WiBD spoke with Rupa Gangatirkar, Women in Big Data Hackathon/Competition Program Director and core member of the Women in Big Data Bay Area chapter. Rupa is truly a remarkable individual with a diverse background and a passion for Big Data related technologies and support of women in the space. The interview is very insightful.
WiBD: Who is Rupa Gangatirkar?
Rupa is a Computer Engineer with semiconductor chip design background, transitioned into data science and AI/ML. Rupa is passionate about making an impact with data, insights and using her hardware, debug and data analytics skills to solve tomorrow’s challenges in the world of AI and data. An engineer at heart, Rupa enjoys her creative side in arts, drama, dance and culinary adventures.
WiBD: Tell us about your career journey.
I worked in the semiconductor industry for fifteen plus years at Intel Corp where I worked in senior roles ranging from CPU/ASIC chip design, CPU architect, validation and verification lead and silicon test design, and continued to work in IoT and embedded systems. I dealt with enormous amounts of data (Big Data) as part of my design, debug and analysis work back then. I challenged myself to learn data science skills later as a natural progression of my interests, background and in pursuit of learning new technology and skills in DS and AI. I have been working as a Data Scientist/Machine Learning engineer for the past 7+ years in the startup world.
I am a Data Scientist and a Machine Learning Engineer at a startup working on digital transformation using AI. I have also worked extensively in building AI and ML capabilities across wide industry verticals. I hold a master’s degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and a bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering from Shivaji University, India.
I am currently serving as a core team member for Women in Big Data’s Bay area chapter and WiBD’s Global Data Science Program/Hackathon Director. I am an industry advisor board member for Kansas State University, Salina. I have been involved with other technology organizations as a mentor, a volunteer in data science, ML and AI hardware.
WiBD: Do you have advice to give to others who are thinking about their career choices?
You should always keep your eyes and ears open and open to learning new things. One important thing I would like to share as advice (I wished I had that earlier) is after about every so often in your career, take a pause and re-evaluate your passions, your interests and do not be afraid to try new things, don’t be afraid to fail – learn new skills, try your hand at new passions or get back to your passion and find a new career in it. No matter what stage of life you are at, age, career journey you are at, if you are getting back to the workforce after a break, don’t be afraid to learn new things, new skills, believe in yourself.
Follow success, don’t be afraid of failures, and never follow fame. Success is permanent, fame is temporary.
You are judged and will be remembered on how you handled your failures, what you learned from them and how you turned the tide to be successful. Being passionate about cooking, I like to give an analogy from the kitchen – Fame can be earned instantly like a 2-minute instant recipe, success is a slow cooker recipe – patience is the key.
WiBD: Can you tell us why you have been supportive of women and help to elevate them?
I led the female students team who went up to my engineering college head and management to provide adequate sanitation for girls restrooms as it was considered not a priority item back then. I decided to raise this issue which was a primary right to safe health and hygiene.
I come from a family of women who challenged the status quo, were role models for their community in their area of expertise. My maternal grandmother was one of the first women from her village in India who learned to read and write, went on to become a voracious reader, kept herself up to date with current affairs and taught all her grandkids the importance of education. My mother worked as a Professor, worked part time as and when required to raise us, earned three masters degrees after marriage and with three kids. My mother taught us to keep learning no matter how old you are, do not second guess yourself and empower people around you with your skills and knowledge. I am in awe of my mother, grandmother, my aunts and all those inspiring women in my family, community and in my life who shaped me and instilled that sense of giving, be supportive, share the knowledge you have, and empower women who are less privileged.
When I entered the workforce, I watched a lot of women be ignored, their contributions not rewarded, overlooked, not mentored, and not supported. I experienced how I was treated at times when I deserved to be rewarded in my career. What saddened and bothered me the most was that the lack of support, insecurity, and jealousy did not come from the men in the workplaces/volunteer organizations, but from the women as well, I wanted to change that. I am optimistic that we all can work together to bring about that change for our future generations of women professionals.
WiBD: How did you learn about Women in Big Data and what has been your engagement with the organization?
