Nalini graduated from College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG), Chennai, India, in 1970. She has many firsts to her name in CEG, many of which, she fought for. She had a very successful career first in AT&T’s Bell Laboratories, Columbus, Ohio, and later in Lucent Technologies where she was a Director and Chief Strategist. Post Bell Labs, her career included a startup and several consulting companies where she was involved in design, testing, new product introduction, business development, and strategy planning. She is now starting the next chapter in her life, retiring, and moving to Florida. She overcame many difficulties in her life, and her life story is truly inspirational for today’s girls and women who have to navigate this complex and demanding world of careers and families.
Nalini was born on September 7, 1948, in Bangalore. Her father Parthasarathy worked at the British Government Electricity Department which later became Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB). He was a well-known transformer designer. Nalini’s traditional Iyengar family was steeped in family values and spiritual practices. Her father never missed a day of performing his morning and evening rituals of chanting Gayatri Mantra and Vishnu Sahasranamam. Nalini’s mother Radha was a Sanskrit major and was married at age 16. She was a homemaker with a strong belief in women’s place being the home, supporting the husband and nurturing children.
Nalini is second in a family of five children. She has one older sister, two younger sisters and a younger brother, who is the youngest in the family, thirteen years younger to Nalini.
Growing up, Nalini was very close to her father, and her paternal grandfather. Her father considered her the “oldest son” until Nalini’s brother was a toddler. Nalini used to play bridge with her mother, father, and grandfather. She loved to fix broken appliances at home, encouraged by her father. She was her father’s biggest fan, and his side-kick, in his hobby of inventing small gadgets to help his mother and wife’s household chores. Nalini remembers shopping with her father at Moore Market next to Madras Central station in the early morning hours to find scraps to build all sorts of little homemade appliances. This hobby progressed to fixing old cars. Nalini was her father’s faithful apprentice and worked with him to rebuild an entire transmission system for his Vauxhall 12.
Parthasarathy‘s work in bringing electricity to many villages and towns in Tamil Nadu resulted in frequent transfers and relocations. Nalini’s parents wanted stability for their daughters and sent Nalini and her older sister to live with their grandmother in Bangalore. After studying in Bangalore for several years, Nalini finished her later years at schools in Chennai and Pondicherry, and her Matriculation from Cuddalore. She completed the Pre-University Course (PUC) at Seethalakshmi Ramaswami College, Tiruchirappalli, and applied to CEG from Cuddalore (South Arcot District).
Nalini blazed the path for the girls who came after her in CEG in many ways. It took more than twelve petitions from her to find accommodation closer to the campus and she became the first woman CEG student to be admitted to the hostel in Madras Government Polytechnic for Women (WPT) where May George (CEG 1947) was the Principal. Being a very spirited girl, Nalini chaffed under the unrealistic rules set by the WPT hostel management. However, she sought and obtained special privileges for the CEG girls in the hostel, compared to the polytechnic students.
At CEG, she fought to get an exception from the rule that marked the students with half a day of no-attendance, for being late by ten minutes to the early morning workshops in civil and mechanical engineering. Living off-campus, the earliest public transportation that could get her to the campus was at 6:45 am, while the classes started at 6:30 am. She also petitioned the college for girls to compete in games and debates, giving the CEG girls’ debate team a start. She was joined by her junior V.R. Radha Basu (CEG 1971) in competing against women at other local colleges.
Nalini remembers her years at CEG as hard. She was harassed by the boys, the instructors, and even lab attendants. She progressed through her classes despite many direct and indirect proposals of marriage sent to her and her parents by instructors and seniors. She credits Professor Peer Mohammed of Mechanical Engineering, and Principal Hegde, for the mentoring and support that made her student life bearable. Her mother meanwhile insisted on Nalini getting married before she graduated, and arranged her marriage in June 1969. Nalini spent her last year at CEG as a married woman. That year, due to an indefinite strike that affected CEG, Nalini left Madras to live with her husband in Bombay. When she returned to continue her studies, she was pregnant. She took her final exams in her second trimester of pregnancy. She graduated with bachelor’s degree in Electronics & Communication Engineering in June 1970, and in October of that year, she had her first daughter.
Career and Continuing Education
Nalini joined CEG in 1971 as an Associate Lecturer in ECE. While the college had women faculty in humanities and science departments, Nalini and S. Shantha have the distinction of being the first women engineering lecturers in the college. Nalini taught Automatic Telephony and Network Analysis to ECE majors and Applied Electronics to Electrical Engineering majors. After completing two years at her job in CEG, Nalini traveled to the USA with her daughter in May 1973 to join her husband who had gone there in 1971.
In the USA, Nalini worked as a junior engineer at the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C. Concurrently she enrolled at Howard University and received her master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. There she worked with Dr. Norman Mills and helped the school achieve its accreditation in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1975.
Nalini joined AT&T’s Bell Labs in Columbus, Ohio, in 1976 and held many leadership roles there working in switching systems. In 1981, while attending continuing education classes at Ohio State University (OSU), she was elected the Chairman of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society, Columbus Chapter, and also the Chairman of Student Activities of OSU. She worked on Robotics, Artificial Intelligent Systems, Speech Recognition Systems and Software Optimization during this period and met many experts at Battelle Foundation and the leading software architects at Bell Labs.
In 1983, she moved to the New Jersey office of Bell Labs, where she continued to work in Power Systems for Transmission department, and Signaling Systems, and then moved on to Wireless Systems. During this time, she acquired a second master’s degree in Computer Science from Stevens Institute of Technology. She continued her education and went on to get an MBA in Finance and International Business from the NYU Stern School of Business.
After the breakup of AT&T in 1995, she served in Network Systems, later named Lucent Technologies. There her career progressed with many leadership roles until her retirement in 2000 as a Director and Chief Strategist after over twenty-four years of service in the telecom industry.
