I believe I won the genetic lottery. Born in India to a fantastic pair of parents who wanted their girls to be educated, and gave them every opportunity in the world to fly and achieve their potential.
25 June 2015
Above photo: Sonia Karkare on a site visit in India with one of the recipients of The Global Fund donation, 2015. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria mobilizes and invests nearly US$4 billion a year to support programs run by local experts in countries and communities most in need. As a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and people affected by the diseases, the Global Fund is accelerating the end of AIDS, TB and malaria as epidemics.
I left India at the tender and impressionable age of 18. The younger of two daughters, I followed my sister to Kent State University, Ohio – USA in 1990.
She was there two years before me pursuing a Ph.D. Upon my parent’s advice; I decided to enroll into the Computer Science program. The rationale for this was, Biology (my first preference) was about the past and I might have been too sensitive to take up a Psychology (my second preference) degree. So why not go for something that was booming and cutting edge?
Having never touched a computer in my life or seen classes where there were over 300 undergraduate students, my first semester was an utter disaster! Here I was, an A+ student from Mumbai, struggling in the US. My first homework was to write “Hello world” in Pascal (look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t know what it is!). I had no idea that the backspace key on the keyboard would wipe out my typos! Every time I made a typo, I would start over!
One night at a party, while innocently describing my struggles, a fellow student passed a comment that changed my life. He said, “Why don’t you just go back home? You might never make it here.”
That threw me for a toss and made me very angry! Never!!
So, I worked extra hard and by the strategies of rote and memorization made it through my classes till I got the hang of good programming. I worked with lab tutors, teaching assistants, friends, professors, everyone who could help me get a better understanding of this world of computing. I was never shy of asking questions or letting my professors know I needed help. My parents had spent a fortune sending me here, I was working two jobs to support myself, why would I care if someone thought I needed too much help or was asking too many questions?
It all paid off. I was on the Dean’s list the next semester – a prestigious spot for those that had excelled across the university and attained a certain grade point average.
This positive trajectory continued. I graduated top of my undergraduate class and went onto complete my Master’s in Computer Science at the same university. My thesis was in encryption. I had found a way to make it through something that never came to me naturally.
Upon graduation, I went onto work with several business and technology-consulting firms in NYC. Starting out as a junior programmer, then senior programmer, I decided to dabble with Information Architecture in 2000. This was when portals were becoming common. I wanted to round off my technology skills with user experience skills. For this, I was asked to take a course and shadow a more experienced Information Architect. I duly followed up and completed the requirements.
Then one day, in conversation with my project manager, we noticed that there was a body of work that needed attention and was better if it functioned as a sub project on it’s own. It immediately occurred to me to ask if I could be the project manager for it? It was scoped to be an eight-week project, with a budget of about $400,00, and a staff of 5 people. Everyone was surprised, but agreed immediately. Note: Take the opportunity when it presents itself! I lead it to success and that started my career as project manager.
In 2001, the Twin towers in NYC were attacked. I lost friends in the tragedy.This was the next incident that changed my life. I decided to use my technology skills for the betterment of the community, the world. My goal ever since has been to leave this world a better place than I found it. I have consciously steered my career in the direction of opportunities within the nonprofit technology sector.
I have now served various nonprofits across the world, including the American Red Cross. I am currently serving on the CIO’s IT leadership team, as Business Partner Manger for Operations at The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria in Geneva. I oversee all the core business operations for The Global Fund on the Salesforce platform and the current existing legacy systems.
My message to anyone reading this is – you will find a way. No matter what, you will find a way to do what your heart desires. I wanted to help in some in way. Never did I imagine that a technology degree would help me save someone’s life. I wish you all the best and pray that you reach your potential.
Sonia Karkare, IT Business Partner Manager - Operations
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria