“Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” With Penny Bauder & Divya Jain

A saying that inspires me is, “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” If everyone takes time to understand another person’s perspective, we will be much better people. It is always easier to find faults, but if we go just one level deeper, we will empathize more and the world will benefit from it. I had […]

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A saying that inspires me is, “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” If everyone takes time to understand another person’s perspective, we will be much better people. It is always easier to find faults, but if we go just one level deeper, we will empathize more and the world will benefit from it.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Divya Jain, Director of Machine Learning & Platform Engineering, Adobe.

Divya Jain is an industry-recognized product and technology leader in machine learning and AI, with 15+ years of experience at various startups and Fortune 500 companies. She is currently the director of machine learning and platform engineering at Adobe — focused on Adobe Sensei, the company’s AI and machine learning technology. Previously, Divya was a research director at Tyco Innovation Garage where she led various deep learning initiatives in the video surveillance space. She also co-founded a startup, dLoop Inc., which was acquired by Box in 2013. At Box, Divya led the team that built the first machine learning capabilities into the Box platform. Business Insider previously recognized her as one of the “22 Most Powerful Women Engineers In The World.” Divya is very passionate about open sharing of knowledge and information, and she is always working towards bridging technology gaps to further product innovation.

Divya previously held roles at EMC and Kazeon Systems (acquired by EMC), and she was senior software engineer at Sun Microsystems. Outside of work, Divya is actively involved in various networking and mentoring programs to support women in technology — including GenHERation and the annual Grace Hopper Celebration. She holds a graduate degree in data mining and analysis from Stanford University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Divya! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I love puzzles, and I’m most driven and motivated when solving a problem. I’ve always sought bigger challenges that I thought I could solve throughout my career — whether it was joining a small startup, working at Sun Microsystems or leaving a job at EMC to start my own company (dLoop, later acquired by Box). With each change, I made mistakes, learned and grew in different ways.

Adobe offered me a unique opportunity to democratize artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) at scale. Being part of the team working on the company’s AI/ML technology — Adobe Sensei — allows me to tackle the challenge of replacing a jet engine when the jet is going full speed, which is exciting and fulfilling for me.

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

Lots of interesting things have happened throughout my 20-year career. When I was an engineer at a startup, Kazeon (later acquired by EMC), we vied to win an OEM partnership with a major industry competitor. The other company claimed much better performance and scale data, so there was a bake off, and my team was tasked with proving how our solution was better.

Just before our presentation, we made some last-minute changes and uncovered a product bug that led to some malfunctions. Although we fixed the situation in time and ultimately won the OEM partnership, I felt defeated and discouraged. When I apologized to the CTO for my mistake, he said, “This will seem like nothing when you make much bigger mistakes in the future, which I am pretty sure you will.”

A few days later he came to my cube and asked me if I was ready to make a “bigger mistake” by leading a major new project. I was pleasantly surprised, but I realized that what he meant was that as I take on bigger challenges in future, the mistakes could be greater, but I will learn from them.

I firmly believe that if you are not making mistakes, then you are not stretching yourself enough. We should avoid making the same mistakes twice, but getting out of your comfort zone is a great way to learn.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I went to a miniature Indy car racing track for one of my first team outings, and I had never raced cars before. I could not control my car, which led to me driving into the grass, stopping on the track, tripping the timer and frustrating people behind me on the track.

My teammates were laughing out loud, but in a friendly way. They were supportive and encouraged me to persevere.

The lesson I learned was that it’s okay if you are not good at something because there are other areas where you excel. Everyone brings something to the table, and with the right support you can always learn new things. After subsequent visits to the car racing track, fortunately my driving skills improved!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Adobe is one of the best places to work. With creativity central to its DNA and inclusion instilled in its culture, the company truly stands out across its products, workplace, leadership and employees. The company is also very employee and family friendly. I might be biased since I work here, but Adobe really does exemplify its values: Genuine, Exceptional, Innovative & Involved.

