Book Review - Daring To Be Different by Raji Rajagopalan

March 15, 2023

Daring To Be Different

I have been avid follower of Raji's writing since I met her virtually at a women's mentorship session one evening over a Microsoft Team's call in my apartment in Nairobi. When I learnt that she had published a book last December, I immediately bought it even though I had planned to read a different book in December and January. I just finished reading this book a few days ago and I decided to write a review, highlighting the aspects that resonated most with me.

Everyone has a story - Neil Labute

Raji starts her book with a painful story of the death of her mother at a tender age of 5. She talks about how her father became overwhelmed and that her older brother no longer had the sturdy leader he once had in their mom. Raji's life turned topsy-turvy following her mother's death and she became a migrant in her home country - moving from one female relative's house to another. Despite her broken beginnings, she learned to use her voice, to speak up for herself, to be nimble and resilient. She accepted her circumstances while also working fiercely to break free from them. And breaking free she did, she is now a technologist - an Engineering Director at Microsoft, a tech behemoth.

The best gift from a father to his child is Education and Upbringing - Muhammad

Raji talks about the war between her and her grandma during her stay with her. Her grandma wanted her to do the laundry and prepare her to be a charming daughter and dutiful daughter-in-law in the near future. Instead, she wanted to study, like her brother. Her father was very supportive of her education. Even though they did not have much while growing up, Raji notes that her father made sure she had pens and books she needed for school, all she needed to do was ask. Nelson Mandela once said that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world and I could not agree more. As a mother, I know too well the value of education. My parents afforded me the gift of education and I will pass on the same gift to my children.

Work is more than just a source of income

Some of us as women, who are privileged to get some form of education up until college level are perhaps fired up on the prospects of getting a rewarding employment after we graduate. At some point though, if we choose or circumstances lead us to, we get married and/or become homemakers and have children. For those who choose to have children especially, all of sudden you're confronted with a stark choice to lean out of your career either because the corporate norms do not work for you, or have no equal partnership at home or just not feeling cut out for that career path. As Raji notes, some choose to put their burden on someone else, a partner who may fail her or potentially lose a way to be gainfully employed. Don't get me wrong, I am not talking about the unfortunate circumstances like severe injury or death that force us to rely on one partner for some period of our lives. Instead, it's the intentional choice to forgo work completely in favour of pursuing another important yet unpaid work. Raji tells a story about how her aunt once told her the reason that made her work when she didn't have to and even under tough circumstances like using the public transportation in Delhi. Her response was that if she ever wanted to buy something as frivolous as a tube of red lipstick, she should not have to stand in front of her husband to ask for permission or money. I agree with Raji's aunt. Work is more than just a source of income - it gives you freedom, to choose what you can get for yourself. It can give you confidence and open up new worldviews and experiences that would otherwise be inaccessible, Raji states. It can bring meaning to your life, lead to personal growth and expose you to social experiences that widen your horizon. As a woman, I strongly believe that it is important to have some form of work, a business or a way to make some income for yourself and to engage with others outside your home.

Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience - Paul Coelho

In life, both professional and personal, at some point, many times even, we get a chance to do something new or one that takes us completely out of our comfort zone. In such times, fear threatens to stop us from taking that bold step and take on that grand project or move to a completely new country with no family or friend to take on that great opportunity. In her book, Raji recounts several occasions that she has learnt to manage her fear, to embrace the unknown and take on those bold opportunities that impacted her career and so can we. With the benefit of hindsight, you realize that you'll be fine as you gain confidence looking back at all the things you once thought were impossible.

You're Different And That's a Good Thing

Some of us as women in tech have been in places where we're different from the rest. You're the only female engineer or the only person of color or the only one from your community/race in that engineering class. The feeling of being different from the rest in the room can bring a lot of discomfort and many times, it can make us retreat and let others take the front row seat in the room because we think we're not good enough. I've been a victim of this too. But as Raji encourages us, we have to develop mantras to make us quiet the negative inner voice that shouts to us that we don't belong. Mantras like: "I have the right to my voice and my perspectives.", "I am enough". Raise your hand to do those big, scary things - it'll boost your self-confidence.

The Success Equation

Success Equation No, not the believe it, manifest it strategies that are making rounds in the internet! This equation is practical and it is bound to yield a result. You need to be passionate about your work. Without passion, curiosity or interest, you will not bring your best game to work. You need to continue to hone your craft, to become better at what you do. Also, you need to know the value your work brings and work on projects that are core to your customers and your company as a whole. Finally, your work needs to be seen. Now, all you Math nerds out there know that if Exposure is 0, then the whole equation yields a result of 0. Be comfortable with talking about your work and let others talk about your work too as you do the same for them. This, my friends is Raji's equation to career success.

This book has much more than the few aspects that I highlighted above. It talks about how to deal with meeting jitters, how to slay the dragon of envy, how to pay attention and much more! Grab yourself a copy to read it in the course of the year!

I loved and resonated with this book so much. Like Raji, I consider myself an accidental techie, randomly choosing to pursue a diploma in IT and relinquishing two accounting options following a Math scholarship from highschool. Do I love being here though? Heck yeah!!! Like her, I am woman, a woman of color in an engineering world that is male-dominated. I've felt like a fraud, a misfit on many occasions but I've also had a few successes. I'm super grateful to Raji for sharing her stories and very practical and helpful tips that will definitely be instrumental in my career just as they've been to her mentees. This is my first read of Daring To Be Different but will certainly not be the last. I will keep it be as a reference, an encyclopedia to help me and many others who will read her book.