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September - 2008 - issue > Woman Achiever
'Take a chance, don't be scared to enter uncharted territory'
Vimali Swamy
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
On a fine morning, a news item in the newspaper caught Malini's attention. On the front page, in bold letters was a news that India had successfully conducted the test flight of the long awaited surface to air missile – 'Akash'. She felt a tinge of excitement as she remembered that a long time ago this was one of the projects she had worked on.

Way back in 1985, Malini had joined Indian Institute of Science (IISc) after graduating in Electrical Engineering from BMS Engineering College. She was one of the select few graduates who got the opportunity to work on Defense Research and Development Organization’s (DRDO) indigenous defense project. She worked on simulating the trajectory of the missile so that it reached the target correctly. Nostalgic about her days at IISc, she remembers her excitement when she initially joined the institute. She was in awe of her surroundings when she saw the desktops, operating systems, advanced program languages, and many other large computer systems. "In the college we had not even seen a desktop. We worked only on microprocessors and used assembly language. At IISc FORTRAN was the language used at that time. It was a relief for me because in assembly language one had to write hundreds of lines of code but in FORTRAN one could straightaway write the programs as it had compilers, libraries, and other tools to one’s aid," Malini says excitedly. But most of all, she was happy to have had the opportunity to work on a prestigious project and serve the nation.

But three years later, Malini had to leave IISc and move to Mumbai due to personal reasons. After working for DRDO she wanted to do projects that were meaningful and would contribute towards the development of the nation. To chase her desire to make a difference, she joined CMC, which largely catered to domestic customers. Her experience here was quite different from the research oriented work she was involved at IISc. "Usually defense R&D projects take years to complete but at the same time one has the freedom to work and learn here. One is not bound to any time limits. On the contrary, corporate life is a fast paced one. All projects have timelines within which they have to be delivered. The customer is constantly breathing down one’s neck. However, unlike research projects, here I could see faster response on the work that I did," Malini explains.

One of her major achievements at CMC was developing an application for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the backbone of Indian economy. She developed an application with which the fund transfer from RBI could be automated in a secure method by electronic sign verification. She also went to RBI branches in major cities and helped them adopt the application. The project won her a special recognition award at CMC. Another project she undertook made a huge impact on the fourth estate, through one of the largest media houses in the country – Times of India (TOI). Earlier, TOI used teleprinters to receive news from all over the world and simultaneously print it. The machine, however, was extremely noisy and it involved a lot of work for the journalists to sort the news and work on them. Malini and her team developed an application that enabled journalists to receive the news in their systems and they just had to give it a final shape. Once the application was implemented, teleprinters were history and the staff's efficiency increased many folds.

After CMC, she did several other projects like these at Equinox and DEC. In 1999, Compaq acquired DEC and they offered Malini an opportunity to set up the Microsoft Practice for the Indian cluster. This involved working on Internet based technologies. Internet was relatively new in India at that time and it was an uncharted territory for Malini. Moreover, she was under a dilemma whether to join or not, because she was not sure whether working for a global company would fulfill her sense of purpose in contributing towards the country’s development. But eventually, she looked at the opportunity in positive light. "Working for a global organization meant exposure to a multicultural environment, beyond one's own comfort zones," Malini explains. The exposure also helped her broaden her outlook and thinking. "Soon I realized that since I was handling the Indian cluster, I could bring global best practices to the Indian customers," she adds. Over the years, she also feels proud that her work is making a difference to not only Indian customers but to many others globally whom she may not have met at all.

Today, Malini is the Head – Custom Applications Practice, Global Delivery Application Services (GDAS) India Centre, HP. She has been instrumental in building a strong relationship with vendors like Microsoft and Oracle. Last year, she was responsible for defining a new service offering from GDAS India Centre on Microsoft Infrastructure. She has made significant contributions on the technology and tools front for GDAS, for example, Web based Intranet portal, the Project Management tool, and the Quality-reporting tool. Holding additional responsibility as part of the Quality Audit council at the India Centre, she has ensured the CMMi L5 objectives are followed across India Centre wide projects. Malini also spearheads leadership programs for future leaders of GDAS.

A technologist at heart, she enjoys learning new technologies, however challenging they might be. Few years back, one of the customer projects her team was working on required development on multiple technology platforms, .NET being one of them. .NET was launched by Microsoft just then and none in her team had learnt the technology yet. Not delivering the project in the given timeframe would result in the loss of a large customer account. Though slightly apprehensive, Malini decided to take up the challenge and led the team into learning the .NET technology. She and her team not only learnt the new technology but also delivered the project on time. The customer was impressed with the work and her team received repeat business for the next five years. Eventually, her team was recognized by Microsoft as being the largest pool of .NET certified professionals under one roof at that time. "I’m no more scared about trying new things. I'm confident to take a chance and try at least once before deciding whether I can do a task or not," she says.

Now when Malini reminisces, she is quite satisfied with the way her career shaped up. In 1985, when Malini had graduated from college, she was one of the 15 girls in a class of 85 students. "Not many girls took up or were allowed to take up engineering in those days. I consider myself quite lucky because I got thorough support from my parents," Malini reveals. Now when she frequents colleges for campus placements, she is happy to see that the percentage of girls has risen to about 40 to 50 percent in engineering. "Girls now know what they want to achieve and are focused towards achieving their aspirations," she adds. However, at the same time, what disturbs her immensely is the declining standards of education. When at IISc, the professors encouraged the research students to attend the ME and M.Tech. classes to increase their technical knowledge. Malini made most of these opportunities to strengthen her knowledge. But the present generation of students do not get such encouragement from institutions, resulting in a poor foundation of their technical knowledge.

Apart from her inclination towards technology, Malini is also involved in women initiatives at HP. Being a key member on the women's council; she has actively participated in addressing and resolving diversity issues across the India Centre. She has been envisaging a Technology Career Path roadmap for budding technologists across the practice, especially women technology professionals. "I have realized that most women tend to be introvert and do not communicate. This tends to become a hindrance in their growth, personally and professionally," says Malini. She herself had been an introvert in the early years of her career but as she took up leadership roles it dawned that such an attitude will not work. "What you want to achieve depends on the state of your mind. If you have put your mind to achieve something then nothing can hold you back", she adds.
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