Priya Rajendran is a software engineer and the CEO and cofounder of S’moresUp — an app to (among other things) establish routines and manage kids’ activities as well as handle family chores and allowances. The app uses behavioral and predictive analysis to help families run households together — and teach kids about financial management, self-discipline, healthy habits, and online safety. Here’s what Rajendran had to say about what inspired her.
There are far more women with engineering degrees than there are women working in engineering. Have you seen COVID accelerate this trend?
There is a childcare crisis right now because of this pandemic, given that many women will no longer be able to turn to child care to take care of their kids — either because daycares or schools are shut down or the inherent risk in hiring a nanny before a vaccine is found. This leaves women taking the brunt work of childcare … making it extremely challenging to also carry on with a full-time job in a high-stress high-hours field such as engineering. I feel that this won’t bode well for the number of women in tech given how many women engineers will be having to drop out of the workforce.
Anyone shape your decision to become an engineer?
Yes. My dad played a huge role in me deciding to become an engineer. He earned his bachelor’s in science in physics and went on to become the divisional engineer of telecommunications for our state district. He was the only one in his family to go to college.
Coming from a rural village — with agriculture being the main source of income and all sons in the family — my father was a walking role model for us. My father influenced both me and my younger sister to study engineering.
Describe your involvement in a product launch and what ensured success there.
I led the team at PayPal that worked on bringing the first version of biometric authentication to market. The tool allows users to login and shop at any merchant that accepts PayPal on mobile devices (and in stores) with only their fingerprint: tinyurl.com/ppfingerprint. We formed a small team whose only focus was to bring this solution to the market. The focus, the empowered high performing team, and good partnership all led to a successful launch. From start to finish the project was done in six months.
How did your previous engineering experiences influence your design of SmoresUp?
You learn from every experience you have in your career — success or failure. I learnt a lot from all previous launches and that helped immensely in how we formed the team for S’moresUp and how we decided to take a customer-centric approach right from the start of the product development. My cofounder Reeves and I are both engineers, with strong technical background and consumer product experience. Our challenge was to get out of the engineering and product mode and become the marketing and brand of our product. Getting the first 100 users wasn’t bad, as we could grow through our friends and family. But scaling from that 100 users to the 300,000 users we have today hasn’t been easy. We wanted to grow organically and that has been our biggest challenge.
How did the Bosch partnership come about?
Tech industry in general hasn’t focused much on family management as much as they do on workplace management. You can find a lot of tools for project management, task management, time management for work but not much for families. Tech savvy parents try to use these tools meant for work in their families but fail as they can’t support the needs of young children. We wanted to develop a platform that focuses on families with kids ages two to 16.
The Bosch team approached us after having done some research on the platforms that help families with daily household management. They found us through various articles and found our platform to be an excellent means to help families on their smart devices.
What more can be done to increase participation of young women in engineering?
Thoughtful inclusion right from the beginning (school days) helps young women to develop interest in engineering early on. We have to teach our boys to be inclusive of girls when they choose partners for projects even starting at school. I have a 14 year old daughter who joined a robotics group last year and struggled being the only girl in that group. The coaches and leads for the robotics group (adults) had to be very cognizant to that and encourage the students to work together and be inclusive. We have to start young. That is the only way we can increase participation of young women in engineering.
What unique perspective do women bring to engineering?
Women offer the engineering community critical thinking skills and the highest level of critical thinking — that of empathy.
How can those new to engineering develop confidence in the workplace?
Focusing on their strengths (instead of trying to get marginal improvement on their weaknesses) would be the first place to start to develop confidence. I also recommend working yourself out of your current job and look for the next challenge. Don’t let the imposter syndrome hold you back because it never really goes away.
Also: Get comfortable to step out of your comfort zone. Accept challenges and take risks.
What safeguards would you recommend to women aiming to minimize mistakes?
Feel comfortable in negotiating and asking for more … and never settle when you know you are worth more. Make mistakes — it’s the best way to learn —but don’t make the same mistake over and over again.
What global challenges are you interested in tackling?
My causes are early child education and making quality education accessible to all.