As a leader in the digital experience space, Adobe gives people and companies the tools to express themselves. The company also does a lot beyond product development, including philanthropic efforts, internships, creative residency programs, corporate social responsibility efforts and more.

One of my favorite things about Adobe is that it has transitioned from a traditional annual/bi-annual employee performance review system. Instead, we have instituted the “Check-in” — an informal and continuous dialogue between managers and their direct reports — which are more effective for career development and less stressful for everyone.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m part of the Adobe Sensei platform engineering team. We are continually developing a robust platform that makes it easier and faster to train and deploy AI/ML algorithmic models — such as removing unwanted objects from videos, improving photo aesthetics or even changing a still photo to have a video-like motion. This helps Adobe’s customers complete their work more efficiently, by offloading some of the tedious and time-consuming tasks to ML and focusing more on creative pursuits.

Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Gradual progress has improved the status quo of women in STEM, but change at this level takes time to overcome pre-existing biases. There are large-scale programs in place, but each one of us can start by bringing awareness to the issue and making incremental effort each day to improve it. I encourage people to acknowledge their fellow female colleagues and celebrate every woman’s success in STEM. Role models are crucial and as more successful women emerge in the workplace, it will help solve two major issues: self-doubt and unconscious bias.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

Challenges like self-doubt, work-life balance and unconscious bias can be major challenges for women in STEM. As some brave women break the glass ceiling, one of the biggest challenges is feeling alone. There are not as many women in STEM leadership roles as I would like to see, but I believe having a support system at home and at work will lead to fewer women leaving the workplace and advancing their careers — which will create a profound ripple effect.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

A common myth is that women are not interested in STEM, which is not true. Most of the women I know and work with are interested and excelling in this area. Having more examples and role models is crucial to remove this bias. Women in STEM should feel like the norm and not an exception.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Believe in yourself: No one else will believe in you if you do not

2. Find allies: You cannot win alone

3. Keep learning: Tech changes fast

4. Embrace mistakes: Learn from them and move on

5. Find time to recharge: A happy leader makes happy teams

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Build a culture of trust. Trust between team members and leaders helps minimize conflict at work, while also leading to open discussion and productive outcomes.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Delegate and empower. The best way to scale is to bring clarity and enable your team to make positive progress.

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?

My former boss and co-founder at dLoop played a big role in my success. He believed in me and offered me challenging opportunities beyond my comfort zone, which helped me grow both in my career and as a person.

However, I couldn’t have achieved anything if it weren’t for my husband. He has always provided a safety net and emotional support that helped me through ups and downs, which allows me to take risks without worry.

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

I engage in mentorship programs and have coached many women starting their career in tech, such as Women Entering & Staying in Tech (WEST) and the “Ascent” program sponsored by VC firm Sequoia Capital. I am also part of Women Startup Lab, serve as a technical adviser for AI/ML startups founded by women and mentor high school girls who are passionate about entrepreneurship in various capacities. I enjoy doing my part to help move upward and forward together, so when my daughter joins the workforce, she can start her journey from a strong place.

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

A saying that inspires me is, “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” If everyone takes time to understand another person’s perspective, we will be much better people. It is always easier to find faults, but if we go just one level deeper, we will empathize more and the world will benefit from it.

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

It is a quote from Marianne Williamson“There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine…and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.”

We all try our best to fit in and not stand out because being different or better at something can come across as showing off and make one uncomfortable. This changed for me when I had my kids. Every time I saw them trying to fit in with their friends and not doing their best, I decided to set a better example. It forced me to do better, and now I can lead people around me to do much more, too.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to spend some time with Indra Nooyi. She is an immigrant woman from India who was CEO of Pepsi Co. As a fellow immigrant woman from India, I can relate to stories about her background, family and some of the challenges she had to overcome. I find her speeches very inspirational and relevant, and I know I could learn a lot from her.

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