Engineer Profile: Jyotsna Akula, Engineering Manager at Upstart

Jyotsna Akula is an Engineering Manager at Upstart. Before her current position, she started her professional career as a Software Engineer in Bangalore, India and joined LendingHome as an individual contributor to pursue her interests in startups.

In this profile, she gives insight into her journey through tech as she manages her team at Upstart while staying on top of what happens in the world around her, whether it be the latest tech developments or her children.

What is your favorite part about working in tech? 

My favorite part of working in tech is solving problems to help overcome challenges.  I started my career developing solutions to integrate various complex enterprise applications and businesses for Carrefour, which is a global food retailer with a network of almost 12,000 stores in over 25 countries. Testing for Application Performance Monitoring was my next big challenge. I was responsible for the quality of CA Application Performance Monitoring eco-system of products, managing three distributed teams in Santa Clara, India, and Prague. I was bitten by the startup bug and joined Lending Home where I led test automation and quality for automated lending origination platform teams for bridge loans. Continuing in the fintech startup spectrum, I joined Upstart to blend a bit of management with some automation while enjoying a whole lot of the combination.

What is your typical workday like?

My day is split between technology and people.

  • Technology - I get to my emails along with my coffee, prioritizing and setting the tone for the day with a to-do list. I try to focus on technology during the earlier part of the day starting with a “git pull master.” 

  • People - Afterwards, we check-in for standup to see where we are at and table discussions for later to enable each other to overcome impediments if any. I also spend time building relationships within my team and cross-functional teams/leads like Product, Design, other Engineering Managers, Data, etc. as teams with better synergy collectively succeed.

What is important for you in a company culture? 

Visionary leadership and collaborative teams since it is home away from home given how much time we spend at work. Together, a learning opportunity that keeps me challenged and a team that is willing to do the right thing even when it is hard keep me motivated.

How did you get started in tech? What was the most important decision on why you decided to get into tech? 

It was a natural and organic choice that I gravitated towards, although I did try Electronics briefly.

What advice would you give to your younger self, when you were just studying to become an engineer?

Make the most of your time trying to build multiple projects with like-minded friends. 

How do you balance people's management and technical work?

In my case,  one function helps me do the other better. I believe in setting up the team for success by enablement and empowerment, providing transparency and brainstorming the problem to arrive at the best possible outcome.  Being the first SDET member of the team, I thoroughly enjoy building test automation infrastructure from scratch and being able to prevent system outages. I block time to do heads-down work in the earlier part of the day when I can or need, meet for stand up before lunch so that the team doesn't have to switch context multiple times especially since we all come in at various times with some early birds and some that prefer otherwise. Since my function is more aimed at enabling success for the team, I try to pick things that are important and strategic, which are typically on the back burner so that I can help move things along. I then focus on talking to my team in the afternoon over 1:1s and building cross-functional relationship matrix including other engineering managers, DevOps, Products, Design and Data teams to identify the next pressing problem to solve. Software development engineering in Test is usually the last catch before the product gets out. Attending a week-long Management Training when I first became a Manager and a year-long Leadership Development program helped a lot. 

How do you make sure you’re always in the know for the latest technologies?

  • It starts with Google and then Stack Overflow, Reddit, Facebook groups. I use the Pocket app for offline reading during my commute.

  • Use a professional development budget to sign up for courses when time is constrained.

  • Talking to other leaders in the industry, meetups, conferences.

  • Lunch and learn sessions so we can learn from each other in the team.

  • Programming with kids by volunteering for Robotics, First Lego League as a Coach - I learn a lot while teaching. 

What technical projects are you and your team currently working on?

We are going to work on launching multiple loan products in addition to personal loans: internationalization and localization.


What is one of your favorite resources for technical development?

Google is the guiding factor leading up to a plethora of online information. Stack Overflow and Reddit are my personal favorites.

What is the best career/personal advice you’ve ever received?

Adversities are opportunities in disguise. They are sprung on you like a dare to see if you can take that leap of faith to make whatever it is a success. 

What are your thoughts on diversity in the tech industry? What can we do to make it better?

The fact that we are talking about diversity in the tech industry today highlights how much women are underrepresented in technology. We have to be prepared to get creative, innovative, persevere as we take on bigger challenges and rise in leadership. Also, be fearless and confident about taking those on.

Inspiring a new generation of women to learn computer science empowers female entrepreneurs to come up with unique solutions to new problems. Support groups/forums/meetups/conferences, such as ModelExpand, for mentoring and coaching is a great advantage. In addition, women coding meetups in the peninsula besides San Francisco and the South Bay provides an easy commute for locals. 

Training and/or development with scholarships closes the gender gap. A lot of bootcamps have started offering incentives to women in the form of scholarships/rebates, offering self-paced online opportunities to enable women with young kids and/or women in other professions to attend the bootcamp while keeping their full-time job. Employers offering personal and professional development incentives would help. 

Adversities are opportunities in disguise. They are sprung on you like a dare to see if you can take that leap of faith to make whatever it is a success.

What’s your favorite book/podcast/hobby?

  • Book: Crucial Conversations; Your Brain at Work

  • Podcast: TED

  • Hobby: Kitchen gadget collection; I seek automation in most things I do. It's an occupational hazard.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What do you wake up looking forward to?

I wake up looking forward to making a difference and continuing to solve problems to have a better life. As I send my kids off to college, I’m also going to reinvent myself.

Jyotsa will be sharing more about her experience at ModelExpand’s upcoming #WomeninTech Breakfast: The Path to Leadership in Tech. The #WomeninTech Breakfast Series provides a space for women to connect, inspire and uplift one another. Check out our upcoming events here or learn more about our sponsorship opportunities.

ModelExpand: ModelExpand is a diversity and inclusion advisory firm that helps companies attract and retain diverse talent through strategic consulting, workshops and events.

engineer profileErica Mao