One shot. One opportunity.
Neha Madhavan told herself that when she got the chance to work for the Alpine Formula 1 (F1) Team (Alpine).
“In my cover letter, I wrote about how much I grew up with the sport. I shared my background, my experience as a fan, and how it feels surreal to be a part of this world,” shares the ESIEE Paris graduate.
“Funnily enough, six months later, when I passed my probation, my manager told me that’s what stood out in my application.”
Using Microsoft Power Platform to create apps for Alpine, formerly known as Renault, is a career that only young Madhavan could have only dreamed of.
But it almost didn’t take off had it not been a leap of faith.
Early life in Chennai, India
Growing up in Chennai, Madhavan was introduced to the sport by her brother, who was determined to pursue a career in the automotive industry.
“He knew that he wanted to get into automotive — be it motorsports or traditional automotive,” she shares.
“I started watching just because of the drivers, if I am being honest. I was intrigued by their lifestyles and how they would go from one country to another.”
Unlike her brother, Madhavan was keen on exploring her artistic pursuits.
Unsure about any career apart from being a lawyer, doctor, or engineer, she went with her parents’ suggestion to pursue engineering.
“After looking at the courses, I felt that computer science aligned with me the most since it was my best subject in school,” says Madhavan.
She would later do a bachelor’s degree in information technology (IT) at Anna University.
There, she found a passion for interacting with people by hosting workshops and being more vocal with her skills.
“That helped me to gauge my self-esteem and increase my confidence in public speaking and led me to think that project management could be a potential new route,” she explains.
Living in Paris and graduating in the middle of a pandemic
ESIEE Paris (previously named École Supérieure d’Ingénieurs en Électrotechnique et Électronique) caught Madhavan’s attention because it wasn’t a business school that offered executive degrees.
The MSc Management of Technology – Information was a blend of project management and IT. Plus, her cohort was a group of 26 students consisting of 22 nationalities.
“When you’re faced with people from such different places put in a group to work together, you really have to reach out, break that cultural barrier, and throw yourself into it,” she says.
Take her negotiation module, for example. The practical exercise allowed the master’s student to break down cultural barriers, pick up on similarities and use them to gain an edge during negotiation.
It was valuable for Madhavan — considering she finished her last semester and graduated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All of our industry visits got cancelled and we couldn’t interact with as many people as we would like to. Still, ESIEE Paris did a great job keeping our spirits up,” she says.
Luckily, the Indian graduate landed a role as an Assistant Data Scientist at Limbik — an organisation that transforms data into valuable insights for its clients — and worked remotely in Paris.
“It was a real opportunity for me to throw myself into data science and artificial intelligence. I got the chance to work with good mentors who were very open with their vast knowledge,” she says.
Working with Alpine
As Madhavan was on a student visa in France, she faced many struggles to renew her visa. She had to always rely on someone fluent in French to complete the application.
Once, the consulate forgot to call her when they issued her visa making her miss a trip back home to India.
Since she was stuck in France, she wanted to make the most of it by exploring new opportunities for her career.
She stumbled upon a job opening on Alpine’s website — and Madhavan applied without hesitation.
“I think in the darkest of times is where I found the inner confidence to take the risk because I was like ‘You know what, I don’t want to limit myself anymore.'”, she says.
Today, she’s living the dream of many F1 fans — working with Alpine at Enstone, a place which housed many teams such as Renault, Lotus, and Benetton Formula (the team in which Michael Schumacher won his first championship).
Based in the UK, Madhavan works with the Power Platform — a business tool powered by Microsoft that develops apps with a quick turnaround.
These apps can also help to deliver performance for the race team or the business.
“Currently, we are working on a couple of apps that have to do with the race team, like shipping parts to the team and optimising the process and efficiency at which we do these things,” she explains.
The best part? Alpine recently launched Rac(H)er, a programme that will help increase Alpine’s proportion of female engineers to 30% by 2027.
Currently, 12% of the Alpine car company’s workforce is comprised of women.
It also plans to increase diversity within the F1 team, where only 10% of the workforce is female, F1 reports.
Asked how international students can secure a job in F1, Madhavan advises: “Start looking at different roles that are available already. It’s a good way to check your skills and will help you channel your career if you want to meet that expectation.”
“But if you feel like you don’t fit into any of those traditional roles and want to have a different trajectory and find a place in F1, you can too.”