Cloudbreak Health introduces “Women in Tech”, an interview highlighting the brilliance and passion of Nashina Asaria, Cloudbreak’s Chief Product & Marketing Officer.
Cloudbreak: Tell us a little bit about your background and area of study. Growing up, what did you think you would be doing? Is that where you ended up in life or did things take a different course?
Nashina: We grew up in Kenya as middle class, not super-rich. My dad’s an architect and my mother is a biochemist. I have a twin sister who’s 10 minutes older, she’s a real powerhouse. Growing up, I didn’t think about myself in the future much. I don’t typically tend to plan long-term in the future like that, but I always wanted to work on something meaningful. So, I graduated from high school and got admission and funding to attend the London School of Economics, studying Law and Political Science. I thought I was going to work in the UN.
I realized the UN doesn’t make changes quickly enough. And one of my weaknesses is I’m not very patient. And I decided I could do more, and I had a very good mentor, (an international lawyer) who advised me to consider the commercial world. I worked on retail bank strategies all over East, Central, and Southern Africa. I could see the difference it made in people’s lives to be able to have control of their money, and to make and grow it, and have it secure and run a business. So that was huge for me…In that, it really cemented that I would focus on projects that were in the private sector, but mission-driven. And that was at a time that was a new concept—the mission-driven private sector.
I transferred to Canada. It was really pivotal for my personal life. My sister and I ended up at the same office (different practices), in Toronto. So, I got to live with my twin again. I also built my relationship with my husband there. We moved to San Diego together… and that’s when I got into Tech. I got into a project with a small consulting firm, they worked on the HP Compact merger, I ended up leading the employee portal implementation and I saw the company use the merger to actually lay off 1000’s of people and it just shook me to the core. It was like I had built the hydrogen bomb. I felt like I could not believe I was part of this.
I resigned and I bought a day spa… And after two weeks into owning the spa, I was bored out of my mind. A guy I was working on a project with ask me to come and write a few requirements for a transportation payment system that was going to be able to process billions of transactions so people can ride subways and we’re doing it for the London underground. I knew how important that infrastructure is to that city. So, then I got excited.
After I started working in tech again, an amazing female executive who convinced me I should work for her at Qualcomm. She told me about a project that wasn’t cutting edge that was going to house a million books or more and that just captured my imagination. I was like wow, tech is going to change the world. And it happened to be the Kindle… I worked at Qualcomm on a couple of other projects, then ventured into a startup in the payment space.
After that was acquired by Verifone, I ended up working with Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong (a South African-American transplant surgeon, billionaire businessman, bioscientist, and media proprietor), and I learned a lot about healthcare in the US, and how much the drug industry really plays a massive role in the industry. How reactive it is vs proactive.
I learned about chronic disease; it didn’t really exist in my life until the US. I watched my mother’s blood pressure go up and it just wasn’t right. I ended up writing two recipe books with my mom so she could lose weight and get her blood pressure down. The change in diet and exercise was very effective, and I realized that healthcare is where I wanted to be. But I wanted to be on the tech side of healthcare working on delivering a more preventative, cost effective and proactive solutions vs. the clinical side or the pharma side where it was more about being reactive.
So that is how I met Jamey and Cloudbreak and became a part of the board. I never really planned. I think I have some guideposts and a framework. As long as I know that I am on a mission driven project and working with passionate, confident and skilled team, then I’m 100% in, and I’m in the moment and I do the best I can. I am very good at strategic thinking and planning at a detailed level, but not necessarily for myself. It’s for the company, for the team, for the product.
Cloudbreak: How do you balance life in the office and out?
Nashina: When I came to the US, I’d never heard of work-life balance. In Kenya, we just call it life—an integrated lifestyle. I spend individual time with each of my children; horse riding, painting, workouts with a 17-year-old. It’s our time together. I’m all about the framework. As long as I have a framework where I have activities with my children, husband, family, and extended family I focus on that moment. It’s high quality and low quantity, but it’s a huge impact.
Despite the challenge, I have an extremely supportive husband who is also a professional but has really championed me and my career and picked up all the domestic and child related things that I couldn’t take care of while traveling. Without him and his support I don’t think I could have accomplished anything professionally. We are really partnering in every aspect of our lives.
Cloudbreak: What advice would you give a woman who was trying to break into the field of technology, or has technology as an interest, to be successful in this area?
