International Women’s Day 2019: A Conversation about Diversity with Engineer Nalini Khattar

Bloomberg engineer Nalini Khattar (second from right) at the TechWomen100 Awards ceremony in London on January 31, 2019.

On International Women’s Day 2019, we are highlighting one of our London-based engineers, Nalini Khattar, who was recently named a winner of the TechWomen100 Awards for 2018 by WeAreTechWomen, WeAreTheCity’s dedicated microsite for London’s community of female technologists. Nalini is a highly-passionate and innovative finance technology professional who has spent her career across multiple geographies, technologies, and domains. The TechWomen100 Awards highlight up-and-coming inspirational female tech talent in order to create a new generation of female role models for the industry.

At Bloomberg, Nalini is the team lead for the Real-Time Market Data Feeds EMEA (RMFE) team in the Engineering Department. She has led global projects involving connectivity standards, disaster recovery, and regulatory compliance, while also mentoring her team to help them achieve their individual career goals. In addition, she is an active role model for women who are returning to work at Bloomberg after maternity leave.

Prior to joining Bloomberg, she developed her interest and expertise in networking technologies while working at Creativity Software, a telecoms startup in London; Aricent (Hughes Software Systems, USA) in Gurgaon, India; the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT, an Indian Government-owned telecommunications technology development centre)in New Delhi, India; and Siemens Information Systems Ltd. in Gurgaon, India. She earned a gold medal for being at the top of her class when earning her master’s degree in Computer Science & Applications from the University of the Punjab, and also holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Delhi.

Our conversation with Nalini – which covers her work at Bloomberg, the recent award, and the importance of a more diverse workplace – was edited for length and clarity.

What does being named a TechWomen100 Award winner mean to you?

I am honored and proud to stand with the other winners who have such impressive achievements – these women are a great inspiration!

As a TechWomen100 Award winner, I am motivated to become a role model for the industry. I want to encourage my female colleagues and friends to continue pursuing their careers. Too often, women leave their careers after having children, and I believe this should simply not happen.

I came back from maternity leave when my child was 14-months old. This was very difficult, but my manager was very supportive. Figuring out the right work-life balance was challenging. I come from a family of highly accomplished women in professional fields and my husband, in-laws and parents also fully supported me in my aspirations. My mother and sisters are working women, and I was motivated to continue by looking up to them. The longer I persevered, the easier everything became – and I finally found the right balance. My manager recognized my work, and this year, nominated me for this award.

What interested you in technology and engineering?

I have been passionate about technology for as long as I can remember. I wasn’t cut out for liberal arts and enjoyed solving puzzles instead. If there was no math and science, I would probably have been bored in school, but I loved every day of my education. My older sister helped guide me in my education. Because my family is full of working women, it was always assumed I’d have a career, no matter the field.

What I like most about technology is that I can create innovative solutions to address different problems. Fortunately, my generation has been able to participate in and observe technology’s impact on the world, and I’m excited about where my career can go in the future.

What are your responsibilities as team lead for Bloomberg’s RMFE team? What are some of the projects that you’ve worked on at Bloomberg?

I manage the RMFE team, which has nine developers. We are responsible for Central and Eastern European Feeds, which include the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, London Metal Exchange, Madrid Stock Exchange, Athens Exchange, Vienna Stock Exchange, Tradeweb’s Approved Publication Arrangement (APA) for post-trade reporting, and energy exchanges, such as the European Energy Exchange (EEX) and the European Power Exchange (EPEX SPOT SE).

With the support of a highly talented team of engineers and developers across the globe, I lead and work on a variety of projects that vary in scale, as well as encourage my team to look for opportunities to automate – to date, I’ve automated tools for testing, code generation, and post-deployment code checking.

The disaster recovery project ensured all RMFE applications across Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific can continue operating during a disaster. Our global team of 20 engineers developed a plan, researched, designed, implemented, and tested the applications. My contribution was to research and design solutions for about 1,000 applications.

Compliance with the EU’s MiFID II regulations required us to upgrade the RMFE infrastructure. I coordinated this global initiative in 2017-2018, which involved 60-70 developers across offices in London, New York, and Tokyo. Our work included over 150 releases in just six months.

