Rashi Khurana 1Rashi Khurana is Vice President of Engineering at Shutterstock where she oversees the front end E-commerce, Platform and Mobile engineering teams.

Since joining Shutterstock in 2016, Rashi helped lead three teams through a technology transformation, all the while managing day-to-day operations of delivering a quality product to customers. Rashi is passionate about managing teams of engineers to deliver above expectations everyday and building resiliency into all initiatives.

Rashi earned a master’s degree in Information Technology and Management at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, she worked at Orbitz in Chicago for seven years—before moving to New York City.

Hailing from India, Rashi moved to the United States in 2007 to pursue a master’s degree in Information Technology and Management at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, she worked at Orbitz in Chicago for seven years—before moving to New York City.

Rashi has also spoken on “Business as Usual While Revamping a Decade of Code” and recently took part on a tech women’s leadership panel.  Her speaking engagements include 2018 Wonder Women Tech, 2018 SXSW, and 2017 DeveloperWeek.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am Vice President of Engineering at Shutterstock, where I oversee the front-end E-commerce, Platform and Mobile engineering teams. Since joining Shutterstock in 2016, I have helped lead three teams through a technology transformation, all the while managing day-to-day operations of delivering a quality product to customers. I am passionate about managing teams of engineers to deliver above expectations every day and building resiliency into all initiatives.

I moved to the United States from India in 2007 to pursue a master’s degree in Information Technology and Management at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, I worked at Orbitz in Chicago for seven years—before moving to New York City.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

My career of choice when I was 12 years old was teaching. I thought about going into politics — I wanted to be an officer at the Indian Administrative Services at one point of my life, but nothing would have come close to the growing and learning that has come my way with the choices I have made.

The Indian education system is largely a rat race to get into the top colleges in India for undergrad, such as the Indian Institute of Technology. I decided that path wasn’t for me, which meant dropping out of my ongoing physics and mathematics preparation courses to get into those colleges. I knew I had to be comfortable with this decision so it would not lead to future regret. And as destiny has it, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, to go to undergrad in a part of the country that did not speak my language.

This was my first experience of being out of my comfort zone. Having schooled at an all-girls school, here was my first exposure to the tech field that was heavily male dominated. In my class of 60-plus students, there were only 6-8 women. I learned operating systems, database designs, algorithms, C, C++, Java and more.

My parents always pushed me to consider life outside of my comfort zone. I had already done three internships at tech companies in different parts of India during my summer breaks. That expanded my horizons into Perl, Tcl/Tk, XMLs and SOAP and Visual Basic. I even played with Amida handheld devices and worked with socket programming for them when tablets were not a big thing.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Because the industry’s so heavily male-dominated, I think the biggest challenge is that women have to put in that extra effort, and the extra onus in proving ourselves; that we deserve it and yes, that we are fit for it or can do it. We put great pressure on ourselves.

One big challenge is the superfluous attitude about women in tech and women in general. I’ve noticed that a woman’s body language is judged very quickly. ‘Does she have confidence, or does she show confidence at the time she’s in a meeting?’ Studies have also shown that women have to use a certain way of communication. For example, when you want to get something and you’re in a negotiation, you may not be able to say, ‘I want this.’ You need to use the word ‘we’ more than ‘I’ to negotiate some of those conversations. If the world was a little more balanced, that extra onus and the self-inflicted demand of always being on top of your game and carrying the burden to prove something would fade away.

Another challenge is we don’t raise our hands. We don’t ask. When I was an engineer fresh out of college, two years into my job and I was coding all day, I received a brief email from my manager at that moment. That email said, ‘Rashi will be going to London with the Head of Product and Head of SEO.’ I jumped out of my chair and I ran to his office. Because I thought it was a mistake, I said, ‘I got this email. I think it’s a mistake.’ My manager said ‘Well, you don’t want to go?’ I replied, ‘No it’s not that I don’t want to go. But you have tech leads on your team. You have senior engineers on the team. Shouldn’t they be going first, before I get that opportunity?’ And he said, ‘End of discussion. You’re going.’

This was a long time ago. But it was a turning point for me, for my career, for my life. I realised he had confidence in me that I didn’t have in myself. I didn’t know what confidence meant until that moment, because I’d never thought about it. And that was a turning point. So, I think the first, most important reason for women not being successful is that we are conditioned to put ourselves second. So, when an opportunity even comes to us to lead, we sometimes shy away.

