Women Who Tech: Charu Pasternak


This month we are talking to Charu Pasternak, tech guru and self-proclaimed nerd mom. Charu is a bright light that exudes positivity. If you are looking for some motivation, Charu has what you need!

Charu is not from Eugene or even the US. She was born and raised in India where she lived for 23 years and where she received a Masters Degree in Information Technology. So what brought her to Eugene? A love story.

Charu: I moved here for my husband, Niels. We met at a train station in New Delhi, fell in love and talked online for three years. This was back in the Yahoo! Messenger days before social media flourished. We got married in January 2006 and I moved to the US later that year. My husband, Niels is from New York but went to the University of Oregon and stayed, so I moved straight to Eugene.

RWIT: What is your background in tech?

Charu: While I was earning my Masters degree in India, I started working as a graduate teacher. Once I completed my degree I got hired as a professor and started teaching students working on their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Computer Science.  When I moved to the US, I had to wait for three months to get my Employment Authorization Card and then I started looking for work in the technology industry. Within 15 days, I landed a web developer position with a local company and began my career in the US.

I was surprised when I was hired for this job because one of its requirements was experience working with PHP & PostgreSQL, which I didn’t have any experience at the time. I had worked with C, C++, C#, Java, Oracle, and SQL Server. So I had the knowledge base but was unfamiliar with the specific technology.

I was very open with the hiring manager regarding my limited experience with these programming languages and expressed my willingness and ability to learn quickly. After the interview was over they said, they wanted to hire me and that they will give me a month to learn and would provide the resources I would need. They paid me a full month’s salary, got me books, a private office space so I could go in, study and help out where I could. After a month I was ready to take on the project. Fifteen days into the project the owner came in and said: “This project is really important to our company and if you can get it deployed in three months that will yield the company huge benefits.” I have always liked a good challenge. This was my first job in a new country and the inspiration to prove myself made me really push myself. I would sometimes go in on the weekends and my husband supported me to go in whenever I wanted and even brought me dinner sometimes when I was working late. I ended up finishing the project on time and I worked at that company on a few other projects before my son was born.

RWIT: Do you have any mentors or people who inspire you?

Charu: Niels, my husband, is my mentor and my kids are my inspiration.

When my son, Hanesh was born and I had completed my maternity leave, we put him into daycare. I would go to work and sit there thinking about my son, and it came to a point where I wasn’t being productive so Niels encouraged me to stay home and spend some quality time with Hanesh. I quit my job and Niels was there to support me through it. When I was ready to get back to work he was there to support me going back, helping watch Hanesh if I had to interview, boosting my confidence when I felt low. Niels, Hanesh, and Ashianna, are truly my inspiration. They inspire me to be the best version of myself every day. It’s because of them that I want to learn and grow so that I can cultivate the habit of constant learning. I strongly believe that you can teach kids long-lasting habits through teaching by example. Their minds are like clay and we as parents have a huge responsibility to nurture and shape their growing minds in a constructive way.

RWIT: Did you find the transition back to the workplace hard?

Charu: The first time around when began looking for work I had to take on some freelance opportunities to stay up to date with my programming skills and I didn’t have as much work as I would have liked. When my daughter Ashianna was born I was working for a non-profit and I was their only developer. There were times I was doing back-end service work, front-end UI work, making design decisions and fixing lots of small computer related problems for the whole company. A month after Ashianna was born, the COO started sending me emails asking how I was doing and if I could look at some work and fix some things for them. I talked to the COO and he said they really needed me so after we talked they got a playpen for my private office and shared that I could bring Ashianna to the office and set my own hours. I realized they had been so nice and they really needed my help. At six weeks old, I would bring Ashianna to the office, she would mostly sleep while I worked. I would sometimes drop the car seat into the COO’s office while I was in a meeting.

After working with the non-profit for five years, I realized I had not been back to India to visit my family. It was nice to visit family and bring both kids to India so they can meet my family and friends and get exposure to the culture. Upon my return, I wanted to find more stable work.

RWIT: What advice do you have for women trying to get into tech?

