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Member Spotlight | Neelam Sandhu


Riya V. Anandwala, Director, Industry Communications, Consumer Technology Association

When Neelam Sandhu was working on her undergraduate degree, some career advisors suggested she seek traditionally female roles, like social work. But she had other ideas for her career.

After a brief stint with fashion merchandising, Sandhu joined BlackBerry as a brand specialist – a role that both challenged her and provided an opportunity to use her strategic skills. Today, she’s vice president of business operations in the office of the CEO at BlackBerry, where she manages key customer and government relationships and drives special cross-functional projects.

In a chat with CTA, Sandhu reflects on her journey from the UK to the U.S., discusses challenges facing the IoT industry and shares advice for future leaders.

Fashion to tech – how did the switch happen?

My first job was working for GAP in Windsor, UK. Seven years on the shop floor helped me build confidence and taught me the value of work. After graduating from university, I worked in fashion merchandising for Topshop and 18 months in, I decided it wasn’t for me.

I would say I ‘fell into’ a career in tech and I am glad I did. I started working at BlackBerry over 10 years ago as a brand specialist in our UK office. At the time I knew I was looking for a job that met a few key criteria: a role that challenged me, a fast-paced industry, a company/product/service that didn’t pose an ethical dilemma for me, a product/service I was passionate about and a career that put my strategic skills to high use. When I saw this position, it seemed to fit the bill, so I went for it and the rest is history. 

How would you describe your decade-long experience at BlackBerry?

I have had various roles in marketing, operations and go-to-market, during my career at BlackBerry, and have relocated with the company from the UK to New York to where I now live in California. The journey of the past 10 years has been an incredible one, because of the people I have worked with, the opportunities I have been presented and the evolution in the company’s strategy.

Human connections are built on trust, the Internet of Things is no different. And that is our number one challenge. The world knows how to connect lots of ‘things’ from homes, to cars and cities. But for IoT to take off and achieve the forecasted number – billions of connected things – in the next few years, people need to trust the connectivity.

And how does that trust get built? From three core pillars – security, privacy and control.

This is what BlackBerry does today. We bring trust to the IoT. Our software secures all endpoints, from desktop computers to cars, and all known operating systems. Our company, products and services are built on the premise that an individual’s data is theirs and theirs alone. We provide users with the tools to control their own data and their connectivity environment. We also work with governments and other industry bodies such as CTA to develop standards for emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence.

You are very involved with CTA’s standards work on artificial intelligence. Can you shed some light on your participation? 

I am chair of CTA’s AI Working Group and a participant in the AI in Healthcare Working Group, representing BlackBerry. The AI Working Group is focused on defining key AI terms and exploring frameworks that enable trust and ethics in AI. Our goals are to enable a common understanding and develop standards that support the delivery of trustworthy and ethical AI.

What advice would you give to other people who are pursuing leadership positions in the tech field?

First and foremost, don’t think you have to know it all to be successful. There is a lot of conjecture in the tech arena today and a ton of buzz words being thrown around. Focus on what’s real and don’t be put off by sensationalism.

Secondly, be the change. The tech industry has a reputation for being practical and hard-edged, and a history of being male-dominated. In recent years the role of tech companies around the world has evolved to become massively influential to society, so if you want to make a positive impact, a job in tech can provide that opportunity. To be properly effective with that influence, technology companies must reflect the communities they serve and – male or female – you can help drive the industry to be more gender-balanced and diverse.

 

Learn more about what CTA is doing to promote diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.

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