Interview : Vivek Shah (CSE – 2008)
Please state your current profile and explain your profile. If possible, help us understand any previous profiles you’ve worked for.
I presently work as a Vice President in a financial firm in the engineering division leading the data analytics function for one of our businesses. I interned and joined as a fresher. My profile would be defined as techno-functional as we continue to remain hands-on technical everyday to create the impact we can in the business we are in. I have jumped around a number of profiles within the organisation to build my technical, functional and business skill set.
Could you tell us more about the kind of technology and innovation used at your firm and the technical aspects of your work at Goldman Sachs? What kind of opportunities exist in india in the field of financial engineering?
Name a technology and someone is using it, as we are problem solvers identifying the right solution to use for the right problem. It is important to understand the breadth of technology innovation both inside and outside any organisation. Over my career, I have touched upon UI/UX development, data analytics, microservice based architecture, workflow automation, financial product modelling and flows.
As for the field, it has grown tenfold with the growth of the FinTech industry as entry barriers for organisations to enter have lowered allowing a spurt of startups to take on the behemoths. There is always a demand for this field until money and commerce are the basic tenets of an economy.
What would you advise students to do while in college if they were interested in a career similar to yours? Please do include online courses, internships, books etc which helped you in preparing for a job such as yours.
We are in a knowledge based industry, which means we need to stay relevant everyday. and can’t rest on past laurels. Hence, in a skill based economy, it becomes important to continue to upgrade our skills. I feel sites like egghead, coursera and pluralsight provide great resources to get hands on practice in areas of technical and functional interest. Find a learning style that suits you and keep learning.
It is also worth mentioning that experience matters! I had done 3 technical internships during my time in university and each was a great hands on experience on the different technology stacks I worked – building a database of songs for an Indian mobile based search engine, building efficiency toolkits for the business or even being a client engineer for Windows, Solaris and Cisco products. We didn’t have some of the cool resources available today like HackerRank (Started by classmates Vivek R. and Hari Shankaran) which I’d have loved to have back then.
Do you have any suggestions on how one can make the most of their internship(s), and on converting an internship into a PPO?
Internships are a two way learning exercise – for you to learn about the culture of the firm – what is their working style, do you enjoy that style and for the firm to know about you as an individual.
This information is not available in any textbooks in college, so look to interact with your team members, other folks in office you might meet in the cab, cafe etc. Also first impressions matter and so does consistency.
How useful are certifications like CFA for the field that you work in? Is it possible to prepare for them while in college? If so, when?
An engineer who understands the business can give them what they need rather than what they want. While a CFA provides an official certification that you know the basics of business, it isn’t mandatory if you have the curiosity to learn and upgrade your own skills. For someone from an engineering background, if you have set your sights on this career path, it is never too early to start off your journey.
What soft skills are useful in your job? How can one improve upon them in college?
“No man is an island.” – Communication is an integral part of your success in whichever field you decide.
That doesn’t mean you need to be a champion in the English / Hindi / Tamil literary departments of the college but by taking part in group projects helps build those skill sets as you get used to working in a team. This could be any type of team – part of the college festivals organising groups, technical projects working group or social activities groups. This will also help you inculcate leadership skills, which you will realise isn’t just about wearing a fancy title.
Also, technologies come and go, but problems remain. Organisations are looking for problem solvers who can work under constraints of resources and time to come up with commercial solutions to the challenge at hand. So companies look for people who are analytically strong, have confident communication skills and have foresight plus aptitude to look at the bigger picture.
Is there something the T and P cell can do which does not come under its umbrella currently, but is important?
The T and P cell has been doing a great job in terms of preparing students for the interview process and helping them cross that first milestone of getting a job, preparing them for a career would be a great boost to students which means helping them become aware that learning is a continuous process, the importance of teamwork and most importantly – creating a personal brand.
What is the extent one should go to find a balance between work satisfaction and monetary satisfaction?
