Q&A: Talking with Sindhu Avalokita, Vice President, Operations Leader for North Texas & Oklahoma
Sindhu Avalokita, Vice President, Operations Leader for North Texas & Oklahoma at Jacobs shares her thoughts on leadership, recalls a scary but ultimately rewarding career change, and explains her interest in every letter in STEAM.
Sindhu Avalokita has an interest in every letter in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.)
She had always enjoyed math and creating and fixing things, but also loves reading and credits her obsession with words to her father, who was an English and Linguistics professor in India.
She joined Jacobs as a civil and transportation engineer, but soon pivoted to roles in finance and operations management. We caught up with Sindhu to learn more about this change, her advice for those making a similar change, her thoughts on leadership and all things STEAM.
Can you explain your role today with Jacobs?
I oversee and manage the operations for People & Places Solutions (P&PS) in North Texas and Oklahoma. My goals are delivering on our commitments to our clients, creating an environment and culture that supports our workforce, partnering with sales and leadership to ensure we’re looking ahead and building a pipeline of projects, and continue to establish our brand locally.
What’s a typical day like in your role?
There is always something occurring - I can admit that I rarely have an uneventful day. That’s what makes this role fun and challenging at the same time. A typical day for me involves engaging on staff, client or office issues that might come up, reviewing key projects, pricing new work, checking in with key clients as it relates to our delivery, engaging on the sales front with pursuits and key client account planning, and communicating key messages to my staff. There are always personal initiatives too! I’m currently working on streamlining engagement with targeted organizations in the community that further establishes our brand and values in the local community.
You have a background in civil engineering and began at Jacobs as a civil and transportation engineer. What inspired you to pursue an education and career in STEAM?
I have always been very fond of math and I enjoyed creating and fixing things. The rest of my family is pretty much all into the arts and so my parents were happy to see my interests in something different. Engineering felt like the right fit for me given my interests. Civil Engineering was interesting to me simply because it involved the creation of something that I could see once built.
You then took on roles in finance and operations management. What inspired that change and growth?
My change out of engineering and into finance and operations management came about due to immigration. A few years into engineering, I had to make a career-changing decision so I could continue working for Jacobs and get onto a faster path to becoming a U.S. Citizen. I always knew even in my early years in India that I wanted to study, work, and settle down in the U.S. When I had a choice ahead of me to go on a faster track that meant 20+ years or so to becoming a citizen vs. potentially twice that, as scary and hard as it was to make that choice, I knew it was the right one for me and my family. It was probably one of the scariest things I remember doing, changing careers without any education in finance. But it’s also something I’m most proud of. The courage it took to leap into a field I had no education or experience in and to give up engineering for a while was something I remain most proud of to date. I picked Project Controls/Finance since it dealt with math and numbers. I had to work extra hard to understand a field that I knew nothing about, but I gave it my all and ended up enjoying it very much.
What advice would you give to someone looking to explore another career path?
Just do it! What I’ve seen through my own experience is that regardless of your career path, it’s important to recognize that there is no substitute for hard work, a strong work ethic and a great attitude. Sometimes these career moves might feel backwards or might mean you have to give up on a title or position, but the beauty of it is that you will learn something completely new and can only learn and grow from it. If you’re lucky, you might end up loving it. My advice to anyone considering a change in career is to stop lingering around the decision, take the leap forward and then give it your best.
What does leadership mean to you?
To me, the ability to positively influence people on a team toward achieving a vision is what makes a great leader. While there may be many ways to do this, when I think of great leaders, I think of certain key qualities. Courage, leading by example, being genuine and empathetic, fostering an environment where there’s trust amongst people, drawing a vision and leading and influencing people towards it are what come to mind.
How are you involved in leadership today?
Every day, through my role, I feel like I’m learning about different aspects of leadership. To help me get better, I applied and got selected for ‘Leadership Dallas’, which is a premier leadership development program that the Dallas Regional Chamberruns every year. I’m excited to learn about issues important to the future of our region and how I can play a part in it as a local leader in the area. I’m hoping to come out of it a better leader and bring back some strong and strategic relationships with other leaders and organizations in this area.
What’s the most fulfilling part of your career and your work?
In all my roles, what I enjoy most is to be able to remove roadblocks, come up with solutions and allow for people’s potential to show. We have a very smart workforce, but often the smallest roadblock creates challenges to take ideas and solutions forward.
When you aren’t working, what would we be most likely to find you doing?
Reading. I used to be an avid reader as a child and then gave it up during college and early work and family years. Over the last couple of years, I’ve picked the habit back up again and look forward to pockets of time when I can sink in and read a book.
People would be surprised to know that I…
I’m obsessed with words and their meaning. I laugh about this a lot, but I’m a thoroughly confusing, split personality with interests in every letter of STEAM. It’s something that was part of my childhood. My father was a professor of English and Linguistics back in India and as a young kid, I watched him study and explain the roots of words, how they’re pronounced and myriad other things. He found a way to bring words to life in my head and it’s something I carry with me even today. Every time I hear a word that isn’t familiar, I must look it up right away and know what it is, the origin, pronunciation and so on.
What do you enjoy most about being a part of Jacobs?
I enjoy the fact that I’m always learning and growing at Jacobs. If I want to learn something about our business or about a particular solution we’ve implemented on a project, anything at all, I know I can find a resource that is willing to spend some of their time on me and help me learn and understand. We have such a large network of smart and talented people and over time I’ve been able to build a strong network that I can pull and learn from anytime.
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