Please tell us about yourself
From bringing Kiwi ingenuity to engineering, to tinkling the keys on a laptop instrument, “imagineer” Priyanka Shekar’s passion is the intersection of technology, art and next-gen thinking.
An engineer turned impact entrepreneur, educator and artist, she began her career path at the University of Auckland, graduating in 2008 with a Bachelor of Engineering, electrical and electronics, with First Class Honours.
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“Studying engineering helped me in an early way to deconstruct problems and construct solutions from a technical standpoint, and importantly, gave me confidence to innovate through building and testing things. It led naturally into pathway into music technology. I now understand and work with music from a highly technical aspect,” she says.
After working as an engineering consultant at Set Based Solutions and Aurecon in Auckland and Hong Kong, she headed to Stanford University in 2012 to do her Masters in music, science and technology.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
Stanford is one of the few universities that allowed me to specialize in the niche and innovative field of Music Technology because it’s uniquely positioned at the intersection of the arts and engineering. My lab, the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), offers great opportunities to dive into independent research directions alongside taking courses.
Academically, my program was a flexible and inter-disciplinary blend of music, computer science, electrical engineering, product development and entrepreneurship, which was skillset I needed to equip myself with to build the next generation of consumer-facing new media products. Stanford has a warm and welcoming social vibe, and a particularly strong graduate student population (about 50/50 with undergraduates). Ostensibly, there’s an open event happening somewhere on campus all the time so you could eat for free every meal of the year if you wanted!
What was your career path?
Her entrepreneurial skills flourished, founding start-ups in the StartX and Graduate School of Business venture incubators. Through the Stanford Ignite programme, her 3D binaural headset capturing everyday soundscapes was developed for commercialisation.
Working alongside Silicon Valley’s leading music tech entrepreneurs, she took an internship at Shazam Entertainment in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2014, she became the co-founder and chief product officer of Californian-based Grüv Music, a start-up venture allowing everyone to make music regardless of their ability and training.
It has also been incredibly rewarding to work alongside our novice musician users to develop a product that taps into their innate musical creativity.
Today she is programme director at Real Industry, a non-profit organisation transforming how students enter the media tech industry through experiential education, teaching at top-ranking universities including Stanford, UC Berkeley and University of Michigan.
“In a greater sense, innovation is becoming increasingly inter-disciplinary, and we all need to call upon our ‘superpowers’ to be entrepreneurs and designers of our own professional growth and purpose. You have to steer your own ship and navigate the tides of continual change in today’s industrial climate. Having a mindset of growth, versatility and flexibility has helped me connect the dots between who I am, what I do, and what I believe,” she says.
Shekar hopes she can influence other young women to follow her path as engineers in the tech scene, through women leadership programmes at Stanford, mentoring, and participating in events like Y Combinator’s Female Founder Conference.