I am what you want to try and be and also not be.
I have worked as an employee in product and services companies and I have also built product and services companies. Through my companies, I have hired engineers for product and services. I have failed and succeeded in product and services. I have seen the industry bottom up and top down. Today, I am being led by engineers and business leaders. I am their chief servant. I am at the best moment of my career holistically.
Most importantly, I am devoting my life for your betterment. I care to short circuit your life by sharing my learning. My learning is not coming from a need to get rich or a need to do better than anyone. It is coming from a pure observation of how things work. If you can be much ahead of me, it benefits me. Tomorrow you could be a mentor to my daugther. I would love to see you be a great mentor to her. Caring for you is a way for me to care for myself.
Who qualifies to benefit from this post?
If you are an engineer in India and have asked this question to yourselves or you love second order thinking – this post is for you. Why for you? Everything you read and every decision you make in life should liberate you and help you experience sustainable freedom. Only deep thinkers find sustainable freedom. Others do find freedom that’s temporary. That’s why they keep switching companies. I strived for freedom. Long term. I found it. It is a blissful experience and I want to enable more people to experience this.
What about others?
People do read posts out of general curiosity. All of us have Googled : Benefits of drinking green tea and it never made into our daily life routine. So, 98% of us, are not reading to bring a change. We are reading because it is fun. Even for you, I will make it insightful. Actionable or not is only in your hands. I won’t force anything upon you. Like a servant, I will bring the platter in front of you and as a master, you decide if you want to take it or leave it.
Context and details of this post
I can’t write this post without a context. I have to use references from my personal experience of being an employeee and employer of product and services companies. Equally, I am aware that this post will go a bit lengthy. Many people don’t read long form content these days. They need a 10 second capsule and swipe up for the next dance video. I don’t offer 10 second fun content. Not in this blog. Thank me for warning you. This is the best sentence to quit reading, if you wish to.
Each one of you reading this post have a certain background. This post can’t accomodate all backgrounds but in the limited experience I have, I can afford to cover common patterns of the background. In case I don’t hit a home run with you, I am not sorry. Let’s go.
What’s the difference between product or services company?
We all think we know it. Here’s a second order thinking to surprise you. As an engineer, irrespective of whether you work in a product or a services company, you are working on a product. So, to engineers, product or services, there is no need of FOMO.
Yet, what’s the difference?
A product company has its revenues based on exchanging their product usage for money from customers. A services company revenue is based on exchanging people’s skills and time for money from customers. Other than that, everyone is working to build a product only. So, every company is a product company. The revenue source is the main classification of why they are bucketed into Products or Services. There are cultural differences too, if the services company isn’t modern thinking. That’s the difference. If one wants to argue about skills, I have seen crappy teams in product companies and great teams in services companies. ThoughtWorks has more talent density than many product companies have which is why many tech driven product companies seek out help of ThoughtWorks. People often compare a good product company to a crappy services company to feel good for choosing a product company.
Stages of an engineer’s career & pressures they succumb to
Early stage : Young entrant, novice, passionate, wanting to prove
As a young engineer (between 2003-2007), I had no clue how was my employer earning money to pay me. Does it matter to me if my company is billing for product or my time because, I was enjoying my work. I was learning new things everyday and I was enjoying solving problems I love to. Also, I was with colleagues who were giving me a ball of learning and joy to work with and hang out. I had no clue if I was in services or a product as long as I was doing what I enjoy doing.
At this stage, the society and most importantly our grand mother, our relatives are asking us two things: money and the brandname we are working for. Whatever they ask, at this stage we are taking the CTC, dividing it by 12 and thinking that is our take home. Classic novice mistake. I have done it. You may have done it too.
Societal pressure for engineers at early stage
In 2003, fresh out of college, I worked at Impulsesoft. None of my relatives had heard of it. Impulsesoft was a 60 member startup and the first company in the world to demonstrate bluetooth stereo audio at 44.1 Khz sampling rate (CD Quality). I was testing emebedded software andI had a ball of time. Well, of course, I was compared to my cousin who got into Cognizant and a better pay perhaps. I didn’t bother much about the comparison and I kept walking while many people in my shoes would have acted based on the comparison. 98% of the world yield to the temptation of brand name or more money at this stage. We are in 2022 yes.
