Financial growth for people in engineering roles

I took money lightly. I paid a huge price. I don’t want you to. I fixed the money part and I want to help you to be better engineer than me, a better tester than me and be better in money matters. I want to help people have a holistic growth and one part of it is, financial growth.

Let me also qualify this, finance, is more than just money but involves money to a large extent. We all know that merely money won’t make someone live a holistic life. Purpose, health (physical and mental) for self and family, friends, spritiuality, society, hobbies coupled with money forms a good holistic life. However, money seems to be a leading indicator for everything else.

Our parents’ idea of success

Our parents were the one running the rat race, not us. They wanted us to become engineers. Why? They saw that people who had become engineers, got jobs, held high positions, got government jobs, had respect in society and also made enough money to run a family. For parents, with the money they could squeeze out of their earning, enabling their child to become an engineer was the biggest and yet safest risk they could afford to take. That was their idea of success.

Engineering colleges made an opportunity out of it and there was a sudden explosion in the number of new colleges that were approved to match the intake needs. I have visited engineering colleges that did not have a computer lab but had been approved by All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) for Computer Science Engineering. These colleges sold placement hope to the parents. I know many engineers who didn’t want to be an engineer were forced into Engineering. How do I know that?

I was a visiting faculty to Infosys Mysore campus through Edista Testing Institute. What Infosys (and other IT services companies) did was to create a Finishing School for people who graduated out of engineering colleges that were supposed to make people “Engineers”. Supposed to. Many people there weren’t dreaming to become software engineers. They were just dreaming something else. On day 1 of my class at Infosys, I started with, “Why are you here?”. Most of them didn’t want to be in there. People wanted to be a cricketer, a writer, a poet, a singer or an actor. Some of them wanted to be an Engineer but not test.

For parents, letting their children become an actor or a singer was never in the mind because their idea of success is, “Engineer”. There can be millions of Engineers but only 11 cricketers who can play for nation. So, the odds favor Engineering.

My wife, Bharathi, wanted to study Archeology. Since it required doing field work and it doesn’t suit the idea of success for women in India, she was forced to pick up Computer Science. She is a professional baker today after having completed a Master’s in Computer Science. My cousin, Padmashree, is a great Illustration Artist today. A few years ago she graduated out of an Engineering college studying Electronics and Instrumentation, again because her parents’ idea of success was Engineering.

Contrary to that, my brother, Giridhar, whose cut off marks didn’t qualify to get an engineering college seat, is an entrepreneur in the automobile industry. His knowledge and practical understanding of aerodynamics and material science surpasses at least 80% of the people in India with a mechanical engineering degree. I am an engineer. By practice, qualification and co-incidentally my father’s dream to see one of his son become an Engineer. He isn’t alive today. What he missed seeing is my brother become a true Engineer without needing a degree.

Byjus – the company selling hope to a lot of modern day parents, employs thousands of fresh engineering graduates to sell their education packages. These engineers are paid real good money at the start of their career and that money keeps them in their job. This also enables a lot of people who didn’t want to be an engineer in the first place to do a non engineering job and make a lot of money.

It is because of the common idea of success of over a hundred million parents to see their child become an engineer – India is the largest engineer and non engineer talent pool of the world.

Our parents’ idea of money

Our upbringing has done a lot of good to us. We are taught by our parents to be ethical, be sincere, be polite, be respectful of elders and work very hard. Our upbringing also has dented our opportunities. We judge people (beginning with ourselves), gossip, want to be known as good people in the society and we shy away from anything that appears to make us a failure. We hate being an outlier. We hate success because in failure there are more friends (who also have failed).

Most of the parents of my generation, received their first pay in cash. Then as checks. Then as credit to their bank accounts. The banks started our parents with a “savings” account to replace the money purse, piggy storage at home that was victim to theft or sudden act of kindness.

The banks also told people to store their hard earned money in the bank to keep it safe. Most of our parents’ attention went towards saving money for the future. The banks sold the idea of a savings account also by selling a future marriage of a girl child or a future master degree of their son.

11 year old ad of Bank of India

Our parents were appreciated by their employers for their hard work and talent. Even when our parents were farmers, they saw that they had to work really hard and then pray to the nature to play its role to make a good harvest happen.

Capitalists sitting on top of the money chain found abundance of hard and talented workforce who needed safety. Government jobs provided people the safety so people had to be lured into the private sector with more money and safety. The notion of a permanent job still lurks in many youngsters. They feel unsafe to be in a contract role even if it pays more and the contract duration is one year.

How do you read the following tweet? Read mine below.

