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Neha Pattan: “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for”

The use of Cloud based AI services in our everyday lives, specially through simple and intuitive interfaces to our smartphones, is already revolutionizing the way we live our lives. Mobile and web technologies are used by billions of people worldwide and we’re constantly thinking about how to make their experience better, safer and more useful. As […]

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The use of Cloud based AI services in our everyday lives, specially through simple and intuitive interfaces to our smartphones, is already revolutionizing the way we live our lives. Mobile and web technologies are used by billions of people worldwide and we’re constantly thinking about how to make their experience better, safer and more useful.


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Neha Pattan.

As a Tech Lead at Google, Neha is responsible for leading teams to design and develop products and services for Google’s core businesses. She immigrated to the USA, to pursue higher studies in Software Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and then joined Google, where she is now deeply involved in finding new and innovative ways to use technology to solve real world problems. From designing and building enterprise systems to figuring out how to build great products for consumers, Neha has engineered software for a wide gamut of users.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Thanks for having me.

When I began to develop interest in smartphones and handheld devices, it was still early days. I remember the devices we used in our research lab at Carnegie Mellon, during my graduate studies, were Nokia N95 phones. At the time, Nokia was doing very well in market share and was only just venturing into the smartphone market. Apple had released the iPhone but the real revolution was yet to happen. The test devices we had back then were very archaic to the ones that are so widespread today. No touchpad, limited processing power, small ecosystems. And then in the past decade, we’ve seen an exponential growth of device capability and intelligence. It’s been really inspiring to see so much technical innovation in this space. I feel really fortunate to have been part of this incredible journey.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Sure. I’m currently working on making AI based Cloud services more intelligent, easy and intuitive to use on mobile handheld devices. Think of your digital assistant being always available and ready to help whenever you need it. The use of Cloud based AI services in our everyday lives, specially through simple and intuitive interfaces to our smartphones, is already revolutionizing the way we live our lives. Mobile and web technologies are used by billions of people worldwide and we’re constantly thinking about how to make their experience better, safer and more useful.

That sounds exciting. How do you make decisions when you build products for such a large user base?

That’s a great question — part of it is intuition, but most of it is science. We’re constantly looking at data and gathering user feedback to help us make the right technical and product related decisions. What we strive for is making our products easily accessible and intuitive, while giving users full transparency into what the AI does, giving them control over their data and allowing them to get their work done in a fraction of the time.

Yes, especially at a time when user trust in popular online services is so low, how do you build that trust?

You’re right. Being able to trust the services you use and knowing how things work is key to enabling you to have a good experience. When you look at how ubiquitous smart devices are in our lives today, it becomes really important to build services that work with these principles from the get go. Simply put, users value transparency and control. This is something we take very seriously and build into the core of our products.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

You know, I haven’t really had a formal mentor over the years, but a lot of help and guidance from senior engineers and leaders with more experience. I’ve had guidance on technical decision making, managing cross functional teams, negotiating and even establishing boundaries.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Some of the best advice I got was about how to, occasionally, say no. I used to find it really difficult to say no to anybody. But when you’re in the middle of large projects working with hundreds of stakeholders, being able to say no and provide a good justification for it, becomes really important. It gives you the space you need to do what is right and increases your credibility among the people you work with.

Two other pieces of advice I received, that honestly made my life so much easier, were to delegate and to escalate. It’s often hard to know when is the right time for you to step in to solve a problem and when is it best to let others do it. Being able to judge this and work effectively with both, your team and your leadership, is really important.

How are you going to shake things up next?

I feel really fortunate to have learned from some of the best minds in our field in the past decade that I’ve worked at Google. It has been a great journey learning and contributing, but I believe that real impact will come from giving back to the community. I want to share my learnings with girls and women interested in pursuing technical careers and help bring more women to leadership positions in technology. I’ve mentored several engineers at Google and have now signed up to do the same with non profits working with college students around the world.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I have a favorite author and have read most of his books and listened to his podcasts too — Malcolm Gladwell. I mentioned earlier how it’s really important for us to make data driven decisions when designing products for our users. Malcolm’s work has made data driven decision making so accessible and understandable in many walks of life. Not just making decisions based on data but also being able to dig into it to find patterns, rules and often even interesting anomalies.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of the principles we learn when we are kids is to always be patient and wait for your turn. I think there’s a lot of value in doing that but it often takes away from how putting in the hard work, taking risks and asking for what you want is equally, if not more, important. I read a quote by Oprah many years ago that said “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for”. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I waited for opportunities to come to me, and I’m sure that’s true for everyone not born with a silver spoon.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow me on LinkedIn. I share stories and opinions there.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

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