Hey Shradha! We are delighted to speak with you!
1. We know few women leaders in Tech. Would be great to hear about your journey from growing up in Delhi to now working with GoDaddy in San Francisco.
I grew up in a traditional Indian family in New Delhi and surprised everyone by my unconventional decision to attend college in Japan. My parents, who highly valued education, were supportive of my adventurous choice, encouraging me to stretch myself. I worked hard, graduated a valedictorian and went on to work successfully in corporate Japan.
Two years into my job in corporate communications at Sanyo, though successful, something rankled. I felt a deep urge to have a more direct impact on people’s lives. I found my answer in Peace Boat, a nonprofit that is engaged in promoting social awareness through educational voyages. Traveling to 24 countries around the world, I got a taste of each country’s unique culture while catching a glimpse of its most pressing socio-economic challenges. After disembarking from Peace Boat, I came back to dry land with a new purpose – to funnel the passion triggered by the voyage towards a career in international development, focusing on women’s education and training.
My search for a personally and professionally rewarding career brought me to the Institute of International Education (IIE) in San Francisco. At IIE, I implemented the ‘Women in Technology (WIT)’ program, designed to empower low-income women in the Middle East and North Africa through technical skills training and launched TechWomen, a mentoring program that has brought over 500 women across 20 countries to the Bay Area. I absolutely loved my job and was incredibly proud of the impact my work was having on hundreds and thousands of women and organizations in the Middle East and Africa.
I even came up with my own mantra - connecting people and ideas through technology for social good.
But then, in 2010, Arab Spring broke out. And some of my trainers and trainees were so directly impacted that I couldn’t help but feel I had a minuscule role to play. And I came to the realization that I wanted to incorporate what I was seeing on the ground and the voices of users who use technology products built in Silicon Valley every day into these products. For the first time, I really felt the power of technology to not just change individual lives but the trajectory of societies. And that is when I decided to quit my phenomenal job to go to grad school to get my MBA - to help me transition into a career in tech. I ended up doing two degrees - an MBA from Kellogg at Northwestern and a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
2. Was GoDaddy your first job right after Graduate School?
During the summer, I interned in the marketing and business development teams at Dropbox but eventually decided to join GoDaddy to work more on the core Product side of things - which was why I wanted to join tech in the first place. But that wasn’t the only reason.
A friend told me about GoDaddy’s CEO Blake Irving and his commitment to WIT. I pored through news reports on concrete steps the company had taken to truly become a leading place for women to work.
After talking to several kickass folks (mostly women!) through the interview process, I was convinced that this was the company where I could not only work on building awesome products that empower millions of people, especially small business owners, around the world, but also bring in my passion and experience in empowering women to add to the momentum already in place.
I am super proud to say that today, despite not being a super senior person at GoDaddy, I serve as the co-President of GoDaddy Women in Tech, our employee resource group whose goal is to make GD an even better place for women so we continue to retain and empower our women employees, while building a truly diverse and inclusive workplace.
3. That sounds incredible! Can you share with us what does a Senior Product Manager do?
I drive the product and customer experience strategy of a crucial piece of GoDaddy’s Productivity Applications business.
As the Product Owner, I am responsible for defining my product’s roadmap and delivering against it. I serve as the key liaison between my team and stakeholders inside & outside the company and serve as the main spokesperson for my business.
This often means I have a lot of meetings/check-ins with a wide range of individuals and teams: I am in a bunch of standing meetings with my dev team - such as our daily standup, bi-weekly planning, refinement and retro meetings (terms that folks on agile teams would be familiar with). I also have weekly cross-functional check-ins with my marketing, channel and program counterparts. Apart from that, there is our weekly Productivity Product team meeting, where each of the PMs share recent developments, what’s coming up, dependencies, asks and so on. We of course also have monthly townhalls, which are across the entire company, where our CEO and senior executives share company-wide updates.
4. You pursued a dual degree in Public Policy from Harvard and Business from Kellogg. Why did you decide to study public policy when you knew you would enter the world of business?
Despite having a clear career motive to enter the tech world after graduating from business school, I wanted to keep my options open with regards to working in the policy, social impact or political spheres down the road. Once at Kellogg, I found out about the unique joint degree option with the Kennedy School and the social impact wonk in me just couldn’t resist. I knew that an MPA degree from HKS could open many doors for me. I convinced my husband that an extra year (apart) would fly past and he came around to support my decision.
