Taking a seat at the table
Radhika Venkatraman has always been willing to raise her hand to take on challenging opportunities — and to share what she has learned from her experiences with other female engineers.
Venkatraman, who graduated from NC State with master’s degrees in computer-aided engineering and computer science in 1995 and 1996, has more than 20 years of experience in leadership roles in telecommunications and finance. While there have been times when she has found herself as one of a few women in the room, she has been able to navigate her career through building networks, learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and asking for a seat at the table.
“It’s okay to be uncomfortable seeking out new things and attempting new things because if you don’t take a chance at all, others are not going to take a chance on you,” she said.
Creating a network
Growing up in Mumbai, India, Venkatraman didn’t know she wanted to be an engineer, but she had an early interest in science, math and puzzles. She is the first engineer in her family.
After graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay with a degree in civil engineering, she wanted to continue her education in graduate school. She knew others from her school had gone to NC State, and that it had a strong engineering program, so she applied. Her first year, she lived with a friend who she knew from IIT.
Her degree in computer-aided engineering branched off her civil engineering degree. Realizing that she needed to strengthen her coding skills, she took a few computer science courses, enjoyed them and decided to take on a second master’s degree.
At NC State, in addition to finding her stride in her program, Venkatraman found a strong community. She made many lasting friendships, and most importantly, met her husband, Ayushman Gupta. He graduated from NC State with a master’s degree in geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering in 1995. The couple lived near each other and met through mutual friends.
The more you help people in your early days, it’s a little bit like your deposit in a bank, which you can count on later.
“Our time at NC State — and I also got married while I was still at NC State — I think those are some of the best memories,” she said.
Around the same time that she graduated from NC State, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and people with computer science degrees and coding experience were in high demand. She took a job with Verizon and spent 20 years in telecommunications, becoming the company’s senior vice president and chief information officer of network and technology, before moving on to the finance sector. In 2017, she took a managing director position at Credit Suisse. Currently, she serves on a number of boards while deciding on her next leadership role.
In the early days of her career, she worked hard to build relationships with everyone around her to help create a network and find mentors who would speak to the quality of her work. She also volunteered to take on projects that others wouldn’t, and she became known as a go-to person around the office, arriving early to get to know her coworkers better.
“The more you help people in your early days, it’s a little bit like your deposit in a bank, which you can count on later,” she said. “I think building strong connections and networks with other people helped me navigate.”
As she got to know people better and became better known by her coworkers, she received more opportunities to grow and learn about the business, and moved on to higher roles and more responsibilities.
‘Never settle, keep going’
While advancing in her own career, Venkatraman has continued to look out for the people coming up behind her. She made a visit to NC State on Sept. 24 to take part in the celebration of the Women in Engineering Program’s 25th anniversary. Speaking with Anna Knight, director of development at the NC State Engineering Foundation, in a fireside-chat-style conversation about women empowerment, Venkatraman shared some of her experience and what she’s learned with the next generation of engineers.
Some of her advice to current students and young alumni includes having a broad perspective and recognizing how an engineer’s role fits in with an organization’s larger mission; seeking out what they want and feel that they have earned; and to always be looking forward to the next thing.
“I think they just should not be settling for anything,” she said. “I always tell people, ‘Never settle, keep going.’”
Beyond her mentorship, Venkatraman has also given back to NC State engineers through a scholarship. She and Gupta created a scholarship endowment fund for the Women and Minority Engineering Programs, which will support students from underrepresented backgrounds who want to pursue engineering. She said that both she and her husband were fortunate to receive a premium education in India without having to pay a lot in tuition, and thanks to graduate fellowships, they were able to do the same at NC State.
“I feel like a lot of times it is about the opportunity, right? I mean, there are many, many very talented people who do not always have the means and affordability to pursue whatever their dream might be, or whatever might be their calling,” she said. “We have also been very fortunate to be able to do well, so it is our way to do something small for others who come after us.”