Women in Stem Interview Series - Jumana Mundichipparakkal



Jumana is an amazing engineer who works on Arm embedded systems with a focus on system on chip performance analytics! We hope you are all as excited as we were when reading through her STEM story. Jumana has also provided several links to both her GitHub and Linkedin in case anyone would like to follow her work or get a hold of her with questions about here STEM career. Please join us in welcoming Jumana to the month of May, #WomeninSTEM written interview lineup!

May Interviews - #WomeninSTEM

The Interview - Jumana Mundichipparakkal

  • Name: Jumana Mundichipparakkal
  • Age group: 26-30
  • Social: Github, Linkedin
  • STEM Field of Study (or profession): SoC Performance Analyst at arm, Masters in Embedded Systems

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

Where there is a Will, there is a Way - Ancient proverb

Jumana Mundichipparakkal

Personal Experience

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

Jumana: “Mathematics was my favourite in school. I think I loved problem solving a lot and reaching to a solution using logic proved to be very satisfying. I would not give up at all knowing that if I think right, I will reach to the solution for sure. Added to that, mathematics proved to be a friendly vehicle to understand other science subjects easily, like physics, chemistry etc.

Later in college, I got completely obsessed with learning the fact that logic gates helped in building microprocessors that powered electronic devices. Since then my favourite subject has been computer architecture. I really can’t get enough of learning more about how binary works, how software gets converted into binary (hence I love programming) and then how all these cool electronic systems are built on chips that are programmable. This make me a System on Chip enthusiast. I love being a system engineer as I get to do both software and hardware and my major interest lies in seeing how an efficient system can be built by making maximum use of the resources available; in processors it means efficient use of power, memory, CPUs etc.”

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

Jumana: “I come from a very conservative rural village in India where higher education was just getting attention and career was not something for girls. My routine of childhood as far as I remember was all about books. There was no internet and TV was just becoming a part of rich’s life. I would read everything I get hold of, including newspapers, miscellaneous books and academic books. My dad being a teacher helped me there, he would allow me to find a book in his library or from somewhere on any topic I wanted to learn about. I think I enjoyed reading about scientists, their success stories etc which used to make me embrace the excitement of being able to contribute something tangible to the world. All the cool things that I saw around me seemed to have been derived from scientific knowledge and that got hooked me into solving problems, puzzles etc and wanting to read more. I think it was natural that this curiosity led me very intrigued about being part of STEM.”

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

Jumana: “I don’t recall a first time but was more of a journey. From the locality I was brought up in, people propose medicine as an ideal career path for girls who perform well in studies, and my family expected me to go that way too. I kind of blindly agreed to it and wanted to become a surgeon then. I thought that was cool to be a very renowned surgeon who can fix many people’s lives. But gradually, it was clear in my head that I like to build things. I have had the moments of seeing a TV, phone, refrigerator, washing machine etc first time in life while I was growing up. On the top of all, we got a computer in the family house when I was just finishing my high school. I remember staring at my male cousins playing games on it and being so curious to know how these things work. I had no clue, nor I had a resource to understand it any better but my uncle was an engineer and I figured this is what engineers do. From then, I declared I am going to be an engineer which was quite unconventional path for a girl to take during then.”

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

Jumana: “Like I wanted, I managed to get into engineering college taking electronics engineering as my major. I think it was during my engineering days I started being an active part of STEM. My first aha moment was learning digital logic design where my prof introduced binary to us and explained how logic gates helped in building processors. I remember those days of excitement when I was given a project to design an Intel’s simplest microprocessor’s data path code using the hardware language called VHDL. I really enjoyed building my own little processor part that way and I loved programming in assembly. Since then I dreamed working for Intel as my life goal, I really wanted to build a full processor.

After undergrads, I secured an admission for masters in Embedded Systems in Eindhoven University of Technology in Netherlands, which was the ultimate place I could live my dream in. My professor Henk Corporaal had too many exercises and courses to do in Embedded Computer Architecture, even included exercise to design your own processor for an image processing application. This time, I also got introduced to parallel computing, hardware accelerators like GPU etc. I had time of my life, I used to go to sleep only when it was necessary, it was that fascinating for me to get to do what I had always wanted to do. Gradually I joined Intel for an internship working on a processor simulator design and then landed in Cambridge to work for arm, another microprocessor company. This has all been quite satisfying.”

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

Jumana: “The major influencer in my life is Dr. A P J abdul Kalam, the former president of India. I read his book Wings of Fire as a child, in which he details the story of his dreams to fly, to be a scientist and his journey in reaching there. One of his quotes in my personal diary said “Never stop fighting until you arrive at your destined place - that is, the unique you. Have an aim in life, continuously acquire knowledge, work hard, and have perseverance to realise the great life”. I firmly believed in this as a child and helped me a lot to keep going. He taught me the power of dreams, determination as well as the beauty of being an engineer, academician, scientist and a leader all in one. Many of his ideas still echo in my head. I was so numb the day he passed away. May his soul rest in peace, he has no idea how much he has influenced my youth. My favourite quote of his now is “Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work.” This kinda reminds me even if we are tiny bit of the universe and our time is short, we can still contribute a lot in our time.”

