Interview: Aanand Mohapatra (Google, Prod-2013) (Full)
Please tell us more about your current profile, and what a typical work day is like for you?
To understand my role a little better, I’ll take a step back. Google as a company, makes money predominantly through advertising on Google’s platforms. When we search for something, you see some “organic listings”. Organic listings are those that a company does not pay for, and there are paid listings. On YouTube, Gmail, Maps there are ads. That’s how Google makes money and keeps the internet free. My job is to work with these advertising partners who are investing with Google so that they can use their potential customers and grow their customer base. I specifically spend my time with retail advertisers all across the United States; sporting goods companies like Nike, Adidas, New Balance, luxury fashion brands like Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, tyres like Bridgestone, Goodyear, appliance companies like Whirlpool, fitness equipment including treadmills, and we have regular fashion companies like Levi’s and North Face (jackets). I work with these kinds of customers to design what their marketing road-map and investment plans would look like with Google, and how they can grow their business.
What a typical day looks like for me is with three predominant partners. One of them is, the customer- to understand what their goals are, what they’re currently doing, is there scope for improvement, and how they can partner with Google. Another one is my internal sales partner- we have a large sales team servicing these customers, telling them what I want them to tell when they’re in front of the customer, designing Google market plans for them, figuring out what needs customers have from them as well- listening to them and getting their feedback. The third one is our engineering team- our engineering managers, who rely on people like me for feedback on what do customers want, what can we build so that the customers can say “Let’s spend a million dollars on this, this year”, how can our product roadmap evolve from an engineering standpoint based on the needs of the market and the needs of the customer.
When you mention the role of engineers in marketing, could you explain a bit more? It is not seen as a common field by people.
I personally do not get involved with any of the engineering aspects. I have not written a piece of code in the longest time of my life; the last time I wrote code was probably in the OCTA lab in NIT Trichy. Engineers develop products- in its most simplistic sense; computer engineers develop products. Google’s advertising product is a self-served product; it has a front-end UI, and some back end algorithms- how we match ads, how we derive a score, how an ad auction runs and more. All this information is available on YouTube for folks, for readers who want to get more information.
Engineers essentially design that auction; the mathematical aspect and how the auction is taking place. We have over a billion advertisers entering this auction. We also need some good hardware engineers designing good components to derive these results and deliver them to you in under a second. All kinds of engineers are involved in this. Our interface as the sales and marketing team is predominantly through the product management role. Engineers work with product managers who built the road map of the product and tried to understand what the requirements of the product are. They work with an engineering lead who says “This is possible” or “no, this is not possible”. If you only work with marketing, you’re going to receive all sorts of unrealistic requests for what they want from the product. The product manager and the engineer director are the ones who filter out or prioritise which requests are realistic, and work with us to understand what the customer wants as well. They could build two features, but which one is going to be more beneficial and which one is going to be more urgent? That’s how we typically interface with the engineers. I wouldn’t say I talk to any software engineers directly. Google as a company, typically we try to “protect” our software engineers as much as possible. We want them to spend as much time as they can writing code; working with a marketing or sales team isn’t going to be beneficial for them. They interface with us through their engineering director or product manager; I do not directly work with a software engineer.
Have you worked somewhere else before? If you have, how different is it working in Google, compared to other companies in general?
My first job out of college was ZS Associates, that was my campus placement from college. I was hired as a business analytics associate, and I did that for 10 months based out of their office in Gurgaon before I joined Google. For a large part of my life I worked with Google; I’ve been with them for 6 years now, I had less than one year in ZS associates. Was the experience different? Yes the experience was very different. Before I get into my experiences, I’d like to mention everybody has different experiences over here. What I went through is not what a lot of other folks are feeling, either at Google or at ZS. But one of the things I felt when I entered ZS was, whether it was because of the hiring or whether it was because of the role, my peer set- when I noticed- were very similar to me in background. And by that what I mean is a typical educational background. Most of them were engineers, most of them had B.Tech degrees from universities in India, and we had all come together to solve analytics problems, or operations problems for ZS. It felt larger than NIT-Trichy, because you’re meeting folks from all around the country, other colleges, and other regions. It just felt like a huge mesh of engineering students, because that was the hiring criteria. For the role that I did and the teams that I worked on- being an engineer was the only base criteria, they didn’t hire anybody outside of engineering colleges.
