“Why it’s important to keep a close network of mentors, no matter your level of experience” with Vidya Mani

No matter your level of experience, it’s important to keep a close network of mentors. Don’t limit yourself, either. No one mentor will give you everything you need to become a well-rounded person. To be successful in my role, I need to understand not only the technology, but how to manage a group of people, and […]

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No matter your level of experience, it’s important to keep a close network of mentors. Don’t limit yourself, either. No one mentor will give you everything you need to become a well-rounded person. To be successful in my role, I need to understand not only the technology, but how to manage a group of people, and the payments industry broadly. I have a different mentor who can provide a unique perspective on each of these areas. Broadening my mentor networks helps me to become a more well-rounded leader.

Asa part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vidya Mani.

Vidya Mani is the VP of Engineering at Ripple. With 20 years of experience, Vidya previously led engineering efforts at Braintree/PayPal, where she built and supported its international Payments, Treasury, Fraud and Data platforms. While there, she grew the team from a group of 10 engineers to a team of 90+ people committed to giving customers a more resilient global payments experience. Prior to that, she was a Lead Developer at ThoughtWorks and held engineering roles at Zenith Insurance, Accruent, and NIIT. Throughout her career, Vidya has transformed engineering organizations by refining on call strategies, growing Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) function and improving customer experiences while preserving work/life balance.

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

Iended up in this industry by happenstance! In high school, I really loved mathematics classes, so my father suggested I learn more about computer science as well. It was love at first sight when I wrote my first program, and I haven’t stopped since. Over the years, I have tried different roles within engineering, going back and forth between leading teams and writing code. With each new experience, I have learned to be a better leader, coder and mentor. I am always looking for new ways to challenge myself and for new people to learn from. For example, I joined Braintree because I wanted to be a part of its stellar engineering team, and now six years later I joined Ripple because it was the perfect opportunity. Ripple’s vision is to simplify the way people send and receive money around the world. Since joining the Ripple team, my priority has been to inspire my engineering team to transform the global payments infrastructure and improve the end customer experience through quality code.

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

Ripple is uniquely positioned to change the global payments system with blockchain-based technology. So much of our economy is dependent on global money movement but sending money across borders is time consuming and a hassle. Almost 20 years ago, I immigrated to the United States from India and personally experienced the challenges and expense inherent in sending money home to loved ones. At Ripple, I am working to enable the world to move value like it moves information today — a concept referred to as the Internet of Value — a reality.

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

Since joining the Ripple team, I’ve been working closely with the engineering and customer success teams to make our services globally available. It’s important that the engineering team is thinking globally before we’re acting globally. To make this happen, Ripple is looking to cloud technology. Today, most banks and financial services institutions are playing catch up to organizations who have already adopted cloud and other technologies. Building a cloud-based payments system will allow people to continue to send money globally, instantly, reliably and for fractions of a penny. While we’re working hard to act on Ripple’s vision to be a globally available service, we also have to keep our local thinking hats on as well. Ripple is unique in how we treat our banking and financial institution partners. We understand that every organization has an individual set of needs and our technology needs to reflect this. My team is making sure our services are running smoothly and align with the regulations in each region. It’s important to me that we continue to build on our customers’ trust in our technology and our shared vision for changing the payments industry.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. 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?

Of course, the answer is no. Generally, I believe one must never be satisfied with the status quo, especially not in the case of women in STEM. There is so much more the STEM community can be doing to increase awareness of the lack of diversity and overall participation from women. Right now, one of the biggest blockades is awareness. As a culture, we need to be able to talk about the problem openly, however uncomfortable it may be. At an individual level, it’s important to widen your inner circle to give more diverse communities a chance to join. I also strongly believe mentorship will help more women break into STEM. People at all levels can benefit from a coach or mentor who can help answer questions and share experiences. The important thing is none of us are in this alone, and we need to lean on our networks to effect change.

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?

For me, one of the biggest challenges is that the burden falls on women to create more diverse and inclusive communities. So often, I see women, and people from underrepresented categories, carry the burden of working on D&I initiatives. More people need to come forward as allies and relieve underrepresented groups of that burden. It’s everyone’s burden to carry.

