Raksha Balasubramanyam is a first-generation technology professional, artist and “connector of poeple” whose interest in tech was sparked in part by the travels of her father when she was a kid.
“My father traveled a lot on work back in the ’90s and used to bring back new and super cool (to my then 11-year-old self) things like digital organizers and diaries and I was the first one to figure out how to make them work,” Balasubramanyam said. “The computer game, ‘Prince of Persia’ on floppy disks was my introduction to the x86/ MS-DOS world followed by programming in BASIC, and after that there was no looking back.”
Balasubramanyam, who is our latest Geek of the Week, is now VP of client engagement and services delivery at Skytap, the Seattle-based cloud computing company. Skytap is No. 34 on the GeekWire 200, our ranking of Pacific Northwest startups.
Balasubramanyam grew up in India, spending about equal time in Bombay (Mumbai) and Bangalore (Bengaluru). She completed her undergrad in India and went to Texas A&M University for grad school. Both degrees were in Informations Sciences and Systems.
“My life has taken me around the world and given me the unique vantage point of working with clients on all sides of the tech adoption process,” Balasubramanyam said. “Coming from a family of engineers, I began as a developer but have always been more interested in the business application of technology and client services. In the famous words of Marc Andreessen, ‘software is eating the world,’ so it’s my job to take enterprises that aren’t software companies at their core into this new digital era.”
Balasubramanyam said Skytap’s message instantly resonated with her and in three years with the company it’s allowed her to alleviate pain points that she experienced first hand in previous roles with enterprises.
When not in the office, Balasubramanyam is an avid painter and hiker — “wish me luck on the Enchantments lottery!” she said.
“I have been painting for as long as I can remember — art and crafts started as part of life in school and I remember participating in several art competitions at that level,” she said. “I usually paint from photographs, so travels often yield very inspiring subjects. I have been lucky to have a home studio for the last seven years. While I’ve given several works of art to my friends and family, I don’t actively sell. I hope to exhibit some day though.”
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Raksha Balasubramanyam:
What do you do, and why do you do it? Today, as the VP of client engagement and services delivery at Skytap, I get to focus and improve upon the value that the client is able to achieve after they have purchased our cloud service. There, I frequently meet with both business stakeholders and software engineers to understand their pain points in software delivery and craft a solution to help solve for them. This often involves understanding their process and technical debt in addition to environment needs. Leading with this effort, we collaborate with various teams to create a plan for the adoption of the cloud to modernize their application landscape. It’s important to note that this is usually a transformation journey that involves people, process, and technology in various degrees — never just one of these.
There is nothing easy about such a transformational journey that an enterprise undertakes, however, the benefits seen with incremental progress are incredible and is what motivates me everyday to keep doing what I do. There is a strong people aspect to every large technological change that is organization-wide and as a services leader, it is my job to lead by example. Continually growing teams by leading from behind, empowering them to make decisions, is as important as rich, goals-oriented, execution-focused conversations with the people who are our clients and partners.
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? If you want long-term success in client services, you must be customer-obsessed! Which in itself is not revelatory, but being customer-centric involves more than offering a great product and understanding your customers’ unique pain points. Being customer-obsessed goes all the way down to how you present yourself in the room and the way in which you communicate!
Where do you find your inspiration? I’m lucky enough to have had strong models as mentors throughout my career and have been fortunate enough to see them deliver and grow in throughout their roles.
I also come from a creative family; both culturally from India, and artistically. Growing up, there was a huge focus on the academics and arts and I have always loved to paint. I focus mainly on a modern traditionalist style, rooted in both nature and people in my oil painting compositions.
There is a process to creating a piece of work that’s similar to delivering successful client services; both revolve around taking potentially ambiguous concepts from nature (or people) and converting them onto a canvas (or a solution to your customer’s concerns).
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? iPhone; I use apps for everyday things in life (I almost never step foot in grocery stores anymore!)
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? I have an office, which I call a “creative mess.” My organization happens primarily on my Mac, but that organization is not reflected on my desk. I mostly hang out at a desk next to my team, where there’s a lot of banter. The same goes for my studio — you will usually find paint supplies, brushes, canvases and inspiration images scattered around floors and walls.
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) You must truly love the work you’re doing to be feel motivated and continue on, especially in a client facing, high pressure, demanding role. When my client is on 24/7, it means I have to be on 24/7 sometimes, too. But it’s all about going with the flow. I don’t stress about enforcing a strict work-life balance on a day to day basis — because some weeks are just busy and more demanding than others, and we can’t always control those factors. But you do have to take time to prioritize “disconnecting.” For me, I unwind when I’m cooking with my son, hiking or socializing with friends.
Mac, Windows or Linux? Tie between Mac and Windows. I use a Mac for work and love it (in addition to other Apple products). But I am surrounded by family and friends who are very invested in Microsoft and by association (and as a prior PC owner), I know enough to be a big MS and Satya Nadella fan. So, Windows wins too!
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Kirk.
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Dr. Strange’s Cloak of Levitation.
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … With my remaining money after purchasing my levitation cloak, I would fund a startup that transforms the traditional art space by shifting onus from gallery owners to the artist. Currently, the ability to market and show art is dependent on galleries; this is an industry well overdue for disruption. Especially in a city where we use tech to drive our daily lives, Seattle has the perfect environment for artists and technologists to make this happen.
I once waited in line for … Molly Moon’s. Ice cream over iPhones!
Your role models: In my experience with client services, I have known no one more passionate, committed, driven than Rahul Bajpai, who I am lucky to call mentor and friend. Rahul is a managing director with Deloitte Consulting Services, leading the U.S. practice for telco cloud engineering and operations. He has always led by example and I have learned a great deal about client management and nurturing a team, and what it takes to truly be customer obsessed in the services world.
Greatest game in history: “Age of Empires.”
Best gadget ever: Amazon Echo
First computer: Being able to afford my own laptop, a Dell 21 as heavy as a brick, as a grad student was my first “I’ve made it” moment that I’ll always remember.
Current phone: iPhone 6s.
Favorite app: 7 Minute Workout.
Favorite cause: Asha, an NGO based in India helps children trapped in poverty work their way out of it. Their programs help slum residents gain access to healthcare, financial services and education, and make it possible for them to make long-term, positive changes to their lives. Another non-profit organization I truly admire is, NAMI Seattle — the National Alliance on Mental Health. It has been eye opening to learn about mental illness, root causes, and responses to it. Not to mention, their executive director Ashley Fontaine is phenomenal and continues to inspire me everyday to be more mindful and aware of people in my community.
Most important technology of 2018: The cloudifying of apps and infrastructure will continue, as even industries once hesitant to change are starting to see the clear advantage of the cloud.
Most important technology of 2020: VR and drones. Additionally, I think integrity in social media will become even more critical in the coming years. We have this to an extent now (think FB’s election war rooms) , but we’re just scratching the surface. With the help of machine learning and AI, we’ll have ways to proactively ensure greater social media integrity — I am looking forward to the innovation this brings into the tech world.
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: To be good at what you do and continue to grow, you have to look forward to it every day. If you’re not in a work space you love, chart a path for yourself so you’re able to get to it. Don’t try to enforce a regimented sense of work-life balance — try to find a positive way to integrate the two.
LinkedIn: Raksha Balasubramanyam