Mallika (Somasekhara) Chellappa: Researcher and Quality Leader

mallika-headline pic

Mallika Chellappa graduated from College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG), Chennai, India in 1969. After working as a researcher for prestigious defense development labs of the Indian Government over twenty-three years and tackling challenging technical problems, Mallika pivoted her career to a be a software quality leader, consulting for many leading companies on software development life cycle and implementation of quality processes. She is a great role model for young women who graduate in technical fields and look to have a balanced family life and a fulfilling career going forward.

Early Life

Mallika was born in Bangalore on 21st November 1948.    Her Father K. Somasekhara was an Air Force Officer and was one of ten siblings. Her mother Vijayalakshmi, a housewife, came from a family with six children.  Mallika is one of three children.

Mllika Family 1966-edited-captioned

Mallika started her schooling in New Delhi, where her father was stationed at that time.  The family moved around due to the nature of her father’s work.  Mallika completed her Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) in 1962 November.  Before joining the Pre-University Course (PUC) at Queen Mary’s College in Madras, Mallika used the six months she had to learn skills such as typing and dressmaking.  She also perfected her knitting and crochet skills.

Mallika briefly toyed with the idea of making her dressmaking hobby into a career and hence considered doing a fashion design diploma. Mallika’s desire to study engineering came out of a visit to Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Madras. Mallika says: “The campus, the workshops, the hostels, and then, they had alternate semesters of studies and workshops! We met a friend who was going to the workshop (in the evening, all by himself) to finish some work. They were very hands-on, given a lot of responsibility in the care of the facility. All very different, beckoning.”  She was quite impressed with the Institute. Unfortunately, she could not apply to IIT as she was underage according to the entrance criteria. Mallika did not want to wait another year to do her undergraduate and went ahead and applied to CEG for the integrated five-year undergraduate program. She joined the college late as her admission was originally for the engineering college in Trichy, and she had to request a change to enter CEG. She chose Electronics and Communication Engineering as her specialization of study.

At CEG

Mallika was one of a handful of girls among hundreds of boys who started their undergraduate engineering education at CEG in 1964.  When she arrived, Mallika missed the ragging, thankfully, since she was late to join.  She remembers the unpleasant writings by boys on her wooden desk which she used to scrape off with a razor from her pencil box. She also remembers that her sleeveless tops invited the boys to yell topless, when she passed by, presumably something they were fascinated by the then current fad of “topless bars” of the western world.

Mallika compares the second year to a commando course for the army. The workload was intense, and she also had the burden of cycling to the campus because of the inconvenient public transportation schedules.  During the third year at CEG, Mallika’s commute troubles were eased by a Jawa Jet – a 50cc motorcycle her grandfather bought and her father helped select.  With the free time afforded by her new transportation, Mallika enrolled in German classes at the Max Mueller Bhavan and completed the levels G1 and G2 by the time she graduated from CEG. During the third and fourth year, Mallika remembers being subjected to ragging by the Associate Lecturers who staffed the Machine shop and Heat Engines workshop.   Mallika took part in the English play at the CEG Arts Festival during these years.

Mallika graduated in 1969 from CEG with distinction.

 

1969 sendoff-captioned

Career

Mallika was in an enviable position of choosing from three options when she graduated from CEG.  She had job offers from Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE)  and Indian Telephone Industries Limited (ITI), and admission to the postgraduate program at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).  Based on the experience of a friend who had worked in LRDE and enjoyed the job, as well as her interactions with a team from LRDE to the campus during her final year, she was sold on the working environment there and started her career as a Non-Gazetted officer (NGO).   The career started off well and she received a promotion in a year. Technically she felt quite satisfied, and worked on many challenging projects, but felt her career was not making much progress.  She took time off from work when her children were born in 1975 and 1977 and returned to work full time in 1978.

Her accomplishments at LRDE included feasibility studies for Air Defence Ground Environment System (ADGES) for Indian Air Force; Sound Ranging System with technical trials (Mallika received commendations for participation); Light Weight Field Artillery Radar (indigenous bit-slice computer with indigenous microprogram and software); two publications, and a technical translation of a paper in French.

During 1981 – 1982, she spent a year in at Defence Electronics Research Laboratory (DLRL) at Hyderabad on promotion, away from her family. Mallika’s husband managed the family in Bangalore by himself, while Mallika came home to the family once a month. During this time she worked on naval projects in electronic warfare (EW)/ electronic intelligence (ELINT) domain.

lady engineers at work-captioned

In 1982, she transferred to Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), which along with LRDE was part of Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO). She worked on some of the most satisfying technical projects there such as Pilotless Target Aircraft (PTA) and early versions of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

In 1986, Mallika took time off from work to attend the University of Texas (UT) at Austin postgraduate program in Computer Science and graduated in 1988 with a master’s degree. During those two years, Mallika’s husband again proved to be a very strong supporter of Mallika’s goals, taking care of the two young children by himself, while Mallika was away. Mallika has fond memories of her days at UT Austin where she interacted with several Turing Award winners including Allen Emerson and C. A. R. Hoare and E.W. Dijkstra. She also had good friends in fellow students, such as Yeturu Aahlad and Farnam Jahanian who went on to make names for themselves in the world of computing.

During this period, Mallika published three research papers.  One of them called Nontraversable Paths in a Program, published in IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, put forth seminal ideas on software testing and has been cited in books such as Software Testing – A Craftsman’s Approach.

