Interview: Anish Sodani (ICE-2014)

Please elaborate on your current profile. 

I’m working as an Area Manager for the Lakshya division at MT Educare Ltd, in the education sector. I manage complete business pertaining to an area – including strategizing business development and its execution. It includes the B2B relation management which forms the core strategy of business development. I am into public relations too, for increasing brand awareness by conducting seminars, counseling, and mentoring students. I also handle the team involved in the after sales service, which is responsible for the academic planning and its execution. 

How would your typical day at work be? 

Let’s start from my Mondays’, I’ll introspect on tasks accomplished from the previous week and strategize targets and tasks for the coming week, and review my team’s task completion, which area they should target for sales in the coming week, and improvise if necessary. We have CRM (Customer Relation Management software) where I get the detailed reports and pending tasks of follow up closures etc, accordingly I guide them to complete it and start the new task. Usually each day at the office starts around 10:30-11am. The other most important part of my work includes meetings scheduled for counseling of students with their parents related to academic concerns and providing guidance to tackle them. I make sure to meet the batches whenever I am at the branch and make them feel I am available for them. This helps me to understand how everything is going on for them, a pep talk, a “hi” and “hello”, makes them feel connected. They share issues if any and I will address it at that point. This is the after sales service which generates huge goodwill and references for future business. The routine repeats again in the evening with another set of students in evening batches. There are footfalls for business almost every evening or there will be scheduled meetings for current students or parents. 

When did you realise that this would be your career? 

I don’t know if it’s in my genes or got imbibed. My parents are teachers from two decades. My mother conducted tuitions at home, hence since my childhood I’ve been brought up in that environment. However, after my schooling I had aimed to become an Engineer. In 10+2, I prepared for JEE exams and qualified to get into one of the most prestigious engineering institutes, NIT Trichy. During my graduation I started the stint of teaching some students. I started as a clock hour teacher at two popular coaching centres, Shakti Coaching Centre and Seekers coaching center in Thillai Nagar. This is where I realized that I had a passion- for interacting with people. My first job was a desk job as Business Analyst at Exl Analytics, but it never charmed me! Though I didn’t pursue an MBA, I had Managerial skills innate. Education Sector Management gave me profound happiness hence I quit my desk job without a second thought and joined one of the prospective coaching entities which was having a national presence, Allen Career Institute. Here I could work further on my passion and skill as I had a dual role of faculty as well as the Centre Manager. I was very enthusiastic and rightly described as restless and hungry for a bigger role than this. Subsequently, got the option of a company called Vision IIT from Surat. I was entrusted with their project to expand its business in Mumbai. Their expansion project gave the feel of a startup culture where I could do a hybrid role of management, sales and marketing. Coming precisely to the question “when did I realize?”, partial realization came to me at the end of third/ start of the fourth year of engineering, that networking and managerial jobs in the education field would be best suitable for me and my brief encounter with a desk job of 6 to 8 months as Business Analyst made it firm in my mind. 

How do you balance your work, as in the academic vision and the managerial role that you’ve taken up? 

Almost everything is somehow related to academics. To be precise, the managerial work is also about managing academics, planning the students’ days and guiding them how they should effectively manage their time. Also, being a teacher, I can guide them to be Rank seekers by helping them manage study patterns, like which chapters they should focus on priority. Academic management seems easy to me because of my background knowledge of entrance exam preparation. However the second facet of my job that is business management involves sales and marketing. I have to keep students and in turn their parents satisfied. This helps my business grow. Hence If you refer to my schedule you will see how smartly I have to juggle with both. 

Do you think coaching centres have changed over time? 

