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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Obilisetty, Hassoun, Snyder, Willis: ignore networking at your own peril

June 20th, 2013 by Peggy Aycinena

Great if you were able to attend DAC in Austin this month. Even better if you were able to attend the Monday afternoon Pavilion Panel on the how-and-why of networking for career growth. The topic may seem irrelevant to some of you, but networking sits as the center of successful career development and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.

Sashi Obilisetty, Director, R&D at Synopsys, assembled a seasoned panel of experts to discuss the issue – How networking is crucial to professional growth – with the June 3rd panelist including Tufts University Professor and DAC 2014 General Chair, Dr. Soha Hassoun, Calibra Consulting President Jan Willis, and Blue Pearl Software VP Kavita Snyder. The panel discussion began with Jan Willis:

Jan Willis – I want to share three perspectives on the issue. First, networking matters a great deal – for changing jobs, for moving into other fields, and for changing your career trajectory. I didn’t realize how much it mattered until I found that 100-percent of my current business in consulting is a result of networking.

Second, sponsors are very different from mentors, not at all the same. Sponsors tap you on the shoulders and point out when a job is available that would be good for you going forward. Third, networking is critical and it’s important to spend time on it. LinkedIn is a wonderful thing, but it offers you a false sense of security that you have great connections. If you’re not working at networking, [your network] won’t work for you.

Soha Hassoun – I would like to emphasize that it’s important to network early on in your career. Some people wait until they are at the mid-point in their careers, but that is too late. Whether in academia or industry, it holds true – you need to start early.

Sashi Obilisetty – Kavita, given that you started college at the age of 14, what are your perspectives on networking?

Kavita Snyder – Yes, I started working at 18 and did not realize that more was needed than just technical competence. Yes, you have to really be passionate about your job, but you also have to work on a daily basis to create and grow your network. You need to know to add value to other people’s lives – that’s really important.

Sashi Obilisetty – The only network I knew coming out of school was a computer network. What do you see, Soha, as the value in networking?

Soha Hassoun – First and foremost, a network gives you support in the tasks you take on. Perhaps they are sounding boards, perhaps they help you achieve certain goals – there are a variety of ways people in your network can influence you and make your life much better.

Sashi Obilisetty – Is a network always an internal group [to your organization], or is it an external group?

Soha Hassoun – Slowly you have to learn to expand beyond your internal group. You need to expand beyond your own university, and learn [to reach out] to other research groups.

Jan Willis – It really surprised me in a corporate environment to discover at an executive meeting considering promotions for employees [within the organization], that there seemed to be people under consideration who had only been networking within their own group, and that this was seen as a negative. Definitely network beyond your own group.

Sashi Obilisetty – What are the necessary steps for creating a network?

Kavita Snyder – The first step is finding a common goal, then the networking comes very naturally. Sometimes it’s too hard to find that [common ground] if you’re too interested in just your own goals. You need to internalize the motivations of the other people in your network. You need to strike a balance there, which will be a win-win for both parties. Hopefully over time, that deepens and you both have a common goal.

Also, you need to eliminate barriers. You never want to be the person that no one wants to call. Though you yourself may not see it, perhaps for example you’re seen as too critical. I’m very conscious that I don’t want to be the person who creates the barrier that makes it hard for the other person to network with me. Also, look for diversity. Don’t always hang out with people who are just like you. You need to exchange ideas and perspectives with people whose experiences are very different than your own.

Sashi Obilisetty – We’ve talked about coming out of school, what are your perspectives on college and alumni networks?

Soha Hassoun – These [networks] are not just important when you get out of school, but also when you change jobs. It’s really important to keep your network alive. You don’t know when your paths will cross again [with a classmate], or when you’ll need them or they will ask for a favor from you.

Do due diligence and think about the people who are important to you. Spend some time each week and month reaching out to your network, current and past.

Jan Willis – I’ve been feeling guilty because I have not utilized my business school network. Why is that? Well, there’s the immediate network which is easier to access. But it’s all about finding a win-win. You have to find a reason that they’re going to want to talk with you, your classmates. Probably some universities do a better job of stimulating that than other, but you have to have a strategy yourself [in this area].

Sashi Obilisetty – Do you need to have a ‘brand’ that makes people want to reach out to you.

Soha Hassoun – Branding is actually very important, in the sense that people should know what to expect from you. If people are going to connect with you, there has to be some common ground. That only happens if you nurture that relationship and keep it growing. Part of branding is making your interests [important] to your network.

Jan Willis – It’s also important to keep your personal brand up-to-date. How many people don’t put their picture on LinkedIn? If you don’t, that’s a big mistake It triggers some suspicion. And, like Soha said, be consistent in all your behaviors.

Kavita Snyder – You have certain value for yourself, so be yourself – that should be your brand. One of the values I possess is to be positive. If you’re positive, people will be drawn to you. I’m conscious of that all the time. So on a day when you’re feeling not so positive, just don’t go out and seek networking. You won’t be mentally prepared to network.