When I moved to Google from ZS Associates, the roles that I was specifically doing, I would say I was an exception to the rule. There were very few people who were engineers who were doing that role. Most of my peers were marketing or English literature graduates or something else. I think it was my first time collaborating in a professional setting with folks whose educational background were very different from mine. That was a great learning experience for me, because personal experiences from my life was “engineering engineering engineering”. That’s what is fed into you, and you simply go down that path. Then later there are other people whose paths you’re entangling with as well who haven’t followed or done the same things that I have done. For me, I collaborated with a lot more people, so I’d say that was the biggest change for me. But that change, as I think through how I answered this question, I don’t even think I got to the main point that is the difference in working for Google. That was the difference for me because it was also because I kept profiles. I went from being an analyst to being a media analyst. I moved into the media profile, which is what the difference was. Typically working for Google, I would say how it is different from other companies, if you had asked me this question 6 years back there would have been more differences. But today I think all companies are raising the bar in what they’re doing for their employees. Google has consistently been voted the top place to work for; they’ve figured out the science behind keeping their employees happy, and keeping their employees satisfied. The biggest things that attribute to that are the strong values that we have and in the employees that we hire, and sticking to those values that then drives us. However, a lot of other companies have taken a page out of Google’s book right now and when I look around at all of my friends- given that my experiences are within the tech bubble, experiences of my friends in similar software or technology roles- if you’re going to join a tech firm, you could expect high levels of happiness and satisfaction nowadays versus even 6 to 7 years back.
You had mentioned that coming from an engineering background when you joined Google, you had experienced and interacted with other people from very different backgrounds, be it literature, marketing or management. We noticed that you have not pursued a master’s degree. Why was that? And how did you bridge that gap when you had to shift profiles as well?
The way I think about it is, the reasons to pursue a degree, a main part of it is education- the thirst for knowledge and wanting to learn what is there. Another part is what it’s going to do for you and your personal and professional lives: how is it going to help me, will it get me somewhere I want to go faster, is it going to accelerate something for me. Multiple times in my career, I’ve thought about a different professional degree or trying to think through what kind of education, but I’ve never found something that checks both of those boxes for me. And a huge part of that credit goes to Google where I’ve spoken very freely with my managers asking “Hey, this is where I want to be, and do you think doing this degree will help me get there faster?” and almost always their responses have been “no”. Their responses have always been if you want to get there, let’s try to build a game plan for you, let’s put you in projects that will help you get there. Google, and thankfully the managers that I’ve had, have tried to always build some sort of experiential learning for me that satiates both the learning portion of it and the accelerated growth portion of it. It’d be like, “what are you going to learn from an MBA class; how to manage people? Here you go, go manage people”. Maybe you’ll fail, but you’ll learn something through that and you’d have a partner to walk you through it. I’ve gotten enough opportunities to go through that from an experiential stand-point that I haven’t considered spending that much amount of money and going down that path. It still plays around in my mind; it is still something that I consistently ask myself. One of the benefits of being over here in the US is that I feel like there is less stigma about going to school even when you’re much older. In India, it’s like “oh, you’re 30 and you want to go back to school?” but here, people who are 45 and 50 go to school as well. I don’t think it is completely ruled out, but that is my assessment criteria and I’ll keep myself these questions and if at any point of my career, with the right degree, with the right course, I feel like if it would check both those boxes I’ll go for it. One point that I would like to add is that the first box, which was the knowledge box, back when we graduated, it was hard going out there and getting that knowledge. Today you have Coursera, Udemy, so many courses on YouTube, so many open courses being distributed everywhere, so that if the thirst is truly for the knowledge and if you want to learn something, there are so many open libraries, video courses, people from top universities delivering these courses the same way it is delivered to the best students. Earlier you could only go through books, where there’s only so much you could learn vs going through lectures and listening to it from an individual. Another huge part of learning is discussions. I feel like now with advances in technology, and the likes, all of these have discussion boards as well, you can find a learning buddy or a learning group, or a study group, and learn together which is how you reinforce knowledge as well. If that is someone’s motivation, consider those channels as well. Try to at least dip your toes before you commit to a degree, because committing to a degree is a monetary and a time investment, both of which are important resources and always not available in plenty. Try to look through these in terms of what you can do. But then, it makes a lot of sense which is why a lot of folks do it, but evaluate your options and try to have some sort of assessment criteria as well.
You had a profile change even when you moved from your previous company to Google. How did you go about that as well, to bridge that gap?
