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Sonia Karkare: ​I believe I won the genetic lottery

Sonia Karkare-India trip 2015 with TGF

​I believe I won the genetic lottery. Born in India to a fantastic pair of parents who wanted their girls to be educated, and gave them every opportunity in the world to fly and achieve their potential.

25 June 2015

Above photo: Sonia Karkare on a site visit in India with one of the recipients of The Global Fund donation2015. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria mobilizes and invests nearly US$4 billion a year to support programs run by local experts in countries and communities most in need. As a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and people affected by the diseases, the Global Fund is accelerating the end of AIDS, TB and malaria as epidemics.

Sonia KakareI left India at the tender and impressionable age of 18. The younger of two daughters, I followed my sister to Kent State University, Ohio – USA in 1990.

She was there two years before me pursuing a Ph.D. Upon my parent’s advice; I decided to enroll into the Computer Science program. The rationale for this was, Biology (my first preference) was about the past and I might have been too sensitive to take up a Psychology (my second preference) degree. So why not go for something that was booming and cutting edge?

Having never touched a computer in my life or seen classes where there were over 300 undergraduate students, my first semester was an utter disaster! Here I was, an A+ student from Mumbai, struggling in the US. My first homework was to write “Hello world” in Pascal (look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t know what it is!). I had no idea that the backspace key on the keyboard would wipe out my typos! Every time I made a typo, I would start over!

One night at a party, while innocently describing my struggles, a fellow student passed a comment that changed my life. He said, “Why don’t you just go back home? You might never make it here.”

That threw me for a toss and made me very angry! Never!!

So, I worked extra hard and by the strategies of rote and memorization made it through my classes till I got the hang of good programming. I worked with lab tutors, teaching assistants, friends, professors, everyone who could help me get a better understanding of this world of computing. I was never shy of asking questions or letting my professors know I needed help. My parents had spent a fortune sending me here, I was working two jobs to support myself, why would I care if someone thought I needed too much help or was asking too many questions?

It all paid off. I was on the Dean’s list the next semester – a prestigious spot for those that had excelled across the university and attained a certain grade point average.

This positive trajectory continued. I graduated top of my undergraduate class and went onto complete my Master’s in Computer Science at the same university. My thesis was in encryption. I had found a way to make it through something that never came to me naturally.

Sonia Kakare

Upon graduation, I went onto work with several business and technology-consulting firms in NYC. Starting out as a junior programmer, then senior programmer, I decided to dabble with Information Architecture in 2000. This was when portals were becoming common. I wanted to round off my technology skills with user experience skills. For this, I was asked to take a course and shadow a more experienced Information Architect. I duly followed up and completed the requirements.

Then one day, in conversation with my project manager, we noticed that there was a body of work that needed attention and was better if it functioned as a sub project on it’s own. It immediately occurred to me to ask if I could be the project manager for it? It was scoped to be an eight-week project, with a budget of about $400,00, and a staff of 5 people. Everyone was surprised, but agreed immediately. Note: Take the opportunity when it presents itself! I lead it to success and that started my career as project manager.

In 2001, the Twin towers in NYC were attacked. I lost friends in the tragedy.This was the next incident that changed my life. I decided to use my technology skills for the betterment of the community, the world. My goal ever since has been to leave this world a better place than I found it. I have consciously steered my career in the direction of opportunities within the nonprofit technology sector.

I have now served various nonprofits across the world, including the American Red Cross. I am currently serving on the CIO’s IT leadership team, as Business Partner Manger for Operations at The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria in Geneva. I oversee all the core business operations for The Global Fund on the Salesforce platform and the current existing legacy systems.

My message to anyone reading this is – you will find a way. No matter what, you will find a way to do what your heart desires. I wanted to help in some in way. Never did I imagine that a technology degree would help me save someone’s life. I wish you all the best and pray that you reach your potential.

Sonia Karkare, IT Business Partner Manager - Operations
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

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