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

Jumana: “My dream job is hard to specify, as I keep exploring too many things at a time. My dream career is indeed being able to contribute to the technology world, as much as I can. I have always loved processors, cool things built out of them, so I would always be around working on System on Chip design. For this, I need to have solid understanding of both hardware and software very well and I am still learning. Tech industry is moving so fast, I try to keep my pace as well.

I do have my own challenges in this field, which I don’t see is necessarily coming from gender. Gender based issues, I try to completely put that thought away. So even if it is affecting me anyways, I am not sure I have spotted it yet, as I have never tried to bring that as a potential problem. To be honest, I have had very encouraging people around me, both male and female, who appreciates my presence and passion than putting me down. I had to fight my gender-based restrictions to put myself into this career from the society I hail from, but not really once I am in. I have not felt such a discrimination when I applied for jobs or given interviews.”

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?

Jumana: “I think hobbies always define your personality quite a bit. Engaging in any sports activity teaches you the importance of being focussed, team work skills and power of determination as well as keeps you both mentally and physically fit.

STEM based hobbies like tinkering with your own small projects indeed can boost your practical knowledge from getting hands dirty, bring you personal satisfaction and keep you passionate about what you do. I have totally enjoyed such projects sometimes more than doing my daily job for example as in job you just do a small part of a bigger vision, which is not bad but brings a different kind of satisfaction. Moreover programming for open source projects, getting some stuff on GitHub etc are all little ways of taking off in computer tech field today. I was personally very late to all this. I figured out all this after starting to work, even my first hackathon was after I joined work, but have found this certainly very rewarding and fun. Nobody finds these things easy at first time, but once you get a hang of it, it usually becomes quite addictive if you enjoy it. “

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?

Jumana: “I had a friend who contacted me last year, who got a very mismatching job from his engineering and absolutely hated it. He was explaining me the story of his career disaster, having to do some random job that has nothing to do with what he studied and how he dreamt to be a singer and his active trials on getting attention by some music producers so that he can quit this mess completely. I encouraged him to apply for masters abroad, something close to what he likes and probably also pursue music on a bigger level by releasing his own videos etc. I was surprised he actually quit his job in a month, got an admission for sound engineering in NUS Singapore and is releasing song videos every now and then, and he is super happy. This bit taught me a lot about the power of mentor-ship or the push you could provide to someone. I soon remembered my own mentor friends like this who gave me a push, made me believe in my potential and soon realised this bit is very important. His problem was not that he hated STEM, he just didn’t get to do or find what he wanted or enjoyed doing. Taking sound engineering masters, he did not give up on engineering and on top he could combine his passion and STEM together. He is a good example for me to point to anybody else now :)”

Women in STEM Impact

Q: What does STEM mean to you?

Jumana: “For me STEM means empowerment, knowledge and liberty. I have a feeling that most women involved in STEM have more independence and are very empowered. I am talking relatively comparing to girls and women that live in my community back in India. I wish to promote girls into coding therefore, as I think programming can really make many girls empowered and explore multitude of careers. A coding school of my own is a dream in my bucket list.”

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

Jumana: “I think very female goes through this in one way or the other. From my family environment, I was even stopped pursuing masters because I will be over qualified to the males in the society. I tend to ignore these things. Within the industry, I have had some comments that my journey is easy because it is easier to get recognition because I am a girl and we are a minority. I kind of hated that because I knew I was performing well as an individual and shadowing it away by saying because you are a girl sounded unjustified. Again, these things should just be filtered when you listen to as they can’t be avoided. I usually easily find my grounds by thinking these comparisons never matter, as I am here to not to be the best of all but the best version of myself, I am just pursuing what I like to do with my maximum focus, trying to deliver the best of my potential to the organisation or community I work responsibly for and most of all trying to derive maximum happiness out of what I like to engage myself with.”

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?

Jumana: “My own journey was hard personally to find my ground in this field. I hail from a society that thinks, being a girl you can’t travel alone, you can’t do engineering, you should fear every male around you etc etc. I remember people mocking at me for doing well in schools as they knew it was in vain as every girl in my community just get married in the end and some lucky girls get to do some jobs. For me change was all about showing what I can do as it was hard to apporach and convince people with a different mindset what you want to do is the right thing for you to do.

I picked my race, worked hard to get out of my town, country and pursue an international career. I guess I have proven my point this way and now I actively try to uplift my friends especially girls to not just really get into STEM but to stand up and do what they like. I know a large number of people who still are suffering through all limitations society has put on them, but have hidden dreams. This is a big failure of the world we live in, and absolutely hate watching it.”

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?

Jumana: “I have not done anything like that yet, apart from my own little personalised inspiration talks to my acquaintances and friends, motivating them to feel confident about themselves and take a big decision that I would figure out would make them happier. People from my network do approach me seeking help and I am glad I have made a few people happy by giving them the courage to take a step they would have else feared. Setting an example is only under my capacity now.”

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?

