We had the pleasure of having a conversation with Akshatha Suresh, an AI chip designer working on the cutting edge of technology at Nvidia. She shares her backstory and expertise on how she got into tech, and where women fit into the industry.
Akshatha, thank you for sharing your expertise today. What sparked your interest in choosing this field as your career? What has your career trajectory been like, and how did you get to where you are today?
When I was young, my parents bought me a computer, which was rare for anyone to have in their home back in the 1990’s in India. This was something very exciting and I spent hours exploring everything. I burned with curiosity about “what’s in the box” that makes it work. I grew up with very innovative engineers in my family who excelled at problem solving. I watched them come up with solutions and transitioned to helping them with their tasks. By the time I was in high school, my exposure to electronics had piqued my interest.
At that time, the semiconductor was the buzz everywhere as the PC market started gaining dominance. I knew that computers were made of "chips" but I wanted to know what goes into making a chip. That was the spark and I felt that I had to pursue my passion.
With a clear goal in my mind, I studied electronics in India and came to the United States, the land of opportunity, for my postgraduate degree at the University of Southern California. I started my professional Intel journey with an exciting opportunity to build chips for several products.
It was the era of Smart Everything—where devices were getting smarter and everything was connected. Technology was at the heart of innovations that were changing the way we live and without the intelligent chips this would not be possible. With the slowdown of Moore's law and growth of Huang's law ( how the silicon chips that power artificial intelligence more than double in performance every two years), AI hardware gained importance.
Right now, there’s no better place than Nvidia to innovate this AI hardware. I’m fortunate enough to have secured a role as a crucial AI inventor and technician within the company, which is where I will continue my contribution to these cutting edge AI chips.
We all know that there is an extreme level of gender bias in this industry with only 6% of representation from women. Tell us about a situation where you had to counter a technical argument with a senior male colleague and prove yourself right?
It is a Man's world, although I believe that the gender gap is slowly, but surely closing in.
Earlier in my career, I had poor confidence, and I was not able to counter anyone’s point of view, even though I knew I was right. Perhaps this was because I was the only woman on my team and it was very early on in my career. I am open to constructive criticism, and at the end of the day, it’s the best solution which can benefit the business that should be implemented.
At times, there were situations where some members always tried to prove that their solutions were better than mine. This was definitely not constructive criticism. In these circumstances, I quickly realized that everything in today's world is data-driven. The data can speak for itself. With this in mind, I set forth a solution defined by using facts, metrics, and data to the management, so that they could make decisions that align with my team's goals, objectives, and initiatives. From then on, I’ve used data-driven solutions to make my point under any circumstance.
The beautiful thing about using data as an argument is that it doesn’t matter what your gender is. The numbers speak for themselves.
For aspiring women in this industry, what is your guidance on resources that they can reference to stay up to date on technology trends, to identify their career path forward?
There are a few good places to learn the latest technology and innovations:
In your opinion, what are the top 3 things we can strive for to reduce the gender gap in this industry?
It is essential to close the ambition gap inorder to close the gender gap.
The ambition gap does not necessarily mean that women are less ambitious. It could be coming in for various reasons like personal commitments, cultural limitations, or work opportunities. There are many women I know personally who could have been high achievers if they were given the right platform.
There are several things that come together to close this gap. “Ambitious” tends to be a compliment for men and a critique of women. Do not give into the myth that you’re not as ambitious or technically strong as your male colleagues. You are. If you want to be the best in your field, identify the biggest obstacle standing in the way of your ambition, and commit to finding a way around it.
A study led by Accenture and Girls who Code, showed that 50% of women abandon technology careers by age 35, and that women are leaving tech roles at a 45% higher rate than men. In August and September of 2020, 865,000 women left the workforce, compared to 216,000 men.
One of several reasons is the feeling of isolation. Sometimes we are one of very few, or often the only technical voice in the room that is coming from a woman. Under these circumstances, there could be a feeling that our voice is not heard as closely as the men and a sense of pressure to outperform your male colleagues, which can lead to attrition.
Some ways to overcome this feeling of isolation include knowing that you are not alone and that there is an increasingly large group of us that’s growing, and that we make a positive technological impact. There are several platforms to share your experiences and solutions to tackle difficult situations, connect and inspire each other to stay in the field and change the world.
Change starts with you and it begins at the root level. Women are natural problem solvers. We need more women in tech to make a positive impact. Inspire, educate and equip young girls with computing skills to become a change agent which will steadily decrease the gender gap in the tech world.
Thank you so much for your time, and expert advice, Akshatha! We look forward to seeing how you continue to make a difference in your field.