To be successful in STEM, we need to understand that success is not built alone. You could put in your hard work. You could believe in yourself and have the confidence in yourself, but until you have the right advocates who believe in you, it’s still hard to be successful. As you grow further in your career and you really want to be successful, sponsorship comes into the picture more.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am most proud of the network of people I have built. One of my managers once told me, “No matter what code you write, it will be out of the window in less than five years. What stays with you is the network you build, the people you meet.” This has definitely struck a chord with me. When I think about my career and consider new opportunities, I think first about the people I am working with.

The products we build are heavily influenced by the people in charge and the camaraderie we create. People matter the most in any industry and if we can embrace the goodness of the people, we can deliver anything we wish for. I am very proud of and connected to the teams I manage, and that enables me to do a better job at work, too.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

We need to embrace the fact that we’re women. Even to be at the table, we have to be ourselves. So, my biggest factor for achieving success is being myself. If you are trying to fake it, or if you’re trying to mimic somebody else, you can only do it for a short period of time. Don’t try to be the man. We bring different things to technology, our way of thinking, our problem solving is different. Instead of trying to be a man, we must discover our own way of being heard. When a man wants to get attention, he may pound his fist on the table and get attention. And we may not be cool with pounding our fist. That’s okay. We can use our voice to be assertive and still get attention. There may be one or two meetings where you do not get your eye contact, or your voice is not heard the way you would have wanted. But then, be yourself and be persistent about it and keep speaking up. Keep saying what you want to say, because if you don’t say it, how will anybody hear it? And once they hear it, they will know you have information to offer. You have something to say which nobody else thought about.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I have a very different take on mentoring. I don’t think you can have one mentor who can fill all the gaps – you have different people with expertise in different areas, so you need to have a network of mentors rather than just one. I always make myself available for anyone that wants a chat and I like to make them feel comfortable that they can pull me aside. At Shutterstock, we have a Women in Tech group where we can talk about our industry and work out how we can inspire each other, have each other’s backs and recognise our skills. We also bring in inspirational women to talk about their story and give advice e.g. Deirdre Bigley, Chief Marketing Officer at Bloomberg.

For me, I was very lucky that I had that support system at home – I didn’t have to look outside for mentors when I was growing up. My mother has a science background and my father has a mathematics background, which inspired me to follow in their footsteps. My parents did a lot of shaping of my mind when I was young and when I needed that support.

Similar to mentoring, I was sponsored by my previous boss. That’s where I first understood what it meant. He would not shy away being in a room with people of different levels saying that, ‘Hey, I believe in her. And I’m going to let her lead it her way.’ Just being able hear that said aloud vocally, it does wonders to you as somebody is putting their trust in you and you don’t want to violate that.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I once attended a session where my former CTO was speaking to 400 women in tech. The title of that forum was “Women in Tech: The male perspective.” He described this scenario where he asked a woman he managed to lead a part of his organisation and she politely refused, saying she didn’t think she was ready. He told her that if she wasn’t ready, he wouldn’t risk his organisation under her leadership. We need to learn to have confidence that we’re ready and trust that when someone calls upon us to lead, we’re capable of doing it.

We are moving forward, but we hit some setbacks and obstacles along the way. I believe people want to be fair, but to favour individualism and moralism over tribalism will require a shift in mindset. The good news is that people are talking about it. The difficulties arise when the discussion sometimes is not rooted in the right ideals.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

I’d make sure I don’t hold myself hostage to my thoughts of not being able to do something. If you have a good support, there are many touchpoints that you have with people, especially the one-on-ones you have with your manager or your skip-levels and colleagues. First, I’d make sure the direction I want my career to go in is clear. Know that ‘This is my career and I’m driving it. Nobody else is going to drive my career for me.’

I’d then ask myself, ‘What do I want out of my career?’ If I want something out of it, I must make sure that other people are aware of it. And then we work together towards it.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I want to make sure that we are creating more diversity but prevent D&I initiatives turning into box-ticking exercises. Being a woman engineer in NYC looking for a job isn’t too difficult, because many employers are actively looking for you. But does that mean a better candidate loses out? My thought is – it’s the end goal that’s important. We need more women and diversity (I’m just taking women as an example here) so that the products we build are catered to everyone and there is equal room for expression and entitlement. As a society we have stereotypes that have existed for so long, it’s dis-balanced. We are in a hard place where we are desperately trying to fix it, so the future generation does not have to deal with this gap.

One way of fixing this is to correct our education system as I think it is too influenced by the norms of our society. When we hand a barbie doll to a two-year-old girl and a superhero to a two-year-old boy, we are setting the tone for what to expect – there are different places for them in society. That continues in school with the courses that are offered and who studies what. We need to talk to girls about science, the universe, technology, and let them build things with Legos at an early age to pique their interest in science. No more doll houses for them, they need to be playing with transformers!