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WWCode Career Nav #24: Be Your Inspiration

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Written by Anita Vijaykrishnan, Vice President and General Manager Enterprise Operations Group @ Intel ITDecember 9, 2022

Anita Vijaykrishnan, Vice President and General Manager of Enterprise Operations Group at Intel IT, shares her talk, “Be Your Inspiration.” She shares her career journey and experience that have brought her to her current role.  She also discusses the importance of connecting with your team personally and professionally to support them in succeeding. She explains that team success is management success.

I was born and raised in Mumbai. I completed my education there. My humble beginnings placed a lot of emphasis on studying and getting a good qualification. My family placed a lot of emphasis on having a good career and education. During my childhood, my exposure to new and varied opportunities was extremely limited in comparison to what we see in today's age and time. My parents were very clear that if I wanted to study further or do anything post my graduation, I had only to do it in Mumbai. They were typical, conservative parents who did not want me to leave the city. They were not going to support me in terms of making that decision. This stemmed from being protective rather than anything else. I was clear that I had to explore options within Mumbai, which would give me an edge to pursue a professional degree or a qualification, as the options in front of me were pretty limited.

Mathematics and science presented themselves as nemesis throughout my schooling and college days. I decided that I would pursue arts. I channeled and focused my energy into majoring in economics, even when I took out arts. I knew that I had to get a professional degree. When I was exploring options and speaking to people around me, my own family, pursuing a post-graduation in human resources seemed a good option. Having a few of my family members who were in the human resources stream and function persuaded me to explore a qualification in this field. I decided with a single objective and focus that I had to get into the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, which is TISS in Mumbai. It is one of the premier institutes where people pursue human resources, just next to the second in line from XLRI.

I have a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and pursued my human resources management. I'm passionate about technology, its potential to transform and impact almost everything around us, and the immense opportunities it holds for us. I'm also passionate about driving the cause of improving the ratio of women in tech. I've been working towards this for some time now. I have led several initiatives for women in tech in my past life. I also take time to mentor many women professionals in the industry on an ongoing basis. It is said that values define a person, and I take that statement extremely seriously. Keeping that in mind, I constantly try to bring out the traits of integrity and candor in my work and everything I do.

With me, what you see is what you get. I am a results-oriented person. At the same time, I'm a firm believer in investing in teams that work with me and ensuring they are as successful as I am. When I'm not working, I love to listen to music, travel across the globe and the country, and sink into the local cuisine. I also try my hand at creating and replicating some of those recipes. You'll always find me cooking on the weekends. I also enjoy a lot of gardening. I grow my vegetables and herbs in my terrace garden. I shifted to Bangalore around 2004, and I've been living in Bangalore for the last, close to about 18 years now. I call it my second home. My family comprises my husband, my 15-year-old daughter, my mother-in-law, and my pet animal.

I want to take you through my career journey. I tried to map my career journey with timestamps and milestones as much as possible so we could walk through it quickly. It is basically to give you an understanding of the transitions and roles I have done throughout my career and how they enabled me to get to where I am today. 1995 was the year I passed out of Tata Institute of Social Sciences. I joined L&T, Larsen & Toubro. It was a company in the industrial sector known for its HR practices. I worked across HR domains to get the experience that would help me grow in my HR career. Five years of working in L&T instilled the thirst for learning in me as well as the capacity to go the distance. Around 2000, I decided to switch jobs. I joined Saint-Gobain Abrasives to further my HR career. The experience was extremely enriching. I was learning something new every single day. The voice at the back of my mind always pointed out that I was not satisfied with what I was doing. As a part of my responsibilities, I had an opportunity to work on the SAP HRMS implementation that the company was undertaking.

I was pulled into that project to drive a specific module to implement based on my HR experience and what I brought to the table. When I realized that was my calling, that was what I was meant to do. It didn't take me much time to decide to change my career and enter the realm of technology. I decided to quit my seven years HR career. That was the turning point in my career. I'm glad I made the decision and took that leap of faith. I transitioned as an HR IT function analyst. I took on that role, which was a logical starting point because I had the domain knowledge from HR and the experience I needed to learn the technology side. In 2002, my actual technology career began. I continued to grow in the HR IT space. Around this time, I joined Honeywell, which further shaped my technology career. The year 2007 was another turning point for me when I ultimately moved out of the HR IT space and moved into delivering IT solutions for two businesses for Honeywell.

I continued to do that role for a few years. I did a variety of roles. Every second or third year, I made a switch. I decided to push myself into doing things I was inclined to do. The organization also pushed me into doing things that they believed I had the potential to take on. I took an individual contributor role and a global PeopleSoft lead role. I came back into doing a business delivery role in 2012. After a year, Honeywell Technology Solutions opened an IT leadership role and asked if I would be interested in interviewing for it. In 2013, I took on the role of a global IT leader for HTS. I also moved into the engineering side of Honeywell Technology Solutions. I took on an engineering operations leader role in 2015, which gave me a lot of experience working across engineering groups and driving operations excellence for them. After two years in that role, I wanted to get back to IT and work in emerging technologies like Cloud, SaaS, et cetera.

I started exploring externally and took on a role with VMware in 2017. I worked for VMware for about three and half years and then subsequently joined Intel in 2020. One takeaway from my career journey is not wanting to be complacent. It has been about taking on opportunities and roles as they came or even going back and looking and exploring those opportunities and roles so that it could enhance my career and my growth. That's what I have done all through this journey for nearly 27 years. That's where I started as an HR professional, a hardcore HR professional with seven years of experience, and now being the VP and General Manager for the Enterprise Operations Group at Intel and leading the end user computing for all of Intel globally.