Nalini loved every position she held in Bell Labs and learned the art of assimilation in the corporate world. Since 1984, every year she has won Significant Individual Contribution award. During 1987-88, her work as the Chairwoman of Division 524 Affirmative Action Advisory Committee won her the division’s Affirmative Action Award.
In 2001, she joined QuickSilver Technologies (now defunct) as the Director of Business Development and Strategy. Here, she developed key business initiatives to introduce a breakthrough technology solution in silicon, known as dynamic silicon. She helped raise investment funds for the start-up, and formulated strategic plans and targets with co-founders of the business.
Jaime Cummins, General Manager of Micron Technology, was a founder and the CEO of QuickSilver. He has this to say about Nalini:
“Nalini worked for me at QuickSilver Technology as Director of Business Strategy and performed in an outstanding manner. She led the definition of the technology licensing program and developed a very powerful revenue model for the Company. This role required her to interact closely with our investors, internal groups, spin-out companies, and external customers.”
Nalini went on to found her own consulting firm in 2003 called Kapilo LLC, where for three years she managed investment funds through expertise in options trading. Later she founded a consulting group called Nu- Tao-Associates LLC, which helped analyze technologies and systems in various phases, from new product introduction through design and development, and positioning in the marketplace.
In 2017, Nalini decided to wrap up her consulting practice and move to Florida. She decided to explore selling real estate and got her license in New Jersey.
Post Technical Career
Nalini recently joined Berkshire Hathaway Home Services at Fox & Roach as a real-estate sales agent. At the same time, she is working on her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D., in Quantum Integrative Medicine, and translating her maternal grandfather’s Ayurveda book into English. He passed away before Nalini was born, but had kept extensive notes written in an ancient variation of Kannada (one of India’s official languages) that Nalini cannot read. She is paying an educator in Mysore to read it in order to do the translation.
Nalini lost her father in 1999, and her mother in 2004. She was able to spend some time with her parents before her father’s death. Nalini’s sisters are homemakers: two of them have married children and rapidly growing grandkids; the youngest sister has two unmarried kids pursuing their higher education. Her brother and his wife and their teenage daughter live in Wisconsin.
Nalini is very grateful to four men who were the pillars of her life: her father, her paternal grandfather, CEG Principal Hegde and Mr. R. Natarajan, the first registrar at IIT Madras. Each of them taught her the art of courage, conviction, discipline and the dogged pursuit of any goal worth having.
Nalini married her first husband V. S. Badari in 1969 while she was still a student in CEG. She was probably the only female student in CEG to go on with her education after being married, and write her final exams while pregnant with her first daughter. After arriving in the USA, for various reasons, the marriage did not work out, and Nalini got her divorce in 1982.
She then married her best friend and colleague, Thomas Uhrig, in 1983. Thomas, or Tom as he prefers to be called, is a Fulbright fellow with his Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Like Nalini, he too had an illustrious career at Bell Labs and was one of the first Distinguished Members of Technical Staff. He retired from Bell Labs in 1995, after twenty-six years of service in fundamental studies, power systems, and systems engineering. Tom is still working as a consultant and is highly sought after for his valuable insight into analyzing complex systems. He is an astronomy buff and together Nalini and Tom love Robotics and Quantum Physics.
Nalini has two daughters, Vanitha Milberg, and Vasantha Kostojohn, both Computer Science graduates from Cornell University. Vanitha is a Managing Director at BlackRock and Vasantha Kostojohn is the Director of Product Management at DreamBox Learning. Both were recipients of the Jonathan Marx award at Cornell (normally given to a graduating senior as voted on by both faculty and students on the overall values demonstrated by students over the four-year term). Both are married to Cornell graduates as well. Vanitha is married to Justin Milberg who completed his Business Degree at Cornell and his MBA in Business and Finance at Wharton. Vasantha is married to Scott Kostojohn who is also an engineering alumnus from Cornell University.
Nalini is blessed with four grandchildren: Devin and Anya Milberg, Alex and Peter Kostojohn. Nalini cherishes every moment she has with her grandkids.
Nalini pursues spirituality with equal zest as everything else in her life. She loves to visit ancient temples in India and spend moments of silence contemplating the past events that led to the existence of these temples. Nalini’s Guru is Amma Sri Karunamayi with whom she has visited over hundred and twenty temples and from whom she learned many untold and unwritten facts about these temples. Nalini has chronicled these visits and enjoys telling their stories.
Nalini and Tom meditate together, read to one another, listen to interesting lectures, travel around the world, and spend time on their patio with their telescopes watching the clear skies. Together Nalini and Tom have traveled to over sixty countries and all seven continents.
Still Going Strong
Nalini’s long and distinguished technical career and her life rooted in spirituality will inspire women, and also men, to excel in their pursuits.
Recently I had the pleasure of Nalini’s visit to my house after many years of not seeing each other. Her enthusiasm for life has not diminished one bit but is now tempered by the wisdom only life experiences can provide. She says:
“Life has a way of turning around on its own when we view responsibilities as privileges and constraints as opportunities to explore. All of us as women have worked twice as hard to be considered only half as good, but the real beauty behind it is that that was never a challenge for any of us.”
Well said! Here is to her continued success for many years to come!
Nalini and I had many email communications where she talked about her experiences in CEG, and life. I am grateful to her for giving me the privilege to write about her interesting and inspirational life. She also provided her old family picture and the current one. Her help in editing this article has been invaluable.
Two of the old pictures in the articles, as well as the picture of Nalini and Tom, came from Babuji Reddy (CEG 1970)’s collection. Thank you, Babuji.
This is the nineteenth 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.
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 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.