Nashina: I would say if you’re in the schooling part of it, you know, a teenager or in your 20’s, I would say become an engineer. Like truly jump in deep end of tech on engineering, artificial intelligence, machine learning. We just don’t have enough engineers. If you want to get into tech and you’re beyond the schooling, learn tech. Learn what it is. It’s very important to understand, because then when you’re on teams you can understand what’s working behind it. And if you have to market it, or if you have to package it, or if you want to use it in a service, you will be able to define the application and you can understand the building blocks.
I think tech needs women. Don’t be afraid, tech shouldn’t be scary. I find tech scares a lot of people and I don’t understand it, really. Once you get over the scary part it’s actually easier to understand than many things. Because its logic-driven.
Cloudbreak: What would you encourage women to bring with them as they make room in new industries?
Nashina: Strength! As a woman, I know what strength really feels like. As a woman, you really get to get through a lot personally and professionally and learn early on how to overcome challenges and setbacks. You also learn to practice self-care and society accepts it. For men it’s not as acceptable, there is this perception that they have to be harsh. As women, we are able to be vulnerable without that stigma. It’s accepted and we can be comfortable in it. Vulnerability is being open, adventurous, and taking risks, making mistakes, and recovering from them.
Cloudbreak: What do you believe would be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
Nashina: Mental Health. It’s important to take time for yourself: go outdoors, take time for self-care, and build self-confidence are important. Really taking care of your mental health, your emotional health, your whole-person health. One of the biggest challenges is finding purpose in life, in particular in the Western world, there are so many opportunities so much choice. There are so many glass ceilings that are broken, there’s so much attention and opportunity to really do whatever you want. You can be in the army, you can ride race cars, you can be a scientist you can go to the moon. There is so much you can contribute to climate change and all kinds of different ways and at different ages.
So, it’s inspiring. It’s the strength and the fortitude and the confidence to be able to do that because I see on the flip side, there’s a lot of anxiety and depression that comes from social media and gaming in particular where there is a lot of judgment and it’s easy for people to be hateful to each other. I hope women can overcome the challenge of finding confidence in themselves and their ability to contribute meaningfully in this world where there are judgments and criticism on digital platforms.
Cloudbreak: We spoke a bit about the twists and turns throughout your career. You’ve certainly had an impressive career path. It’s not easy for women to reach the executive level. What kind of sacrifices did it take to achieve your success?
Nashina: Oh wow! So, I’d say personally the sacrifice was family time in terms of quantity. I have found, up until this last year with the pandemic, the one aspect of my career that has been consistent is travel. And a willingness to travel is one of the barriers for women, for mothers. That is something you have to overcome and embrace. Because all of these guys are traveling, you know? When I travel, I am oftentimes one of the only women in the business class, everyone else is a traveling executive male.
But I was also very good (and I still am) about taking my time—mostly without pay—when I need it. So, it’s one of those things. You give the time when you can give it, but when you take your time—really take it.
And then to get into the C-Suite—that’s an interesting one. You know, when I was at Qualcomm they had this open-door policy, and I took it seriously. I’d walk into the CEO’s office and ask him questions. People would be like: what are you doing? But you know at 26 years old I thought “but, we have an open-door policy and I have a question about GPS and location on this unit”. And I think it is just a different mindset, I guess. I didn’t think it was different until afterward when I spoke to my 40-year-old white male boss, I was 26 at the time. He said, “Nashina, I just don’t know what to do with you. I can deal with other guys (people who fit the 40-year-old male professional profile). You, I don’t know what to do with you”.
I think there is a cultural imprint that might be needed to overcome for American-born minority women in order to make it. And I think the generation behind me, I can see it happening. So, in addition to the logistics and the travel, it’s also cultural and a mindset.
Cloudbreak: One of the things you mentioned early on in the interview is being mission-driven which is so important and really inspiring. What is your why?
Nashina: It’s an actual impact on people’s lives. I have to be able to correlate what I’m doing with a social impact. So, it has to be something like healthcare, education, transportation, I was doing solar projects in Zimbabwe—so energy, etc. Social impact is the thread I have to see, otherwise, it’s very difficult for me to get up in the morning and be motivated to do anything. So, in my mind when I sit down and I’m in calls with Yale New Haven and I hear Stacy talk about an ASL patient in the Emergency Room not being able to be cared for, I’m doubling down, and I know—we have got to solve this! And so, then I am able to stay up all night and look at call logs because I think about that ASL patient. That’s what keeps me motivated.