Oral-History:Ramalatha Marimuthu

From ETHW

About Ramalatha Marimuthu[edit | edit source]

Dr Ramalatha Marimuthu has been an educator for more than three decades with a vast experience in motivating and training the students on skill development and peer networking through leadership training workshops, international competitions, conferences and congresses. She also guides the students in developing unique solutions for social problems like inclusiveness and accessibility in day to day life for people with special needs. She has delivered lectures on assistive technology in universities and conferences all over the world and in Google, Mountainview and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland. Her areas of interest are assistive technology, women empowerment and effective education. She is the founder and General Chair of Youth Endeavours in Social Innovations through Science and Technology (YESIST12) which encourages students and young professionals to innovate for the benefit of humanity through trainings and competitions.

Based on her work to improve the quality of life for the rural society she was awarded the “IEEE MGA Achievement Award”, 2008 and the “Life Time Achiever Award” by the Lions Club International, 2009 and the Mentor award by the Secretariate for the Disabled, the Government of Tamilnadu in 2009, IEEE MGA Leadership Award 2012 and Anita Borg Institute (ABI) Change Agent award 2012. She was awarded the “Systers Pass it on Award 2014” by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. She also won the “WIE Inspiring Member of the Year Award 2016” from IEEE Women in Engineering Committee. Recently in 2020 she was awarded IEEE Computer Society Golden Core Member Award.

Copyright Statement[edit | edit source]

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE Computer Society. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the IEEE Computer Society.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Ramalatha Marimuthu, an oral history conducted in 2021 by Bozenna Pasik Duncan, IEEE Computer Society

Interview[edit | edit source]

Interviewer: Bozenna Pasik-Duncan

Interviewee: Ramalatha Marimuthu

Date: 05-20-2021

Pasik-Duncan:

Good morning from Univ of Kansas. I am Bozenna Pasik Duncan and today is my joy to interview Professor Ramalatha Marimuthu from India. Good Evening Ramalatha.

Marimuthu:

Good evening Bozenna.

Pasik-Duncan:

You can introduce very briefly yourself now.

Marimuthu:

OK. I am Ramalatha Marimuthu Retired Professor from Kumaraguru College of Technology, under Anna University in Coimbatore. I live in Tamil nadu, India. I have nearly 35 years of teaching experience. I have been an educator out and out. Right now, since I am retired, I am running an international professional talent show where I am organizing tracks for the project based learning. I am the General Chair of the event.

Pasik-Duncan:

And I am Professor of Mathematics and Courtesy Professor Computer Science. Let us start.

Pasik-Duncan:

India is a huge country with huge population. Please tell me a little of your family background?

Marimuthu:

Sure. I am from Rajapalayam, a rural community at the southernmost tip of India, where I grew up in a compound family close to my sister, uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins. The families were close to each other so I used to play with my cousins and other children around. Though the community had a traditional lookout on women being subservient to men, I used to play with the boys all boys games on my street. My father, one of the community’s first few university graduates, taught me about books, and often took things apart so I could try to figure out how to put them back together. My mother, a housewife with no formal education, instilled lessons about culture and tradition. My mother was a very industrious person and she used to have her own personal income by tailoring, embroidery, knitting, managing poultry and other business interests which she could manage at home itself.

My father was a very disciplined and organized person from whom I learnt love of books, punctuality, time management, continuous learning and positivity. We were trained with having a time allotment for everything – exercising, household chores to help my mother, playing (which was supposed to be strictly outside, of course), studying, reading story books, even sleeping. He used to take us all to a three or 4 day vacation every six months, day trip to a nearby place every month – periodical trips. But he was also a person with so much of forward thinking. When everyone around me used to discipline me when I did something boyish (And I did a lot of them, of course! I used to climb trees, play cricket, generally run around with boys in our street playing their games), he used to tell them “I do not see a difference between a boy and a girl. In fact, she is better than your boys”. He was also a man of great principles and was very strict when we did something wrong. The one thing I never really learnt from him is personal healthcare. He is 87 and still exercises every day, very particular about what and how he eats and how much time he sleeps.

