Asia, Interviews

Nidhi Chahal Dahiya – Project Manager at Publicis Sapient

I have had fantastic mentors, rich experiences and a lot of stories on why ‘It didn’t work’. I have learnt to speak up when others won’t and step back when it isn’t the best.

Nidhi Chahal Dahiya has been working in the software development sector for close to 12 years. She is a Project Manager and a certified Agile Scrum Master. She has worked with customers and companies to define MVPs and taking the ideas to production spanning web, mobile and cloud back-ends. She has spent the last 6 years managing products, projects and geographically distributed teams in startups and corporates, and across domains like Digital Healthcare, IoT, FinTech, Logistics, Smart City, QHSE, e-Education, PMO among others.

In a nutshell, tell us a bit about your journey, and what role does technology plays in it?

I am currently with Publicis Sapient, working for a Financial Services client. I have been managing software projects and products for the last five years working across different domains but always close to a software product. I love technology but I do not code. I like how it feels when my universe is centred around a tech product that is solving a real world problem. I am quite a techie. I love gadgets, deciphering them, optimizing every ‘app’ on my phone or scrutinizing(and mostly deleting!) every piece of software on my laptop. Simple day to day algorithms and design thinking can make or break my day. Data drives most of my personal and professional decisions. 

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

I am a Computer Science Engineer by degree. It was one hell of a journey to get to that degree. I understood logic but wasn’t really able to keep up with the typical subjects taught at an engineering college. I flunked Maths, never quite understood Java or C++ – the two fads in the early 2000’s. At the same time I enjoyed understanding concepts, theories and their basis. I could very well explain stuff but would scratch my head the moment I saw a formula or an equation! I joined Cognizant after graduation starting as an Application Developer & Tester.

I slowly realized coding wasn’t my forte but at the same time, I aced the functional concepts. I was miserable at work. This was when I decided to quit coding. I was 25 with a technical degree and no clue what lay ahead. I eventually moved to the Project Management Office and had a great run of 3 years, understanding how a behemoth of a company works – the enterprise factors, decoupling people and their data, using this data hierarchically to infer decisions.

My biggest leap of faith was in 2014 when I moved to a tech startup. I had a ‘corporate’ background, 11 month old baby in tow and a 13 kilometres one way commute to this new office. I was surrounded with geeks who were smarter than me and carried Macbooks with permanent headphones. It was quite intimidating at first and slowly turned into a fantastic learning experience. We were running a full fledged product with real paying customers and were still bootstrapped. There was no ‘Job Description’. You did what you could to keep things moving. I tested the application, gave user feedback, would debug simple issues, wrote manuals and HelpCentre, started customer engagement campaigns. We would sign-up for ‘trials’ for all kind of platforms and services to figure out what works best. I pitched our product, attended conferences, designed and printed fliers. You name it, I did it (mind it, no coding!). Some days I would define a feature, create the Backlog, define the MVP’s and release plans, and soon don the hat of the Project Manager and try to align resources at my disposal to achieve the goals.

My biggest leap of faith was in 2014 when I moved to a tech startup. I had a ‘corporate’ background, 11 month old baby in tow and a 13 kilometres one way commute to this new office.

It has been a roller-coaster ride of five years, 4 companies, 2 failed startups, and a few flagship products. I have had fantastic mentors, rich experiences and a lot of stories on why ‘It didn’t work’. I have learnt to speak up when others won’t and step back when it isn’t the best. One of the biggest learnings for me has been to accept your mistakes, learn from them, move on and make new mistakes. 

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

E-commerce and how the users’ experience is now at the helm of every customization. How companies are leveraging our own digital usage to alter our experiences. It is mind-boggling and of course spooky at the same time. 

One of the biggest learnings for me has been to accept your mistakes, learn from them, move on and make new mistakes. 

When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first? 

We need so much more of that – ‘women’ plus ‘technology’ these simple words together! Whether it is in a sentence or in a speech or in a story. The fact that not much comes to mind itself is such a shame. 

We always hear there are not enough women working in tech. What needs to happen to change that? Using your own words, why do we need women focused groups in the tech community?

There are so many factors that come into the picture when a woman works in general and especially in tech. We are stereotyped, we are constantly scrutinized and there are so many invisible glass ceilings.

I can speak of my own personal experience which almost led to me to quit work. I was overlooked for a due and promised promotion at work when I took my maternity leave of 12 weeks. People look at you differently, you are treated differently, you are to be given ‘light work’. I was fortunate I had a support system and some lucky breaks, but these  experiences take a toll on your psyche, making you reconsider your every decision.

“You are good enough” – always start with that. When you realize you aren’t, learn on the way. 

Women focussed groups help women shed the feeling of imposter syndrome and normalize the day to day experiences. We need men and women to understand these natural process. We need women to stop feeling ‘not good enough’. In one of my recent companies – Avegen, we were 70% women in the company. We supported each other, we understood each other, and so did the men. There were no stereotypes and nothing stopping each one of us. When you foster an inclusive culture at a company, it benefits everyone.

I still remember this quote from our CEO, when we had thanked him for an emotional tribute on International Women’s Day’, he said “As women, you do not need men to support you, you simply need them to get out of the way”. Those two years firmly established my belief that when given a chance, or simply if there aren’t systemic impediments, women can accomplish everything that men can. 

Who are your tech influencers and why?

Jeff Bezos, to start with. I love how his core philosophy of customer centricity had made Amazon what it is today. Marissa Mayer represents the eternal saviour and firefighter who can clean up any mess. And a college friend and ex-colleague “PV” (Anon as he would hate the attention). He is well known in his tech circle and has taught me the best lessons of my career – ‘Optimize, prioritize, communicate and work towards one-less-thing-to-do’.

What has been the greatest piece of advice you have received in your career so far? 

“You are good enough” – always start with that. When you realize you aren’t, learn on the way. 

If you could host a dinner party with 3 influential people in tech, who would you invite and why? 

Jeff Bezos, obviously. Elon Musk, the mainstream narcissist we all love. He has glamorized space and electricity concepts for me! Reshma Saujani, of Girls Who Code. I love how she is trying to change the narrative and would love to see the potential this concoction can realize. 

Nidhi has been working in the software development sector for close to 12 years. She is a Project Manager and a certified Agile Scrum Master. She has worked with customers and companies to define MVPs and taking the ideas to production spanning web, mobile and cloud back-ends. She has spent the last 6 years managing products, projects and geographically distributed teams in startups and corporates, and across domains like Digital Healthcare, IoT, FinTech, Logistics, Smart City, QHSE, e-Education, PMO among others.

Meet Our Other Gals

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *