• Usha Suryadevara

    Usha Suryadevara

    Director of Development, ITI Products Division, Info Tech, Inc.

    Usha Suryadevara grew up strongly valuing education and career. Her mother always encouraged Suryadevara and her sister to be like their father, a successful businessman and veterinarian who continuously gave back to his community. With the motivation of her parents, Suryadevara received an undergraduate degree in computer engineering and moved to the United States where she got involved in mentorship programs and started working with University of Florida organizations such as Women in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Women in computer Science and Engineering.

    “Speak up, stand up and be seen and heard. Voice your opinions and ideas, challenge yourself to learn more and branch out of your comfort zone,” said Suryadevara. “You never know what you could have accomplished if you didn’t try.”

     

    What does it mean to be Fierce?

    Being fierce to me means: being strong, independent, never giving up no matter how many obstacles are in the way, standing your ground, making your point and above all, being yourself!

    A woman who takes on the world everyday – not worrying about what is going to get in your way. A woman who is not afraid to speak up; she doesn’t stop when she hears the word “no.” A woman who fights for what’s right and takes a stand for what she believes in. A woman who looks at failure as a stepping stone for success. Being fierce means embracing who you are! Help women around you grow while you are building yourself! Be fierce!

    What does success, achievement and accomplishment mean to you?

    Success is both a goal and a journey. I have milestones to reach, goals to accomplish. When I reach those milestones, I don’t stop there. I push higher and harder, striving for more until I attain success! Professionally, making a difference at work is an accomplishment. Making a significant difference in the community is an achievement. And making a difference in the industry is a success!

    What motivates you in the morning?

    Definitely coffee! The smell of Cafe Du Monde in the air makes me appreciate what a lovely day it is. It is with that first cup of coffee that I start planning my day.

    What or who is inspiring you right now? Why?

    Growing up, the value of education and career and a strong sense of right and wrong were instilled by my parents. My mom always told my sister and I that we have to be like our dad, a successful businessman and a veterinarian who always gave back to the community by providing free services. When I asked her to explain what that means, she said, “be independent, career-oriented and focused.”

    In her mind, we only had two options. Either we follow our dad’s footsteps, or we will not get anywhere in life and may end up on the streets. Needless to say, by choice and not, my dad was my motivation while growing up. I completed my undergraduate in computer engineering and moved to the United States for my master’s. I joined the University of Florida and continued working towards my goals. In 2011, my sister moved to Gainesville from California. She also continued to pursue her career in the United States and worked hard towards it. She constantly took on new challenges. As opportunities knocked on her door, she immediately went for them. She inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and get involved. That’s when I decided to join the mentorship program and started working with women in WECE, Women in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and WiCSE, Women in Computer Science and Engineering, at UF.

    I started an official shadowing program between Info Tech and UF’s WiCSE club. In 2017, I attended the Grace Hopper conference. I was one among 18 thousand women. Just standing there alongside those accomplished women felt amazing.

    What was the best decision you’ve made? What’s the worst?

    I would like to think that I have made many good decisions in my life, but professionally, staying in Gainesville and working for Info Tech is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

    Looking back, I wish I had traveled the world more when I was single. But if I had travelled, would I be doing the same thing that I am doing now? I guess life work in its own ways.

    What has been your biggest obstacle and how have you overcome it?

    There are several. One is dealing with experienced people – sometimes they are more resistant to change. They are not very accepting of novel ideas. During these instances, I had to first make sure that my knowledge had a strong base and then understand why they are so resistant to change. Is it the change they are uncomfortable with or is it a lack of knowledge that is making them uncomfortable? So, I had to prove my own abilities and stand my ground when I really thought I had a better option. My mantra is that even if you are talking to the smartest one in the group, just remember that they are still human! There will be something that the person doesn’t know that you know. I learned to give myself credit for what I know.

     

    Another is dealing with strong personalities – what I learned was that communication and listening are key. This obstacle required a lot of listening and digging to find the root cause of an issue. Then I had to come up with solutions, and sometimes I had to get creative. Just telling someone what to do or how to do it doesn’t always work, sometimes you have to be subtler and provide a way for the person or team to help solve the problem.

    I also struggle with time management and being able to say “no.” Once I moved into a leadership position, it has been almost impossible to find time to code or learn new technology. How am I going to “direct” my teams if I, myself, am not familiar with the tech? My boss made sure I had time, but the issue was I don’t know how to say “no” to anything anyone asked. The solution is simple – prioritize your tasks and say “no” to a task that is not on that list. It is not always easy! I have yet to overcome this obstacle.

     

    How do you address negativity in your life and in business?

    I work out! If that workout happens to involve a punching bag, (I was kickboxing for a bit) all the better. I also love to dance. All the physical activity helps me to step away from work and give my mind a break, letting it focus on something totally different. There’s nothing like performing in front of a crowd to make your mind focus on your dance moves or even go entirely blank. It all depends!

     

    Is there a particular instance or occurrence that you credit for building your confidence and self-esteem?

    During my master’s, my friend and I were working on an R&D project with a senior from the electrical and computer engineering department. Both my friend and the senior were extremely smart. We each had a task. We were to complete it and hand it over to that senior. When I handed mine in, the senior made a comment that he couldn’t wait to see which method we both chose. To which I replied, “I am sure what my friend did would be a lot better.” He then stopped me and said, “You do realize that to me both of you are the same. It doesn’t matter how many years of experience she has, or you don’t have. Both of you just joined the project and are learning this tech for the first time.” What he said was very simple, but it just stuck. My attitude about everything changed after that.

    Another thing that helped me turn over a new leaf is something my dad said when I was getting ready to come to America for my master’s. He said to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Not only did this help me through some tough exams but it also redefined my personality. I became a very strong and confident woman who never hesitated to speak her mind. The first few times I wanted to speak up during meetings, I would have an internal battle. What is the worst thing that can happen? I will get fired or people might laugh at me. What is the best thing that will happen? A lot! Let’s do this!

    How do you empower other women?

    My journey to empower women starts in my own house, by instilling a sense of empowerment in my daughter and niece and letting them know they can do anything they can set their minds to. Could you imagine a new generation of women who will stop at nothing to achieve their dreams?

    Another way to empower women would be by setting an example, being a role model. One woman’s success is inspiration for another. I give them opportunities and information that will help them succeed, without carrying them to their success. They need to get there on their own. They need to know they can do it. Sometimes all it takes is being an example and leaving behind the footprints that others can follow. Women have a complicated relationship with confidence that is more pronounced in the workplace. Cracking that confidence code for women will play a major role in empowering women. Life with confidence can be a remarkable thing.

     

    What change do you want to see in your industry?

    I would like to see more women enter the computer development field and actually stick with it. Many who do start come up against some obstacle. Instead of overcoming it, they choose a different track, which often moves them out of the coding field. I am hoping to make a difference by starting an AnitaB.org local chapter in Gainesville. Anyone who has been to Grace Hopper Conference knows that AnitaB.org brings women in computing together to discover new ideas. Through this program I intend to bring women technologists together, so they can share their experiences with others, connect and stay inspired!

     

    Do you have any advice for young women as they try to achieve their goals?

    Stand up and speak up. Voice your opinions and ideas. Challenge yourself to learn more. Branch out of your comfort zone. If you don’t try, you never know what you could have accomplished.

    What do you want to be remembered for?

    I want to be remembered for:

    – Being a kick-ass leader that everyone wants to follow.

    – An innovative leader that made a difference in the community.

    – Being part of a team that developed cutting-edge applications that improved the way our customers work.

    – A woman who empowered and inspired others.

    – A good person, daughter, sister, wife, mother, colleague and employee.

     

    How do you defy the current stereotypes, stigmas and double standards that women have today?

    That’s a great question! There is a positive and a negative spin to that same question/answer. “Women are supposed to be nice, stay calm and adjust better because that’s what they do best.” I stay true to me! I speak up and am not afraid to fight for what I believe is right. I keep an open mind and always look for opportunities to learn new things. I am known for not giving up easily. Maybe that is why I enjoy working at Info Tech. I don’t have to deal with the stereotypes.

    Outside of work and home, it is still a huge issue for women. From what I read in the news, there are changes coming at all companies to encourage more women in all roles. I have a strong sense of right and wrong. Man or woman, right or wrong, they deserve the same consequences or rewards. Hopefully, the stereotypes, stigmas and double standards will soon be a story of the past.