Last month, while I was in Bengaluru, India, for work, our HR manager for Asia asked me to address Synopsys women on women’s empowerment. I prepared a simple 10-slide presentation that outlined the key challenges I faced as a woman, how I had overcome them, and how the mentorship program at Cigital, now Synopsys, had a huge impact on my success.
While talking about the mentorship program, I told my audience how important it is for me to have a mentor, even though I now successfully mentor several men and women. During my 1-hour talk, I repeatedly talked about my mentors, Girish Janardhanudu and Kabir Mulchandani, without whom I would never have achieved success in my career.
When I came back from my India trip on Feb. 9, I saw that Sheryl Sandberg and LeanIn.org had launched the #MentorHer campaign. What better way to showcase my own success than to talk about two incredible people who have mentored me and given me equal access to all opportunities at Cigital, now Synopsys.
Here are two key things that I look for in a mentor (taken from my interview with CloudBees):
I learned quite early in my career how negative feedback can be detrimental to one’s mind-set. I employ the PIP method: Start with positive feedback. Next, explain in clear terms how your mentee can improve. Then end the conversation by reiterating the positive feedback and the importance of integrating the feedback for personal and professional development.
Many times, I have seen people getting distracted, using their phones, and checking social media while we were having a conversation. I encourage you to switch off the phone, turn off the computer, and make eye contact while listening to your mentee. Give them suggestions, ask questions, and reiterate what they said. Focus all your energy on helping your mentee during your feedback time. They should be the priority at that moment.
Around 2012, while I was looking for a new mentor, Kabir joined Cigital. While discussing with Girish the possibility of Kabir being my mentor, he said, “Meera, you already have access to me. Why not try Kabir?” Being a very technical person, I was not sure Kabir would be a good match for my interests and technical goals. However, with assurance from Girish, I decided to see what I could learn from Kabir. The very first time I met him and discussed the possibility of him being my mentor, I came to know that he was very straightforward and asked questions that made me think twice. He was always able to give me constructive feedback, be it good or bad.
Even though I was confident in my technical knowledge, I clearly lacked consulting and marketing skills. Kabir recognized this opportunity for improvement and made it my number one priority. I tried to back down, saying, “I don’t need to learn consulting skills, since I am not interested in that pathway.” But Kabir pushed me. He started involving me in all client calls, scoping calls, and work on SOWs. This involved a little more travel than my usual, which I complained about. (If you know me, you know I hate traveling.) But with his encouragement, I started seeing the other side of the consulting business and the value of having that skill set.
I remember one incident when Kabir asked me directly, “You are the go-to person for anyone that has questions about secure code review, automation, and CI/CD. Why are you not the practice director?” My answer was “I don’t know.” He pushed me to speak up and ask tough questions. He asked me to speak at local chapters, contribute to Cigital and Synopsys blogs, and make myself more visible. I took this as a challenge; I started speaking at conferences in the United States and around the world and contributing articles regularly to the company’s blog. With these changes, titles and recognition for my hard work came flowing in.
I always had access to Girish and enjoyed discussing challenges I was facing with him. Around 2015 Girish became my operational mentor. During that same time, CI/CD and DevSecOps were making their mark on the world. Having been a CI guru since 2003, and with the support of Girish, I started focusing more on projects involving CI/CD and building security into the DevSecOps pipeline. Each time I went to Girish with a problem, he asked me questions and pushed me to think of solutions and explore my own thoughts. After listening to him talk as he approached all problems with a different mind-set, I can now think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions. Let me be clear: Girish is brutally honest, and that’s a quality I greatly admire in a mentor. That level of frank feedback really helped me succeed. The most important reason Girish has had such an impact on me is that he wants me to excel and truly believes in my potential. Not only that, but he sees all those areas of improvement and supports me to become the person I want to be.
It is important for men in leadership positions to help women, mentor them, and build the next generation of women leaders. Because in the end, it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman; a good mentor sees people with great potential and homes in on how to make them reach it. I hope my success and my story about my mentors Kabir and Girish can inspire both men and women. I hope my mentors’ passion for mentorship encourages other men to adopt a similar role and mentor up-and-coming women.
Let me close this article by sharing the definition of a mentor by the Prometheus Foundation, which aptly fits my mentors Girish and Kabir:
“A great mentor has a knack for making us think we are better than we think we are. They force us to have a good opinion of ourselves, let us know they believe in us. They make us get more out of ourselves, and once we learn how good we really are, we never settle for anything less than our very best.”
Meera Rao (Subbarao) is a senior director for product management (DevOps solutions) at Synopsys. She has over 20 years of experience in software development organizations in a variety of roles including Architect, Lead Developer, Project Manager, and Security Architect. Meera has overseen and performed secure code reviews, static analysis implementations, architectural risk analyses, secure design reviews, and threat modeling of systems built from a few thousand lines of code to systems containing tens of millions of lines of code. She has developed multiple Synopsys training courses and is a certified instructor in architectural risk analysis, threat modeling, and more.