Thankfully for me, the businesses that I was placed with- one way I think about this is, it’s a rule. It goes something like, “when a lot of things are changing, try to find what is not changing”. Because that is what is going to ground you and make you feel comfortable. If you only focus on the change, you’re always going to feel a sense of discomfort saying “everything is changing and this is all new to me”. When a lot of things are changing, try to understand, “well, these things are still the same”, and that helps you to get this confidence that’s like “well, I can go through this change because there are some things that are the same and are not unknown and alien and are friendly and known to me”. Through that change, I think what I could continue to bank on was that Google still wanted me for my analytic ability; being good at math, being good at excel sheets and more. They still wanted me for that, and that’s what helped me shine my role in Google India. I started in Google India, I joined the Gurgaon office and then it was later that I moved to San Francisco and now I’m here. When I was in the Gurgaon office I said people came with diverse backgrounds, but that was what I added to the mix as well. I started taking pride in that. You bring something to the table; you bring marketing skills to the table and sales skills that I need to acquire, but I’m bringing analytical skills and mathematical skills that they want to absorb from me. Together as a team, we complement each other’s skills. That was very valuable for me, and then again my managers did a very good job of telling me “don’t try to become someone you’re not. You come in with your own strengths and it’s the manager’s job to find a good complementary team”. It is very easy to go into a professional set up and look at other people and go “They’re very different from me and I need to become more like them”. If you become more like them, you take your competitive edge off. You need to understand how the collective thing can be greater than the sum of its parts, and how you can complement the skills of others. We don’t want you to throw yourself into there and just become like them, you don’t need to do that part. What can you add that is missing from their skillset that the end product needs, and try to fill that gap. The organisation at that time was leaning very much towards data analysis and mathematical analysis. I came in and had a pretty good time, did some good work, got pretty lucky with my timings and placements and everything else. But it wasn’t much of a transition for me; I was still doing much of the same things, just doing it with media instead of healthcare data and the rest as I was doing earlier.
You studied Production engineering during your B. Tech right. What got you interested in sales and advertising? What were some steps you took to get the basics when you were still in college? You applied through TnP in college, so what additional steps did you have to do to acquire those skills?
It would be foolish if I told you I had planned this path many years back. I stumbled upon it as most people will stumble upon paths in their careers. I envy those who make a game plan and stick to it; I evidently didn’t. It’s not like what I wanted to do back in my third year in college I got exactly that; it wasn’t my dream to be in sales and marketing. From a foundational standpoint, what NIT Trichy does well and what all of us as students do well is building some basic skills that are absolutely non-negotiable irrespective of what professional industry you get into. How you communicate, how you think, how you collaborate, all these are skills that you need to build irrespective of what industry you are in. You could be building cars, you could be building ads, you could be writing code, you could be doing sales and marketing, or even just in your personal lives, these are things that are just going to come in handy. Try to rely on yourself and build all of those things. When folks are hiring for engineers, one of the things they look for is how a mind thinks, how a mind analyses different options and how it picks from an option of three, how it builds a decision tree, how we navigate that decision tree. I think those are skills that engineers have along with critical and mathematical abilities that are put into us through mathematics, physics, chemistry and everything we study. I don’t think I did anything specific in college to go down that path. However, when I was going down that path, when I was making that transition, there was a lot of YouTube, there was a lot of Coursera, trying to understand how things work. I would also read some books, talk to my peers, talk to my managers for book recommendations to get on board. In college, maybe the only thing I did in college was continuing to tell myself “you’re not going down a single path, always keep your options open”. I think production engineering helped me with that a lot. I’m making a joke here, but in production engineering we’d always ask ourselves what the path is here and we’d tell ourselves the path is to change our paths. We were always mentally prepared that most of us aren’t going to do production engineering. But it might not be the same case for a lot of other departments. For instance take computer engineering, most of them are mentally preparing to get a software job, or some others a hardware job or something like that. But production engineering, and I speak for a lot of us folks when I say, we knew we didn’t want to go into manufacturing engineering. Production engineering in NIT Trichy when we look at it from outside is called Industrial and operations engineering. Even our course, or at least what it was at that time, I am unaware of how it has evolved till now, even at that point in time they did a pretty good job in building two streams within production engineering. You could go down the manufacturing stream where you’d learn about tools, materials, hardness of materials, and how truly manufacturing happens and become a pro at that, or you could go down the operations route as well where they taught you about supply chains, where they taught you about operations, project management and things like that. Through my electives, I did gravitate towards that because it was mathematics and statistics, which is a more comfortable area for me and an enjoyable area for me, when compared to manufacturing, or tooling, or hardness of materials and things like that. Any chance I got to take an elective and move closer towards that direction, that’s what I did. It wasn’t very informed in the sense, that “oh, this will matter for a career at a later point in time”, but it was what I liked, “I don’t like tooling, but I like maths and statistics”. Pick your electives smartly, don’t pick your electives based on “my friends are going there”. Try to do what you truly enjoy as in a later point of time it will in some way add up to what you’re doing.
