This week I had an opportunity to interview Garima Sharma, Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft. Garima works exclusively in Cloud Computing, Digital innovation, PaaS, IaaS, Docker, Containers, Kubernetes, Microservices, Content Delivery Networks, Web Acceleration, Big Data & IoT and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and has led the AI/ML teams in Microsoft.
Garima has a proven track record of building and leading high performing global, customer-centric organizations through periods of rapid transition and growth and specialises in Software development, Product & Program Management, Go-To-Market, Strategy & Planning and Execution.
Garima talks about her ideas of smooth functioning team dynamics, her objectives as an impeccable leader, her motivations to dive deep into cloud computing and AI/ML, her advice to the budding leaders and her interests outside of work.
Being the Chief Technology Officer in Microsoft, what are the basic mantras you believe in when it comes to smooth team functioning and what are your objectives as a leader?
That’s a good question. A high performing team is one that is diverse and inclusive so the team as a whole benefits from a variety of ideas and opinions because homogeneity can stifle innovation. In today’s business landscape of global teams and remote work setups, it is also important that team members communicate effectively. They need to be well aware and aligned to the common goals so that irrespective of what time zone and geolocation, everyone is in sync and able to deliver effectively against the common priorities. Another trait of a successful team is one in which the team members are able to resolve conflicts effectively. In a fast-paced business environment, a difference of opinion is natural and healthy: it leads to disruptive innovation. And it’s important that the team knows how to have fun along the way. As a leader, my objectives are to deliver against the business priorities and ensure that in this process, I motivate and empower my team. It is on me to set clear goals for the team and include team members in the process of how we achieve our goals. We’re always better prepared to succeed if we approach joint decision making that is based on rationality and not emotions. I work hard to ensure transparent and frequent communication and build an environment of trust and respect. Empathy is always top of my mind. It’s easy to be data and purpose-driven and I remind myself of the difficult circumstances we’ve all been operating in this covid era, and so it is more important than ever before to remember the human in the loop and to give them space and grace.
What do you believe is one of the most important incidents in your life that was pivotal to where you are right now, in your career and otherwise?
I have been shaped by the sum of all the experiences that have come my way so far. So, I wouldn’t say it is any one thing that was pivotal in my life. I’m grateful to learning from all the amazing people in my life and at work who have made me who I am. Growing up, I heard my dad always say that we learn from everyone and from all experiences: what to do and what not to do, and so I operate with that mantra in my mind. In my time so far in the industry, I have met some remarkably brilliant, passionate and curious individuals who have devoted their lives to working on technology that benefits the human race. Innovations that prevent cyberbullying, self-serve bots that can guide the human to the nearest covid vaccination site, machine learning models to help computational biologists study gene mutations, computer vision models that can do traffic lane detections and enable autonomous vehicles, and image processing algorithms to provide audio guidance to vision impaired individuals are just some examples of my work wherein I’ve worked and learned from smart people who are accelerating science and technology. I’ve come across remarkable individuals: War veterans, neurodiverse individuals, people from all socio-economic backgrounds, who have succeeded in the face of major life obstacles and have not just done well for themselves but have also given back to the community in big ways. These experiences and individuals inspire me to put my best foot forward each day because I’ve learnt that when I look back in a few years, I’ll be grateful for how collectively these contributions every day can lead to something big in the end.
What motivated you to dive deep into cloud computing, AI/ML and explore everything that the field has to offer?
I made a conscious choice to get into cloud computing almost 15 years ago because it seemed fascinating. And this vast, ever-evolving domain continues to be fascinating with the evolution of cloud-native offerings to enable modern application development that helps reduce manual, and repetitive operational tasks and build applications faster. Artificial intelligence and machine learning was a natural shift for me as I am analytical by nature and was drawn to the roles that leverage data for intelligence and actionable insights. As with cloud computing, data proliferation has happened quite rapidly in this past decade. Many IT roles have a direct/indirect component of statistical analysis, telemetry and architecture that focuses on self-healing systems. So I continue to learn and contribute to this field.
What would be your advice to the upcoming leaders of the world, just starting with their careers?
First, leadership is everyone’s business. Do not wait to be given a title or a role before you can make an impactful contribution. The second is to stay true to what interests you. Be your authentic self. Though this concept is overused and almost a cliché, I believe it to be true. Third, our work takes up a major portion of our lives and it’s important to surround yourself with people who build you up, inspire you and help you to do your best work. And last, don’t listen to career advice from me or anyone else. This is your journey, and you get to decide what it should look like. Believe in yourself.
What is the one book/article series that you read regularly?
I’m a big fan of Harvard Business Review. I generally exhaust my 5 free articles at the beginning of the month. I also like books on Organizational psychology, so I read them a lot.
What is the one thing you are passionate about outside of work?
I love to dance. I don’t dance as much anymore as I used to. The dancer and engineer in me constantly compare what dance and innovation have in common, and I feel there’s a lot of commonalities. A dance troupe succeeds by working in tandem just as a team is only successful when team members work together effectively. Learning both a complicated dance routine and working on innovative solutions requires an agile mindset that is open to risk-taking. And large-scale dance production is the same as complex product development. Dance keeps the audience in mind, and product development needs to keep the customer in mind.