Usha Suryadevara (computer engineering, MS ‘01) is the director of development at Info Tech in Gainesville, Fla. Suryadevara has made mentoring women in computer science and engineering an important part of her life.
Why were you interested in the computer engineering/science field?
Honestly, I had to decide between dissecting frogs or learning about computers. I’ve always been interested in using logic to analyze problems and solve them. Computer engineering just hit the spot and wasn’t nearly as messy as dissecting a frog.
What are you working on in your current position with Info Tech?
My position focuses on guiding the professional and technical advancement of the development department and to strategize and execute on the technical vision for the Info Tech Products department.
This means I get to study and play with new techniques and architectures to maximize the return on the company’s investment into technology, and mentor people in the implementation and usage of that technology.
What has motivated you to make changes in the industry?
As my career in computer science advanced over the years, I realized some of the shortcomings and inequalities within the industry. This motivated me to start my journey as a mentor with UF’s WECE (Women in Electrical and Computer Engineering) program. A year into the mentoring program, I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration. After listening to the keynote speakers and others in just a few speeches, I realized how much more I could – and should – be doing.
Why do you feel the topic of women in computer science is so important?
The Tech community is about solving problems, and we’re only as good as the perspectives you have when solving these problems. If we’re not able to ensure an inclusive environment where all genders can flourish, then what chance do we have of building technology that actually does good and works for all involved?
The data reflects that there has been a declining number of women over the years in this field. This is not advancement. We’re working to change that.
Why is mentoring women in computer science/engineering important to you, and what do you hope those women will learn from you?
During my first time mentoring I realized that there are a lot of students taking the same journey as me and running into the same obstacles. Even after 15 years, I could still relate to my mentee’s concerns, issues and successes. A huge difference now is that students in the mentee program have someone at their backs.
We have literature that talks about the obstacles faced by women who start in this track. Instead of overcoming them, women choose a different track, which often moves them out of the coding field. If they have someone who overcame these obstacles, someone to inspire them and someone they can relate to, I think they would make a different decision. I hope to be that role model.
Do you feel the industry has gotten better for women and minorities in recent years?
There has definitely been an improvement, where we see problems there is awareness. There are a lot of organizations educating everyone on the “how” behind empowering women and promoting diversity, especially gender diversity. Companies are actively recruiting diverse workforces. There are attempts being made to get more women into leadership positions everywhere.
All that said, only 20 percent of tech jobs are held by women. We have a ways to go.
What kind of changes do you hope to see in the industry in the next several years?
I would like to see the number of women in the industry go up, especially women in leadership positions. I think the key to empowering more women is to be an inspiration for others and be a role model for younger generations.
Why did you want to be a part of the CISE advisory board?
Being on the CISE advisory board gives me an opportunity to help validate the CISE curriculum and provide first-hand feedback on ways to get students ready for the real world. I think that’s perfect!
For example, I had to learn how to debug code on my own when I started in the industry almost 20 years ago. It’s a skill developers need to have. And I’ve seen some really bright students graduate from UF without this basic and critical skill.
Can you tell me about the Info Tech shadowing program?
This program gives students real-world experience in their chosen field. Each student is paired with an Info Tech expert based on the student’s chosen field, interests, and goals. The student shadows the expert over several sessions and is involved in various aspects of the job such as problem-solving, planning and collaboration with others.
How did the idea for the program start?
I got the idea during one of my mentorship meetings. My mentee at the time was interested in a management track. Being a computer science major, that track seemed a little odd, so I asked her what she thought a manager did. Upon further discussion, we realized her interests aligned with being a User Experience designer. Only she did not know such a track existed. That’s where I got the idea to introduce students to the wide range of work available in this field.
Who is eligible for this program?
Students that are part of WiCSE (women in computer sciences and engineering) group are eligible for this program. We try to select applicants who are interested, motivated and take initiative.
How many students are part of the program per semester?
We average around 8 – 10 students per semester (fall and spring).
Can you tell me more about WATT – We Advance Tech Together?
WATT is an initiative to bring women technologists and other tech industry professionals together so they can share experiences and connect with others, and stay inspired!
Who is involved?
Jenn Edge (Assistant Director of Development, Info Tech, Inc), Elise Carmichael (Enterprise solutions strategist, Tricentis), Priya Rudradas (Chief Operations Officer, OPIE software) and Sue Rocher (Software Developer 3, Infinite Energy) are the other members of the WATT leadership team.
Who is eligible to participate? Is it just for women?
Anyone and everyone who support women in the tech industry. For example, at our first WATT event, we had 27 people total, out of which 6 were men.
How can people learn more about WATT?
What advice would you have for any young women and/or minorities who want a career in computer science?
There is an unspoken bias in the industry that “it is a man’s world.” I’m here to tell you it’s not! Don’t let this belief stop you from pursuing this career. In most companies, people have been actively working to address discrimination and bias. Besides, these problems exist in the first place because of the lack of women in the industry.
Students interested in the WiCSE/Info Tech Shadowing Program can email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.