Raji Arasu is an original. Not only is she a female engineer, but she is also an executive in the field, currently serving as Chief Technology Officer at StubHub, eBay Inc.’s online marketplace for buying and selling tickets. Just how rare is her position? In today’s world, women only make up 25% of the technology industry and fill only 9% of executive roles in the field—and that percentage has been in decline for the past two years.
Raji didn’t always know she wanted to be a part of this elite group. Like many children, she grew up in India wanting to be a variety of different of things, ranging from teacher to astronaut. It wasn’t until she went to Pune University of Engineering that Raji and a few of her friends ventured into the world of computer science. At school, Raji noticed the gender gap in her field from the start, but didn’t let it scare her.
After starting her career as a software engineer at Oracle and Director of Engineering at marchFIRST, Raji joined eBay in 2001. This was a time of exciting innovation and growth for the company and she helped tackle problems involving scalability, traffic, and payments in a rapidly growing e-commerce world. About a year ago, Raji transitioned from her role as eBay’s Vice President of Engineering to StubHub’s CTO. She now leads a team to create a personalized and intuitive experience for StubHub’s users, while also staying on top of technology trends.
We sat down with Raji to talk about her experiences as a woman in tech and to hear the important lessons she’s had to learn on her way up the ladder.
Not only are you a female working in tech, but you’re also an executive. What challenges have you faced as a woman working in a male dominated-field?
It’s sort of a lonely world. In technology, there are fewer women than there are in business organizations, and there are even fewer women in senior roles.
There were certainly a few challenges early on that I had to tackle. The first one was being able to think about the big picture. Engineers like to implement. We fall in love with our solutions and we really want to be able to take things down to the last level. But in doing that, we sometimes lose perspective. Often, we hold management responsible for creating the overall picture and communicating it to us, but I feel like it’s really our responsibility to go seek those answers and create that picture. I had to coach myself through that.
The second challenge that comes to mind is building a network—getting out of your office, getting out of your emails, and really creating a network. Going out and meeting with people both inside and outside the company. I’ve found that really useful because I get to come back to my job with fresh perspectives and fresh ideas of how I can solve problems. It’s often something that we sort of take for granted and never find the time to do.
Technology is obviously a rapidly changing field. What’s the best way to stay on top of evolving trends?
Keeping on top of technology is like trying to swim through an overpowering current 24/7. But what helps is choosing the concepts you want to focus on. It’s like having a menu in front of you—you pick and choose the right trends that you can apply to your business. When you look at it that way, it feels a little less overwhelming.
For StubHub, we care about certain things: We care about cloud computing, we care about big data, we care about search, we care about social, we care about mobile. All of these things are the topics we try to stay current with. You’re not going to be the master of all, but there are a few things you can apply to your business to grow in new ways.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
I think the biggest personal challenge that I’ve faced is being able to oppose something when I feel it isn’t right. It takes a lot of courage to do that, especially in a room full of people. Maybe some part of it is my culture and my upbringing, but there was a lot I had to overcome to get up and say, “I don’t agree with the solution we’re proposing or the direction we’re going in.” It took a little practice.
You’ve obviously had a very successful career. What advice could you offer up to professionals who feel like they’re at a stand-still?
The best advice I can give is to figure out what you really want to do. I find that people—friends, co-workers, and peers—sometimes follow titles. When you do that, you often lose perspective of what you really like to do.
There are three main principles that I consider in every career move and place that I work. The first is finding a job that gets me out of bed and excited to come to work in the morning. The second is ensuring I have a connection with my colleagues, which is equally important. Third is to find a place where I can really change the world and have a great social impact.
For me, personally, I lucked out with both eBay and StubHub. Each company is changing the world every day—and, it’s good to really be part of the revolution.
Learn more about Raji, her role, and what it’s like to work for eBay and StubHub at eBay’s company profile on The Muse!