Meet the Crew: Hemali Gadani, Director of Overseas Operations

Hemali Gadani and her son, Joy - Protovate

Hemali Gadani, Protovate Exec and Director of Overseas Operations, talks to Brian Pollack about her life as a young female coder in India, empowering and leading women in tech, and work life balance.

Brian Pollack  00:04

Hello, and welcome to Proto Typing. I’m Brian Pollack, Owner of Protovate.

Today we’re talking with Hemali Gadani from our team in India, she is one of the most talented leaders I’ve ever had the honor to work with. And I’m excited to share a bit of her story with you. I’ve known Hemali for more than 10 years at this point, she started working with us at Protovate when she was just a junior level programmer many years ago. We’ve done a lot of projects together.

So I honestly don’t remember what project it was. But I think you were working as an iOS developer in the early days of the iPhone. And those are some exciting times, I’d like to take you back to what it was like, as a young female junior level programmer in India, just starting out with an American company had to be a little interesting.

Hemali Gadani  00:53

Yeah, definitely. It was pretty interesting. I remember those early days of 2011. When I just passed out from the college, and I joined a local agency, I was learning the basics of iOS programming. And suddenly, I came to know that from the next day, I will have to join an American company that is having a team of experienced iOS developers. And that was pretty exciting opportunity for me. But at the same time, I was nervous while being a junior female coder in the team. I remember the first task that was assigned to me by Protovate had taken one week to complete. And after a week, I was literally anxious to know what has gone wrong. How can I improve the productivity? And that’s when I completely remember that my habit of not being afraid of asking questions had helped me. I started asking questions to the senior team, I started getting support from them.

The challenge as a female coder at a junior level, while working with a virtual team from America, the time zone was pretty challenging for me. I remember that I had a question in the morning, and I had to wait until the evening. So that’s where I also improved my skills, like I should keep the list ready one day prior to the actual task.

And I remember those times were pretty golden. For me, I learned a lot. I did mistakes, but I always learned from those mistakes.

Brian Pollack  02:23

Yeah, you know, I always tell everyone, this, who works for us, and everyone who I meet, you know, asking questions is really incredibly important. And for some reason, a lot of people seem pretty shy about that as more. So if they’re experienced, they maybe don’t want to show their lack of, of knowledge in a given area because of expectations or something. But questions are really pretty critical to progressing in, you know, in every way. Is that something that you try to teach others around you? Because that’s pretty unique to you?

Hemali Gadani  02:55

Yeah, yeah. That’s something that I always asked my team to do. Even though I know the answer, I let them think I asked them to prepare a list of questions. I expect some of the questions from my team before I tell them the answers. And that’s how the team under me, like whatever project managers are working, or the QA team is working with me, are motivated to keep their questions ready before talking to me.

Brian Pollack  03:23

That’s fantastic. So let’s, let’s go back to 2011. How did you get started in programming? I know in the States, it’s not common to have as many young women in the STEM technology area. And I’ve been surprised my whole career that overseas, it’s much more common, but still not quite as common as it should be. Was it difficult to get into programming was a difficult career to pick?

Hemali Gadani 03:48

Yeah, I would say that in India, specifically in India, we girls are always educated to be extremely shy when it comes to career or the finances. And the field is pretty much male dominant field. So obviously, I had to face some struggle.

My father was the first one who recognized that I’m interested in technology because when I was in high school, I was always interested to know how things are working, how technology can be used to improve the things that they are working right now. So my father was bringing some brochures every summer vacation, I was joining little courses, those are short term summer vacation courses, where I was learning basics of MS Office then C, C++.

My college computer lab was the first one where I tried my first program in C++ the Hello World. That was the first program that I run at the computer college lab and in the college we had a rule to play with computer at least one or two hours after all the lectures are complete. And you won’t believe but I was the last one leaving the college in the parking area. My two wheeler was the only one.