Yes, all business models have changed over time and with generations and so has the coaching business. If you see deep within, it’s actually because the nature of students and their surroundings have changed. Times have changed in spurts. When we studied, before me and after me each stage there has been some change or the other. I come from Ujjain, MP and during my 10+2 preparation, coaching classes made a batch of 200-250 students in a classroom. A single teacher handled the class. However as time progressed, we have witnessed how students are pampered. They do not appreciate scolding or dominating teachers. We respected the knowledge of the teachers and felt that he/she was everything for us. If they asked us to work in a certain manner, we have to work in that manner only. In current time, teachers are a source of information competing with the virtual source of information on the internet. Hence education and in turn the nature of coaching centres is changing conspicuously. In the first place, the batch format is changing. Now the batches have gone down to a very small size because every student wishes one-on-one attention from the teacher which is the primary demand of a parent. Recently, the coaching industry has changed from an offline market to an online market. This e-market is growing profusely. But in my opinion, if I talk about secondary and higher secondary level of students (which is from 8th to 12th) the child has a very fickle mind. They are not sure about what they want to do. They’ve not decided their career, and if you think they can be kept completely engaged with online education from their home, I believe it will not be possible. This observation has become firm due to the current scenario of online teaching during the pandemic. In the first month when we started online coaching in our institute, every parent and student was very happy. Slowly, after a few months, I have been getting feedback that the child can’t focus on a screen for 4-4.5 hours and a teacher can’t teach for more than 4-4.5 hours continuously focusing on the screen etc. Hence I am skeptical about the complete replacement of offline teaching with online mode. Let’s wait and watch. 

There’s a certain distance between the teacher and the student when you communicate in such a manner. 

Exactly, that is my point! Although the offline to online mode has shown a tendency of exponential growth, it will keep on growing till the complete scenario of the education sector changes (in the near future). Also we should note that online mode can be successful especially for the students who have passed a certain age limit i.e. above 18 years or so. One who has decided what they want to do in their life as a career, whatever mood you pitch in still they are serious and they’ll complete their studies even online. However, I still feel the students from grade 8th -12th termed as secondary or higher secondary, would be having their primary mode of education in the physical classroom. Online learning can still be treated as a secondary mode of education. Although the technologies are growing very well and everything might seem to be right, that’s just a way of engaging your child at home and won’t succeed in making them achieve something great. 

How do you think coaching institutes can improve their delivery, again as you said, keeping in mind their mental health, and making sure they don’t stress themselves out?

The situation depends on demographics. If you see in the metro-cities, an average child would not be that much- you can say- thirsty about getting into IITs. NEET for medical is a completely different ballgame again. If I talk about engineering, in a city like Mumbai, most of the students are not so eager about getting into IITs, while a parent wants to give their child more education, even more than what he’s capable of. They should know that there are top 100 colleges in India which are very good in the engineering education and any of these colleges can be a desired target for the students, rather we should understand that whatever the capability of the child is, we should make them achieve it at the best level, instead of just pounding upon them with a lot of homework and assignments for JEE Mains or Advanced. Remember every ward might not be capable of doing it. Now as far as coaching classes are concerned, the delivery mode is an important factor. Many coaching centres are seen focusing only on the students getting into IIT. They take 200, 300, 400 students and they teach everyone at the same scale considering that every one of them should be preparing for IIT, but we should understand at a point that every child is of a different calibre, has a different capability, and we should bifurcate students according to that. Delivery wise, one change needed is the delivery method as per the needs according to the students’ capability. I also agree that the basic teaching is obviously the same for everyone, but we can change the assignments given to the student. In a class of 40, we can divide it level wise. We should not force everyone to do everything. However we can try to get them engaged with interesting solutions or tricks etc. I can claim students will only take interest in things till the level they are getting it but if we try to make them do something forcefully they will not take interest in it. Another way of changing delivery is that, along with formal education, two additional kinds of education should be given to the child. One is the moral education, which is done day by day. Moral education as in, how they should manage stresses, how they should avoid their tensions or depression. I feel so because when we used to study, in 2008 and 09, moral education was there, but there was nothing stressful in 11 th and 12 th . There was nothing, no pressure, everybody knew we have to study. But nowadays if we ask a student, “what happened to you?”; “Sir, I’m in depression”, “Sir, I’m worried about what I’ll do”. This kind of a panicking situation they are in right now, they don’t know the world outside. Until they are given an understanding or basic values, there should be proper counselling sessions, or proper motivational sessions from time to time. Second kind of education, which I was mentioning is to include Financial education. What I experienced, even after passing out from engineering colleges like IITs or NITs, nobody knows the balance between saving and expenditure. It won’t essentially make them a complete human being, but from whichever college they study and whatever package they get, they know that they will manage their finances well. That’s my big suggestion to all the institutes, at least they should include one financial course of two or three credits in four years of engineering so that a student understands what is expenditure, what is savings, what is demand, what is supply. That will be very helpful for them. This is my take on the need for change in the delivery. 