So I would say my parents were different from the herd, I would say. We had an English medium school around 6 KM from my house. English medium schools around 35 years back were rare and both my sister and I were groomed to go to that school for our secondary education. So my father taught us cycling and bought us our own bicycles. It was frowned upon by most of our community peers and we had to face a lot of criticisms. But my father encouraged us and after a year everything died down. For those seven years even our house address was like “the house with two cycling girls”. I even won a competition of slow cycling race competing with all boys in our street during a festival encouraged by my father. I think this was where I started to learn to be a rebel and face criticisms born of jealousy and stereotype thinking. This is my family background.

Pasik-Duncan:

It is just beautiful. How did you first realize you wanted to study engineering? Was there a person or teacher who influenced your early scientific career before university?

Marimuthu:

Yeah! I think it was more like an accident that I became an engineer. I was groomed by my father to take up medicine as my career and I hated it like hell. In school, I excelled in physics and chemistry, and had a special gift for analyzing compounds and their compositions. My interest in Physics and Chemistry did not create much impact on my family at all. But I was adamant that Biology was not an option for me.

So Engineering was an option which my father was willing to compromise on and I had to take it. The reason is lack of awareness. In those days, in my town, people did not even have the idea that a girl can have a career let alone an engineering one. My father was a great visionary and he was adamant that I should do a professional course so that I will have a career of my own. I had an opportunity to study medicine. I was interviewed for it and got selected but I actively hated it. So I was given engineering as another choice by my father who insisted that I should not actually take up English Literature which I loved. I took it as a lifeline and started my engineering.

Once I was in Anna University, the exposure to the international community started and I found that unless you are determined to help yourself, you will be pushed to the back invisible cell and there are chances that you may never come out of that cell. Self realization in an early age is a must and a gift, I believe. I was clearly aware of my own strengths and weaknesses which helped me face the career afterwards.

Pasik-Duncan:

Describe your education path. India is the country of engineers. I know so many people from India. There is a strong engineering culture. Tell us about the history of this Indian fascination for technology.

Marimuthu:

Sure. In fact my education upto under graduation was the only one which I was able to do freely. I was married shortly after my graduation and my career was the least of the priorities for my husband and my other family. But I kept on switching my colleges wherever we relocated, determined to keep my career alive. Wherever I worked, I introduced novel programs, took up challenging responsibilities and tried to create a better environment for me and my colleagues. After 20 years and a lot of struggle, I was able to complete my higher studies (my two masters and my PhD) in 2009 only. The reasons are multifold - relocations, lack of support from the family, my dyslexic daughter, and so many things. But more than my masters and my PhD, my education path was made more colorful through my activities in IEEE and the colleges and my research on Assistive Technology. In fact, I would say that my learning curve increased after my PhD.

Indian engineers, have remarkable perseverance and adaptability that they can survive anywhere and create their own environments. Most of my classmates are in US and this fascination for travel and living in US actually drove most of the parents to enroll their children in Engineering in 1980s to 2000. This has created more and more engineering institutions across India and right now I would say engineering education has reached a saturation level. At the same time, the competition shown in providing the engineering education is not reflected in creating jobs for the graduates.

Right now it is being realized by the students that the engineering education does not actually turn out an industry ready graduate at the end of four years but actually requires multiple skills and talents to sustain their careers. IEEE and other professional bodies can easily fill the gaps left in our engineering education which is the reason we have a very strong IEEE network in India. Though the competition will still be there, the activities of these professional bodies will enhance the skill development of students thus making them more employable. In addition the visibility is improved through networking thus making it easier for the students to map their skills with the available employment opportunities. And that is why still the engineering enrolment is full in India.

Pasik-Duncan:

How did you overcome the societal norms that stood in your way of achieving a career in engineering ?

