Team Uthaan had a chance to interview Mr. Deepak Raj, the Head of Data Engineering and Analytics at KFin Technologies. He is also an alumni of our institute and did his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
From a student of IIM Ahmedabad to a working professional in TCS and GE, and now as a head of Data Engineering and analytics in KFin Technologies, what has your journey been like ever since you left college?
It has been quite an exciting Journey after coming out from IIIT Gwalior. When I see that piece, I never thought that it was going to be so ups and downs as what I have done at this point across the organizations. But when I see how things have progressed, this was not the thing that I thought that I will do when I left IIITM.
We always keep on thinking that our career would be in a certain direction, we will be doing certain things and it would be our career path. Then, everything changes within the next couple of years. You never know what you will be doing.
To tell you a few instances, like when I left college, I was doing some startups with my college batchmates. We thought that we will continue on that. Somehow the start-up didn’t work through.
Two years of MBA and then a lot of perspectives changed how things work across various business departments and business lines. You need to understand the industry with that knowledge, and with the technical knowledge, I think it’s a very wonderful combination that comes through which we thought that we would achieve in IIITM. But down the line, when you go out, you get more experienced, you get more opportunities which you need to grab and convert. That has been the overall path.
I did startups, and did full-time jobs with TCS and GE. With GE, it was an exciting opportunity because I was able to work through various verticals which means various business lines of GE. I worked in GE Aviation, then in GE Health Care, and also in GE Power. Finally, I worked on the corporate side which was like the whole umbrella company of GE, and on the horizontal switch cuts across, I have worked on the supply chain, on IoT, and all that machine communications, which was formed. I worked in finance and then I worked with a start-up and now, working in a financial sector company. So there is nothing that was fixed. Everything happened with how time flows and what opportunities can be seen. It’s up to us, how we gather opportunities.
What are the changes you find in the students since when you left the college and now?
I found students still going into some project work for their academic projects and other pieces. I think there is a shift in the focus of going towards AI, ML, and all those newer technological platforms like blockchain. Coding has always been a strength in IIITM and it continues. Earlier, we used to develop websites, small ERP software or other things like PHP, MySQL, RAMP model software, and that have been changed to NodeJS or ReactJS-based, and some part of the newer technology on the blockchain, AI and ML. So still, when we look at something in the students at this point, we know that we cannot expect everything from them. It’s on a very higher surface level that you guys will be exposed to how things work, what are the actual requirements of that tech stack and how to correlate the tech stack with the outcome.
When you are in college, you’re always in that mind frame that technology will solve everything, but when you go to the real market, the actual realization that people should come through is that technology is just a tool for enabling processes.
“Technology is just an enabler for people to do their businesses down the line and we try to create our business technology, but then you have to think about how we are going to do supply chain across it”
How will you get data, how will you process data? How will you make it available to the people at the right time and the right place? And then we have to make sure whether people who are using it are getting the right data or not. So you have to think through all of those aspects and try to make a decision rather than just building something where you think this technology will solve all your problems.
So with that in mind, what I see is that we are still in that mind frame, that we will make something and it will solve it together, not thinking about all dependencies that we have across. So if it is a website or it is a mobile app, somewhere it’s very passionately talked about what they have made, but for what purpose they have built is still missing. We need to maybe inculcate a bit of thinking at the higher side of that vision of why even we are doing something like this. Now on the college piece, it’s still relevant because you are doing projects and most of the time you had time crunched into doing those projects. But maybe one or two of those projects would be your highlight where you have deeply worked in, where you have thought through all these segments. It used to happen earlier with a lot of startups coming from our institute and a lot many people getting involved starting things, breaking things out, putting up technology like software’s out there. At this point, I think maybe there is some impact of Coivd-19 that has broken the chain of people being in the college and hacking things around working with each other. I think that part was missing, so that’s the area which I see currently, we are lagging.
Which can be a good career choice — Entrepreneurship or IT?
It’s an interesting question. And why I say this is when I was talking about IT you need to understand the supply chain, you need to understand, maybe finance and marketing and HR because everything is interrelated. The same thing applies when you think about entrepreneurship. While working in a big company, there comes their own set of experiences because the same matrix that is good, once we start becomes extremely bad for a company, once we scale. We need to be agile in start-ups and change things every day. That requires a person’s whole soul and effort to make it happen. But let’s say you are down the line, scaled up to 50 to 100 people start up where you cannot handle every day talking with every person giving clarity to everybody at the same point of time. You come to those cases, then you realize all the things that you used to do that have made you successful at this point of time fails because you will still try to expect that other people keep doing the same things, but then it has to be formalized, it has to be put on paper, it has to put through a structure. A structure like doing meetings and employees all hands every month. So, if you would do that in the first initial 30 to 40 employees with your startup, it will be like meeting every day.
