The Indira Point
Date: Friday , September 01, 2006
Circa 1990. The twenty-five-year-old Indira Iyer found herself amidst a hall of experienced analog designers–all men–in a conference at Mentor Graphics, an Electronic Design Automation (EDA) company in Oregon, U.S. She’s to present a complex analog design, analyzing and simulating it in multiple ways. The only woman in the crowd, she experienced butterflies in her stomach. Nevertheless, she delivered the presentation and was even awarded. “I was extremely nervous and automatically assumed that my relative inexperience would not allow my audience to connect with my presentation,” she recollects.
With $200 in her pocket, Iyer had left for the U.S. on scholarship to pursue Masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Ohio University. With an assistantship and a waitressing job during summers, she completed her Master’s program. Going through the grind in every sense of the word, Iyer reminisces, “My career and personal growth happened from joining a bunch of right dots at key inflection points, like steady, analog growth.”
Her growing interest in EDA, a natural progression from her master’s thesis on VLSI and analog design, had landed her a good start at Mentor Graphics. She was a key developer in the team building analog design tools used by semiconductor design companies then.
Like any toddler in the industry, Iyer was keen on learning more about various EDA domains. She says, “I wanted to wet my feet in several holes to know how it feels and how deep it is.” Her stint at Mentor and an industry contact found her a good position at Metasoftware. Experience in the analog domain initiated her into developing mixed signal based design tools. “I grew significantly in that role, donning multiple hats of a lead developer, architect, product manager and field/corporate applications engineer,” says Iyer. The finger-count number of people working on mixed design solutions gave her career a niche leverage.
Glimpsing the real world
When you meet Iyer, the striking fact about her is she’s never satisfied until she sees the big picture. Sitting in the lab, she had learnt the world of analog and mixed signal design solutions. But she quested to learn more about the real world of products, design flows and customers. What interested her was: What did customers want? How do you define
competitive products in the marketplace?
Metasoftware gave her an early opportunity to work closely with customers. Soon she was traveling overseas, presenting at trade shows and seminars, understanding customer requirements to help build products. “It was challenging, especially in Taiwan and Japan,” recalls Iyer. Dealing with language, culture and gender barriers, she had to device creative ways to engage the multi-cultural audience. This experience of marketing and applications engineering in both pre-sales and post-sales capacity egged her onto the next level in her career. She realized her potential in customer interfacing and decided to move away from pure R&D.
Consulting goes a big way
Managing a career alongside young children and a home can be daunting for women. But Iyer strikes an easy balance in between work and home. She quit Metasoftware and started consulting independently for semiconductor and EDA companies. This provided her with flexible work timings and helped her take care of her baby. “ My consulting projects straddled a wide range of multi-disciplinary domains and roles ranging from product development, training, product and testing.”
She recalls a challenging project from Xpedion Inc. that was left unfinished by other consultants, which she delivered on time. Consulting on leading edge assignments, she was making thrice the money she had ever made without compromising on her growth potential or the quality of her personal life.
Iyer was into several consulting projects until the turn of the century when she found the world was going predominantly digital and she was relatively inexperienced in it. Cadence Design Systems offered her the opportunity to work on transistor level custom
optimization and route tools. “As lead product engineer I worked on digital and analog on the company’s flagship products, closely aligning with product marketing and engineering teams that made this role highly interactive and visible,” she says.
She reminisces a project at Cadence where she closely worked with some of the brightest minds in the industry developing GUI for tools and customer specific applications. “The best part was we had prior customer-funding for the project, which testified their viability and confidence in the team and the solution,” she says enthusiastically.
“Getting lucrative projects in the early stages of my consulting career was relatively easy because of contacts and experience from my initial networking,” says Iyer. For a young engineer a good way to network and gain recognition is participating in the right industry forums. Good and active mentoring can impart right wisdom for career planning.
Risk-taking is another ability to mindfully cultivate significant career growth. Iyer doesn’t consider herself an entrepreneur. But small, calculated risks, following market needs and industry trends have enlightened her about new technologies and helped her acquire skills.
To celebrate a project’s success one needs to keep in mind the big picture. Individual contribution is vital but teamwork leads to holistic growth. It’s when the last piece of the puzzle is fixed and the collective team goal is realized that Iyer celebrates. “Newer career options come by thinking out of the box,” says Iyer. “Explosive growth comes only when you move out of the comfort zone and experiment with myriad problems and domains,” Iyer explains. On reaching it’s maturity and scope, a product or technology ceases to become interesting, unless future possibilities are explored.
A decade of technical background, Iyer saw a growth opportunity at Magma Design Automation. As a product/technical marketing manager, Iyer’s main challenge was to define and position front-end physical design tools which introduced her to a new area—Product Marketing. This role demanded a tech-savvy professional to define products that could dislodge and/or win against pre-existing competition through investigative analysis, strategic and tactical product positioning and close collaboration with product and R&D engineers and sales teams.
Another dimension to product marketing was the responsibility for sales training. “As a product marketing manager, I needed to directly enable sales in addition to understanding the technical and market differentiation and deploy a new set of thought and solution dynamics to win the game,” says Iyer. Back to India in 2005 after spending 16 years in the Bay area, she manages Asia-Pacific sales and marketing for Synfora Inc., a U.S based startup. A trained Hindustani vocalist, she also enjoys, reading, traveling, wildlife study and working towards socially cause. With a strong sense of personal balance and a penchant to take on new challenges, Indira Iyer sure knows what she wants next.