Women in Stem Interview Series - Ketal Gandhi



Continueing on with the #WomeninSTEM month written interview series, today we will hear from Ketal Gandhi! Please join us in welcoming Ketal!

Livestreams - Recorded

May Interviews - #WomeninSTEM

The Interview - Ketal Gandhi

  • Name: Ketal Gandhi
  • STEM Field of Study (or profession): Electronics Engineering

Do you have a favorite quote? What is it and who is it from?

Not Necessity, Curiosity is the mother invention in this modern age - read it in a blog, not someone famous but I agree and I like it

Ketal Gandhi

Personal Experience

Q: What was (or is) your favorite subject in school and why?

Ketal: “Math - I loved Numbers. I got good scores in Math and I loved showing off that :))”

Q: What was your daily routine like (in school, work, or at home). How might this have impacted/influenced your participation in STEM?

Ketal: “I was quite into books at school so my parents always pushed me towards more academically challenging goals. Growing up in a middle class Indian household in 90’s when the trend was to at least have one child to be a doctor or engineer and with two brothers who were more into outdoor activities and less into books, I was my parent’s only hope and they made sure I pursued engineering. I did not have much of a choice. :)) Having said that, I was the first women engineer in my family and I am the first working women in my family in my generation. Proud to set a path of the next generation of girls in my family.”

Q: Describe the first time you heard about STEM, why was this an appealing thing to be a part of?

Ketal: “I had to pick a field of science, commerce or arts after 10th grade. Those were the 3 broad options for Junior college admissions in Mumbai. Many friends and neighbors (mostly boys) who were just graduating from engineering were getting high paying jobs (Y2K days) both in India and outside India. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into honestly but I had good scores in math and science, I was getting admission into decent college in Electronics field and my parents convinced me that this was a sure shot path of making good money after graduation. I totally went into get engg education for the dream of making a good living and nothing more.”

Q: When was the first time you became actively involved in STEM? Do you recall a specific project or initiative?

Ketal: “While I studied engineering and worked as a Software Engineer in early part of my career, I did not realize the significance of STEM or even enjoy it as much. After MBA and moving to US, I started working in Qualcomm as business development manager. This was the time I truly started understanding the significance of good technology and products. When I launched DragonBoard product and started marketing it for University students and makers in addition to IoT device makers, I feel like I truly got involved in STEM. This time not as a developer but as evangelist and a marketeer. Being one of founding members of 96boards initiative at Linaro was the most special project to me in many ways, both personally and professionally.”

Q: How have your beliefs, motivations and aspirations changed over time? When did a career in STEM become a priority or choice?

Ketal: “Yes, I have totally changed as a person over time and not just in terms of age, looks and wisdom but also in terms of beliefs, motivation and aspirations. The first time I went to MakerFaire to promote DragonBoard, I saw how the young kids were learning STEM not just from hard sciences perspective but also nurturing their soft skills such as leadership and team work. I understood why I never enjoyed being an engineer at an IT company in India. There was no emphasis on overall learning and skills development, it was just too tactically focused on writing and debugging the code. After being a speaker at events like MakerFaire, Techcrunch and Gracehopper, my belief in STEM education has become very strong. Kids enjoying learning is what motivates me and gives me joy and my aspiration is to spend my time in STEM education field when I am done with my corporate job.”

Q: Who has served as an ‘influencer’ in your path to a STEM focused education and/or career?

Ketal: “When I was a kid, my father would inspire me to use my knowledge and smarts to solve community problems and in the process decided for me to become an engineer. Over time, I came across many inspiring personalities including many at Qualcomm. Listening to Dr Iwin Jacobs at Qualcomm events served as a great inspiration for example.”

Q: What is your dream job? Can you see any roadblocks or challenges which might be influenced by your gender?

Ketal: “I feel like I am doing my dream job. I am more business minded but have affinity for STEM so marketing technology products is certainly on the top of my list for dream job and that’s what I get to do at Qualcomm. I have been fortunate to be part of many innovations at Qualcomm. Eventually I want to get into STEM education field. I see gender influence differently in my career, I see more positives then negatives although I would agree that I have had challenging experiences too. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/positive-side-being-woman-tech-ketal-gandhi/”

Q: Are hobbies in STEM important? What about hobbies in general? Can you share some of your hobbies that may (or may not) have contributed to your STEM involvement?

Ketal: “Hobbies are very important. I am more into performing arts for my hobbies and I get to clear my head and rejuvenate by having hobbies in a very different field than my day job. I believe our brain and soul needs a good balance of experiences in different areas to be healthy.”

Q: Has there been any point when you (or someone close to you) wanted to give up STEM (work, hobby, both)? What made you stay?