In 2015, an employee of Moolya cried to quit because his father wants to see him in HCL than Moolya. This employee of Moolya felt Moolya was the place he wanted to be because he had found his footing here but he couldn’t say no to Papa. Another early stage employee got married and her husband wanted to see her work for a funded startup than a bootstrapped company. Yielding to societal pressure is very high during this phase because everyone is in the pressure to prove themselves and please others. For 22 years, people aren’t taught to make their own decisions. That’s India, even in 2022. Eat that frog.
Mid stage : Matured engineer, picky, choosey, peer pressure
As a mature engineer (between 2007 – 2010), I started caring for a few more things beyond just my job. The culture of the work place. The benefits and perks on offer. The insurance cover to me and my family.
In 2007, when I was in between my jobs and my dad had gone independent, he suffered a heart attack during one of his business visit to Italy. We could have scraped through costs here in India but Italy was far fetched. Some travel insurance came in handy, the company he was consulting for also helped him out and yet there were things that had to come out of our pocket that we could not afford to.
Till this moment in my life, I never bothered to look into my offer letter beyond asking a question, what’s my take home? This moment helped me realize what is truly important for a holistic financial wellbeing. Today, I am proud that in Moolya, we were able to get parents, spouse and kids into the group insurance. During the pandemic, many of our people realized the value of medical insurance.
In terms of my work, I was getting very picky. I wanted to do things that I think would create an impact. In hindsight I can tell you, I was picking work that had a combination of impact to customers and to my colleagues. My work had to benefit my colleagues and customers equally. I was at the intersection of tech + people. When I say people, I don’t mean, leading them or managing them. I wanted to help my colleagues succeed as much as I did. Could be with the tools I wanted to build or with the test data I created.
Around this time in 2007, I was working for a medium scale IT Services company called Flextronics. They wanted to introduce the rating of a tester based on number of bugs found per kilo lines of code. I resisted it despite knowing I would have emerged as the top tester if that was implemented. My colleagues were complementing me to create overall project success. Some of the best tech testing I did was in Flextronics and yet enabling my colleagues became an equally important thing for me. If I was awarded for my work and my colleagues were not able to get enough good recognition, I would not enjoy my award. I didn’t know what it meant for my future then. Now I do.
Even in the mid-stage, engineers succumb to culture. By this time they know what builds quality and what does not. If they are just focused on themselves and their growth, they ignore culture causing problems to the overall quality and focus on finishing what is assigned to them.
Societal pressure at mid stage : Pick money today or pick a great future
The mid stage is where people are becoming very picky and choosey. Not just with their professional life but also personal. This is a time where lots of people are getting married and starting a family.
Questions come up within ourselves, from the spouse, from the marriage market in India asking; are you earning enough to start a family? do you have a home and a car? do you have that or this? All our grandparents had at least 6 children when they were earning 1/1000th of what we are and yet made our fathers and mothers into doctors, engineers, lawyers and what not. Here we are, wondering if we can enable 1 child with a 20L CTC. That’s because our grandparents knew I/O better than us engineers.
Peer pressure is another element. In 2006, some of my ex-colleagues had relocated to the US. Others moved to companies like Adobe and Microsoft, obviously higher CTC while I was at Flextronics. I wasn’t tempted but I know many were tempted with on-site lure. The on-site lure is so bad that a person quit the job because he didn’t want to do the so called manual testing anymore and he found a job as a developer within Bangalore.
He was offered the same manual testing job on-site and he let go the other offer. Even in 2022, people succumb to this. When will US happen in my life? This is a question a lot of people keep asking here in India. I know a senior person who came so close to a gold mine here in Bangalore and let all of it go for an onsite job. Years of foundation to hit the goldmine of opportunities, lost.
2 types of money : Quick money & Long term money
If we make decisions for quick money and expect long term money, it doesn’t come. We get what we ask for. We also get what we didn’t know we were asking for. That’s our suffering.
