UC San Diego Alumna Speaks to the Power of the Individual Contributor
|Alumna Shraddha Chaplot was recently featured in Vogue India as a Silicon Valley Girl|
San Diego, Calif., Feb. 24, 2016 – University of California, San Diego alumna and Cisco Greengineer Shraddha Chaplot never imagined she’d be where she is now – an engineer at a tech giant and an inspirational speaker, recently featured in Vogue India as a Silicon Valley Girl.
As an undergraduate in electrical engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering (BS’ 2008), Chaplot participated in the Team Internship Program (TIP), which landed her a job at Cisco in 2008. Chaplot started as an intern for the project Design for Environment, where she worked on energy efficiency and power management of Cisco products. Following graduation, she returned to Cisco as a full-time employee to join the Accessibility Team and tested products to ensure they were usable by people with disabilities.
“After two-and-a-half years on the Accessibility Team, I transitioned into building and leading the Energy Star Compliance Test Lab at Cisco. One summer, I also managed a team from the Jacobs School of Engineering TIP,” said Chaplot. “Together, we built a visually stimulating energy efficiency demo for lab tours that featured two generations of one of our products, Arduino-based code and a touch screen. This interactive demo enabled tour groups to engage with the products firsthand, see how our products consumed less energy and thus, grasp a better understanding of the technology and networking behind it.”
While at UC San Diego, Chaplot participated in the Global TIES program, where she says she gained real-world engineering experience.
“I loved the theory of electrical engineering, but my favorite activities by far were the real-world engineering experiences, like building a solar kiosk with Global TIES,” said Chaplot. “When you’re in class, you usually only get to interact with one type of engineer. Programs like Global TIES bring people of all facets and talents together and I was thrilled to participate in it for multiple quarters.”
The Jacobs School is now working to ensure that all engineering students have hands-on engineering experiences from day-one through the Experience Engineering Initiative.
In addition to Global TIES, Chaplot took other opportunities to gain the real-world engineering experience she was passionate about, through internships.
“I had a total of six internships while I was at UC San Diego,” said Chaplot. “The first was at a small startup called Dotworkz (they build climate controlled camera enclosures) and I did everything there, from building the products by hand to bringing on and leading two teams of mechanical engineering UCSD students for their senior design project. I even trained the incoming CTO of the company! Me - an intern! I had a great relationship with the CEO, and I joke with him that I have always believed I can do anything regardless of my title because he never said I couldn’t. His support helped me pinpoint what I wanted out of all my internships and jobs: no boundaries. That experience and self-realization set the tone for me – a title does not determine your contribution; your vision and efforts do.”
Lessons Learned at Cisco
“Earlier on during my time at Cisco, I learned about the importance of feeling welcome and comfortable,” said Chaplot. “These two things allow people to embrace their strengths and focus on more relevant aspects, like innovating and positively changing people’s lives. When I was an intern, I spoke very little, so I didn’t get to take advantage of all that I could. Instead of thinking of how I could build something, I was shy and stayed in my cube, reading white papers on energy efficiency. I realized there were opportunities missed in not sharing ideas or discussing technologies. Ever since then, I made it a point to mentor whoever I could so they wouldn’t experience what I did - I’ve always wanted people to feel at ease so they could focus on what’s more relevant .”
During her time in the Accessibility Team, Chaplot was the first to bring on two interns who were deaf. In addition, she hosted the first-ever “tele-career” fair with the university using Cisco’s video technology TelePresence, and spearheaded the acquisition of a $100K gift that would enable the college to propose enhancements and solutions for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing for Cisco products.
Because of these contributions and her passion, Chaplot was asked not once, but twice, to join the Board of Directors at the Rochester Institute of Technology – National Technical Institute for the Deaf.
“I felt under-qualified, after all, I had only just graduated from college a few years before, so I said no,” said Chaplot. “A year and a half later, they asked me again and I said you know what, yes, why not! It’s been an incredible journey, and I learned that you should never say no because you think you don’t have the experience, the years, or the title. They picked you for a reason, try it out, and see what you’re made of.”
Currently, Chaplot serves on the Corporate Social Responsibility team at Cisco.
“Every day, I get to create and build Internet of Everything (IoE) experiments,” said Chaplot. “I have this lifelong mentality that anywhere I go, that place becomes my playground. And for nearly eight years, I have made Cisco my playground.”
Chaplot says she’s living her dream job, and would someday like to have her own magical experimental lab, write a book for children about mathematical patterns, and show people that being smart is cool.
“And of course, my next job will be Intergalactic Engineer – it’ll be out-of-this-world amazing,” said Chaplot about a job she has created for her future self.
Advice for Professionals
As a child, Chaplot’s parents observed her passion for making, breaking, and fixing things.
“They started calling me their ‘Little Fixer,’ and knew I'd grow up to be an engineer,” said Chaplot.
But, Chaplot says, not everyone has someone who encourages and supports them to pursue technical fields, and not everyone has the opportunity to start exploring the areas of STEM from early on in his or her childhood.
“It is never too late to change that mentality and pursue a career in STEM and, particularly, IT (information technology),” said Chaplot. “In fact, it's not STEM, it's STEAM – that's STEM with all the arts (writing, music, theater, fashion, drawing, etc). At Cisco, one of my personal missions for years has been to introduce and lead the initiative for STEAM. We often think that a career in STEM means there's just one part of us in the mix and that our artistic and creative qualities are not engaged. On the contrary, it's the artistic and authentic aspect of ourselves that brings out the best of our work.”
Chaplot is tremendously passionate about STEAM and that is how she discovered and backed a company on Kickstarter in 2013 called Two-Bit Circus (2BC) – first as a personal passion project, then as a way to combine work and play. She envisioned a partnership between Cisco and 2BC’s STEAM Carnival, and in June of this year, convinced the company to become a title sponsor. “For me, this is the perfect example of what an individual can do – whether in a company or society. I am grateful that Cisco believed in my vision and embraced what I could bring to the company.”
On the Power and Rise of the Individual Contributor
“I always talk about the power of individuals, and that’s where I coined my ‘Rise of the Individual Contributor’ mentality,” said Chaplot. “I have been an individual contributor during my time at Cisco, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We have the power to show how a combination of the brain and heart – good ideas and a desire to make the world a better place - can transcend any title you have. Recently, we got a new CEO named Chuck Robbins and I thought it would be an exciting and fashionable way to welcome him if everyone wore Chucks (Converse All-Stars) to our companywide Cisco Rocks celebration. The idea spread like wildfire, to the point where one huge team pooled money to get him a customized pair with flames on them. I believe we all have the power to ignite positive change, we just have to find it in ourselves to make it happen.”