Since our last profile of Rajinder Heir, she has taken on the position of Chief Technology Officer at the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. While this isn’t her first role in the C-suite, it is the first time she’s had to get acquainted with her new team while working remotely. “Since our platforms are accessed remotely to begin with, the needs of our users didn’t shift with the pandemic. But it was a new experience to get to know my team and stakeholders while we were all adjusting to those changes.”
The technology provided by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (“Commission”) serves various stakeholders including students, parents, schools and higher education institutions. One key platform takes students through the process of applying for and maintaining state financial aid while another maintains a repository of academic programs and much more. “We are working on a modernization initiative I am eager to see come to fruition. The finish line is in sight!” Heir explained.
She is also gratified that her keen interest in cybersecurity is an asset in her new role. Rajinder serves on two committees on the Indiana Executive Council on Cybersecurity and has written a diverse range of cybersecurity policies in the last couple of years. These include encryption key management, server hardening, wireless security management, and data classification, among others. “In college classes I enjoyed technical writing so I thoroughly enjoyed working on those policies. It was a good interplay of my natural ability and professional interest,” she said with enthusiasm.
In her role as CTO, Heir applies her existing skills while continuing to grow and learn new strategies. She shared that the Commission has been a longtime proponent of increasing STEM degree completions in Indiana and has also focused on educational equity for many years; there is a natural crossover of both priorities broadening the diversity of the workforce at the Commission. “My experience tells me it is important for any organization that its products and services be designed with an empathy-first approach. To do so, talented design teams deliver best when they reflect the customer base.”
As an emeritus board member of Women & Hi Tech, Rajinder is encouraged by the potential of the organization to inspire women through shared stories. “I want people to attend our events and walk away with actionable a-ha moments. Our Executive Women’s Forums provide exactly that. I also want people to come into Women & Hi Tech at the start of their career and find a soft place to land, to meet accomplished women in sectors such as IT, energy, life sciences, and engineering.” She added that in her view attracting male participation is an essential part of amplifying the organization’s message. “While we may reach male allies in high profile executive roles, it is pivotal to gain buy-in from aspiring leaders to cultivate talent pools. I’ve interviewed and worked with my share of network engineers,” she continued. “Almost none of them women. We are inching closer to the days of wider qualified candidate pools. My hat goes off to those men who attend our events and embrace our mission. Bring a co-worker!”
Asked what advice she would offer to young women who aspire to be executives in STEM, Rajinder spoke to gaining a variety of experiences as a foundation. “For me that came in various forms: high tech startup, public sector, insurance, telecoms, nonprofit and consulting. All of which enriched my IT career and led me to C-suite opportunities. For those starting a career in IT, I advocate for a stint in the public sector or the nonprofit world. I continue to be supportive of Women & Hi Tech, because it’s the best venue to see a snapshot of such journeys.”