Co-founder of a multi-billion dollar company says a lesson from her dad was 'the single biggest influence' on her career

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

Self-made millionaire Neha Narkhede left India in 2006 to get her master's in computer science at Georgia Tech. After graduating in 2007, she landed a job at Oracle and then at LinkedIn, where she worked as a software engineer.

In 2014, she and two of her LinkedIn colleagues launched streaming company Confluent. Today, it's valued at $2.5 billion and Narkhede, the chief technology officer, is one of America's richest self-made women, according to Forbes.

The 35-year-old owes some of her success to her dad, she tells CNBC Make It: "When I was growing up, he selected books and told me stories of women who were trailblazers in very male-dominated fields.

"He picked examples from many different walks of life: I read books about Indira Gandhi, who was the first female prime minister of India. He told about Indra Nooyi, who is a woman of Indian origin who went on to become CEO of PepsiCo, and about Dr. Bedi, who was the first female head of the Indian police offices."

Narkhede didn't realize it at the time, but discussing their stories "cultivated a sense of empowerment in me," she says. It gave her the belief that, "if people like me can do this impossible thing, then I can too."

To this day, learning about women who broke barriers remains "the single biggest influence on my career path," she adds.

If people like me can do this impossible thing, then I can too.
Neha Narkhede

Narkhede has picked up more lessons throughout her career. She's learned that, as a woman trying to get ahead in a male-dominated field, it helps to "be a little deaf," she says. "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."

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