Seetha Lakshmi graduated in 1972 from the College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG), with a degree in electronics and communication engineering. She went on to get a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Texas, Austin (the second woman Ph.D. from CEG!).
Growing up, Seetha enjoyed playing with her brother’s Meccano set, fixing her grandmother’s broken radio, making dyes from vegetable scraps, and coming up with ways to automate her mother’s kitchen chores. She had no interest in and was bored stiff with history and language arts classes. Biology made her squeamish. A future in humanities or medicine was out of the question. Her whole family was very supportive and proud of her when she chose to become an engineer.
When she joined CEG, in the first week she asked the principal if she was allowed to use the beautiful Olympic size swimming pool, only to be told its not for girls!
Seetha says “Looking back, being one of the five girls in a batch of 200 boys, being a minority in a mostly male CEG community, and later being one of two women officers at the Defense Research Labs (DRDL) in the 70s, have all helped me be comfortable and confident in my own skin anywhere and everywhere.”
While working at DRDL after graduation, Seetha was fortunate to be exposed to the then cutting edge technologies such as microprocessors for missile guidance and control systems. Her fascination with microprocessors led her to pursue a doctorate in computer sciences at The University of Texas, Austin, making her the first woman Ph.D. from CEG!
Seetha started her US career at IBM’s prestigious T. J. Watson Research Lab in New York. Her pioneering publications on parallel minicomputer database system performance propelled IBM to expand it’s database offerings from mainframe to networked workstations. After a fulfilling 40-year technology career at DRDL, IBM, HP, Teradata, and a few silicon valley start-ups, she now serves her local communities. She is on the boards of Santa Clara Library District Foundation and Cupertino Library Foundation, volunteers for an adult literacy program, and mentors high school students in under-served communities.
While Seetha credits her parents for a phenomenal education they gave her, she credits her husband Piyush Gupta for being a true life partner supporting her career and contributing equally to bringing up two wonderful children who are now responsible, compassionate, and happy adults.
When Seetha is not embracing her inner geek, she hikes the mountains and trails around the world with her family and friends.
Her advice to both women and men entering technical fields:
“Don’t be afraid to blaze your own trail; be socially responsible engineers and leaders.”
Well said, Seetha!
Note: On July 27, 2021, I discovered that Narayani, who graduated from CEG in 1962 had gotten a Ph.D. from the Imperial College of Science & Technology, University of London. I made the correction to say Seetha is the second woman to receive a Ph.D.