Why do we even need to do this thing, and it is a time-wasting activity. But once you scale, it becomes an extremely important activity for your organization to sustain. So you get both perspectives if you have worked in these places. There is nothing good or bad and terms of working for a start-up and working for a good company because at this point, if I see my job, I am in a somewhat executive position and I have to fight for budget for my people and my project in the same way in which I was fighting during my startup times. It’s the public money or it’s the money of the investors that are coming, whichever company it is and it is our responsibility to execute projects and think about what will be good for our team and our projects down there and what we will be known for. So no bigger management vertical is as different as a start-up. In start-up also you are doing the same thing.
The only thing is you are front-ending the public. Here you think that you are not front ending the public. But every decision that you will take will be scrutinized. It has to come with solid research, it has to come with a more futuristic plan and you have to execute it. It is the same thing, getting money, budgeting it up, executing and giving it back. It’s the same cycle that goes. So if you want to say that there will be extremely different experiences, I would say yes and no for that piece.
Many of the first-year students are confused, as they are new to both. Entrepreneurship and IT job. So what should they keep in mind while choosing out of this two?
Every individual is unique that is the first major point. And even if I’m giving some advice, it may be relevant to somebody or it may not be. There are things which are different in terms of monetary wise in everybody’s life in terms of family-wise and in terms of knowledge. A voice that comes through and it will ask you to take decisions on these scales. I have seen some of my batch mates who were never having any monetary problems. Everything was sorted out. They were open to taking more risks than the people who have the baggage of loans coming in and thinking about family more than your job and other pieces. There are people whose families are so self-sufficient that they seem to focus less on taking care of family and more on taking care of themselves. If I bring along these two groups of people and provide you with the same starting advice, you’ll probably accept the job offer. That decision must be made by everyone. The only thing I can advise is to simply weigh the benefits and drawbacks of starting your own business as compared to partnering with a larger organization. It’s a demanding workload, and it’s exhausting.
When you first see it, it won’t seem as fancy as you might think. Once you scale and things started working. You have a good product market. Before that, everything is a struggle, you will feel multiple times in terms of money and terms of people. And by people, I mean your co-founders will start disintegrating, you will lose your most loyal people out there because you are not able to give them what they expected when they came. And now all of these challenges make you so comfortable with it that either you grow or you think about whether this is the right space for you or not and after two or three failed startups, even your family starts questioning all the intent that comes through. And it is part, and parcel of that gameplay, some people are over to going ahead with it.
Now coming to the job side, there is a short period where you work in the companies which are in between a start-up and a very big company. You get a good learning experience. But at the same point in time, it’s up to you, to figure out how many challenges you want.
Challenges won’t be there every time. Like, if you are meeting with people, there won’t be any challenge. Challenges will be on the execution side when you have to execute without knowing what is expected from you. You have to execute within deadlines that have been set by somebody else and not by you.
You have to find out avenues to grow like the company you are going in. It’s not possible that you will get end-to-end visibility of what you are doing out there in the market, or what is the impact that your work is. So, that is so much more in a start-up where you can directly see what the work that you’re doing that impacts come through. So for some people that is motivation, more than money seeing that impact. Some people, won’t be comfortable without money. So it’s the choice people have to take in those environments.
Since you have worked in Covid-19 days also, what are the major differences you find between the online mode and offline mode? Which mode do you prefer personally?
So I will give two examples of the two projects that I was handling during the Covid-19 times. I saw peak productivity of people once they started working from home because they know they didn’t have to travel to the office. Working from home has its flexibility coming. In that, performance peaked and one of the major reasons why that performance peaked was because those teams already knew each other. There was a sense of security between the teams. People already know each other face-to-face. It’s okay to call them and ask for work, it’s okay even if we fight because we know each other on a friendly level. So, the productivity increased. But once the first set of projects is completed, there comes a stage where you will need to form new teams. There comes a stage, we have new projects that require you to go away from the execution and start brainstorming. With a healthy discussion, we come to a conclusion, and suppose you are trying to do that on a phone then maybe somebody can shut you off if they don’t like it. And this creates a bit of difference in the team because, at the end of the day, they are not able to come to that common point, that they used to come to when they were doing things face to face. If this happens, it’s not good for the project and is not good for the team and then team communication also just breaks down to just talking about the project, we will call and just ask about work. You will not talk about your personal life. Nobody will know about what situations people are going through and dealing with and walking through and who is having problems on what basis.
If I am doing something better and I don’t have too many distractions, I expect the same would have been happening with everybody over there. But it may be there that they have to go pick up their kids and come back during certain periods. Mothers have to cook for the family and children in those places. So like during April 2021, I suffered from Covid-19 and for almost six-seven months was recovery period during that point of time. So people may say they are all right, but you never know. You don’t know how people are coping health-wise physically and mentally. For all these things, coming in person is extremely important.