Sashi Obilisetty – That’s a good point. Is LinkedIn the center of the world here? How does it help? Through your picture? Your branding? And is it always helpful? What are your experiences?

Kavita Snyder – I think of LinkedIn as having two main purposes. It’s an avenue of communications. There’s the phone, email, in person – LinkedIn is just one more way to keep in touch with people. It’s yet another avenue to build communication.

In addition, it’s also a resource that helps me be organized. For example, a few years ago I was trying to sell software to a particular customer. I could see the customer’s network, and create a Venn Diagram and figure out how they overlap. Having a chance to be personally introduced to someone is so much better than just a cold call.

Jan Willis – I love LinkedIn! It’s a beautiful thing when you need to have an auxiliary memory, particularly past a certain age: What did this person do and how did I know them? That’s very valuable, because you’ll get a stronger affiliation from the other side when you remember things about the other person. In fact, I highly recommend you always check LinkedIn before a meeting. To be honest, there’s no excuse not to.

But there is this big pitfall, and it’s this false sense of security. How many times has someone sent you a note: Would you like to meet for coffee? Recently, I [accepted such an invitation] and found the person was looking for a job. I was then asked for a connection to one of the most senior people in my network. Be careful, because that’s truly not a great way to use LinkedIn!

Soha Hassoun – Yes, it’s very easy to look someone up, to see where they are and what they’ve done in their career. Not to be negative, however, but if someone on LinkedIn has 500 to 600 connections, it doesn’t necessarily reflect a [reality] about that person. They may not actually be the most popular person in the world.

Sashi Obilisetty – Speaking about networks, LinkedIn or brick-and-mortar, how does it help your company?

Jan Willis – How do I use my personal network in my company environment? It’s risky and challenging, particularly when you [suggest] to someone in your work environment that someone from your personal network can do something for the company.

There’s risk there, but in certain situations it’s well worth it to attempt. And certainly the company can benefit a great deal. Definitely you want to bring people into your work world who are part of your personal world. Also, it can help with the marketing campaign. You’re always looking for testimonials, and that often [encourages] others to also endorse you. What do you think, Sashi?

Sashi Obilisetty – If you’re in a position where you have to sell technology or your product, in that case your previous network can often help. For instance, I had my company before [joining Synopsys] and I had a good network. Even though my role is different now, in that sense you always take your network with you.

Soha Hassoun – How to use your personal networks to improve your professional networks? I’ve used my networks to promote DAC – my ‘non-profit’ company – which has paid off in magnificent ways. If something I’m working on may be relevant to DAC, then DAC has benefited from all of my networking. And that [benefit] has been returned to me by DAC, promoting ideas that others may be interested in. All sides working together is a very good outcome of [the networking process].

Sashi Obilisetty – Changing topics: At the outset, Jan, you talked about sponsors and mentors. How did you sponsors come to you? How did that process work?

Jan Willis – I’m very passionate about this topic, because most people are now aware of what a sponsor is. It’s essential to have a sponsor if you REALLY want to progress. The difference is the person who’s going to help you make the change and advocate for you, is not just advising you. From my own personal experience, you don’t select them, you can target and try to draw them to you – but they need to select you because they see something in you, perhaps a younger version of themselves, you came from the same school, something that means. When that is the case, [they’ll bring] their special magic to you.

Penny Herscher [FirstRain CEO] has always been a big advocate for women. In fact, she’s mentioned in a book that I wanted to mention here, The Stiletto Network. There’s a lot of examples of networks in the book, and how they’re built. I was an intern at Synopsys, and she was the only female on the executive team other than Deirdre Hanford [Synopsys SVP]. I invited Penny to go to lunch and asked her: How did you build your career? You can trigger and [encourage] a potential sponsor this way and if it clicks, it’s great. But if it doesn’t click, don’t push it. [Look] elsewhere.

Kavita Snyder – I agree, but I look at it like this: In the early days of my career, I thought a sponsor was assigned to you like a ‘mentoring manager’ you could learn from. But today I see a sponsor as someone who will consistently look out for you.

I can usually tell when someone is on my side. I can tell when someone would be a potential sponsor, if that would be a potential match [for me]. If it’s someone who is genuinely interested, don’t push it, it will happen. Don’t stalk them – just go on your way.

Sashi Obilisetty – Speaking of stalking [laughter], what about management changes within the company?

Jan Willis – You can find yourself very much part of a network in an organization, but one of the things you need to be cognizant of the inner circle in a network. This really becomes apparent when there’s a management change because when that happens, undoubtedly the new person coming in will have an inner circle and will probably bring some of their inner circle into the environment. Your job might even be as risk, something that often happens at the higher levels of a company.

I’m happy to share a story here: When this happened to me, I put together this big binder and said [to the new management]: Here is everything great that my group has done! I’m not sure the person was impressed, but I tried. The most important thing is to be indispensable to that new person, to find out what they need. If you can do that, you’re golden.