Marimuthu:

OK. That’s a funny story. I was the first girl in my community to go for engineering; In those days people did not think that engineering was for girls; according to them it was only for boys. Usually, they didn’t encourage girls to go for a professional career. Though my father was supportive of my engineering studies even in a big city far, far away, (I had to travel a whole night to get there), he drew the line when I was placed with a company outside of the state. He didn’t permit me to go. I could have gone for higher studies, but I was supposed to get married, and in my community, it was difficult to get a groom if you were more educated than the groom. Instead, I took a job lecturing at a small polytechnic college in Chennai, and as it happens, fell in love with teaching.

Though I did engineering thirty years ago and the whole ecosystem has gone into a great transformation, I believe we have not really travelled much in the path of career sustainability for women. The lack of passion for career we see in the women has accumulated due to various reasons to create the dangerous culture of considering their own career as unnecessary. If a woman thinks that, I feel that it is very very dangerous for the economic development of the country. In my lifetime, I have always had a high regard for my career though I had to fight continuously to sustain it. I am hoping that the women will do the same and sustain their career.

Pasik-Duncan:

Which reminds me a story from my elementary school. A historian told my mother, “ If Bozenna doesn’t marry quickly, she will be somebody.” Somehow in the view of teachers, marriage was an alternate for career. What was in your childhood that made you an educator and reach out to students to empower them in various skills, social problems and people with special needs and that too for more than 3 decades?

Marimuthu:

I am a people’s person. When I was very young my uncle used to sit me on his lap and ask me to tell stories. When I grew up, I used to sit with my playmates and tell them different stories. At that time my grandfather used to comment that I was going to be a teacher one day. Being a rebel, I thought that I will never be a teacher and so joined a company immediately after I graduated. After four months I fell sick on chicken pox and had to move out. After some months, I took a job as an educator and I was hooked. After that it has fascinated me so much since I found that I could mold the students with my crazy ideas and they, however, make it work.

In addition, my father was also a reason I love teaching. Though he was an accounts person, he loved teaching my sister and I various things. He used to buy us books every year from an exhibition by the New Century Book House and he also owned a lot of books. During our vacation from school, we are supposed to learn other languages like Telugu, Hindi, Sanskrit and German (!), which he used to teach from books. He encouraged us to enroll in every competition through school and other sources like newspaper ads – drama, dance, elocution, debates, competitive exams, you name it, we did it. He used to read and explain Shakespeare’s original version when I was 12 years old and I watched how he enjoyed the play of words. He will suddenly ask me to write an essay on a given topic, conduct a quiz, ask me to sing a song from the national poets’ books, all of which increased my interest for learning which I haven’t lost till now. In fact, I am teaching my grandson now with all those tricks he used to teach me.

After I landed my first teaching job, the first things that came to my mind was my father’s methods of teaching, which kept me engaged, which were unconventional, to say the least. So I also thought of different small activities which made my class fun and useful for the students. For nearly 14 years, I worked with rural engineering students which probably gave me a great opportunity of improving my teaching skills through unconventional teaching methods because they are way different from the urban students.

I would say there are many reasons I started working on the social projects. The most important one is the pride and inspiration I could see they brought my students. One of my largest projects is known as “Sangamam,” the Sanskrit word for “coming together.” Specifically, the program’s goal is “to bring together the technical knowledge from the learned and the human and natural resources of rural areas for useful application of this knowledge.” In other words, to find out what a specific area needs, and then figure out how technology can help the community use what it already has to achieve that. Together with my students and other professionals I have implemented many projects like bringing water and electricity to the villages, disaster relief, education for the rural children, developing medical gadgets for the specific ailments, women entrepreneurship skill development — projects that are designed to make a selective community self-sufficient.

