Sowjanya Chalamkuri, Vice President of Software Engineering, Manufacturing Software,
Bachelors in Technology Electronics & Communications, Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad INDIA.
What first drew you to engineering? / When did you first know you wanted to be an engineer?
My first thought of pursuing engineering came when I was in high school where I started developing an interest in Math and Science. This reflected in my academics and I was performing quite well. I knew that I was going to do something good in these subjects when my high school Mathematics teacher challenged the class to solve a complex math problem – I was the only person who raised a hand and she called on me to solve the problem on the board. I was a shy girl, and it drew all my courage to stand in front of everyone to solve the problem with a very detailed explanation. That was the start; I had many more instances like that which built my self-confidence, and I became a go-to person for my classmates in these subjects. It was also nice to hear that I was now the topic of discussion in teachers’ staff meetings. I then became engaged in technical seminars and science fairs which motivated and strengthened my aspiration to pursue STEM.
Were there any influential engineers (women or men) who helped shape your decision to become an engineer? If so, who and why?
My first influence was my parents who encouraged me and gave me all the support to choose the career of my choice. They gave me and my brothers equal opportunities, and they never said you cannot do it even with the low percentage of girls in engineering disciplines at that time. My two elder brothers were my motivation as they were already pursuing engineering. Seeing them engaging in technical workshops and excelling in the field created more excitement and helped solidify my decision.
Give us an example of your involvement in a design project, a product launch, the development of a new technology, or the adoption of a new technology or process. How did you better your team, if applicable?
There are quite a few challenging and exciting programs that enabled me to take risks and play out of my comfort zones. However, working with talented technology teams has made it even more enriching. One program was leading the development of the market’s first multi-modal manufacturing software product which enables discrete, process and multi-modal manufacturers to turn real-time, mission-critical production data into actionable insights. There were a lot of firsts in this product development which drove new technology adoption to re-envision and modernized user experience. We designed a scalable architecture, a new deployment model, and drove innovation with new differentiated capabilities. This product has been recognized for excellence in Continuous Processing Manufacturing by noted industry analysts. It was a proud moment for the team.
Describe your biggest engineering challenge. How did you conquer it or resolve it, or what was the outcome?
There are many engineering challenges faced in different phases of my career journey. I believe challenges make you stronger and resilient. The most recent engineering challenge for one of our products was improving the ease of deployment for one of our most widely used products.
At GE Digital, lean is the way we work, and we have taken full advantage of the lean processes and embraced lean principles to solve this challenge. We did a Kaizen workout and focused on ways we can make our customer deployment faster and easier. We came up with key performance metrics to measure the deployment experience and gathered information by try-storming, creating a process map, listening to customer pain points, and doing competitor benchmarking.
We made incredible progress by reducing the deployment time by 90% and making the process simpler and intuitive. I have a great sense of pride to be associated with a passionate team that rallies around the challenges, with sheer grit and commitment and not being afraid of trying and learning new things.
Filed Under: Women in Engineering