Chalcy Raja: Blazing a Trail for Women in Big Data
Chalcy Raja leads the Big Data Platform team at Equifax. She has been a trailblazer in the area of big data, having worked as a data engineer, big data architect and platform architect for analytics. She coaches technology teams at various companies and recently launched the Equifax Women in Big Data Forum to help women connect and grow.
I interviewed Chalcy about the secret to her success and how she’s helping others reach new heights.
What excites you most about your career in big data?
I have always liked data. I started as a developer 25 years ago, and eight of those years have been in the big data field. But I found my passion when I learned how the new Hadoop platform built with commodity hardware could process large volumes of data and almost cut the processing time to one-fifth.
As a Hadoop early adopter, I’ve had the exclusive opportunity to coach multiple teams at Equifax and other companies. It’s not easy to find talent in this area, so I hire team members who are developers and bring them up to speed on the technologies. Also, my team is one of the early adopters of the Agile framework, and I consider myself a pioneer in delivering the big data “Platform As A Service (PAAS).”
You talk a lot about being a woman in big data. How would you describe your journey in this male-dominated field?
My journey has been a roller coaster ride in technology, and specifically in big data. I’ve always been willing to take risks in my career, so when my then-manager asked me to work with this obscure piece of big data technology, I grabbed the opportunity. I have no regrets about this fascinating journey. My manager helped me by encouraging me and letting me continue the path, even when others tried to grab the limelight when it became popular. In fact, he took me to a CEO meeting and introduced me as the leader who pioneered Hadoop. I told them I would be the best person to explain the pros and cons of implementing Hadoop across the organization.
What’s your advice for women seeking a career in data and analytics?
Once you know this is what you want to do, connect with other women who have experience in the field and start asking questions. Yes, this is a male-dominated field. I have seen both kinds of men: the ones who have helped me succeed and the opposite kind. Still, women need other women and men to help recognize their talent and show them the way. My advice for anyone seeking a career in data and analytics or technology or security: reach out to those who are available to lend a hand.
I launched the Women in Big Data Forum to show women the pathway for this fascinating career. There are so many free and inexpensive resources available on the internet. I’m working on consolidating and tailoring this learning path. I’m also making it readily available for anyone seeking a network of women to help and mentor.
I believe that if you seek, you will find. There is always someone to help and lend a hand. Grab the opportunity when it presents itself. It may not be what you imagined, but if it can lead to a destination, start the journey and keep learning. My other suggestion is to always be marketable.
What’s Equifax doing to increase diversity in technology?
Equifax is celebrating women now. We sponsor the WiCys (Women in CyberSecurity) mission to help champion the recruitment, retaining and advancement of women in cybersecurity careers. There is no better time than now to be part of a company that truly celebrates diversity and women.
When I reached out to leadership at Equifax about starting my Women in Big Data Forum, I received nothing but support. I was introduced to other female leaders and encouraged to align with other women-oriented initiatives. I encourage anyone at Equifax to use the services we have available.
How would you describe big data, and what’s keeping most companies from harnessing the power of it for business outcomes?
The term Big Data was coined by John Mashey in 1990. It has three characteristics – the three Vs: volume, velocity and variety. Recently, however, veracity was added. It represents data quality and data value, which is seldom related to a particular data size in different kinds of analytics. The processing power is exponential compared to 10 years ago. Insights that took six months about 10 years ago, now take only a few days.
However, companies are struggling to harness its power because there is a shortage of technology talent, especially in Big Data.
What would you like to see in the data and analytics industry in the next decade?
In the past decade, it was the ability to process large data faster. In the next decade, all the disparate data will converge, which will enable predictive analysis much faster than ever before. We’re already seeing signs of this, like the mobile alert we get about our upcoming trip or a sale on clothing we looked at the previous day online, etc. All fields, especially the medical field, will benefit immensely from combining this analytic power with the Internet of Things (IOT)
You talk a lot about fear. What were your fears and how did you conquer them?
Fear of speaking up. Fear of asking for help or asking too many questions. Fear of failure. Fear of not being able to find a job after taking a break for personal reasons. Fear of conflict… fear of presenting etc.,
I’ve learned the best way to conquer fear is to face it head on. There have been many in my life who have helped me conquer fear. Once faced, that fear no longer exists. Now I am one of those who help others conquer fear — and that is very rewarding.
What does it mean to you to have a seat at the table?
I am inspired by Sheryl Sandburg’s conversations about having a seat at the table. I always had ideas, but feared sharing them. It was a struggle to share with others what I knew and could deliver while sitting at a table dominated by men. I was awaiting male approval of me and my abilities. I had to push myself every step of the way, which was hard initially. But now I’m okay sharing what I know and asking for what I believe I deserve.
It’s still a lot of hard work. I’ve been labelled “aggressive” for displaying behaviors that are considered assertive in male counterparts. At times when I’ve been empathic, I’ve been considered weak. I say all that to emphasize that having a seat at the table means showing up as my full self – energy, flaws, intelligence – everything I’ve got. I want to help other women navigate what it means to sit at the table with their complete selves.
What’s been your greatest career accomplishment?
I have been coaching many teams in several organizations about big data since the day I recognized the greatness of this technology. My biggest career achievement is making a difference in others’ lives, especially young women. Besides getting them up to speed in big data technology, my life goal is to show them this career path and inspire them to pursue it.
How do you unwind?
I do a lot of volunteering. I’m passionate about Habitat for Humanity. Previously, I volunteered in a cultural language school. I love to travel. I started going to cultural dance class after my daughter started driving. I also like to walk and go for bike rides with my neighborhood girlfriends.
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