The International Talent Show IEEE YESIST12 is an example of how engineering can be inculcated with social responsibility to make it more sustainable. The younger generation of today is a talented and proactive generation with the advantage of technology to support them that innovation has become an accepted platform for every one to work on. So with this belief in my mind, I started the IEEE YESIST12 in the year 2013 and then again rejuvenated it in 2016 with just two tracks. Now, with around 100 volunteers working on the event day and night, the event attracts 600 participants for the finals from more than15 countries all over the world. And I hope you remember you visited the 2016 YESIST12. You saw how the students were so enthusiastic in bringing out some project for meeting some of the requirements of their community. So that is the key word. The project has to meet the requirements of the community. After that the theme has been upgraded to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals because it covers almost every requirement for improving the quality of life. Now the event has five tracks including one track for Women supported by the World Bank group on Energy and Extractives supported WePOWER and since you are also in the WePOWER Steering Committee as an advisor, you know about the track. One more track is supported by the Rotary Club since it is for school children. The school children have so many innovative ideas and since they are young, their fresh minds contribute to the innovation and more importantly, they follow it up.

The objective is to encourage the innovators to work for Humanity and use their knowledge for Societal issues around them at the same time enhancing their skills. The intention of helping the community around them is the key objective of the event. I would say that we have fulfilled this objective since many of our participants have gone on to commercialise their products and have startups now.

Pasik-Duncan:

I still remember your 2016 event where I was present and I was so inspired by the students and their projects that I changed my flight and stayed behind one day longer because it was absolutely incredibly unique. I attend so many competitions, I, by myself, run mathematics competitions. But what you achieved over there, bringing out community contributors, taking the real world problems like the vision project for the blind, it will stay for ever. I believe that you have some kind of magic passing your passion, your enthusiasm for interdisciplinary research with real-life applications. I cannot emphasize more on real life applications. How these applications have influenced your work?

Marimuthu:

As you know, I have been an educator for the past thirty five years and even in the early stages of my career, the first year, I introduced project based learning in my class. I just asked the students to go out and buy some electronic components and build them into a gadget or a model. They designed a small project and built it . When they saw that it worked, they were so happy. I was so fascinated by the enthusiasm of the students that as early as 1996, just 9 years into my career, I organized the first project exhibition of my students and called the nearby schools to visit it. It made a big impact on the students of the nearby rural schools and since my college was also located in a rural area, this made the authorities to continue that tradition every year. Every year when the exhibition is on, the children from the nearby schools visit and learn from them.

I started the IEEE student branch in the year 2001 in the college where I was working and through this I started the Women in Engineering. With this, I was able to influence many students to work on projects for environment and women. The students loved to go out and talk to the people to understand their requirements. When we started interacting with the community around us, we were able to find many problems that could be tackled through technology. The first one was the education to rural students – we taught the rural schools science and maths, computer technology, career guidance and most importantly I made my engineering undergrad students show their projects to them - like an animal identifying robot in forest environment which also won prizes in the local competitions. When my student showed the Robot to the school students of a nearby rural school, the students surrounded him and did not allow him to leave. Finally we left him the school for the day and returned to our college without him.

Then we moved on to a project that aimed on providing electricity to tribal villages - Sompur, Karnataka with 15 houses was one such village. With the help of the student branch of the Siddhaganga Institute of Technology, a nearby college, we provided electricity for them.

Developing medical gadgets for people with special needs is another one of my speciality. My students have developed a writing aid for the dyslexic children, a gait corrective walking mat for the epileptic children (for training the epileptic children to walk with balance) and a patented hybrid technology ankle foot orthosis for drop foot. Drop foot is a nervous disorder which sets in just before paralysis.

We also developed technology for women entrepreneurship – a coir pith molding machine, banana fibre extracting machine etc to encourage local women entrepreneurship, building a fire identifier drone, developing indigenous herbal filter for cleaning drinking water and bringing technology to the farmers through digital connect. All these were very much appreciated by the community involved and most of the projects were supported by IEEE.

According to me, technology with compassion leads the way for prosperity. In 2017, we developed, with the help of IEEE Foundation, a website and a mobile app for “Smart Agriculture for Sustainable Food Production” called “Mannuyir”. The project is for teaching technology supported farming to the farmers of various districts in Tamilnadu and bringing together customers and the farmers for direct selling of their products. Our mobile app connects the farmers and customers without the influence of intermediary persons. In fact the team has started to work on the disaster relief for the Gaja Cyclone hit Delta farmers with awareness programs on alternate short term cash crops planting and technology supports available for that.

