A Passionate Problem Solver Takes On Energy Technology

Software engineer Priya developed products for eCommerce, online shopping and EVs. Now she’s tackling solutions for energy and industrial operations.
Jul 21, 2022 11:10 AM ET
Blog

Priya Rajendran has a curious mind, and so far, she’s used it to lead high-performing teams developing complex software solutions for some of the world’s best-known companies, including PayPal, Target and Ford. When Baker Hughes came knocking with a job offer, “I wasn’t very familiar with the oil and gas industry,” she says. “But when I saw the problems that Baker Hughes is solving and how interesting and complex industrial operations are, the engineer in me wanted to come here and get involved.”

Rajendran joined Baker Hughes in 2021 as VP of Product Development, leading product design and development of the company’s energy and industrial asset management solutions.

In the process of researching Baker Hughes before interviewing, she watched some of Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Simonelli’s presentations about the energy transition and became increasingly intrigued about the idea of working on software that sits at the intersection of solving macro energy challenges and business needs. She saw the potential to make an impact working at Baker Hughes as the company focuses on efficiency and decarbonization of energy and industrial operations.

Building new products in a new sector

“Baker Hughes has opened my eyes to this new world of energy,” says Rajendran. “In my career, I’ve switched domains every four or five years – I went from payments to retail to automotive, and now to the energy industry. I like moving into a new domain because I have honed my art and craft on how to be a good product manager, build good products and great teams. It makes it a lot more interesting when I attempt to do it in an industry where I'm not very familiar.”

She has joined at a critical time. In March, Baker Hughes announced a collaboration with C3 AI, Accenture and Microsoft to build Baker Hughes industrial asset management solutions for clients in the energy and industrial sectors. The companies have a history of strategic collaborations. They are each bringing their specific expertise to help accelerate the development of energy and industrial software to improve the safety, efficiency and emissions profiles of machines, field equipment and other critical assets.

“My team is developing software products, using the data coming from the equipment and other assets equipment to build algorithms that recommend ways to optimize various parameters for industrial operations,” says Rajendran. “We are building the brains to monitor the operational equipment and make it more efficient, reduce emissions, lower costs of operation, and improve maintenance. The big picture is that businesses are more successful and the greater needs – like energy efficiency and emissions reductions – can be met.”

Connecting the best of the best

Rajendran and her group work with engineers, software developers, and data scientists across Baker Hughes to leverage extensive industry experience and installed base of sensor and software across condition monitoring, advanced rotating equipment monitoring and services, valve performance, inspection, artificial intelligence, and machine health and asset strategy that have long-been integrated into how the company makes their products and solutions more efficient for customers.

“We are working with all team with unparalleled energy industry experience to create our solutions,” says Rajendran. One of her roles is to consolidate the Baker Hughes offering to make it easier for customers. “Today, we offer separate solutions that address specific needs and focus on specific assets or equipment for our customers,” she says. “This is our differentiated starting point. Now, we start to solve bigger challenges by connecting the dots. For example, for the valve whose lifecycle we are managing using Baker Hughes VLM, we want to understand how that impacts the performance of the whole asset, and how that impacts the operational process overall. We are looking at it all holistically, offering a single, flexible solution for great visibility and easier decision making.”

The ambition is to have a solution housing a suite of products, with seamless interoperability and simplicity. “You may have one product for condition monitoring, another for asset health, another for asset strategy, but they all operate on top of the same data and talk to each other,” explains Rajendran.

Meeting unmet needs with technology – whether its chores or ecommerce

Rajendran, who earned her degree in her home country, India, moved to the US and the San Francisco Bay Area for a job in 1999, and has lived and worked there ever since. Her focus on solving problems with tech in a way that works smoothly for everyone who wants to use it manifested in S’moresUp, a startup she co-founded in 2017. Rajendran was recently divorced and took a break in her career to focus on setting up her new life, which included working out shared custody of her then 11-year-old daughter.

“My daughter was living between our two houses, and we were discussing how to get consistency across both places, including chores but also the calendar for pickups from violin, or volleyball – all that sort of stuff,” says Rajendran. She turned to tech but couldn’t find one cohesive app that did it all and was talking about it to a friend she’d worked with at PayPal. “He said, well you’re a product person, why don’t we see if this is a problem just for you, or for more parents out there.” They surveyed 1,000 parents and found out it was a universal issue for families with children.

“We built a prototype and five years on, we have close to 400,000 people using the product, in 130 countries,” she says.

She had similar success in her early days at what was then eBay’s PayPal, a well-known training ground for some of the most influential Silicon Valley founders. Defining success at a fast-moving startup meant espousing cultural beliefs that would influence the right product decisions.

Culture was an important deciding factor when taking on a new role at Baker Hughes.

“As soon as I met the people, I was sold,” she says. “Baker Hughes is genuinely focused on bringing in diverse candidates – not only women, but all those with different life and educational experiences, different perspectives.”

She wants to work for companies “where not only do you have a voice at the table, but it is needed and encouraged”, she reflects. “In several companies, I have found it can be very lonely in meetings, being a woman, plus with tech and STEM on top of that, and also being brown and not a native English speaker. At Baker Hughes, I’ve never felt that, and our team here is very diverse – we have people from all different geographies and all different walks of life. I love the team.”

Rajendran also loves the personal challenge “of learning something new,” she says of her voyage into the world of energy and industrial assets. She’s arrived with some very handy kit: decades of diverse industry experience. “There’s a lot of value in the cross-industry pollination of ideas. It’s something I really look forward to bringing to Baker Hughes, too.”