11/07/2014 08:11 am ET Updated Jan 07, 2015

Women in Business: Vidya Ranganathan, SVP of Engineering, Accellion

Vidhya Ranganathan joined Accellion as SVP of engineering in June 2013. She has more than 20 years of product development and technical leadership experience, with a successful track record of delivering innovative products. Prior to joining Accellion, she was the senior director of software engineering at Oracle, where she drove product strategy and creation for a global development team. Vidhya was one of the original developers at Brio Technology and had two stints at Brio - one as an early developer and the second time as part of the engineering leadership team. Vidhya led the Brio engineering team after the Hyperion acquisition of Brio. Ms. Ranganathan received her Bachelors in Computer Science and Engineering from National Institute of Technology, India.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up in India where women were second-class citizens and performing well in school was not expected of us. To get accepted at a good engineering college, I had to remain in the 99th percentile for all of my subjects throughout my schooling. It taught me how to set a goal and work my hardest to achieve it above all odds. I also learned that dividing one massive goal, into smaller more manageable goals, was the key to my sanity. Now I help my team to set goals. These aren't just goals that I know we can achieve, but above and beyond what we can achieve. I do this because I know that with enough work, and small deliverables along the way, we'll be able to get there and we'll surprise ourselves.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Accellion?
Combining my roles at Hyperion, Brio Technologies and Oracle, I have more than 18 years of experience working on large scale distributed systems with huge customers. I'm talking deployments of several thousand users at a time. It gave me the chance to learn the entire science behind large-scale distributed systems along with the art of keeping customers satisfied through the whole process. When I joined Accellion we had a product that was doing well in the market, but it was out there for over ten years. We were challenged to come up with a brand new platform that would gain acceptance. Migrating from a legacy platform to a new platform was something I'd done many times. Luckily, that gave me the privilege to foresee potential challenges that could arise and I was able to proactively prepare the team.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Accellion?
kiteworks is our newest mobile solution and is definitely the highlight for me, mainly because it positioned the company to enter the mobile market and it took a lot of hard word to get there. It's an amazing feeling to know that some of my personal work, along with work from the rest of my team, enabled a company to brand itself in a new way. There have certainly been challenges along the way because honestly, nothing great comes easy, but it's all part of making your team stronger. I'd say that the main challenge was coordinating engineering efforts across a global team. It's very difficult to ensure that everyone is following the same path to get to the same goal. What's even more challenging is making sure that everyone works at the Silicon Valley startup speed that we're running with each day in the US, as it takes a lot more communication than usual.

Why did you want a career in IT?
I always did very well in school and when I was nine years old my dad told me that I'd be a computer engineer. I have great admiration for dad so right then and there I decided that I would, in fact, be a computer engineer. Aside from my dad, many of my older cousins are engineers so I've essentially been immersed in the field my entire life.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in a typically male dominated industry?
The first thing I'd say is ignore the fact that it's labeled "male-dominated." Work hard, do your best and don't live by labels and stereotypes, because they are daunting, especially to younger women entering a new field. By constantly thinking of the challenges women face in a "male-dominated" industry, it's possible to spend more time being held back mentally, rather than exerting that extra energy to achieve far beyond what you imagined possible. If you focus on your work and achieving your personal goals, you might surprise yourself. Hopefully the less that women allow stereotypes to hold them back, the closer we'll get to eliminating gender labels on any profession.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I'm fortunate enough to do what I love and it makes all the difference. With that, I don't have to balance my work and personal life because they are so intertwined. I have a beautiful family and I'm very involved in what my two children are doing but I never feel like I'm searching for something more outside of work. Call me crazy, but I actually can't wait until Monday comes around most weeks!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Labels and stereotypes are the biggest issues that I can see. A woman in IT is an outlier, but it shouldn't be that way. It shouldn't be odd for a woman to want to be in IT. The real problem is that most women are almost never encouraged at a young age to pursue "male-dominated" fields or interests. To make matters worse, young kids are always worried about their social perception. Without the encouragement from parents, teachers and other role models young girls may potentially turn away from the things, such as math or science, that could make them appear "geeky."

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I'm fortunate enough to say that my mentors have made all the difference in my life, personally and professionally. It's often been the simple things that impacted me the most. For example, one of my earliest managers was such a high-energy woman and she always told me to be nice to people no matter what because you never lose anything by being nice to people. It seems like common sense but you'd be surprised how often others forget the most foundational concepts when they're under stress or on a deadline. Yorgen Edholm, current CEO of Accellion, was also a previous manager of mine at Brio Technologies and I'm lucky enough to be able to work for him again. He told me to never lose my technical edge. From one engineer to another, those words are very near to my heart and I keep them in the back of my mind as I approach every task.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I have a long list of female leaders I admire but Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton are a few. I admire Condoleezza for going back to teaching and her early roots after she built a successful career in politics and Hilary for her attention to detail and almost seamless ability to assimilate to any environment. I guess you could say that in a nutshell, I admire a woman who is not afraid to take bold steps and do something that's out of the norm.

What do you want Accellion to accomplish in the next year?
I'd like Accellion to be very successful in the mobile space and to go public. I want to see a gold company become platinum. On a more granular, supporting level, I'd like the engineering team to meet all of our goals for product releases and introduce the right product features at the right time.