How similar or different is a software profile when you compare it with sales and advertising, or even analytics for that matter?
Short answer- very, very different. The skill-set and the peer set is going to look very different. Your work day to day is going to look very different. My friends who work in software- I have a lot of friends who graduated with me with a B.Tech in CSE, or the friends I made in Google and the other companies I have worked with as well- their day-to-days look very different. I’d say for me, I sense- then again, personal experience, and experience for me is what I’ve seen with my close friends, so when you’re extrapolating, extrapolate with caution. I think my day-to-days I’d argue are a little more predictable than theirs, because a lot of times my software friends would be like, “hey, it’s a Saturday, let’s go out and hang out” and they’d answer, “I’m on-call, I have something”. I’d ask, “What is ‘on-call’? Don’t you work Monday through Friday?” and they’d say “No, there’s a tech roll-out, and one person needs to be on the back end to figure out and assist them in case of any need”. It makes sense to me, people are using these things on weekends as well so someone’s got to be there, but I never thought it would be someone I know because that expectation is never on me. On Saturdays and Sundays I’m totally dialed out; I’m a very 9 to 5 worker, at 5 o’clock I dial out and I don’t respond to any e-mails. I have the comfort of saying I’m not out there saving lives, I’m not out there making sure and keeping the systems up. If one of my customers has a question about their campaign, it could be answered tomorrow morning at 9:01 am and that would be fine. I don’t have the urge to check my laptop. For a lot of software engineers, depending on what they’re working on and how critical their roll is in the entire operation, a lot of them have to work late hours. I’ve seen a lot of my friends work late hours. They have tighter deadlines than us in a lot of cases. If Apple is going to come out with the iPhone in September and if you’re working on the iPhone, you have a deadline in front of you. If a component is not built or if something is not going as expected, you might have to clock in extra hours and sweat it out till September. Maybe you’ll get some leeway in October and November depending on what’s happening in your team, but you’ll just have to sweat it out. I feel like they have- not to scare anyone away from that path, I think there are a lot of gains in that path as well- but they’re envious of the flexibility my path gives me. I feel like it is a little less pressure, because if I were to say it, it’s a little less important.
Moving on to your college life a bit more, what clubs were you a part of? Did some of the clubs help you in acquiring these soft-skills, either knowingly or unknowingly?
The clubs that I was a part of- Balls By Picasso where I ended up being president in my final year as well, Guest Lectures team for Pragyan, I was a part of that organising team and headed that in my final year as well. Did they help me? Yes. However one thing I would challenge if I could go back in time and challenge myself when I was in my final year or even when I was interviewing for these clubs, I feel like they’re very similar- sorry to paint a morbid picture- but I think they’re very similar to how the overall education system in India works, not just professional colleges and schools, but coaching centres as well. We take people who are already skilled in those departments and then we’re like, boom, you have these soft skills. No surprise. Balls by Picasso attracts people who are already good quizzers, or good in whatever events we’re doing and there is some requirement for that, but how do we upskill people? Do I truly feel like those clubs upskilled me? I’m not as sure. I think to some degree they did but I wouldn’t say my experience over there is what shaped me to do this. It is a lot of the work that I’ve done before that that even made me eligible for those clubs. I then accelerated what I was doing and I could continue to focus on what I was interested. But 100%, Guest Lectures, how many folks can say when they were in college they had the opportunity to work with Nobel laureates, and invite them to your college, and even have an exchange with these luminaries of their fields? It was a great experience; I was extremely lucky to get to do that. Same with Balls by Picasso, not just being a part of the club but also being the president of the club in the final year also gave me some sense of finances, some sense of resources, some sense of negotiation. Those are things that are valuable to me in my role today as well and will be valuable for everyone in their roles. I’ll end by saying one of the biggest things I picked up from clubs is not just the work you do over there, but also the network. A lot of the friends I made during those times are still my friends, and we ask each other for referrals, we ask each other for professional advice; that network will stay with you forever. Don’t think about, “I’m in this club” or “I’m in that club”, whatever club you’re in, try to build your network, try to build friendships because we’re all really very smart people in NIT Trichy and we’re all going to be extremely successful, and relying on your network is a great way of growing your professional career as well. Build strong bonds in whatever clubs you’re in, in whatever groups you’re in in college. You don’t necessarily need to stack-rank the groups saying “this has more professional success” or “this more immediate success than the other”. It will all lead to success; it just depends on what you do there.