So hybrid work, we say . How do we define hybrid work? What we did is that at least every month or every quarter, we all come together for 2 or 3 weeks, did brainstorming, figured out what we’ll do for the next couple of months. Then we went back and started working in that similar fashion. This somewhere had been working for us but may not work for other product lines or other departments, like operations where people have to be there in the office. They don’t have the luxury of going and working from their home. That is one more important point that we have to start looking at hybrid from the lens of all the departments and all the people who are there in the organization and not just from the IT lens. Being from IT and doing things over a phone call, or internet, it is relatively very easy than a person who is working there, assembling machines and then trying to generate or create products. We cannot expect them to work from home and then we say it’s so easy. Let’s walk around and we will never even think about policies for those people.
What fundamental characteristics were you looking for in the candidates today, as a member of the KFin Technologies Recruiters Team?
So on the interview side, definitely technology. People working on core technological pieces will more often go to core fundamentals of data structures and algorithms. We will find very few people who will be just asking fully machine learning because everything starts with that pace. So the most basic things are core data structure, algorithm, and databases. This time, I found out there is a bit of lag on the Databases side. People are not that much into RDBMS and SQL-based systems. So those are core fundamentals for anything that you will do out, there.
In terms of IT, if you take this domain area, for instance, that knowledge is there and then things build on that knowledge. So that core thing we are searching for, like whether you know exactly what a library is doing, whether you know, how to optimize a particular portion of the code and why we are looking for that pieces. Think about an algorithm, you have worked on data sizes that are from a few MBs to a few GBs. You may not ever get the insight into why even we go for these optimizations. Now you scale that same system for a petabyte of data and things that used to run within seconds here, translate to two days over there, which we cannot afford. That’s why all these optimizations come in. And then the actual test starts of who can go to that core fundamental of a problem, find out what algorithm is there. Try to figure out how we can tune that algorithm and all these things come into the picture and the big data side.
Now, coming to the next point. On the personality side, we see coachable people, who can learn, they are people who are experimenting during the interview process.
We try to figure out whether with hints people can think through, or they’re shutting down, or there are going and taking the clues from our side on that same piece. So we see how people react to those events.
Some of those elements, we are looking for, for certain kinds of jobs. It’s so, I want to clarify this piece. It’s nothing good or bad. If some person shut us down or some person is over certain behavior versus other people. People take it on their personality that this is good or bad. It is not like that. What we look for is the role fitment for a certain set of works. If I take a person who is very shy by nature, not able to push through, and I’m looking for a role where it requires extensive client communication, and pushing across all these product features or something across client, taking it back. And if I put this person at the very starting into those places, it will be very difficult for him to cope. So it is more of a role fitment of what we are searching for. And why I say that is, I have seen people who started as very shy folk and now they are fronting CTOs over there in the organization they are talking directly to clients, their personality changed as and when they started feeling comfortable with the knowledge that they gather in the domain area. And I’ve seen the opposite also, where somebody who was very bombastic was not able to pull through, with the proper research, proper data, proper way of communicating that message.
Do you want to any message give to the students based on the experience of how to get the best out of college life and make our future life better?
I would say enjoy your college life to the fullest sense. These are the stories that you will always tell, work stories are there but college stories are always special. Whatever things you have attended and organized, all of those things create long-term memories, even if you come back after 10 years, 15 years, or 20 years, you’ll have that nostalgia.
Keep working on some of your passion areas because it may seem like time is not there and this is so hectic. Once you go outside, it’s not gonna decrease but increase. So, college life is preparing you for that to be so comfortable with doing all these things that when you go out in the job market, you won’t even feel that pressure.
I will give you one example. After this college, I was in IIM Ahmedabad, when I was doing my MBA, the first year was hectic, and competition out there in the batch was so tough that even if you are not sleeping for more than two to three hours or four hours in a day, still, you’re lagging, and you are in such a space where you start feeling like whether we belong here, whether we took a right decision in even coming to the college. However way you are brilliant, you will find one person was more brilliant. Whoever it is, you can be good in one domain, they will be in all the other domains.
Now you work with these people and have discussions. Once your efficiency will increase, you will not even feel like you’re working that much, but you’re taking more of the other things that are coming through. So, with that same caliber, you are doing more things.
So get prepared for those pieces in college because it’s not that college stuff, it is one of the most chill lives that people have. So enjoy working on one of your passions. You need to have something on the sidelines once you are stressed to back it up.
Another thing will be to create your networks. That is something which will help you throughout your life and by the network I mean, you will have certain core friends group, you will have certain core extended group, you will have some professors groups and everybody will be there. You may feel that professors were so harsh, but once you come back, you will feel of how they take you and treat you like that. The sense of belongingness comes in. So make those connections, and have some of your connections up and running even when you leave the college. Once you will go for the meet for some alumni place like some alumni meet, you find friends in certain places, you go ahead, meet and you have a conversation. Like at this point in time, I can find folks from my batch in all the cities of India.
We are concluding our interview here. Thank you for sharing your precious time and experience with us .You are a source of motivation and inspiration for many and we wish you a bright future ahead.
Interviewed by Aneeka Mangal, Ayush Jha and Siddharth Goyal