There was a brief transition in your career path when you went from a teacher to a business analyst? How was that transition, how did you navigate around switching career paths? 

That brief transition in my career as a Business Analyst is still a “Just happened kind of thing”, I also believe it was similar to a conventional mindset of every graduation student on the placement interview day. It was probably wanting to get qualified and have a job as it would have become a prestige issue if I didn’t have one. That was the job I got offered from the college placement event, and obviously we had to start somewhere. But after that switching or navigation, my heart and mind both asked me in turns-why business analyst, or why not into the full time education profession? Because after studying three, three and a half years of engineering college, I had started feeling that a core desk job was not my cup of tea. Then I went into EXN and I started doing my BA job. Now I had choices after experiencing both the options and with time I firmly understood that I had to choose between Educational managerial job or analytics jobs. From there, I or perhaps destiny navigated me into a field- education which was always my forte. To reaffirm my stand I decided even if I want to navigate in career choices of marketing or a managerial post, then I should surely start it from the education field. I have already spoken about the rest of my journey. 

If you’re referring to a career in the education field, my suggestion to the aspirants would be to see which grade they want to teach? If they are thinking of going into teaching 8th -12th, basically into IITJEE or NEET coaching, first thing they should be very good at is content and lecture delivery i.e. they should be very good at teaching. If they have a very good hold on the subject, as well as they are a very good teacher, then irrespective of whatever level of managerial capabilities you possess I am sure you can create wonders in this industry. Second direction I would say is, train yourself the digital way of doing the above. As you see around there are many teachers who are recording their lectures, making YouTube channels, getting popular and then entering this field in style. Believe me there is a huge competition in that field, hence be very sure to be most impressive, in terms of well prepared content, the platform chosen, the animations etc. Also more animations will be appreciated in lower class students like till the 8th standard. But for 9th-12th, emphasis would be on the quality of content. Later once you gain popularity as a teacher, you’d want to test your skills at digital marketing, or the sales aspect which is one of the moving parts in the educational field and web-tech market, as you observe in companies like Byju’s. Finally, if they are focusing into the educational field, then they can choose the direction of content production or lecture delivery or they may choose sales and marketing. It will be great if you make a clear line and don’t get stuck up midway, it will not yield good results in the long run. 

While you were in NIT-T, during your undergraduate programme, what skills did you pick up that would go on to help your career? 

The basic thing which I learnt from NIT Trichy is the survival technique, survival of the fittest. My college has taught me a lot about survival; it’s about submitting the assignments in the last moment, about finishing the lab records at the last moment, and so on. Second learning is about entrepreneurship by taking bold initiatives in life to test if you can do it. I did it – I took an initiative in my life and felt satisfied. I’m not boasting about myself- but I don’t know if in the history of NIT Trichy there has been any student who has taught fellow students or children of professors. That was one initiative which I took and it taught me how to survive in the outside world. Third lesson was managing things efficiently, in terms of limited time, minimum amount of things available and so on. Last but not the least, it has taught me to take risks. It is a very important acquired attribute in your life, if you want to become big you have to keep taking risks and I can assure you it will not work out every time. Out of 10, there might be only 1 chance where your risk will end up fruitfully. I have taken risks in life, some have worked out, some didn’t. These were the things that I learnt from NIT Trichy. By this overall development of me surviving in an environment, shifting from one city to another became easier, like in the beginning as the head person in Mumbai. When I came to Mumbai from Bangalore, it was my first time in Mumbai and my company told me, “you are the only person with whom we will start, You have to build your own team, you have to explore areas where company can expand and so on”. All the techniques, surviving, risk taking, managing things which NIT Trichy taught me had indeed helped me. The professors at NIT Trichy are way too good, they tell us how our bosses would be.