Mallika took early retirement from ADE in 1993 to explore a career in consulting. She established a company called SofQual in 1993 for conducting her consultancy business. In 1994, at BFL Software Limited (which was acquired by Mphasis, now part of Blackstone Co.), she headed the System-W porting project and traveled to the UK for transfer of technology. During 1994-1996, at Siemens, she was the Technical Controller for all project milestones, for all lines of business for projects in Bangalore, and was also in charge of the training function.  Her work took her traveling to many parts of India. During 1997-2000, at Hewlett-Packard India Software Operation Pvt. Ltd (HP-ISO), she was a member of the quality team that guided the organization to Software Engineering Institute (SEI) Level 5 certification. At RelQ Software (later acquired by Electronic Data Systems), during 2000-2001, Mallika headed the embedded testing business with clients such as Philips, Texas Instruments, Mindtree, SoftJin, and traveled to Belgium for technical marketing.

Mallika joined Lucent Technologies in 2001 as General Manager, Quality, for the Network Management System (NMS) software groups in Bangalore. In 2005, she presented a paper at the Quest Forum’s Sixth Annual Best Practices Conference in San Jose, California, for which she received an outstanding presenter memento. Mallika retired from this job in 2006 November. She continues to offer technical consultancy on software development lifecycle; some of her clients have been Thinksoft (now Thinksoft Global), Motorola (MIEL), Ramsoft, and Canarys (now eCanarys).

Quest-present-edited

Mallika is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).  She has six publications, including three in International Journals/conferences.

Arts & Community

Mallika has always been interested in poetry since she was a young girl growing up in New Delhi.  Here is one of her poems, looking back on her life, written in 2005:

Foolishness

I’ve made every mistake known to man
Into the fire, out of the pan;
And though I came out none the worse,
My loved ones did their fortune curse;
And often they would me condemn,
For all the heartache I caused them.
But now I’m older and looking wise
They come to me – for advice!

Mallika also continues to find outlets for her artistic side, such as the painting below.

daughter with painting-captioned

During her working years, Mallika had very little time to engage in community activities but nevertheless participated in activities as a member of Lioness Club of Bangalore North during 1982-1988.

Recently she has been active in two nonprofits, University Women’s Association (UWA) and SEWAC-B (formerly Altrusa International Inc. of Bangalore) working on women’s causes.

The CEG alumni have a large presence in Bangalore, where Mallika lives. She was president of the local chapter for a period. She presented at the e-business seminar organized by the chapter in 2000 and helped the fundraising efforts in 2005 for which she received a certificate from the chapter, cosigned by the Vice-Chancellor of Anna University.

Family Life

Mallika’s father died in 1998. Her brother died in 1997.  In 2007, Mallika’s mother who is ninety-two years old, and is healthy, came to stay with her and Mallika took on the role of her caregiver.

mallika and hubby-edited-captioned

In 1973 Mallika married R. Chellappa, a mechanical engineer. He is also a CEG alumnus. Contrary to what her children may think, she did not meet him while at CEG.  Soon after graduating, his first job was at Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC). His next job was in LRDE. It was here they met when their interest in playing Bridge brought them together. Chellappa has a postgraduate diploma in mechanical design from IIT, Bombay.  His contributions can be found in most of the LRDE results that were productized. He retired from LRDE, with a rank of Scientist F.

mallika family-captioned

Mallika and Chellappa have a son and a daughter.  Her son Ananth graduated from IIT Madras with an undergraduate degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, and went on to get his masters from Georgia Institute of Technology, and is an integrated circuit designer in the U.S.A.  Mallika’s daughter Aaarthi received her Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree from National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in Bangalore, and a Master of Laws (LLM) from the National University of Singapore (NUS).  She works for Cisco in Bangalore, and she and her husband Anand Menon have a son.

Career, Family, Art – what a rich life!

Mallika leveraged her education in Electronics & Communication Engineering from CEG and worked on challenging and technically satisfying research projects. With her husband’s help, she nurtured her young family through those years and then went on to get more education on what was becoming the promising computer science field. She leveraged this education to launch her consulting practice and worked with some top-level companies in software engineering lifecycle management. She has always been interested in art and has continued to dabble in poetry and painting. She is a great role model for modern women whose careers are more often not in linear progression.  I asked Mallika for her advice to the present day girls and women about education, career, and family. She said: “Find what makes you happy, become good at it and don’t compromise too much!”

Acknowledgements

Mallika has been an excellent collaborator for this article.  She emailed me engaging accounts of her life, both professional and personal.   She dug out her old pictures and awards and helped me make this article interesting and engaging. My most sincere thanks.

Note

This is the fourteenth write-up in my ambitious journey of chronicling the life and work of the early CEG alumnae. If you like what you read, please “like” and share.

You can read the life stories of other CEG alumnae on LinkedIn (use #CEGalumnae in the search for posts/content) or my website Mathisarovar.

My goal is to encourage more girls to study engineering and science, enter the workforce and be equal partners with men in shaping the future of our world. Women face a lot of critical moments in their lives that make them want to leave the workforce. I am hoping the stories of the CEG women will inspire them to stay in it.

I will be writing more such posts here and then will be collecting them into a book for publishing.

If you have information about CEG alumnae from the 1940s to the 1960s, please contact me to help make these posts complete.

2 thoughts on “Mallika (Somasekhara) Chellappa: Researcher and Quality Leader

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s