Swati has invented software to help children with autism learn how to interact socially. She's also Principal Research Scientist in Human-Computer Interaction at Callaghan Innovation.
What do you do on an average work day?
My average work day at Callaghan Innovation is a combination of a variety of things. These include interacting with customers, understanding their needs, investigating potential solutions, writing proposals, conducting and managing the R&D.
After hours and on weekends I work on my company, Inclusys, which involves managing the software and content development, conducting tests and trials, networking, constantly polishing the business plan, devising business and marketing strategy, meetings, reporting, and so on.
What did you study at school? And after high school?
In my last two years of school I studied commerce subjects: accounts, business studies and mathematics.
After high school all my degrees were in computer science, starting with Bachelor of Computer Applications, Masters of Advanced Computer Science and then a PhD in Natural Language Generation [getting Artificial Intelligence programs to share information using human language rather than computer language].
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Yes and No!
As far as the computing side of things is concerned, yes. But after my studies I developed a keen interest in psychology and cognitive science and I did a lot of reading out of interest. So I combined them all, and I now work in the interdisciplinary space where technology meets people.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
There is a lot of pressure these days to “do what you like” but people don’t realise that it’s not always easy for everyone to find, understand or define what they like.
That was the case with me too, so the strategy I devised for myself was to do what I like at present, while being mindful of connecting the dots as I go.
This helped me form an interdisciplinary and wide perspective towards finding solutions, and to define my own niche.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
I consider my biggest highlight so far to be the launch of Inclusys. It was my dream to do something that helps create a positive impact in people’s lives, and Inclusys is my vehicle for that.
Having said that, bigger wins are only consequences of the small wins we create every day. So I think every day should have some highlight: either a successful meeting, a job well done, an important task checked off the list, a poignant piece of text that I read, a good conversation, a moment of clarity, or a peaceful sense of being.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?
As Sir Paul Callaghan told us, New Zealand needs to focus on high value manufacturing, and that is why Callaghan Innovation was created. This country needs to change its focus from agriculture; and to do that we need STEM to create cutting-edge scientific and technological solutions.
However, STEM is a toolbox; to solve societal problems we also need to understand what the problems and needs are. Humanities help us identify needs, STEM creates solutions, and Commerce helps us take the solutions to those who need them. So to be an impactful nation, or a well-rounded professional, we need to encompass a wide perspective.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
Let’s broaden that a bit and instead see this in terms of the feminine versus masculine: complementary forces that can be manifested by both women and men in varying degrees.
Masculine energy is the dominant force in the world, even among women who are competing with men and trying to create a space for themselves and for the rest of us. It’s now time to give space to the feminine. Feminine energy allows us to think differently and come up with novel solutions; it can see old problems in a new light, resolve conflicts, and preserve what really matters.
So it’s important not just to have more women, but to have more feminine energy in STEM, in business, in politics, and in everything else that matters.
Swati is a Principal Research scientist in Human-Computer Interaction at Callaghan Innovation. She is also the founder of Inclusys that will soon launch its first product: a software to help children with autism learn how to interact socially.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
View all profiles