So I was pretty much interested since the beginning. I love coding. And if, if I talk about the family side, then I obviously had a strong support from the family since beginning before marriage or after marriage, but my mother had concern she often asked me, don’t you have a fear of being unemployed while being in a male dominant field? And I always replied, ‘No, Mom, I’m not worried, because I know my abilities. I know my grasping skills. And programming has nothing to do with gender. Even the computer does not know whether I’m a male or female, until and unless I tell to the computers’, so I was pretty confident. And currently, my parents are proud parents, I’m a proud daughter. So I’m happy with the field that I have chosen.

Brian Pollack  05:57

That is an absolutely amazing response, to your mother the computer doesn’t know if I’m male or female, that’s fantastic. I’m going to keep that and share that with with others. That is still a problem. At least in the States, I’m, you know, getting ladies involved in tech. And that’s just a great way of looking at it. It’s fantastic that you have that support system at home is that it doesn’t seem to be super common, though, at least 10 years ago. So would you say that you’re maybe better positioned or that family support system was really important to you getting started?

Hemali Gadani 06:30

Yeah, definitely. It was pretty important.

Brian Pollack  06:32

Your mother, she was worried about you finding work in the programming fields? Is that inside India, is that something difficult for women to do?

Hemali Gadani 06:42

Yeah, I would say it is pretty challenging. Let me give you an example. As I said, in India, we females are educated to be very, very shy since the beginning, I remember that.

If a girl that loves her career or the finances, the people start tagging her as a selfish girl. And sometimes I have even noticed that whenever the female is appearing for an interview, in a panel of five male candidates she often feels shy, but at the end of interview, she is being labeled as less confident. But that is not the truth. She, has been educated to be very shy. And that’s why she felt shy.

So these are some of the common reasons why male candidates are being chosen, over female candidates.

But I would like to tell every woman that even though you are being cared as a delicate thing, but you are not delicate. You can do hard things. Go for it. This field is amazing.

Brian Pollack  07:42

That is fantastic advice. Now, in in the many years that we’ve known each other, you have come so far and grown such an incredible team over there in your offices. And part of that team, we have a very large number of women who are programmers, project managers and and every other kind of imaginable job. Is it a goal of yours? Has it been important to employ more women in the industry?

Hemali Gadani 08:09

I would say yes, even in my inhouse team, you won’t believe but we have 60/40 ratio. 60% candidates in my team are female, and 40% are male. The reason why I promote my female candidate in the tech world is because they are dropping their career after having kids. But I think that they are intelligent. Why should they drop their career? So I support them. Even in my team, every girl has their own story. Every girl has their own family background and the family struggle. I know every one of their stories, they are sharing the personal matters with me. And I keep motivating them and I promised them to keep one or the other work but do not drop from the career. Work at least part time. When your child will be little mature, you will be able to turn your career from part time to full time. So I definitely support that female should follow the tech world and should not drop their career in the middle of the life. You can still manage work and life together.

Brian Pollack  09:17

That’s fantastic. Now we’re talking about kids and and I’ve known your beautiful son Joy since he was just a baby and he’s now a very handsome young man and running around everywhere and how has it been raising your own son while working the million hours that you work? How do you how do you do all that every day?

Hemali Gadani 09:39

Okay, that’s a very good question. Well, Joy is very intelligent and very supportive child I would say. And you know, we used to have two kinds of families in India. One is called a joint family. Another is called nuclear family. In joint family we are having multiple generations living together. under the same roof, and in nuclear family, there will be only couple and the dependent child if there are any.

I personally belonging to a joint family and my in laws, my husband are very, very supportive. And even me and my husband have a mutual understanding. And we have our own rules to, to how to raise joy. So sometimes it happens that Joy needs me. And at the same time, I have priority at the work. So in such cases, Mike handles Joy very nicely. He explains him that Mama has work she has to finish. After she’s done with the work, she will spend quality time with you. And he totally understands.

Sometimes when I have a late night calls, he understands. He goes out of the room just because the noise does not happen during the call. So he totally supports me. And at the same time, we are supporting him like we should not miss any of his childhood moments. Every first time moment we have captured on camera. We are spending quality time during weekends.

