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  • Writer's pictureThiago Assuncao de Faria

Rajani Rao, a Tech Leader Paving the Way for Women in Innovation

In the ever-evolving tech industry, Rajani Rao stands out as a true pioneer, 'Tech Leader Paving the Way for Women in Innovation.' With a remarkable journey that began with a childhood fascination with programming, Rajani shares invaluable insights into her multifaceted roles, from Principal Technologist to fractional CTO and Director of WomenWhoCode London. Her unwavering determination to empower women in technology and drive inclusive innovation is nothing short of inspiring.


Through her advocacy work and mentorship initiatives, Rajani embodies the transformative potential of courage, progress, and resilience – values that have guided her path to success. In this candid interview, she reflects on overcoming challenges, achieving work-life balance, and the critical skills necessary for thriving in today's tech landscape.


In addition to the written interview below, we had the privilege of an engaging conversation with Rajani, which you can explore in the video below!



Rajani Rao, Can you share a bit about your background and your current role?


Starting off, my journey into tech was sparked pretty early. As a kid, I was programming with low-level languages like ASM, COBOL, FORTRAN, etc. I was always by my dad's side, who is an Engineer. I loved fiddling with gadgets, figuring out how things worked, and fixing things with him.


The choice between medicine and computing was tough—I was torn, honestly. But, with a gentle nudge from my mum, who is pretty smart herself, noticing I was more of an absent-minded professor, I veered towards computer engineering. That was the best decision ever.


I initially started as an embedded engineer, but an exciting opportunity led me to the UK to assist in a spinout of NXP Semiconductors, Geotate. Here, I developed web services for software GPS solutions in cameras, transitioning into server technologies in the process. Introducing AWS cloud services opened up new horizons at u-blox, and I've been hooked ever since.


I thrive on the unique challenge of developing cloud services tailored for embedded devices—it's my niche, and I love every bit of it. Recently, I joined AVEVA as a Principal Technologist, where I built a Cloud platform using Kubernetes on Azure.


Beyond my day job, I am a fractional CTO, where I help female founders who want to bring about a social change that impacts women. Plus, as the director of WomenWhoCode London, I have this incredible platform to advocate for diversity and inclusion.  Here, I am able to inspire more women to break into tech and help them break the glass ceiling.

In each of these roles, my mission is clear: I want to see women at the forefront of innovation. 
Picture of Rajani Rao, Principal Technologist and this week's Spotlight!
Rajani Rao

What main challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?

 

In my career, I've faced a number of challenges, but to share a few - one of the key challenges was learning the art of delegation. Initially, my high standards made it difficult to hand over responsibilities. It was a classic case of wanting to do everything myself to ensure it met my expectations.

But, as my roles grew and I became a mum, the need to scale became evident; I quickly realized the importance of not just delegating tasks but also scaling the team effectively.

This shift in mindset was pivotal—it allowed me to focus on strategic objectives, empower my team, and develop the art of active listening.


Leadership roles introduced me to the nuances of influencing and conflict management. Initially, I found these aspects challenging, navigating through conflicts and striving to influence the direction of projects or team dynamics without the desired impact. However, I discovered the power of building allies—getting a few people on my side first, which significantly bolstered my ability to influence broader outcomes.

Courage played a critical role during conflicts.


Standing alone, holding my ground, and maintaining my executive presence taught me that conflicts in the workplace aren't personal. They're opportunities for growth for both the individuals involved and the organization. This perspective shift made it easier to navigate disagreements and find common ground, turning potential conflicts into constructive conversations.


These experiences taught me valuable lessons: the significance of delegation, the strength found in unity, the courage required to stand alone, and the importance of depersonalising conflicts to focus on the greater goals at hand. It's a journey of continuous learning, and I'm grateful for every lesson learned along the way. And I know there are going to be learning and growth through challenges in the future.



How have you seen diversity and inclusion evolve in the tech industry throughout your career?


It's been quite the journey. In the early days, I never heard of the buzzword DE&I.  Until we started talking about diversity. It honestly felt a bit like we were just ticking boxes. There was a lot of talk, but it seemed like real, tangible action was a bit thin on the ground. But over time, I've watched the landscape start to shift in a more meaningful way. We've moved from just bringing diverse voices into the room to actually ensuring they're heard and valued.


It's no longer just about having a diverse team on paper; it's about creating an environment where everyone truly feels they belong. Let me be honest: it is not perfect, but we should appreciate the direction and effort that everyone puts into it!

