fully prepared you for your career?
Having a Computer Science degree has definitely given me a headstart in this field and has opened doors to a plethora of opportunities. It has inculcated a problem solving mindset and equipped me with the fundamental knowledge of the subject.
But, Computer Science, by its very nature, is a vast and ever evolving subject and in order to stay relevant and excel, one must constantly keep learning and keep their skills sharp. To that effect, non-traditional methods of learning prove most useful. In fact, a majority of the skills I use on a daily basis are self-taught.
My Computer Science degree has provided me with a platform to jumpstart my career but I supplement this through continued learning and additional professional development exercises, in order to be fully prepared for my career.
Besides technical skills, what skills have been the most useful to you as a developer?
Apart from technical skills, I have found that my communication skills, both verbal and written, have helped me immensely as a developer. Communication plays a key part in a developer’s job, whether it is adeptly articulating views in collaborations or reviewing code constructively and respectfully.
In addition, having good interpersonal and networking skills makes a marked difference in integrating seamlessly in diverse teams and pursuing various career opportunities.
As developers, we often tend to overlook inculcating these soft skills and focus on our technical skills solely. But having such a skill set in addition to the requisite technical skills definitely adds an edge over other candidates.
Have you encountered any gender bias as a female engineer in India? If so, how did you handle it?
Challenges faced by female engineers in India are very similar to those in any part of the world. My career choice is often met with skepticism, with questions of my abilities to succeed in comparison to my male peers, just because I am a woman. On such occasions, I have chosen to let my work and skills speak for themselves.
As a woman in technology, I have often been unnerved by the overwhelming majority of my male colleagues, right from the time I was an undergraduate student. This problem was further compounded when I ventured into open source development, where I was hard-pressed to find role models whom I could emulate and whose stories resonated with me.
Not being able to derive a sense of solidarity, I have often been confronted with Imposter Syndrome and have doubted my abilities. However, with time and the remarkable mentorship I have received along the way, I have learnt to reaffirm my faith in myself and combat Imposter Syndrome.
You say that mentorship is really important for women in code. Can you tell us about your experience with having a mentor and being a mentor?
I attribute a significant amount of my success so far to the invaluable guidance of mentors I have received along the way.
From the very beginning of my career, I have proactively sought out mentors in my areas of interest – people with similar stories or experiences, whom I felt connected to. They have been friends, college seniors, alumni, colleagues, and even people whom I have never met in person.
In order to seek out a mentor, I begin with a brief introduction of my background and the specific areas or goals I need help with. In cases when I am just starting out in pursuit of a goal and I am not clear about these specific questions, I ask them about their experience in that field, the steps they took to achieve their goals and formulate my plans accordingly.
Asking specific questions makes this process efficient and productive for both the mentor and the mentee.
As I have progressed through my career, I have increasingly appreciated the value this exercise has added to my life. I also realize the need to pass it on. Thus, I also actively spend time in mentoring young career professionals, especially women, in areas of my expertise.
I find it immensely fulfilling to build bonds based on mutual growth and to grow while lifting everyone else along with you.
What is your favorite part of your work?
The favourite part of my work is regular collaboration with the other members of my team. This allows me to learn from the diverse experience and skill sets of my team members.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for women in code?
The biggest challenge for women in code, in my opinion, is the lack of suitable role models. It is helpful to have other women from whom we can derive a sense of companionship and whom we can emulate. This lack of role models leads to a sense of alienation and nagging doubts about their choice of career, manifesting itself as Imposter Syndrome.
This means that very few women are able to muster the confidence to venture into coding. Some may even be nervous to actively pursue their ambitious goals once they’re in this field.
What advice would you give to students interested in computer science?
Computer Science is an ever-evolving and vast field. Keep exploring until you find your niche! Be courageous enough to do something bold and different, something that makes you stand out from the crowd.
And never hesitate to ask for help, you’re not in this alone!
Quick fire round
When I can’t solve a bug, I…
Step aside from the screen and come back to it after a while.
My favorite programming language is…
Dream company to work for…
One that values their employees’ well-being and individuality, and emphasizes on promoting diversity in their workforce.
If I had unlimited resources, I would develop…
Fast and cheap transportation in lieu of long haul flights.
In 5 years time, I want to…
Be someone whom my younger self can emulate and be proud of.
Your favorite quote…
Be humble for you are made of earth, be noble for you are made of stars.