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Celebrating the Women of Cape Privacy: Meet Shweta Sah

by Shweta Sah, Chris Friesen
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As an innovative tech company, Cape Privacy relies on a diverse and skilled team of professionals who bring their talents to a highly collaborative environment. Through that collaboration we are building a platform that protects security by default with a novel combination of secret sharing and secure multiparty computation.

For women’s history month, a number of our strong women talk about what inspires them about working in tech, how they overcame challenges in their careers, and their visions for what the future of engineering should look like. These fascinating conversations demonstrate the power of what’s possible when you build a diverse workforce that values the contributions of people with different perspectives.

This women in tech dialogue is between software engineers Chris Friesen and Shweta Sah. 

Chris Friesen: Let's get started. Where are you from and where do you live now? 

Shweta Sah: I am from India and I live in northern Virginia. 

Chris:  How did you get into this career path? Were you always interested in tech? 

Shweta: My elder siblings are engineers, and as a kid, I used to see them working on some science projects and I would think, “That’s interesting.” Watching them build software that was being used by people in everyday lives is what got me interested in tech. 

Chris: What was it that inspired you to go into tech instead of another branch of engineering, like civil or chemical engineering, for example?

Shweta: In computer science, it’s the satisfaction of building something that would bring the world closer and make our lives easier. That's something that really excites me about the tech industry. Sometimes you see and use those solutions and you think, “That’s a really cool concept.” The fact that engineering can make our lives a whole lot easier is inspiring. 

Chris:  I like that. It's things that have been introduced digitally, but they have an impact on our day-to-day lives, and how we do things. Yeah. What is it about Cape Privacy that you found to be compelling and that gave you a desire to join the team? 

Shweta: One is, of course, that Cape is working on a breakthrough technology; to be able to run predictions on encrypted data. That's definitely one of the reasons I'm here. When I was interviewing with Cape I hadn’t heard of anybody else doing that, so I found that very exciting. And the other is, when I talked to people at Cape, I could feel that they're recruiting people with different experiences and backgrounds. That's one of the major reasons why I feel like this is a nice place to be. 

Chris: Is that something that you look for in a job, or is it a feeling you got as you were talking to people? 

Shweta: I don't really look out for that. It's difficult to figure out the company culture during interviews. What if they're not inclusive? But then they wouldn't even be interviewing you if the culture doesn't support that. So I didn’t really have that on my radar, but I could feel it when talking to the people here.

Chris:  What is the most exciting thing about your job? 

Shweta: Collaborating with my teammates to work on features and when it gets added to the product and feeling, oh yes, it's better than what it was yesterday. I do like working on a team more than individually because I like the interaction with people.

Chris: Do you like it when a customer likes what you're doing, and when you get feedback from a customer? Or is it building the technology itself, the technology better that’s more satisfactory?

Shweta: I prefer working on the technology, or even building internal tools for the neighboring team. But then, when you hear that what you built made their life easier... it's always good to hear that feedback from the customer, for sure. 

Chris:  I almost feel like the internal tools are harder because they know how much work you put into it, and because it's the opinion of another engineer. Okay, so what does a typical day in your job involve? 

Shweta:  Usually picking up from where I left the previous day, and so the first thing involves reading company-wide updates on Slack, what everyone has been up to. And then just heads-down either working on my current task or reaching out to colleagues to collaborate on some features, or some random issue that surfaces up on Slack. Then, if I feel like I can help, just dive into it.

Chris: This one is hefty. What are your hopes for the future of engineering? 

Shweta:  I was talking to someone recently and it came up that the engineering field is inclined towards trying to solve problems that don't really even exist. I like that the vision for Cape’s technology is to go beyond solving commercial problems and address a real need for protecting private data that could keep people safe from exploitation. It’s good to know I am a part of that.

Chris: I had a really interesting discussion with my sister along those lines, that we're automating so many things just for the sake of convenience, and that we're forgetting how the underlying thing actually works. I don't know if you've ever read the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, but his idea is that society has progressed technologically to the point where if something breaks you have no idea how to repair it because the robots are the ones who normally repair it. And so if the robots aren’t working, everything just falls apart. And now we’re adding computers to things that don't really need computers.

Shweta: Yeah,it’s painful to see that we are wasting our time and energy solving problems that don't exist. I’d like to see our field focused on solving real problems. So that's my hope.

Chris: Agreed. And with the perspectives diversity brings, maybe we’ll get there sooner. That said, women represent only 14 percent of the total software engineering workforce. Knowing that, what is it that attracted you to the field? 

Shweta: By the time I enrolled myself in computer science, there were quite a few girls around. So at least in my career, I never really felt that I was an odd one out. There have been times when I was the only girl in my team, but I don’t let those thoughts affect my work. It has been in the back of my head that the fact that we celebrate International Women's Day means that we still feel like women aren’t regarded as equal with men. And based on my experience, women have come a really long way; so much that we need not feel like we are a minority.

Chris:  It’s interesting to hear people’s different experiences with that. Which brings me to, who were your role models as you pursued a career in software engineering? And who were some of the people who helped you along the way? 

Shweta: I look up to my siblings, and my cousins, who have been in this field. They’ve helped me out all along the way. Whether deciding what kind of project I should do in my final year of undergrad, or helping me pick courses, I turn to them for advice. I also get a lot of critical feedback from them but I feel it has always helped me shape myself into a better version of me. 

Chris: How many older siblings do you have? And do you have any younger siblings? 

Shweta: My brother and sister are both elder to me. I don't have any younger siblings. I'm the youngest. 

Chris:  What has your experience been since joining Cape Privacy? 

Shweta: I appreciate that it is a very inclusive environment. Everyone's doing the same thing regardless of where they're from, what their gender is. It doesn't matter.

Chris: This year's theme for IWD is #BreakTheBias, focusing on forging an inclusive, diverse, and equal future between genders. What would you say is the most important action that needs to be taken to achieve this? How can organizations help to address bias in tech; and how can individuals help address bias in tech?

Shweta: I would like to answer the second part of it. I once attended a session on Unconscious Bias which was an eye-opener for me. A key takeaway from that session was that while making a decision, take a step back and reflect on your thought process to see if there was any bias that was involved in making that decision either related to gender or ethnicity and be more conscious about it.

Chris: What advice would you give to a little girl who might be thinking about joining tech? 

Shweta: You don't need to be afraid of being an odd one out in the field. You will find a lot of girls around you, and don't let those thoughts create unnecessary barriers in your mind to achieve your dreams. But if you feel any bias, and you're 100% sure about it, then definitely raise your voice. 

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