Why Will I Not Trade Any Year of My Career for even a MIT / Harvard Degree?

When I passed out of college and finished my engineering in June 2005, I had appeared for GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering) for the last two years to seek entrance to a M. Tech program. In 2005, I scored 97.25 percentile and an All India Rank of 744. Although I was disappointed by this scoring, I still got a call from NITIE Mumbai where they admit students for a PG program in management and IT based on GATE scores. I appeared for the interview, which went well, but was not named in the final list of selected candidates. I didn’t wanted to pursue a M.Tech in any regional college so that meant I started my professional career in July 2005 with InfoEdge India Ltd. Today, I can not be more glad that I didn’t get a good GATE score and could not clear the interview at NITIE.

Don't ask why? This pic has an interesting story behind it!!

Don't ask why? This pic has an interesting story behind it!!

It has been almost six years in my professional life now. And boy, what an adventure it has been! I call it an adventure because I have done some really crazy things in these six years. I have made great friends (for life) from my days at InfoEdge and frankly, enjoyed and had more fun than what I did during my college and hostel days. I did some pretty good work on 99acres and was leading the technical team of 14 people when I left InfoEdge in 2008. I started a startup (sukip.com and saleraja.com) with my school friends and ran it for 2.5 years. I joined a startup in Bangalore which had only 15 people. I started this blog in 2010, am writing regular articles and poems which are well received and am now working on my first book.

Now I am working at Yahoo! and getting the experience of a multinational corporation for the first time. In the last 10 months or so, I have taken initiatives in the areas of waste management, anti-corruption and now PickaFight. After moving to Bangalore, I have hopped to and from Delhi like anything, attending marriages of Gunjan, Shiv, Saurabh, Kinshuk, Prateek, Gaurav (though I missed Mukesh and Rinkesh’s) and many more friends, many times giving a total shock to my friends and family by landing in front of them out of nowhere 😉 I ride a bike which I never thought I can, have been on rides as long as 800 kms, and in between somehow I also learned French for 18 months, prepared for IAS entrance for some six months and made and lost money in the stock markets at different times. I can’t believe it has been only six years!! Phew..

The 2005 Gang.. All friends for life

The 2005 Gang.. All friends for life

The point I am making is, when normally doing a post graduation has become a norm these days, and even I wanted to do it, I have learned a lot lot more from the biggest teacher which is life. I have succeeded and stumbled, been happy and sad, felt trusted and betrayed, but in the course have gained from life what no formal education could have given. Today, if anybody asks me to trade any one of the last six years for a degree from the best of colleges like IIT, IIM, MIT or even the Harvard, I would say NO. Those degrees might be valuable in another way, but they can’t replace what I got in these past six years.

If I look back at the Sumit from six years ago, I can say I am still the same person at the core, the spontaneous and rebellious one, always looking to break the rules and do something new. But seeing from another angle, I have become a completely different person and I can’t recognize the person I was six years ago. I was a hard core techie then with no intention of going into management, now I have started and shut down a company and call myself an entrepreneur.  My views about life, women, people, friends and family have changed totally in the last six years. It is a new ME now, yet with the same CORE.

How have I changed?

If I was a bustling pot of energy back then, trying different things without any direction and easily exploited by any person, emotion or situation, now the energy is being directed for achieving meaningful goals, while acting more responsibly and being more aware of my duties as a son, brother, friend, and as a citizen. My confusion back then has given way to confidence, my frustration to focus, and my arrogance has been replaced by a sense of respect towards fellow human beings. If I used to think I know a lot about the way this world works and how people are, I now know that I know very little about this amazing world which is full of incredible people.

How am I still the same person?

I still have a lot of fun in my everyday life, still wait for Mondays, still work on weekends (though it was never work to me), still take off spontaneously to go for a vacation or to give a surprise visit to friends and family in Delhi. I still break rules and norms and do things the way I want to do them. I still succeed sometimes, fail other times. You can say that my failures have not reduced but my disappointments have, my results might not have improved but my upsets have gone down, and that I might not have grown wiser, but I am less foolish now 😉

Had to ride 20km off-road to reach here :)

Had to ride 20km off-road to reach here

Life has taught me a lot in these last six years, and it has not been easy either. I can’t erase the memories of my mom undergoing cancer surgery and chemotherapy three times in the last seven years, can’t take back the harsh words I have said to a few people and can’t undo the many mistakes I have made. But who said it was supposed to be smooth? At the same time, I also can’t forget the tremendous excitement when we created SaleRaja, will always miss the amazing fun I had in my first year of work, and can’t thank the 14 people of the 99acres team who made me discover a new side of myself in that one year when I led them.  In a nutshell, life has not been a cakewalk, but if you would ask me “Was it worth it?”, I would say “TOTALLY”!!!

