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November - 2007 - issue > Woman Achiever
Humming the sweet lyrics of success
Jaya Smitha Menon
Thursday, November 1, 2007
As a child, she always wanted to work with the United Nations Organization (UNO). A dream which made her choose International Relations and Political Science as subjects of study at college. But destiny had something else in store for Ratnamala Dam Manna. Today, as Director of Engineering at Symantec Corporation, she is one of the most sought after technical and management expert in Symantec. She drives a 60 member team and has several products under her. Ratna’s glorious career journey defies the conventional notion that people with engineering background only can pursue a technical career.

Computers were not as popular in the early 1990s as they are today. But Ratna had read a lot about the emerging world of computers and enrolled for the two year Post Graduate course in Computer Application just out of her eagerness to know more. This became a turning point in her life and she developed deep interest in the subject and decided to plunge into a career in the world of computers. She started her career initially in a software firm called Frontier Computers. In 1999 she joined Veritas Software, and when Veritas merged with Symantec in 2004 she became a part of the Symantec family. “Knowledge is easy to gain. If you have the right attitude and the spirit of perseverance you can achieve anything in life,” explains Ratna.

In her career spanning 12+ years, she has donned various roles starting from that of an individual contributor to a technical lead and then a project manager and so on. Her present role entails working with the engineering team as well as the business team. Identifying the market, helping in strategic planning, and also getting feedback from the market and then going back to the engineering team and working with them with various technologies to roll out a product is her focus now. In all her previous assignments her job was only to deliver the assigned part of the product for which she was responsible. But her current responsibility is of an entire business unit. This huge paradigm shift gave her an opportunity to start learning about the business and strategic side of the product lines under her. “I have accepted opportunities that had steep learning curves but gave a slingshot effect to my career. From a first line manager role I shifted to become a strategic staff for the Vice President, India Operation, where I got a fair understanding of running an organization. This learning has helped me immensely in my current assignment,” explains Ratna.

She points out the confidence the company has placed on her as her biggest achievement. She was always given challenging opportunities in the form of handling new technologies or products which were not performing or functioning at optimal levels. She emerged successful in all such endeavors. She attributes her success to an unflinching commitment to work. “I give my fullest efficiency and productivity in whatever I do, and never say never” reflects Ratna. Her insight into the human nature and her management capabilities also helped her win the confidence of her team.

In an age when managers hesitate to delegate work to juniors, Ratna believes in empowering her juniors to take decision and stresses that it is vital for an organization to groom leaders. She is convinced that to groom leaders in the organization leaders should share power appropriately so that everyone gets to learn some aspects of leadership; provide them challenging assignments; make them a part of the company’s strategy formulation process; encourage them to take risks; and inspire excellence, integrity, and dedication by their actions and words.

Ratna’s management mantra is “People don’t really work for companies; they work for a manager. You can keep employees productive and reduce the costs associated with employee turnover only to the extent to which you are accepted by them as a good boss.” As a manager, she believes in focusing on the strength of her teammates rather than harping on their weaknesses. She reposes total trust in them and makes them a part of the thinking, planning, and decision making process in the belief that “none of us is as good as all of us.”

Apart from being a Director Engineering, Ratna is also a committee member of Frolic, the entertainment committee at Symantec. She likes organizing as well as taking part in fun activities. Whether it is organizing the annual day of the company or conducting games/fun events for the employees, Ratna is around actively involved in the programs. She also heads the Women’s Forum at Symantec where they provide career counseling and mentorship training to women employees. A staunch advocate of women empowerment, she feels that the society and the family pressures prevent women from coming up in their career. “Women suppress their career dreams under social and familial pressures. Women shouldn’t be afraid to dream and should work hard to achieve their dreams,” she says. Ratna feels that she wouldn’t have achieved so much in life without the support of her husband and daughters. “Their support makes my job a lot easier than it would otherwise have been,” says Ratna. She also makes it a point to spend adequate time with the family whenever they need her.

In the IT world where people jump companies often, Ratna preferred to stay on with the same company for eight years. According to her, people should stay on in the job if the job suits their talent, abilities, personality strengths, values, and principles. She points out that often engineers jump jobs just for the sake of a higher salary. She urges them not to take up jobs due to pressure from family or peers or any other external influences. “Discover your unique talents and develop your career plans around it,” she advises youngsters. Her advice to upcoming techies is to keep learning constantly. “Doing proper homework before executing an assignment will ensure best results,” notes Ratna. It is found in teams that people often hesitate to come out with their doubts for clarification and ignore feedbacks. This trend, she says, is not healthy as communication is as vital for the success of the individual as of the team.

This hardcore techie, who dwells over the intricacies of the security and protection of systems and networks, is also a voracious reader and a prolific writer. From the lyrics of Lewis Carroll to Thomas Friedman’s World is Flat, she reads everything on which she could lay her hands on. She quotes Vince Lombardi, the famous American Football coach, who said, “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price that all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” Nothing would better describe this leader who is well on her way to achieving greater heights.
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