Kavita Snyder – Sometimes ‘indispensable’ can be hard to define. However, if you align your goals with their goals, the relationship naturally follows – especially in a employee-management relationship.

Soha Hassoun – I like to remember that there are always changes in an organization, so you need to define yourself as more than loyal to just a single person. There’s a need to network with everybody, not just your immediate managers. You have to keep mindful of connecting with many people.

Jan Willis – Yes, especially in the corporate environment. My experience is what they’re looking for is a Test of Loyalty. In fact, when the new person comes in, they’re wary of whether someone’s going to be loyal to them or not. Yes, it’s very a fine line there.

Sashi Obilisetty – Kavita, you brought up alignment.

Kavita Snyder – Negotiating is definitely a skill, and not something done [perfectly] on Day One. As you learn to negotiate in life, you learn the skill more and more. Communication is paramount in good negotiations, being able to really identify with the other party. Your goal is to find the win-win scenario, because once you understand what the other party is looking for – over time you learn that skill.

Sashi Obilisetty – Is that one of the things you need to do in order to negotiate with senior members in your group, and is there a specific technique?

Soha Hassoun – I’ve learned from negotiating that it’s important to think about the other person. For instance, I have a dean in engineering who likes very straightforward communications. Any other way [doesn’t work]. So when you realize that, you can deal [with the dean] with honesty.

Sashi Obilisetty – We are almost out of time, but I want to end with something very human. We all make mistakes, but we all have to have fun. Is fun considered part of the everyday job? How do you incorporate it?

Kavita Snyder – Yes, we are all human. But at the end of the day, being truly authentic and not trying to put a fake face on things or attempting to be what the other person wants you to be – just being transparent – will always help to eliminate barriers, especially if you are also humble. People will naturally want to associate with you.

Even if you royally screw something up, still be authentic, be transparent, and be willing to admit your mistakes. That really helps. And I like to use humor. It lightens the mood and makes people more comfortable.

Jan Willis – I really am cautious about humor, because I think it can go wrong so many times. You have to be very careful. If you can pull it off, it’s great, but be careful.

One thing I’ve observed is that bringing the human factor into the workplace really helps, things like recognizing work anniversaries. Yes, it’s about being human, because people really like to be acknowledged.

Soha Hassoun – When something comes up and I don’t know how to handle it, I like to pull back and consider my position. There are some days you just want to [give up], but you shouldn’t. One of the most effective ways is to think about it, to internalize what has happened. I’ve found that [process] opens up a dialog that can potentially lead to better understanding. And it helps you go to a more peaceful place with that person.

Sashi Obilisetty – Yes, often these are the soft skills that you need learn, which was the intent of this panel. Questions from the floor?

Question – In finding a sponsor or mentor, have you found that some companies have an environment that stimulates that more than others? And should senior people sponsor employees, or is that more of an individual [choice]?

Jan Willis – I have experienced some companies – Cadence, for example – which actually had a well-organized mentoring program. It wasn’t an organized sponsorship program, but a very good mentoring program, an open process that people could seek out. I’ve also seen experiences at some companies that were at the other extreme.

I think [these efforts] come and go. Sometimes it’s very much in vogue, but then people get tired and move on. You have to have someone [in the company who is] really passionate about it.

Soha Hassoun – It always comes down to this: The burden of the mentoring falls to the person who needs the mentor. More often than not, an invitation to coffee leads naturally to a relationship. Even if you don’t have a formal mentoring program [in your organization], participate in these types of mentoring activities. You will always benefit.


Sashi Obilisetty is Director of R&D at Synopsys. Previously, she was President & CEO of VeriEZ Solutions, VP & GM at TransEDA’s New England Design Center, and Founder, President & CEO of DualSoft. Obilisetty has a B.Tech Electronics and Communication Engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology and MSECE from the University of Massachusetts.

Soha Hassoun is Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Tufts University. Her research interests are in EDA and applying EDA techniques to Systems Biology. Hassoun has served as a consultant at Carbon Design Systems, visiting researcher at IBM Research Labs, consultant at IKOS (now Mentor), and Senior Design Engineer at DEC. She is an NSF Career Award recipient, and has served in many technical and executive leadership positions within EDA. Hassoun has PhD in CSE from the University of Washington and an MSEE from MIT.

Jan Willis is President and Founder of Calibra Consulting. Previously, she was SVP for Industry Alliances at Cadence, VP of Business Development at Simplex Solutions, Director for Product Marketing and Business Development at Synopsys, and Manager of Worldwide Customer Support at HP. Willis has an MBA from Stanford and a BSEE from the University of Missouri.

Kavita Snyder is VP for Worldwide Applications at Blue Pearl Software. Previously, she was President & CEO at KnowFolder, Technical Account Manager at Magma, Director of Field Operations at Jasper Design Automation, FAE Director at Atrenta, Product Marketing Manager at Synopsys, and Field Applications Manager at Synplicity. Snyder has a BSCE from San Jose State University.


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