I don’t know if this is pretty much the difference between every 27 year old and a 21 year old, but this has been my story.

How my biggest strength was stopping me from achieving results?

Time Management and prioritizing things have always been one of my biggest strength. First, as a student, and later as a professional, I have always tried to be ahead of time, and plan things in advance. I can’t remember how it started, maybe I just inherited this from my parents or my knack of doing something ‘extra‘ always made me manage my time properly. However, in the last one year, I have realized how this strength of mine has stopped me in achieving more and better results, and what I had to do to not let this strength become a barrier.

The earliest example of time management in my life came from my parents. I still remember my mother used to wake me up at 6 AM every morning while I was 7-8 years old and how my parents made me study for 30 mins every morning before leaving for school. The same used to continue after coming back from school with homework in the afternoon, some playtime in the evening followed by one hour of TV at night. I think the same planning of time carried on when I went to college in Jaipur and later when I started my career at Noida.

Now, as a student, and as a professional who was just starting his career, most of the work I did was individual in nature. It means I had the responsibility of doing something on my own, and I always enjoyed it as I was good at prioritizing and scheduling my time. Most of the success I tasted at work was primarily because of my ability to manage my time and schedule. All this was going well till I started handling the 99acres tech team. This moved me into a leadership role for the first time and I was responsible for the work of the whole team, and it was a team job rather than an individual job.

Are your strengths becoming your weakness?

Are your strengths becoming your weakness?

During that one year in Noida, I found that I made good friends and had a good relationship with people who were good in their work and finished their tasks timely. On the other hand, I felt anger and frustration whenever someone was unable to complete their work timely. I started treating both sets of people differently. In other words, I enjoyed working with people who shared the same traits of time management and resented working with whom ‘I considered‘ poor performers. At that time, however, I was totally unaware that this was stopping me from achieving more results.

Only in the last one year, when I have taken some projects in the social space, like Waste Management and Anti-Corruption, that I have realized how my biggest strength was stopping me from achieving results. As my work grew from personal to interacting with people and teams, it was obvious (not to me 😉 ) that there would be differences in the way people think and work. Different people will be good at different skills, and for the success of any task or project, it is very important to leverage the complementary skills of people so that the output is bigger than the sum of its parts. Instead, what I was doing is aligning people with same sets of strengths and weaknesses together, making the project difficult and more prone to failure.

When I finally realized that how easily I used to get worried and upset when somebody did not replied in time, or doesn’t do what I expected him/her to do, I made a conscious effort not to let this become a show-stopper for the project, and for me. It was not easy in the beginning, as I was more concerned with somebody not replying in time rather than thinking about the project as a whole. The day I stopped seeing this behavior as ‘it should not be happening‘, life became a lot easier and I realized how this way of being has impacted my previous projects too.

Once I realized this, I started building systems, structures and processes that provide necessary help to the people to empower them so that delays can be avoided, or their impact be cushioned at best. This helped in creating a win-win scenario with the team working together with each member contributing in his/her own way and without any resentment, worries, etc. There is still a long way to go for me in this area, and I think the best learning will come when I encounter such situations in future, and how I choose to react to them.

What I learned when Deepali said “Theek Theek Laga Lo” :-)

It was sometime in 2007, or 2008, when I was the team leader of the 99acres team in Noida. This incident happened during a planning meeting for future projects in 99acres which was attended by many senior people in the company. Product Managers, Sales Heads, Business Heads of 99acres and Jeevansathi, and I think even our COO was present during that meeting, not sure about him though. Being the one handling the tech team, I was giving time estimates for the different ideas / changes the top guns had on their list. It was one such idea for which I suggested a time estimation and somebody said that he thinks it should be done in these many days (obviously less than mine). As it was only an estimation, I thought about it a little more and reduced my estimation by a few days. At this point, Deepali Singh, who was the business head of 99acres said “Theek Theek Laga Lo”. The whole room burst into laughter at that point and it was a moment I still remember to this day. (“Theek Theek Laga Lo” is a Hindi slang for “Give me a right price” which is commonly used while bargaining for price while shopping in local markets of Delhi)

What I learned from this incident is that having fun and keeping a light atmosphere is very important, even when discussing the most serious of issues and problems. It was the same that day, I was a little nervous and was taking things too seriously. After this incident, the whole mood in the room lightened up and I was lot more relaxed which indeed helped me to do my job better, in this case, giving better estimations.