Why are so many parents okay with their children earning less but living with them? It is because the parents have seen success (seeing their children become engineer and have a job to run a family). After people achieves their idea of success, they want less money and more of life.

We are a mutation of our parents

We are from them but not like them. We may have some similar characteristics because they put us through similar environment and family conditions they grew up in but also different from them because they could not exactly replicate what happened around them.

A few of us have been rebels. We have heard stories from our parents that this is not how they treated their parents. Also, we took unsafe decisions. To become an entrepreneur, to join a low paying job, to join a startup because we saw the future highside and doing something completely irrelevant to the degree they procured for us.

Most of us until a certain age still do what our parents ask us to do because they continue to define what is success for us. In Moolya, we have had employees quit by saying, “My father wants me to work for a big MNC because it is my marriage time. I really want to continue working here but…”. I can relate to it.

My grandma was very interested at what I earn so that she could brag about how well her grandchildren are doing in her friends circle who brag how well their grand children were doing in life. I would tell her some number and she would say, “…but that person who is younger than you earns more”. It wouldn’t make any difference to me who earns what in their life but in case it did, I would be influenced to quit my job. I would start finding 10 things going wrong with my current job. Give myself a plausible reason to quit my happy going job in search an unhappy job that gives me more money so that I could tell my grandma I am doing better than that person.

Irrespective of whether you have been a rebel or a good child, our generation has seen people who have grown fast. We have seen our juniors become startup founders, create huge valuation for their companies and create good exits. We have also seen people joining start-ups early on and growing with start-ups and earn a handsome ESOP buyback. True capitalists have figured out that making the right people rich is the way for them to become super rich.

Having seen plenty of examples of engineers turned millionares and billionares, we think our parent’s approach towards money, savings and using the money in future won’t work in today’s world. It is all now. Who gives more money today is more important than building long term relationships. This is why most of the apps we use are designed to give us the instant gratification.

We want to make more money but the only easy way we know to do is by getting another job. In 2008, Macromedia (acquired by Adobe), had accidentally shortlisted my profile for an interview. Accidentally because the profile was a match but I had been in too many jobs in a short span of time and they had a filter that people with too many jobs in a short span of time are not stable and hence won’t even interview them. On my way to their office, and this I remember, I could see their office building from far, I got a call to turn back with an explanation and apology.

What do Engineers know about the money they make

Here is what they know at the start of their career. They take the CTC mentioned, divide it by 12, and expect the salary to reflect the divide by 12 answer they got. This is truly what they know about money. I have done it in the past. I know thousands of engineers who did it at least once in their life. I know people who still do it today. It is safe to assume that if the parenting and education remains the same – the next generation of Engineers will do it too.

We had no education about money. While we do a lot of hard work, we never thought about how our work translates to money for our employer. If we know that, we could do better and help our employer do better.

Most engineers think there are three variables that determine how they get their money : I have these skills + I work hard to get this piece shipped + my company has a lot of money = so I get paid monthly.

With this formula, as they are taught in engineering colleges, they keep changing the variables to make more money. They work harder, they add new skills (most of it end up adding tools to their CV) and find a company that pays more money to do the same stuff. In a market situation where there is more demand than supply, people jump jobs faster. It gives them a quick buck and a sense of financial growth.

Just like an airplane – most engineers career has a max ceiling. Irrespective of whether they hit it at the age of 30 or 35, they hit the ceiling and are stuck. The take off is a very exciting phase in any airtravel but the long hours of nothing appearing to move is the boring phase unless you are sleeping or watching a movie or eating. Some people reach the boring phase in economy class, some in premium economy and some in business class. God forbid, if the plane nosedives, the Earth won’t differentiate someone in business class to economy. They are all treated the same.

How different are engineers who make a lot of money?

Engineers who make a lot of money are people who travel in rockets. Not in an aeroplane. They escape the gravitational pull, avoid the max ceiling and travel long distances outside in space.

They got themselves a rocket by focusing on things around Engineering that makes Engineering and Engineers successful. This is what they do :

Customer obsession + Solving problems that move the business needle + building a good engineering culture + hiring people who would replace them + moving on to a problem that creates a larger impact often within the same org. Unless there is a toxic culture – they won’t move out. You can’t lure them out with more money.

They got there by being focused on solving problems early on instead of being worried about the tools, skills, hard work and also being worried about another job interview.

One of Moolya’s customer is a Series A funded B2B SaaS product whose Co-founder and CTO, is a young engineer with 3 years of experience. This young engineer is super impressive. He wants to solve problems and build a good engineering culture. He isn’t obsessed about the tools or frameworks. He is plain, simple, straight forward and talks about the customers he is catering to or about how to help his team succeed. He is under pressure but is doing great. He is learning fast and you will hear about him in the future, as often as you hear other names.

