Rajashree Rao – AI Lead at R² Data Labs at Rolls Royce

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I strongly believe that it is a woman herself who can break this stereotype in the technology industry. She needs to go out and take her position what is rightfully hers.

Rajashree (Shree) Rao is a globally acclaimed Industry Thought leader, visionary, advisor, principal consultant, and mentor in next-gen technologies – AI, Cloud Computing, Data Analytics, Robotics, Industry 4.0, IoT, IIoT, Blockchain, and Smart Cities/Nation across industry verticals. After working for 20 years in the corporate across the regions (India, US, and APAC), she is back to her roots to venture onto the next biggest growth market in the world. Shree brings with her the diverse industry experience of working with IBM, Intel, and SAP, leading and influencing the technology adoption within the Singapore Government and Public Sector for building the Smart City and Smart Nation Initiatives in the APAC region. 

Shree has been recognized by Thinker’s 360 as one of the Top 50 Global Thought leaders and Influencers in Emerging Technologies, AI, Blockchain, Cloud Computing, 5G, AR/VR, and IoT. Shree also has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Women B2B Global Thought Leaders to follow in 2020.

Shree is a Graduate (Hons.) from Bangalore University in Business Management and has a diploma in Computer Science – Ecommerce. She enjoys international travel, cooking and is in the constant pursuit of the spiritual. She is also passionate about women’s empowerment and spends her free time working with women and women’s organizations.

In a Nutshell: Tell us a bit about your job and what role technology plays in it?

Currently, I am the AI Lead at R² Data Labs at Rolls Royce. The last twenty years, I have worked for technology organizations such as IBM, Intel, SAP. I have done my own consulting in emerging technologies such as AI, Cloud Computing, Blockchain, Data Analytics, IoT, Industry 4.0, 5G, AR/VR, and Smart Cities. I have always been passionate about Innovation and have championed how to innovate in the past and in the current times. I believe that Technology is part of our lives while it transforms the way we live, work, and do things in our life. Technology has to be inclusive and not exclusive. In my early years of my career, some of my colleagues would continuously tell me that I am a non-techie. It somewhere did affect me, and I did feel inadequate of my own capabilities. During my career in IBM, I was told that I am a non-techie and many of my team members and peers who were architects or senior techies kept reminding me that I am not a techie. I felt terrible and small but never stopped exceeding the expectations of all my senior management. My goal of becoming the CEO of IBM one day kept me striving harder every single day. One of my mentors, who is an IBM Fellow – Rob High, said to me – “Stop saying you are a non-techie, if not for you who will sell the technology we build. The fact that you are able to influence and sell the technology, you are a technologist. Since that day, there was no looking back, and I continued to propel ahead in my journey. The fuel to fire got ignited more when my preceptor would explain the most sophisticated technologies like to a five-year-old. The passion for knowing more about technology skyrocketed and since then there was no looking back. My preceptor once told me to start writing articles on technology which I am working hands-on—being a woman with a mind which continuously kept telling me that I am not from an engineering background. Hence, I don’t have the knowledge to write an article on technology. It is then when he wrote my first article on IoT and asked me to publish on LinkedIn. After that, there is no looking back. I started to write articles which have given the recognition of becoming the Top 50 Global Thought Leaders and Influencers in Emerging Technologies. Even today, I continue to learn from him; he gives me topics to research and share my thought leadership and vision across Industry verticals in next-gen technologies.

What I learnt from my master is how to teach the most complex technology to a five-year-old.

What I learnt from my master is how to teach the most complex technology to a five-year-old. In my articles, I simplify the toughest of the subjects which can be understood by all and champion that technology has to be inclusive. I love to learn and enjoy being a student and continuously educating myself so that I can give back to my country, society, and industry at large. Technology has become like the vital air I breath.

