For the latest edition of Life @ Netskope, we sat down to chat with Leena Bagwe, Technical Program Manager here at Netskope. Leena originally started out as an Engineering Program Management Co-Op while she was finishing up her Master’s degree and just celebrated three years of working at Netskope! She told us about how she’s created her own value, what she appreciates most about Netskope’s culture, and some surprising facts about herself! Read our conversation here:
What was your path to joining Netskope like?
I have always taken unusual paths in life. I also fall into two minorities as a new grad, firstly struggling to find where I want to be, as it was my first pivot from Engineering Development to Program Management role, and second, as a woman in tech. I applied for the full-time position while I was still at school and then I got an interview. I was selected, but they later found out that I couldn’t work full time for 40 hours/week due to my F1 student immigrant status, but my school allowed me to work for 20 hours. At the time, my manager Nitin Dandia was founding our team and he saw that I had a different level of energy and passion. I think I was the fourth member, and currently, we are close to 14. My curiosity and data-driven problem-solving approach stood out to him, knowing that if he gave me a problem, I could solve it. He took that initial risk of allowing me until I graduated to see how I would perform. He thought, “I see there is a talent who is willing to learn and I see that as a value in Netskope. We need someone there. Let’s see how I can make you succeed.” The university recruitment team, as well as everyone from HR, was very cooperative in the entire hiring process. Early on I also dealt with some imposter syndrome being the youngest member on the team. But every time I felt that during our 1:1, my manager always made sure that he affirmed to me, “Yes you have been in these difficult situations before and you came out very well! Sometimes you didn’t even solve the solution, but you delivered beyond expectations.” That shows how much your management is invested in you. And not to forget the senior members on our team who I shadowed for learning experience and helped me strive for my best and get feedback. These cultural values empowered me after my internship to say, “ I would like to start my career at Netskope”
How have you felt like you’ve created your own value at Netskope?
Within one year of joining Netskope, I got promoted, which I was not expecting so soon. In my initial first-year review, they felt that I was already exceeding expectations. In addition to that, I received a couple of accolades from Engineering Directors like Ankit Toshniwal and Naming Chu. That motivates me to know that I’m progressing. There is still a learning curve to this promotion and newer responsibilities to handle like various internal high impacting projects within Reliability and Observability that I can support. Every time I get to work on a project/program, I am looking to see if there’s a win-win situation for me as well as the person requesting the project. Because when you try new things you prepare yourself for your next project, you should consider taking on new and difficult tasks that you aren’t comfortable with to expand your skillset. Often in internal-facing programs, it is difficult to get the stakeholders’ buy-in initially. A customer might not see that impact, but yes these projects will help us gain efficiency to scale systems, add reliability and resilience to systems as we grow. Knowing someone believes in me and my potential to help their teams is the first step. As a program manager, I don’t expect we should just run with problems; problems will always be there. But if you go in with a problem-solving attitude, I think that’s the real game-changer. I can go and talk to the VP of Engineering and say, “Okay, I’m seeing these problems and I think we should do this to mitigate or solve this problem.” Often, they’re all up for it, and if you come with the right positive mindset everyone is ready to help you.
To every person I would say “Be a student for life, no college degree can teach you that.”
What do you appreciate about Netskope’s company culture?
One of the things I like about Netskope is how open, transparent, and accessible everyone is. This is one of the things I feel in the open door dialogues with Sanjay, as an avenue wherein we get to talk to our CEO. This way, we know what our path is, where we are directing, and what our objective is. It usually happens that engineering, and every other team, work in their own silo, but if everyone is not connected to where we are directing, that could be a huge gap. Otherwise, everybody will have their own priorities and then we tend to forget the overall company. A CEO spending 30 or 40 minutes of his time explaining and answering open questions on a monthly basis is really commendable. It’s because of those sessions that I felt empowered to reach out to Sanjay and say “I think we need a new reward and recognition program.” And within an hour I got an email from Nina, Sanjay’s assistant that I could reach out to the team about this. And within two weeks, I got the right point of contact and have been working with the HR team on driving that initiative. I also love being part of AWON (Awesome Women of Netskope) where we get to hear stories from fellow women in leadership positions at Netskope, and I am glad we got our new female VP Nivedita Mehra on the executive board this year representing women.
How do you describe working in program management to friends and family?
I would say that program management is the glue that binds the different orgs together, connecting all the dots and then making decisions, making sure none of the dots are misaligned or missed. Imagine a tiling project, you complete the project, but the tiles are misaligned and you don’t like it. If you want it to be aligned, you need to have that program manager to see that every row, every column looks right and looks like what we actually anticipated. They go in with a plan, knowing what your tiling will look like and then they try to build something like that. Product management decides that today we want to do tiling, but how we want to go about doing that tiling is something program management would decide.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
While everyone in the Netskope org may not know that I come from an engineering background and was a test developer earlier, I am also an outdoorsy person outside of work. I like to explore unexplored places. For example, if you talk about San Francisco, people would just think of some key areas, but then I always try to look for the things which are less explored, more local to the city. Traveling and Program Management have so many things in common, like planning, roadmap, prioritization, deadlines, risk mitigation, and working with people). You have to plan for the best and prepare for the worst.