Sharada Bose spoke to engineering students while in Oregon to receive an award from the College of Engineering.
At age 19, Sharada Bose moved from India to Corvallis, Oregon, having never been in the U.S. before. It was 1981, and she recalls being amazed at the cash registers in Fred Meyer, thinking they were computers. It was her lack of knowledge that inspired her to pursue computer science.
“I didn’t want to be in the I-don’t-know camp,” Bose said.
It was the start of a journey at Oregon State University that propelled her into a 24-year career with HP, and a second career as the chief operating officer at Way.com, a Silicon Valley start-up. Her accomplishments were honored this year by an award from the College of Engineering to the Academy of Distinguished Engineers.
Her second nudge toward computer science came when she visited the Kerr Administration Building to seek advice from a counselor. Bose will never forget the moment. The counselor had a high beehive hair-do, she looked over her glasses at Bose while continuing to type on her typewriter and said, ’Dear, it’s all about computers. All the research shows that for the next 25 years it’s all about computers. Go into computers and you will be successful.’
“And that was it!” Bose said. “I was going to give it a shot.”
It was not all easy, and she was plenty nervous trying to talk her way into an introductory computer science class. She got her first look at how hard it would be when the professor told her she would need perseverance to pursue a technology degree, and she did not even know what the word meant. It turns out she had it.
“I was good student. I went to office hours and I sat up front. But it’s a two-way street. Nobody said ‘Why do you keep bothering me?’ The professors took the time and answered my questions, and they made it possible for me to become who I am,” Bose said.
She persevered through two degrees at Oregon State: a bachelor’s in 1984, and a master’s in 1988. From there she headed directly to HP in Corvallis, and that same year her partnership with Oregon State began. She was always the first to volunteer for recruiting events at Oregon State.
“I hired several people from OSU, particularly from the computer science department. I brought them into HP and I’m very happy and very proud I did that. It was a partnership that was a win-win for everyone,” Bose said.
Although she moved to Silicon Valley for a position at HP headquarters she continued to retain her connection to Oregon State as a lifetime member of the Alumni Association and with regular donations to the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. More recently, she created an endowment in her name which supports a female student in computer science. She also hopes to participate in a start-up event on campus as a judge.
"The professors took the time and answered my questions, and they made it possible for me to become who I am."
She remains grateful to Oregon State for putting her on a path that turned out to be more than she could imagine as a 19-year-old. Through her career at HP she was able to participate in the technological revolution that the career counselor had foreseen.
“I was part of the movement that changed what computers can do. I helped create the technology — the core operating systems of hardware and systems programming — that is powering computing today,” Bose said.
After retiring from HP she was able to pursue another dream to work for a start-up. Her role at Way.com is to guide the co-founders in growing their business, for which she is using all the lessons learned while at HP. The business aims to be the “Amazon of services” by providing one place to book everything including restaurants, concert tickets and parking. Founded in 2013, the company has seen rapid growth in the last couple of years.
“The company has been doubling in growth year after year, and we have raised two rounds of funding. And I’m driving it — I can't think of anything else that's more exciting!” Bose said.
Her career is not her only accomplishment. Bose raised two children as a single mom, is a community leader serving on several non-profit boards, a classical Indian dance artist, and a counselor for victims of sexual assault which she sees as even more rewarding than her career.
“The monetary rewards from my day job doesn’t compare to the feeling that I changed someone’s life for the better,” Bose said of her counseling work.
Although she recognizes she got where she is today through her own perseverance, she is also always quick to thank the people that helped her along the way.
“It's the education I got at Oregon State that helped me become a confident strong person. Not only can I be successful in my career, but I can do these other things that I couldn't have done otherwise,” Bose said. “So there are many ways I'm thankful to OSU.”