Amar Nagaram – a case study

Amar Nagaram is the CEO of Myntra. As a CEO of Myntra, I am sure he is paid extremely well. I have no clue what his compensation is, nor am I interested in the exact numbers. However, I think Amar was one person who grew in Flipkart as much as the Founders themselves did and sometimes beyond that.

My first meeting with Amar happened in a small meeting room in Flipkart Koramanagala office in 2013, just about an year after we had partnered with Flipkart for testing their Flyte Apps and Flipkart e-books app. He was an Engineering Manager back then who discussed about the plans and roadmap for us to be able to scale up accordingly. I have spoken to him a few times after that but not as much. I am not his friend, so I have no details that he has personally shared anything with me. All that I am writing is what I have seen, observed, inferred and conjecture.

Amar started his career just like any of us. A hands on engineer but with a passion to be a problem solver through engineering. He builds a team of people who solve problems and keep replacing him. He loves creating a large impact and move the needle.

What’s the secret to Amar’s growth?

He wasn’t obsessed to becoming something. He was obsessed to solving problems and moving to where the pain area for Flipkart was. This made him a very good choice to be a keyman for various leadership teams that we have seen at Flipkart. Every top leadership at Flipkart have held Amar very close to them. He knew how to work with people and how to get work done from people. He built strong partnerships for Flipkart to succeed. He wasn’t resisting changes happening in Flipkart. He didn’t get swayed away by what media was saying. He put his head down and focused on the customer. He was and is committed to making Flipkart achieve its vision of enabling more people discover and buy products online.

Flipkart is the leader in Tier 2 cities in India. Amazon maybe a leader in the urban space but Flipkart does really well in Tier 2 cities. Myntra is the category leader, period. With Amar’s leadership, Myntra and Flipkart will always grow.

In 8 years, he moved from Senior Manager to Director Engineering to VP to CEO. Amar found the escape velocity and crossed the max ceiling and gravitation pull. He is the leading example from the startup space for holistic success purely because of who he is and that he didn’t get swayed by offers that must have come to him.

I get similar vibes with people like Sriram Iyer, VP Engineering at Flipkart. An entrepreneur, innovator and a fantastic visionary. Sriram Iyer at Ola changed the way my daughter rides in an Ola. Watch out for him at Flipkart!

Rahul Chari – a case study

Rahul Chari is the Co-founder and CTO of PhonePe. I have worked with him for a short duration when he and his team were building Flyte apps for Flipkart. Rahul hires passionate people. He escalates issues then and there. He also mitigates risks and issues for his team. He truly cares for where Engineering is heading. He believes it is a craft and has some very insightful posts about how he is building a deep tech and people savvy culture in PhonePe blog.

PhonePe is the favorite choice of many millions of people in India after they are done scratching the card that says Better Luck Next Time. Rahul propelled the growth of PhonePe and himself by building good deep partnerships with Sameer Nigam.

I know many Engineers who code well but also think business people are not the people they should hangout with. Rahul showed the world that hanging out with the right business people, caring about the craft, building good culture. supporting people to grow with a passion to solve customer’s problem takes someone from a million dollars to several billions of dollars.

The opportunity is available to anyone at any place. We need to open our eyes and see the world the way it is. Not through what we want to see in this world. Our obsession to what we want becomes the obstacle we are unable to cross because we become oblivious to what is blocking us.

How do we pivot to making a lot of money a reality?

Most of us in jobs are making money and growing the money we make year on year. However, our debt, dreams, aspirations, things we want to buy are growing faster than the rate at which our earning is growing. So, a jump for 30% is as good as a jump for 100% because the excitement and having grown feeling lasts a short time because we are good at growing debt.

#1 Understand money

As a first step to making a lot of money, we need to understand money. Go back to barter system and understand. Would you trade 1kg of rice with 1kg of gold? Would you do it if rice is scarce? Would you do it if you have 1 million kilos of gold and rice is becoming harder to procure? Would you do it because there are other people who are willing to give 2kg for it and they don’t have direct access to the bartering rice for 1kg of gold.

#2 Understand capitalism

If you are in a job, it means, you are a part of capitalism. You are in business. You may not be the founder or owner. Your growth is directly proportional to how much money you can contribute to the growth of the org. Understand deeply about how your employer makes money. That will help you think and bring a multiplier effect to it.