I certainly miss shopping in Delhi's markets

I certainly miss shopping in Delhi's markets

Though normally I am fun loving and keep on doing something or other for fun, I have often seen myself getting too serious during important meetings, specifically when there are people higher up in the hierarchy attending it. Deepali’s comment diffused the tension and put me at ease highlighting how important it is to have fun at the workplace. I have always believed that if you are having fun while doing your work, then you will be more creative, more productive, will be able to take better decisions and will get along well with co-workers.

A pleasant and happy work culture was one of the most important points that I saw during the three years I worked with InfoEdge. People were not colleagues there, they were friends. Now, even after 2.5 years of leaving InfoEdge, I am in regular touch with all the members of my team and many others too, and I make it a point to meet them whenever I am in Delhi. It wont be wrong to say that I got many friends for life from those three years of working there. All credit to the fun-filled work environment there.

Remembering what we used to do within our team for fun, we used to go out for informal team lunches quite often. Many times, we used to get out just for having ice-cream at the nearby Nirulas or for sipping a glass of juice at a roadside juice seller. There were a few dhabas outside the office which had become popular meeting points over tea and maggi noodels. Within my team we used to play a lot of pranks with each other. There were times when Poorva (a teammate) used to hear random screams from her laptop while coding (thanks to me taking an ssh into her machine and remotely executing a scream mp3 file I have put there), and there were times when I used to return to my seat to find my laptop missing as my teammates have hidden it for revenge 😉

Taking it one step further, I try to apply the same approach to life too. No matter what the situation is, how serious it is, it always helps to take it lightly and have fun along the way. Life is a series of ups and downs, and it is as important to enjoy the downs as it is to cherish the ups. It is all part of the game called life. I will end with a quote –

“When faced with a problem, don’t ask life ‘Why Me?’, Instead say, ‘Try Me'”

What I learned when I brought 99acres down with a stupid piece of code?

This is a story of an incident which happened in 2007 while I was working with InfoEdge in Noida. I regard this experience as one of most humbling experiences of my professional career. After this incident, I realised that anyone can make mistakes, and stupid ones at that. I also learned the importance of accepting your mistake and the consequences that come with it. I realized that accepting your mistakes is the only way to leave it behind in the past and move ahead towards the future.

At that time, I had been working with 99acres for more than two years and was a senior member of the technical team. I was implementing a small module on the homepage and search results page, the most important pages of the website. I was always very good at programming, and am very confident (sometimes over-confident too) about my programming skills too. I coded that module successfully, it was tested and Abhinav (my team leader) made it live on production servers. This was during the late evening time. After that, the load on the server was very high and abnormal, but I just left without giving it another thought which was so wrong, both as a member of the team and also knowing the fact that my code has just gone live on the site.

The next day, around 10 am the website stopped responding. Nobody knew what had happened, we could not even get a remote SSH connection to the servers. We had to ask Vivek, who has heading technology for 99acres and was the business head of Jeevansathi.com, to call the service providers in the US to do a manual reboot of the server. Once that was done, the site was back up again. But in another 2-3 hours, the same thing happened again. The service providers had informed us that the CPU and memory resources were getting depleted very fast. We thought it could be a hardware issue and asked the service providers to verify the same. Meanwhile the same cycle kept on repeating all throughout the day without any luck.

Lots of sweet and not so sweet memories between us two

Me & Abhinav in 2005

Abhinav asked me whether this could be because of my code, but I remember exactly what I had done and was sure that it could not have caused the problem. Even Abhinav and other members of the team checked the code and found no problem with it. It was only around the end of the day that I realised what was causing the resources to be exhausted. I modified a piece of code in one place in such a way that it being called from another place caused it to call itself recursively. And since this other place was the homepage, it was getting recursively called and quickly taking all the server resources resulting in the server crash. There was nothing wrong in the code, and this could have happened with anybody’s code, but my mistake was that I was so confident that I did not even bother to look into my code to check if anything could have gone wrong.

Once I realized this, I fixed the part of code that was causing the problem, and Abhinav quickly made it live. But as this had become a major issue, we had to let Vivek know what was the problem. I asked Abhinav what should I do, and he asked me to tell Vivek the truth and accept my mistake. I went to Vivek’s cabin, and informed him what was the issue and that it has been fixed. He said that I was one of the senior most guys in the team and he didn’t expected it from me. I apologized and said that I will be careful from now on and it will not happen again. He further added to forget this issue now and get back to work.

