Celebrating Black History Month with Program Manager, Suwada Hinds

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In celebration of Black History Month, we interviewed our Program Manager, Suwada Hinds.

program manager

Vecna Robotics Program Manager, Suwada Hinds, in South Africa at an empty museum.

1.Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?

My parents liked to keep things moving. I was born in Trinidad and Tobago, specifically in Port of Spain. In my childhood we shuttled between the Caribbean, Florida, and New York. We also moved to England when my dad was being educated there as a radio and satellite engineer. Eventually, we settled in Boston to be close to my paternal grandmother and aunts. I was a rather precocious child. My mom’s favorite story to share is of an incident from primary school which involved me locking a teacher out of the classroom. I accused the teacher of  “not respecting the sanctity of recess and not feeding the class pet on time”- per the expulsion notice.  Though funny, that story does not reflect my usual behavior, I did make every effort to do well in school.

2.  What is your educational background?

My brother, sister, and I attended Boston Latin High School which is my mom’s pride and joy. If you are not familiar with it, Boston Latin is considered one of the best public schools around for its offering of advanced classes and academic track programs. Tenth grade physics with Mr. Spillane was the best class I ever took and that really kicked off a love of science. I was not originally planning to go down a math and science route. However, I was dared by a friend to take the hardest track at Boston Latin which was the physics track. I am very obstreperous; I have never liked being told that something is too difficult for my race or gender. So, I accepted the challenge and graduated from the physics track at Boston Latin.

Since I had taken advanced classes in high school I was able to skip a year at Boston University. I chose BU specifically to do interesting math and research with Dan Tsui – a Nobel Prize winning physicist and engineer. While pursuing a master’s in mathematics, I joined the Photonics Laboratory and got to work on several remote sensing and internet experimentation projects and did research analyzing solar wind/ flare data with the Space Physics & Technology Lab. I am currently finishing up a second master’s in creative writing and am in the final stages of a PMP certificate.

suwada with lions

One of Suwada’s favorite hobbies is traveling to learn about world cultures. This image was taken while traveling in Lesotho, Top of Africa in 2018.

3. What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of Vecna Robotics.

I have many hobbies and interests. I’m currently pursuing a Master’s in Creative Writing and working on a script for Sundance Episodic Labs. I love traveling to really experience the kinds of places and people I want to write about. I’ve visited a host of countries with friends and for writing conventions. I like to get off the beaten path to dig into the culture and people of places I visit.

I also love conventions and staff many fan conventions. At these event I work in guest relations and aid staff. I have worked for shows like New York Comic Con, PAX East, Otakon, and Gencon, a massive board game convention in Indianapolis. It’s always amazing to me to see how a convention center can go from bare walls to 100k fans having a great time. Conventions with six-figure attendance are feats of logistical and production mastery. Watching them happen from the inside is the only way to truly appreciate the work and care that goes into them.

4. What has your career path looked like in tech and the various positions you have held before joining Vecna Robotics as Program Manager?

My journey to becoming the Program Manager at Vecna Robotics has included many steps. Originally my post-grad plan was to join Lincoln Laboratory then move onto DARPA. My personality was not the right fit there and I ended up at the state labs working in medicine. Medicine fit my personality and aligned with values I didn’t even realize I needed to satisfy.  After leaving the Tuberculosis tracking team I learned the HIS business at Meditech – a local medical information systems institution. Meditech taught me the ropes of  being a Program Manager in the industry, what it takes to be in business, how to get a project off the ground and how to ensure that project is successful.

After Meditech, I landed a position with Harvard Medical and the Brigham & Women’s Hospital Cardiac Cath Lab as the Special Projects Manager. After BWH, I accepted a position with the Cath Team at Boston Medical Center. This led an opportunity to  manage multiple teams and high-profile projects for the organization. Those projects concluded successfully leading to an opportunity with EOS imaging – a global company based in Paris.

I was fortunate to be able to travel to Paris about once a month. Although I spent much of this time working, I did get the chance to experience the culture of the city. At EOS, I was asked to assume Assistant CIO duties to prime that company to attain HITRUST certification. The duties here were heavily systems focused. I took over development management along with colleagues in Montreal and Paris to fully realize the diagnostic and therapeutic benefits of an AI augmented 3D image of the spine. This program was implemented in hospitals all over the country. When EOS moved to Michigan I left the company, it was too far from my family and honestly, too cold. I opened myself up to the next possibility and took on my next role as Program Manager at Vecna Robotics!

5. Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Program Manager at Vecna Robotics?

As a Program Manager at Vecna Robotics I work for the Project Management Office (PMO).  I am responsible for providing a deep understanding of what the product development teams are doing, what they should be doing, and why. The PMO provides insight into the resources we currently have and how those resources might change in the future. We also provide day-to-day support to the product development team around prioritization and clear direction on release content for our programs, products, and system design. I balance the tension between pressure to develop new software and hardware and keeping up the progress on projects that are currently being worked on. Being a program manager requires me to be focused on our priorities. I do this by figuring out where our time and effort is most valuably spent.

6. What excites you about your daily work as Program Manager at Vecna Robotics?

Everyone at Vecna Robotics is very passionate about the products we develop. I have worked with at a lot of different companies and people. I have noticed the passion and drive to get things done truly stands out at Vecna. It is impressive to see a team be so excited about what they do. Vecna Robotics is also very thoughtful about what our impact is on the world. I care deeply about giving back. It is wonderful to work with likeminded people at a company that encourages this.

7. What do you think about the current state of diversity in the tech industry?

What I have gathered from various publications I read is that the diversity gap in the tech industry seems to be improving everywhere except Silicon Valley. Companies at the local level with a lower profile seem to be leading change efforts.  However, we are still not seeing a lot of change at the c-suite level. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft is an American- Indian high-profile hire which is a great public step.

My hope is that more people of color are supported in standing on their own.  I think we need more support for startups and new business that are founded by diverse leadership. However, it is very hard to do something that you have never seen before. The more companies that include diversity all the way through the organization, from the bottom to the top, the more likely it is to catch on to other companies that they could be hiring diverse candidates.

8. Why is diversity in the workplace so important?

I think diversity is helpful in one way. Diversity helps a company see itself through the eyes of many different segments of society in which it operates. Beyond the direct customers and shareholders, the general reputation of a company throughout mainstream society is important. You never know who is talking to who or sharing opinions about your business. Having a diverse team working at your company can provide valuable insight to help leadership understand the ways your business is being perceived by society.

9. What types of programs and initiatives does Vecna Robotics have that support diversity, equality, and inclusion?

I am very impressed with the level of energy and enthusiasm put forth by the  Diversity and Inclusion Committee puts towards initiatives. I think that Vecna Robotics has done an amazing job getting the D&I Committee off the ground. Other companies can follow the example of Vecna Robotics in regards to the effort put towards engaging underrepresented groups. We are improving our practices of recruiting diverse candidates by looking in a wide range of places and focusing on how we can retain employees.

Daniel, (Founder and CEO of Vecna Robotics) has a great mantra for the company that he shared with me in one of our first conversations: we don’t say anything behind each other’s backs. Congratulate in public and criticize in private. In addition, people from different backgrounds have different ways of both delivering and receiving criticism. I think the expectation of respect helps people of diverse backgrounds mesh in the workplace.

10. What advice do you have for the next generation of aspiring Black women in the tech industry?

Know your worth, do not sell yourself short. Women of color are paid 65 cents for every dollar paid to white men. The work you are doing is worth that full dollar. You need to say to yourself; “I may not be getting the dollar now but I sure as hell will be eventually.” My advice for the next generation of black women in tech is to make every effort to push, advocate for yourself, and negotiate in a way that gets you what you need. Women in general often miss out in negotiations for not speaking up. But you need to know your worth and ask for it. Every dollar you do not ask for is a dollar you do not get.

12. What has attributed to your success thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional?

As a black manager and person working to build a diverse team, I’ve been asked to overlook difficult behavior. At a previous company, I learned that an individual under my management had displayed poor behavior. In my opinion, the behavior was inexcusable, but I was told that I was not allowed to fire the individual because they were “well entrenched within the company.” I was told that I should understand my place in the hierarchy of things.

The next day I was prepared to hand in my letter of resignation. I felt torn between my own comfort and safety and my role as a protector to the team that depended on me. It is not my nature to fall to the pressure of doing and saying what is deemed acceptable, so this case was extremely difficult for me deal with.

The mentors I have had throughout my career have been a great way for me to receive advice from a neutral or friendly source. Mentors have supported me in my success and help me navigate my career journey. In addition, I believe everyone needs a certain amount of grit and self-reflection to clarify the best path forward.

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