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

The last twenty years of my corporate career, I have always taken the role in which I had to develop everything from scratch. There was reference documents or anything for me to refer to. It has been a great learning curve overall. I had ended up taking roles even when I didn’t have much expertise in the subject, but through my passion, I have excelled in every position. I want to quote two experiences in my career, which lead me to take the u-turn in my career and made me the Iron Woman. A) As a Top Talent, I was chosen for an assignment in the corporate headquarters to fast track in my career as a women executive resource at IBM. During this stint, I didn’t know what it is to work in the corporate headquarters. While I excelled, it taught me the greatest of the lessons on how to stand up for what I believe- in and go after my dreams. I chose the road not taken so that I will create the path for the rest of the world to follow and leave my foot-trails. I built the yellow brick road. My path is built on hard work, passion, dedication, and many other principles which hardly anyone is living in today’s day and age. I will be the leader the world has never seen before. B) When I was working In Singapore and managing the Singapore Government and Public sector clients, I was discriminated for my race, sex, nationality, and especially being a woman. I broke the glass-ceiling by showing the world what a woman is capable of. I got two references from the MD of Land Transport Authority of Singapore saying I was the best thing that has ever happened to them. The recommendations were sent to the ASEAN and Singapore GMs in IBM. I established that a woman is a go-getter, and she can do anything she aspires in life. I have always done roles which were all first-of-kind initiatives. I was honoured in one of the Leadership meetings in IBM as “Rajashree’s Model,” since I demonstrated that I could make IMPOSSIBLE – A POSSIBLE since I believe the word says, I’M POSSIBLE. I learnt to become “Comfortable in the Uncomfortable.” Knowing that change is constant, and life is dynamic.

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

The greatest transformation which I have witnessed in technology in my career is how everything is shrinking with time. I mean the size of the device. Twenty years back, I have seen massive servers and computers. But today we can carry them in our pocket. We do our work on the smartphone today, and from anywhere as long, I have a device with me along with the connectivity.

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

“Women is the one who sent a Man to Space.” A women’s mind is all wired, and she can connect everything very well. We need to leverage a woman’s mind to innovate, research as she has the ability to go into the details and the depth of the subject.

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that, which steps should be done to achieve gender equality in tech?

Yes, it is absolutely right, and I strongly believe that it is a woman herself who can break this stereotype in the industry. She needs to go out and take her position what is rightfully hers. Nobody has to give it to her. Similarly, I might not be an engineer from the background, but it is my passion for technology which led me to take my position in the industry and this world. So, there is no one to empower from outside it is we ourselves with self-effort go and do things which we are passionate about. This is the only way to break the gender inequality. Also, a woman need not seek anybody’s approval. The world should know you for your knowledge and capabilities.

How different would our world be if more women worked in STEM?

There would be no shortage of skilled resources, especially in the emerging technologies such as AI, Data analytics, etc. to name a few. Women would have lead and become the forefront of major innovation decisions across Industry globally. The creative power of a woman would influence how R&D is being done today.

Which was the best decision in your career?

The best decision in my career was when I choose to walk the road, which wasn’t traversed by anyone so that I could leave the trail for the world to follow by setting an example and becoming the role model.

What advice would you give to women who want a tech career?

It is within yourself. You have to empower yourself. Be the change you want to see in this world.

If you want it, go get it. There is no one to stop you except you, yourself. There is no easy way out. It is only through sheer hard work with self-effort you can achieve anything that you can aspire to be. No one can give you the empowerment from outside. It is within yourself. You have to empower yourself. Be the change you want to see in this world. You have to take the baton in your hands to achieve anything you are passionate about in your life. Go take it what is rightfully yours. 

Rajashree (Shree) Rao is a globally acclaimed Industry Thought leader, visionary, advisor, principal consultant, and mentor in next-gen technologies – AI, Cloud Computing, Data Analytics, Robotics, Industry 4.0, IoT, IIoT, Blockchain, and Smart Cities/Nation across industry verticals. After working for 20 years in the corporate across the regions (India, US, and APAC), she is back to her roots to venture onto the next biggest growth market in the world. Shree brings with her the diverse industry experience of working with IBM, Intel, and SAP, leading and influencing the technology adoption within the Singapore Government and Public Sector for building the Smart City and Smart Nation Initiatives in the APAC region. 

Shree has been recognized by Thinker’s 360 as one of the Top 50 Global Thought leaders and Influencers in Emerging Technologies, AI, Blockchain, Cloud Computing, 5G, AR/VR, and IoT. Shree also has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Women B2B Global Thought Leaders to follow in 2020.

Shree is a Graduate (Hons.) from Bangalore University in Business Management and has a diploma in Computer Science – Ecommerce. She enjoys international travel, cooking and is in the constant pursuit of the spiritual. She is also passionate about women’s empowerment and spends her free time working with women and women’s organizations.

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