Brian Pollack  11:08

I know that when Joy was younger you took a lot of steps to make your office and workspace kid friendly. I think an advantage that maybe not everyone has there is that really helped the culture in the office over there. Do other women bring children in and other families in general?

Hemali Gadani 11:26

Yes, definitely. I was the first one who was bringing a child in the office while working. And the girls in my office pretty much motivated from this step from me. So after me, three more girls started bringing their kids to the office and Joy has has his own friends at the office, even today as well. Like, whenever I go to the office, I will call one or two girls to come to the office with kids. And they will play in a separate area. And we will work in a separate cabin.

Brian Pollack  11:58

That’s absolutely great that you’re able to do that. We’re very family focused at Protovate and love to see that we’re growing the next generation in a good environment. Would you encourage Joy to go into a tech field?

Hemali Gadani 12:11

I think I should wait until he is 18. Currently we are motivating, me and Mike are motivating him towards the thing that he loves everyday.

He loves new things these days. So we are motivating him. But definitely we will wait until he is 18. After 18, if we will find that he has a lot of interest in the tech field, then definitely we would allow him to go towards this field. This field is very flexible. And I’m sure he will enjoy the field in future if he joins.

Brian Pollack  12:43

That’s awesome. It’s a good strategy. So I want to go back a few years again, to back to the beginning, you started working with an American company. And you know, it hasn’t been that long, only 10 years or so. But the world has changed a lot in those 10 years, especially with international work. What was it like, you know, joining this international team, what were there some things that surprised you about how other cultures worked or how Americans did business or just in general?

Hemali Gadani 13:14

Okay, that the major challenge while working with an American company in my initial years of career was time zone. I was very much, I was very much interested in working IST hours during the initial years, but you won’t believe that since five years, I love working during EST hours more than the IS hTours. So, that is something I have adopted throughout the 10 years of my career while working with an American company.

The other thing is communication. You know, English is not our first language, but Gujarati is our mother tongue and we speak Gujarati at home as well. So, during initial period of my career, I was struggling to express myself when I had to say something in English. But I would say in the last 10 years, I have tremendous improvement in my English communication skill.

Currently, if I have to share something, I have to motivate the team all around the world. I know their culture, like how what kind of gestures, they will love. What kind of ethics they will love. That I have learned while working with an American company throughout this 10 years. And communication has a great improvement.

Brian Pollack  14:33

Yeah, for sure you it would be hard to know that this wasn’t your native language, your writing and communication is amazing.  So over the years we have encouraged some of the developers to improve on their English or continue to grow in order to you know better work in this kind of international environment. Is that something that is generally lacking in kind of education system there or is it really regional dependent?

Hemali Gadani 15:05

Yeah, Iwould say something is lacking here. Because if I take an example of my own son like Joy’s school, I have taken an admission to an English medium school, but whenever I will speak to his educators, they will always communicate with me in Gujarati. So we usually have a question, if they are speaking with me in Gujarati, then they must be speaking in Gujarati with Joy as well during the class. So that’s something that education at an education level, The schools should have to adopt any communication should be in English, if the child has enrolled in English medium. That is something that that is lacking, that education at the school level itself, I would say, and if that can be improved, then probably people may have less struggle during the initial career.

And for me, I’m always taking care of Joy. Like during weekend we always speak in Gujarati even though during the weekdays he speaks Gujarati, but during weekend we speak English only. I always communicate with him in English only. And he is very much get grasping the English grammar skills. And if you will talk to him, you will not find that he’s a newbie to English.

Brian Pollack  16:27

But that might give him an advantage in international business or whatever career he’s going into. You know, as I mentioned, over the last 10 plus years, you’ve really gone very far in your career. I mean, you were just a junior programmer at one point, shy, just trying to get through the the programming world. You mean your talent and skill was apparent right away, really comes down to hard work and effort and you have it in abundance. And you still do. You’ve now become this pretty amazing business person, a community leader. Fantastic. Mother, and and just all around role model for those that work in your office. What is it that motivates you every day?