I was looking to join and network with women in data science, Big data and ML when I was transitioning to the field. I happened to see an event from WiBD on the Meetup and registered for it. I then became a member and started following WiBD. I again happened to see a post to join the Bay area chapter core team of volunteers and being in the Bay area, I reached out to Eliana Castillo then chapter Director and expressed my interest to volunteer and joined the team. I am a core team member/ambassador of the Bay area chapter where I participated and led Data science hackathons. I now work as the WiBD Global Hackathon/Competition Program Director where my primary focus is to engage, design, and guide all WiBD chapters in planning and running hackathons in the areas of Big Data, DS, AI, ML or combinations for WiBD chapters worldwide. I collaborate with industry partners and sponsors for such initiatives for WiBD members worldwide to support our mission – learn, grow, connect and champion for tomorrow’s skills and careers.
WiBD: What are unique challenges for Women and how could WiBD help to overcome as much as possible?
Women in the workforce, women in technology and women in the data/data science field are still a minority compared to their male counterparts. Percentage varies by industry, experience level and career ladder but the disparity is huge and widening. What this disparity at all levels of career hierarchy does for women is that it presents less awareness, lack of opportunities, lack of confidence, and not having advocates to support them.
Women in data must realize that having fair representation will help with bias, fairness, ethics, and different perspectives to understand and analyze data. This will shape our future products and services we will use. This is critical for its effectiveness, completeness and fairness that women are assertive (in a respectful way), insightful and confident in decision making for data, with data.
WiBD could do following things to help women in data in multiple ways, not in a particular order:
WiBD: How does big data (or simply data) play a role in your career?
Being from the semiconductor/computer hardware industry, I have known how data has been used to build products, services, new computer chips that empower the world’s infrastructure and how we all live and interact with the technology today. I witnessed how a project would get canceled after 100s of engineers working on it for 2-4 years because we would have missed the train already if we had launched that product. Data from design, debug, tests, manufacturing, yield, supply chain, channels, market analyses, feature roadmap etc was there – we were looking at it with traditional methods, using traditional tools and mindsets and with minimal agility. Compared to software engineering, the hardware industry runs a bit on the slower space due to the sheer amount of complexity and processing involved to build and get a new chip out. Now with AI and ML, everyone is looking to enhance, augment and build radically different products by re-looking at their data, reusing their data and learning from their data so that they can speed up the innovation process with future looking products, keeping company’s business goals in mind – both hardware and all other industries.
By transitioning from the semiconductor domain to today’s data science field, equipped with new skills, I realized how we could design and enhance products with AI ML capabilities, combining IoT, automation, Digital Twin, Communication AI, Chatbots, Generative AI using data for any industry and for any area of human lives today. The data revolution and using your data in a more insightful way will also help shorten the design phase and faster time to market cycles for all industries.
I must admit that the pace of innovation is unprecedented and keeping up with all the latest developments in tools and technologies will be challenging. We all need to collaborate, connect and help each other to be successful.
WiBD: Why should more women take an interest in Data careers?
Women are natural leaders, organizers, creative thinkers and possess great analytical minds. Be it the kitchen, where traditionally our older generations of women typically excelled at, farms, rulers, teachers and mentors, all over the world across all cultures. Women have always been excellent collaborators, creative thinkers, great communicators, negotiators, and can explain things so a child could understand it.
Data is the new gold. Data exists within every company and every domain. Now time has come for women from all walks of life and skill backgrounds to look at data around them through new lenses. All the natural skills that women have is what they need to look at the data, understand and analyze it using new tools, technology and perspectives to make tomorrow’s business decisions, build products that touch people in every way possible. Be it in technology, marketing, manufacturing, product design, business analyses, art, healthcare, biology, earth sciences, service industry, hospitality, media, retail and each and every domain. By picking up data skills and right education you can equip yourself to understand and analyze your domain data, make informed business decisions, draw insights and shape future products and services right where you are.
WiBD: What motivates you?
WiBD: What bothers you?
WiBD: Any fun facts about you?
Music, dance and cooking are soothing, de-stressors in my life. I love baking and messing up my kitchen with new recipes, discovering a new expert in me or a total disaster at the new recipe I tried. I like to take out my fears by actually taking on them. So I did skydiving, swimming with dolphins and underwater walking at the seabed among others and continuing on my bucket list one item at a time.
WiBD: Any Quotes or inspirations that you live by?
Keep doing good Karma, be patient. When your intent is right, good Karma returns in multifold and unimaginable ways! Never work for something in return, detach yourself from expectations and see the peace in return.