I’ll preface with a brief note: It’s been very gratifying to shed light on the struggles and issues women face, but as of lately it’s also been a bit personally draining to read and write up on some of the more negative aspects women face. I think it’s time this column shifts from talking about challenges women face to instead celebrating what women are doing in STEM fields, and the successes they’ve had. The next few installations of this column are going to be dedicated to shedding a spotlight on powerful women in technology.
So without further adieu, the first woman to take the spotlight is Padmasree Warrior! Besides having an incredibly badass name, she’s been on top of the tech field for years now. Some fast facts: Padmasree Warrior is the CEO of U.S. operations for NextEV, an electric vehicle company, and was called the “Queen of the Electric Car Biz” by Fortune magazine. She is the former Chief Technology & Strategy Officer of Cisco Systems, and the former CTO of Motorola, Inc. As of 2015, she is listed as the 85th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. In 2005, The Economic Times ranked Warrior as the 11th Most Influential Global Indian on the planet. But her influence extends far beyond her corporate power — she has 1.46 million Twitter followers (@Padmasree), and her feed is filled with selfies, art, and haikus along with tech news. At 55 years young, Warrior defies the stereotype of a single-interest tech success — she has an interest in fashion, meditates nightly, and often paints in her free time.
Intrigued? Here’s more about the woman behind the warrior. Warrior was born to a Telugu family and raised in Vijayawada, a city in Andhra Pradesh, India. In 1982, Warrior went to study chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi three decades ago — no ordinary feat, considering that IIT is essentially the Indian equivalent of MIT, and the fact that women are a tiny percentage at IIT even today.
Warrior then moved to the US, where she got a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University. In grad school, she found herself waiting around for a friend at a career fair. On a whim, she filled out a job application for Motorola. The rest, as they say, is history. Warrior climbed the ranks of Motorola over the course of 23 years to earn the title of CTO, and joined Cisco as CTO shortly after.
When she joined as the CTO of Cisco, the company was trying to transform into a consumer-friendly technology firm. Over the years, Warrior was at the forefront of transforming Cisco and building the company’s strength around its focus area of internet of things — the concept of connecting things ranging from soccer balls to household gadget through the internet. She was the reason Cisco was at the forefront of cloud computing for eight years.
Named among the top 15 most influential women driving innovation (and revenue) in corporate America by PINK magazine in 2008, Warrior is a member of the board of trustees for Cornell University. She also serves on the boards of cloud storage company Box, and American clothing and accessories retailer Gap. She was also once considered for the newly created CTO position within the Obama administration.
What’s next for her? Warrior is taking on none other than Elon Musk. Yes, you read right. NextEV, a Chinese electric car company potentially taking on Tesla and Faraday Future, has tapped Padmasree Warrior for the U.S. CEO position. Warrior will also head up software development and the user experience globally for the company. According to Warrior, NextEV has already pulled in half a billion dollars of the $1 billion it plans to raise and has plans to grow the business and hire in the hundreds under her leadership in the near future. The company plans to build an electric vehicle model rivaling Tesla in late 2016 — including a model that will reportedly match Tesla’s “ludicrous” speed (0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds). The vehicles will first roll out to Chinese consumers and then to other parts of the world, including the U.S. This is her first startup gig, and the first time she’s ventured into the automotive industry.
She’s also been a vocal advocate for empowering women in the workplace. As she said in an interview with Tech Republic, “What women need is encouragement that it’s okay to share doubts and ask for advice, as long as we create that environment where we can talk about what excites them, and what they’re afraid of,” she said.
Concerns like when or if women should postpone work and have a baby, or make a career change, or choose to leave the corporate world to become an entrepreneur, are all things she’s referring to. “There’s no right or wrong in all of these examples, she said in that interview. “When you’re making career decisions, nobody knows the right answer.”
Warrior said she never knew the right answer in her own career. She just advises people to take the path she has always strongly believed in: seize opportunities as they come along, even if you aren’t sure of the timing. Well, it seems to have worked for her. Seems to be advice all women and men in tech could take to heart.