Dadar girl Anwaya Aras breaks new glass ceilings for desi women in Silicon Valley
Till recently, Anwaya Aras was the engineering manager at Uber Eats App, and one of the very few South Asian women in the upper echelons of Silicon Valley. This is the story of the girl born and raised in Dadar, most famous for its vegetable market, who helped people get food delivered to their door.
Aras’s journey was fueled by ambition, opportunities and sound mentorship.
“I was raised in Dadar in a typical middle-class family,” she said, “It was a joint family living in a one bedroom apartment, with six people. So there was chaos all the time. But it was amazing. Life was simple with sober dreams.”
Hopes of a bigger house, a fulfilling life and her parents’ stress on education, led her to enroll in expensive coaching classes so she could get into one of India’s premier engineering institutes. The expense put a strain on the family.
“I was extremely fortunate to have been raised in a family where education was firmly supported,” she said. “I know my parents had to make some cuts in their life to afford those [classes] so that I could get into the top universities of India.”
Securing admission to BITS, Pilani (Birla Institute of Technology and Science) opened up a world of possibilities for the future techie.
“I was fortunate to have really strong professors who showed me what the world beyond would look like,” Aras said. “In three or four years, I got introduced to specific areas of computer science machine learning artificial intelligence.”
Aras decided to explore education beyond India. She started reaching out to professors abroad in the hope of doing research. An invitation to France for a fully funded research scholarship led to an eye-opening trip outside India, convincing her to study further and outside India. She finally got admission to the University of California, San Diego.
“I did my masters and then got into Uber Eats,” she said. “Within Uber, I had a solid panel of mentors who really invested in my career. A lot of times, you’re the only person in the room kind of trying to gel and trying to adjust. These mentors took care of my career and sponsored me … A lot of gratitude and a lot of right things happened at the right time. But the key was also identifying opportunities that I really wanted to take and making hay while the sun shines.”
Aras is part of a minuscule group of women in technology but is paving the way for young girls who will not be discouraged by the statistics, but look up to her and feel that they can do it.
“Twelve percent women.” she said. “That’s representing all of tech. A lot of times you are borderline conscious you’re probably the only person sitting in a room with people not looking like, not thinking, like you. And you wonder, is my accent too heavy? Are they understanding me? Am I using the right words? What are they thinking about me? What are the stereotypes in their head? All these things, clouding your judgment and then this self critique starts eroding your confidence.”
Aras recently was declared a Google Anita Borg scholar, a title that recognizes a woman’s contribution in computer science. And despite the accolades, Aras faced her own set of challenges.
“In Silicon Valley, you need to realize that your roots are your strength, “she said. “You have a seat at the table. You are there for a reason. You owe it to yourself to bring out the best version of you. As a brown woman, you’re gonna face challenges. You just need to ensure that you have a framework to get over them. I feel like you owe it to yourself and to everyone else who’s going to come after you.”
When a fresh graduate, she had joined Uber’s Fraud Platform team in 2016. Starting as a back=end engineer working on different teams, Aras’s rose to be an engineer manager at Uber Eats.
“I managed all of Uber Eats groceries, consumer delivery experience tag and my role grew from a smaller charter to be the lead of two charters which drove millions in revenue through consumer features,” Aras said.
Her leadership style was split into three buckets. The first two involved ensuring she and her team’s efforts affect the company’s top line metrics, and instituting processes to have the team work optimally. But the third one is the most important one for Aras.
“The third bucket is what I liked the most – investing in people,” she said. “I believe that if you do the right kinds of investment in people, and you match people, and the priorities to company priorities, magic can happen. That has always been my favorite part of the job and also why I enjoy engineering leadership.”
After a productive stint at Uber Eats, Aras recently moved to a novel leadership position at Mysten Labs, a Web3 startup. Mysten aims to create tools for the future and make Web3 secure and reliable for mass adoption.
“I wanted to learn more, explore and take a little more challenge,” she said. “I’m entering this whole new area of Web3 crypto. It’s different … from the Web2 space that I was in. So lots of learning and lots of challenges lie ahead. That’s where the fun in life comes from, right?”
Desipte being busy building the foundational infrastructure for the decentralized internet of the near future, the San Francisco based engineer is not a typical nerd.
“Unwinding is so essential, she said. “My go to unwind on a daily basis is exercise. I feel like that really helps me come out of my zone. I try to go on runs, I hike and I also ski. Music is another thing that really helps me unwind. After a crazy period of work I really love to travel. I’ve been to 38 countries, and it just resets my brain and gives me back the energy that I need.”
- How to make Uber Eats App work for you.
“I think we have machine learning and AI doing all of the hard work behind the scenes. So just keep giving us your feedback, make sure that you are curating your lists and saving your favorites. And hopefully the first recommendation that you get is basically what you want to order from Uber Eats.”
2. Advice to young women looking for a future in tech
“Look for inspirations and role models, to learn from their stories. A lot of us are crippled with what we call impostor syndrome. Unfortunately, it is extremely common. We need to get over that and convince ourselves, We need frameworks and a support system that will convince us otherwise. It is good to be humble, but also know what we have achieved so far, and to know that we deserve it. At the end of the day, get over stereotypes and generalizations. There is so much unconscious bias hammered into us. As a woman, a lot of times you tend to want to be more likable and more agreeable, but navigate these assumptions with confidence. The one person you should completely rely on is yourself. So train yourself to do that well and feel like you’re going to be unstoppable.”
“I was raised in Dadar in a typical middle-class family. It was a joint family living in a one bedroom apartment with six people. So there was chaos all the time. But it was amazing. Life was simple with sober dreams.”
“A lot of gratitude and a lot of right things happening at the right time. But, the key was also identifying opportunities that I really wanted to take and making hay while the sun shines.”
“In Silicon Valley, I feel it is where you need to realize that your roots are your strength. You have a seat at the table. And that you are there for a reason.”