Hemali Gadani 17:16

Very interesting question. This is where the credit goes to Protovate I would say because, as you know, since the day I have started my career, just few years after I started my career, I have joined Protovate and I’m still with Protovate. So the trust that the Protovate team, you Laura, everyone in the Protovate has shown towards me, the flexibility and the freedom that you are giving me drives me every day. These are my key motivators. And apart from that, my internal team, as I said, like every girl, is every girl in my team has their own story, and it is my responsibility to keep them going. So for them, I keep doing great work every day, and they are getting motivated by my actions. These are really key motivators.

Brian Pollack  18:06

Honestly, I’m motivated by you as well, you’re, you do amazing work over there. What are some of the challenges that you might face as a young person trying to lead? You know, a techy business, your own company, your own team? What are some of the challenges that you face in India that we might not understand?

Hemali Gadani  18:27

Well, leadership is a major responsibility, I would say, because it requires a lot of skills, the background skills are important. Your behavior makes a lot of sense when you are leading a team of several people. And the most challenging thing is when you have a team, and that team has member that is older than you and you have to ask them to work on something. So that is pretty challenging. And I have faced that personally. Sometimes I feel shy to ask someone who is older than me to work on this and even more challenging to tell them their mistakes. During those times. I was pretty shy and I was writing in chat like you have done this, this, this mistakes. From next time please improve this.

But throughout these years, when I have to work with virtual team, I can’t write everything in a chat. So I have learned work ethics to work with different age groups and my work ethics are always to be humble and to be very friendly with the team so during initial time the team will behave formally with me but after a few months of working with me they will find a friend in me and I’m sure that after you are a friend for your team, they will not, they will, or I will not have an excuse related to age group. They will take everything positively even if we are telling them the mistakes or we are motivating them.

Brian Pollack  19:59

That is a fantastic philosophy. I know, not every leader and boss understands that, but that’s definitely some great advice.

Do you think that the office is a little different? Because a lot of the workers are techies. I know, you know, programmers are kind of a different kind of person. Sometimes we’re a little different, that’s for sure. Do you have to make special kind of changes in the office? Because people are techie?

Hemali Gadani 20:27

Yeah, sometimes it happens that while working eight hours a day, they feel a little stressful. So me and Mike keeps thinking like, what should we do to keep our teams stress free, because technology is not an easy thing.

If they are coding or they are testing something continuously for eight hours, they need refreshment. So we arranged a lot of celebrations at our office. Like if there is a birthday, we won’t tell him or her that we have kept celebration for her suddenly, at 5pm surprise will pop up for her. And this way, we have parties on going at office. Since last two years, the team is working from home and we couldn’t arrange periodically. But after the COVID was down, like cases are decreasing in the city, we started to get together, we are meeting in the evening at some restaurant or having a dinner or lunch together. And that’s how we are keeping our team motivated and to take less stress.

Brian Pollack  21:34

So it must have been a struggle with everyone having to be on lockdown. Do you think that made it a lot more stressful to run the office?

Hemali Gadani 21:42

During one or two months? Yes, we were facing struggle. Because suddenly the face to face communication has turned into calls and chats. So team was having struggle, we were having struggle. But gradually everyone had adapted. Adapted the way he had to work or she had to work. And the thing we noticed was our team was loving how they were, they improved the way they were balancing work life. Previously, they got time to spend time with their kids, they got time to spend time with their families. So we were checking their social media post, they were increasing. And when they gradually grasped that like team is enjoying while working from home then why can’t we adapt? And that’s how we decided to announce that, okay, you can work from anywhere. So even if you are on a hill station, go with a laptop, keep the internet ready. If we will have an emergency, we will contact you otherwise spend time with your family. So this is how we have adapted it. It was challenging, but we have adopted it.

