As I look back, there is no doubt that IIT-M was a defining experience for me. I came to IIT-M from an all-girls’ school, so being one of only 2 women in my graduating year was a very different experience. The downside was the ‘life in a fishbowl’ effect, with every minor activity at risk of being known all over campus! The positive side, which has been a lifelong positive, was the wonderful peer group, and the confidence one gets from earning a place amongst the best, and being up to the challenge of keeping pace with the IIT curriculum and all those brilliant classmates!
IIT Madras was a very conservative place when I was there and it was hard to actually have friendships outside of Sarayu.Interestingly, once we came to the US, however, those loose connections became very tight bonds, and those friendships are some of the strongest and best I have ever had. I hope it is easier for you today to forge those bonds earlier, since they are a wonderful lifelong asset.
After I graduated from IIT, I came directly to the US on scholarship to do my MS. This was unusual at the time – very few IIT women came here until after they were married – I am happy to see that is no longer the case. In addition, a challenge my generation faced, was that IIT was not the world-famous name it is today – it seems unimaginable now, but at the time, the top US universities considered IIT an unknown and obscure university. So we had to prove ourselves here, and in a sense, we had to create IIT’s reputation by showing what we could do.
Although the IIT years had challenges and finding one’s place in a university with so few women was not pain-free, I would not change that experience for anything. It made me the person I am today, and gave me the confidence to enter the high-tech world of Silicon Valley at a time when women were few and far between, and women executives pretty much non-existent, and to succeed on my own terms, combining career with a happy family life. My two daughters are also engineering professionals now, recently graduated from college, and I hope the professional world they encounter will be less challenging for them to navigate, as I hope it will be for all of you. We all build on the shoulders of those who went before.
After a career in high tech, which included running billion-dollar businesses and starting new ones, I have now transitioned to a new phase of my professional life, with a focus on giving back, specifically in education, at Khan Academy, the non-profit whose mission is to provide a free high quality education to anyone anywhere. Although I really enjoyed my high tech career, it is immensely satisfying to be able to work in high tech while giving back, and that too is one of the ongoing legacies of my IIT experience.
Ms. Paulette Altmaier earned an M.S. in Computer Science from Syracuse University and is a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering/Electronics with Distinction from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.
As Education Partnerships lead at Khan Academy, Paulette loves working with people who help students learn – in schools, colleges, foundations, after school programs, …
Before joining Khan Academy, Paulette held senior executive positions and enjoyed building great products at a variety of high tech companies including Cisco, Juniper and Dell.
She holds three patents in software and communications systems.