Priya Gupta talks about the challenges she faced as a woman engineer and how she conquered them.
“If you have the courage to see yourself there, you are there.”
Having been raised in a typical Indian household, I always relied on my family and especially my parents. My introverted nature reinforced that. I lived in Bareilly with three sisters and a brother, and our childhood was quite patriarchal. I had strict parenting during my childhood, especially my mother, so I developed fear around whether I was doing things right or wrong. Whenever we had to make a major decision, the men of the family would get together and decide for everyone. It is no wonder that I was clueless about the next steps to take when I completed my engineering degree in 2015. Though I was bombarded with advice from all my friends and family, I was not interested in any of it. I searched online for job-oriented programs in my area of interest and that is when I came across CDAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing), a course in Pune. My father was anxious about me leaving Bareilly. I was scared too. Nevertheless, I started preparing for the exam, cleared it, and set off on this new adventure.
Pune was a revelation for me. It showed me how dependent I had been on my family. I did not even know how to do small things like booking a train ticket. The decision to study here proved worthwhile because I found my voice. I went through six months of rigorous training in coding, and it was no less than military training for me. I enjoyed being independent and assertive and managed to secure my first job in KPIT. The clients were sometimes domineering and complained about my work, but I persevered and developed my skills. I was soon attending important meetings for USA clients. Naturally, by this time, everyone was asking my father about marrying my sister and me, but my father, who has always been our backbone, encouraged me and my sisters to follow our dreams. After three years in Pune, I moved to Sweden where I worked for three months. I really appreciated the European work culture and wanted to settle there permanently. I had applied for around 3000 jobs on LinkedIn in these 3 months and I secured a permanent job offer in the Netherlands in January 2019 in the testing and automotive domain.
I worked as a test engineer in Sweden and then transitioned to VDL in the Netherlands. In terms of technology, they are about 20 years ahead of India. Yet, there were still no women on the production site. There were no women’s washrooms, and I often felt alienated as the other team members mocked me. But I didn’t let that deter me, and I have now made some progress. I have been testing autonomous trucks. Sometimes the proximity height sensors do not recognize my height, seeing as the Europeans are very tall. I want to take my learnings and experiences back to India. We Indians usually just work behind the scenes writing code, but do not get the opportunity to implement and test them properly. For example, I am testing robot-driven trucks to carry tons of container load from one harbour port to another without any support. It’s fascinating to watch.
My parents think it is a miracle. I want to see more Indians and more women in this domain, as I know we have the brainpower. Through our school system, and then the corporate rat race, we are taught that there is just one shot at life, but there isn’t. It’s like the Super Mario effect: you fail and learn. Pursue your passion and succeed by learning from your mistakes.
I faced numerous challenges in Europe—from simple things like crossing the road in a completely automated system, to the cultural and language divides. During all this, my source of happiness and inspiration has been my imagination. I manifest my goals in a diary, work towards them, and somehow manage to achieve them. It was a magical moment for me when I bought my first house in 2020, a moment I had only dreamed about previously. My advice to the youth would be that if you feel indecisive as to what you want to do next in life, gravitate towards what makes you happy. Micromanagement by parents and society may make it seem like a wrong and selfish decision at first but pay no heed. Never think your dreams are unachievable. Do what you adore, be your unique self, and watch how life takes you places!