“You never know what new opportunity can connect you to other people, if you just do it,” says Punam Nagpal. “Never say ‘no’ if you believe in yourself, and that you have what it takes to succeed.”
Three years ago, Nagpal, who is currently a member of the Cisco Corporate Quality team, took her own advice when she was asked to share some of her experiences about managing work-life balance. The webinar she led for a group of other Cisco women created such an enthusiastic response among other female technology professionals that she has since become a popular presenter – both in-person and virtually – at conferences in the United States and internationally.
“Many women working in technology share the problem of maintaining healthy priorities between their careers and their personal lives,” states Nagpal. To reach more women who are aspiring to, or already engaged, in STEM careers, she now has written a moving account of her professional and personal journey.
The eighth – and latest – volume in the IEEE-USA Women in Engineering (WIE) E-Book series, The Art of Self-Empowerment: Becoming Your Own Best Friend, is a candid discussion of Nagpal’s experiences and growth. Except for the first book in the series, which is an overview of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) occupations, each e-book is a first-hand account of how a notable contemporary woman professional built her career. Each author discusses the difficulties she overcame, and the opportunities she explored, while obtaining her education and advancing professionally.
Gerard (Gus) Gaynor, Chair of both the IEEE-USA Communications Committee and IEEE-USA E-Books, notes that each author in this WIE series was chosen because she is an outstanding role model. “Each of their stories is unique,” he says, “and each can help to motivate and inspire the next generation of female engineers.”
Georgia Stelluto, IEEE-USA Publishing Manager and Manager & Editor, IEEE-USA E-Books, points out that each author for the series was selected for the practical, no-nonsense professional guidance she can share. “The authors represent a diverse cross-section of backgrounds,” she says, “and each has a distinctive, different story.”
Punam Nagpal’s book, Women in Engineering – Book 8: The Art of Self-Empowerment: Becoming Your Own Best Friend begins with the author’s childhood in India, and her early interest in science and technology. She went on to obtain a B.S. in Engineering at Maharshi Dayanand University in Gurgaon, and an M.S. in Computer Science at Banasthali Vidyapeeth University – one of five universities in India exclusively for women. She began her career with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS); but after her marriage in 1999, Nagpal moved to Silicon Valley, and in 2000, joined Cisco.
Throughout her narrative, the author reflects on her experiences to which almost any STEM student or working professional can easily relate. She also includes the valuable lessons she learned from these events. For example, she recalls her student days, and how she worried about measuring up to other students; as well as, when starting a new job, assuming her co-workers were more accomplished than she: “Comparing yourself to others can destroy your own self-esteem, she writes. “Each of us has positive qualities that we only need to discover.”
The author notes her delight when TCS offered her a job immediately after she received her Master’s degree. But she emphasizes that she had very carefully prepared for the company’s written exam; and after passing that, for the panel of corporate interviewers who grilled each graduating student applying for a job. “I had to show confidence in myself and my work,” she writes, “and by telling myself everything I had accomplished, I empowered myself to do well from the moment I walked in the room and introduced myself to the panelists.” Taking note that other students had passed the written exam, but were unable to present themselves well during the interview, Nagpal says, “The ability to communicate well with others is more important than how intelligent you are.”
The author frankly recalls the professional and personal pressures she experienced after the birth of her first child, as well as a growing guilt that began to spiral into depression. She calls the six weeks of company-sponsored family leave “the best thing I ever did,” and writes how she returned to work in “a happy, relaxed frame of mind.”
Nagpal warns, “Superwoman is a fantasy. Don’t try to do it all, and remember to pace yourself.” She adds, “Learn to prioritize, and when to say ‘no.’”
The first seven books in the IEEE-USA Women in Engineering eBook Series are:
- Women in Engineering – Book 1: Inspire and Close the Gender Gap, by L-3 Warrior Systems systems and software engineering manager, and IEEE Women in Engineering International Chair, Nita Patel
- Women in Engineering – Book 2: Passion, Perseverance and Making a Difference, by Microsoft data analyst/program manager Maria Vlachopoulou
- Women in Engineering – Book 3: Passions Can Sustain You--A Personal Career History, by consultant Sherry Gillespie
- Women in Engineering – Book 4: Follow Your Curiosities--Finding Success through Learning, by James Madison University assistant professor Jacquelyn Nagel. Nagel was also the National Engineers Week Foundation's New Faces of Engineering — representing IEEE/IEEE-USA (2012)
- Women in Engineering – Book 5: Finding Self and Growth, by Broadcom integrated circuits packaging engineer Melissa Lau
- Women in Engineering – Book 6: My Career, Your Career, by consultant Leslie Martinich
Women in Engineering – Book 7: Having It All: One Woman’s Journey, by international marketing and business management consultant Tanya Candia.
- Women in Engineering – Book 8: The Art of Self-Empowerment: Becoming Your Own Best Friend, by Cisco software quality leader Punam Nagpal. (Book 7 will be reviewed in a forthcoming article.)
More information about all eight IEEE-USA Women in Engineering E-Books is available at: http://shop.ieeeusa.org/. The member price for each volume is $7.99; non-IEEE members can purchase them for $9.99 each.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.