Vasudha Swaminathan is a senior product manager with well rounded experience in technology and in the marketing of high tech products. She’s motivated by the drive to design and market increasingly customer centric products and services and is a results driven strategic thinker.

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

I grew up in India, where I pursued my bachelors in computer engineering and started my career as a developer building technology products. When I began my career as a developer, I didn’t always get the “why?” of building those features or improvements or the problems we were solving. That desire to interact with customers and ability to see the value and impact of the products we build led me to pursue my Masters of Business at the University of Washington in Seattle. From my time at grad school, it became clear that technology based product management was my true passion.

Over the last 14 years, I have been fortunate to have built products in a range of industries, including gaming, stock photography, cloud computing, and of course, community driven knowledge management here at Stack Overflow, where I’ve been for the last six and a half years. I began as a product manager and am now the Senior Director of Product for our flagship SaaS platform for knowledge management and collaboration, Stack Overflow for Teams. We are at the beginning of an exciting chapter in our journey, where we’re bringing together the established value of our product with advances in GenAi to deliver more value and efficiency to our users and continue to delight them. I am exactly where I wanted to be!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, not really. I knew I loved technology but didn’t know what product management was, or that it even existed, then. The best way I’d describe my path thus far is a collection of forks in the road, and a combination of decisions that felt right in the moment, mostly fueled by curiosity. I encountered uncertainty at some of those forks in the road, but that is inevitable.

I’d much rather look forward to what is to come, than look back and wonder “what if?”.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

One of the most challenging periods in my career thus far was when I had just become a mother, which meant I needed to work remotely a few days a week. This was long before the rise of remote-first work employers – I was the only one working remotely then! While my employer, at that point, graciously made accommodations for me to work remotely, I felt held back professionally. I no longer felt challenged or excited to solve new problems. Those who were physically present at the office were in the thick of things, and I was beginning to stagnate. I had to change the equation quickly but also balance being present as a mother so as to not miss out on the early years of my baby. You don’t get that time back. When I found Stack Overflow, a company that lives and breathes remote-first operations and principles but also provides a challenging and collaborative environment to do exciting work in product and make a difference, there was no looking back for me.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

The last six years here at Stack Overflow have been some of the best ones of my career thus far. Working with brilliant colleagues and building and launching an award-winning platform together that also delights customers is hard to beat. As a product manager, one of the categories of features you could launch that gives the most satisfaction are the ‘unmet and unknown’ needs. These needs may not be something a customer directly asks for or calls out, but one that you identify as an opportunity and problem that you believe will improve the experience for your users. Content Health is one feature on Stack Overflow for Teams that was born internally but the minute we started discussing the idea with customers it resulted in excitement and anticipation from them. Content Health continues to be a key differentiator for Stack Overflow for Teams and often amplifies the value of our additional product updates.

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

In terms of where I am now, I think what keeps me going is an obsession with our customers and striving to solve real problems for our users. I bite my tongue if I ever hear myself saying “that’s not my job”, or let the lack of knowledge in any area hold me back. Leading with curiosity, and learning as much as possible while also building relationships with my colleagues and network have been my guiding principles.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Stay curious, that’s the only way you can ensure you don’t accumulate rust. Technology is easily the most innovative space you can be in, and your value comes from being current. Even if you choose to move into management, understanding the underlying technology is what will make you stand apart. Second, find your real passion and really do some digging as to why you’re in this and what makes you happy. The minute work feels like work and you’re not excited by what you’re doing, you know you’re in the wrong place.

What barriers for women working in tech are still to be overcome?

While unequal pay and career progression continues to still plague organisations, I am heartened by progress in recent years, including knowing there are employers like Stack Overflow that prioritise pay equity and career progression for folks in underrepresented genders, sexual orientations, and other minority groups. I also think the lack of female mentors and role models in technology makes it hard for women to visualise themselves in a leadership role. The tide is turning on that front as well, with more and more inspiring women in visible leadership positions such as Mira Murati, the CTO of OpenAI.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

First and foremost, organisations should recognise that talent is talent. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Second, practicing equality in pay and implementing avenues for career progression, while enabling and fostering a culture that promotes diversity and inclusion and fights stereotypes and biases can help attract talent to an organisation. With more women in leadership roles, there are more individuals with a seat at the table that know those struggles intimately and bring fresh perspective on what needs to change.

In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

Simply put, hire the best candidate for the job. That might mean opening up your candidate pool and sourcing channels first so you have a wider range – this is also where remote work is an advantage! Talent is everywhere. Organisations can also fight conscious and unconscious biases by providing training for their employees and creating an environment that rewards exceptional work. That’s also how you as an organisation can ensure exceptional talent finds you.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There’s so much material out there. If I had to pick some of my top choices would be Women Who Code’s blog, Pivot by Jenny Blake (a book that really spoke to me directly), Brotopia by Emily Chang, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (one of my favorites at the early stages of my career), and also HBR’s Women at Work podcast. I’d also say that part of women having an equal seat at the table means we need to have a full perspective. Find the best resources for what you are curious about, and go deep, not just wide.