January 15, 2015 - Comments Off on Women Who Inspire: Smita’s Take on Indian Culture, Women in Information Technology, and Must-Sees in Bangalore
Meet Smita, Technology Consultant and Outdoor Adventurer
Nicole and Smita met while working together on a project for Brooks Brothers. While they successfully designed and implemented a PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) system, they also became quick friends in the process. Smita works and lives in Bangalore, India as a consultant for a company called ITC Infotech, helping clients better understand the technology they use for their manufacturing processes and order tracking. While that might come off as Latin to anyone not involved in the industry—hey, that's why Smita's there!—you're sure to recognize some of the names she's worked with: Charming Shoppes, Levi's, QVC.
We were lucky to catch Smita on a wintry Sunday in NYC on her most recent consulting trip to the States. We had a great time catching up over many pots of tea, going shopping at Young & Able, and grabbing a yummy vegetarian meal at Le Verdure at Eataly. Smita wouldn't usually gravitate to a bold, red outfit, but we managed to get her to try on the scarlet Elena dress. As you can see, she's totally rocking it. Read on to hear what Smita has to share on being a woman in an Indian tech company, the chaos that is her daily commute, and must-see spots in Bangalore:
A Day in the Life
Let's start with the weekdays. When I'm in India and working from ITC headquarters I wake up around 6:00am and go for a jog, then get ready for work, and put together a lunchbox to take to the office—I don't like my office food anymore. It's not healthy or tasty. My day at the office starts around 9-9:30 am and goes until 8 or 9pm, depending on which customer I am working for. I go back home and I try not to work after that, but I haven't succeeded in that yet! I have something for dinner and watch TV or read a book—something to soothe my mind after I leave work. I sometimes stay up late, but I try to at least get six hours of sleep.
Dressing for Work: It used to be all typical Indian dress, whether you wear Salwar Kameez or a kurti—which is a long top with leggings. I don't wear a lot of Indian clothes to work. I do wear jeans, but normally I'll dress up in trousers and a comfortable top. Apart from that, we do have our ethnic dress, like saris. On special days the whole office is festive. I prefer clothes that I can move easily in—I don't want to worry about wrinkles.
You have a lot of Indian companies and manufacturers who are making western clothes. But you also have brands like Marks & Spencer, Zara, Mango—mostly European companies. The style is definitely evolving and leaning toward more trendy nowadays. In India, we don't have a seasonal concept because you can wear jeans and a T-shirt almost 365 days out of the year—the temperature is not extreme. Things tend to be colorful and bright. I try not to look overly professional or nerdy! I don't prefer skirts because I think they make me look even shorter.
I usually ride my scooter to work—it's a headache. Chaos. You have so many bikes, rickshaws, and buses moving around you. The concept of driving isn't very well-built. I just have to find my way, whether I get space or not. It's kind of fun to see all of those people in the chaos. I listen to music while driving—no matter how much someone honks, I don't care because I can't hear them. That's something that helps me get into the office with a normal mindset, not all cranked up from the commute.
I used to travel 13 km to the office, but that was too much traveling. It would take an hour and riding on a scooter that long is too much with all of the traffic. I moved closer to my office and now it takes no more than 15 minutes.
Women in Technology Careers
I have a degree in information science, which is like computer science and engineering. I studied all of the programming languages and I got a job in IT after graduating. When I started school, we had a class of 70 students, with about 20 girls. All of my friends and my cousins, we all went to college—all good universities—but the ratio between boys and girls is always similar. I would say it's 3:1. It's not something I like, but that's how it is.
In India, I still feel like men treat women differently. It's not like they don't send their daughters to school or anything like that. After a certain age, women are expected to marry, have a family, and do all of the household tasks. Fortunately, I am one of those lucky people who have the support from my family—and also my husband. They support my decisions and encourage me to pursue my career. That's not the case for most women. You marry, you have kids, and you take a break from work. In India there is still a mentality that women are supposed to take care of all the household activities whether they work or don't. It's changing, but the fact is still there.
Most women get into teaching. Nowadays, a lot of people are showing interest in journalism and arts, which is a good sign. The dream is to get into technology because it pays better than others. In Indian society, it's a stereotype that if you're in technology, than you are something big.
I do not get special attention or advantages at work, but I have seen it happen and heard people complaining about their female colleagues saying, "She got it because she is a woman." I personally do not think it is the right thing to say. In the day-to-day world, both men and women are equal and there should not be any discrimination towards or against women employees. Every day is a new challenge as one struggles to maintain the equilibrium between professional and personal life and women have a much bigger role to play in this.
For every project at work, I come for the beginning of the endeavor and again for the user acceptance training phase of it. With that, there's travel involved once or twice a year. I love the opportunities I get at my workplace and I'm glad that traveling is part of my job. I get to go to different locations, meet different customers, interact with a variety of people, and make friends around the globe. Every travel is unique and it adds new perspective to life. I love to explore new culture, new lifestyles, and of course different cuisines.