I could have easily covered that issue up and let nobody knew what was the problem. But accepting this in front of Vivek gave me the freedom to see ahead rather than getting stuck with the issue. The point was that anybody and everybody of us will do mistakes (as we are all human) so it is better to accept it ourselves, learn the lesson from it and move ahead for the future. Now when I look back, I realize that this was one of those days when I learnt a lot. Accepting this mistake gave me the courage and strength to lead the 99acres team in the future and accept others mistakes as a natural thing which will happen. I learnt that it is very important to forget the mistakes, but always remember the lessons that come with it, and move ahead with life confidently!!!

And for those who were with 99acres, the module which I coded was the “Featured Projects” module which was placed on the Homepage and the Search Results Page 🙂

What I learned when Neha kept quiet for 3 days?

This post is about an incident which happened when I was leading the 99acres team while working with InfoEdge in Noida. This experience shook me and I still remember it very vividly. It made me realize the extra responsibilities and sensitivity which a leader must accept. I am a very fun loving and jovial person and some fun / jokes / mockery is a part of my daily life. But sometimes, you need to balance those keeping in mind the position you are in.

Among the 14 members in my team, Neha was one of the best resources I had. Always the go-to person in case I want something done urgently and efficiently. Having worked with her for quite some time and sitting right next to her, she was also a very good friend and we shared a very good working relationship. Maybe thats why I still remember this incident. One day when I came to office I realized that Neha was surprisingly quite. She was talking only formally, and her mischievous look was also missing from her face. I thought it might be some personal issue and let the day pass. But when she was the same quite person the next day. I pondered that could it be because of something I did or said, but I dismissed that thought as soon as it came in my head. I even asked her what happened but she said she was fine.

When she was uncharacteristically quite even on the third day, I started thinking of something I might have done to upset her. On the evening of the third day, I finally asked her whether her behavior for the last few days was because of something I did or said. And to my utter surprise, she said “YES“!! I could not believe that she was upset at something I said and did not mention it to me for the last three days. On further probing, she told me she has talked to her sister, and she advised her to talk to me directly about the issue. And the “issue” was that there was some incident which required urgent attention and I went to Neha with another person (from another team) to debug it. After Neha and myself figured out the issue and what would be required to sort it out, I made a comment “Tumhara response time bada slow hai. It was just a casual remark to tease her and nothing related to that incident or her performance. It was a part of the “mocking” nature that is very much a part of me.

As I said earlier, I often make sarcastic and mocking about people and situations for humor and this was one such incident. But coming from her Team Leader just after she had finished an urgent task, it was very unfair of me to having made that comment at “exactly the inappropriate moment“. No doubt she misinterpreted it as a comment on her performance and took it to heart. I know how anyone will feel if a work well done is criticized instead of the appreciation which one expects out of such a task. And the fact that she was upset for three days and never told me despite sitting next to me totally hit me like anything. And how unfair of me to even think about something that I might have done to upset her and then dismissing that thought in a blink? When she opened up to me, I cleared up with her soon after and we were back to normal terms and she was her mischievous self.

I learned two things from this incident. Firstly, as a leader, it should be my responsibility to make sure what comes out of my mouth does not hurt others (or is misinterpreted). And given the very casual and informal culture we had in the team, I should have realised that situation (with Neha) was not the right moment for a sarcastic remark, and that too in front of a third person. I learned to be more careful in future and keeping the right balance between fun and serious talk. It is very important that when I joke around, people should not take it a serious remark by their Team Leader, and similarly, when saying something serious, that should also never be regarded as a joke.

The second thing I learned from this incident was following up and making sure your point is clearly understood by the other party or not. I had the thought a few times that Neha might be upset of something I said or did but I never gave it a serious thought. Had I cleared up with her earlier, she might have opened up to me and would not have stayed upset for so long. It is very natural for us as human beings to misinterpret something said to us as something else. Since then, I always try to make sure to get my point across so that there are no wrong interpretations. The same holds true if I am the hearing party. Instead of assuming that “this means that“, I often restate the statement to clarify to the other side what I understood from his / her communication. This way, when I leave the table, I am sure we both are on the same page and no doubts and misinterpretations remain.

I would not say that I am not doing similar mistakes now, but I am more careful and cautious now when faced with similar situations. Keeping this balance between fun and serious stuff is very important. And I am getting better at it with time. Certainly from those times at InfoEdge.