Remember when the term' psychological safety' wasn't part of our everyday vocabulary? Now, it's central to discussions about workplace culture. It's clear now more than ever that diversity isn't just a moral imperative; it's a catalyst for innovation. And I speak about this a lot in my talks now 😀

When I hear big players like the World Economic Forum aiming to close the gender gap in tech by 2030, I know it's ambitious, but it shows a commitment to change. Of course, there's still a way to go, and I am a bit pessimistic about achieving it by 2030, but with the support of organizations like WomenWhoCode, Code First Girls, and Anita.B, I'm hopeful that good progress will be made.


Also, being a part of the UN UK Women Delegate group this year has shown me the power of collective action on a global scale. And you know what's really encouraging? Seeing more men become active participants in the conversation about diversity. It feels like we're not just working towards making tech more diverse but fundamentally reshaping it to be more equitable and inclusive at its core. And I'm here for it every step of the way.


How do you manage the work-life balance in the tech industry?


Juggling roles as a mum to two vibrant girls, holding down a position as a Principal Technologist at AVEVA, serving as a fractional CTO, sitting on advisory boards, and leading WomenWhoCode London, my life is good busy. Here's how I keep it together!

I prioritise Me: Post-bedtime for my kids, I hit the gym. It's my time to recharge, reflect, and muster the energy needed for what lies ahead. I firmly believe that if I'm not at my best—both physically and mentally—it's impossible to be there for others. Self-care isn't selfish; it's fundamental.


I am driven by a Vision: What really pushes me every day? It's about doing something bigger than just for me. It's about making real changes, helping out where it counts, and supporting big ideas. This big-picture thinking turns the daily rush into something rewarding, filling my days with meaning and drive. Plus, my vision board is a daily reminder of what I'm excited to wake up for!


I know when to Step Down and Dial Back: Acknowledging my boundaries is essential. There have been moments when I've had to dial back commitments to safeguard my family time. It's about striking a balance between professional pursuits and personal moments that matter most. 


I am still learning to tackle Procrastination with CPR (Courage, Progress, and Resilience): Procrastination often signals deeper emotional hurdles. My CPR strategy is about confronting these moments directly, empowering me to push through barriers and maintain momentum.

Let's be real—achieving a perfect balance is a myth. We're all in this constant state of adjustment, trying to figure out the best way forward. My secret weapon? Flexibility.

The ability to adapt, stretch, and pivot according to life's evolving demands, coupled with my trusty calendar for organisation, is what keeps me agile and responsive to whatever comes my way. Remember, I don't believe in perfection anymore 😀


What skills do you believe are most important in today's tech world?


When we talk about making it in the tech world, it's easy to get caught up in all the jargon and the latest tech certifications. Don't get me wrong, knowing your stuff is crucial, but there's a whole other side of the tech game that's just as important, if not more. 


First up problem-solving. It's like the heart of everything we do in tech, right? It's not just about fixing bugs or coding up a storm; it's about seeing the big picture, finding those clever solutions that no one else can see. It's about being that tech wizard who turns chaos into order.


Then, there's teamwork. Tech's not a one-person show. It's a world where you're constantly bouncing ideas off each other, merging different viewpoints, and, yeah, sometimes butting heads. But it's how you navigate through it all, keeping everyone on the same page and moving towards that common goal. It's about speaking geek with your team and translating it into plain English for everyone else. 


And let's not forget the learning part. Tech's like this wild, fast train, and you've gotta run like crazy to keep up. It's about that hunger to learn more, dig deeper, and always be ready to jump onto the next big thing.


Adaptability, you ask? Absolutely key. The tech landscape is always shifting, with new trends popping up left and right. Staying adaptable means you're ready to pivot, whether it's a project direction change or a whole new tech wave. It's about being as flexible as a gymnast in the tech circus.

I hadn't realised the importance of soft skills and thought just being a cool techie will get me there, but I was so wrong!

As you climb up that tech ladder, it's the soft skills that really start to shine—your people skills, your knack for seeing beyond the code, handling conflicts with a cool head, and being that person who can influence and inspire. That's what transforms a tech pro into a tech leader.


Q8) Can you share a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career? 


I've been fortunate to be at the forefront of cutting-edge technology and have many favourites. For me, it's all about driving digital transformation, building high-performing agile teams, and sparking innovation!


