Inspiring Women in STEM: From Intern to VP of Engineering at Qualcomm

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As we move into the season of internships, here is an incredibly inspiring story of a woman, Rashmi Char, VP of Engineering at Qualcomm, who started at the company as an intern, and whose work has been instrumental in the development and commercialization of cutting edge software technology that allows our smartphones to work the way they do today. Your ability to use apps at your fingertips like Lyft and Waze, and fast-stream videos, is around today thanks to innovative software that is created at companies like Qualcomm. Rashmi also shared that Qualcomm is gearing up to have over 400 interns this Summer as part of a pay-it-forward strategy to identify diverse new talent.

Julie@Twomentor: What’s a breakthrough in your career you are most proud of?

Rashmi: I began my career at Qualcomm as an intern and over the course of the next several years I worked as an individual contributor and technical lead over several technologies and small projects. While they all have helped shape where I am today, major breakthroughs in my career came when I got out of my comfort zone and took Engineering Software Project Leadership roles. It started with leading the commercialization of the world’s first LTE smartphone, followed by the Technical Software Project Engineer role of a next-generation Modem chipset. Just to give an idea about the scale and complexity of such projects at Qualcomm, a major engineering project is a 2-3 year effort usually involving over 1,000 employees. While the success of the LTE smartphone project was a stepping stone to leadership, the modem project helped hone my leadership skills further and solidified my position as a capable, trustworthy leader in the company. While I was unsure initially, saying “yes” when asked to lead those projects was a great decision and a very gratifying experience that I am immensely proud of.

Twomentor: A mentor is someone who speaks to you and advises, a sponsor is someone who speaks about you and champions you behind closed doors. Have you had a mentor and/or a sponsor in your life. What impact did this have on you?

Rashmi: Beyond hard work and experience, I attribute my achievements to great mentors and sponsors. We can’t see it all or know it all, and so we need someone who can help us navigate difficult circumstances and guide us to be successful. I would not have had the drive, the courage, the ambition, the confidence I possess or the success I have achieved if it were not for the mentors/sponsors in my life who made me realize my potential and helped shape the person I am today.

Mentors and sponsors matter, and having the right mentor or sponsor matters even more. I truly believe that mentor leadership is what helps an organization be successful by empowering, engaging, guiding and encouraging high-potential individuals, both men and women. In my organization, I make a deliberate effort to “pay-it-forward” by mentoring/sponsoring people to maximize their potential and reach their career goals.

Qualcomm’s Women in Science & Engineering (QWISE) group is one of our employee networks focused on promoting personal and professional growth and development of women by facilitating the connections, providing resources, and fostering future generations of female professionals. Through QWISE, we have the S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) Mentorship program that is instrumental in promoting personal and professional growth of women at Qualcomm and in the community. It empowers our members to take ownership of their short and long term career goals, fosters higher levels of job engagement and career vision, and creates opportunities for our members to meet other leaders.

Twomentor: There is so much negative talk about Millennials in the workforce. I have Millennial mentors (they mentor me) and visa versa. What are some of the key things you have learned from our younger generation?

Rashmi: Different generations tend to bring different qualities to the workplace. Millennials now form a large portion of the engineering workforce in our industry. Besides the new ideas, fresh perspectives and positive outlook of a younger generation, I’ve found that Millennials’ ability to embrace change in technology is invaluable for my teams.

I attribute this adaptability to growing up in the unique period of the rise of the Internet and whirlwind technology advancement. Another attribute that has influenced me is Millennials’ acceptance of multi-tasking as an expected mode of operation.

The millennials with whom I work constantly are some of the best and brightest and most willing to do what it takes to get something accomplished. They are highly energizing! Working with and mentoring Millennials has encouraged me to take on greater risks and be more open to change.

Twomentor: Most of the women in STEM I’ve spoken to share that if sponsored, their sponsors were male. Research from center for talent innovation shows that 83 percent of women don’t have sponsors. Can you speak to this from your experience?

Rashmi: Engineering has been traditionally a male-dominated field, so it’s not surprising that most of the sponsors are male. It is also true, in my experience, that a high percentage of women don’t have sponsors. I have met numerous capable women who have not seen the value in great sponsors or have no access to sponsors. At Qualcomm we are working hard to address that by matching our high performing women with experienced sponsors (both men AND women) to help them recognize their full potential.

Twomentor: If you could ‘drive in reverse’ what professional advice would you have for your 24 year old self?

Rashmi: First and foremost, the advice I would give to my 24-year-old self would be to trust in yourself and be true to yourself — be confident, find your voice and use it. For the longest time in my career, I used to be afraid to speak up and I was constantly worried about what people thought of me. It took me a long time to realize that being true to myself and ignoring the noise was the best way to take charge of destiny. The realization, though late, was liberating and helped me break free from the shackles of self-doubt.

At many points in our careers I think it’s important to take the road less traveled, don’t be afraid of being front-and-center, be flexible and be ready to take risks. Women tend to undersell themselves and think “I can’t do this.” There is nothing that women cannot do – so a  CAN DO attitude is critical to success and self-confidence. Don’t be afraid to fail – it’s helped me to think that “FAIL” is really just a “First Attempt In Learning.” You don’t have to be perfect. Over the years, I have realized that it was the failures and the lows that helped me develop the strength and grit to grow and become a better leader.

Twomentor: Do you have interns at your office? What’s been the impact on you and your team?

Rashmi: Yes, we have interns at our office. I actually began as intern myself! I value having a group of interns on my team every year. They bring great energy, fresh perspectives, novel ideas and insight into the latest trends in academic research. They augment the abilities of my professional workforce by taking on things that our staff have long thought about but never been able to tackle. So while their work period is short, their impact on improving the team processes and experimenting with new ideas is tremendous. Personally, I marvel at what a first or second year intern can do nowadays with little-to-no industry experience, and with easy access to information. In addition, hiring interns is a great way to test out their potential as full-time employees. We have regularly rolled over extremely talented interns to full-time employees over the years. After all, I too am a product of such a roll-over.

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Rashmi Char serves as Vice President of Engineering for Qualcomm Technologies Incorporated (San Diego). Her current responsibilities include leading the Global Product and Tools Organization responsible for delivering world-class mobile chipsets to markets around the world and leading the next generation 1-Gbps Class Modem for smartphones,tablets and mobile broadband products as Software Project Engineer.

Julie Kantor is CEO of Twomentor, LLC, a high impact company focused on talent strategies for a diverse workforce. We value mentoring cultures, building diverse sponsorship initiatives & an entrepreneurial mindset. We have experience working with Fortune 500 Companies, SMBs, offer facilitated (and fun) mentor training, and are here to support an engaged and passionate workforce. Plug in to our unparalleled network in the entrepreneurship & STEM ecosystems to drive change. Learn more from our Prezi here

#WomeninSTEM #Qualcomm #WomeninEngineering #Mentoring #Sponsorship #Iamanengineer #Twomentor #IEEE

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