I signed MoU on behalf of Kumaraguru College of Technology with California State University Northridge in 2014 and with Universal Studios in 2016 to create Assistive Technology Lab and Gaming and Animation Lab which also got sponsorship from Intel. These courses were introduced in the curriculum to cater the young minds with creativity and passion. I have ensured that most of my undergraduate students work on real life problems. graduate with at least one publication to their credit and one humanitarian project. Many of my students have at least one paper published in IEEE Xplore before they complete their Bachelors.

Pasik-Duncan:

You have supervised many projects, working on real life problems. What is the most challenging project you have taken up till now and how do you propose to overcome the challenge?

Marimuthu:

Most of the challenges I have faced in my career as well as volunteering is to deal with the women, especially rural women for whatever project you approach them for. The first challenge I encountered was when I planned to implement “Sangamam – Technology transfer to Rural Areas” project in 2008. There were many activities under this project like computer literacy to rural girls, healthcare, electricity to the tribal villages, home kitchen garden, entrepreneurship and many others.

The project usually starts with those women kicking me out of their area and then my students and I try to approach the influential people around the village and get reentry. Then one by one we talk to the women and children through these people and implement our projects. Though there were many successful projects, there were also utter failures where I could not make them respond at all. But overall, I have a good feeling about my projects since there was a lot of learning from them for me as well as my colleagues and students.

Recently, I am facing the same challenge of convincing the women to sustain their careers so that the leaky pipeline might be plugged somewhere and the balance is maintained in the social as well as economic front. So I first started a workshop in 2013 for Returning Mothers - the women in break but now it has been expanded it into a conference from 2019. The name Returning Mothers indicate that it is for women who wish to come back for the second careers. But though we try to reach out to women who are in need, usually the women are not very much interested to pursue their careers once they have seen the comfort of being at home without the career stress. But the women who feel that they are better off without the career now, start feeling frustrated down the line after 5 -10 years, when the immediate pressure of household responsibilities start reducing. For example, if they took a break for the children’s sake, what do they do when the children leave home? The frustration comes from having nothing fruitful to fill their time but by the time they realize that, it becomes too late for them. Convincing them during the break or even before the break that they need to plan to come back is what we try to do in the Returning Mothers Conference.

This is my toughest project since it is still very difficult to actually persuade a woman in her comfort zone to come out and join the workforce. So I found that we need to instill the love for career still earlier. When they are students and in early career, mentoring them to plan and prepare for the break, best practices to keep the network alive and give themselves self motivation on continuing the career and sustain it. Catch them young – that is my motto.

Pasik-Duncan:

Yes.The Returning Mothers and Career Comeback -this is your signature program and it is spectacular. So tell us what research topics are you working on now? How would you describe your research to a non-engineer? In India almost everyone is an engineer. But you are global and you communicate with people outside and how do you describe to them about your research.

Marimuthu:

First of all, In India not everyone is engineer. Just now I have been talking to you about Returning Mothers. These women, though they are educated as engineers, they do not practice engineering. After they go for family way, they become a total non-engineer. I will also give you an example on that.

Right now, one of my research projects is to enhance the intelligibility of speech through machine learning. We are using deep learning networks to increase the clarity of the words spoken by speech impaired people. This feature will be useful in applications like phone banking.

My other research under Assistive Technology is about measuring the impact of stress on the prenatal and post-natal conditions of the mother and the unborn baby. Women tend to be stressful during the pregnancy period owing to biological as well as emotional reasons. Adding to them, now there are so many other reasons for feeling stress like lack of medical attention, work place environment and financial problems. This stress causes many biological changes in the body like change in blood pressure level leading to hypertension and diabetes resulting in the complications during pregnancy or delivery or both. Our research is to find out how it affects the women’s health, whether this may lead to birth defects in the newborn baby and how it can be mitigated.