One thing that I learned is that nothing is rocket science. Every aspect of what you deal with in life and at work is very logical. You have to be patient and give yourself time to understand it. You will eventually figure it out. I was overwhelmed when I was given a role outside of HR Technologies. It was overwhelming. I felt that the carpet was being pulled under my feet. When I stepped back and convinced myself that this should not be as difficult as it sounds, I found a way to understand and discern it. The same is valid on the personal side of things, too. We need to spend time finding solutions in seemingly complicated areas. Sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, despite whatever level you are in the organization. You will be called upon as a leader to solve some problems. At those times, no matter what level you are, you should have the tenacity to work across your organization, your teams, and different levels to solve those problems and issues. That takes a long way in terms of the messaging you send to your teams and how you come across as a leader. Sticking your neck out is the next one that I would say that you should do. Take those risks. Take that leap of faith that you would need to advance your career. This may include moments where you question your decisions or need to take on something new. No matter the obstacle, you must always excel in something new or different. Keep challenging yourself and possibly acquire new skills. You have to give 100% in terms of your commitment, passion, and desire to learn and acquire skills. It is a combination of both your aspiration and your passion that comes together to be able to shape your career. 

Work with your colleagues at your grassroots level. It is very important. That is where you learn what is happening most in your organization and your team. I worked with them, learned from them, and helped them get past the issue they were expected to deliver on. Sometimes you learn a lot when you work with your team at the grassroots level. This enables your team also to comprehend the intent and the authenticity of you as a leader. Experiment and explore. Throughout my career, I have faced a lot of hurdles. Some of which were of my own accord, springing from the roles I wanted to pursue. Others the organization threw at me. Maybe they understood the potential in me that I had not seen for myself, but it still allowed me to take a different role and understand what I could. Don't stay in your comfort zone. Constantly keep pushing and challenging the status quo. It helps you to expand your boundaries. 

It is important to learn to speak up in forums and meetings. Most of the time, we do not want to do that as women. Think through what you want to state, formulate your thoughts, and then state what you want to state. Do not keep quiet. If you have a point of view or an opinion, don't overthink in terms of how people will perceive you. Don't procrastinate. For me, it has been a very defining part of my career and my growing up. Speak up, especially being a woman leader. Sometimes, I was the only woman in the room, and people would forget that I even existed. It took a lot of courage to ask that first question. Once you get past that first question or that first challenging statement, it is so much better. It gives you the confidence to ask more. At the same time, don't disagree for the sake of disagreeing when there is a conversation that's going on. Don't challenge for the sake of challenging. You need to work on the image of bringing in credibility that goes along with you when you challenge your question. 

Never stop learning. The day you stop learning, you stop growing. I'm a firm believer in the statement. With the speed at which technology is changing today, we must keep ourselves updated and abreast with everything happening around us and ensure that we are relevant and understand what is relevant. During various stages in my career, I've encountered situations where I had to take courses, attend classroom training, or get into a leadership program. I gave that the maximum priority and never postponed that learning moment. In today's world, there's a ton of learning material out there that is available for all of us to leverage. Prioritize that. Lock your time in your schedule. Learn every week so that you keep up with everything that's happening around you and never compromise on the learning. It's okay to be candid and tell people that you don't know or you don't understand. No one is going to be judgmental. They will appreciate your candor if you tell them the truth. This is where bringing the authentic self helps. It is about telling your team and colleagues that you don't know what you don't know and don't understand something. And there would be team members and others willing to spend time teaching you and enabling you to progress, learn, and understand.

It's important in two ways. One is that it enables you to put your authentic self out there. The other is to help to build and connect with the team. A vulnerability comes out in these scenarios, and the teams understand that the leader is a human being just like them and not invincible. Never give up, for you would have lost the battle before it began. Find yourself a mentor, either inside or outside the organization. All my work life, I had powerful influencers and role models who shaped my career and enabled me to get to where I am today. Even today, I have a mentor who continues to guide me in every decision I make, professional or personal. I've always had mentors who are men, as they had a very, very different perspective from what I would have thought or decided.

I also had some learnings as a leader that you must bring to the table to succeed. Put the team up in front for recognition of success. If they are successful, automatically, you are. Manage your leaders and your team to do their best, so they are not distracted. You manage upwards and ensure that you take all the flak. Don't expose your team to that because they need to focus on what they need to deliver and do. Filter the information that they need to assimilate and absorb. Be the filter between the senior management and the next level of your management. Build the right network and ensure you connect with your peers and leaders for yourself and your team. Use we rather than I once you're a manager or a leader because it helps the team understand that the leader is one among them, is extremely collaborative, and is really standing up for them. Grow your team and develop them as leaders. If your team members are now in leadership positions and are growing as much as you are, it's another mark of success for your leadership.

Connect with and care for your team beyond your professional outlook. That connection takes a long way in evolving as a leader because it's worth investing in. I joined Intel during the pandemic. I have still not met many of my team members, but I have a wonderful connection with them. I went that extra mile to go beyond the professional space into the personal space to build that connection. It paid off because I could be successful in terms of what I had to achieve and do despite being virtual most of the time. Communicate and own your decisions. It helps to build trust with your team. Once you communicate in a very timely fashion, they know that you are transparent and you're trustworthy. Leadership is all about what you bring to the workplace, your passion, your humility, and your authentic self, investing in your teams to be successful. If they are successful, automatically, you become a successful leader. 

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