Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Interim Chief People Officer
About Sheela Kosaraju
About Sheela Kosaraju
Sheela Kosaraju’s passion for advocacy for herself and others was a key driver that ultimately led to her current role as Ciena’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Interim Chief People Officer. Sheela’s journey, however, did not follow the typical law trajectory.
Coming from a family who immigrated to the U.S. from India, there was always a subtle expectation that Sheela would become a doctor or an engineer. In an effort to support the people who sacrificed everything for her, she spent summers in engineering internships and finished her BS in Mechanical Engineering (with a second degree in Engineering and Public Policy) from Carnegie Mellon University. Soon after, Sheela realized that although she could do the work of an engineer, her passion had always been to pursue a career in law. She quickly returned to school in Wake Forest University’s law program where she initially pursued patent law, until she recognized that her real interest was in finding a way to converge her knowledge of technology with her desire to be a business enabling lawyer.
After graduating from law school, knowing that she wanted to pivot to more business focused legal roles in tech, Sheela sought advice from one of her most influential, former engineering professors. Somehow, using her tech contacts, her professor was able to convince a startup to take a risk and hire Sheela based on her potential, helping her get her first legal job as their first General Counsel. “I couldn’t be afraid of what I didn’t know, and I didn’t know a lot,” she said.
The confidence Sheela’s professor had in her ability to succeed, despite her lack of technical legal experience, is one of her key inspirations when it comes to hiring new team members today. Sheela focuses on the intangibles, such as having the ability to collaborate, resilience and integrity, good communication skills, and emotional intelligence.
“If I could go back and point to the successes in each phase of my career, very rarely will I say it was because I was really good at some very technical thing. It’s those other innate qualities and core values that allow you to differentiate yourself,” she said.
Prior to joining Ciena, Sheela was Vice President and General Counsel of two technology start-up companies, and was also Vice President, Associate General Counsel of a subsidiary of Cendant Corporation. In 2010, she joined Ciena as Assistant General Counsel. In late 2015, she took on the role of Head of Legal for EMEA and moved to London for what was supposed to only be a one year international assignment, but she continues to live in London today, taking progressively larger international roles.
In her current role at Ciena, she is responsible for managing all of Ciena’s worldwide legal matters and the company’s compliance and ethic programs and government affairs activities.
When asked to give advice to her younger self, Sheela said it would be to “appreciate the opportunity you have in every moment to learn. Every moment is a moment for discovery…you don't always appreciate that when you’re young.”
Sheela loves her friends and family and draws energy from the time she gets to spend with them anywhere in the world. She also has a passion for multiple sports (including tennis, basketball, and scuba diving) and is a mental health advocate, recognizing the importance of being empathetic to other people's experiences and prioritizing her own mental health with a strong, daily meditation practice. “You need to be selfish about the things you need for yourself…it’s better for everyone!” she adds.