You were asking how I would describe my project to a non-engineer. Here is the story. This is another of my projects where I face the challenge of convincing the women to talk to us about the current and previous pregnancies, the complications before, during and after their pregnancy and the outcomes. Especially we are interested to learn about the outcomes of the pregnancy and the condition of the child since I am convinced that the stress in the minds of the pregnant women has a direct impact on the cognitive health of the child. I have tried proving it through data analysis. We are making progress slowly but surely. We have proved that stress and age play an important role in pregnancy complications and even the subsequent birth defects. This is our challenging project right now – explaining the project, getting the answers from them for the questionnaire – that was a real challenge.

Pasik-Duncan:

Early I heard that you did not choose medicine though your father motivated you but now when I am listening to your projects, I cannot stop thinking of the beautiful contributions you make as an engineer to the biomedicine area. Somehow you found a way to connect those areas. You really are interdisciplinary. But you also mentioned IEEE so many times.

It seems IEEE is a part of you. You already have had different positions in different societies and contributing broadly for IEEE. In this short interview, can you tell us what is the role you are most proud of. I know very well you contributed so much for Women in Engineering. Now you are serving as the secretary of IEEE Computer Society. I know very well you have been a remarkable leader and successful mentor to young people in particular women. You have made a difference in people’s lives in your country and globally. Tell us which role made you very proud?

Marimuthu:

IEEE has taught me many things and every step of the way I have enjoyed volunteering for IEEE. I would say IEEE has made a big difference in my life as probably it has done for millions of others. I was fortunate have so many mentors in IEEE in section, region as well as Board level. I started as the branch counselor of my IEEE student branch first and then served in Section, Region, MGA, EAB and Societies. Wherever I served, I first used to learn the needs of the members I was serving and try to engage them. As you yourself suggested, I have contributed in various areas, but all those contributions were from the bottom of my heart.

For example, I proposed the First Region 10 Women in Engineering Congress in 2008 when I was the IEEE Student Branch Counselor and Chair of Madras IEEE WIE, which became an instant hit and a success. I am very thankful to Janina Mazierska who was the then Region 10 Director and who was also my mentor. The congress became a success because of her support. After that, I took over a dormant Region 10 Women in Engineering with 43 Affinity Groups out of which only 4 or 5 Affinity Groups were active but they were not reporting anywhere since the Region 10 WIE was not active. Within a year, I reorganized the reporting structure, introduced Regional Affinity Group Awards, WIE tracks and special sessions in all the Region 10 Flagship Conferences which are still continued and Need based special projects like Sangamam. The next year I introduced the Most Inspiring Engineer of the Year Award for Women researchers in Region 10. After three years when I took over as Women in Engineering Committee Chair, I handed over the most vibrant Region 10 WIE with 130 Affinity Groups to my successor Takako Hashimoto.

In WIE Committee, I have worked in Governance and other activities and have brought visibility to the committee by organizing First WIE conference with the support of Google and introducing WIE Leadership summits in 2014, organising the pilot summit in 2015. In EAB, I have served on various committees over the past years introducing the EPICS in India Initiative in 2014 -2015.

Recently I was deputed to be the Computer Society Representative to WIE Committee for 2019 and 2020 after I was elected as BoG. I was given the responsibility of WIE Governance Adhoc for making the WIE membership empowered through electing the WIE Chair. After numerous meetings and with the great support of committee members and IEEE Leadership, it was approved and now the WIE Chair will be elected by their membership. It is a proud moment for us. I think this is a wonderful example of how IEEE is very serious about Diversity and Inclusion. Serving on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of IEEE Computer Society, I feel proud that I was able to contribute to this great cause. You see, in each one of these roles, I contribute with my full heart and try to make it successful. So naturally all these roles make me very proud and I cannot differentiate between any of them.

Pasik-Duncan:

It was amazing, when one listens to you, that in all your roles, you have been so clear of your mission, vision and goals. You always have something new to bring in. You are a true innovator. You already talked about Returning Mothers and YESIST12 competition. IEEE Women in Engineering became a very big supporter for these events. You have so many followers because whatever you do, it stands as a role model and it is sustainable. Those two powerful, beautiful and exciting events which engage many volunteers are your signatures and already sustainable models. You have a magic in training them to be inspirational and passionate leaders. So my question is what are their mission, vision and long term goals?

