Currently, only about 1 in 4 employees in the tech industry is a woman. So what does it take to create a successful career as a woman in Tech? In this interview series called Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech, we are talking to successful women leaders in the tech industry to share stories and insights about what they did to lead successful careers. We also discuss the steps needed to create a great tech product. As part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kriti Sharma.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before diving in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I built my first computer from scratch when I was 16 after reading a few books and getting hooked. I’ve always been fascinated by solving the problems around me. Growing up in India, school was tough with one teacher for 80 kids, but I was determined to stay curious and one day make a difference. I have worked in tech for approximately 12 years now and witnessed the industry go through remarkable change: the rise of connected technology, the advancement of AI powered chatbots in B2B software as well as the inevitable questions that begin to surface about the ethical impact technology has on society. It’s been an exciting few years, but one thing is for sure, we are not done yet!
What attracted me to Thomson Reuters was the ability to bring that same innovation mindset to a very purpose driven company where there is tremendous opportunity for growth. We are on the frontlines, working alongside some of the most established industries in the world. By supporting courts and legal professionals across the world, we are able to help them implement a variety of tools to expedite digital transformation to eliminate backlogs and apply changes that will continue to improve access to justice – it’s incredibly exciting and fulfilling to be part of that mission.
What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
My passion stems from developing technology into a force for social good. I look at it as a means to an end, rather than the savior it may seem to be.
Joining Thomson Reuters, in fact, has been an eye-opening experience and a “career-defining” moment. I come from a tech background with a focus on AI. Taking the job with Thomson Reuters was my first foray into the legal field, and what I have quickly realized is that it blends two things that I believe in passionately: technology for good and access to justice for all.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
A few years ago, I founded “AI for Good,” an organization that leverages AI and data to address the needs of the most vulnerable and underserved around the world. As I mentioned earlier, this cause is near and dear to my heart. The social enterprise was founded on the basis that technology has the potential to solve big challenges, but that technology is often inaccessible to those that need it most. I was inspired to take that paradox head on by creating scalable, innovative technologies that enable a more ethical world.
Being part of “AI for Good” has helped me realize how complex many climate and social justice challenges are and how difficult it is to make meaningful change in these areas. I have come to accept the fact that sometimes we don’t necessarily have the skills and capabilities to solve a problem entirely but taking the first step is still incredibly important. And having faith in that mission continues to motivate me to work in creating a better, fairer world through ethical technology every day.
We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address? How does your company help people?
At our core, Thomson Reuters’ goal is to better serve our customers and ensure that their jobs are easier through our legal, tax and accounting, and risk and fraud products, and we do that through digital product innovation that focuses on efficient workflows. This is especially important at a time when professionals are navigating a plethora of disruptive forces like shifting global dynamics to increasingly nuanced legal / regulatory changes.
If someone wants to lead a great company and create great products, what is the most important quality that person should have, and what habits or behaviors would you suggest for honing that particular quality?
Creating great products requires a deep understanding of your customer. When I joined Thomson Reuters, I set myself the mission to meet 50 clients in my first 50 days. We talked about everything that was good, and not so good, about their experiences with our products. As an organization, we want our customers to voice their concerns and to work collaboratively with us, so we can develop products that truly meet their needs.
At the end of 2022, we launched Westlaw Precision, the latest generation of Westlaw, to dramatically improve legal research with greater speed and quality. We worked with multiple law firms, state courts, and corporations to develop the product that is already having a positive impact on the professionals using it. In fact, during beta testing with practicing attorneys, we saw that they were able to find twice as many relevant cases more than twice as fast as those using traditional search methods.
Another example of this process in action is when we made the decision to release updates to our HighQ product more frequently to help legal professionals better connect and simplify contract lifecycle management workflows and gain full visibility across a contract portfolio. Previously, we released HighQ updates every six months but now we update it every month. This allows us to address any issues at a faster pace and meet our goal is to ensure our customers’ workflow is easy and their success achievable in this challenging industry.
Next, let’s talk about teams. What’s a team management strategy or framework that you’ve found to be exceptionally useful for the product development process?
I firmly believe that teams need to have a shared purpose in order to be successful. I find that rallying around a desired outcome – something that’s bigger than just yourself – is powerful and really effective in bringing people together. That purpose has to be bold and ambitious and needs to go beyond just getting a task done or checking the box on something. It can be a great motivator.
At the same time, the best leaders understand that everyday challenges can be hard and taxing. Life happens, and we need to be there for each other. Having empathy and demonstrating kindness and compassion – particularly when someone you work with is going through a difficult time – are crucial.
Let’s talk about downtime. What’s your go-to practice or ritual for preventing burnout?
I have a very simple answer: have friends.
I feel so fortunate to work at a company where I have friends. When you have a difficult day, you need to talk through it with someone who understands—or who can be your sounding board when you’re having a hard day. It's important to have those people within the organization.
Thank you for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what are your “5 Steps Needed to Create Great Tech Products”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- This cannot be understated: Understand the problem you are solving for. Product people are often technical experts who focus on functionality versus the issue they are solving for, the why behind it and the potential good and—at times—bad outcomes. We need to move away from that, to take time to research, to study, and to understand the emotional needs of users.
- Have a diverse team. I mean this in the truest sense. Build a diverse and inclusive product team that includes people from many different backgrounds – that’s the key to fixing problems that serve everyone.
- Ship fast, ship often. I am really bullish on this one. Instead of trying to perfect the product, you can deploy it and optimize it as it learns. The exception to this would be if there are safety concerns.
- Think about the misuse cases. When you are developing a product, most executives want to hear a lot about the use cases or the market opportunity. But I strongly believe that—as technologists—we need to think about the unintended consequences. For example, I worked with a team to build an AI tool a few years ago that helped automate customer support queries. The machine did the boring mundane stuff and then the truly challenging inquiries would be leveled up to a person. When I interviewed the customer services reps, they hated the tech because every query coming to them – 100% of the time – was challenging. This resulted in them feeling like their jobs had become hard. Every day was an uphill battle for them, although that wasn’t the intended effect of the tech. This was an instance in which we didn’t consider the problems that would occur at scale.
- Have fun. You’re going to get it wrong, and that’s okay. But you have to take joy in what you do.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I don’t want to pretend to be an expert in this space. But I can say with authority that I am not happy with the status quo. We need to do better. While I don't have all the answers, here are some things that I hold to true:
- Change how we work. Personally, I have found that one way to create diverse teams—and that applies to genders, race, or different socioeconomic backgrounds, etc.—is to focus on solving problems instead of developing solutions. This goes back to my earlier comment about not just building a functional tool but thinking about what you are solving for and creating a team that understands all aspects of the issue.
- Do your part. A friend of mine gave me this piece of advice a while ago, and it has always stuck with me: When you see yourself rising, take others with you. Part of my job is to make sure that I am actively addressing these issues. For example, my day one task at a new job has always been to ask HR to show me gender pay data to identify gaps and understand the reasons for them. It’s actions like those that happen every day that are also part of solving the issue.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I would love to meet Malala Yousafzai.
Once, I was attending a conference where she was speaking, and she said something so profound when someone asked her about her family support. She said that her father never stopped her. While to some it may have been a throwaway comment, for me, it was so powerful. That’s because I could relate to her. I understood – because of the part of the world I grew up in – that was a big deal. I could relate to her and what she was talking about because my parents didn’t discourage me from pursuing my dreams, either. I’m very grateful for that.
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