Program Manager | Chattanooga, Tenn.
Mitesh Patel, a program manager in TVA’s Business Development and Renewables group, is familiar with the stereotype of a software engineer. You know the one: Software engineers are geeks. They don’t like to deal with people. They’re happiest working alone in a cubicle filled with empty pizza boxes and soda cans.
He just shakes his head. “That’s the problem with stereotypes. They’re never accurate and, worse, they keep us from seeing people for who they are.”
Patel is a good example. Yes, an aptitude for math and science and a fascination with technology led him to a degree in computer science and an early career as a software engineer and systems analyst. But it didn’t take him long to break out of his cube.
“I quickly realized my true passion was for customer service and innovation,” he says. “I enjoy meeting customers face-to-face and understanding their business needs. I like solving problems, developing solutions and improving processes together.”
Working in TVA’s Business Development and Renewables group, he has the best of both worlds. “I’m responsible for ensuring that the information technologies we use support our business applications,” he explains, “but I also have the privilege of working with local power companies and other TVA customers to develop solutions related to new energy technologies—from new tools and educational materials to new program offerings.”
Recently, for example, Patel led the development of an online solar calculator—a tool to help people living in the Tennessee Valley determine if solar is right for them. It’s unique in that it uses regional information to calculate costs, performance and payback periods, Patel says.
“Many of the solar calculators you see online rely on national averages, which are heavily influenced by solar systems in the western U.S.,” he explains. “Out west, you get more sunshine, and solar panels produce more energy than in the Valley. Plus, electricity rates are typically much higher there than they are here. Because of the big difference, we wanted to give folks an apples-to-apples comparison so they can determine if solar is right for their lifestyles here in the Valley.”
The growing popularity of solar and other distributed energy resources is part of a much bigger change in the energy landscape, according to Patel.
“New developments in power technology are giving people more choice in how their energy is produced and supplied, including the option to generate some of it themselves using technologies like solar panels,” he says. “That’s where a lot of my work fits. I help develop products and programs that equip our customers with the information they need to make smart energy decisions.”
TVA also has to look out for Valley power customers who aren’t interested or can’t afford the cost of new technologies, Patel said. “We are working closely with our energy partners—local power companies, the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association and many of our stakeholder groups—to promote renewable energy programs that are innovative and flexible, while also enabling fair and equitable consumer choice.”
The long-term goal is to shape an energy future that will be good for everyone in the Valley, Patel said. “It’s what public power is all about. We want to do what’s in the best interest of all the people we serve.”
The Power of Diversity
Patel’s family history spans the globe. His grandparents were born in India; his dad was born in London, England; and his mom was born in Nairobi, Kenya. He and two brothers—one an identical twin—also were born in London, where they went to a Gujarati-speaking school. The family came to the U.S. when Patel was seven years old and lived with an uncle in Chattanooga until his parents could get on their feet.
“My mom and dad didn’t have a plan, but they had hopes of achieving the American dream,” Patel recalled. “They wanted to give my brothers and me a better education and more opportunity in life.”
Patel still lives in Chattanooga with his wife, Ami, who recently graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in biology. She’s considering a career in medicine.
“We got married in November, and we’re still recovering,” laughs Patel. “It was a traditional three-day Indian wedding with more than 300 guests. Family is so important in Indian culture; you’re expected to invite everyone you know. Wedding planning consumed almost all of our free time for the better part of the past year.”
At Indian weddings, there’s as much attention paid to the groom as the bride. “I made the traditional grand entry to the main ceremony on a decorated white horse,” Patel says with a smile.
Patel and his wife love traveling and enjoy meeting new people. “We want to experience places and people who are different from us. We embrace diversity in our life.”
Diversity is important to Patel at work, too. It goes back to the problem with stereotypes, he says.
“Setting stereotypes aside and including people with a diverse set of experiences, perspectives and backgrounds is crucial for encouraging innovation,” he says. “Innovation, in turn, is imperative as we work with our energy partners to adapt to technological advances and changing customer needs in the energy industry.
“That’s why TVA is working to build a culture where everyone feels free to express themselves and differences of opinion are valued. That work will be more important than ever going forward.”
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