Marimuthu:

Thank you for recognizing the unique nature of my activities. You have been a great supporter of both my events. Yes. I feel that the International Talent Show IEEE YESIST12 is an example of how engineering can be inculcated with social responsibility to make it more sustainable and it also makes engineering sustainable for today’s younger generation. They are talented and proactive generation with the advantage of technology to support them that innovation has become an accepted platform for everyone to work on. So on this belief, we started the IEEE YESIST12 and after five editions, we are so successful that we have 600 participants for the finals alone. The countries we cover are more than 20 countries. The objective here is to use the technology for humanity to solve societal issues. But the long term goal is to make the young innovators to sustain their own careers with their own projects and products and fine tune them to commercialise them and become entrepreneurs. Though these innovators have some innovative ideas, not everything will be marketable. So our long term goal is to train them to become entrepreneurs.

The Returning Mothers Concept was born when I found that many of my brilliant women students did not pursue their careers after they were married or after they had a child. When I explored further, losing this talent pool was common for all countries even for developed ones. And this brings the economic development of a country down. So I first started a workshop in 2013 for the women in break, if they wanted to return to work since I felt that up skilling them was the only way to ensure their return. But now I have done a lot more work on it and I have come to the conclusion that they need to prepare for the break even before they go on the break and prepare for their return too. So I expanded it into a conference in 2019 and have been organizing it with the support of the WePOWER Network of the World Bank, Women in Engineering and IEEE Computer Society to introduce up skilling and mentoring for women looking for opportunities to reenter the workforce after a break. The long term goal is to instill the passion for career by identifying women who are eligible to return and connecting them in a mentorship network.

Pasik-Duncan:

This Returning Mothers is a global issue now, when women stay at home, in all countries, bringing them back is a top issue for the government and institutions. So you describe many challenges that I get the impression that you are not afraid of any challenges. Many of them are tough but it sounds to me that somehow you are excited about tough. So my question is which of many challenges that you have tackled you consider to be the toughest?

Marimuthu:

As you say, challenges excite me and probably I have my father to thank for it. He used to give me so many challenges and prepare me to face them. Probably because of that I feel that my idiotic mind does not even recognize a challenge and I just take it as a way of life.

Challenges are a part of our life and I have faced many challenges since I started my life as an engineer. The unconscious bias is the toughest challenge I believe I have faced in all my environments – including family environment. Though there has been an increase in women education and empowerment, still there are situations where our upbringing does not allow us to come right out of our shell and question the offenders. I have also faced such situations and I tend to ignore them and go about my business. But the instantaneous reaction when I feel that I am treated with bias is to feel sadness, anger and stress. When I recognize bias in somebody, I feel that since it is that person’s mind, it is his or her problem. Luckily for me, I have a mind that bounces right back with positivity. I discuss it with my family or friends objectively and I try to understand the reason. If necessary, I tackle the person with it or just ignore and move ahead.

I think, in every part of the world, women are always going to face such challenges. To tackle such challenges, we have to believe in ourselves first. We should be able to prove that whatever we do, we do it for the right cause, in the right way and in the right time and place – that we do it with conscience. We know that we cannot control our environment but we can create our own environment. Knowing our strengths and believing in ourselves can solve many of these issues and help us go forward.

Pasik-Duncan:

You are one of the best and greatest mentors I have ever met in my life and I have met many great mentors. Occasionally I come to you to share my doubts and to see what you would say. I love, value and treasure your thoughts and advices.

Now, what advice would you give to young people, especially young women, who want to study computer science?

