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Mar 18, 2022

You’re well aware that this podcast is about public policy and so often we focus on that, but today, we’re also bringing you the creative side of policy making. So many of the policies that we fight to implement are created as a way to protect and preserve our ability to be creative. We know that for many professionals, it’s hard to be able to live a completely creative life, while balancing it with work and earning a living.  

In a podcast first, we begin today’s episode with a poem by our guest, Anita Balaraman. The poem is called “Doubt” and you can read it on

Anita is a technology product leader with more than 10 years of experience in building technology products that delight the customer both in the B2B and B2C domain. She is also an adjunct faculty at UC Berkeley, teaching and coaching hi-tech product management. She is currently the founder of an early stage ed-tech startup. Most recently she led the digital customer experience practice at Cisco Systems, designing and launching enterprise solutions for customer experience. Prior to that, she led the product team at WalmartLabs launching products that combine machine learning, predictive analytics and personalization. She consults independently and on the board of technology startups in the advertising, ecommerce, and ed-tech space. Anita received her MS in toxicology and applied statistics, and an MBA, both from the University of California, Berkeley.


Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Berkeley College of Engineering

Doubt, by Anita Balaraman

An obedient child

Never wild

Begged to be schooled

Never one to do, what she wants to.

Somewhere in my teens I grew

To my parents, a quarrelsome, defiant point of view.

Aspired to cross the oceans blue

To America for graduate school to pursue.

Girls can’t be safe, outside of parents’ purview

Unless she has a husband, never mind she is just twenty-two!

In Berkeley, I was told you can be what you want to

Even a brown girl with big starry eyes, can dream one day

to be a researcher, a professional, or a professor someday.

Worked hard, very hard, or at least I thought,

For I’ve been given a chance, a really long shot.

But told that I may never be a researcher sought

There must be more than just the grades, I thought.

Despite how hard I fought…

Hiding my feminine brownness was like adding a nought[*].

Perhaps they are right, went my train of thought…

Why else would I not see someone like me in doctoral gown?

Oh don’t be sad, said my loved ones around

You can be happy, rich, and successful without a doctoral gown- hands down.

Look at the valley of silicon and sand

A dreamland of success, prestige and wealth

For those that are committed to technology at hand.

Yes, but my mind wandered…

Where did I lose the defiance in my view?

I really care about children and leukemia

And I can build risk models that I learned in academia.

But can you blame them if they did not trust

The models I built that needed their process to adjust.

I don’t look like them, or speak like them

The assumptions in my models are hard to trust.

I found my kind, the brown variety,

Who spoke bad English with no anxiety.

The friends at home and those at work

Looked and spoke like they belong to the same network.

No apologies for being a vegetarian during team lunch

Who clairvoyantly knew that salad wasn’t a good munch.

This must be beautiful- to feel like you belong

Without having to rehearse your lines so I don’t say something wrong.

To work with the bunch where I hoped I belonged,

I got another graduate degree, not the Ph.D. I longed.

A business degree, hoping to correct the wronged.

A Mom twice over, a wife and an employee,

‘you can’t get promoted if you leave at 5’, would annoy me.

Benevolent prejudice, paternalism, and sexism:

Belonging, I understood, with deep skepticism.

A misfit perhaps, have always been

A toxicologist, but not the wet-lab kind

A technologist, but not an engineer’s mind

An entrepreneur, who venture capital declined

An educator, living the adjunct grind

A researcher, without the terminal degree- unrefined.

Seeking belonging, but always unaligned.

Perhaps down in my subconscious mind

the fringes appeal more than the straight jacket kind?

The fringes feed concern for mistakes,

Suspended between two or more contradictory states.

An indecision between belief and non-belief

Hiding, somewhere, is a fictitious fig leaf?

Belonging requires suspending the lunatic fringe

To honor and reflect the collective doubt.

But that is harder to live, day in and day out

Easier it seems to simply not honor their doubts?