Charu: Believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself you will project that to other people. Practice it so when you are out there you can project it to others. It always helps to smile with confidence when you are in group meetings. Another one and this has really helped me is to be self-motivated! You don’t do IT projects only because your boss wants you to. You do projects to learn how to be better at your job. I like challenging projects because I learn more from them. Don’t take the easy path all the time you grow less. Here at CBT Nuggets, we have over 100 developers of which two are women. At four years, I have been here the longest. Being a woman of color in tech in the US is not always easy. You have to believe in yourself because no one will do it for you. When people treat you unfairly, you have to call them on it. You have to stand up for yourself in ways that people respect and you have to be able to reason with people when you have disagreements.

Make allies at your workplace. Put gender and ethnicity aside and build a culture of equality around yourself. It’s important to have friends at work as we spend a substantial amount of time at a workplace and work is better and more fun when you have friends around. It also helps a lot because you can sometimes rely on the expertise of others when you are working on difficult projects and be there for others when they need your expertise. It helps everyone learn faster expand their knowledge base. People need to remember that it’s okay to ask for help. It is also important to communicate and let your co-workers, your team know that you have their back and hope that they got your back as well.

Empower others not just yourself. I am all about empowering people. When my team writes code, I don’t care who gets the credit, the team is in it together, for the successes and failures. When I empower others it makes me stronger and powerful as well and it is the hallmark of good leadership. Getting to a level of success alone is achievable but for me, my personal goal is that when I succeed, I want others to succeed with me. They say it’s lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to be if you bring company.

RWIT: What resources would you recommend?

Charu: CBT Nuggets (shameless plug!), Code School, LinkedIn – Lynda, Medium articles, Leadership freak articles. Books I read in the last six months – One Minute Manager, Crucial conversations, Radical Candor, Atomic Habits. I am currently reading Powerful and Seat of the Soul.

RWIT: Have you hit any roadblocks on your career journey?

Charu: At my second job my manager at the time never told me “good job” or anything positive about my work. At that point in my life, I was still seeking outside appreciation and recognition and I was used to getting that in my previous work experiences often, so it didn’t feel right to me and I was frustrated. Not so much now, somehow, I have learned over time that if I am giving the best I can, I don’t need an affirmation from someone else. Although if feels great to know that you are valued and appreciated at your work and your leaders recognize your efforts. There are a lot of women who might be at that point in their lives where they feel the need to seek or get appreciation from someone for their work and they aren’t getting that. So if your manager isn’t appreciating the good work you are doing or recognizing your efforts, if you know in your heart that you are honest and doing the best you can, then tell yourself you did a great job and share your success with your allies. Practice Motivating Yourself each day.

In my work history, I have experienced some gender bias, color bias, and people making fun of my culture, saying really inappropriate things to me and passing me over for promotions.

CBT Nuggets gave me an opportunity to be a team lead my team has been tasked with delivering a new solution for one of our core products. We worked hard and completed the task in advance of the deadline. I’m enjoying getting to work with my team, and they are happy and we’re all producing quality work and achieving the goals to provide the best learning experience. I’m learning new leadership skills every day and striving to provide a healthy and safe work environment for my team. We thrive on open communication and transparency. The mutual trust that I have cultivated in the team makes us all feel that we genuinely care for each other.

RWIT: So what’s next for you?

Charu: That’s a great question and I have been pondering on that recently too. I want to continue to learn and grow as an individual and as a software engineer. I want to empower others and have their back. I want to volunteer at my kid’s school more. I want people to know I am here with an open mind and open heart to help or just listen. My dream job is to be a professor but I don’t know the process to get my foot in the door yet. However, the grass is just as green as I want it to be at the spot where I am.

RWIT: Any last thoughts?

Charu: All women, tech or non-tech, are powerful. YOU are powerful. Always remember that and remind yourself that. Power is the ability to make a change in a positive way. You are strong and you have the power to overcome any challenges that come your way and remember if a hurdle or two make you fall, that’s ok. You can fall and make mistakes, remember that you are strong and you can get right back up, move forward in the positive direction and Win the Day!!