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Sukriti Chadha: “Being the best at something doesn’t mean you’re good at it”

I believe the future of communication will be an inclusive one, where people have access to multimodal input and output methods. What this means is, people have the flexibility to convey information in one form, and receive it in another, based on convenience and physical ability. For example, we might see more use of augmented, […]

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I believe the future of communication will be an inclusive one, where people have access to multimodal input and output methods. What this means is, people have the flexibility to convey information in one form, and receive it in another, based on convenience and physical ability. For example, we might see more use of augmented, mixed and virtual reality in everyday interactions, for instance, to share a common virtual space during chats or games.

Smartphones, virtual assistants and other ambient technology will be the first interfaces for these new capabilities given their existing adoption. I am helping shape an inclusive future with implementation of best practices, automated testing, and embedding digital inclusion in the product life cycle for emerging technology. At work, my focus at the moment is on automated testing for accessibility on mobile apps. On a broader level, through involvement with organizations such as W3C, MDN and XRAccess, I work on guidelines, policy and techniques to include accessibility as a first principle, instead of an afterthought.


As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sukriti Chadha.

Sukriti is the product manager for accessibility and mobile developer experience at Spotify, and an Invited Expert at the W3C WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) group and the Mobile Accessibility Task Force that create industry guidelines for accessible web and mobile applications. She also serves on Mozilla’s MDN Product Advisory Board, and as a member of XR Access and Teach Access.

Prior to Spotify, Sukriti was an Android developer at Yahoo, before leading product management for the Yahoo Finance mobile application. During this time, she grew the mobile user base by 40% and led the cross-platform initiative that allows users to link their trading accounts (Fidelity, Etrade etc.). At Yahoo, she built and patented a new way of making data visualization accessible to people with vision loss, and open sourced the mobile solution.

Sukriti moved to Lookout Mountain, Tennessee from New York during the pandemic. She is writing a book that will help organizations address accessibility at scale. In her free time, can be found flying small planes or practicing yoga.

She graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Electrical Engineering, and a minor in Finance.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I was born and raised in New Delhi, India and grew up bilingual in a Hindu family, while attending Catholic school. Having exposure to different perspectives from an early age helped me embrace diversity of thought and expression.

As a child, I enjoyed applied Physics, Math and learning how technology and innovation shapes the world around us. That is why I chose a liberal arts education that combined Electrical Engineering and Economics. At Princeton, I was fortunate to be surrounded by entrepreneurial peers and professors who reaffirmed my interest in technology.

I am now a product manager, which means I work at the intersection of engineering, design, user research and business. Having a few years of engineering experience has helped me understand how products are built first hand, and the challenges of one of the most important stakeholders I work with.

My work in accessibility is an extension of my overall mission of using technology to level the playing field, and to making access to information and tools available for all.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I had a brief stint as a software consultant, where I was assigned a few mundane, repetitive tasks for a project. I wrote a program to automate that work, and shared it with the team lead. I thought that would lead to more interesting assignments, but instead, I was told that the business model was to charge for time consultants spent, which I had now shortened. That was the moment I decided that it was time to move on. It also gave me a chance to reevaluate the career path and impact I wanted to have, before making a transition.

I took a month to train as a yoga teacher in Hawaii. In addition to giving me clarity on where I wanted to focus my attention, I was introduced to meditation, which is now a core part of my life.

Given the reach, adoption and financial accessibility of the Android platform, developing apps on it seemed like a great way of positively impacting the most number of people. Before applying for developer roles, I taught myself Android development on weekends and evenings, and built a portfolio of seven applications. Mobile as an industry remains one of the most exciting growth areas in tech and I am glad that I chose this path early in my career.

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

The one I try to live by comes from the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture. It roughly translates to “You have the right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

It reminds me to focus on the present and what is important now, instead of worrying too much about the result. It is also a humbling reminder of the number of factors outside of one’s effort that contribute to the “fruits.” It helps me to not identify with my successes or my failures, only with how I performed.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

So many friends, colleagues and mentors have gone out of their way to support and encourage me over the years. Since I moved to the US at 18, home has been a somewhat elusive concept, but I now feel fortunate enough to have two because of the love and acceptance in both places.

The one person I would name is my mother. She is a brilliant teacher, writer, my moral compass and biggest cheerleader. I owe the fact that I constantly explore new interests to her and my dad, who made sure that I was exposed to the widest possible range of activities growing up.

They shared most responsibilities equally in a pretty gender normative society, which is why I had the privilege of growing up, never questioning my ability or role based on anything other than hard work.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I would use the word influence instead of success. I believe that talent is universal, but opportunity and access are not. Most everything I do is in service of increasing access to opportunity for people who are overlooked and underserved. That includes my job as a PM, and participation in accessibility/ policy work.

One specific problem I identified while working on product inclusion is that software teams tend to be sets of homogenous, like-minded people. This leads to design and development of products for a limited audience reflective of that group’s experiences.

For the past five years, I have volunteered with Pursuit, a nonprofit that helps people from nontraditional backgrounds break into tech careers. I teach workshops, conduct mock interviews and mentor fellows starting first jobs in technology to help bring more diverse perspectives to the table.

