Princeton A-Z | Search

Vidya Krishnan '95, Engineer, Nortel Networks

Electrical Engineering

A family tradition

Within my extended family, there are many engineers. With such strong examples, it was easy for me to develop an intellectual passion for applied problem solving -- and quite impossible to subscribe to the customary view of engineering as an impractical field for women. Throughout my life, this wonderfully ''biased'' perspective has encouraged me to pursue what I love and to derive satisfaction from loving what I do.

At Princeton, I chose to major in electrical engineering, eventually specializing in communication networks. Our EE graduating class had fewer than 25 students; I was one of only two women in the department. I chose this technically sophisticated field for some rather nontechnical, naive reasons: I believed this was a viable, almost ''family-proven'' way for me to learn how to make things better in the world. Moreover, I never believed my choice of major had to be exclusionary: Princeton's signature assertion is that a grounding in both liberal arts and science is critical to success in either field individually.

An intellectual passion

The reality of my Princeton education was markedly different from my freshman expectations. But in the years since then, these experiences have acquired a retrospective value far greater than any I imagined while I was there. I remember courses that were enrapturing about mathematics, powerful and imaginative transformations, and elegant optimization techniques. I also remember the sinking feeling of watching nearly half of my EE colleagues leave the department in the first two years to pursue other majors. Next came the fearful realization that most of these people had seemed to grasp the fundamental concepts far better than I! So what was I still doing there? At times, the only response to that question was, ''I am doing what I really want to do, though perhaps not what I'm best at.'' I often wondered what sort of engineer I'd become.

Now, 10 years later, I know the answer. I am a good engineer, well respected, technically literate, and still deeply convinced that what I do makes a difference. I have worked for Nortel Networks since 1998, and currently lead two teams that help design and implement GSM wireless networks throughout North and South America. Even when corporate objectives seem overwhelming, I hang on to the basic altruism of my job -- we build the wireless networks that help people connect to one another, everywhere.

I also know now that with enough time, training, and tenacity, technical comprehension is a sure thing. Passion, on the other hand, is too elusive and too important to enduring happiness to be ignored. Princeton is not so much where I learned the details of my major -- that knowledge came more from graduate school and professional life. But it will always be the place where I learned how to learn and how to love learning by pursuing my intellectual passions.

Solving problems

My EE research taught me how to solve problems; my freshman seminar in civil rights taught me how to write and reason; my art history experience in Greece taught me how to appreciate what the imagination can do -- the varied education of my past continues to enrich my professional and personal life. My Princeton experiences also taught me to embrace, rather than resent, the constant reinvention that is necessitated by technological evolution in my company. The happy memories of those four years often propel me to rise above the corporate grind by reminding me of a higher purpose: To enrich and balance my life and to make life better for the people I lead.

In our family there is double evidence of this benefit. My husband, Karthik Vasanth, was a Ph.D. student in the EE department at Princeton for the same four years I was there. He is equally convinced that his professional success is most attributable to a zeal for problem solving and learning. I believe this zeal is the difference between an enriching career and an endless, passionless pursuit of so-called useful topics. It is an enthusiasm that comes from having used one's interests, and not just some worldly common sense, to shape those precious, fleeting moments that are a Princeton education.

prev | next | top