[Women in Tech] Success is about making efforts into real impact on people and the world, says Kalpana Behara of Uber


Kalpana Behara has over 20 years of experience in leading technology companies such as NIIT, Google, Facebook and Uber.

Kalpana believes the constant challenge over the years has been to grow with the industry and survive the hypergrowth of any company she has worked with.

She says of one experience: “During one of my assignments, I was hired to train a group of senior network engineering teams to convert their legacy systems to open source systems. In less than five minutes when I walked into the classroom, I was asked to leave because I didn’t fit the profile of someone who is considered experienced in the industry. “

Despite these obstacles, Kalpana worked her way to the top.

In her current role as Head Digitization, GSS at Uber, Kalpana manages the curation, validation and review of content across all product lines.

She believes working at Uber has been a life changing experience.

Kalpana explains: “I was very attracted to solving the operational problems of managing millions of entrepreneurs in the form of our driver-partners and transporting people safely. As a power user of the product myself, I take great pride in hearing the stories from Driver Affiliates who the company has enabled them to earn and thrive with and drivers whose lives have become easier and less stressful . Uber taught me how to innovate at lightning speed without losing sight of the product’s ability to build and empower communities. “

In an interview with Your history, Kalpana talks about her career, women in technology and her greatest inspiration.

Edited excerpts:

HerStory (HS): Tell us a little bit about yourself …

Kalpana Behara (HS): My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and many others have worked for Indian Railways, and all of my education has been at railroad schools and colleges in Hyderabad.

I enrolled in computer science during my studies and fell in love with the subject. Already at the end of the 1990s, detailed informatics was being taught at institutes such as the NIIT. My parents decided to spend a third of their income on enrolling in a three-year course to get a parallel diploma in computer applications at the institute. That was the basis of my technical journey.

HS: What attracted you to STEM?

KB: MINT has always interested me. My father, although he has no science education, taught me to be curious and always ask questions and look for answers. It showed in the fact that I wanted to study science. When I finally got a taste of computer science, I realized that I could use my analytical and creative skills equally in this area. I was hooked.

HS: Please take us with you on your career path …

KB: I started my career with an internship at NIIT and worked there for five years, where I specialized and taught in network architecture, database management and web development. Here I built my professional foundation in the tech field.

From there I was an early employee at Google India where I helped build trust and security workflows and the early version of SMB ad optimizations. Then I switched to Facebook India and worked on the evolving social media ad space.

Uber happened in 2015 and I joined the company to build the center of excellence for India and Southeast Asia. I am currently working with the Global Scaled Solutions team who lead the digitization operations.

HS: Tell us about your current roles and responsibilities at Uber …

KB: I lead the digitization function, where physical signals in the real world are converted into digital assets. As part of my responsibility, I manage the curation, validation, and review of content for all of our product lines. I also manage the Machine Learning Operations (MLOps) feature that powers our AI and ML models. As part of my duties, I lead around 30 program managers and over 2,000 vendor operators.

The greatest experience for me in all my years as a HR manager is that teams that stick together, support and are empathetic, deliver far superior results in all parameters.

HS: How did you meet the challenges of working in a pandemic?

KB: The pandemic hit us all hard. We have been working remotely for over a year and a half and have adapted to the challenges. Uber has learned its benefits and adapted it to the new reality that supports employees. At our team level, we’ve set up “no meeting” days on Fridays to give our team members time to better manage their week. From time to time experts from different backgrounds come to us to speak to us, to manage our mental health and to give us advice on how to take care of ourselves and our loved ones during these troubled times.

HS: What else can you do to attract women to the tech force?

KB: I am very proud that Uber is an equal opportunity employer. Our team reflects the company’s values ​​and we pride ourselves not only on diversity, but also on accompanying everyone on their journey so that reviews and the pace at which men and women are growing are not biased. To keep women in the workforce, we need to show that we are fair and support their careers and growth.

HS: What were your greatest successes and challenges?

KB: To me, success means seeing how our efforts affect people and the world in general. I have been very fortunate to work with companies that have given me the autonomy and freedom to fail at critical points in my career and learn from them so that my solutions to problems are stronger and more effective.

HS: Why is networking so important for women in tech? Do you look after women in technology?

KB: Networking is important for everyone, not just women. It becomes especially important for women as there are fewer role models to learn from. For a healthy career, it is critical to be aware of the direction the industry is growing, the opportunities available, and the mentors who are willing to coach. Networking helps in discovering all of these and easier. I look after women on my team, women across the company who ask for advice from time to time, and I’m particularly interested in women with first-generation college degrees who want to join the tech industry.

HS: Why do you think there are very few women in leadership positions in the technology industry?

KB: It is unfortunate that there are very few women in leadership positions in technology. At the systemic level, we need more women who choose STEM in their studies. Although the proportion of women has increased in all countries, it is still shockingly low. There are also plenty of studies that show how many women abandon their careers at different stages in their personal lives, be it to get married or to raise children. Finally, studies also show that women take fewer risks and do not raise their hands for opportunities that strengthen their leadership skills.

I am proud that Uber is doing its part by being an equal opportunity employer where we recognize these issues and balance our benefits so that both men and women can take time out to attend important life events participate, such as new parents. We have robust mentoring programs in which we provide the support and guidance necessary to keep everyone comfortable to grow.

HS: Who / what was your biggest inspiration?

KB: My parents were my role models and my greatest inspiration. My father piqued my intellectual curiosity and my mother taught me not to be afraid of challenges.

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