Harita Yenisetty, Senior Engineering Manager at eBay, is a woman who has succeeded in tech. Having spent over 10 years at eBay and playing a lead role in projects such as the development of eBay’s Live Auctions, Yenisetty holds a unique insight into the role women are playing in technical positions within Silicon Valley.
Yenisetty talked to editor Ellie Burns about the role of women in tech – from barriers and challenges faced to her own personal journey with eBay.
EB: What was your perception of the technology industry before you made the choice to enter the sector?
HY: IT was a booming industry and almost ready to burst when I joined the tech sector. There were very few people that I knew in this industry and I was the first in my family to enter the tech sector. Even with lots of unknowns, I was ready to take a risk and pursue my education in technology.
EB: What made you decide on a career in tech?
HY: While I was completing my masters, I learned about databases and client server technology. During my internship at a defense firm, I was excited about how I was able to build an application and how it was helping the firm simplify their job. This made me believe that the opportunities tech are endless and hence solidified my choice to continue in this area.
EB: Technology is still seen as a stereotypically ‘male’ career – were you aware of this stereotype on entering the profession and did it result in any obstacles?
HY: I started my career in India. When I entered the workplace, the ratio of male to female workers was pretty much identical to any non-tech sector. I did, however, observe that there were women in leadership roles and this helped me realize that the prospects for career growth in tech for women.
I was lucky to have my first boss really believed in talent and not in gender. He was very encouraging and gave opportunities to grow, and as such, I got a lead role within just 1.5 years into my career.
EB: There is still a huge disparity between females and males when it comes to learning STEM. Why do you think this is?
HY: The disparity is influenced by the environment and lack of support that women get in these professions. There are also cultural stereotypes that prevent women from pursuing STEM career choices and often these biases start at early childhood right from the choice of the toys that girls are given to play with.
EB: How can we tackle this disparity and get more girls into the profession?
HY: This issue needs to be addressed right from the childhood. We need girls to have equal exposure to STEM related activities to inspire them to develop interest in STEM. This encouragement should start at home with parents and the family providing a conducive environment.
Schools and teachers need to facilitate opportunities that inspire learning and innovation. At corporate level, organizations should provide awareness and mentoring to sustain the careers for women in this profession.
EB: Looking to the c-level, again there is a disparity between females and males at board level. How can we get more women to the top of tech?
HY: I believe women have the perception that it is tough to get to the c-level, which is natural given that men had been dominating at all levels in all sectors including tech. At same time, there are a number of women like Sheryl Sandberg, Meg Whitman and Marissa Meyer who are very successful at these c-level positions and are adept in managing their career and personal life.
An awareness of these successes are great motivation for women to continue moving towards c-level status. Mentoring is one of the best way to navigate through the career path. Corporations need to have vested interests and strategies that promote women in c-level positions.
EB: What brought you to eBay?
HY: eBay is a fantastic eCommerce platform which touches the lives of millions of people who buy and sell on the platform. Aside from the human connection aspect that’s unique to eBay, the state of art technologies used and the challenges of scale was a big draw for me. Over time, knowing that I build products people depend on and use every day has been very satisfying and rewarding.
EB: What has kept you at eBay for over 10 years? How has your role in the company evolved?
HY: The uniqueness of the eBay platform brings in interesting opportunities as well as challenges. As an engineer, I am always excited by challenges and eBay provides opportunities for its employees to explore and grow in other domains. I started as a Senior Engineer working on the eBay Checkout application and every year or so, I moved to a new areas such as merchandising, search, and finally, Live Auctions.
eBay also has provided me opportunities to make a lateral move to management, which I thoroughly enjoy as I can continue being a strong technical driver while growing into a leadership role.
EB: Tell us about your work at eBay – what was your role in bringing Live Auctions to delivery?
HY: eBay Live Auctions became a key initiative for 2014. We started on Live Auctions with a very small engineering and product team who really had a thirst for a challenge. I played a key role in working with product team to define the product vision and how it should be integrated into the core eBay platform to provide a seamless experience.
Live bidding experiences needs near real-time communications. Building a product that needed quick response times to help eBay bidders win against the floor bidders was an interesting technical challenge that needed us to innovate using various technologies. I provided guidance to my team on the technical solutions and helped them choose the best technology, which were cost efficient and could be built to scale.
EB: Were you faced with any specific obstacles/challenges relating to Live Auctions? How did you overcome them?
HY: This April, we launched Sotheby’s premiere auction events on eBay. We had to face various challenges in choosing the right technology that could be operationally supported and would enables us to scale easily. This required us to prototype using various technologies and multiple iterations of designs to simplify and scale.
End-to-end integration with a third party and other eBay applications posed its own challenges with respect to launching the product before the peak season for Live Auctions. This required collaboration, communication and coordination that led to a successful launch of the product.
EB: What’s in the pipeline now? What are you working on?
HY: Apart from building new feature sets and enabling multi-screen experiences for Live Auctions, I am now focusing my efforts on the Retail Promotion platform, which enables a world class curated and merchandised retail-like shopping experiences for all verticals.
EB: Does eBay have any initiatives in getting women into the tech workplace?
HY: eBay is one of the great companies that encourages women in tech. eBay Women in Technology (EWIT) organizes various events like Girl Geek Dinner, seminars, workshops and training to promote women in tech and raise awareness. eBay also participates in Grace Hopper conference for recruiting women and also for inspiration from other women technologists.
EB: How would you sell STEM to young girls deciding on a career path?
HY: Bringing awareness to young girls of the benefits of careers in STEM and IT would greatly encourage them. The tech industry can offer some of the highest paying jobs and also provides lots of flexibility compared to other industries.
EB: What would be your advice be to women working in tech who want to reach the top?
HY: My advice would be to continue to keep up-to-date with technology, learn from other women who are navigating up the ladder and have multiple mentors who invest in you.