Also, there is a certain pressure on being in the minority that puts you under a microscope. It can make you feel like you’re being watched or judged more than your counterparts. This, of course, can create an unnecessary fear for women that making one mistake would lead to a generalization that all women are not capable of a specific task. While we address this across the industry, it’s important for women and other minorities to acknowledge and relieve themselves of this pressure.

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

It’s important not to generalize “myths” in STEM or the tech industry because every myth is unique to different parts of the world. Growing up in India, girls were expected to excel in mathematics and science, but there were less advanced education opportunities for girls because boys’ education was seen as a more worthwhile investment. Now, living in the U.S., I’ve experienced the opposite. Here, women have more access to opportunities and learning than women in India. Again, we need to work together to bring more awareness to the lack of diversity in the community. We need to be asking those in leadership positions and our peers tough questions about why women and minorities are underrepresented and how our organizations are taking action to make real change happen.

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.)

First, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to take every opportunity that presents itself — give everything a shot. At my last company the team needed a last minute replacement for a Women in Fintech panel discussion and asked me. Normally, I would shy away from a speaking opportunity, but I said yes and really enjoyed it. Since then, I’ve participated in a few more industry panels.

I’ve also learned that in order to take charge of your own career growth, it never hurts to ask. Specifically, when there’s a problem to be solved, there’s no harm in asking if you can have the opportunity to solve it. At Braintree, we were experiencing heavy call rotations and I felt strongly that I had a solution that might work. I brought my proposal to leadership and did not back down until we had solved it. If I hadn’t asked, then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be a part of that project.

No matter your level of experience, it’s important to keep a close network of mentors. Don’t limit yourself, either. No one mentor will give you everything you need to become a well-rounded person. To be successful in my role, I need to understand not only the technology, but how to manage a group of people, and the payments industry broadly. I have a different mentor who can provide a unique perspective on each of these areas. Broadening my mentor networks helps me to become a more well-rounded leader.

Additionally, we need to always be learning. When I first started out in the engineering, I learned how to program as a secondary course for about three years. During this time, I wanted to learn at least one new thing a day. This mindset really accelerated my career and helped me get to where I am today. Even now, I still try and learn something new every day — whether it’s specific to my job, or not.

Lastly, we need to pay it forward. One of the best ways to learn is to teach. Recently, some of the best lessons I’ve learned have stemmed from conversations I am having while mentoring other women in the industry. Also, don’t wait for a mentee to come to you. If you’re working with someone and think they have a lot of potential, reach out and see if they want to connect. They usually say yes and you can both learn something new!

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

My biggest piece of advice for other women leaders, and all leaders really, is to be direct with your feedback, but don’t forget to be kind. In order for a team to thrive, the team needs to hear clear direction on what they’re doing well and where there is room for improvement. Maintaining a level of kindness while doing so will ensure the message is absorbed and the person understands the right action to take, with your help.

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

When managing a larger team, cultivate advocates who can help share your message. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s hard to spread a single message across a large team. We need advocates who are clued in on our vision and direction and can be a representative to smaller groups within the organization. These advocates can be a variety of people, such as a trusted team member, the extended leadership team, or people from all parts of the organization.

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?

There are so many people I’m grateful for! I have been extremely fortunate to have so many people help, guide, coach and push me to be a better version of myself. From my family, to my first mentor, the lead architect at the first company I worked for, to my Product partner at Braintree, I have been inspired to do better by innumerable people along the way.

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

Time is the most valuable resource we all have and I try to make myself available for anyone who asks for it. Whether someone is looking for advice, a friendly ear or candid feedback, I always try to say yes. I’ve been successful in my own career because of the people who invested time in my own growth, and I want to keep that chain going.

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. 🙂

Kindness! Now more than ever, we all need a lot of kindness in our lives. Kindness can come in the form of a nice gesture, or a simple message, but a simple act of kindness goes a long way to building and living a rich and rewarding life. I would encourage everyone to try and do one kind thing every day.

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

There’s a quote from a children’s poem that my father would often repeat that says “one thing at a time, and that done well.” I’ve found that mono-tasking for significant periods of time can be hugely productive and satisfying. I try to block off time every day to focus on one thing, whether it’s specific to projects at work or in my life in general.

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 have breakfast with Malala Yousafzai, activist and Nobel Prize Laureate. I admire her bravery and passion for education. Growing up, I was taught that “education is the one thing no one can take away from you,” and Malala’s commitment to educating women resonates with me immensely.

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