The 23-year-old engineer talks about the Women in Tech group she started in Slalom Boston, her dreams of opening a Slalom office in India, and how her mom has inspired her to go after anything.
By Randi Eicher, photographs by Emily Podlesnik and Karl Schwirz
I’m sitting with Aishwarya Bhadouria at the bar of a small Greek restaurant in Boston. We’re in the South End, her neighborhood, and this is her favorite restaurant in the city. Our waiter recognizes her and brings us an appetizer on the house.
Aishwarya is an engineer and consultant on Slalom’s application development team. She started working for Slalom when she was 20, and at the time, she was the only female on a team of 15 engineers. A year later, she started a Women in Tech group in Slalom Boston to support and accelerate women’s careers in technology and help bring more women to technology roles at Slalom. She tells me that a lot of women leave their STEM careers because they don’t feel valued, challenged, or comfortable. And young girls, especially minorities, don’t have enough female technology leaders to look up to. She wants to do everything she can to change that.
“Seeing leaders who look like you makes you believe that you can achieve it too,” she says.
One of Women in Tech’s biggest initiatives is helping Slalom Boston women get certified in technology platforms like AWS and Google Cloud. The group is also providing thought leadership training to encourage more women to share their technology expertise on the Slalom technology blog, which initially had all male contributors but now has many female writers. There are now five women on the Slalom Boston application development team, with more joining all the time. “We have a sense of community and many candid conversations about women in tech,” Aishwarya says. She’s on a steering committee that's rolling out Women in Tech to all of Slalom's offices.
Throughout my three days with her, Aishwarya talks a lot about the woman who’s been her biggest role model: her mom.
Aishwarya was born in Allahabad, India. Soon after she was born, her mom moved to the US by herself for an engineering job while Aishwarya’s dad stayed in India with Aishwarya until she was 19 months old. Then, they joined her mom in the states. When they got there, her parents both applied to MIT Sloan, MIT’s business school. Her dad got in, but her mom didn’t. Her mom then decided to put her career on the backburner to focus on raising Aishwarya and her brother.
Twenty years later, this year, Aishwarya’s mom applied for the Bradford Fellowship program at Harvard. If she got in, she’d receive a full-tuition scholarship, full salary, and a company-sponsored sabbatical while getting her Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School.
She got in. Aishwarya tells me how proud she is of her mom, for her determination to get in, for studying so hard, for taking classes every Saturday to improve her English for the interviews.
I feel a sense of responsibility to do my best and help other women realize their potential, because I’m lucky to have the opportunities that I do. I have family rooting for me back in India.
Seeing her mom’s journey, and knowing what her parents have overcome, has made Aishwarya the ambitious person she is. “I feel a sense of responsibility to do my best and help other women realize their potential, because I’m lucky to have the opportunities that I do. I have family rooting for me back in India.”
I meet up with Aishwarya again at her childhood home, where I get to meet her mom, dad, and fifteen-year-old brother. We’re sitting on a fluffy rug on the living room floor drinking delicious Chai tea her dad made us. She and her parents occasionally speak to each other in Hindi, which Aishwarya speaks fluently. I ask her parents what Aishwarya was like growing up.
“She was not a quiet girl,” her mom says, laughing. “She really made me work. She was fearless, always exploring. Whenever she wanted something, she went for it.” They show me a scrapbook with photos of Aishwarya, including one of her in a karate uniform. Karate was a big influence on her growing up, she says. It helped her build discipline and get used to being the young one in a group. She upgraded to the adult class when she was 12 and trained with “men as big as [her] dad.” She got her black belt when she was 16.
Growing up, Aishwarya wanted to be a doctor. She started researching at Harvard through a fellowship her sophomore year of high school, and at 16, presented at an annual radiology meeting about the research abstract she wrote on identifying the ideal radiation dose for the cervical spine. After high school, she studied biology at Northeastern and continued her research, which was a lot of “working in labs with mice.” As she started realizing she didn’t want to work in a lab all day not talking to anyone, she became interested in the cloud transformation the hospital was going through. So she started researching computer science and AWS in her free time.
“I locked myself in my room one summer to teach myself computer science and get AWS certified,” she says. “My friends were wondering what I was doing all summer.” She switched degrees, started going to technology meetups around Boston, and got an engineering job at 19. Then, at a chatbots meetup in Boston, she met people from the Slalom team, including Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition Elise DiNardo.
“I was impressed by how self-taught and inquisitive she was,” Elise says. “She asked a lot of questions about women in tech at Slalom and had so many fresh ideas. Slalom typically hired consultants with five or more years of experience, but we made an exception for Aishwarya. We knew Slalom had a lot to give her and that she had a lot to give us. We knew she’d go far here.”
Elise repeats what others who work with Aishwarya tell me: “She has this presence.” It was the first thing I noticed about her. It’s a calm confidence, a sense of ease, a curiosity—like if she studies hard enough and asks the right questions, she can figure anything out.
I asked one of Aishwarya’s mentors, Slalom Vice President of IT Michele Bleser, what it’s like to mentor Aishwarya. “One of the first things I noticed about her, that I was really proud of, is how deep she gets with clients. She doesn’t just tell me about the project she’s working on. She tells me about the client—the individual people, their visions, their challenges. She wants the people to be successful. That’s a really special skill to have as a consultant.”
Last year, Aishwarya was a Forbes 30 under 30 Fellow, a program that recognizes scholars and innovators from around the world, with a focus on diversity and inclusion. She also won the Slalom Boston “Icon” award, a peer-nominated award for employees who are making a big impact. And, she was recently selected to be on a team that travels around Slalom’s offices for six months, working on the global strategy for Slalom’s technology partnerships. Remember, she's 23.
I imagine being Aishwarya. A first-generation, the oldest daughter of parents who will have masters from, you know, MIT and Harvard. I imagine having family members in another country who don’t have the opportunities I have, who are cheering me on. I would put a lot of pressure on myself. I ask Aishwarya about this.
She says her Slalom colleague Becca McKay gave her advice that stuck with her: “Better is better.” You don’t need to ace everything the first time you try it. It’s about always learning and getting better. Like her mom, getting a fellowship 20 years after she first applied to get her masters.
When I was eating dinner with Aishwarya’s family at their house, Aishwarya told us she’d love to get experience working in one of Slalom’s Europe offices. And some day, she said, she wants to open a Slalom office in India. Then she clarified: she doesn’t necessarily need to be the one who opens the India office, but she’d like to help. Her mom looked at her and asked, "Why not be the one who opens it?”
A mom who knows her daughter can do anything. And she's just getting started.