Malathi Mahadevan, Louisville, KY chapter leader, grew up in India. Mala has been associated with PASS for eight years and has been a Regional Mentor for Asia. I recently spent some time with her to learn how cultural differences affect IT careers.
Kathi: Mala, tell me a bit about your background, for example, where you grew up and what led you to work with SQL Server.
Mala: I earned a Masters in management (MBA) after a math degree. I grew up in Bangalore, southern India, also called the Silicon Valley of India. I started doing project management and learnt programming on the side, I programmed in COBOL and Visual Basic for eight years.
I got hired to work for a leading financial company as a VB programmer in the early 90s, in New York City. They didn't have any DBAs and my boss was the team lead cum DBA, on SQL Server 6.0. I did some tasks for him, very basic tasks like taking backups, doing restores and occasionally creating tables. But I liked the idea of learning more about how the data was stored and what I could do with it, so I learned more on my own. I taught them to use identity keys over running number counters which were huge back then and got an award for doing so :) It was so basic, makes me want to smile now but was a huge deal back then.
One day my boss was working late, they often had to do that during monthly close - he took a break, went out drinking, came back in and accidentally deleted a mission critical database. It was about 1 AM at night when I was called in and handed over the keys to my first DBA job. We got the deleted database back up from backups but he lost his job. I worked only on SQL since then and loved every minute. I am currently working as a senior DBA with a leading healthcare company in Louisville.
Kathi: Wow! That is quite a story! How do India and the US differ as far as encouraging young women to pursue technical careers?
Mala: The general attitudes are the same, very similar to what was discussed at the WIT session at the Louisville SQL Saturday. IT is considered something really geeky and complex, so people often do not understand that it is an everyday thing they use everywhere, from sending emails to banking to paying their bills. But it is considered a good career for young people because it pays much better than most other professions - good IT degrees are in very high demand and very competitive to get into. There is not a huge difference between men and women nowadays as far as IT goes; both are treated the same way as far as career choices go.
There are lots of differences in work culture. Most career choices are made with high regard to money, much less to the person's talent or interest in the subject. That results in a lot of people foregoing their native talents to work for something else, but on the other hand people are extremely adaptable and resilient and willing to stick with their choices after they are made.
Kathi: Are there other differences, especially around family support for women who work in IT?
Mala: As far as family support goes the traditional norm is that grandparents, especially parents of the husband, stay with the family and take care of kids outside school. A lot of that is changing with fewer extended families, smaller living spaces and higher cost of living - but it is still the practice for grandparents to take care of kids whenever possible. A lot of women therefore do not need to worry too much about child care during work hours.
Kathi: At least in the US, young people are very influenced by the media. Does the same apply to India?
Mala: Very much so, young people are beginning to get a lot of very mixed messages by exposure to media from various parts of the world, at least in older times it was restricted geographically. The up side of that is that they learn to think in more open minded ways and look at things in more ways than we did - I have nieces and nephews who are 9 or 10 years old and they can tell all the ups and downs of using credit cards versus cash, which antivirus software is best for a home PC, and so on. But they are very caught up in instant needs and quick gratification, and the old values around formal education and good work ethics are getting harder to teach and instill.
Kathi: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Mala: The concept of work related community is very different than here. Work related communities are generally among people engaged in running their own business- doctors and lawyers in private practice, for example. If you and I are salaried employees there is not much community among us just because we use same technology. Most salaried folks want to do their job and go home, not socialize with others like them or share what they know on a proactive basis. People do not blog a whole lot about what they know, more and more people including several women are doing it now but it is still not a very popular thing. The job culture is very intensely competitive, and there is not much protection against plagiarism, and many things are just around landing a job. So if someone steals your blog post and you get upset the usual response will be that “he or she did it just to land a job.” You can gather a lot of people in the form of groups (big numbers) but it is very difficult to keep them engaged and sharing of knowledge alone many times is not sufficient. On the other hand, there is usually appreciation for people who genuinely want to share ideas and help others succeed after they have reached a good level of success themselves. Good examples are MVPs Pinal Dave and Jacob Sebastian and the community they have built around where they live. But again the key point is that you should have reached a certain level to do it and not everybody gets there easily. In short cultural factors are very important to consider while we try to grow our community in other countries. Thank you.
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