#3 Understand Market

Market understanding is very important. Market affects all businesses. Markets are volatile all the time but amidst this volatility, the people who can understand it have a better chance of knowing what decisions to be made when. The market is not just the job market 🙂 The job market is a subset of the market at large.

#4 Understand Customers

I have worked with Engineers who know to code well but don’t think about the customer, don’t spend time looking at the analytics, think that spending time in support is a demotion and are too busy delivering sprints. All Engineers who made money were obsessed to customers or provided great partnership to people who were obsessed to customers.

#5 Build hypoethesis

People who make a lot of money have the least amount of bias. Bias sets in when we conclude on how the world works. At best we have a hypothesis that may fail when we start exploring the world and we need to revise.

#6 Choose people

Engineers who make a lot of money choose people. They choose their leaders wisely. They don’t choose companies, brand name, and today’s compensation but people they can partner with. Not surprising, they partner with people who want to make a lot of money, ethically, and helping others succeed.

#7 Understand finance

Cash flows, ROI, MIS, Forecasting and Budgeting is not just for Chartered Accountants. It is for all of us. Build a Budget, MIS and Forecast of your monthly income and expenses. Plan your retirals with your current salary forecast itself. Work with a Financial Plannner even if you have 500 INR in your bank account now.

#8 Invest Money

Wherever you choose to invest, please invest your money. Support your friends building businesses. A good investor loses a lot of money and also makes a ton load of money that makes them highly net positive. Unless you are ready to lose money and still be in the game – you won’t make a lot of money. Also the notion of loss is temporary to an active learner and permanent to someone who has concluded.

#9 Build Expertise

Something you are not doing always look sexier than what you are doing. A lot of people build expertise and jump boat to doing something else. Sticking to a line and deepening the expertise matters to building something tangible.

#10 Build Partnership

Partnership is a word like money. We think we know what it is. We think we are living on it and yet we know nothing. The idea of true partnership is a scary experience for a lot of people. Even in our personal lives, we use words like compromise. Learning to build partnerships only comes when we are okay to be vulnerable. Partnership is the opposite of the word insecurity.

#11 Observe people

Technologies are built by observing how people interact. For example, DHCP is nothing but how our grandparents were allocated movie tickets back those days when there wasn’t tech. Observing people requires detaching yourselves from the equation. Learning how people think and behave helps you build products that isn’t disrupting their behavior. Observe long enough to build your hypothesis stronger.

#12 Slow Yourselves

We all love Slow Mo shots in our phone. This is because we observe the beauty of things when we slow down. When you slow down and see things you will be able to understand the financial value you bring to the table. Take time offs. Durign those time offs – switch off yourselves. Let things go slow. Not by being lazy but being more actively observing.

#13 Ask, why?

When you get an offer for more compensation, ask ;why does the company want to pay you more? This will open up your eyes to is it a temporary growth for you or there will be a continous growth. Don’t jump and take money on the table without knowing why you should take it.

#14 See the funnel

Everything in business is a funnel. There is more money being in top of any funnel. However, if you are not suited for it – the money you make will be temporary. So knowing what suits you is important after having understood the funnel you are in. You will make more money in the place that suits you. Moving to the top of the funnel may require fundamental shift in you. That transformation may take decades to come as long as you are a consistent learner.

# 15 Lonely is okay

People who move to the top of the funnel or even attempting to the top of funnel will feel lonely. They will have to pause some friendship and start new friendship. During this transition phase there is a lonely time. People fear feeling lonely and hence don’t attempt to grow. Being lonely is okay. As long as you are growing – more people who also want to grow like you will want to be your friends.

# 16 Socialism / capitalism

We are appreciated for socialism. It is a quick win. However, the socialism you can do when you have a lot of money, lot of value (non monetary) is far greater than you can when you have less money and little value. A balance of socialism and capitalism is required to sustainably grow both of them.

Semi Final Thoughts

India has more Engineers today than any other education stream. These people have similar backgrounds like I did. The majority of the people fall on the sides of the bell curve of either fear talking about money or they talk about money as the only thing that matters.

Very few people understand money and can see the holistic picture of why they are earning what they are earning. After I started to understand money, I am able to help my colleagues better and they started to help me better.

Until that point, I was making money like other Engineers who know that smart work means more hard work. Thanks to Kunal Shah for helping me (and many others) see the world through this tweets and polls.

Make more money, please. That way the world will become a bettter place. You will appreciate people a lot more than you are doing. You will be more kind. You will stop gossping. You will stop bothering if this tool and certification will get you 30% more. You will be able to help your children learn about money than what your parents did to you. You will be able to help this world more.

If you know something different than me, about making a lot of money, share it with me. I will be able to learn from you.

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