Alka Tandan, MBA - Championing Female Leadership in the Tech Industry

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we chat with Alka Tandan, Senior Vice President of Finance & Strategic Programs at Gainsight. She is a Haas MBA alum with over 20 years in corporate finance, operations, and mergers and acquisitions. 

In this episode, Alka talks about how she fell in love with technology while growing up in Silicon Valley. We also discuss her career experiences, especially her transition from a big organization like Yahoo to IGN, and her reasons for pursuing an MBA. Alka also shares how she became an investor, limited partner, and advisor for the venture fund Operator Collective.

You will also hear about how to thrive and chart your own path as a female leader in a male-dominated industry and get advice on how to move up the ladder from a member of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women community. 

Episode Quotes:

On growing up in Silicon Valley and falling in love with technology

My father came here with my mom for the American dream. There were a lot of hopes and dreams on our shoulders, but it was a great place to grow up in Silicon Valley. And that's really how I fell in love with technology. I feel like I was born in it and it's in my blood. 

On experiencing firsthand how the tech industry bloomed over the years

The attention being paid to Silicon Valley now all around the world and the true respect and appreciation of what technology can do and how it not only changes lives but is actually the bread and butter of our economy worldwide is gratifying. I just don't think people quite got it back then. 

On her decision to get an MBA

Higher education was definitely always very important in my family. It was something that I thought I was going to do, however, also having the rebellious side, I was never going to just do something. I was at a point where I was just done with banking and really decided that the next step for me was to be part of a company and its journey.

What she gained from her MBA experience

I was really looking to get a more well-rounded education around marketing, around sales, around operations, and so, that's really kind of what my goal was. I think what was interesting about it, though, is I ended up getting expertise that was equally valuable - the soft skills, the presentation skills, the ability to debate with like-minded people, which really I hadn't done as much when you were a more junior person in banking. And the chance to really sit there and really analyze different business scenarios critically and get just the varied experience from everybody in the class, especially with international students, was huge.

On the process of transitioning from a big firm to a smaller one

You have to just re-sit and really get honest with yourself. I had to get really honest about the types of things I wanted to do on a daily basis, the pace that I wanted to go, the opportunities that I wanted to do. It's just a lot of self-awareness - think about what you want to do and what you're really good at. Know what makes you light up, and really at the end of the day, I feel like everything we're doing is really just trying to figure out how to light ourselves up. And I would even say it's probably our duty to get lit up for the world. 

On moving up the corporate ladder

It's a journey. I have so many friends and family members all around the world and there's always this Silicon Valley myth that everybody comes here and then three years later they're worth a hundred million dollars. And we know that is just not the reality. I'm sure the odds are better here than in other places, a hundred percent, but the reality of it is for most people, it takes time. It takes time to really hone your craft and that's exactly what I discovered. Everyone has had ups and downs in their careers. I definitely did.

Advice for women who are advancing in their careers

I would encourage all women that are moving up the ladder to, first of all, really talk to other women. And again, know yourself. Advocate for yourself. Find your mentors, people with whom you can have that conversation, do things in an authentic way, and get advice and bounce things off of people. It's the most powerful thing you can do. Sometimes, it's ok to need help. I certainly do that for and with several people, of all genders.

Advice on finding your passion

At the end of the day, I feel like everything we're doing is really to figure out how to light ourselves up. And I would say it's our duty to get lit up for the world.

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