Inspirational Woman: Riya Shanmugam | GVP, Global Alliances and Channels, New Relic

Meet Riya Shanmugam, GVP, Global Alliances and Channels, New Relic

Riya Shanmugan

Riya Shanmugam is Global Group Vice President of Global Alliances and Channels at New Relic. Riya joined New Relic from Adobe, where she was the Global Head of Cloud Adoption and Customer Success.

Prior to Adobe, Shanmugam served as a customer engineering leader at Google Cloud where she was responsible for working with the platform’s biggest customers, ensuring their success, and serving as a champion of their feedback internally to improve Google Cloud’s capabilities and services.

Before that, she held technical and strategic advisory roles for IBM, AMD, Infosys and several hyper-growth startups.

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

I was born and raised in a small, conservative town in Southern India. Growing up in India, I was pushed to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Those were the three careers deemed “professional” in my culture. I was good at math and loved computers, so I went to school for engineering.

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology from the Amrita School of Engineering and moved to the United States with my husband in 2007 to earn my MBA, where I took on many entrepreneurship courses. In my early career I held various technical and strategic advisory roles for IBM, AMD, Infosys and several hyper-growth startups. I served as a customer engineering leader at Google Cloud, then joined Adobe as the Global Head of Cloud Adoption and Customer Success.

In late 2021, I joined New Relic as Group Vice President of Global Alliances and Channels, the company’s first Global Channel Chief. My primary focus is to revamp and strengthen New Relic’s global partner network. Our first major milestone was the launch of New Relic Partner Stack, a new program expanding New Relic’s support for, and investment in, cloud providers, channel partners, and technology partners.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Before getting started in engineering, I really wanted to have a career in fashion. I recall filling out an application to the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Delhi and bringing it to my father to sign. He said, “No way – fashion can be your hobby, but you need to have a profession.”

My father inspired me to take the engineering path, but I realised quickly that I would never make it as a full-time engineer. I’m a social being: I couldn’t spend the rest of my life sitting in a cubicle, writing code. I got my MBA, taking on many entrepreneurial roles, and since then every job I’ve had has been at the intersection of people and technology.

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

Since immigrating to the United States, I became used to being treated as an outsider. I can’t remember the first time I experienced gender or racial bias in the workplace; it occurred inherently from the start of my career. When I was younger–in my twenties– I would wear glasses (when I didn’t need them) or pantsuits, to appear older or more serious. As a millennial woman of colour, and also a millennial executive of colour, I can say I don’t see a lot of people who look like me.

That inherent bias was difficult to overcome when I was younger and trying to prove myself. But as I continued to grow and evolve, I realised that it didn’t matter. It’s just noise, a distraction. I focused on what I wanted to do and everything else followed.

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

One of the biggest factors to success has been believing in myself and my talents. My confidence has come from that dreaded phrase: imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome hit me hardest when I worked at Google. I would be in meetings with someone who invented a part of Gmail and think to myself, “How the hell did I get here?” Once I settled in, I realised how I contributed and where I brought value. You have to give yourself permission to believe that you earned your place in this room.

I also have a lot of mentors, both active and passive. Every job has given me a mentor that believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. I sprung up in the propulsion of their confidence because I didn’t want to let them down.

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

My advice is: be yourself and be confident, which is so cliche to say, but really worked for me. Earlier in my career, I thought about changing my name from Soundarya (Riya for short), to something more American. I wore glasses and pantsuits to seem older and more serious. But after a point, I realised that was too much effort. I didn’t need to pretend because I knew my value. That’s a mental exercise I think everyone goes through.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There’s been a great deal of progress for women working in tech, but there’s still a long way to go. Inviting men to be part of the conversation is hugely important. I have found myself in situations where men haven’t intentionally tried to exclude me, however, they also weren’t actively trying to be inclusive. If we begin having open conversations with our male counterparts, we can shift this intentional – but also sometimes unintentional – snag in our culture.

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

Our social problem is that we don’t have enough diversity – period. When we post a new job spec at New Relic, we make sure that we screen every single candidate from every walk of life. There are absolutely a wealth of diverse candidates out there that do check every box, and it’s on the onus of the hiring organisations and team to find them and nurture them.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is part of everything we do at New Relic. We’ve created tools designed to integrate equity into everything we do—from hiring and promotions to identifying potential leaders and giving all Relics career growth opportunities. For example, we’ve achieved global pay equity; we launched a women’s sponsorship program that pairs more than 25 executives with female protégés in our product organisation, and our employee-led resource groups (ERG) – like the Women at New Relic ERG provide a sense of belonging and help us celebrate diversity.

There are currently only 21% of women working in tech… If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Our male colleagues and counterparts need to be a part of those conversations and help drive the agenda. Men won’t realise what women go through, or how they can support them until they’re part of the conversation. However, what’s even more important is for women to help each other out. We have to be intentional in championing and fiercely supporting other women at workplaces.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

One of my favorite books is My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future by Indra Nooyi. It’s very personal and taught me a lot about how to balance work, family, and my own identity. One of the best leadership books I love is The Wolfpack by Abby Wambach. Other than that, I highly recommend Brené Brown’s podcast, Dare to Lead.