Regarding campus placements, how are they- when you’re comparing them with off-campus interviews and applications, etc- how are they better or how are they worse? 

The NIT Trichy campus placements was a good experience with almost 100% job placement record. It will be interesting to know that many students from NITs or IITs, who study in branches like mechanical, instrumentation, civil, etc, don’t really take up core jobs related to their specialisation. Rather some of them move on to coding, and other into the managerial sector. Hence one thing which I thought was missing in my time- maybe because that time was a recession period, but I feel there should have been more companies offering the managerial positions during campus placements. If prominent companies don’t come, NIT Trichy can invite some startups. I also understand startups are risky ventures, due to uncertainty of their survival. However, such options should be given to students to choose and take risks. TnP should enable such a facility. 

What route will you take for out of campus placements, like approaching some company individually on your own? And how would you approach a company? How will you ask them for an opportunity? 

This is an interesting question. There are 2-3 ways of doing it. One is, you can get connected with your seniors who are working there and you can apply with their reference. Second method is one of the best ways of getting connected off-campus directly to the company heads of startups. You can connect with the CEOs or COOs of various new startup companies through LinkedIn, and then send them your cover letter, or a description of yourself, as in why you are interested in joining their company or a particular role or profile. However we should be aware of this approach if we try to connect with 10 of them, only 2-3 may reply. Remember also if you want to use your network via LinkedIn, you need a strong digital profile which will possibly get you in the eyes of the diverse companies. It’s about how you are present in the market nowadays, digitally. Your resume doesn’t speak nowadays, it’s your digital presence that will speak for you. Like displaying on networking sites, blogs etc the activities you are doing, interesting articles and posts related to the field you want to make your career. There are also various job portals like Naukri.com to try out. But this method may not be recommended for freshers as they may face many rejections due to lack of experience. For freshers I suggest the best way is applying through your alumni network, because NIT Trichy has a very big alumni network, ready to help. 

Looking back to your years in college, in retrospect, when you’re comparing your career today, do you think there is anything that you wish you knew in college itself? Do you think you would have learned certain things sooner while you could have learnt them in college, but there were certain lack of facilities, or any reason for that?

Yes, as I said earlier the financial education part. I believe If that had been taught to me in college, it indeed would’ve been very helpful. Why is it needed? Every person who earns, thinks of saving something. And why do we save? So that that money grows in a secure sector, some invest in share markets, in mutual funds, FDs, or a savings account. We learn all this from various sources and not all of us are lucky to get the right guidance. But if that part of education is given to us during our student life, we will know how to grow on a monetary path, or on a financial backup path. NIT Trichy has sources of how you would get aware about everything like its E-Cell, Ted Talks etc. only missing thing is the financial part so introduction of one such would be really great. 

How was your experience being in the teaching industry? 

My experience in the teaching industry was pretty good. You get to learn a lot about human psychology, when we compare a child with yourself at that age, we can make out what they might be thinking at that moment. We come to know what are the different mindsets evolving nowadays. Earlier we used to think only of studies, but nowadays students are thinking about a lot of things though in a positive as well as negative way. Exposure to social media marketing is changing them.

What are your future plans in the industry? 

I want to continue in the managerial field, if possible in the education industry but might also shift to another sector if I get personal and professional growth. Looking forward for a better future, better position in any sector which is progressive, like an EdTech sector preferably.

Anish Sodani can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/anish-sodani-35814053/ and sodanianish@gmail.com

Interview coordinated by Sriram.

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The official media house of NIT Trichy.

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