Emma Crameri interviewed Janani SriGuha, a woman in tech leader, working for Mark43. Read her inspiring story and her passion for tech.
Tell us about Mark43
Mark43 is a New York City-based startup on a mission to bring public safety technology into the 21st century. Launched out of a Harvard undergraduate engineering class in 2012, we’ve since signed over 60 public safety agencies across the U.S., including police departments in Boston, Washington D.C., and Seattle.
The company is currently exploring international deals in the rest of the English-speaking world.
We’ve raised over $77 million in venture financing and are backed by some of the world’s top VC firms and investors, including Spark Capital, General Catalyst, General David Petraeus, Jeff Bezos, and Ashton Kutcher.
What motivated you to work for Mark43?
Mark43 has a great mission as a company – to help dispatchers first responders with better technology and data. I wanted to join a company where I could make a difference, and help out people who need it.
The core values that are the foundation of Mark43, and the commitment to being ethical really resonated with me. In addition, I had the exciting opportunity of being part of the team building the dispatch system from the ground up. It’s been a rewarding journey so far!
How does Mark43 assist the first responders to do their jobs better?
Working with the Gang Unit of the Massachusetts State Police as Harvard undergrads, Mark43’s founders discovered that most police departments do not have access to the kind of high-quality, modern software that we’re used to seeing on television shows like CSI and are actually forced to use antiquated systems. The objective was to completely overhaul this outdated technology and provide agencies with the best software available to help empower police officers, dispatchers, and first responders.
They started by building a Records Management Software (RMS), which automates a large portion of the reporting process and helps police officers cut the time it takes to fill out an arrest report in half and reduce the time for other reports by 80%. This translates into roughly 110 full-time police officers back out on the streets, protecting communities.
We’ve since added a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system that turns that same data, gathered in the RMS, into cloud-based immediately accessible background information on suspects.
Why is the platform built on multi-tenant cloud architecture?
Mark43 has built the first multi-tenant, hardware agnostic, cloud-based public safety software to both cut down on time spent collecting and logging data, and enable public safety agencies to easily manage and share data in real-time, and over mobile. This open approach also allows Mark43 to partner and seamlessly integrate with other leading public safety technology solutions like Callyo, SPIDR Tech, Carbyne, and RapidSOS to give visibility to other critical law enforcement tools all on one platform.
How do you use Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems to improve public safety?
The computer-aided dispatch (CAD) is often used in tandem with the records management system (RMS). We developed the CAD so that dispatchers can send officers all of the relevant data they might need to respond to an emergency, which often includes potentially life-saving information. In other words, the CAD is helping to keep first responders more informed while out in the field so that they’re never entering a dangerous situation blind.
Tell us more about your career to date
I started my career as an engineer for a small product company in India, Webyog, where I was building a MySQL IDE in C. (Side note: C is my favourite programming language, the one I’m most comfortable with, and given a choice, the language I would choose to work with 🙂 ) I worked there for a few years after which I moved to the US and joined Birchbox. My time at Birchbox really shaped my career – I got to learn so many different languages and technologies, work with various products, try new things and really experiment. I got to wear “many hats” – apart from engineering, I also got to work on defining product requirements, and vendor selection. After that, I contracted for a few months in an adtech company, and parallelly joined my husband’s company, Festivya, as head of product for a while.
Around this time, Mark43 found me and gave me the opportunity to join. I got to build a product from the beginning, and I now head the engineering team of which I was one of the original members. The growth has been huge and exciting!
What is the favourite part of your job?
The most favourite part of my job is getting feedback from first responders that the tools and software that we’ve provided them helped them do their job better – whether it’s being able to nab a suspect faster, or that they have more context and are better prepared for situations that might arise. When you hear feedback like that, it moves you and makes all the hard work entirely worth it. I also have an amazing team that’s so smart and so thoughtful – makes me enjoy going into work every day!
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
One of my current challenges is learning how to influence decisions, even when you don’t have the authority to make them. It’s a fun and fascinating way of learning and implementing human psychology learning. I didn’t realise how much management is basically human psychology!
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
My current role has definitely been the highlight of my career so far. I’ve been able to play an impactful role at Mark43, and been instrumental in making sure the team and company have hit client launch dates, while making positive culture changes within the team. I’ve also started to be a visible leader in the company, being a role model to other women in the company and outside.
