Meet Sowmya Injeti, the new Acting Director of Data61’s Engineering & Design Research Program. Sowmya brings 20 years of tech experience in India, New Zealand and Australia to the role. Thanks to her, for the first time Data61 has equal male-to-female gender representation among our research program leadership.
We sat down with Sowmya to find out more about her journey from electronics engineer to product manager, to steering the ship of one of our key capabilities.
What led you to choose a career in tech?
I was always good at maths and science at school but back then I wanted to get into medicine. My mum was a pharmacist and we always lived very close to the hospital. As a kid, it was just fascinating for me to see doctors with white coats walking around and making people feel better.
After finishing high school, I started on a path towards studying medical science, but soon realised I would be able to fast-track my way to achieving real impact through engineering. A career in tech presented more diverse job opportunities, less time studying and more room to explore and contribute to different sectors and industries. I’m forever fascinated by the breadth of what we can do having an engineering background and the tangible impact you can make. Working at CSIRO has brought me closer to that impact than my time spent in industry. Everyday, we’re working with real-world problems and the goal moves beyond profit to making the world a better place.
Could you please describe your professional background and the areas that you specialise in?
I'm an engineer by trade. I received my Master of Engineering from the University of Auckland and for about 15 years I worked in electronics. During this time, I made the transition to product manager as I was more interested in understanding why we do what we do. Product management is about being intentional and planning to deliver the maximum impact and value, and that's what I've been doing for the last seven years.
Do you have any career highlights that you could share?
I think the biggest ones have been in CSIRO. For example, working on the commercialisation of Wildcat - which is 3D SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) software that enables autonomous robots to map, explore and work in challenging environments - was a great experience through which I was able to see science translate into solving real-world problems in various domains.
What do Engineering and Design do and what makes the team unique?
Finding the right problem to solve is different from solving a problem. Product, engineering and design experts work on identifying the right problem. The right problems are solved by innovative science, there is a market-driven need for the solution and they’re strategically aligned with CSIRO and Data61’s objectives.
Once we understand what the right problem is, we create a synthesised view of challenges worth solving that will maximise the impact and value for the country, as well as for CSIRO. We work to create a road map of opportunities including what we want to solve now and in the future. This helps us influence the science and research that's happening within our organisation today to ensure we’re best placed to solve the problems worth solving in 20 years.
We also help accelerate the translation of science into real-world outcomes. We've got all this cutting-edge, innovative science and research happening within CSIRO. Product, Engineering & Design is the catalyst for taking that work into the real world.
What inspired you to take the leap from a product manager to an acting Research Director?
I've always believed we need more women in leadership. I’ve worked in a lot of male-dominated domains and even today, there are so many meetings where I'm the only woman in the room. We deserve a seat at the table.
In taking up this role, I wanted to inspire other women to believe in themselves. Somebody told me that when most women apply for a job, they doubt themselves if they meet 80 per cent of the selection criteria, but if men have 20 per cent, they’ll go for it. We need to work to help change that mindset and encourage more women to be open to opportunities and also open to challenges.
Finally, leadership for me is leadership by influence. This is a key tenet in product management; we lead by influence rather than by authority. I want to bring this kind of transformational leadership style into the Engineering and Design program by encouraging and motivating other team members to become leaders themselves.
How can colleagues, organisations like CSIRO or industries within tech better support and enable women to take up leadership positions?
Organisations need to make conscious decisions and have active commitments to get more women into engineering. I also think support can be more subtle. Having 43 per cent female staff at CSIRO and an equal amount of women and men at the top level of our leadership encourages other women to join and potentially get into leadership positions themselves because they have an example to look up to.
What advice would you give to women and girls wanting to pursue a career in tech?
Absolutely do it. It's great. I've got two girls who are in high school and as much as I don't want to push them into any field, I keep telling them about the myriad of opportunities in tech. This is a career where you can really make a difference. For any girls or women thinking about it, know that you have the ability, you have the avenue, and these doors are open to you. Step into your power and accept it, place trust in yourself and make the most of the opportunities available to you.