Co-founder of a multibillion-dollar company: Here's how to get ahead in your career

Neha Narkhede, CTO and co-founder of Confluent
Source: Confluent

Self-made millionaire and chief technology officer of Confluent Neha Narkhede got her first computer when she was eight years old and living in India. She's been hooked on tech ever since.

"It was unique in those times back in India to have a computer and so somewhere, deep down, I was very appreciative," she recalled on an episode of "Behind the Tech with Kevin Scott." "And then it became the tool that fueled my curiosity."

Narkhede moved to the U.S. in 2006 to get her master's in computer science from Georgia Tech. After working as a software engineer at LinkedIn, she co-founded streaming platform Confluent in 2014 with two of her LinkedIn coworkers. Today, the company is valued at $2.5 billion. 

For women trying to get ahead in a male-dominated field, like tech, it helps to "be a little deaf," she tells CNBC Make It. "You want to preserve your grit and your sense of ability among quite a lot of skepticism that feeds in from the outside. Being a little deaf helps quite a bit — it's a survival strategy."

Along those same lines, "If you encounter something that looks like a ceiling, assume it's a glass ceiling and try to smash it — but if it turns out to be a stone or concrete one, move on," she adds. "That's what I do."

It's also important to "develop a ton of grit," says Narkhede, who made Forbes' 2019 list of America's richest self-made women. "That's the one quality that has helped me navigate this field to reach the other side, where you can share your story and inspire the next generation of female leaders."

If you encounter something that looks like a ceiling, assume it's a glass ceiling and try to smash it — but if it turns out to be a stone or concrete one, move on.
Neha Narkhede
CTO and co-founder of Confluent

Grit — often synonymous with mental toughness and a quality that helps you persevere in the face of obstacles — is something anyone can improve, she says: "I think you can work on anything. … If you spend enough time and you put enough focus into it, you can absolutely learn it."

Being mentally tough can separate you from the pack. As psychologist Angela Duckworth found after years of studying what it takes to be successful, raw talent alone isn't always enough. You need resilience to help you persevere even in the face of obstacles, she writes in her book "Grit": "Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn't."

Another way to get ahead in your career is to simply ask for what you want. "The one thing I do that I encourage minorities to do is to ask for things explicitly until you hear a clear no," Narkhede tells Make It.

"It's important to do that because you may not be handed down those opportunities," she continues. "The industry still evaluates women on experience alone, while they evaluate men on potential, so you will be waiting a long time for that opportunity if you don't specifically ask for it."

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