C-suite career advice: Prameela Kalive, Zensar

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? “It is not enough to only possess good technical skills… there has to be a deep understanding of business and the wider industry too to be able to deliver tangible impact.”

Headshot of Prameela Kalive, Chief Operation Officer at Zensar

Name: Prameela Kalive

Company: Zensar Technologies Limited

Job Title: Chief Operating Officer

Location: Pune, India

Prameela Kalive has over 30 years experience across all key enterprise functions - technology management, software delivery and operations, sales and marketing, strategy, business leadership and HR management - and has been a core part of Zensar’s growth for the past 20 years. She is also the most senior woman executive of the RPG Group of Companies. To add to her versatility, Kalive has over a decade’s experience as a Missile Scientist with the DRDO, and has worked on several mission critical defence programs, followed by a short stint as a technology entrepreneur in two start-ups before moving to Zensar. Kalive was awarded the Rising CEO award for 2015 and was chosen for the ‘Women in Technology’ award by ISG, the Global Tech Research and Advisory firm for 2019.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Never wait until you feel completely ready for a role before you apply for it.

I don’t believe in the need to be fully qualified or equipped before taking on a new role. In fact, I believe one should make the role fit for them, because no matter what the position is, there will always be an opportunity to learn along the way to deliver in the role.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? Don’t fix things if they aren’t broken.

I believe there is always a better way to do something and raise the bar. Challenging the status quo to find innovative and creative ways to deliver a better impact allows you to get ahead, and stay ahead.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Be prepared to sign up for a lifetime of learning.

Technology facilitates the ongoing pursuit of learning to stay relevant. Investing in yourself is very important for a career in IT/tech, as the shelf-life for anything in the technology space is short. There is always a need to be as knowledgeable as you possibly can.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? Honestly? No I didn’t. I wasn’t clear when I was younger on what I wanted to do, and there were very few options from which to choose. I knew I wanted to deliver impact, no matter how big or small that may be. And I wanted to leave my signature on something I had created, owned, and ultimately made a positive contribution to.

What was your first job in IT/tech? My first job was working as a missile scientist giving me the opportunity to be part of a programme that had national impact and significance. Over the ten years I spent doing this role for the country, I got to work alongside the army, navy and airforce, which was very rewarding.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? It is not enough to only possess good technical skills.

Yes, having a strong technical foundation is very important, especially at the start of a career. However, there has to be a deep understanding of business and the wider industry too to be able to deliver tangible impact.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? It’s important to have knowledge of all business functions to be a good leader.

As you grow up the ranks within an organisation, and in your career, taking the time and effort to add width in addition to depth is essential for someone aiming for a C-level position. This is what the industry calls T-Shaped thinking; an individual who possesses a deep level of knowledge and skill set in specific areas as well as having a broad understanding of business operations such as clients, stakeholders and management. 

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I am almost there, but I haven't reached all my ambitions yet. I want to build something which is sustainable and resilient. I want to leave behind a legacy which others can draw value and benefit from.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I would say it is a fair balance, but this is because I have had to consciously work towards this.

I do prefer the term ‘work-life integration’ over ‘work-life balance’. I think work and home-life go hand-in-hand, especially if you enjoy what you’re doing because the integration will come more easily.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I don’t believe I would change much. I would have liked to have spent some more time out in the regions with our clients in the US to develop a deeper understanding of the customers perspective. But overall, I am happy with the choices I have made.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? A computer science degree gives you a strong understanding of the world of technology, and how the pieces fit together.  Bootcamps have a place, but I would always choose the degree over them.

How important are specific certifications? Certifications are important at various stages of your career. When you are in the early stages, certifications allow you to develop depth in chosen areas. To add width to your career certifications can help you align with industry standards and stay relevant.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Curiosity. I look for an almost child-like curiosity in candidates because it demonstrates their desire to keep learning, stay relevant and build their own knowledge bank.

Problem solving mindset. At Zensar, we are constantly trying to understand what problem(s) our customers - the end-users - are facing, and how technology can help solve them. Having the ability to identify and solve problems is extremely important.

A team player. This is essential in order to work harmoniously in a team and collaborate well.

What would put you off a candidate? Someone who is not authentic, or who is closed off to learning from new experiences, or doesn’t have the capacity to learn from others.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Candidates who are not able to substantiate what claims they have made on their resume. I personally do not like ‘flashy resumes’ which overrate abilities. Not being sincere is very off putting.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? A mix of both. When starting a career in IT, it is important to have the correct technical skills, but as you learn, grow and develop, these skills alone will not suffice. Adding business knowledge  on top of a strong technical foundation is the winning combination.