“Maybe a little bit brave and a little bit stupid,” says Sreejata Chatterjee, laughingly describing her move from her home of Calcutta, India, to Halifax in 2002. She was 18 and traveled with an old friend, but no family. It turned out to be a wise decision as Sreejata is now Chief Product Engineer of a company she started with three other immigrants called Leadsift, a software program that combs through Twitter and Facebook identifying and understanding consumers on social media. It’s already a success having received over $1 million in investments. But, as Sreejata explains, the business needs to stand on its own with a strong customer base to sustain that success.
The work is a natural fit. “I wanted to get into programming since I was nine years old. It’s super logical,” she says. “And I always wanted to have my own business – it’s always been in the cards.” Sreejata found programming easy, a skill that brought admiration from other students. She wanted to study computer science outside of India and she’d read that Canada was among the best countries to live in. Sreejata earned her Bachelor of Computer Science degree at Dalhousie University, worked as a research assistant and in a consulting company, and enrolled in a Master of Computer Science program.
Upon her arrival in Halifax she thought she was in the “middle of nowhere,” but soon appreciated getting around easily and safely. Despite differences in cuisine, weather and customs – she recalls with a chuckle her surprise at not being allowed to wear scents in public – it wasn’t difficult to adapt to change. “Atlantic Canadians are so nice. People always helped me out.” Sreejata’s first language is Bengali while she studied English in school and “picked up Hindi.” Told she needed French in Canada, she took a four-month crash course before arriving. Sreejata works hard and hasn’t taken a vacation in over two years. Luckily her parents came to visit for several months, allowing her to indulge in familiar Indian food. She misses her native cuisine and recalls her first days here when she ate far too many hot dogs and chicken nuggets!
Sreejata grew up in a household of 12 people, including extended family. Her parents have graduate degrees in Biochemistry and her father has established several companies in India. While they are proud of her success, they wish she was close by. Sreejata misses her parents and her sister. She says there are many reasons to stay here – beautiful ocean, nice people and safety – but perhaps one day she’ll have a company in both countries.
Sreejata has traveled in the region, and considers Newfoundland particularly spectacular. She has little free time but has taken up running. She has been a volunteer at Feed Nova Scotia and continues to volunteer as an instructor with Ladies Learning Code, a monthly workshop for women who want to learn programming. Hers is a busy, challenging and satisfying life. She’s only 30, so the best is yet to come.