Sonar Thekdi, a VP of Engineering Business Operations at Cisco, is a true Fairygodboss who’s always looking to expand her network. She’s passionate not only about her work but also about people in general - which is one of the reasons she loves mentoring young women interested in STEM careers. She leave us with some great advice about getting out of our comfort zone!
Fairygodboss of the Week: Sonar Thekdi
Vice President, Engineering Business Operations, Computing Systems Product Group - Cisco
San Francisco Bay Area, CA
FGB: Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
ST: I lost my dad when I was 3 years old - he was an accomplished engineer who I never got to know. I don’t even remember him, but very early in my life, I decided that I would carry my father’s legacy forward by becoming an engineer.
Raising us single-handedly my mother was very clear on the value of an education. She has dedicated her entire life to raising my sisters and me – always teaching us to be strong, focused and hardworking. So it was very natural for me to get my degree in Computer engineering.
Once I completed school, I went to work as a SW engineer writing BIOS firmware. It was exciting to have a real job, make real money and solve real world problems. But about a year into my job, I realized that I wasn’t looking forward to Monday mornings with the same excitement as I had been year before, and that something was missing. I realized that my true passion lied in being around people, bringing people together and helping solve engineering problems, not by digging in deeper technically, but by understanding the nuances of how people think and react and work with each other.
I changed my job to become a system engineer and then a system manager. Every job I have held since then has been engineering focused, solving real engineering problems and building great products, but also always focusing on the teams and the people that make these things real. At Cisco, I have combined my education in engineering with my passion for people and technology in a series of roles in engineering program management, engineering operations and strategic planning with increasing responsibility to evolve into a business leader.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
ST: Over my 16 year career at Cisco, I have worked in seven different business units, across a wide portfolio of products and for a very interesting and diverse set of senior leaders. I am proud of not only having successfully transitioned in and out of each role but also continuing to grow and expand my network every time.
FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
ST: Recently, we faced a quality challenge across our product portfolio that was negatively impacting the perception of our products in the field, and as a result the revenue as well. While quality is owned by multiple functions, it was clear that we needed one named leader who made it their mission to turn it around – I took on that challenge, and working with my peers in Engineering, Supply Chain, Services and IT, I drove a massive year+ effort to evolve and modernize our development processes, tools and infrastructure, metrics and automation to successfully turn this around.
FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? Why?
ST: My current boss, Liz Centoni, is my Fairygodboss, because besides being wicked smart, articulate and funny, she always pushes me to develop new business skills. She gives me challenging projects that push me out of my comfort zone and she encourages me to not take no for an answer. Lastly, she gives me support and air cover when needed when I push the boundaries and look for new ways of doing things. She rocks!
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
ST: I love hanging out with my family, cooking, and reading. I am also passionate about mentoring those around me, especially young women thinking of pursuing careers in STEM.
FGB: What is your favorite movie?
ST: Gosh, listing just one is very hard. My favorites are The Pursuit of Happyness, Titanic, Bourne Series, Lord of the Rings trilogy
FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
ST: Any of Maeve Binchy’s heartwarming novels (Tara Road is a fave)
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
ST: My shopping vice is traditional indian jewelry. I really don’t believe in playing the lottery but if I somehow acquire a few hundred million dollars the thing that I would buy for myself would be a beach house.
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
ST: I would say learn to be agile when it comes to your career. Accept and expect to fail early and often, until you figure out what you’re passionate about and what you’re really good at. Once you figure that out, there will be no stopping you. Get out of your comfort zone every day.
FGB: Why do you love where you work?
ST: I love the smart, compassionate, committed and driven people that I work with every day. The work environment we’ve been able to create is fun, upbeat, high energy and that puts a smile on my face (on most days :) ).
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women. So each week, we celebrate a woman who makes a difference in other women’s careers. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate and thank her by nominating her here.