Interviewing Nivetha Maran — Ambassador of Women Tech Makers, Chennai

The heads of Women in Computer Science — IIT-M, Jahnvi Patel and Sowmya S Sundaram met one of the ambassadors of Google Women Techmakers (WTM), Chennai — Nivetha Maran, this fine Sunday morning. Nivetha graduated from SSN College of Engineering with a bachelors in computer science and is currently working as a front end developer at Global Analytics. We caught up with her for discussing our shared interests and visions.

Sowmya attended their second meetup in September, 2018. Immediately, she felt a sense of sisterhood and warmth. It was a judicious mix of technical and informal networking. The format involved two talks interspersed by relevant discussions. The ambassadors were extremely friendly and helped the attendees speak up, discuss and have fun. The speakers were also extremely approachable. WTM has been witnessing a steady increase in footfall from hardly five members in the audience ballooning to about two dozen. Hence, there was some curiosity about the entire journey and that inspired this interview.

I got selected to attend Google Developer Days (GDD) meetup hosted in Bangalore. I met developers from other cities leading local developer communities in their respective cities. A series of talks on the Anita Borg Initiative and by GDD and WTM chapters encouraged me to approach these communities in Chennai. I was introduced Swaathi, CTO of Skript and one of the founding members of WTM Chennai chapter. Since WTM was not very active that time, I was given the responsibility to organize and meetup and revive the community. There were two speakers — Bhavani Ravi and Swaathi. Bhavani Ravi is currently working at Orangscape Technologies and heads a Chennai community named “Build2Learn”. The first session that I organized was in the Skript office with only 3 attendees. However, the success story spread and we have steadily grown to around 20 attendees in each session. Eventually, Bhavani also joined as an ambassador and we are now looking to collaborate with other similar communities and expand further.

I agree that most information in a tech talk could be read up online but the important giveaway of such events is the opportunity to network with like minded people. In this way, we could discuss ways of resolving unique issues that might be pertinent to women in tech.

I usually try to wrap up my work during the weekdays and keep my weekends free for organizing future events and talk to potential speakers. I also try to attend other communities’ meetups such as Google Developers Group (GDG), Women Who Code, Chennai and Lean In, Chennai.

As I already mentioned, attendees wanted a reason to come back and the tech talks didn’t suffice. So, we modified the format to include informal discussions after the talks. That made a substantial difference to the interest in our community’s work.

I have been a part of teams where I was the only female and being a new joinee, I was quite hesitant to speak up. Interestingly, in one of our meetups there was a lone guy present. He politely listened to all the talks. Bhavani encouraged him to share his views and he found it mind-blowing how uncomfortable he felt being outnumbered and that is something women in tech have acclimatised themselves to.

In general, I have seen girls being less willing to take risks and present their ideas boldly.

I think we need to encourage them to never feel bad about disturbing people because it’s for a greater good. I also believe we need to include men in these communities, they form an important part of the solution towards achieving better representation.

Try to start publicising events two months before and maybe attempt to invite people outside IIT-M to participate in them. Also try to reach out to sponsors and speakers assertively. As I mentioned before, the benefits surely outweigh the disturbances.

With that, everyone wrapped up the interview. Then, there were discussions on collaborations and partnerships. All in all, it was a fun chat where a lot of the points put forth resonated with each other. In the spirit of ‘Lean In’, the three women came to the conclusion that there is indeed a lot of work to be done and were excited to work hard on this journey of making a difference to something they cared about immensely.

Written by Jahnvi Patel and Sowmya S Sundaram.

An AI researcher who likes to blog. Favourite topics include technology, experiences, culinary trails, travels, dance and feminism.