Brian Pollack  21:52

Now I think 10 years ago that probably would have been pretty tough because of the infrastructure in India, at least in many parts of India. Is it getting better in terms of access and faster internet connections? 4g and 5g Mobile?

Hemali Gadani 23:07

Yes, the 4g is completely available since last two, three years and the technology is being developed for 5g as well. Even the government of India is supporting such startups like that we have some competitions locally to appear if you have a good startup, this good startup ideas or any innovative ideas related to technology for internet for sure it is improved. And for other part of technology, definitely the government of India is supporting local agencies are supporting even, even in our office, we started bringing devices like Oculus, VR and everything. So we are moving one step ahead every year.

Brian Pollack  23:52

That is a fantastic point. I know I talk to a lot of people, and they still have this assumption that you know, the everyone in India is working in a cramped office with hundreds of people on a 10 year old Dell laptop and they have dial up speed internet, but it’s just not like that at all. I mean, you have the latest MacBooks and 4g 5g Internet. You have beautiful office space over there. Oculus VR, you think that the world is kind of leveling out in terms of access? And is that making a difference over there?

Hemali Gadani 24:29

Yeah, definitely. If we compare to the years of 2010 When I joined the office, or the time when I was taking an internship during the last two years of my college the way I was working that time versus the way I am working with my team currently, there is a major difference.

As you say, previously, we had old computer, even the keyboard was not working when I was in the intensive, so I had a lot of struggles but nowadays, every office has their own ambience. Like they are keeping people friendly environment at the office, they are keeping a space for some indoor games and everything to keep people refreshed during the break time. So definitely everything has improved and related to technology. Every office has started using the latest technologies smart or fast Internet services.

Brian Pollack  25:27

That’s fantastic to hear. I think it does still surprise people that the tech industry in India isn’t second class anymore. It’s really what would you say a first class member of the world in terms of you have access to everything you need. Great training.

If you were to give some advice to the younger generation who are in your journey right now, in college in India, considering a tech career, what kind of advice would you give them?

Hemali Gadani 25:58

The key advice from me would be to believe in yourself. Because I have seen girls are very smart at technology, they can code but sometimes the people around them used to demotivate them by saying that this is not your field. This is something you can’t jump in immediately. You can’t earn money. But I would say this is not the case. This is a very flexible field. I have an amazing experience being in this field since last 10 years. And I would say this fields provides a lot of flexibility. You can go for it. And you should go for it. If you love to improve yourself day by day. keep learning, keep improving. Keep coding.

Brian Pollack  26:39

That’s excellent advice. No matter where you are in the world. You know, we’ve been working on some pretty exciting projects you just mentioned Oculus. We do a lot of VR. The next generation of AR glasses coming out are pretty amazing. What kinds of things are you hoping to work with in the next few years?

Hemali Gadani 26:56

Artificial intelligence, that is something I’m loving, I would love in future to manage a project that is based on VR technologies. I worked on some or the other project with basic requirements. But something that I’m interested in would be related to artificial intelligence.

Brian Pollack  27:18

Artificial intelligence, definitely a hot field and VR a hot field. It would be absolutely fantastic to see some work that combines AI and VR come through.

Well, before we go, I just wanted to mention Mike for a minute. Mike’s your husband, I’ve known him for a long time. At one point, you did some work for us. I’ll tell a story. I remember, you know, at one point, I didn’t know that Mike was related to you at all. Or then he was working on one of your teams. And I was doing a code audit and not super thrilled with his work. And I said you got to, you got to get on that guy, he’s got to improve. That was definitely, I’m sure a challenge for you. But Mike has been a real trooper real supporter. He’s helped out with Protovate before. I mean, he’s just a tremendous guy. Tremendous father. And we’re happy to have both of you around to help us with our venture. And, you know, I look forward to talking to you next time about more AI and VR VR projects.

Hemali Gadani 28:17

Thank you so much. I will convey your wishes and thanks to Mike, thank you.

Brian Pollack  28:22

We’d really appreciate both of you and your whole team. Take care. We’ll talk next time

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