Rice University ECE graduates have been known to make significant contributions in a variety of fields, redefining the limits of what it means to be an electrical or computer engineer. We invite you to get to know our community and read about fellow Owls who share the Rice experience and can offer a viewpoint into the multitude of career options one can pursue “beyond the hedges,” be it industry, academia, non profit or startups.
This month, the spotlight shines on Dr. Chaitali Sengupta ‘95, formerly of Texas Instruments, co-founder of start-up SNRLabs, then CTO and Senior Vice President of SEVEN Networks, and now Vice President of Reliance Jio Infocomm. She tells us about her career, how she decides what paths to pursue, and her advice for current Rice students.
Name: Chaitali Sengupta, Ph.D. ‘95
Company: Vice President, Reliance Jio Infocomm
Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in India and went to college at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) for a B. Tech in Computer Science and Engineering (CSE). I worked at TI, India for one year before coming to Rice for my M.S./Ph.D. I Left Rice in 1999 to join TI, Dallas to build wireless chipsets. TI, India was a solid training ground for developing software and systems skills. TI, Dallas allowed me to learn both about wireless devices as well as infrastructure along with exposure to wireless standards bodies. After TI, I co-founded SNRLabs and was Chief Technology Officer through the life of the company. We developed intellectual property and radio management software for handsets. In February 2013, SNRLabs was acquired by Seven Networks, where I spent the last 18 months, with my last title being CTO and SVP, Engineering. Currently, I’m Vice President at Reliance Jio Infocomm.
Other interests include reading, crafts and exercise, and, most recently, gourmet food and food writing.
How did you become interested in electrical engineering, especially coming from computer science?
My B. Tech degree is in Computer Science and Engineering, which triggered my interest in computer architecture and its applications, which was a natural evolution into wireless systems and architectures. Influence of my teachers played a big part in this evolution as well as where the interesting problems were.
Why did you decide to choose Rice for your graduate education?
I was looking for a small school and Texas was preferred due to family reasons when I was deciding on a school in India. Also Rice’s Ph.D. fellowship program was very attractive.
Tell me about your company (Reliance).
Reliance Jio is in the midst of deploying India’s first nationwide 4G network. This network is part of Jio’s overall strategy, a strategy that supports a unique digital services platform and ecosystem poised to transform consumer, business, and industry day-to-day operations. Jio’s focus includes integrating media, social, and communications apps and services with a digital service framework that empowers and connects users, devices, and information to enhance today’s “digital life”.
Reliance Jio is part of the Reliance Group, India’s largest private-sector enterprise. Reliance Group includes a wide range of businesses, including petrochemicals, refining, exploration and production, and retail.
What was the spark that led to the launch of your start-up, SNRLabs?
It was a realization of a market need and the enthusiasm of the founding team. Also – we had several mentors who provided valuable advice and know-how when we first started, and throughout the life of the company.
What has been most rewarding about your career?
It is the flexibility that I have enjoyed to take risks and make choices that really excite me. I credit my educational background, mentors, and family for making that possible. More recently, in the last 8 years, working together with my husband has been rewarding in its own unique personal way.
What is an example of a tough decision you’ve had to make?
Personally -- giving up the security of a guaranteed paycheck when starting SNRLabs. Professionally – decisions related to hard choices especially deciding on a course of action NOT to follow.
What aspects of Rice helped you to determine what field you wanted to work in?
Rice helped me morph my interest areas from computer architecture to wireless systems. It was possible because of the atmosphere at Rice where a spirit of collaboration between faculty members and their students was stimulated.
How did you feel the faculty helped to guide you towards what you do now?
I have remained close to my advisors Prof. Cavallaro and Prof. Aazhang through all the years since I left Rice in 1999. They started me on my current career, helping me find an excellent position in TI, and continue to share their advice and support in all subsequent changes in my professional life.
What did you find to be the most helpful strategy to determine what career path you wanted to take after graduation?
Right after graduation, it is hard to really know what one wants! I use a very simple strategy of what “feels” right and what I know will make me happy on a day-to-day basis.
What memories from Rice really stand out?
The spirit of collaboration – pizza lunches with the ECE faculty and grad students – with one student presenting on a topic of their choice without any pressure of course work or research thesis milestones.
Who has been the most influential in your development?
Prof. Cavallaro and Prof. Aazhang have been my most valuable mentors through the years. I have also been fortunate to have several managers/supervisors at TI who have been instrumental in my development.
What advice would you give to Rice students based on your experiences?
Always be open to options. There is always another way of doing things and another potential path to follow that is worth considering.
We welcome suggestions of alumni to profile. Please email name, class year and a brief introduction to the individual to Jennifer Hunter or call her at (713) 348-4212.