Born in Kerala, Amrutha grew up in three different countries. If you haven’t heard of Kerala before, it’s a state in South India that’s affectionately called “Gods’ Own Country.” Before moving to Indiana, she spent an average of 4 years in a city before moving to another. She’s now lived in Indiana for 12 years and calls Indianapolis home. One of her core beliefs is “Bloom where you are planted.”
She’s worked in Indy’s tech scene for the last 6 years. Her current role is as a Data Science Team Lead for KSM Consulting, where she elevates data into insight for clients. She loves problem solving, learning new tools, and mentoring others.
She has an adorable toddler who attended most of her meetings last year, and an oversized cat named Watson.
What is it like to be an immigrant living in Indiana?
It’s a big cultural shift when you land in Indiana after living in a city of 5 million people where being polylingual is the norm. I still miss the sounds of India - from the mosque prayer calls, colorful festivals, and the clamor of a Sunday bazaar. It took me a while to adjust. I don’t think I would have stayed in Indiana without the help of friends, professors, and professional mentors who accepted my otherness openly.
At times, it can be isolating because my closest relationships (family and best friends) are essentially long distance relationships. The pandemic has actually been quite normal for me because I don’t get to see my family for birthdays, weddings or funerals anyway. Both my trips abroad were cancelled due to travel restrictions. Fortunately, I’ve mastered the art of connecting with people virtually because of my nomadic childhood, so my coping skills are pretty good.
One of the most inclusive things I’ve experienced was when I first started working in Indy. My boss at the time told me that the department wanted to celebrate one of my traditional holidays, and they would all learn how to make my native food because they recognized that it must be hard to be away from family for all the American holidays and also miss my own traditions.
If you’re looking for ways to be a friend to an immigrant, learn some of their customs. If you’re cooking a big Thanksgiving meal anyway, open your home to the international students that attend one of the universities near your home. If you manage folks who are immigrants, try to be flexible with their time off so they can take a longer trip to their country.
You started participating in The Startup Ladies' mental wellness programs last summer that focused on social justice issues. What drew you to them?
Last year’s events made me realize that even though I’m a person of color in America, I also have a unique privilege.
I’m not White. I’m not Black. I don’t really feel like I belong anywhere because I’ve been uprooted so many times but I also feel like a chameleon who can blend in anywhere.
I had just decided that I couldn’t talk about racial issues with some of my friends when I was the only person of color in the group because it’s emotionally taxing. It’s easy to point out racist jokes or systemic injustices but it’s hard to look at your own life, and identify times when you’ve been unkind, unwelcoming or racist. I have a very diverse personal network but I also didn’t know much of Black history in the US. I wanted to address this by attending events where I could learn more about social issues through personal relationships. I learned a lot through the Mental Wellness events led by George Middleton, Ranada Dalton, and Douglas Randell. I attended a few events organized by Techpoint as well that challenged my normal way of thinking.
As an immigrant who doesn’t identify as Black or White, it can be easy to just sit on the sidelines because at least in my personal experience, the system works for me most of the time. As long as the system is broken for any individual or group, I want to be an active part of the solution.
Thank YOU for sponsoring a Startup Ladies Membership! What made you decide to do that?
I enjoyed the Mental Wellness events. I was just trying to put forth some good karma into the universe by sponsoring a membership so someone else could meet more people and learn new things.
How would you like to see the startup space change for women of color over the next couple of years?
In so many ways, and not just for women of color but all minority groups.
Increase funding for startups that are founded by BIPOC or LGBTQ folks.
When you’re organizing an event, make sure your panel is diverse. If you can’t find someone, look harder and expand your personal networks.
Support niche ideas because we need targeted solutions that help certain communities too.
Recognize that everyone has agency so when you’re being an ally, make sure you’re not speaking for someone else but instead creating the space and passing the mic for them to speak for themselves.
Value diversity across groups but also within a group.
What ideas do you have for men who want to support the work of women in tech and female founders?
I’ve had some great male mentors throughout my career. So my first idea is, don’t be nervous to mentor a female employee. I actually learned a lot about parenting through one of my former (male) bosses who trusted my work ethic, technical skills but also recognized I was going to be a mum soon.
Be vulnerable and willing to talk to your mentees about mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learned along the way.
If you’re a manager, look at the numbers and see if you pay women fairly for the work they do in comparison to their male counterparts. Evaluate the feedback you provide and how you promote women in your org.
Everyone has agency, and sometimes supporting women just involves creating the space for someone to exercise their voice and ideas. This may include you declining a speaking engagement and referring a woman to the organizer instead.
What were you reading during the pandemic?
Before the stay at home order, I started reading “The Epidemic of Absence” by Moises Velasquez-Manoff. I’m intrigued by the prevalence of autoimmune disorders in modern society. I highly recommend the book if you’re curious about socioeconomic development and epidemiology.
Recently, I started reading “The Beauty in Breaking” by Michelle Harper. She’s an African American ER doctor who writes about physical and emotional healing through her own journey and patients she’s seen over the years.
Once you're vaccinated, what is the first thing you are going to do?
I cannot wait to travel again. When borders open up, I plan on visiting my family in India with my toddler. He loves fruit and Indian food, so he will love raiding my parents’ fridge.
Locally, I’m looking forward to lunch or drinks with friends. I really miss meeting people at some of my favorite restaurants - Axum, Chapati and Canal Bistro. I love working from home but when we were in the office, I jumped at any chance to eat lunch with coworkers. Food is my love language.
How have The Startup Ladies helped you grow?
It’s been great to meet new people, learn about their businesses, and see how Indy’s tech landscape is evolving.
When you're not working, what do you like to do?
When I unplug, I like traveling, reading, writing, exercising or cooking. You can usually find me on the Monon or at a new park every Sunday because my son, Mico, loves slides.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on my first bilingual children’s book. There are many benefits to growing up in different countries but one of the disadvantages is that you lose touch with your own roots. I’m technically illiterate in my own mother tongue, Malayalam, because I can’t read or write it. I can speak enough to interact with family though.
I’m trying to create resources that I didn’t have growing up that will help my son connect with half of his roots. If you’re an illustrator or wrote a children’s book in the past, I’d love to connect with you.
What advice do you have for women who would like to work in tech?
Find a mentor: It’s difficult when you don’t see many people who look like you in the industry. Be comfortable seeking mentors who don’t look like you, and when you’re able, pay that forward by being a mentor yourself. Networking is important.
Skill development: When I worked for a startup a few years ago, I used Excel and SQL a lot but a lot of the tasks were repetitive and could easily be automated. I bought a book called Python in 24 Hours off Amazon, and decided I was going to automate some parts of my job. I used SPSS in the past as a statistician but I knew I needed to upgrade my skills if I wanted to apply for my dream job as a data scientist. It took me a few years to land the job but setting time aside every week to develop my technical skills helps me stay marketable in this industry.
Mental health: Hustle culture is strong in tech, and perks like unlimited time off or game rooms can make you feel like you need to work more to prove yourself to others. Enjoy your work and peers but make sure you take time off to prioritize your mental and physical health. I’m a huge fan of doing something small to celebrate life regularly.
*To learn more about sponsoring a Startup Lady, visit our sponsorship page. See how you can provide education, community, mentorship, mental wellness support, and access to capital to a woman with a great idea for a scalable startup.