Dec 16, 2021
Breaking Barriers: Sara Venkatachalam
Sara Venkatachalam is the Senior Manager of Solutions Engineering at Dover Fueling Solutions®. Growing up in India, Sara starred as a lead in classical vocals and violin, and is passionate about music. Sara is the youngest in her family and has two older sisters. Sara has experienced numerous obstacles in her life, from moving to the United States from India early on in her career to a series of health challenges, and she continues to break barriers and lead by example as a leader of DFS’ engineering team.
Venkatachalam was recently recognized with a STEP Ahead Award from the Manufacturing Institute. The STEP — or Science, Technology, Engineering and Production — Women’s Initiative works to close the gender gap in manufacturing, and the award recognizes women who exemplify leadership within their companies. In this article, Venkatachalam shares a bit more about her journey to Wayne Fueling Systems and DFS, where she has spent the last 10 years of her career. We also explore her passion for mentorship and innovation, what it’s like to be a woman leader in STEM, and more.
YOU WERE RECENTLY RECOGNIZED AS A 2021 STEP AHEAD AWARD WINNER. WHAT DOES THIS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT MEAN TO YOU?
This recognition gives me immense pleasure and encourages me to continue to foster talent across the DFS organization. When people have questions or struggles, I hope I can serve as a mentor and coach to them, and be a part of the solution.
It also gives me responsibility to mentor those wanting to pursue a career in the STEM field. STEM is not limited to science, technology, engineering and math — whatever role you are in, bringing innovation and creativity to your
TAKING A STEP BACK, WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW DID YOU GET INTO A CAREER IN ENGINEERING?
I did my bachelor’s degree in information technology from a university in India. I joined a technology solutions company upon my graduation as a program analyst. I progressed into more senior roles and eventually transferred internally to a role based in the United States. It was not a singular path; I took multiple roles and wanted to explore different career paths. Working in multiple roles helped me develop a broad vision and the knowledge to handle different situations.
From New York, I moved to Austin and joined DFS as an automation test engineer in a contract role. I also grew my family with the birth of my son. I enjoyed the role, and it was interesting being in the manufacturing industry coming from the technology side. I got hired as a full-time employee after my contract was up and moved into various roles like QA lead and scrum master.
I got my first manager role at DFS and was able to begin to hone my skills as a people manager. I will be transitioning to a brand-new role within DFS shortly, and I couldn’t be more excited!
IN LEADING THE CLOUD-TO-CLOUD EDGE TEAM AND IN YOUR NEW ROLE, YOU ARE A KEY MEMBER IN LEADING INNOVATION AT DFS. CAN YOU SPEAK MORE ABOUT HOW YOUR TEAMS ARE DRIVING INNOVATION FOR THE BUSINESS?
This has been a new adventure for me in leading these innovative teams. Most of my previous roles have been centered around quality and software test engineering: quality lead, quality manager and so on. The cloud-to-edge team has developed the ability to extend cloud computing to the edge, which allows our fueling devices and site equipment to interact seamlessly with cloud solutions. Through the edge, we can send commands from the cloud to the devices, and from the devices, we can get that information.
DFS Edge is one of the latest products created to support IoT technology. This product fulfills numerous unmet needs in the market, and that means we can meet customer demands quickly and more efficiently. You can find this technology in thousands of sites around the world. Strengthening our brand as an industry leader and innovator of cutting-edge technology makes me very proud. And being an integral part of building this widely-visible team and technology is one of the highlights of my time at DFS. DFS is no longer a purely manufacturing company; we are a digital technology company too, and the cloud-to-edge team is a critical part of that transformation.
WHAT ROLE DOES LEADERSHIP PLAY IN BEING A MANAGER AND BEING A WOMAN LEADER IN STEM?
Mentorship is my favorite part of my job. I view mentorship as a two-way street; it is mutual. Having conversations with the team members I mentor helps me learn, so I am teaching and learning, and vice versa. I tell my story, and oftentimes they can relate, which motivates them.
I have mentored many team members over the years, from working with a high-potential female team member to create a personalized development plan with stretch learning experiences, to coaching a female first-time manager to help guide her through some of the challenges of people management.
I am an active participant in the DFS Women’s Network and have shared my experiences, from moving from India to the United States, to becoming a women leader in a male-dominated industry, with the strong network of women team members at DFS.
HOW HAS DFS SUPPORTED YOUR CAREER GROWTH?
The opportunities here are plentiful. Growing in your career goes both ways — it shouldn’t just be the manager coming to their team member with an opportunity… the team member should also bring a passion for growth. Within solutions engineering, for example, there are many paths for career growth. Team members can learn about roles in development, testing, process, scrum, release engineering and so many more.
We have to take the bold step to move from one career to the next and not be solely focused on one path. There is no one “right” way or one path to success. The opportunities are there, but you have to ask. Don’t wait for your manager to ask you if you want to apply for a new role, you must seek those opportunities out.
DFS has always been supportive of me and my growth. There are fantastic mentorship programs, Growth Academy, growth performance dialogue conversations and many other forums where individuals can communicate their career aspirations. There are opportunities to broaden your network outside of your immediate team and network with leadership. There are opportunities all over the world.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR YOUNG WOMEN INTERESTED IN PURSUING A CAREER IN ENGINEERING?
Changes happen, and don’t be afraid of the change. Embrace change and ambiguity. Be bold and don’t be afraid to take risks, but be calculated when you are taking risks. Enjoy every moment of your career, whether it is in technology or another field, and always be open to new possibilities. Don’t suppress your dreams and have the courage to go after them!
My manager Hob Hairston always says “fortune favors the bold.” He is quoting the Latin proverb, but Hob is an incredible mentor for me, and I always keep this in mind. Don’t be afraid to take new opportunities, and even if you fail, there is always a place to come back to. Be great at your job, and the results will speak for themselves.