One recent highlight has been securing a patent and building an innovative solution that reshaped how we distribute precise location data. Check out https://aws.amazon.com/solutions/case-studies/u-blox-case-study/


It's projects like these that remind me—and, I hope, others—of the vast possibilities in tech, encouraging us to challenge limits and think differently.


But here's the thing: while it's cool to talk about patents and projects, what really gets me is the bigger picture. I'm talking about paving the way for more women in tech. It's not just about the tech itself but about who's making it. Recently, one of my mentees who just broke into tech got flagged for a promotion. How cool is that! It underscored the value of sharing experiences and the power of mentorship—support I wished I had access to earlier in my career.

So, yeah, it's about more than just innovations and accolades; it's about making tech a place where everyone, especially women, can thrive and lead. That's the kind of impact that lasts.

And being here, sharing this with you, it's just another way to keep that momentum going. Thank you for this opportunity and thank you for paving the way for so many women through the Lovelace podcast series!



What are your future goals, and where do you see the tech industry heading in the next few years?


Reflecting on my tech journey and peering into what's next, here's what's on my mind: It's high time we see more women leading the tech scene. There's this gap in innovation that's just waiting to be filled.

Did you know that over half of Fortune 500 companies since 2000 have vanished because they couldn't keep up with digital changes or innovate fast enough? Although many executives say innovation is key to growing their business, 94% of them are dissatisfied with how their companies are doing on this front.

So, here I am, wearing two hats – one as the Director of Women Who Code London and the other as a Fractional CTO – and I'm all about tackling this challenge head-on.


1. With Women Who Code London, I'm on a mission to arm women with the skills, the confidence, and the network they need not just to enter tech, but to rock it in their roles and climb up to leadership spots. We need more diverse voices to stir the pot and kick innovation into high gear.


2. As a Fractional CTO, I'm helping female founders who are pushing the boundaries of tech and sparking social change for women. I help them fine-tune their tech game, scale up, and make an even bigger splash. It's about showing the world the powerhouse role women have in shaping the future of tech.


But my dream? It's way bigger than just bumping up the numbers of women in tech. It's about molding an industry that thrives on different perspectives and inclusive innovation. I'm all in for teaming up with tech organizations to open up new opportunities for women, from internships to shadowing those big decision-makers. Inclusivity isn't just nice to have; it's where the future is at.


Looking back on the last 30 years, I realize that technology has been all about making our lives better and smarter and solving those big headaches in more effective ways. And what's on the horizon? I'm betting on AI, a bigger push for sustainability, and tech playing a massive part in social change. This is tech as a force for good, and it's in our hands to keep steering it in the right direction.


Keeping up with the tech world's twists and turns means staying curious and soaking up new knowledge. From diving into cloud engineering to exploring AI and how tech can drive social change, staying relevant is about never standing still.


Tech's ultimate goal? To make the world a better place. And being part of that change, advocating for diversity and innovation every step of the way is just where I want to be.


What advice would you give to other women considering a career in tech?


Let me share with you the CPR method I use to keep my spirit alive and kicking in this fast-paced industry. It's not about medical resuscitation but about rejuvenating your approach to challenges and opportunities.


Courage Over Confidence: Jump on those opportunities. Really, just go for it. There was this one time, right at the start of my career, I was handed this thick electronics book. It was intimidating. But if I had backed down, I wouldn't be here today. It's about embracing those moments, diving into new experiences and learning opportunities, even when they're a bit scary. Confidence isn't a prerequisite; it's the prize you get for being brave.


Progress Over Perfection: Focus on taking one small step at a time. I'm a recovering perfectionist, and I've learned the hard way that aiming for perfection is a surefire way to stand still. Life, especially a life in tech, is about continuous improvement. Taking those small, actionable steps not only keeps you moving forward but also accumulates into significant achievements over time.


Resilience Over Reluctance: See every failure as a stepping stone. This was a tough one for me. I've always been petrified of failing. But watching my kids approach challenges with such fearless curiosity taught me something vital. Every misstep is packed with lessons, each failure ripe with opportunities to learn and grow. Focus on what you can gain from the experience, not the fear of stumbling.


And if there's one thing I'd want you to remember, it's this:

Believe in yourself and just be you. Embrace your unique path with courage, value every small victory in your progress, and see every challenge as an opportunity to become stronger and more resilient.

Your true self, armed with these beliefs, is truly unstoppable.


Let's continue the flow... who would you like to read on the Lovelace Series?


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