Ketal: “I was very close to giving up my job at Qualcomm when I was pregnant with my second child. My manager at the time, a woman, a mom of three kids, persuaded me and made my job flexible so I could survive working in that difficult stage of personal life. I owe her for keeping me inspired and making changes in job description to help me. Lot of women have not so positive experiences working for other women, I was fortunate to have such an understanding woman manager when I needed it the most.”

Women in STEM Impact

Q: What does STEM mean to you?

Ketal: “STEM mean more than hard sciences to me. It is about solving real world problems with hard sciences combined with soft skills such as team work, design thinking, empathy and more.”

Q: Can you recall any times when you questioned your involvement in STEM because of your gender?

Ketal: “Not really. I have never questioned involvement in STEM but sometimes question my decision to be a working mother instead of Stay of home mother. And on the contrary, I feel good about my decision to be working mother is because I like what I am doing at work”

Q: What are some of the personal experiences - or compelling arguments - that have influenced your thinking around gender and STEM, and have motivated you to get involved in being an advocate for change?

Ketal: “I have friends in my community who are not in workforce and are dependent on their spouses or parents and in some case very unhappy about it. Given that the STEM careers are very financially lucrative and emotionally stimulating, I feel if they would have pursued STEM education as young girls, they would be much happier. This is motivating fact for me. I would like to be a role model for young girls in our relatively conservative community and show them the better standard of living one can achieve by pursuing STEM careers.”

Q: Can you talk a bit about some of the specific ways you have advocated for change? If so, please tell us more about the successes and challenges you faced?

Ketal: “I have always asked provocative questions and offered unconventional suggestions to change traditional mindsets both of young generation as well as elders in our conservative family and community. I have got into trouble many a times for doing that and being labeled in certain ways. Fortunately, my STEM career has allowed me to be free spirit I am and inspire others to do so.”

Q: Do you have a network of women in STEM around you to share knowledge and remind you you are not alone? If so, how did you go about creating that network?

Ketal: “Certainly. Qualcomm has exceptionally talented women network called Qualcomm Women in Science and Engineering (QWISE). Even through my work projects, I have got an opportunity to build with very strong women network inside and outside Qualcomm.”

Q: Do you have a mentor or friend who inspires you? How/Why? (someone you know personally)

Ketal: “Many, not one. My manager, Tia Cassett, is the one who I would like to talk about in particular. She has inspired me, taught me, helped me and challenged me on many different occasions. She promoted me while I was on maternity leave. She knew there was a good chance I was not going to come back after my leave but she wanted to give me a reason to come back and love my work by making me and my contributions feel valued.”

Q: Are you involved/can you recommend any organization(s) that support Women in STEM (shoutouts)?

Ketal: “QWISE and Athena provide resources for professional development of Women in STEM”

Q: Can you name any women who have made a strong impact in the STEM community? How has their impact made an influenced your life?

Ketal: “I love the story of Marie Curie and find inspiration from Kalpana Chawla. Those women and many more have made strong impact in the STEM community. While they have not directly impacted my personal life, I find their stories inspirational when I am out there facing some challenges myself.”

Q: Are there any (YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, etc…) influencers out there who inspire you regularly? How/Why?

Ketal: “I listen to TED talks for inspiration. Love listening to interviews of Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo. I have recently started following Robert Wolff and have liked it so far. :))”

Q: Top three changes which could make life easier for Women in STEM?

Ketal: “Flexible working conditions such as ability to summer off with kids, flex work hours, ability to work remotely.”

Advice to the younger you and women considering a career in STEM

Q: Which achievement do you look at and think “I’d love to go back in time and tell younger me that this was possible”?

Ketal: “Everything I have achieved was unimaginable as a child since I grew up in a very different environment. The fact that I am a working mother doing a challenging job that involves travelling around the world while volunteering in the community was all unimaginable for younger me. I had no idea I was that capable. If I knew my potential when I was young, I would have made some different decisions. But then again, I don’t know if I would be here doing this in that case.”

Q: Did you ever stay at a place where politics got in the way of curiosity, technical progress or personal growth? How did you realize, and at which point did you decide to move on?

Ketal: “Not really. “

Q: If you could go back and change one thing in your STEM path, what would that be?

Ketal: “I would have stayed more active as coder/programmer until later in career. I feel I left it too soon and moved to business development and product management. I am going back to learning to code again.”

Ketal:1) Curiosity is the mother of invention… Be Curious and Invent something 2) Hang in there, what comes next is very stimulating and you will earn a decent living while having fun 3) Everyone has their calling and they have to listen to inner voices to chose the right path for them”

What’s Next?!

As a reminder, this week, we will be meeting with Al aka @Falkyou who is a web application developer, cybersecurity MS candidate and model from Pittsburg. To read more about this week’s interview, and to learn how to participate, be sure to checkout the 96Boards OpenHours website (update coming soon)! Countdown and instructions on how to join can be found there!

More information here: WI-STEM page has the schedule, go there!

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