Jyoti Raj’s intro in her own words:
I am a technologist who is passionate about solving problems. The software has just been the easiest medium 🙂 I like to see opportunities in obstacles and building blocks in barriers. During the course of my professional career, I have worked in diverse domains ranging from health to automotive and from coffee to cloud computing. I currently work as a Senior Engineer with Salesforce.
I am also a mother of a notorious 11-month-old who is teaching me the meaning of life all over again.
How did you come to the US? For studies or as a dependent?
I came to the US to pursue MS degree in Computer Science from Wayne State University in Michigan. I was a University gold medalist in my BTech in India and that helped me substantially in writing an impressive application scoring a research assistantship (RA) scholarship for my MS. The RA paid for my tuition and also gave me an opportunity to work in an engineering lab with some highly talented people from diverse backgrounds.
What were the challenges you faced during/after your transition from India to here? How did you overcome those challenges?
My undergrad (BTech) Engineering college was in the same city as my home. So, I never had a chance to stay in a hostel (away from home) until I stepped foot on the US soil.
I was all excited yet apprehensive!!
There were those days when I was utterly homesick. I terribly missed my mom’s cooking, my dad’s overprotectiveness, my siblings teases and tricks and the fun times with my friends. I would sit down on the floor by the window and stare at the concrete jungle wondering what I was doing here. I literally counted hours and minutes in the first week in the US.
Then there were those days too where working in a high-tech laboratory with talented co-workers, learning from some of the experts of their fields – filled me with pride. I totally embraced the idea of being in a land of opportunity where nothing was impossible !! Speaking positively – where everything was possible !!
Feeling homesick was not the only issue. My I-20 was delayed by two weeks. So, I had missed the deadline for my grad school helping me with getting an SSN. So, I was on my own on that front. No car, no driving history, not enough money!! And, US employers do not pay you without an SSN. I had to take the bus multiple times to the SSN office in the crime-stricken Detroit downtown. It wasn’t until 3 months that I received my SSN. I came to the US on a scholarship so I did not get enough funds with me – I was going to be on job right away – earning dollars. I landed in the US with only $500. My apartment rent was $700 per month plus groceries, utilities, and other expenses. $500 was clearly not enough !! And, I had too much pride to go ask my retired dad for funding my 3 months stay expense in dollars here from his savings in Rupees.
When God gets you to it – He gets you through it !! That’s when I was blessed with an angel as my thesis advisor who I was working for as an RA. He loaned me enough money to pay for my rent and also helped with a few groceries runs from stores outside the university to save money. It took me almost a year to pay him back the loan. But I am indebted to him for life for his timely help.
What did you do your Masters in? How do you think this education has helped you in your career?
I did my Masters in Computer Science. Education in the US is very different in India. Here you own your education. Your will to learn is what drives you. The attendance isn’t mandatory. The assignments and exams are. The onus is on you to push yourself beyond limits to learn and indulge. I learned a lot from the practical projects – much much more than an hour of theoretical class. The professors and their teaching assistants have office hours to make full use of for learning concepts and clearing out fundamentals. The professors here are very well connected with the corporate world and the direct application of the research. They have million dollar fundings from big corporations and enough resources and exposure to startle a fresh off the flight grad student. Of all the things my MS taught me – the most important was “Owning my hard work and my success” !!
What do you attribute your success to?
Hard work, Sincerity, Diligence and very willing and capable mentors and advisors.
What were your initial days as a student like?
Due to the financial crunch, I was very frugal. “Learnt” a lot of cooking to save and survive 😃
My grad school days were still seeing the uprise of Yahoo Messenger CHAT. No WhatsApp voice/video or Skype calls. $5 calling card gave me 20 minutes of talking time with my parents. That was the saddest time for me. Slowly and steadily things started getting better. And now, I can gladly say – I have no regrets and have countless life lessons to cherish. I have met all kinds of people – true friends for life and also others who have been selfish and very manipulative. But these are the lessons of life that help you grow and mature up into the person you become. I am thankful for more goodwill and happy times.
What were your initial days in your first job like? What challenges did you face to be where you are now? How did you overcome them?
One of my research projects during grad school was for TACOM ( Tank and Army Command of US ). My mentor at TACOM had a few good projects with Ford and put in a good word for my internship application. Even in a time of economic slowdown in IT industry, I was able to procure a good internship with his help. That was my first corporate job. My internship entailed building software for the automotive paint shops – literally writing paint booth algorithms. I had no prior experience in painting or automotive !!
There was my first corporate lesson – “You don’t need prior experience to excel at your job – what you need is a will to learn and succeed. “
I spent endless hours educating myself on the tools and technologies they used. And after three months deployed my software in three of their paint plants. After I graduated, my manager at Ford offered me a full-time position. It took me a few months to move on to technologies I was more passionate about !! And that’s when I moved to the Ford IT division and started working as a J2EE developer building solutions for British brands – Jaguar and Land Rover.
What do you value most in a job/ profession?
A job by definition could just be the means to pay your bills. Well, it literally does. 😃
But when you take a deeper look – you spend almost 10 hours of your active day at work. That’s substantial amount of time considering a major portion of the remaining hours are spent sleeping !! So you better like and enjoy what you do. 😃
Like we do with diamonds, there are 4Cs that I measure jobs against – Creativity, Career, Colleagues and Culture.
Creativity – Like what you do – Challenge yourself !! Build new things.
Career – Like where it can take you – Set and achieve your goals.
Colleagues – Like who you work with – They probably know you more than your siblings.
Culture – Like how it fits your life – Work for hard party harder !! Work life balance.
What does work-life balance mean to you?
All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl !! My work challenges my brain while my hobbies challenge my heart. Over the years, I have enjoyed many different hobbies – poetry, blogging, jewelry designing, crocheting, knitting, jigsaw puzzles, Legos, Ikea DIY projects !!! You see a trend? I love creating things. These also become personalized gifts for my friends 😃
My parents imbibed in me the value of education and health. That’s the reason why I passionately volunteer my time and efforts for causes that support education and health. I help organize and conduct fundraisers for NGOs and host dance and musical shows for selfless foundations like Cry, Asha, Ekal, Algorithms, Shruti, Lasya, et al.
I love traveling and I try to get in as many expeditions as I can fit in. A decade ago, I promised myself that every year I’ll visit at least three new places and expose myself to new cultures and learn and grow. So far I am committed to myself and my promise 😃
What is your advice to the younger folks who aspire to pursue their education and careers in Technology?
I don’t have any advice but I’d love to share the lessons I learned.
Everything is possible !! Period
You’ll find many people who offer you advice – rather observe them and learn from their experiences.
If “A” can do it – so can you !!
Life will bring its ups and downs !! How you embrace them is up to you. Whine about them like a commute or enjoy them like a theme park roller coaster ride 😃
You were born with a blank mind – nourish it and let it grow into a beautiful garden.
meet new people,
embrace new cultures
Accept people for who they are.
Smile 😃 so much that you get a wrinkled face and a happy heart !!
Author: Jyoti Raj
Jyoti is from Ludhiana, Punjab and lives in SanFrancisco, California. She works as a Senior Engineer. She is a mom of a notorious 11-month-old baby girl and loves spending time with her 🙂 She is passionate about technology and her career. In her free time, she loves doing things that involve creativity such as poetry, blogging, jewelry designing, crocheting, knitting, jigsaw puzzles, Legos, Ikea DIY projects and travelling!