Q&A with Ansuya Ahluwalia, CTO at Thirty3

Each month we have the honor of interviewing Women Who Inspire Us. This month we talked to Ansuya Ahluwalia, a tech entrepreneur and software engineer who has found her passion in solving complex problems. Learn how Ansuya is making meaningful connections thanks to her self-care practice, and why working in tech excites her – even with many challenges ahead of us.

What is the most exciting thing in your life right now?

Everything in my life right now is super exciting! Life itself is just full of excitement. I love waking up every morning and going through my routine, meeting new people, and doing various activities that complement each other.

Back before I moved to Switzerland 6.5 years ago, I was doing just one thing: working at Amazon. But I had this strong feeling that I wanted more challenges. So, I started building my own event planning app to dive into different things.

Currently, I’m the CTO at Thirty3, where we build digital products for companies and focus on innovation. This satisfies my desire to solve complex problems and come up with tech solutions.

I’m also a tech advisor for the online wellness platform HereNow that I founded and now sold, where we connect people with wellness coaches. This aligns with my interest in personal development and wellbeing, combining my tech expertise with my creative side.

I also volunteer at Swisspreneur where I am a podcast host and I am also moderating and interviewing live at events in Switzerland. I’ve always been comfortable with public speaking, something I’ve been doing since childhood. It comes naturally to me, and I love connecting with people from different backgrounds. Making meaningful connections and constantly learning are key aspects of my life – both personally and professionally.

Overall, juggling all these different roles helps me grow and develop myself.

What brought you into the tech industry? 

It all traces back to my parents. My brother and I were born in Silicon Valley when it was still living up to its name, focusing on microprocessors and chips. Both my parents are engineers who worked in the tech industry. Eventually, we moved back to India to stay closer to our family there. I’ve always felt a strong connection to both cultures, Indian and American.

Growing up in a family of academics, I was immersed in technology from a very young age. I started coding when I was 11 years old, which wasn’t very common at that time. The education system in India provided me with ample opportunities to learn various tech skills, giving me more exposure than what’s typically found in the West. This early exposure played a significant role in shaping my interests.

Making meaningful connections and constantly learning are key aspects of my life.

– Ansuya Ahluwalia

Did you always know that you wanted to be an engineer?

Initially, I wasn’t sure about my career path. My father wanted me to become a doctor, but after a brief experience with biology classes, I realized it wasn’t for me. So, I turned to computer science, seeing it as the next best option.

Engineering felt more aligned with my skills and interests. I pursued my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science, delving into research even during my undergraduate years. I focused on machine learning and even wrote research papers, which was quite uncommon for an undergraduate student.

One notable experience was when I was invited to present one of my research papers at EPFL in Lausanne. I was the only undergraduate among Ph.D. students and Post Docs, and many mistook me for a Ph.D. student due to the depth of my work. It all felt very natural to me—I was doing what I loved, and it didn’t feel like work at all. That’s when I realized that when you’re passionate about something, it flows through you effortlessly.

Why would you encourage others to work in tech?

Things have changed quite a bit. A few years back, I wouldn’t have had to persuade anyone to pursue a career in tech. Everyone was eager to jump into the field. Tech was seen as a guaranteed job market with endless opportunities.

However, the landscape is shifting now. Tech jobs will become obsolete as AI takes over various tasks, as noted in a recent talk by NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang. We’re at a critical juncture where we still need tech experts due to the language barrier in working with AI. But looking ahead, we’ll require more tech professionals in specialized industries like sustainability and agriculture.

What appeals to me about tech is the satisfaction of understanding things that not everyone grasps. It makes you feel valuable in solving complex problems and contributing in a unique way. It’s a strong selling point and can lead to a prosperous career, especially considering job security concerns in many countries beyond Switzerland.

When you’re passionate about something, it flows through you effortlessly.

– Ansuya Ahluwalia

Who’s been the most important influence on you?

At every turn in my journey, the people who I have crossed paths with have left a lasting impact. It all began with my parents, who instilled a strong sense of curiosity and ambition in me.

During my undergraduate years in India, I had a female computer science teacher who recognized my enthusiasm for exploring beyond the curriculum. She encouraged me to delve into research topics in data science due to which I also secured an internship in Los Angeles.

Moving on to my master’s program at UCLA, where I was part of the complex networks lab, my professor handed me many cool projects that expanded my knowledge.

I also had the privilege of having a mentor there who was pursuing her Ph.D. Her brilliance in advanced mathematics was inspiring, but what stood out the most was her kindness and willingness to guide me. I cherish the connections I’ve made with such exceptional individuals who not only excel in their fields but also remain humble and approachable.

During my time at Amazon, I was fortunate to work under a manager who was not just exceptional at his job but also incredibly kind. His leadership style and genuine appreciation for the people on his team inspired me to adopt a similar approach as I transitioned into leadership roles myself.

What challenges did you face in your career when working with others?