I know a person who co-founded a startup and quit the startup because the prospective partner’s family wanted to see him in a stable job. He succumbed to the pressure. Later that company did millions of dollars and this person lost the opportunity. The equity this person gave up to prove the money equation to relatives is worth millions of dollars today. He did get a job that paid him 30L CTC by losing millions of dollars of the future.
One question we all need to answer is : if we lose millions of dollars of the future, do we know how to live peacefully with what we have? If the answer is Yes, you are above everything in this world. Especially money. So, you are in control of your life. That’s amazing. Stay there. Forever.
People make decisions for quick money and expect long term growth to happen. While it is certainly exciting to go higher and higher in CTC but that also means, the number of opportunities are becoming lesser and the competition to get that is more intense.
Why did I mention second order thinking at the start?
The future. Only 2% of the world bets on it. Everyone bets on the present. Even among investors, 98% of them are ready to invest based on present numbers. They are betting that you will continue the good journey of today into the future. VC’s want to become good at spotting the future so that they know whom to bet on. Everyone is in this business.
Second order thinking is going beyond today. Second order thinking enables us to see beyond what the society wants us to see. The day I experienced true freedom it gave me the courage to go build something.
Typical IT Services versus New Gen IT Services
I did notice a starking difference in the culture of product companies versus services companies. Back then in 2010, there were typical IT services companies. Not the kind of new gen services companies you see today such as Coditas, Recro, Test Vagrant and (shameless plug) Moolya.
I worked both in McAfee (product) and Flextronics (services). The people, their skillset and the mindset was very different. Why? Typical IT Services had contracts that limited people because their customers ask for more compliance and evidence of work than work itself. A company like Test Vagarant or Moolya cares a lot about quality. Our contracts are for quality, freedom and liberation to bring the skills out of people. Not binding on people.
We make money by freeing up people and typical IT services companies make money by showing their customers (while they do work) they are compliant. That said, not that the new gen IT Services are non compliant. We are non compliant to things that bind us down, slow us down, put the quality down and limit our freedom to experiment. Why? All new gen IT Services companies in India are built by hands on practitioners. Not business people.
Cred versus Moolya
Moolya’s competitor is Cred. Sounds funny? This is what every new gen IT Services company is doing. They aren’t competing with an age old services company. They are competing with those building deep tech products with kick ass experience.
In Moolya, we are also building products such as Bugasura.io – the easiest way to report, track and close bugs faster. We are building this on 1/400 million of a budget of what people are building at Cred but we want to deliver the experience that Cred delivers. We can’t beat them on ads and speed but talent is such an open game that indie developers beat the shit out of top companies sometimes. For us, we may go a lot slow but what matters is how big are we dreaming AND executing for our customers.
Today, be it Moolya or Test Vagrant or Recro. We all want to be on top of the game. Not in the bottom of the tank. We fight with the sharks in the ocean. Yes, sometimes they gobble up more food with their funding but ultimately, time evens things out. Many unicorns who paid a lot of money to get talent also are letting people go at the same rate they hired. Only a few unicorns are truly unicorns with a long term feasibility.
The vision of Moolya (as with Cred) is long term. That’s why we are building leaders from within. Someone like Amit Vyas joined us as a fresher and he now leads MoolyaEd.com as the CEO. New age IT Services companies with long term vision are creating more spaces for leaders to grow. Cred on the other hand is creating engineers who will eventually become future CTO’s and VP Engineering. So for opportunities, new age IT Services companies are on par with new age product companies.
Finally, about you and where you fit in?
If you remove all temptations the society has put into you is when you will truly find what you enjoy doing. Only when you truly find out what you enjoy doing. You will absolutely excel in it. While I was writing this post, my brother, Giri, called me and interrupted my flow.
Giri finished B.Com and then MBA. He then worked as a Finance Analyst in AOL and then Hewlett Packard. Giri would have earned well if we continued to stay at HP. However, he found that he enjoys bikes and built a startup around bikes making kickass after market exhausts. After 6 years of doing it, he pivoted to building an electric bike.
