Dmitry Nikolaev - stock.adobe.co
There’s never a dull day for Padmaja Kota, an engineering leader at Salesforce who is responsible for driving product development at the cloud-based software company.
Not only does she have to provide the right opportunities to her team, but she also has to make the right business decisions and manage multiple priorities while sticking to commitments.
A supportive workplace with flexible working arrangements certainly helps, along with support groups such as the Salesforce Women’s Network that helps women in the company succeed in technology wherever they are in their journey.
In an interview with Computer Weekly, Kota, senior director of software engineering at Salesforce in India, shares more about her career in software development, the benefits of a diverse workforce and what can be done to close the gender gap in coding.
How did your career in software development begin?
Kota: I was born and brought up in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, and come from a computer science and engineering background. After the dotcom era, it was a dream career to be an engineer for most of us.
Growing up, I was always keen on pursuing science and technology in my studies or as a profession. This led me to pursue my bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering at Rajiv Gandhi Technological University.
I started my career as a software engineer at Infosys and eventually migrated to New Zealand after my wedding. During this period, I learned the difference between product development and service engineering. The exposure to building a product to scale and serving multiple customers with a global mindset further enhanced my skillsets too.
Padmaja Kota, Salesforce
After my stint of working abroad, I moved back to India and joined Prokarma, where I had the chance to experiment and apply my learnings and expertise in a service-based company in the transport and locomotive space. In subsequent roles thereafter, I gained practical knowledge of all the steps involved in product development.
In 2014, I joined Salesforce. My role here has given me the opportunity to further expand my capabilities on various fronts, both personally and professionally. In the past eight years, I have progressed from an engineering manager to a senior director of software engineering. Overall, I have had a wonderful opportunity to explore a variety of roles in product development across industries in India and globally.
What exactly is your job like on a typical 24-hour day – is it deskbound, or on shifts, who might you be with, where might you be and what might you be doing?
Kota: In my current role at Salesforce, I focus on engineering excellence and delivering critical customer features, which also drives innovation. As a leader, it is my responsibility to provide the right opportunities to the team, make the right business decisions and manage multiple priorities while sticking to commitments. I intentionally work on leveraging my experience over the years to manage my priorities and my team efficiently.
Companies, teams and individuals’ work have changed more in the past two years than in any period in history. No matter what an organisation’s return-to-work strategy looks like, from in-person to hybrid to fully remote, digital infrastructure is replacing the physical headquarters as the backbone of work. My team has embraced Salesforce’s introduction of “flex team agreements”, which allow all of us the flexibility, choice and balance to choose when and where we work, based on our unique needs and projects.
How is your development team organised? Who are the members and what are their responsibilities?
Kota: My engineering team follows an agile approach where each scrum team has a scrum leader identified. We work in close collaboration with product managers, shared services stakeholders, customer support and many more functions to deliver new products and enhancements successfully.
“I have had a wonderful opportunity to explore a variety of roles in product development across industries in India and globally”
Padmaja Kota, Salesforce
Salesforce’s “success-from-anywhere” approach has increased our productivity. Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve redefined how our teams work together with flex team agreements. We’re empowering teams to decide how, when and where they work – including how many days a week they come into the office and what kind of work they’ll continue to do at home. Initiatives such as “async week”, “focus time” and “setting boundaries” are being experimented with to provide colleagues ways to increase productivity and prioritise their well-being.
A vital ingredient in the hybrid workspace is creating a digital headquarters, a hub where everyone can collaborate easily and efficiently, wherever they are. By seamlessly bringing the right people, information and tools together, this technology is helping businesses to become more connected, productive and innovative.
What do you think are strengths that women can bring to software development?
Kota: It’s no secret that diverse workplaces allow for greater innovation and success. A diverse workforce brings fresh perspectives, broader views and better insights at every level. Particularly in software development, perspectives from a diverse workforce, irrespective of their race or gender, help companies build unbiased frameworks into technologies, while helping to understand the needs of the other stakeholders in a better way.
Still, the greatest challenge to advancing gender equality in the technology industry is addressing women’s under-representation in emerging roles, such as engineering, cloud computing, and data and artificial intelligence (AI). In view of that, Salesforce has made great strides in building a more diverse and inclusive workforce that mirrors the communities where we live and work.
Part of what makes Salesforce an amazing company is our belief that business is the greatest platform for change. We are constantly working towards eliminating bias throughout virtually all stages of the employee journey. From the initial interview, through onboarding and training, including the departure of the employee. Salesforce isn’t afraid of investing in equality. We also have a programme to support women to get back to work after a break.
What do you think can be done to close the gender gap in coding? What do you think can be done to encourage more women to code?
Kota: In India, currently over 50% of IT graduates are women, who represent 34% of technology workers. Today, conversations around diversity, equality and inclusion have become important boardroom discussions. However, there is still a long way to go before we can confidently say that women are fairly represented in the technology industry.
Organisations need to change the narrative when it comes to women in the workplace. We need to showcase the opportunities available to women in this industry, but looking at it from a talent gap perspective is one-dimensional and missing the bigger picture.
Padmaja Kota, Salesforce
Greater diversity, in particular gender diversity, has many benefits for an organisation beyond just addressing the talent shortage. Creating a culture of equality isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing – empowering us to innovate, build deeper connections with our customers, and ultimately become a better company.
When I joined Salesforce there were very few women in my office. I was one of the first few members of the Salesforce Women’s Network in Hyderabad. Through the Women’s Network, Salesforce has ensured that women have the opportunity to improve skills and reap the advantages the digital economy offers. Today, I’m very proud to be part of this network that creates intentional career pathways for women to get into and succeed in technology, wherever they are in their journey.
Salesforce is also committed to equal pay for equal work. We evaluate pay on an annual basis to address any gaps among gender globally. To address any unexplained differences in pay, more than $22m has been spent to date to ensure our global workforce is paid fairly.
Are certifications important in advancing one’s career in development? If so, what sorts of certifications should one pursue?
Kota: While certifications are important, having the relevant skills to meet the digital transformation demands today is of utmost priority. In the present scenario, we cannot assume that new employees have the same knowledge and skills to adapt to emerging trends. Developing a virtual communication and resource library that provides training and subject matter experts anyone can access is just one example of how companies can help employees at all levels succeed.
According to insights from Salesforce’s recently launched Digital skills index, skills in collaboration technology, such as Slack, are viewed as the most important skills needed by businesses today. In India, digital marketing has been ranked as the top workplace skill, yet only 39% of respondents rate their workplace digital marketing skills level as “advanced”.
Our new digital world presents a major opportunity for companies to rethink what agile teams look like. Businesses such as Salesforce have a pivotal role to play in addressing the skills gap through a rethinking of education and training initiatives. By building tailored training programmes based not on what they think workers should know but on what workers actually want, and need to know, companies can create a flexible working culture that empowers all employees to connect, learn and progress from anywhere.
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