by Ipsita Mohanty
Every year during the summer holidays, my father would drive us to a small manufacturing facility on the outskirts of the town where we lived. I would rush to one corner of the half-acre-sized grounds, in the hopes of grabbing a few low-hanging mangoes. Afterward, I would run toward the room on the first floor of the nondescript building and peek through the stairs overlooking the machinery room. It was filled with large drums and a weird synthetic smell. It was the day of the company’s annual luncheon. Mother would always have to call out for me several times to come and join the gathering of staff members, which also included some of my other relatives who worked at GeetChem Industries. But I would pretend not to hear her and would continue to sit quietly in my favorite spot: a brown executive chair, placed in the center of a huge wooden table in the boardroom.
I lost my favorite chair in the early 2000s when GeetChem Industries filed for bankruptcy. It was hard for me and my family. My parents were visibly upset, and I wanted to help in some way. Having seen my father juggle the responsibilities of a day job at an insurance firm while trying to run this small-scale industrial firm simultaneously, I empathized with his pain. Luckily, these events weren’t financially disturbing to my higher secondary school years. I had excellent scores in my 10th and 12th grade examinations and was admitted to the top public higher secondary institution in the state with a nominal tuition fee. However, the subsequent years were difficult. Sitting on a rather uncomfortable iron chair in the joint entrance examination for engineering admission session, I pondered over several difficult questions crucial to my life and career.
I chose to pursue computer science engineering for my bachelor’s degree with the support of an educational loan. To help support my cost of living while at school, I earned some money by providing private hourly tutoring to school kids in my area. Although I couldn’t contribute toward our family income, making myself independent lessened my parents’ financial burden. Coming from a small town in India, I was dealing with cultural norms that were not encouraging for career-oriented women, and pursuing a career path in technology was particularly difficult for me. With minimal or no financial support from my family and friends, I completed my bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2008. I wanted to pursue my higher education in the U.S. like some of my university friends. Unfortunately, I couldn’t because of financial difficulties. Additionally, the recession of 2008 made it all the more difficult to pursue a career of my own choice in India.
But I was determined to succeed. My life took a 180-degree turn in 2011 when Goldman Sachs hired me as an analyst in India. I was exposed to a diverse work culture at this 150-year-old investment bank, and it opened up new opportunities for me. I met some amazing women at Goldman Sachs who were strong advocates of women in technology. Drawing on my own career difficulties and the experiences shared by women around me, I channeled my energies to further strengthen the Women Network at Goldman Sachs, Bangalore & London. I also made the decision to complete my unrealized goal of gaining higher education, a goal which I had thought to be impossible a few years ago.
Pursuing higher education has always been challenging for women. There are additional obstacles to get back into academics after a long gap, but my passion for computing was strong. I surpassed the hurdle of an age gap to graduate with a master’s degree in information technology from the elite Carnegie Mellon University at the age of 33. Through the AnitaB.org program Systers, I was able to attend the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration. This opportunity has inspired and empowered me to support causes close to my heart. Apart from being a strong pillar at Women of Walmart, I also work as a member of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee to advocate for women in computing at all levels at Walmart Labs.
Positivity surrounds me and I hope to bring back my favorite leather chair soon. Today, sitting at my office desk and brainstorming over problems and coding solutions, I look back at the time that flew by and prepare myself for a new challenge that awaits me tomorrow.