Humans of Tech- Gurjeet Kaur
Meet Gurjeet Kaur!
Director, R&D at Arctic Wolf
We chat about her path into tech, the resources available to new immigrants, her diversity initiatives (grassroots approach → formal processes and budgets!) and her advice to those passionate about incorporating D&I initiatives in their workplace.
How did you get into tech? What inspired you to pursue your career path?
I came to Canada roughly 18 years ago. Back home in India, I studied and went to university because I knew I had to do something. But to be frank, at that time, 27 or 28 years ago, software was kind of up and coming - it was a buzzword.
I did my Masters in Computer Science with a four year specialized computers course.
My parents were very conservative and I did belong to a business family - we didn’t have that open mindset where we can send our daughter to work outside of our hometown.
My first job was teaching computer science in one of the best universities in my hometown. But before I could do that, I had to fine tune my coding skills because I didn’t code hands-on at a corporate job. It had an added perk I didn’t anticipate: It increased my sense of purpose.
What was it like when you came to Canada?
I taught for a few years before I came to Canada where I met my husband - he’s in software too.
I met some of his friends, many of which were female. I was thrilled to find women here who code for their career. They shared their guidance - I had my masters, but I wanted to start my software development career.
I applied to many places and studied for some certifications. I joined a new program for new immigrants where a big lab partnered with YMCA. There were workshops for resume advice and upskilling - all free, and very helpful.
Luckily, within the first three months, I got my first job. I had so much interest in software and the stuff I was doing. I must have been on 7-8 different teams over my 14 years at McAfee. I didn’t stick with more than one team for more than a couple of years because I just wanted new challenges in terms of both roles and products.
Diversity initiatives are a big part of your career. How did you get started, and how did it snowball in such an inspiring way?
I realized when I was working that I liked organizing events. I didn’t know I had it in me, but my desire to know my team on a personal level (and not just as another colleague) pushed me to organize events and get to know them better.
Since we have people from almost every religion, I thought, “Why not do it at the office level so we have some celebrations?” We started off with potlucks - Eid, Diwali, Christmas - people loved it!
I did it at a grassroot level. I never thought of doing it beyond that but it was observed by our higher leadership - they were thinking of inclusion and diversity initiatives at a global level. I applied and became the site lead.
I realized however, that I only knew about my culture, or that of my friends. To avoid the bias and potential ignorance that comes with that, I made sure to ask my team for help on cultural events I wasn’t as familiar with. I’d get 2-3 people who were well-versed in a particular culture. They were so happy to contribute and celebrate their culture.
Eventually, we got a generous budget, so we could do more around awareness and initiatives. We didn’t have to do potlucks - we catered lunch. In doing so, we made celebrating our diverse culture into less of a task for the employees, and more of a celebration they were excited for.
Do you have any advice for other companies who are trying to incorporate grassroots culture of diversity and inclusion?
Remember that you won’t be successful on day one. Your success will happen eventually, but it will take time, trials and errors. Your proposal might be rejected, but if you keep at it, you’ll succeed. Don’t be afraid to take the lead - someone has to, so why not you?
Always remember the bigger cause/your why… it helps to not take the associated challenges personally, will keep you motivated, and confident to stay on your path.