During the pandemic, I have had the chance to mentor high school students on assistive technology projects for their peers with autism. I also joined the boards of Plan of Georgia and the Women’s Entrepreneurial Opportunity Project to help rethink their work as in-person nonprofits in a remote-first world.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

When we think about communication, we think of communication with other people. In a technology-driven world, especially now that most interactions are happening remotely, we first need to communicate with our devices and environments before we can communicate with others. This applies to consumption of information, the ability to create content, and to be able to effectively participate in a remote workforce.

Telephone, email, text, video calls and other forms of communication technology have leveraged different modalities of input and reception available to humans. All of these methods were in their own ways exclusive to people with certain disabilities. For example, video chat and phone calls are severely limiting for those with speech impairments.

I believe the future of communication will be an inclusive one, where people have access to multimodal input and output methods. What this means is, people have the flexibility to convey information in one form, and receive it in another, based on convenience and physical ability. For example, we might see more use of augmented, mixed and virtual reality in everyday interactions, for instance, to share a common virtual space during chats or games.

Smartphones, virtual assistants and other ambient technology will be the first interfaces for these new capabilities given their existing adoption. I am helping shape an inclusive future with implementation of best practices, automated testing, and embedding digital inclusion in the product life cycle for emerging technology. At work, my focus at the moment is on automated testing for accessibility on mobile apps. On a broader level, through involvement with organizations such as W3C, MDN and XRAccess, I work on guidelines, policy and techniques to include accessibility as a first principle, instead of an afterthought.

How do you think this might change the world?

Over 1 billion people in the world have some form of disability. I think when 15% of the world’s population is able to more fully participate in the digital economy, the world will be a much better and sustainable place.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Great tools often make great weapons. Whenever there are more ways to access, or interact with a system, it opens more possibilities of abuse.

With richer mobile experiences, and ambient technology such as virtual assistants, that enable multimodal interactions, it will be important to account for data security and privacy depending on the person’s environment and sensitivity of the information in question.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

A year into my role as an Android developer at Yahoo Finance, my dad lost vision in one of his eyes due to diabetic retinopathy. That was when I started thinking about how people with vision loss use everyday products. I used my phone without looking at it, relying only on the screen reader for 3 weeks. That was when I discovered how far we need to go as an industry to make truly usable products for people with disabilities.

My first project in accessibility was building financial charts accessible to blind users, with music, haptics and speech synthesis. That solution was launched and open sourced about a year ago for use cases beyond finance.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Because VR, AR, multimodal interactions on phones are relatively new technologies, there aren’t many established standards or best practices. It will need collaboration between researchers, academics, computer scientists and product designers who can design solutions that are born inclusive. More importantly, it will require engagement with people with disabilities so they can contribute to products that they will be using.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

What was already challenging for people with disabilities, has become even more difficult during the pandemic. There have been numerous reports on how students in special education programs, and people with disabilities who relied on in-person jobs for livelihood have disproportionately suffered during the pandemic.

Educating developers and setting standards for product teams on building inclusive products, innovative interactions, automated testing, and incorporating best practices through standards will address these problems at a much broader, systemic scale than any one solution.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Building software is more about people than about systems

When I first formally transitioned to a PM role from engineering, I faced challenges balancing my interest in still being part of technical decisions, and the need to take a step back to focus on the bigger picture. I was managing my time poorly, and was inhibiting the engineering team’s growth and my trust in them by trying to do what they are better at, instead of focusing all my time and attention on giving them the tools and understanding of user needs, to help them do their work i.e. focusing on the people. After I consciously made that choice, both the team and I were more effective and we did some amazing work together.

2. How to gauge an employer

The amount of interesting work, team dynamics and quality of product you will ship at a company or team can be inferred by studying the culture around failure. If teams are too afraid to fail, they will likely not take risks and only ever make incremental improvements, if at all. That can work for a while, but I learned that I felt most energized and motivated in environments where there is clear accountability, and the focus is to learn and grow. It is a question I ask all my interviewers to gauge whether I would enjoy working for their team.

3. So what? What’s next?

As a developer, I found gratification in the amount of code I wrote and all the new features I shipped. As a product manager, I started asking a different question — so what? So what if we shipped that feature? Was it useful for the intended user? If not, what did we learn? What’s next? What did I miss? How do we do better? Can we delete some of it?

4. Being the best at something doesn’t mean you’re good at it

One of my mentors, JBQ, who is a mobile architect once said being the best at something doesn’t always mean you’re good at it. Those words have since stuck with me. This is especially true for less explored fields, or innovative solutions that might be the best to exist, and yet not the best for the audience they are designed for. I think about this often, and it inspires me to constantly learn and evolve professionally and personally.

5. Nonviolent communication

I wish someone had introduced me to Marshall Rosenberg’s work when I started. It is a great way to approach communication at work and personally.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

To introduce accessibility and inclusive product development concepts to students in computer science, product design, human computer interaction, digital marketing and tech-adjacent fields. Currently, by the time product teams get acquainted with even the most basics of accessibility, it requires unlearning years of training and habits that don’t account for mainstream use cases.

It could also work if basic training is part of orientation and bootcamps so it’s top of mind for people entering the workforce. In the 2020 WebAim accessibility report, 98% of the top 1 million websites failed basic accessibility checks. The best way to lay the foundation for a more inclusive tech ecosystem scalably is with education and awareness early on in the learning process.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am pretty active on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/sukriti-chadha/) and Clubhouse the moment.

Besides that, I regularly speak at conferences such as CSUN, GAAD and Product Management Conferences.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


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