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Issue of November 2004 
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The woman who mans IT

"Women are better equipped to handle IT work than men because they are more patient, they stick to the job and keep trying, they have better people skills and they think logically," says one of the few women in the IT circles, Susan D'Mello, Chief Manager - Information Technology Siemens Ltd. to Deepali Gupta.

Susan D’Mello entered the corporate rat race at the tender age of 21 after a Bachelor in Commerce from Sydenham College. She did commerce-related work for a year, but was soon bored of ‘doing the same old thing.’ So, she took up a course at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) where she was groomed in concepts of hardware, software, and computer operations.

"I wanted to try something new, which was untried and untested," D'Mello says. Indeed, in the 1980s when she joined the IT industry, programmers were a rare and obscure breed.

Initially when she took a punch card home, her parents could not only not conceptualize an IT job, they figured D'Mello had no clue about what she was doing.

"I don't blame them. It was like taking a shot in the dark," she explains. Nevertheless, she took IT on with a spirit of adventure…and the decision proved to be a good one.

The big break

As a programmer at Siemens, D'Mello saw several waves of technology, the most outstanding of which was the SAP wave that started in Siemens as early as 1993. At that time Siemens setup a stand alone SAP in its Nasik factory. Another one was added at the head office. She was not directly involved with the implementation in 1993, but she was ready for it when she got her break in 1998.

"When the break comes you have to be ready for it, and take up the challenge as it comes," D'Mello comments. Her way of doing it is to be a continuous self-learner. "I read and keep in touch, because technology moves so fast you can't keep doing courses," D'Mello substantiates.

In 1998 D'Mello was put in charge to scrap all the legacy systems and move over to a centralized SAP R/3 implementation.

The road blocks

During the implementation she faced three main challenges. The first was to establish common processes. Earlier the chart of accounts, for instance, looked different in different locations. So the first step was complete re-engineering of the processes.

Next came the migration of legacy data. More often than not, the edit checks made on the data did not conform to the SAP requirements. The new system therefore refused to accept that data. Conversion of data, so that it matched the quality of data for SAP was a substantial effort.

The third challenge was to train the 1,400 users across India on the Siemens' system. That according to D'Mello is an ongoing effort since the SAP R/3 in 1998.

A new ball game

The success of the SAP implementation propelled D'Mello into the post of CIO, which she took over in 2001. Her role as a CIO however, was dramatically different from any of her technically oriented assignments.

"You cannot compare the role of a Systems' Analyst or Project leader with that of a CIO," she elaborates. "As a technical person the role is well defined, you have one boss to report to and you think in terms of input and output. As a CIO there are several authorities to report to, and the input has to be found."

As a CIO she had to orient her thought to business. She had to stay in touch with the technology as well as assess whether or not the technology could bring value to the business. D'Mello was responsible for making an IT strategy aligned with business.

It was thus important for her to understand the intricate details of the business, and as she sees it, two things worked in her favor; her commerce background, and the 19 years she had already spent with Siemens.

What helped

During her career, D'Mello has found that her endeavor to continuously learn more has contributed towards her success. The open culture at Siemens made her a natural performer. Plus her patience, she claims has helped her a great deal with the technology she had to deal with.

The patience she uses even at home. She enjoys growing flowers, fruits, and vegetables on her balcony in Bandra, Mumbai. Moreover, she preserves kitchen waste to compost it, and uses it as garden manure. "It takes about three months to get mature compost, so I keep it in two pots and use them by rotation"

In a man's world

Contrary to conventionally preconceived notions D'Mello does not believe that surviving as a woman is all that difficult in a male dominated work environment.

"Initially a woman does face prejudice because employers are concerned she will get married, have children and other family problems, but if you're dedicated to the work and are clear about your choices these barriers are breaking down very fast," she remarks.

In fact she adds that women may actually be inherently better suited to IT jobs. However, D'Mello also emphasizes that early in the career every woman has to make a choice between a professional and family life. And having walked down one road, there is no scope for looking back.

Automated Choices

Luckily for D'Mello she was never pressured into a marriage. Eventually, being single was not a conscious decision, "it just happened." It was probably her days at Sydenham college that made her career minded. "The peers shape your life, and Sydenham was full of ambitious people," she explains.

Career minded as she was, D'Mello also loved every bit of her work. She made herself available 20 of 24 hours in a day, sometimes even on holidays. She had to travel extensively, and being so immersed in her work never left too much time to ponder over anything else.

Healthy body, healthy mind

D'Mello believes in keeping her diet light. She enjoys salads and natural foods and limits herself to that to feel light. She goes for brisk walks at least twice a week and more often if her office hours would permit.

"Everything is lost if you lose your health. Your money is of no use. Eventually if you are active and in good health you can work better," she points out.

The road ahead

D'Mello is now working on a project to centralize Siemens’ data center for their entire Asia Pacific region that will function out of Singapore. After this she is not sure what exactly she would like to do, but she knows that now all her projects should expand to the Asia Pacific region, and not merely be restricted to India.

D'Mello also wishes to teach. Students she feels will expose her to a different environment. Having lectured a class or two earlier she is aware that interaction with students is interesting and unique.

Fact File

Reading: Daya Mata to release stress

Political: Has no leanings but votes for the opposition

Movie: Enjoys murder mysteries with paranoid killers on the loose

Hobby: Horticulture, but her flowers never bloom like her mother's did

Food: Prefers vegetarian and likes to keep it light

Advice: Make the right friends, peers shape your life

 
     
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