As senior IT manager of infrastructure and architecture at Pella Corporation, Praveen Mohan makes sure the company’s systems are fast and reliable, 24/7. While Mohan emigrated from India to the Midwest almost 20 years ago, it wasn’t until he landed in Pella that he knew he’d found his calling. The cricket player and community leader believes the keys to navigating a career in tech are to be flexible, be humble, and always be learning.
You’ve worked all over the world. How did your path lead you to Pella, Iowa?
I’m a mechanical engineer, and I started working in India, in IT, in 1999. [Mohan graduated with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Madras that year.] I’ve always had a passion for computer science, though. That’s what my first job was in, and I did that for a year. There were a lot of requirements for Java programmers, so I worked in Singapore [as a systems analyst] for a couple of years after that. And then in 2002 an opportunity came up in the United States, and I worked in a couple consulting spots in Ohio and Minnesota. That’s when I got married, and decided that I needed to stick to one place — and that’s when we called Pella home, 14 years ago.
Did you ever imagine that you’d end up working in the United States?
Not exactly. That’s not something I planned. But I think when you’re in your early twenties you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, and it worked out well for me.
Can you tell us about your educational background?
I studied mechanical engineering in India. I also did my MBA [from 2008–2010] at the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business.
How did you get interested in tech? What made you want to pursue a career in technology?
Starting in eighth grade, back in school in India, I was exposed to basic programming. I really enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that comes with getting a program done and seeing the problem solving that comes with that. I had a keen interest in that. And that’s how I got hooked into technology. Once I got into the mainstream work I loved it, and now 20 years have gone by.
I saw that we could solve problems in different ways. I worked for a generator manufacturer, a garage door manufacturer, and a software company, which helped hospitals. I was very interested in how you can solve real-world problems through technology. I’m basically a problem solver.
Talk to us about your role as Senior Manager of Infrastructure at Pella. What are you responsible for?
As a team, we are responsible for keeping the lights on for the business. Certainly, the whole company is technology-based. So that includes servers, storage, networking, communication — you’re talking phones, emails, etc. We’re ultimately responsible for making sure the company runs smoothly, and fluently. How do we improve the business every day? How do we make it faster, more reliable, and keep the systems on 24 hours a day?
What kinds of exciting projects are on your radar at Pella?
We recently acquired four different luxury window companies all over the United States. One is in New York, one is in San Francisco, one is in Maine, and the other is in Michigan. Right now, our teams are working on implementing IT strategies for these luxury businesses. They’re a lot smaller compared to Pella, but we’re able to utilize our experience and expertise to bring them up to speed on technology.
We are also working to replace our biggest server in the data center. It’s a few million dollars, and we’re working through that.
You’re a part of the Pella Cricket Club. How are Iowans embracing this sport that’s popular abroad, but lesser known in the US?
Growing up in India, I have a passion for cricket, and the company has been very supportive of that. We actually have a cricket team in Pella, and we’ve been playing for the last 10 years against 18 different Des Moines area teams. We have a cricket field here in the community that’s been up and running for the last five years. The city built the cricket field, and Pella Corporation made a big contribution toward that. It’s just neat how supportive Pella is. We have a match every two years with our executive team members, and it’s so much fun to teach them the sport we love and are so passionate about.
Pella has a growing Indian-American population. How have the town and Pella Corporation welcomed the community?
Both have been extremely welcoming. It’s been a great community for kids to grow up in, and the school system is fantastic. As a whole, I think many of us here call it home because it’s just a great community, with fantastic schools, and wonderful employers; it’s been phenomenal.
Pella is a community where you have great people. I think that’s a Midwest thing. Just wonderful people all around. Hard working, smart, and great to work with. That’s what has kept me here for the last 14 years. Every day we are able to come work with wonderful people, we are able to make a difference, and our ideas and thoughts are highly respected here at Pella Corporation.
This year’s Catalysts series focuses on underrepresented groups in technology. Why is it important to have people of different backgrounds in technology?
Mainly it comes down to thinking styles; there is a diversity in thinking. We all are unique in our own ways, and we all have different backgrounds. When all of the parts merge, you come up with the best possible solution. As a company, we understand that very well. We implore all our team members — especially with their differences, especially with their diversity — to go to work and make those additions that help us grow as a company, and we are stronger as a whole.
What are you passionate about outside of tech?
I’ve always had a passion for giving back, and Pella as a community is great about that. I’ve been on the Pella Public Library Board for the past 6 years, and was with the Pella Opera House board for two years. It’s something close to my heart — because as you’re giving your time, you’re also growing as a leader, being in touch with the community leaders, and growing and learning so much from them.
What advice would you give a young person considering a tech career path or aspiring to a tech leadership role?
Keep an open mind. Try different things early on in your career to find where your passion is. Once you find your calling, work will not look like work. It will be fun and fulfilling, and you will have a great sense of accomplishment. From then on, life becomes a lot easier, because you are working in your area of passion. Sometimes it takes time to get there. That’s why it’s critical for young people to have the courage to try different things — so they can find that calling, that passion
What kind of impact do you want to have on the Iowa tech community?
I want to leave a legacy of humility and learning. As a tech community, we are very good at what we do. At the same time, I’m thinking, how can we be great at working well with each other? How do we treat everyone as if they’re the most important person in the world? I strongly feel that, as human beings, we have the opportunity to learn and grow into what we want to be, provided we make it a point to learn every day.
At Pella Corporation, we are big into a culture of learning, results, and caring. Most companies that started in 1925 are not around anymore. A caring culture is what has kept this company alive, and the learning and results are getting us to double-digit growth year after year for the past three to five years. It’s a great company to work for, where it’s all about growing and elevating people. It’s so neat; and it’s why many of us love to call Pella home.