Who is your role model, and why?
My role model, since I was a kid, has always been Rahul Dravid. For anyone who watches cricket, I don’t think I need to elaborate 😉 His characteristics of being introverted, a team player, passionate, introverted, always willing to take a back seat to more outspoken or flamboyant cricketers made him very relatable for me. In addition, he’s extremely humble and a true leader. No task is too small or demeaning. After a successful career, he’s devoting his time to coaching kids, and actively contributing towards making sports education available for more and more kids.
In a way I see myself doing something similar (or I want to at least). Hopefully, I can retire in another decade or so, after which I intend to go into teaching or public service. There is so much one can learn from Rahul Dravid, and if I can even embody half of all his admirable qualities, it would be an achievement 🙂
Best career advice anyone ever gave you?
Different advice is applicable to different stages in one’s career. About 3-4 years ago, so I was still pretty early on in my career, I was already a team and tech lead, and was barely writing any code. I was asking a friend of my cousin’s for advice on if I should continue on the management track, or look for an IC position, even though I enjoy management more. He told me that for me to be a respected engineering manager and to be able to grow faster up the management ladder, a few more years of being a hands-on engineer would be really beneficial.
The next job I took up, I was an IC for ~2.5 more years, and that has helped a lot. In a way, it was a way of articulating something similar to Tanya Reilly’s “Being Glue” – where women tend to take on tasks that aren’t on their career ladder to help the team, and then get penalised professionally for it.
The advice I would give other women new to their career is:
- Read Tanya Reilly’s “Being Glue”
- Identify the patterns and behaviours mentioned above, and avoid them at least till you become a senior engineer. And if you want to grow on the IC track, avoid them for even longer.
What sparked your passion for working in the tech industry?
It’s funny because I think everyone knew I’d end up in tech someday, and I fought really hard not to be here… I started programming when I was in 3rd grade, there was an opportunity in school to learn, and my parents enrolled me. I was learning C programming in middle school, attending computer classes with college students. I was programming all the time in high school – my dad and I would argue over computer time, and I always won, cause school, but my dad ended up getting me my own computer. After that I don’t know, I kind of just decided to be a “rebel” and not take up computer science. All my friends were doing their undergrad in CS and I wanted to be different lol. But after that, I ended up doing my masters in CS and ended up where I am now.
That’s a long way of saying, I think I was always going to end up here, I’ve been programming since before I can remember, and I’ve always enjoyed it 🙂
Name 3 apps on your phone that you use every day
Whatsapp, Slack, and Twitter are the main ones I use right now. Apart from that, I have a todo list “Any.do” which is perfect for me because it’s a to-do list that reminds me to look at it 🙂
What’s your favourite piece of technology or gadget that you couldn’t live without?
Probably my phone lol
How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technologies?
Twitter to know what’s trending, and Medium and TechCrunch to get additional information. I also network and talk to a lot of people in the industry regularly, and I get to know what the latest tech trends are through a combination of these
How do think technology is going to change people’s lives?
Technology has already changed people’s lives in so many ways. About 15 years ago, cellular phones were barely even a thing, and now you can’t live without them. Electric cars are now widely available, self-driving cars are becoming more popular, and the world has changed almost unrecognizably in the last few decades due to technology.
I think there’s a lot of good that technology can do – if the smartest minds got together with good intentions, they could solve the world’s most pressing problems – poverty, lack of clean drinking water, lack of affordable housing, global warming, etc. There are a few (too few) companies that are actually doing work that helps the people who need it. There are way, way, way more companies helping only people who can afford it. I don’t see this changing and so my outlook is pretty bleak – I think it’s going to continue to exacerbate the wealth gap.
What else are you working on?
Recently I co-founded Women Tech Leaders, a group in NYC of Women who are in technical or people management in tech, where we host monthly meetups. It’s been exciting to start something and see it grow! Apart from this, I teach Indian classical music in my spare time.
What plans do you have for the future?
I am constantly thinking of new business ideas, and when I find one that’s both viable and that can help solve one of the problems I’ve mentioned, I see myself starting a company and working on it.
For more information head to the Mark43 website and Women Tech Leaders.