Each year, the College of Engineering recognizes outstanding alumni during Engineers’ Day—a celebration of engineers, held on Homecoming weekend. Navrina Singh is among the engineers we will honor in 2019 at an Oct. 11 banquet.
Navrina jokes that she started her career on the edge and now she lives in the cloud.
Well before she finished her master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering, she already had secured a position as an R&D engineer with Qualcomm, where she had the opportunity to shape pioneering chip technology that enables cellphones to wirelessly move data, not just voice. She also worked in areas that included healthcare, smart grids, automotive, among others, before the company’s then-CEO Paul Jacobs and head of global marketing development Peggy Johnson tapped her to lead its global innovation program. In that role, she worked with technology leaders at Qualcomm and around the world to identify new opportunities for the company.
After 13 years at Qualcomm, Navrina was recruited to Microsoft to help monetize early AI technologies, and for the past few years, she has been building products in conversational AI, focused on enterprise SaaS virtual agents. Also passionate about providing opportunities to develop women in technology disciplines, Navrina founded Qualcomm Women in Science and Engineering and today plays an active role in the startup community, serving as an advisor, mentor and educator. Recognized as a young global leader, she also is five-year appointee to the World Economic Forum, which engages societal and business leaders to shape industry agendas ranging from regional to global.
We are honoring Navrina as an exemplary technological innovator who has built innovative software and silicon products, promoted a strong startup ecosystem, and is an inspiring and passionate leader in STEM education, particularly for women and underrepresented minorities.
Recently, we chatted with her about everything from her memories as a student at UW-Madison to her career and hobbies. Here are her responses to some of our questions.
How did you choose to attend UW-Madison?
Wisconsin was one of the most revered universities in computer architecture with some of the most brilliant professors and I wanted to be part of that community. Second, getting a full scholarship teaching assistant position in physics, so I could be doing engineering but still pursuing my passion in physics was something that really excited me. And then learning about Madison online, I felt that it could be a great community for me.
What drove your interest in computer engineering?
My parents have always challenged me to solve problems from an early age—especially my mom, who was a fashion designer and was always building things. She gave me the freedom to use our house as a lab where I could break things—but as long as I put them together in a much more creative manner. I saw computer architecture as a way that I could really bring my ideas to the physical world and have people see them.
How did your experiences in the college shape your career path?
Wisconsin really opened my eyes up to the joy of seeing an idea in your head and taking it completely to the finish line. Secondly, the importance of taking initiative, really believing in the power of community, believing in the power of hands-on experience to make things happen. Wisconsin gave me the confidence that I had something unique to bring to the table and that I could really help change the world.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time as a student?
I had a studio in Randall Towers. Because I didn’t like the cold very much, I wanted to be right across from the school; we were in CAE all the time. Plus, I loved the orange chocolate chip ice cream at Union South—so I had my priorities figured out. I am a hardcore Packer and Badgers fan, so amazing, fond memories of tailgating. And spending time at Memorial Union, especially in summer, listening to great music.
My husband, Michael Kongelf, and my daughter Ziya Kongelf, who is 5.