When she was a student at the University of Colorado, Bhavna Chhabra was invited to be a research assistant on a project — and it ended up changing her life. “I was supposed to go back to India and get married,” says Bhavna. “I wasn’t going to pursue computer science.” But the professor who asked her to participate in the project had shown her an article about Arati Prabhakar, who’d recently been appointed the head of NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology).
“This completely changed my mindset. She was originally from Delhi, India, my hometown, and that spoke to me. I saw myself in her. Twenty-five years later, here I am.” (Fun fact: That professor? His name is Mike Schwartz, and he’s also a Googler.) Bhavna, who’s an engineering director, is always happy to share her story — and here are three important lessons she learned.
The most challenging times can lead to the best things.
In 2010, Bhavna was diagnosed with cancer. “I had no idea how I would fight this thing while continuing to show up as a mother,” she says. “I had two kids at the time, ages 6 and 8.” Bhavna tackled her frustration with the situation by giving herself the gift of trying new things. “My kids and I decided to learn to ski, climb and backpack,” she says. “We did it all!” Not only did Bhavna beat cancer, but she was promoted at the company where she worked at the time a year after her diagnosis — and her kids say it brought them closer as a family.
Share your passion.
In addition to mentoring women at Google who work all over the world, Bhavna also helps guide women in her community. “I use my megaphone in my public role as the overall manager of the Google Boulder office to reach out to women and girls at Colorado universities and high schools, participating in panels, speaking in small groups and classrooms and mentoring,” she says. Bhavna hopes that by sharing her non-traditional journey to Google, other women will consider pursuing STEM careers, too.
Don’t wait until you’re “ready.”
Something Bhavna’s learned is that there’s no such thing as the perfect time. “Just dive in when you think you are 80% ready,” she says. “And chances are, you’ll succeed.” Earlier in her career, Bhavna tried to plan things five or even 10 years in the future — but that rigid structure didn’t work. “Over time, I’ve learned to think about roles I want and be open to opportunities that arise that could help me get to that end goal.”