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There’s a lot you can learn about someone’s career from LinkedIn, but to really grasp their accomplishments, motivations, and who they are outside of work, they often ask, “What’s not on your LinkedIn profile?” So today, we’re talking with Suja Viswesan to get to know the individual behind the profile and learn how she helps build more inclusive products at LinkedIn.
With the continuing evolution of technology, many working in the field today did not grow up knowing how they would contribute to our changing world. Suja wanted to be many things growing up—from serving in the armed forces to becoming a teacher, it was not until she was considering college that she decided she wanted to be an engineer.
“At the time, my mother wasn’t sure that as a woman I could realistically pursue it. That sealed the deal for me, I saw it as a challenge and knew right then that I would be pursuing a career in engineering. But I didn’t understand just how many disciplines there were in engineering. After my first year of college, I realized I could pursue a career in electronics, and from there I moved into computer science” says Suja.
Suja is now Director of Engineering at LinkedIn. Leading the Data Applications and Platforms team, she explains: “There is an abundance of data to work with, from the information we put out there on social media, to the settings in all of our devices. But how do you make sense of these data sets? How do you even know where to find it? How do you protect data and privacy?”
Answering these questions, Suja shares that she loves making a difference at LinkedIn, as she and her team rely on data for insights into creating applications and products that will give members, customers, and partners the best experience on the platform. “For me, it is especially exciting to see how our data has evolved into helping other industries like medicine and education as we share with the open source community on DataHub” says Suja.
Although the indispensable impact from her work can already be seen today, Suja is motivated by how data can be used in the future to advance diversity, inclusion, and belonging. “LinkedIn has a testing first culture where we make sure that everything we develop is the right thing to do and can make a difference to as many people as possible. We test to help remove unconscious biases and unintentional consequences that product features could have on accessibility. I’m very proud of that, and excited to see it make a difference in our products,” emphasizes Suja.
To keep making progress in removing biases in technology, Suja notes it is critical that organizations hire more women in the technology space. “I believe that only we can represent ourselves to make sure that things are designed for all humans, that not any demographic is being left behind. Only we know the problems that we face” says Suja. “For technology to be fair for everybody in the world, I believe it’s important not only for women to be a part of that, but to play a larger role in developing technology.”
Suja finds inspiration from two leaders at LinkedIn paving the way in developing a more inclusive technology: Ya Xu (VP, Data Science) and Erica Lockheimer (VP, Development Engineering). For her, “it is inspirational that they are very intentional about their careers, proactive in creating the paths they want, and achieving what they have set their minds to.”
She acknowledges that while it can be difficult to create an intentional career, having a supportive network and mentors help you to get to where you want to be. “These relationships have mostly happened organically. They start with simple conversations, you get to know one another, and over time they become people you trust. Then you can feel comfortable going to them for advice on a specific problem you are having, or for their input when you are trying to figure out what you want to do next.” says Suja.
Suja credits this group for offering her support and feedback throughout her career. In fact, one of the most memorable pieces of advice she received from someone in her network was regarding feedback. Suja recalls, “One of my mentors told me that feedback is like a birthday gift: even if you already have that gift or do not like it, the only right response is ‘thank you’. If you start explaining yourself when receiving feedback, you are going to put that person off and they will be less likely to share feedback with you in the future. So instead, just listen and take the time to think about what the person has said. Then it is really up to you how you are going to apply it, potentially share it with someone else, or forget it.”
Suja also has some advice for anyone who is interested in joining her team at LinkedIn. “People are often afraid to ask for help, but it’s important to ask because that’s how you learn. When you start a new role, no one is expecting you to know everything, but they expect you to be willing to learn.”
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