Career Success? She Asked for It!
Akhila Dhamotharan is a confident, self-directed, life-long learner who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to ask for it. It’s how she’s built a fulfilling 13+ year career in JDA’s Center of Excellence in Bangalore. As a Solution Director in JDA’s consulting services business, she leads a team of 120 associates in the company’s Intelligent Fulfillment practice, ensuring that the right consultants and solution architects are deployed in ways that deliver maximum value to customers worldwide. She didn’t dream of a career in technology, but her willingness to raise her hand has carried her far.
Akhila with her husband Dhamotharan enjoying a vacation in Shimla!
SCN: What was your job when you first started?
AD: I worked at i2 Technologies as a support consultant, assigned to the integration team. I had to learn a lot about deep integration technology and was working on customer cases. After a while I asked to move into the demand planning team. My aim was to start on the most upstream part of the supply chain and work my way downstream, learning every solution we had. Several years later I requested a move into consulting because from a support perspective, I interacted with customers when there was a problem, but didn’t understand how they got into the problem. I learned a lot and built a lot of expertise in my domain, interacting with top executives. It was a wonderful phase of my career.
SCN: When did you start managing?
AD: A couple of years after taking the Consulting role my manager, Umesh Gaur, asked if I would manage a small team along with my projects. I agreed if he would help me along the way. Without knowing what sponsorship was or stood for back then, I believe that Umesh sponsored me into that role. It was the foundation for the role I have today, and he is still my manager.
SCN: Have you always asked for what you wanted in your career?
AD: Yes. The only move that I didn’t ask for was to be a manager. However, when we merged with Red Prairie, I told Umesh that I’d love to lead a team around the RedPrairie products. That’s how the warehouse management team came to me.
SCN: How do you ask for a new role or responsibility?
AD: I think it is important to renew and advocate for yourself. I recently got five minutes with a JDA executive working on a new initiative. He had shared that throughout his career he’s raised his hand for new opportunities and it’s resulted in interesting roles. I told him I was raising my hand for opportunities to contribute to his team. I shared my skills and background and how I thought I could add value. That is the best thing about JDA – there is always an opportunity to do something great for the company.
SCN: How have you taken ownership of your career?
AD: I examine what I learned in the past year and identify what I should be doing to enhance my current role. For example, I know a lot about the delivery part of consulting, but I don’t know the business part as well. To grow my knowledge, my manager got me involved in an internal project to analyze our global consulting business to support the budgeting process. Doing that is helping me understand the business better.
SCN: So once again, you asked for what you wanted?
AD: Yes. I feel strongly about taking accountability for my work and my career. I took the Gallup Strengths Finder survey, which basically says that we all have different talents, and the more that we invest in those talents they become our strengths. One of my talents is responsibility, which means that I take full ownership of things I say I will do. Another talent is discipline, indicating that I want order in my life – and I do! I try to break down big jobs into smaller jobs to better manage and complete them. I naturally take responsibility and delivered on my promises, and that’s carried over into managing my own career.
SCN: How do you find time for professional development?
AD: It is difficult. I am a trainer for the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as I wanted to be able to walk the talk. I feel strongly about following the habit of continuous improvement, so I work hard to renew myself and work on my mind, body and spirit. I try to keep up with TED Talks and books. I don’t necessarily take actual courses, but I look for ways to build self-improvement into my life.
SCN: What did you want to be when you grew up?
AD: When I was young I was gifted an amazing book about cultures around the world, so I wanted to be an archaeologist and unearth a secret civilization, or maybe be a historian. In a way, that ties to my work today. On projects, you work to understand what happened, and if something went wrong, how to avoid repeating it. I try to understand people and build relationships by understanding their culture, history and background. It is fun to see my interests from when I was a little girl reflected in what I do today.
SCN: What is the best risk you’ve ever taken?
AD: Becoming a manager. When I joined i2 I really wanted to be a subject matter expert and felt like I needed to know everything in supply chain. I wanted to become a solution architect, and then a strategic services architect. When the opportunity to manage came up I always thought I would do that on the side. I never thought that would become my main area of growth. That was a risk that paid off.
SCN: What is the hardest part about being a manager? What do you enjoy most?
AD: You must listen, be decisive and own your decisions. At the end of the day, your team’s success is your success. If you don’t see it that way and only do things for yourself, it generally doesn’t work out. I love watching people grow throughout their careers with the kinds of assignments they do, the learning they apply in different customer situations, and the transformation from a junior consultant to well-known architect.
SCN: Who is your role model?
AD: My dad. He came from very humble beginnings and he made his life entirely on his own. He made it possible for us to get the kind of education we did and instilled values in our lives. He’s a man of integrity and I adore him.
SCN: What do you know now, that you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
AD: The importance of choosing my battles! I don’t think I’m great at it now, at least that’s what my family and my manager tell me! But it is something that I wish I’d known earlier. Sometimes I tend to sweat the small stuff, and it’s just not necessary.
SCN: How do you find balance?
AD: My husband and I review the evening calls we have, and when they are done we zone out. We don’t check emails and try not to work on the weekend. If it’s something urgent, people will call us. You must set boundaries around your day. I tell my team that as well. Especially junior team members who will work all night on a project just to make an impression, and then people take it for granted that they are always available because they have not set expectations around their availability. It is good to set boundaries where work ends and time for us begins.
SCN: How do you spend your free time?
AD: I have been doing yoga for three years and now I’m learning to teach it. I also volunteer at a nearby school, teaching English to economically disadvantaged kids. There is a group from our apartment complex that participates in a structured program and we teach one hour every day.
SCN: You have a leadership role in JDA’s Women’s Interest Network (WIN) chapter in the Center of Excellence. Is WIN making a difference at JDA?
AD: Absolutely! WIN is creating awareness within women about what they personally should do to advance their careers. JDA offers executive involvement, the Winning Leadership program, sponsorship, mentoring, etc.
SCN: What role can men play in helping women advance at JDA?
AD: They can educate themselves about the benefits of a diverse workforce, as well as unconscious bias and the barriers women face in the workplace. For example, some men may believe that women have it easy at work because they leave early to cook and take care of their family and hence do not contribute to their share of work. What they may not see is that women complete their share of work remotely later in the evening. Understanding how different people accomplish their work and acknowledging there are many ways of getting the same thing done is a good start.
SCN: What advice do you have for young women who want a career in tech?
AD: I recommend raising your hand for activities outside of your assigned job. I have seen women focus on coming to work, doing their job and going home, because maybe they have a lot of things waiting for them there. I understand that, but if you want a rewarding career, you need to raise your hand to do other things within the company. They don’t have to be big projects. It could be as simple as organizing a team lunch or broader like helping with a Samaritan’s Feet event. You can use these things to get exposure and showcase your skills. Based on my own experience, saying “yes” offers opportunities to keep learning.
SCN: What makes JDA a great place to work?
AD: JDA offers the opportunity to do challenging work with top customers. We respect people. We respect that everyone has a life of their own, and we encourage balance. Our culture is really great. It is a motivating and inspiring place to work.