Of course, as of today, he isn’t earning as much as he HP would have paid him but he is having a ball of his life. He is more contended than he would have been in HP. He secured a pre – seed funding for building the bike. Before that he was running post to pillar showing his vision to people. He had tough days but he truly has given a shot to become a billionare with this bike. How many of us get ourselves close to that shot? We all have negotiated for the extra lakh of rupees in our CTC like how Auto Rickshaw guys negotiate for extra 100 rupees. The auto driver also has no money end of month, we also don’t have money end of month. Big deal?
Many bikers love Giri because he is doing what they want to do but are unable to. They also love him because his brand Barrel Motors has created a biker friendly after sales support that typical for money businesses can’t replicate.
Your future is in doing what is not easily replicable. Google is a search engine, right? You have open source tools today to put up a search engine. Why don’t you put it up and replace Google. That’s because Google has made itself irreplacable. Note that Google came late into search engine party. Yahoo! was already there but they bombed because they made themselves replacable by doing what was necessary for that day and not for the future. Most engineers caught up in the pressure of society are doing what is necessary for today and not for the future.
Finding what you really enjoy doing is hard (but possible)
Nobody enjoys doing work. While I love what I am doing, there are things within what I do that I hate to do. I didn’t know founding a company means ton loads of signatures. I also didn’t know it also comes with me being in the center of a lot of things that includes several OTP’s related to company and I hate that part of my work. What I truly enjoy is enabling people like you to see beyond what you are seeing and hence open up opportunities for you to give yourselves the Giri-shot.
You might be writing code and closing Jira tickets at great pace. You might be pushing things to production or you might be living from sprint to sprint. In between all of that – you might be enjoying something so much that you are not getting tired of it at all.
Finding that small bit of thing you enjoy is hard if you have become too busy. Keeping yourselves busy makes money for you now and kills your future. So, you need to balance out. Ask for more time for yourselves from the next employer and not just more money. Only then you will get your Giri-shot. Otherwise, you will be Giri who continued in HP. Nothing wrong. If being in HP is what you like then don’t quit HP. Don’t ever do, even if your colleagues are moving. Even if the market turned super hot for more money. Just stick to it. If you don’t know what you really enjoy – there won’t be stickiness within you.
A lot of people who are married stick to their spouse. Not because everything is working. Not because they don’t have choices outside but because they have found their love and the person reciprocates their love. There will be occasional disappointments but they don’t lead to separation. They lead to temporary hush-hush and next day, “I love you and I am sorry. It was my mistake”. This is how any employer – employee relation should also be but isn’t.
The impact we create through our work, matters
Not the appreciation we are craving to get. We all are working to create an impact. Are we creating a positive impact on our families, on our customers and on the people are working with? Founders like me are excited about the impact our companies are creating. Money is a by product. Bigger the impact – bigger the by product. Many people mistakenly are focusing on the by product. There’s a saturation point people hit when they only focus on the by-product. This happens in their 40’s but it is late to recover most of the times.
Also, founders like me are at the driving seat. I can see every decision of mine turning good or bad for the company. This enables me to become a more responsible driver. That’s also what everyone should aspire to. Today, many people are oblivious to the impact they are creating.
Product or services isn’t the question
The visible impact you are creating is the question. Your learning ground to get there can be in product or services. Again culture matters. If you start your career in a place where people are called resources, you will be stuck to it for a lifetime.
My personal impact metric in Moolya is how many people did I help in transforming. This is what has kept me in Moolya and enabled me to persist in Moolya. Bhavana Vasudev is a Delivery Manager in Moolya. She came in as a person who was low on confidence and was skeptical about her future. However, there was a spark I saw in her because she persisted in many different ways to get into Moolya. Just that persistence, has enabled her to be a bold leader today. From, “I don’t know if a career is for me TO I want to lead my people well” is the story of Bhavana. Her transformation (and that of people like her) is a transformation I am excited about.
