Jenny Priesley speaks to Chandni Patel, director of engineering, Emotion Systems, about finding her way in a man’s world in the March edition of TVBE Magazine
Chandni Patel was never supposed to work in the technology industry. In fact, she says her path to director of engineering at digital workflow company Emotion Systems was “a bit of an accident.”
“I did a maths degree and planned to kind of work in finance because everyone who does maths either works in finance or becomes a teacher,” laughs the 28-year-old.
“I graduated without a job and I was given an opportunity to work with a start-up which needed someone to sit in a garage alone and do some work. I always thought of it as a temporary thing, it was going to be just for a year while I sorted myself out,” she continues. “I was terrible with computers and didn’t know how to code. They gave me a computer and a book and said ‘we want to write a product, so start learning’ and I just kind of started that way and I never left! I learnt on the job.”
Patel admits she’s not always been a big fan of computers: “I kind of hated computers because for my studies I did so much with pencil and paper and I didn’t like to do anything on a computer,” she smiles. “I kind of wish that I had been interested sooner, because it would have made all my coursework a lot easier if I had known you could have a computer program that would help you solve all your equations.”
Despite not initially intending to work within technology, it’s an area that Patel has history with. “I guess I was surrounded by technology because my dad worked in the industry,” she explains. “I had spent a summer working for a hardware company writing bits of software, so I’d come across it. It just wasn’t something I thought I would pursue until I was doing it.
Coding is definitely something Patel has grown to love, which is probably a good thing as it’s what she spends the majority of her working day on. “I run our R&D department; help with the design of a product and still do the majority of the coding as well. We’ll start each day with a meeting looking at overall design, what customers are interested in, what their feedback is. Then the majority of my day is spent coding it.”
So far, Emotion Systems has brought two products to market. EFF, its first, deals with audio loudness. It is a desktop tool focused on interactivity, allowing the user to see feedback and graphs, etcetera. Then about four years ago, it launched its second product, Engine. “We took the knowledge that we had from EFF – so files and loudness – and we made that in to a larger scalable system which has multiple audio processing nodules,” explains Patel. “We do things like the Dolby E encoder and decoder, upmix, downmix, a lot of audio processing, and we’ve created a project that will allow you to string together all of those modules and then scale it so that it can run up to eight files at a time. It has a service attached to it, so it’s got resiliency.”
In fact, Patel engineered the entire audio loudness correction product range for Emotion Systems. Not bad for someone who wasn’t much of a fan of computers! She says: “We started with a blank sheet of paper – we didn’t have any existing code. For a long time there was just me and a consultant who worked an hour a week with me. There was a lot of me just writing code and helping to develop it.”
Customers now include a variety of broadcasters both in the UK and around the world including the likes of Sky, Viacom, NHK, and the BBC. The company’s biggest customer is based in Amsterdam, but Patel has spent time travelling to Japan, Kuala Lumpa and Australia.
“We always work very closely with our customers during product development so we’re constantly designing and refining our products,” she says.
“The product is shaped by the people who use it as opposed to us sitting in a room and deciding how it’s going to work. We talk to the customer and they say ‘this is what the problems are, and this is how we would like to fix them.’ We want to make a product that people can use.”
The lack of women working within the broadcast technology sector is well documented. Has Patel, particularly as a young woman, faced any issues? “I’m very lucky that the people I work directly with at Emotion Systems, I’ve never had any issues with them,” she says. “I guess they maybe shield me. I think everyone’s had experiences that highlight that there is an issue.”
“Being very young as well, when I go into a technical meeting, I’ve been asked if I’m there to take notes. I try and laugh it off most of the time. I’ve had people say ‘oh, I’ll wait for someone technical’. I think you have to earn the respect, unfortunately it’s not given to you automatically. I do feel like if I was a middle- aged man it would be given to me automatically just from my title.
“But when I start to work with people, and they get to know what I do, I always let my work speak for me. I don’t engage with it very much because it’s just not worth the effort.”
So having said the above, what advice would Patel give to any young women currently at university who wants to enter this industry? “Nothing should stop you!” she insists. “If you work hard enough, you can prove that you’re just as good if not better than anyone. I was brought up to not really see the gender stereotype. I don’t see it as of much of an issue as it probably is. Which means I find it a lot easier to just laugh it off when it does happen. I don’t think should ever let someone stop you from doing what you want.”
See the complete article in the March edition of TVBE Europe magazine, page 44.