Geek in Question: Anuradha "Anu" Ammal
Job title: SDET - Office Natural Language Team – Microsoft’s European Development Center (EDC) in Dublin, Ireland.
Anu balances her career as a Software Development Engineer in Test (SDET) at Microsoft’s dev center in Ireland with training as a classic Indian “Carnatic” singer. But to Anu, her career is not just a job and singing is not just a hobby – both are passions that complement each other.
We caught up with Anu to find out more about the life of a singing SDET in Dublin. (For a fun look at a day in the life of an SDET in Ireland, check out our short video on YouTube)
Anu, which was your first passion: technology or music?
Acutally, I started music more recently in my life. I trained in engineering from a young age. I’m originally from Kerala, India, and I got my bachelor of technology in computer systems at University of British Columbia. After I graduated I moved to London and was working for Reuters in the Foreign Exchange IT Group as an automation test engineer.
How did you come to Microsoft?
I was part of a Women in Technology Group in London and I believe that a recruiter found my name thorough that group. I was very surprised to get an email asking to interview me. It was a crazy moment because I was also in the running for a role at Google at that point and had been invited to a Google recruiting conference.
How’d you make the decision between Microsoft and Google?
Microsoft is a dream for a person in IT. Microsoft is the only company that pretty much impacts every single person who uses a computer around the world. It is a huge, world-wide family and I wanted to be part of it.
I took an SDET role in Dublin and moved to Ireland in April of 2008.
So, when did you start studying music?
In 2003, I had started studying classical Carnatic music of India. I began with the veena, which is like a giant sitar that can barely be carried. I played it for a while and took part in a concert in London, but when I moved to Dublin, I switched to singing.
I searched online for a top instructor and found the ideal teacher – in Tamil Nadu, South India, only about 8600km away from Dublin.
That makes it a little tricky to get to class.
We found a resolution. She creates her syllabus in Word; I record all of the audio from out classes using Windows sound recorder; and we do the actual classes over Skype. It’s a lot of commitment, but we make it work.
And you have to dedicate a lot of time to your career too, no?
As an SDET, work can be very hectic. The pressure is high, especially when we are close to a release.
How do you manage the two things together?
I wake up early and do my class for an hour before work. Music starts my day with peace and positive energy. It is a true “stress buster.” I carry that positive energy with me to work and it influences how I perform through the rest of the day.
Both music and work are my passions. Singing is food for my mind and work is exercise for my mind. I need both.
Tell us more about being an SDET. I think it’s the least understood role at Microsoft.
As an SDET, I am essentially the first customer for a product that will be used by much of the world. I test it and then must certify it is good before it goes out to literally millions of people. It is a huge responsibility and nothing can go wrong.
Do you test for a specific product?
I work on the language proofing tools for Microsoft Office, Windows and Internet Explorer. These are the tools that make sure people’s written documents are error free. We’re talking about some of most popular programs in the history of software. I mean, we have to proofread in 90 languages from Arabic to Welsh. The magnitude is almost unimaginable.
What do you think that future holds for you, Anu?
Eventually, I’d like to be a technical PM. There are so many routes to take your career here. Nothing stops you from moving forward if you have the motivation and the skills. If you can prove yourself, you can work on any sort of technology in any sort of role, all over the world.
I’d also like to do some more concerts and maybe someday after I retire I’d like to become a music teacher myself.