B.TECH, METALLURGICAL ENGINEERING AND MATERIAL SCIENCE, 1983
IBM DISTINGUISHED RESEARCH STAFF MEMBER HETEROGENEOUS INTEGRATION LEADER AT IBM RESEARCH
IBM LIFETIME MASTER INVENTOR WITH 230 GRANTED US PATENTS
I grew up in Mumbai, where I studied in an all-girls school (St. Columba). I loved languages and social studies, as well as physics and mathematics, so I considered all of these subjects for higher studies. Although my father and grandfather were engineers, there was no female engineer in the family. Thus, even with this background, engineering felt like forging a new path. I would have been content to stay at home and attend a local engineering school. But my mother pushed me to prepare for IIT. She said, “You can do it. I know you can. Give it your best shot!” I will always be grateful for that, as coming to IIT Bombay completely changed my life.
I have fond memories of midnight treasure hunts, cracking cryptic crossword clues, quiz competitions but dramatics was closest to my heart. I took part in all five years, represented H10, and actually got the top prize for Best Actor in my final year. When I came into IIT, I was influenced not just by my peer group, but by the senior women in the hostel who held very bold and progressive views. When I was a freshie, they broke the rule of ‘no male visitors’ allowed in the hostel. I was in awe of what they were doing, how they went to the director and said ‘no double standards’. But to be honest, the single most important influence in my life was my classmate (and now husband) Shaji Farooq. In my 3rd year at IIT, I moved to the Metallurgical Engineering Department and so did Shaji. We met in a cool, open hallway on the first day of our fifth semester. And the rest is history.
When I came to the US, I first did my Master’s at Northwestern, assessing aluminium zirconium alloys – very traditional metallurgy. Then I moved to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for my PhD, as I wanted to start looking at semiconductor materials. As part of my doctoral thesis, I actually built Schottky devices from scratch, and fell in love with this field. Truly, it is the perfect blend of three extraordinary disciplines – solid state physics, material science, and electronics. My field is called Heterogeneous Integration We are trying to find unique, innovative solutions that will overcome the slowing down of logic scaling because, as chips are getting faster and better, they’re also coming up against some roadblocks. What I’m doing is leading a team that looks for innovative methods to overcome this slowing down and bring new solutions to the forefront. There are multiple ways of doing this, so it’s heterogeneous. It’s not the old ‘one size fits all’.
At IBM, I was l placed with a group working on groundbreaking semiconductor packaging technology. As the youngest team member, my job was to run the hardware, evaluate it and inspect it. This gave me a real feel for the problem we were trying to solve. I realized there was a way to make the process simpler and less prone to defects. When I shared this with the senior engineers, they got excited and said, “This is a very important idea”. That’s how my idea was incorporated into patent # US 5,266,446. It was thrilling to have my name on a patent! Ruminating on unsolved problems and looking for new solutions became a way of life for me. As an inventor, you look at a solution which is good, but then you ask - can I do it another way? And then you come up with two other ways, and one or both of them may end up becoming key Intellectual Property. Of my 230 granted patents, 40 plus got recognized with company awards, but many more became part of the technology manufacturing process. I led the team at IBM which achieved the industry’s first ever high volume logic wafer with through silicon vias – that was truly exhilarating!
At IIT, we were just 6 women in a class of 300 guys, but that skewed ratio gave me the ability to hold my own. Maybe it’s not always comfortable, but I think getting out of my comfort zone and saying, I’m going to stand there and deal with the proverbial brickbats – that was a lesson for life. For years, I used to be the only female engineer in so many meetings. Not to mention that I was in a different culture in the US! But due to my IIT experience, I felt confident standing up and saying, “I think we should do it this way and I’ll tell you why.”
Shaji and I came to the US, got married, got our PhDs together and started working at IBM on the same day. So, in a way, we’ve had parallel careers. Although we’ve always been a bit competitive with each other (some parts of IIT never leave you), we’ve always encouraged each other to excel. Once we had children, the equation changed because now we were a family. And so, there were times when we would pick up slack for each other. In the early 90s, there had been big layoffs in material science so we decided to diversify our careers. In the fall of ’95, Shaji started doing an MBA in Finance from NYU Stern, while he was still at IBM. This was a crazy period. He would come back in the middle of the night and work on his MBA projects, while I was looking after two young kids while still working full-time at IBM. I saw women at work quitting in droves, not able to handle their careers along with their familial demands, deciding that staying home would let them preserve their sanity. It was tempting. But Shaji would not hear of it. He said that I was capable of great things in my career, and that he would not let me quit after all the academic successes under my belt, and all the hard work I had already put in. He said that to give it up mid-stream would be a regret that would haunt me for the rest of my life. This much is true: he knew me better than I knew myself. And he was not just an armchair husband who made philosophical observations but refused to lift a finger! He pulled his own weight and then some. If I was bathing the kids, he was right there, helping me. If I was doing grocery shopping or ferrying the children to soccer or tennis, he was at home cooking. If I was doing errands on a weeknight, he was helping the kids with math or physics. And he was right. The hardest, craziest times did pass. And my career, which at times demanded so much and made my life so hard, eventually proved to be a sustaining force that made me happy and fulfilled.
A career in STEM takes hard work. But whether in materials science or electronics or AI, you can do things which will bring tremendous benefits to human society. As a high schooler, you may not know which discipline you want to pursue, sometimes it just takes time for it to unfold. No matter where you start; many possibilities are open to you.