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Divya Jain: Machine learning maven. Startup founder. Women in tech advocate.

Divya Jain, who leads machine learning at Box, spoke with TechRepublic about her career in technology and how she believes everyone can do something great.

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Image: Divya Jain

Divya Jain never dreamed that her life would end up the way it has.

Jain was born in a family that was "all about education and technology." However, she came from a culture where women were discouraged from working or making a living. Another part of that culture is arranged marriages and, after graduating college, she married a man she had known for 30 minutes. A few days later, she moved across the globe to a new country where she knew no one, except her husband.

Now, she leads machine learning at Box, one of the most well-known cloud companies in the world. Best of all, she said, she gets to work on something she's passionate about.

Jain was raised in a small university town called Roorkee, UP, India, and she was surrounded by engineers from a young age. It was almost overwhelming and, for a while, she didn't want to be an engineer because she felt the field would stifle her creativity.

However, she eventually came around to the idea and ended up graduating from Aligarh University with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. The next year, she moved to the US where she pursued a master's degree in computer engineering from San Jose State University. Technology was something that came naturally to Jain.

"As I was learning more about it, I figured out you can be so much more with technology and you can reach out to people so much more if you're doing something in technology," she said.

In 2003, she began her career at Sun Microsystems, later moving to a startup called Kazeon Systems in 2005, which was acquired by EMC in 2009. Around 2009, Hadoop and Big Data were growing in popularity and Jain wanted to get a formal education in the underlying technology, so she took a one-year graduate course at Stanford in data mining and analysis.

After leaving EMC in 2011, she worked with another startup before founding dLoop Inc. in September of that year. They provided data analytics for content, focused on bringing different content together with a new algorithm. Their success eventually attracted Box.

"It just felt like the partnership that was meant to be. We were looking for content, Box had a lot of content, and we had the technology to really bring the value of the content," she said.

As head of machine learning for Box, making sure that everything is aligned is a key priority, and that takes clear communication—what Jain said is her most important "tool" for getting work done.

In terms of her work philosophy, it's three words: "Keep it simple." Start with simple solutions and then keep on making and building on top of it. It's not enough just to make the product simple and easy for users, it also has to be easy to analyze and evaluate for engineers and developers as well.

Passion is also huge for Jain. Being able to give your heart to what you're doing, and that is something she looks for in potential employees—specifically the passion to learn and grow in the field.

In addition to machine learning, Jain is interested in the growing IoT market.

"Making smart watches, and buildings, and all kinds of little things is really going to be very helpful—not just as a business, but I think in our daily work lives these things are going to make a big difference," she said.

When asked for her thoughts on some of the biggest issues affecting enterprise IT, Jain said it's a matter of relevant information. Even with advances in technology, finding information on the internet is still easier than finding information within an organization, she said. We have some of the technology available, but it has to be secure and properly managed because of the sensitive nature of enterprise data.

Another problem that Jain is passionate about solving is the lack of women in technology careers. She said she tries to advocate for women in tech at Box, and she is constantly thinking of ways people can get involved and help.

Her advice is threefold:

  1. Don't be afraid to make mistakes
  2. Reach out to people and find mentors
  3. Keep your eyes open for opportunities

"If you recognize opportunities, and if you want to do something, anybody can do great things," she said.

In her own words...

What do you do to unplug?

"I rarely get time these days to do any of the things that I used to do earlier. I used to do dancing and stuff like that. These days, I think the biggest way to unplug or relax is actually with my kids, just spending time with my kids. One of my daughters, she's in eighth grade, and it's just so much fun to do math with her, because all of those questions are just like really simple puzzles to me and she likes it when I'm sitting with her because it makes her feel like she's doing something fun, rather than studying. So, we do that together every other night or every couple of nights and that's a lot of fun. Similarly with my son, he's in third grade and he likes to do a lot of puzzles, too. So, we end up doing something quick together like building a small Lego pack and that just helps a lot to unplug from everything."

What's the best thing you've read lately?

"I recently started reading all kinds of books on entrepreneurs. I read Zero to One, I read The Hard Thing About Hard Things. But one of the books—it's not a recent book, but I read it recently—is the book from the Starbucks CEO Pour Your Heart Into It. I think that really inspired me and I really admired how people coming from such a humble setting can still make such a big difference. And, again, I think it also goes with my philosophy of putting your passion into what you're doing. So, I really like that book and I think anybody and everybody can make a difference if they really want to do it..."

If you weren't working in tech, what other profession would you love to try?

"If it wasn't tech, I think it would education. Just because, brought up in a university town...that's the environment that I was brought up in. I have high respect for teachers, and I have high respect for education, so I think the other thing that I would do would be something in the education space."

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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