World of Technology Product Management: Women in Tech Interview with Ritika Sainiby@ritikasaini
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World of Technology Product Management: Women in Tech Interview with Ritika Saini

by Ritika SainiApril 30th, 2024
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Women in Tech Interview with Ritika Saini
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HackerNoon editorial team has launched this interview series with women in tech to celebrate their achievements and share their struggles. We need more women in technology, and by sharing stories, we can encourage many girls to follow their dreams. Share your story today!

Tell us about yourself!

Ritika: I am a technical product manager who is passionate about bringing compelling enterprise solutions to the market to solve customer problems at scale and deliver profitable growth. I have over ten years of experience in the field, working for large enterprises such as Splunk, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Dell Technologies, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Prior to working in the Enterprise technology space, I worked in the automobile industry as a manufacturing planning engineer. My Academic qualifications include an MBA and Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering.

Why did you choose the Technology Product Management field in the first place?

Ritika: The early seeds of my career in technology product management were planted serendipitously during my first job as an industrial engineer working at one of India's largest commercial vehicle manufacturers. Focusing on the engineering implementation aspect of manufacturing new vehicles, I grew extremely curious about who decided what to build and why we were building something. It was fascinating to uncover the customer demands and business objectives behind each product line in the factory.

I decided to pursue an MBA at Mays Business School, Texas A&M University, looking for formal education in the business side of things. During my MBA, I got into the product management world as an intern for enterprise storage. This role was a true 'aha' moment for me. I saw firsthand how products are conceptualized, developed, and launched. I realized that product management was where I wanted to focus my career. Over the past decade, this decision has been the most rewarding one, allowing me to lead the launches of multiple high-impact products.

What tech are you most excited/passionate about right now and why?

Ritika: I find data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) applications in the precision farming field very exciting. Very soon traditional farming is going to face a lot of challenges while dealing with climate change and resource depletion. The world population is predicted to grow rapidly which puts immense pressure on agriculture to constantly increase its output. We can enrich precision farming practices such as optimized watering and controlling plantation methods based on real-time data on soil conditions, weather forecasts, and crop health by integrating AI with sophisticated data analytics closer to where the decision needs to be made. This technology has the potential and is probably our only hope to significantly increase crop yields and reduce waste by optimizing resource usage.

What tech are you most worried about right now and why?

Ritika: I am worried about how large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT will continue to train on public data. Training models on copyrighted work without permission is concerning, but if laws are put in place to regulate this, AI companies will potentially run out of public data to train their models. I am concerned about how this will go down to be fair to original content creators while not impeding the evolution of LLMs.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of tech?

Ritika: Outside of work, I enjoy traveling, learning Spanish (currently on my 342nd-day streak on Duolingo), creating content on social media platforms, and hiking in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Let's talk about breaking the glass ceiling. What were the biggest challenges you faced as a woman in tech, and how did you deal with them?

Ritika: I have faced my fair share of challenges in the industry. There are some common microaggressions I have encountered, including being interrupted or talked over by colleagues, my achievements being attributed to my gender instead of competence, and assuming things about my interests and skills based on gender stereotypes.

Any questionable misogynistic story/situation you faced/handled, and you want to share with the HackerNoon Fam?

Ritika: There is one story that stands out for me. I was assigned to lead a major project involving a collaboration with a third-party company to co-brand and market a multimillion-dollar product. This was a significant opportunity, especially since I was one of the youngest product managers ever tasked with such a project. The key meeting for this project was scheduled in Europe, and I traveled there to meet with my counterpart from the third-party company. Before the official meeting, we met informally at a conference. It became immediately apparent that he was uncomfortable with me leading the project once he realized who I was. Without consulting me, he quickly included my manager in the upcoming meeting. During the meeting, he directed all questions to my manager, ignoring me despite my role as the subject matter expert. This not only put me in an awkward position but also frustrated my manager, who expected me to be the primary point of communication. After the meeting, I expressed my dissatisfaction to my manager, who was equally disappointed by the counterpart's behavior. Together, we decided that the best course of action was for my manager to decline future meeting invitations and to send a note emphasizing that all decisions and communications should be channeled through me.

This incident underscores the challenges women often face in professional settings, where gender prejudices overshadow our capabilities and leadership roles. It’s crucial for organizations to support their staff by fostering an environment where such biases are addressed promptly and effectively.

What was the biggest setback/failure that you faced, and how did you manage it?

Ritika: Failures are opportunities to learn, working in Technology product management I live by the principle of failing fast when introducing new products and I tend to apply the same ideology in life to continuously course correct and move forward.

What's your biggest achievement that you're really proud of?

Ritika: I am proud of my resilience, both professionally and personally. I continue to persevere in the face of challenges and focus on my skills. I used to be proud of becoming my business school’s brand ambassador and having a billboard near IAH airport with my face on it. When my parents traveled from India for my graduation in the USA, they beamed with joy seeing my billboard on their way to the airport, which made me proud.

In your opinion, why do we see this huge gender gap in the tech industry, and how can we reduce it?

Ritika: The huge gender gap cannot be attributed to one thing, but one of the biggest contributing factors is the lack of STEM awareness and education for young girls, especially in developing countries. Lack of limited role models in the workplace, preconceived notions, and biases also contribute to the problem.

We all need to come together to reduce the gender gap in Tech. Some of the ways can be to

  • Promote STEM education among young girls through programs and scholarships.
  • Encourage an inclusive culture that provides a safe space to support women throughout their careers.
  • Include more diverse leaders in tech companies.

Who is your tech idol? Why?

Ritika: I admire a lot of tech folks. Radia Perlman, also known as the “mother of the internet,” is pretty amazing.

Do you have any advice for aspiring girls who want to join the field?

Ritika: My advice to aspiring women/girls who want to join Tech is never to undersell yourself. Have confidence in your potential. I have observed women often hesitate to apply for a tech position unless they meet every single listed job requirement/qualification. But you need to remember that candidate requirements are often a “good to have” skill list for the ideal candidate, and thus not meeting every criterion should not deter you from applying. Many skills can be learned on the job, and showing a willingness to grow and adapt is highly valued in the tech industry.