To keep my technical skills current, I am working on creating a global specification standard for the connectivity of our Feeds applications utilizing TCP.

What important leadership skills do you rely on?

I motivate my team by allowing autonomy, providing productive and challenging work, setting effective goals, and most importantly, providing recognition and gratitude. I believe in leading from the front and taking responsibility for my team’s successes and failures. My goal is to create an environment that promotes innovation and diversity.

Communication, whether that’s active listening, clearly explaining ideas, or facilitating group conversations, is important. Leaders need to be open and honest with their teams and people about areas that need improvement, and they should also solicit feedback so they can improve as managers.

I try to prioritize my schedule and delegate when I can – when someone else from our team attends a meeting, I can be productive elsewhere. Delegating was difficult at first, but as you build trust with your team, you realize they can do just as good a job. I want to empower my team to take both the responsibility and the glory for their work.

Bloomberg’s Guilds also enable employees to participate in technical micro-communities outside of Bloomberg’s existing employee resource groups (or Communities), gatherings, and philanthropic events. This open and transparent system ultimately helps improve our technical employees’ engagement across the Engineering department, and my work put me on the path for leadership.

As a mentor, what are some of the key challenges you help people conquer?

Within Bloomberg, I help individual team members achieve their goals by focusing on the big picture. I try to help people by providing guidance for their career growth. Someone might be very strong technically, but needs to improve their communication skills – I’ll give constructive feedback and find training and other resources to help them develop that skill.

Outside of work, I encourage women to continue working after they have children because there are companies like Bloomberg that provide flexibility so a woman can have a career while also raising children. I am really grateful to Bloomberg for providing me the flexibility to enjoy time with my daughter during the first few months after she was born. As a result, we share a very close bond. I try to bridge the gap between working mothers leaving their jobs and what a workforce can provide.

In your opinion, why are diversity and inclusion important? How do you personally promote diversity and inclusion with a team and in the community?

Diversity and inclusion lead to more innovation, more opportunities, better access to talent, and stronger business performance. When people from different backgrounds collaborate, products are delivered faster and decisions are more informed.

Getting a diverse team to work together does take work, and a team leader needs to ensure everyone trusts each other and understands the long-term visions of the team and everyone’s roles. To give all members of the team a platform, this sometimes means letting women speak first so they are heard. It’s also important to solicit feedback from each individual team member and to address and resolve any concerns. Working as part of a diverse team can be a culture change, but it needs to be done step-by-step. Once people find their rhythm, you step back and let the team members collaborate.

Bloomberg also empowers me to inspire the next generation of women in STEM careers. For example, I volunteer time during the year to mentor female students. And, last year, I participated in the Wikipedia Edit-a-thon organized by the Mayor of London and hosted at Bloomberg London. During this London Tech Week event, I had the opportunity to work with secondary school girls from across London to create new biography pages about notable London women in order to help tackle the gender imbalance in Wikipedia pages.

What changes have you seen in organizations throughout your career as diversity is embraced? What are some of the key challenges regarding diversity within the tech industry?

There’s a deeper understanding of customers, stronger team performance, greater innovation and creativity, and better employee retention and engagement. Tackling the ‘why’ – talking openly about diversity and inclusion and explaining and reinforcing its importance through training and education, while respectfully challenging the status quo – is a key first step, because then the ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘where’, and ‘how’ will follow easily in the form of implementing a solution and oversight.

There are many things that can be done, but it will take time and we need to create a proper roadmap. Companies can start by embedding principles about diversity and inclusion in their mission, vision, and value statements and creating clear metrics to measure against benchmarks. Real change happens only after people understand the benefits.

In light of the UN Women’s theme for International Women’s Day 2019 – “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change” – what are your thoughts about the importance and impact of this day?

This is a great theme – gender equality needs to be a strategic priority for companies. At Bloomberg, we promote this theme through a program called Women in Engineering Leadership Development (WELD). It is a forum where we can talk with senior managers and have candid conversations about our successes and failures. We also talk about our career growth and goals, along with how to stay current on technical skills and the skills needed to manage global teams. This kind of group is invaluable in promoting diversity and helping women become leaders and achieve their career goals.

I dream the same for my daughter.