Technology at Salesforce: We Are More Similar Than We Are Different
By: Olivia Lam, WITI Staff Writer
How does one achieve work/life balance, and what does that look like in the professional realm? Suma Sushilendra is a testament to the fact that you have all the tools to—you just might not realize it. As Senior Director of Software Engineering for Salesforce, Suma leads with intelligence, empathy, and her most authentic self. With the power of technology and her ability to inspire, Suma is solving the world’s challenges one by one.
Bringing Your Authentic Self
Salesforce’s Industries Cloud has around two dozen products, 14 of which are worked on by Suma and her team, yet Suma still considers herself a “people manager” at the end of the day. Her role emphasizes the importance of prioritizing people by attracting, encouraging, leading, and retaining talent. Suma understands putting her team first allows them to put their best work forward and maximize the product’s functionality. “Managing both products and people means knowing who your product is for, my team within Salesforce makes products for a broad range of industries such as communications, media, manufacturing, retail, and the public sector. Each industry caters to a niche domain and the product must help customers solve their problems and run their businesses successfully.”
Before joining Salesforce, Suma’s career path had been going in a different direction. Her daughter entered a crucial stage in her academic life, and she wanted to be there to support and encourage her without having to compromise work.
Yet with 19 years under her belt working with a large tech company, change was not a simple process for Suma. After considering switching industries, staying in tech, or leaving all together, Suma decided to retire. 14 months after retiring, she was offered a job at Salesforce and hasn’t looked back since.
“Here is an incredible opportunity: I can work for the number one CRM Platform, that is something I have never done before.” Even better was her immediate connection to Salesforce’s core values: trust, innovation, equality, customer success, and sustainability. The two that resonated with her the most were trust and equality. “We may look different, we may speak differently. I may have an accent, to me you may have an accent, but at the end of the day it is amazing how we can put these things aside, connect, and build trust with one another.”
We Are Born Problem Solvers
Suma first noticed the lack of female representation in her career path in college, “there were 110 people and 13 of us were girls.” This only persisted as she advanced in the tech industry — from classes, to teams, and to particularly leadership positions, Suma witnessed the gender gap firsthand in STEM focused roles. “No one is to blame, that’s how it is, but it can be changed. It begins with me.” The first step for Suma was to recognize it, not by pointing it out and making it into a problem, but by acknowledging and refusing to be desensitized to it. The second was to approach these issues from the heart, confronting gender bias with love and kindness instead of hurt or anger. “The last thing I would want to do to that person is to hurt them. When people realize that you don’t want to hurt them, even if they have hurt you, the empathy they feel is permanent.” This is her definition of true change.
Living in both India and America, Suma knows how fundamentally different both countries are, but is also able to find the similarities in both. A major difference she had to face living in America during her 13 years were challenges regarding her accent. Suma took this as an opportunity to learn and practice patience. “I allowed the world to have the time to adjust to me, and I took the time to adjust to the rest of the world.”
Where both America and India meet is their hope as well as their initiatives to bring about change and opportunity for their women, “there is no formula to apply to bring about the true sense of equality; it comes from seeing everybody’s differences and celebrating them.” She sees how America is working towards progress for equality for all, including challenging gender norms.
But she also sees the work left to be done, not only in America but in India. Suma defines gender diversity as the ability to realize that everyone is connected. Each of us was made to follow our hearts and work to solve the world’s problems – this is a core principle Suma lives by. “We are to help people around us, make the world better, and act towards a greater cause.”
Walk the Talk
A vital component of how Suma maintains balance and achieves purpose in her life is her spirituality. Her family back home in India was very religious and she was raised to believe there is a reason for everything. She grew up reading sacred texts called Vedic scriptures which she described as a manual on how to live a good and fulfilling life, “this life also comes with a manual, how to live, how not to live, and how to realize the true purpose of this life.” Suma sees spiritual knowledge as the basis of her life, and applies it to her career in technology. She believes science helps to rationalize and reason the spiritual injunctions and help understand it better. “If you take my spirituality out of me, I don’t think anything would be left.”
Suma does more than just live by her values and beliefs, she also shares them with youth in India, mentoring them to follow the higher principles of life. “Young people are open to exploring and receptive to our differences because they are newer to the world.” Suma believes that they must have essential values such as compassion, integrity, and kindness. “You can go to the MIT or Stanfords of the world, but all achievements fall short if you are not humble, kind, and supportive of those around you. Attitude is everything.” Another valuable takeaway from Suma’s teaching is the power of good habits: IQ, SQ, and EQ, which are three life-guiding quotients to live an intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally filled life. “I want them to live life every day as if they have nothing to lose.”
Nothing to Lose
Having a home in two different countries with different cultures is not a simple task, but Suma somehow manages to make it look easy with her patience, and endless kindness. Whether it’s India, America, or anywhere else in the world, Suma believes establishing a healthy career is about working towards a common goal, finding fun in what you do, and putting aside differences. “If the qualifications you have earned are by the right means, no one can deny them.”
Since moving back to India to continue working and spending time with her family, Suma has only solidified who she is. Success to her is synonymous with happiness, and at the end of the day, Suma believes she has nothing to lose. “Other people’s successes make me happier than what I can become of my success. I can accept my mistakes and apologize easily, and this mindset allows me to never be insecure or jealous. What is mine will always be mine. No one can take that away from me.”