My personal impact metric in Bugasura is how many team’s can we enable people to report, track and close bugs super easily and super fast. To be in a product company means, you too have the same impact metric and live to see that you make that impact happen. Now, why should you own the metric of the founder? No, you don’t need to, unless you have a better metric than what the founder has and in that case the founder switches to your impact metric as their super metric.
Abhijeet Vaikar – a case study
He is a great leader you all should follow if you are an Engineer who focuses on quality. Why? He learns and he shares. Also, he does contribute to the community more than what he takes away. He understands that it takes everyone in the company to build a quality product while juggling and influencing business people, product and tech. He has been with Carousell in Singapore for over 4 years and 4 months.
For the visibility he has, I am sure organizations have approached him with offers. He has kept saying No. Why? Everything is great at Carousell? No company in the world has everything going perfect for them. Abhijeet certainly has great support from his engineers but also there would have been times where he wanted to bring in a change and people resisted. He didn’t quit and go. He learnt what brings the change and why people resisted it. This is why I think Abhijeet is or will build a long term future with Carousell.
He knows what he can do outside and knows what he can earn outside. He has understood what he loves doing and at Carousell he isn’t blocked from doing that. So, he sticks on. He overcomes the occasional mistake of the spouse (Carousell) and work things out the next day. This enables him to create the impact he is creating for Carousell’s customers.
He is more happy in life than many people with 6 offers and not knowing which one to choose and then repenting for the most researched choice going bad. 100%.
Abilash Hari – a case study
Abi joined as a fresher in Moolya, 8 years ago. Today, he heads the Solutions and Pre-Sales in Moolya. A Sequoia Funded company, offered him, without an interview, double of his existing CTC at Moolya based on his Linkedin posts, what he has spoken at conferences and what he has built and put out over the years.
He asked them, what else do they have to offer. So, they replied saying, we have free lunch, free snacks, we will send you out on a trip. At that point he interjected and asked them, what impact they want him to create. It wasn’t a big impact role although it was indeed a leadership role. He declined the verbal offer.
He has found what he loves doing in Moolya. What does he do? He is the first few people to interact and find out problem statements customers of Moolya have. Post that he and his wonderful team works on possible solutions. He then pitches it to the customer and finds resonance or disonnance to the solution proposed. Based on that his team alters. He is exposed to new people and new age problems. He is now working on publishing a book on testing web3 age products.
Moolya invested in his startup idea during his tenure with Moolya. While it didn’t work out financially, it worked out a great deal with non tangibles. We all learnt from it and that is benefitting Bugasura’s growth. He won’t get this freedom at that Sequoia funded company. Now, I am not saying that company doesn’t have growth to offer. It doesn’t have growth to offer to Abi. Period.
Abi has put himself in a spot where he could be leading one of our new initiatives. We could spin it off as a new company and he could be the CEO or CTO of that company. He loves freedom, he loves linear growth with Moolya and like Abhijeet – he has found his home because he know what he enjoys doing. The impact he is creating on many companies in preventing bugs is the impact he is seeing and enjoying.
Semi Final Thoughts
- Product and Services in the new age companies are same.
- Culture is what everyone needs to assess.
- Building quality while it is everyone’s responsibility, merely focusing on just individual deliverables has no long term future.
- People are obvlivious that their career decisions are driven by society than their own needs.
- Finding truly what you enjoy doing is hard, if, money, position & brand name becomes a blinder.
- A great football player shouldn’t get excited that cricket looks more sexy in this country.
- Many people move jobs to gain freedom more than money.
- Being busy translates to money in short term but kills the possibility of a better future.
- Employees should ask for more freedom and freetime than just asking for more money.
- Money evens out over time.
- People have no time (and education) to observe themselves.
- Even people who want more money in hike don’t want to put themselves in a spot to become a billionare because they have to let go off what the society wants them to have.
- More a person is paid more debt they accumulate if they don’t have financial discipli
- Product or services is not the question. What type of impact you want to create is the question.
- Doing what you enjoy doing is the only way you will feel contended with your career.
- What impact you want to create? is a better question to ask than asking product or services?
- If being an employee is your path – It is not just where you fit in – it is where you stick.