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Meet Priyanka, a Distinguished Toastmaster and Technology Director.

Priyanka, a Rising Star finalist for the 18th Annual Women in Technology Leadership Awards, shares her story on how she became the Technology Director at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Tell us about yourself

When I was five, I stepped on my first stage and gave an impromptu speech about an aeroplane. This excitement never left me.  I went to become a Distinguished Toastmaster which makes me one of the 5% of the 400,000 Toastmasters across the globe to have achieved the highest award for leadership and speaking excellence.

I graduated from Anna University with a degree in Engineering and ranked top 5 among 15,000 students in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. I hold a Master’s degree in Computer Science from American University and an M.B.A in General Management and Strategy from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

I like to try new things weekly like yoga, dancing, hiking, exploring culture and writing. I enjoy sharing insights on happiness, personal growth, entrepreneurship, women’s issues, and the potential of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). My latest fun project is capturing the beauty of the sky in the backdrop of Capitol Hill and the Washington National Cathedral every morning.

What steps did you take in your career to become the Technology Director for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine?

Although I  followed the cultural expectation of getting a Masters to become an engineer and technologist, I  wanted to make a bigger impact. I  wanted a seat at the table to help others, so I got my MBA.

At the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, I’m responsible for creating and delivering the web strategy and future technological direction for the $30M Life Sciences division with a focus on engaging our stakeholders digitally.

Chartered by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, we are a private, nonprofit institution  that provides expert advice on some of the most pressing challenges facing the nation and the world. Our work helps shape sound policies, inform public opinion, and advance the pursuit of science, engineering, and medicine.

The rare combination of strong technical and business acumen has helped me pivot my thinking from a business standpoint to see how technology can be a business enabler and streamline our business process.

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What’s the favorite part about your job?

Every day presents unique challenges. There is collaboration with my colleagues across the institution which broadens my perspectives by letting me think on opportunities from a different view point.

Collaborating with a wide variety of colleagues keeps you on your toes as you figure out what’s the best way to keep the team momentum going. Piloting projects with support from the leadership makes every day exciting.

What are the most important skills to have in your current position?

The three skillsets I would point to are Collaboration, Communication and Leadership. Connecting the dots across silos and collaborating with stakeholders from different groups by tapping into their expertise for the best results on a project is key.

To do this effectively, the ability to communicate the objective of the project on how this would address business opportunity, getting their buy in and being able to inspire and trust the team are critical to the success of any effort.

As a Distinguished Toastmaster, what advice do you have for developers who want to speak at a conference for the first time?

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Priyanka speaking at the Girls in Technology STEM Leadership panel at the Koshland Science Museum

As technologists, we need to understand that ongoing communication in a language that people outside our tech realm can resonate is instrumental. It builds our brand as a leader at work and in the community. You can’t be a hidden secret. It is a great first step to think of speaking at conferences or even to a small group on the work that you do.

Start small to figure out the topics that would be of interest to the audience. Be confident and let people in your network know that you are looking for opportunities to speak. Reach out to events in your area to see how you can help them succeed and in return if they can consider you for a speaking opportunity.

Form a support system consisting of peers who are respected speakers to practice and fine tune your speech. In short, don’t be shy and don’t think opportunities will always land on your doorstep.

Once you do your first speech ensure that you record it and post on youtube or a similar channel. You can then use this as a portfolio to showcase your work and leverage it for future speaking opportunities.

There will always be an audience who is interested in your work so don’t underestimate yourself. Ensure that you frame the work you do in a way that aligns with your audience instead of focusing on just the technology component.

For example: Instead of saying how JavaScript can solve problem X, state problem X and how wonderful it would be to make our lives easier and then bring in the technology component that can address that issue.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in tech?

It is a great time to be in tech and you no longer require a linear traditional path to enter this field. Several venues exist to gain certification and  take courses of interest including bootcamps.

Given the exciting era we are in with Artificial Intelligence, Drones, Augmented and Virtual reality to name a few, now is the time to be part of this wave and see how you can make a meaningful impact.

Where can we find you?

I am on LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube and Medium.

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