Last updated on August 16th, 2021 at 02:19 pm
Rashi Khosla didn’t exactly fit the mold when she jumped into the information technology industry during the late ‘90s. Back then, there were prototypical software engineers, and then there was Khosla, a self-taught coder who in her 20s had just moved to Wisconsin from India, spoke English as a second language, and existed in a field largely dominated by men.
Now Khosla leads Waukesha-based MARS Solutions Group, a technical staffing services firm that she founded and grew into a company with annual revenues exceeding $15 million.
With MARS, Khosla carved out a space for herself in an industry that wasn’t necessarily built with women in mind. Now she’s creating pathways so that others like her can lead successful careers in IT.
It was in her early 20s that Khosla left the small town in India where she grew up in search of opportunity, not only for herself, but for her younger brother who had disabilities and limited access to resources, she said.
Motivated by her brother’s challenges, Khosla moved to India’s capital, New Delhi, a decision she felt had high stakes. If she couldn’t find a job, the alternative was to go home, a place that was culturally restrictive for women, lacking in opportunity and “a trap,” she said.
Khosla found a role as a sales manager supervising a team of 50 and overseeing multiple sales territories in New Delhi. But it was challenging to bear that kind of responsibility as a recent college graduate from a small town in central India, she said.
“I was expected to manage their expenses and motivate them as their manager, but I was 22 years old, and I had no idea what the territories were there,” Khosla said. “But that struggle through trying to manage and succeed in that job was huge.”
Khosla’s academic background is in electrical and electronics engineering, but her career in IT didn’t begin until she moved to the Milwaukee area, where her husband had already relocated for work.
Limited by her visa status as a dependent, Khosla needed an employer-sponsored work visa in a specialty occupation like technology. So, she taught herself to code out of necessity. Within eight months, she had multiple job offers from employers who were willing to sponsor her work visa.
Khosla got her start as a software engineer at a small firm but eventually landed a job at Assurant Health, holding various roles in data and analytics over a 10-year career.
She would say today that IT is her calling, but that innate sense of belonging wasn’t always there for Khosla. She was working in male-dominated teams and trying to strike a balance between raising her kids and keeping pace with her male coworkers, but it was hard to keep up as a mother, Khosla said.
In 2006, while at Assurant, Khosla launched MARS, which stands for “Mona, Alisha, Rashi and Sapan” – the names of her daughters, her husband and herself. MARS represents her “initial why” and motivation to launch the business, which is to establish work-life balance in a field she is passionate about and to provide that same experience to other women in IT, she said.
MARS has since grown its team to 280 employees, or “Martians,” as Khosla calls them. In 2020, the company grew 45% and expects even more growth in 2021, Khosla added.
MARS is successful because of its ability to find workers from nontraditional sources and its talent development programming, she said. By upskilling workers who have shown potential, MARS can create qualified candidates that employers have been challenged to find in today’s IT labor market.
The company also brands itself as an expert in finding “purple squirrels,” an industry term used to describe employees who are skilled in new or rare technologies and even legacy technologies that few know how to operate, Khosla added.
Khosla is particularly passionate about creating channels for women to re-enter the field of technology, which is why MARS launched its Returnship program last summer. Through project-based learning, the program provides experience to women who have a gap in their careers due to child care or other circumstances.
For Khosla, the technology industry expected her to make a sacrifice, to choose between child care or work. But that model isn’t sustainable, and it’s no longer possible for companies that want to hire and retain a diverse talent pool, she said.
Khosla doesn’t believe workplaces intended to be exclusive when she began her career in IT. In fact, the lack of inclusivity didn’t deter her, Khosla said. But what she realizes in retrospect is that those experiences impacted her in subtle ways.
She’s struggled with imposture syndrome and executive presence. And even though she should feel like MARS is something she created, earned and worked hard for, at times, those feelings have been hard to accept, she said.
“I’m a fighter and a trooper because of my early experiences in my childhood,” Khosla said. “I’ll find a way and keep going, but I know that’s not everybody and it shouldn’t take that type of personality to get to the success you need.”
Founder and chief executive officer
MARS Solutions Group
“Earlier in my career, I switched to IT out of necessity and found a passion for it. Technology defined the rest of my career journey.”
“I have a rather long attention span and can squeeze in a week’s worth of complex, focused and productive work into chunks of focused sessions. I am also a night owl and get most of my productive focused work done at the end of my day.”
Advice to your younger self?
“To go into the technology field and entrepreneurship much earlier than I did. I would also advise my younger self to get a mentor – everyone needs one.”
Favorite tech tool?
“I am a data person at the core of my being, and I live in dashboards where I can derive patterns and insights. I am passionate about tools like Power BI and advances in the AI, ML and RPA field.”