Find your true calling! A career is a marathon, not a sprint so you really need to know what keeps you chugging. If it is money, don’t be ashamed and set that as your goal, if it is work and its quality, don’t be pained about what you don’t have but enjoy what you do. If you are passionate about something, you will succeed and money will follow but you would have achieved true satisfaction already. I bring this up specifically because on campus, we usually decide one job / profile is better primarily due to the monetary compensation put up.
How permanent is any choice of career? Do you think one should stick to a particular field or keep changing and experimenting as they grow in the industry? How can one be sure that a certain career path is right for them? What is a good way to make that decision?
There is no formula you can put the variables in and get the answer. Each one of us has a different path that we tread upon to find our true calling. Feel free to experiment if you feel you are stuck in a rut, but if you are enjoying the flow, you don’t need to rock the boat. If you wake up in the morning and want to get to work, I think you are in the right place. Also don’t change profiles because you find it hard. Everything is hard, passion helps you overcome it.
What are some things about your career you wish you knew in college, in retrospect?
We let our marksheets define us, the real world doesn’t care. You need to define yourself as you are a brand and if you don’t love yourself, no one else will. Don’t compare yourself to others, invest that time in finding out what is unique about you and building your brand’s portfolio.
Is there any advice you’d give to engineering students? Is there anything students can take away from college genuinely on a qualitative basis?
University often teaches you a lot outside the classroom as it teaches inside one. The networks you build, the brand you create for yourself and also remember that opportunities have no tomorrow, so carpe diem. Also, we are very tuned to complaining about problems and constraints. Be a problem solver no matter how small or big the problem, you are paving your way for future successes.
You have done a lot of volunteer work, especially involving mentoring and or teaching middle/high school girls and in helping them start their STEM-based careers. How rewarding has your volunteering experience been? What difficulties do you think women and girls working in tech or interested in STEM face today? How can their situation be improved?
“Talent is everywhere, opportunities aren’t!” has been a common refrain from me and giving people the right platform to showcase their talents has been a passion for me. Cultural constraints have placed obstacles for different parts of the society from achieving their goals. A simple example is place a dustbin in front of the class and ask all the kids to aim and shoot into it. Who has the highest probability of getting it in – the kid in the first row or the kid in the last row? If the kid in the last row gets it in, did she/he have to be more talented to be on par with the kid on the first row? The biggest challenge I feel is people’s mindsets that need to unlearn and learn again. Now replace the order of the kids’ seating based on gender, caste, poverty or any other factor and notice the difference. “Don’t make assumptions about anyone, we all have our stories,” would be my advice to everyone.
A lot of the volunteer work you did involves teaching. Do you have any advice for NITT students who are passionate about being a teacher and helping the less fortunate academically?
Give back what you can without breaking your back. There is a different kind of satisfaction in helping others achieve their goals with the right guidance, mentorship and opportunities. Evolution is a natural process and a teacher is a catalyst in that process. Remember you want them to be better versions of themselves and not an updated version of you. Guide them to their paths because whilst frustrating, experience is almost always the best teacher.
I tend to get this question from Trichy folks so figured I’d address it here too with respect to having been a part of numerous activities in college – whether Festember PR & Media chair or Pragyan Quality Assurance founder (QAOS) or Nittfest Marketing chair to Vortex Chairman, Writers Circle founding member, Creative Head for NITT for CRY and so on.
How did I manage it all?
If there is a will, there’s a way. Your passion helps define you.
Does it help on the resume?
No. Unless you are joining an event management firm, probably not. But the life skills you pick up from these activities help you grow as a person and as a leader as you work with different groups of people and learn to share your vision so that everyone is aiming for the same “one team, one dream.”
Is it better to do many things or one thing?
It is better to give your 100% in whatever you do. If it is one thing, focus on that one thing. If it is two things, focus on those 2 things but don’t go half-hearted on many things just to look versatile.