Meet Forbes Communications Council member Aakriti Srikanth: she has a tech resume anyone would envy, an attitude that defies negativity, a passion for empowering others — and a recent Forbes 30 Under 30 Honor for 2019.
Aakriti’s career in AI technology started off with a bang when, as a graduate student, she won the IBM Watson competition, using their technology to match university students to campus activities. The competition awarded not only a significant cash prize, but also the credibility and recognition Aakriti needed to launch a career as a pioneer in leading AI initiatives for Fortune 500 companies such as IBM Watson, Red Hat, and Deloitte.
In her current position as AI Initiative Leader for AI for software developer Red Hat, Aakriti has ramped up AI product marketing initiatives from scratch as one of the first members of their Innovation Leadership Team. Her career thus far has been packed with, as she puts it, “doing impactful work for high growth rocketships.”
Below, we find out what Aakriti has to say about the forces that drive and inspire her, and what she sees as important for individuals, particularly women, who want to excel in the tech space.
On Women in Technology
Having a master’s degree in computer science, I was very often the only woman in the room. This has made me strive to empower other women around me.
As an only child from India, I saw other women in my country suffer and be denied their basic human rights. Even here in the U.S., women sometimes underestimate themselves, but I was raised with the notion that nothing is impossible. I grew up to be a feminist, with the belief that women can do whatever men can do. I learned that if you really want something, you have to go get it.
I’ve noticed that women often underestimate themselves and ask for less when they deserve more. In her TED Talk, Sheryl Sandberg emphasizes the importance of taking a seat at the table. No one lands the promotion by taking a seat at the corner table. We have to feel self-confident and adequate. Believe in yourself and own your success. If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s hard for others to give you opportunities.
It is important to make sure that your voice is being heard. Your personal brand is what distinguishes you from everyone else. Your personal brand is what people say about you. It’s your credibility and the trust you establish with the people around you. If you become known for your work, people will seek you out and be willing to take a chance on you.
People often emphasize the importance of networking, but confuse networking as the exchanging of business cards. It’s not about how big your network is, but it’s about the quality of your network. It isn’t about just passing around business cards, but taking the time to recognize the people behind them.
For me, [networking] is about the value you offer the people around you and how much they value you. You have to give before you get and bring something unique to the table. Understand the goals of the person you are getting to know and try to help them. In that way, you become their friend and gain credibility.
Everyone needs someone who believes in them. Doing great work is one thing, but having the support of someone powerful who has a seat at the decision-making table and who gives you visibility and advocates for your work is equally important. I couldn’t have succeeded without all the amazing people I have met through my journey.
NetApp’s CMO Jean English, a very powerful woman in tech, taught me how to reach for the big opportunities and redefine perfect. Women executives like Marceline Uttarkar (director of data strategy for PayPal), Anna Schlegel, and Annalisa Camarillo taught me to negotiate success. Sherry Harmon (chief revenue officer of ModuleQ, formerly VP sales of WebEx) and Sarah Clatterbuck (director at Google) taught me that if you don’t expect acceptance from someone, no one is going to give it to you.
On Positive Contributions
I think empowering the people around me is what a consider my greatest achievement.
Life is short, and it’s important to do what you truly enjoy. I feel like I was born to be a connector. I have done core engineering, product management, and product marketing, but I gravitate more towards people-facing roles, as I love working with people and empowering them.
For me, it’s always about how I can add value to the lives of others. I do believe that small things matter. It’s about treating people the way you want to be treated. Everyone wants to feel valued and recognized for the work that they do.
I enjoy supporting entrepreneurs and helping them grow their business, including extending my network to them, connecting them with VCs in Silicon Valley, and enforcing key strategic partnerships. I am launching something called Venture Amalgamators where I connect extraordinary entrepreneurs to VCs.