Marimuthu:

Computer Science/Computer Engineering is the universal pass to sustainable careers since everything is digital now. In the wake of pandemic, everything has become online so one cannot survive without computers now. As far as I can see, women who study computer science can tackle jobs either from home or in a workplace so it is a boon for them. Hence it is considered to be the most suitable career choice for women as far as the parents are also concerned. But it is necessary for them not to narrow down themselves towards studies, but always think about the big picture and the far future. Technology keeps changing and plan for a break in your careers while you first enter your job. This will give you a constant mindset of expecting the inevitable to happen and you will be better prepared. Mentors are important people in your life. Have somebody in your workplace as your mentor and have your network live even in break. You will know where to jump in when you plan to return if you keep your network live. At the same time, coming back will not be easy without upskilling yourself. Always have one hobby type skill like Web Development, Animation, Gaming and other application developments, which can be doubled into Work from Home Freelancing Entrepreneurships.

Always know your strength and worth. A time-to-time SWOT analysis will help you move in the right path. In addition, self-motivation helps. Take some time to appreciate yourself if you find that you have exceeded your expectations. When you fail, analyze the root cause and correct your mistakes to make it into a victory. Or at least have Bozenna with you who will celebrate your successes.

Pasik-Duncan:

But can you see I described you having magic – surrounding yourself with those wonderful young people so skillful so enthusiastic for learning and discovering and I notice that it is your beautiful way also of learning from those who surround you – those younger generation. So this is the beauty of learning – you giving them experience and wisdom and they are returning in the development. Today I heard compliments from the President of SSIT on something your team proposed. So, this is something which is the beauty and the power of sharing.

Let us finish by looking forward. Last year was most challenging. But on the positive side, we carried on, we developed new technologies and communication with people all over the world was made easy through online webinars and classes. So in future, what do you think are major directions in computer science?

Marimuthu:

Digitization of Education, trade, healthcare and transportation has increased the usage and applications of Computers everywhere. In the wake of Covid -19, online education has become the new normal which the world has adapted so easily, Block Chain and Cryptocurrency are creating a lot of buzz around the world, living spaces and cities are becoming smart, reducing the necessity for physical contact, even recreation has started centering around digital devices. This has to be tempered with introduction of ethics and standards in everything we do. Especially the younger generation, for whom the access to these devices and technology has become a necessity, need to be educated about safety standards, ethical practices and values. So the onus has now fallen on the developers of technology to create the standards and on the educators and parents to educate the users, especially the children.

There is no good or bad technology, there is just technology. It is the user that makes the difference. So, our own ethics and principles should guide us in using the technology but the younger generation are to be educated about this. I feel that creating self-awareness on the ethical principles on technology usage is the first area the Computer Education should take care of.

One more area I feel that the growth has to be tempered with ethical intonation is the AI, especially the application side of it – The Autonomous Driving Vehicles, healthcare, smart living spaces, education and social media, all of which are essential and rapidly expanding. The developers should weigh the potential impact of AI like societal biases, spread of misinformation as well as disinformation and overriding of people’s choices. Any technology, when developed, also should be accompanied with its own ethical framework guidelines for the users so that the technology is beneficial rather than being maleficent.

And as far as the growth of computer associated technologies is concerned, the field will only expand since the future is going to be automation. So interdisciplinary skills are very much required for a computer scientist or engineer. Since every application is going to demand for skills in more than one domain, it will be about continuous learning and about connecting with the right team. The directions for the CS are mostly in AI, Block chain, cryptocurrency and other interdisciplinary technologies.

Pasik-Duncan:

You are absolutely a remarkable scholar in leadership. I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for this privilege and honour of interviewing you. I learn so much from you. Your friendship, your mentorship, your advice means a world to me. So I hope that the generations will learn from this interview and take away wisdom, experience, knowledge and open minded discoveries which count the most. Thank you so much.

Marimuthu:

I would like to thank you Bozenna. It has been absolutely marvellous for me to be interviewed by you and as you know, I value your opinions and friendship so much that I am so happy that you were my interviewer. I hope I made you happy.

Pasik-Duncan:

Absolutely spectacular. I will share this with Women in Engineering and everywhere like I shared your presentation on Research Paper Writing.