Of course, not every interaction has been smooth sailing. I’ve encountered challenges and difficult personalities along the way, but each experience has taught me valuable lessons, shaping me into a better professional and leader.

Moving to Switzerland brought its own set of learnings. Embracing a different culture, I learned the importance of being true to myself and focusing on my work without getting entangled in politics. Surrounding myself with driven co-founders and mentors has been a game-changer. Their guidance and support have been instrumental in shaping my career trajectory.

I’ve come to realize that success isn’t just about achievements; it’s about the meaningful connections we forge along the way. The supportive ecosystem here, where people genuinely care about each other’s growth and well-being, has been incredibly enriching. Being centered and authentic attracts positivity and opens doors to opportunities that go beyond professional milestones.

Being centered and authentic attracts positivity and opens doors to opportunities that go beyond professional milestones.

– Ansuya Ahluwalia

What is the impact of mindfulness and wellbeing on your career?

This is my lifeline. Even when my mental health hit rock bottom, my professional and academic life remained strong. However, my energy was drained, and I wasn’t living in alignment with myself. Discovering self-care practices transformed my life. To put it simply, it made life effortless for me. I recently told a friend that despite having the most amount of work I ever had in my life, I’m the least stressed I’ve ever been.

Moving to Switzerland and taking on the role of CTO brought immense responsibility. The first company I worked in here, brought in its own set of challenges and I felt uncentered.. I realized that I was attracting chaotic situations because I wasn’t balanced within myself. Learning tools to achieve better balance made it easier to take risks and navigate uncertainty.

Self-care has made a tremendous difference in my life. Without it, I would be a stress bomb. Now, I approach challenges with curiosity and positivity instead of feeling overwhelmed and entering survival mode. It adds an element of enjoyment and fun to everything I do.

What would you recommend to someone who wants to start practicing mindfulness?

The key is to cut down on constantly filling the silence and keeping your mind busy all the time. Instead, learn to just be. Take moments in your day to do absolutely nothing. It’s not about finding energy or draining it in the wrong places.

When you wake up in the morning, try not to immediately check your phone or rush into tasks. Before, I used to advise people to meditate, but the first practical step is actually learning to embrace moments of doing nothing.

There’s a lot of scientific research and information available on this topic, including many podcasts that delve into the benefits of slowing down and embracing stillness.

Do you act for diversity in tech yourself, and if yes how?

In both of my businesses, we’ve many times had more women than men, although it wasn’t a deliberate choice—it’s just how things have naturally unfolded. I believe that having a mix of genders brings a diverse set of perspectives and strengths to the table. It’s not just about gender; it’s also about where people are coming from, their cultural values, and backgrounds. These factors play a significant role in shaping the dynamics of a successful team in the workplace.

For the most part of my career, I was working mostly with men, but now I work with both men and women. At Thirty3, where we have offices in different countries like Poland, India and Mexico, we’ve learned the value of diversity firsthand. Having people from various backgrounds enriches our business and brings different insights that are essential for growth. It just makes logical sense to embrace diversity in all its forms.

At Swisspreneur, where we host our podcast, we are intentionally seeking out out more female guests. Our goal is to showcase successful female entrepreneurs and investors, providing a platform for their stories and experiences. We believe that diversity in our guests adds depth and interest to our content.

Discovering self-care practices transformed my life.

– Ansuya Ahluwalia

If you weren’t doing what you do today, what would you be doing and why?

There were a few paths I considered. I’ve always had a strong artistic side, creating different kinds of art until I turned 18. But if I had to choose now, I might have pursued psychology. Many of my friends often seek my advice when they’re facing challenges, and I find joy in helping them navigate through tough situations. Understanding how the brain and mind work intrigues me, and I could see myself pursuing psychology as an alternative career.

Despite my passion not being solely in tech, my ultimate drive lies in solving complex problems. I enjoy diving deep into analyzing situations and finding solutions. This is where my studies in computer science, data science, and machine learning fit perfectly.

Whether it’s analyzing a technical problem or understanding what people need to solve, I approach it with a similar mindset. Like a psychologist, I look at problems analytically while maintaining empathy. It’s about putting myself in others’ shoes and understanding their perspectives and emotions.

Any last advice you’d like to share with our community?

To truly excel in life, it’s crucial not only to enhance technical skills but also to cultivate emotional intelligence. By developing yourself in both aspects, the possibilities in life become limitless.

You become self-empowered to navigate uncertainties, which are more prevalent now than ever due to rapid technological advancements, global pandemics, conflicts, and economic shifts. Job security is no longer a guarantee, and many individuals face job losses and instability, especially during events like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Investing in personal growth and developing emotional and spiritual intelligence can greatly benefit individuals in their careers and in connecting with the right people. It’s essential for individuals to recognize the importance of both technical expertise and emotional intelligence to thrive in today’s dynamic and unpredictable world.

Thank you Ansuya for being a woman who inspires us! 💛

Author: Lisa Stähli

Women Who Inspire Us

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