Trekking: I'm really excited about an upcoming trip to the Himalayas and looking forward to being away from the office and away from technology—I won't have access to anything. I'm also a little scared. Prior to that, I would say my favorite trekking experience was a 12km climb up a mountain with some friends. We started early in the morning and by the time we reached the peak of the mountain, it was sunset. It was beautiful and totally worth it.
Life in Bangalore
Geographically, I think Bangalore is located in one of the best places in India. It's not too cool, it's not too hot, and it's not too humid because there is no coastal line. Everyone loves it because even though the day is hot, the night is much nicer and people are very friendly. Like every other city in India, Bangalore still has the traffic issues and pollution, but people still find it more friendly. If you know English, you will get along very easily. It's becoming an IT hub, so there are a lot of people coming and going. It's chaotic, but I still prefer Bangalore to any other city in India. I studied there and all of my friends are there, and my family is nearby—a night's journey by road—so I obviously love Bangalore. It has a lot of cultural places and a lot of history. There are so many spots you can take a picnic to and you'll be back by evening.
Family Size: I would say there are very few people who try for a second child. It's normally one or two children, for working professionals. Some places you still find three or four, or sometimes five kids. The "I need a son" mentality is still there.
The Growing Middle Class: In India, the rich get richer and the poor people remain the same. You'll see a nice bungalow and next to it you'll see a slum. It's very disturbing sometimes. You'll see families living lavish lifestyles and you'll see people begging on the street or stealing food because they don't have anything to eat. I always feel bad and I normally try to help the elderly and children. I don't give them money because you never know where it's going. It might be human trafficking—you never know. I try to give them food, clothes, or chocolate—something like that. There are a lot of NGOs working in the country, so they're doing a great job getting people basic necessities and the kids into schools with supplies.
With the caste system and its kings and queens, it was different. Some families have the same businesses, but they hold no monetary value now. Still, people treat that family different because of their background. It depends on what kind of work you do, and what your ancestors did in some cases. Sometimes people end up with everything and they don't put in any effort for it—they go for the easy life.
Spirituality in India: I have taken yoga classes and I find them very soothing. Yoga is not only having control over your body, it's also having control over your mind. The actual yoga that is most thought of as physical exercise is comprised of "asanas." If you do many of them per day, you won't need any other form of exercise—you will be healthy for 100 years. Then there's meditation. It not only helps you calm your mind or relieve stress, it also helps your immune system. I used to catch colds very easily, and meditation and yoga helped, even when medicine didn't.
Food: We eat a lot of spicy food. The staple diet is rice, but you have all of these delicious accompaniments. You have Indian naan and dosas, so there are lots of tasty things to try. You can get them in Manhattan, as well. With all of this evolving IT and globalization, you have more cuisines. We've got Thai, Chinese, Korean, Western, Mediterranean—you name it and we have it.
Must-Visits: In the city, make sure you visit all of the museums. Apart from that, I would say to visit Mysore, which is two hours from Bangalore. You should also visit Hampi, which is a five-hour drive from Bangalore. It's a heritage city—it's beautiful. All of the carvings are made from one piece of stone.
There are also waterfalls and hill stations. There are a lot of lovely places around Bangalore—perfect for day trips to stay overnight and come back the next day.
Starting a Business in India: It used to be difficult because you don't find a lot of women entrepreneurs there. Nowadays, I read a lot of articles about people trying out something different—they quit their day job and create a start-up business. That is my dream. One day when I want to stop and do something different instead of getting into the Cloud and doing the same thing every day. Obviously, there are the initial hiccups that are always there, but I believe it's not as difficult as it used to be.
Indian Culture: Arranged Marriages
This differs from family to family. I have seen parents forcing their daughters to marry someone just because of status, but I have also seen parents who genuinely care about their daughter's likes and dislikes and try to find a compatible match. I wish every girl out there got to choose the right partner (whether an arranged or love marriage) and have a happy life.
In some places in India, you still have a dowry—which is unfortunate because that means you take money to marry someone's daughter. I think that's cruel. There are also places in India where they have honor killings when people marry someone who is out of their caste. Other places are like, "Ok, fine—you like someone and you are happy, so you just marry that person." It works in both ways. Mine was a love marriage, but I have friends and cousins who are in arranged marriages and it's working fine for them. I think that after a while it all comes down to how much you understand that person, how you respect each other, provide space, and encourage and support that person. Whether it's love or arranged, it ultimately depends on you. You should know how to take it on, rather than others telling you what to do and what not to do.
What do you miss the most when you aren't in India?
When I come here, I'm depending on someone else because I don't have my scooter. Apart from that, I don't see too much difference in the cultures.
I can eat anything that's vegetarian, so I don't find it hard to get by in New York. So far, New York City has been my favorite place. I do miss the spicy food when I'm gone. I miss my family. But I'll go back and they'll be there, so I enjoy it when I'm here. I make new friends, too.
My bucket list is growing, year by year.