5. Tell us more about your experience of working in the tech industry as a woman, particularly a woman of colour?
Just as the #metoo campaign flooding the internet did not surprise any of the millions of women who have experienced sexual harassment, abuse or assault, the recent deluge of news around hostile work conditions for women in the tech industry shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who works in it. Having said that, I must add that in my (still relatively short) time in the industry, I have had a remarkably positive experience personally.
From senior executives who have celebrated seemingly trivial things like work anniversaries, to developers who regularly take the time to explain technical nuances relevant of the business, I have had the good fortune of being surrounded by strong and supportive “male allies."
In fact, having spent a couple years working in corporate Japan, I can vouch for how much further along the company culture here in the Valley is. This is not meant to discount the reality a large number of women, and minorities still face at tech companies. I am in fact the co-president of GoDaddy’s employee resource group for women called GDWIT, which actively works towards creating not just a thriving community of women but also build a more supportive culture for women. And despite making a lot of progress, we at GoDaddy, and the entire industry have an uphill task ahead.
6. What achievements in your professional life are you most proud of?
This is a tough one since I can think of so many good stories to share. Let me go with the most recent one. As I mentioned earlier, I joined the tech world in Silicon Valley with a desire to bring in my unique perspectives to build products here that are used by millions across the globe and at the same time, shift the corporate culture to be more empathetic, more community-driven, more supportive of women. After having joined a new team as a Product Manager just last year, I recently got promoted to a Senior Product Manager role, after launching a very successful new business from scratch and am now responsible for growing it 3x over just one year.
Even more humbling is that just a month later, I got asked to step up to become the Co-President of GoDaddy Women in Technology, our first, largest and most active employee resource group.
Despite being a role usually filled by folks higher up in the organizational hierarchy, the passion and enthusiasm I brought to all the programs we created at GDWIT apparently led to this huge recognition - and responsibility. And while I am thrilled to have been promoted to a Senior PM role for an exciting product that feels like my baby, being made the Co-President of GDWIT has put me on cloud nine.
7. You recently became a mother – Congratulations on that! How do you balance your work with family life? Do you have advice for other young women, single or married, on balancing personal and professional lives?
I have always been one to have a lot on my plate. Even when I was in school, you would find me in the music basement of our school for choir rehearsals, staying back after school for basketball or scouts training, rushing after school for classical dance lessons...you get the picture. I thrived on having my hands full. And that has just always been how I choose to live my life. In addition to my full-time job, I learn/teach/perform Odissi - an Indian classical dance form, serve on two nonprofit boards - WAKE and Guru Shradha, actively mentor folks from a variety of backgrounds (including TechWomen, a program I helped launch) and am now a mother to a 1.5-year old girl.
After graduating from Kellogg and the Kennedy School and before joining GoDaddy, I took some time off and became an avid gardener (we ripped out the lawn in our front yard and replaced it with organic vegetable boxes) and even produced my own travel radio show. Did I mention, I also love to travel? After taking my first flight (ever!) at 15, I have been to over 50 countries.
While I wouldn’t claim to have found a magic formula to find the right balance between work and play, I do think the key for me has been to prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Spend more time on things that truly make your heart sing (you’ll know it when you find those). Say no to things that don’t add joy or value to your life.
At the risk of sounding like yet another Sheryl Sandberg fan, she really couldn't have been more right when she said, "The most important career decision you will make is who you marry." It really does matter more than anything else.
I have been unbelievably lucky in this regard. I chose to marry one of my closest friends from middle school after years of being close. And anyone who knows us would say that I hit the jackpot. Ramesh has been the pillar around whom I have weaved my life over the past 10+ years. He has been my mentor, confidant, and cheerleader as I transitioned across continents, industries, and roles. And now, as a new mother, when things often come to a head for a lot of women, he has chosen to make one of the biggest decisions of his life - to be a stay at home dad! Did I say jackpot, ladies :)
8. That sounds incredible! In your view, what should we do to encourage girls, both in India & globally, to study and build careers in STEM fields?
As much as I am rooting for more girls and women to enter STEM, I envision a world where, STEM or not, a woman can study and work in whatever field she chooses to. Since most of the folks reading this are from diverse industries, we all need to do our part - at home, at work, and everywhere we go - to break down the barriers that are keeping women out of the tech work. It is hard to accept this, and I am still grappling with it, but we are the enablers of status-quo.
I am no expert, but as someone who has been following this space for a while, here are a few actionable ideas I hear time and again:
Shradha Balakrishnan is a Senior Product Manager with GoDaddy in San Francisco, USA. She is a dual degree graduate from Kellogg (MBA) and Harvard (MPA). She is passionate about driving social impact through technology, policy, and human connections.