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“Take that Extra Step”

WIT Interview with Saidurga, Lead Software Engineer at Willis Towers Watson

Women in Technology WNY is here to feature the stories of women in our local community and the various technology roles they fill, traditional and non-traditional. TechBuffalo is here to highlight these women to encourage others to not only explore technology opportunities but to take advantage of them. Saidurga virtually stopped by to talk about her journey in engineering, her love of music, and the bike trails of WNY.

Can you share a little about your journey into engineering?
Sure. I followed a very traditional path into engineering. I have always loved science and mathematics and I had exposure to computers & technology at an early age.  I think I was 12 when I observed my older brother work on a robotics project. It drove my interest to do something like that. I did my Bachelors in Electronics and Instrumentation Engineering in India. I came to the United States to do my Master’s in Electrical Engineering at San Diego State University. I always tell my parents that if I had not pursued engineering, I would have done a major in music. Soon I realized that I could do something where music and engineering intersect. I ended up taking courses in Signal Processing and spent a lot of time in research and building projects in music signal processing. I practically experienced that you could literally build anything with the skill sets you develop in the process and the scope is beyond our imagination. I started my first job at Peregrine Semiconductors, a manufacturer of RF Integrated Circuits in San Diego as an Automation Intern. It was intriguing to start my career with the smallest component that played a very important role in tech evolution. I started full time with Qualcomm as an Embedded Software Engineer and worked closely with Microsoft in the Windows line of products. It was fascinating to learn end to end integration of different components that make up a smartphone. I moved to Buffalo in 2018 and I’m currently working as a Lead software developer at Liazon/Willis Towers Watson. I design, develop, break, fix, learn, and mentor exciting things every day. As you can see, I have had a diverse set of experiences in engineering and I really enjoy what I do.

You mentioned that you always knew that this is something you want to do, but what influenced you to pursue engineering?
I had a lot of engineers in my family to derive inspiration from.  I believe everyone needs either a strong influence or a compelling reason to do something. What is their “Why”? For example, my grandfather would always ask me questions and make me think about how stuff works. He explained to me what electricity is and how motors work with practical demonstrations when I was 6. Though I did not understand most of it, it made me think and drove my curiosity. All my life, I was challenged with questions that asked “why” and “how.” That was one of the many reasons why I got into engineering. I would say my strong family ties and exposure at such a young age motivated me to pursue this path.

I do want to ask you about your journey from India to the United States to continue your studies. While you were exploring career & school options, what drove your choice of school?
After I completed my undergraduate studies, I got a job offer in India as a software engineer. But, I didn’t want to settle down and I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I have always been ambitious, so it was an easy decision for me to take that one extra step to advance my career. Silicon Valley was booming and the semiconductor industry witnessed a major growth. I wanted to get a taste of it, so I applied to California State Universities. I got a few admissions and I chose to do my major in Signal Processing which San Diego State is known for.  I was fascinated to learn from the signal processing guru Dr. Fred Harris, whom I read and heard a lot about when I was in India.

How do we get more young women interested in pursuing a STEM career?
I feel like school students have a limited understanding of the STEM field or sometimes, entirely a different conception of what it has to offer. Interaction with the professionals in the field will fill in the gaps and give them exposure to the wide scope it has to offer.

If the field is more relatable to their interests, they’re more likely to be engaged and motivated. “One motivating talk for all” doesn’t really work here. Having project-based programs for school students that are tailored to their interests could be useful. Students who fear math and technology might not have had a chance to explore it. Introducing them to the field with simple “fun” projects of their choice and mentorship/guidance to complete it will definitely be encouraging. I’m a gamer girl and I used to be obsessed with XBOX Kinect when it was first released. I derived my first project idea with the device to build an object detection bot. My point is that getting motivated is easy as long as you are convinced that it aligns with your interests and you have the right resources! Also, how you get introduced to the field is equally as important.

What advice do you wish someone gave you when you first started your career?
What you do outside of the 40-hour workweek is just as important for shaping your career as what you do at work. The reality is that the time you have to spare in a day could be different between men and women. It could be 2 hours or 20 hours a week,  but find time for professional development. Those efforts will shape your career.

Try and solve things on your own. Figuring things out by yourself makes you grow strong and develop your problem-solving/critical thinking skills. Try it out yourself before seeking help without losing patience and confidence. You have the right to make mistakes and be wrong. You could be your best teacher!



Thank you Saidurga for joining us for another installment of Women in Tech! If you would like to connect/learn more about Saidurga visit her LinkedIn.