Jumana: “I think this question makes me realise I have a big network of people around me, but not specifically a women network. I do have a huge network of people whom I worked with in past and present, with whom I constantly share my interests in this field, what I want to achieve etc. My network, including my mentors and friends have larger share of males and they are very encouraging. I have a lot of people whom I can run into when I got problems and that helps me a lot. I think the advice here is just to speak up and seek help, than being stuck at one thing for longer and suffer. Ask for help, there is always someone willing to listen to you, always. For this, do identify a set of mentors and friends whom you can openly speak to.”

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

Jumana: “Many to pick, so I will happily skip this.”

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

Jumana: “Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.”

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?

Jumana: “I think STEM influencers from women community are hidden. I am a huge fan of Gracehopper for example, but hardly anyone knows her. She wrote the first compiler that made computers programmable. When I think about her and watch her videos I never get enough of it thinking how cool was that. We have a few more legends like that, but today’ world I don’t have many in my head whom I look up to compared to many male idols like Elon Musk, Neil Tyson etc.”

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

Jumana: “Jay Shetty inspires me a lot as he does release a lot of videos and quotes with very good life lessons that suit modern age life than mere success stories and quotes. He prompts everyone to take steps in life like letting bad situations go, going at your own pace, chasing your dreams etc. I kind of get him as in my early life I figured out it is almost hard to live happily following world’s rhythm, expectations and protocols of doing certain things or achieving certain things at certain time. Life is more satisfying if everyone realise they have their own time, opportunities and power within for everything.

Like Jay Shetty says, ‘ I don’t know who comes up with all these rules like graduate by this age, buy house by this age etc’. The most important thing is to have a satisfied soul that is peaceful and not conflicting. It is a good exercise to align your heart, mind and passion than to look around and try to achieve everything as the rest. I agree with many of his ideas. It helps a lot in finding and following your vocation and your true self. There are always many things that are in our control which we can tune to suite our best when we are alive, but we need to help ourselves.”

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

Jumana: “There is some part of society who still thinks STEM is for men, programming is for men, video games are for men etc. I think girls and boys need to be given equal opportunities to participate in everything without a gender bias. Women tends to be intimidated quickly when in public and when raising opinions. I have sometimes seen men ignoring the female voices as well. May be if everybody starts looking beyond gender, it might be very fruitful. Having more female leaders and managers could also be good for a change.

I honestly don’t know how much gender effects within an organisation to be honest, as I don’t have this habit of looking at people by their gender. I think I am normally gender neutral when I communicate (I believe so).”

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”?

Jumana: “You dreamt of building computers and there you are doing exactly what you wanted! And a matching quote to hold for life and I can vouch for: “You have to dream before your dreams can come true.”- another one from APJ Abdul Kalam.”

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?

Jumana: “Did you ever stay at a place where office 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?”

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

Jumana: “Though I enjoyed Electronics Engineering, I feel like I missed out on learning Computer Science. I wish I did Computer Engineering instead of Electronics and Communication Engineering.”

Jumana:1) If you are curious about learning anything new, my best advice is to get hold of a book. Finishing a textbook on a topic gives an overview of that field or subject. Try to find an easy book, google should help with that. Later on you could try expanding in the field by taking courses, reading blogs, articles, following experts in it on social media etc. Talking to people who do the same thing also helps to get your questions clarified. Seek and find a mentor if possible. 2) If you have doubts about whether what you are doing is right for you, before asking anybody else for help, sit with yourself and figure out what you want. Figure out why the choice is making you feel uncomfortable, dissatisfied or scared to pursue. Once you have some of your own answers, consult a friend, mentor, family or teacher and talk about it. Get their input and think over again. Never feel intimidated by other people’s pace, comments, judgements etc. You can always start from scratch and do it in your own pace, you only need to wish for it and work for it in your own way. Rest comes in place, trust me. There is a saying, Flip a Coin to See Which Action You Really Want to take. I firmly believe in this. Many of us are confused because we fear certain choices and outcomes, but there is always one thing that we ideally want, may be the difficult most path to take. So for a moment remove the “but” and identify what you want. Then figure out how to get there. I think pursuing what you want brings the most happiness from within. 3) Never ever listen to anyone who says you are a girl you can’t do this, let it be STEM or anything else. This is really not true or to be encouraged. The planet has a lot to offer which can equally be pursued by both men and women. So there is nothing like gender specific career. If you want do it or you like to do it, go for it. Don’t try to take too many advice in this regard as people advice based on past data, but you might be wanting to do something no one has ever done. Nobody can tell you exactly what is right for you, you should learn to derive your choices from advice or situations but in the end what you do should be what your mind says and what your heart wants.

My advice in general for anybody who is fearful to take any path that they wish is to stand up for yourself. If you firmly believe in something, even if nobody supports you, there is always somebody who can stand by you, that is YOU. You have all the power within yourself to achieve what you put your mind into. There is not enough time to be scared of picking your choice, you only live once”

What’s Next?!

As a reminder, this week, we will be meeting with Estefannie Explains it All aka @estefanniegg who is a skilled maker and amazing YouTuber. Make sure to check out Estefannie’s Instagram and YouTube channel before the interview. To read more about the upcoming livestream, and to learn how to participate, be sure to checkout the 96Boards OpenHours website! Countdown and instructions on how to join can be found there!

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