Meet a Dragon: Preeti Makhija
A startup veteran and accomplished engineer, Komodo’s Senior Director of Technical Program Management, Preeti Makhija, recounts her passion for cross-functional collaboration, discusses her unique leadership style, and shares what makes Komodo special.
Can you tell me a bit about your career?
When I started my career, the online world was taking off. I received a degree in microbiology and biochemistry from the University of Mumbai, then took a programming course that launched my career in technology. It was not a traditional path from an education perspective, but the timing and opportunity felt right. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the journey of being an engineer, working with engineering teams, and growing in that space. I joined Komodo a few months ago, and I'm really excited to continue my growth and learning here.
Why were you drawn to engineering?
I'm very analytical and detail-oriented. A lot of engineering is about applying logic and problem-solving, and for me, it has just been a great fit. I also enjoy deep-diving to understand the business use cases we are aiming to support.
I also love working in teams. As a software engineer, you’re always working in a group – writing modules together, collaborating to design and code, and finally building a product. You can’t work in a silo, and you have to work as a team. That strong culture and team spirit of the software industry has always been a huge draw for me.
Why did you decide to move from Engineering to Technical Program Management?
As I grew in my career, I wanted to be involved in more aspects across an organization. Being a Technical Program Management (TPM) leader increases my sphere of influence across the company. I always consider TPMs as connective tissue or glue across the company, where I’m not just influencing good practices in my division but influencing practices across the organization. For instance, I’ve been able to apply the objectives and key result planning process across the entire Product and Engineering organization. Being a TPM leader enabled me to do that; whereas in the past, I would have been able to influence only a slice of the pie.
It was a long and exciting road to get here! After over a decade in software engineering in the telecom industry, I had the opportunity to work at an early-stage technology startup in California, where I got visibility into how a company is run. While working in the Product and Engineering space with engineers to deliver products, I got an opportunity to contribute to several aspects of the company, from dealing with customers to helping with marketing, infrastructure, and support. Working at early and growth-stage startups has made me the pragmatic leader I am today, balancing process, technology, and people management. TPM is really a perfect role for me.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
As a TPM lead, I’m driving cross-functional synergies and making sure any processes, people, technology changes, or decisions in play are moving us in the right direction. I’m also responsible for leading critical technical programs’ status meetings, strategic planning, and workgroup alignment, in addition to providing program visibility by determining key success metrics and reporting frameworks to use.
A typical day at work also includes one-on-ones with the TPM team and my cross-functional peers and stakeholders. These conversations are an opportunity to better understand any open issues or challenges, and to get a sense of the broader priorities of the company. What are the immediate processes, people, or technology issues we need to respond to? I closely collaborate with both Product and Engineering leaders to answer these questions and ensure we stay on track to deliver according to the quarterly product plan.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how we measure our success as we grow.
As a team leader, what are your priorities in helping your team grow and succeed?
One great thing about joining Komodo is that I've inherited such a capable and motivated team. I’m playing a coaching role as a leader. At Komodo, I’ve made a point to prioritize knowledge-sharing with my team; whether it's nuggets of information from something I’m reading, a product feature, a healthcare domain fact, anything relevant!
You don’t become a subject matter expert overnight. It’s small pieces of information that you gather over time. I always want to create an environment where the whole team is constantly learning and encouraged to share their own knowledge, whether it useful product training or other tidbits. We’ll also carve out time for team members to show a presentation or demo of the product they’re working with, sharing that knowledge in a safe space among the team. In doing so, we’re also creating an environment where people are open to giving and receiving feedback and we're constantly elevating ourselves as a team.
You only recently joined Komodo in January 2021. What stands out to you about working at Komodo so far?
At Komodo, I’ve been impressed by everyone’s passion and motivation. You don’t need to push people to get things done. People are signing up to join because they really want to learn, contribute and grow. With my own hunger for knowledge and growth, it’s been a perfect match for me!
What is one piece of advice you would give someone joining a startup?
Don’t wait! There are a lot of problems to be solved, so get going! My job is exciting because we have to find roadblocks and remove them. There will always be 10 things to solve for, but you need to pick the right battles.
Finally, which ingredients do you think are most important to Komodo’s success?
Our core value of ‘seeking growth’ and inspiring folks to challenge themselves resonates with me. We’re all attacking problems together and trying to disrupt the industry through such a noble mission. This framework provides a great North Star for us to make decisions: I believe having a clear mission like ours – reducing the burden of disease – just makes it easier for us to focus or refocus, anytime we start to veer off the path.