Women in Tech: Qualcomm’s Viji Ranganna on breaking barriers and chasing dreams

Viji Ranganna says she always took advantage of being the only woman in the boardroom. People noticed her and she made sure to give her inputs and be heard.
Women in Tech: Qualcomm’s Viji Ranganna on breaking barriers and chasing dreams
Women in Tech: Qualcomm’s Viji Ranganna on breaking barriers and chasing dreams

In 1992, a time when anyone going to the US to study was a rare phenomenon, Viji Ranganna dreamt big. Not only did she want to go to the US to do her Masters, she wanted to one day work for a hardware company like Intel.

And despite opposition from her parents and apprehensions from people around her, she made it happen.

“My parents were very unwilling to send me to the US, especially coming from a lower-middle class kind of family. Many people would advise my parents to get me married and then send me and some would say US was not a safe place. I almost went on a hunger strike. At that point the only jobs we could get in Bengaluru were in software. But I was very passionate about hardware. I had to do quite a bit of convincing. That was the first time I really put my foot down on trying to do what I wanted to do in life. I was very sure about where I wanted to be: Silicon Valley, California and work for a company like Intel,” reminisces Viji.

Viji then went on to receiving a Master’s in Electrical Engineering, after which she went to California in 1995 to work with Electronics Design Automation (EDA) software company. Two years later, she joined Intel in Santa Clara as a Component Design Engineer working on all the micro-processes. It was Viji’s dream come true. She went on to work with Intel in the US for seven years, post which she moved to India to set up a new division for Intel. In 2008, she joined Qualcomm as a senior staff manager and is now a senior director for engineering leading about 300 people. 

Viji says that having moved to the US at a time when they were very few people getting a student visa to study there, she was one of the few and the only Indian girl in her class.

“You would hardly see any women in the STEM field. So, I would just hang out with boys. Even now if you see, all my classmates who have been friends with me are all boys. So, I always stand out in the crowd, I should say. Even right now, as a senior director, when I attend board meetings or executive meetings, most of the time I will be one in 45 or one in 50 women in that boardroom,” Viji says.

And while Viji didn’t feel a bias in the initial stages of her career, she says that as you move up the ladder, there is a bias.

“I probably didn’t look much into what my raise was or if I was getting cornered or something. But as you move up the ladder, there is a slight bias which is not very apparent. For women, me for example, it took a little longer than it would have taken men to get promoted to a senior director because they are thinking, does she have to support her daughter? Will this come in the way? Will she able to travel? We are more than willing to do everything. As you move higher up the grade, you will start to feel these biases somehow. And that is why more women fall out as they are moving along their career. So you see fewer and fewer women up the ladder,” Viji says.

And how did she fight that? By standing out. Viji says she always took advantage of being the only female person in the boardroom, which gave her a chance to stand out. “So then whenever I make a certain input or comment to a project, people notice me. I always make sure to sit at the table and give my inputs and make sure that I am always heard,” she adds.

And today at Qualcomm, Viji ensures there is a conscious effort to make sure women are given equal opportunity in terms of promotions, raises, etc. and they are also educating first-level, second-level managers to ensure that there is fairness.

“We consciously make sure that men are told about these things and we are consciously trying to improve the percentage of women because we need to have a diverse environment. This is at least how we are tackling this,” she adds.

But over the years, Viji acknowledges that a lot has improved with more women coming into engineering roles.

“And if you look at any conference, we are always having special section for women engineers to present their accomplishments. Last year in IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), there was an engineering summit exclusively for women. And I should say, it was so well represented, almost 400 women engineers came to that conference which is extremely big. And there were really good papers from women. And definitely we are evolving, but I think we need to see more and more representation of women at the senior level so that they are consciously promoting other women and the bias is reduced,” Viji says.

And conferences such as these, Viji says, really help and motivate young women to come forward and look at the wealth of opportunities that lie out there.

Viji’s advice to aspiring women technologists? Don’t ever give up a dream just because you’re a woman, she says. When you do good work, no one will care if you are a man or a woman.

“But don’t ever take advantage of being a woman and expect special privileges - those things set you back. Be passionate, chase your dreams. You don’t have to compromise or trade off because you’re a woman. Put your foot down and be assertive,” Viji says.

It worked for her. “When my mother saw how passionate I was about studying hardware, she began supporting me. And today they are extremely proud of who I am,” Viji adds. 

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