You had mentioned that you had already possessed the skill-set required by these clubs. Could you please explain whether school helped you in acquiring those skills or was it in your first or second year of college? You had mentioned you did build networks through clubs. Apart from that, did you do the work you did in these clubs even after college in some way?
I think in terms of what got me there, absolutely- I mean, before college there’s school, and school had a role to play. I think I was involved in English-lits and culturals in my high school or secondary school as well. I think that was something that was wrestled into me. When I came into college, people would ask “JAM? What’s JAM?” and I’d be like, “Oh, it’s an event that I’ve only participated in 55 times”. Quiz is something so, because the only exposure that a lot of people have had with quizzes before coming into college was the Bourn Vita Quiz Contest, but Balls by Picasso quizzing is so different while Chennai quizzing is not. I quizzed in my schools in Chennai so it was an easier ramp up for me than a lot of other folks. I totally acknowledge the privilege that I had over there in terms of where I went to school and what I did when I was in school. Also I think, I’m pulling them a little here, has a huge Chennai bias, not for a good reason and hopefully something that changes over time. It has a huge Chennai bias, and it was a privilege that I went to school in Chennai and that was a part of my network. I came in already knowing the existing members of Balls by Picasso and it’s not like they give you a guide-book or something else, but you just naturally tend to look up to them going “That’s someone I look up to; I could be that person”. That is also something in my first year- as you mentioned- when we’d have a power cut (like everybody else in NIT Trichy), we’d play charades, or we’d play scrabble or something else, you know. Those were things we thought of doing when other folks went out to play cricket. It’s just the different things you do, the kind of activities that you get into. My school, my first year, and my network before even coming into college shaped that in a large way. However I hope the current leadership of these clubs and the current set of students are able to evolve it beyond that. Honestly, I don’t think it should be restricted like that. It was in my time, and if I could go back in time I would love to change some of that. But I hope in the future people don’t feel restricted by it, you don’t need to be restricted by what other folks who come from different background have done. And it’s on us who have that privilege to make that accessible.
Have you taken forward some of these works later on after college, maybe not in a direct sense, but in a subtle way?
Yes, I think less guest lectures and more Balls by Picasso, but I wouldn’t call it work. That for me is fun. When I was in Delhi, I used to help out some friends in some way. I remember I helped judge a competition in some culturals in some college. A friend hits me up “There’s a JAM event, do you want to come and judge it?” and I said “Sure, I’ll come and judge it”. They’ll give you one small token of appreciation and buy you a free meal. Sign me up. What else am I doing on a Saturday? Outside of that, I just- a lot of these events, the reason why we do it in Balls by Picasso is not just professional courtesies but because it is fun. I quizzed in India, and I quizzed in New York as well, so that network has stayed with me. I’ve attended quizzes with my friends here in New York, when me and my friends get together we play Scrabble, we play the same games that we used to. Whenever we have a round of drinks with my friends it will always end up with a round of charades in the night, when we’ve all had enough number of drinks. We’re always like “Let’s go back to the old charades teams to see who’s better or who’s worse”. A lot of those things always come back, but I don’t look at them as work, I look at them as nice or pleasant memories.
This is more on the academic side of what you did in college. Did you take any internships under a professor when you were in college? Of course you would have had a compulsory internship in your third year’s summer. How have all these internships helped you to build your profile?
For me I think it did actually play a role. Again, was it planned? Probably not. But one of the projects I did was under a professor- so my family lived in Delhi at that time. In the summer holidays, I wanted to go back to Delhi, stay with my parents and find something in Delhi that would be helpful. I did a project with a professor at IIT Delhi, and it was a project where we had used a logic to allocate hospital beds in a nursing home. It was an operations project, close to what I was studying in production engineering at that time- operations resource and operations management- how do we derive that mathematical logic or statistical logic to allocate beds based on historical demand and predict future demand.
It was a combination of forecasting and scheduling and things like that, which is standard operations resources concept. At that time it was just an exciting project, I played a small part in it. In fact, most of you would know research papers go on for more than two months. In the summer that we spend two or three months working with the professor, it’s not like we come out writing a research paper or something like that. I just helped during my two months doing some sort of literature review and things like that. It was just interesting to me, it opened the gate to me to what a literature review is and the whole world of scientific journals. It just opens your eyes to something new.
The other internship I did was in Chennai. It was with Rane India, Madras. They are a manufacturing firm, but again, I tried to intern with them in their supply and sourcing. Again, it was more towards supply chains. I would say both of those added up pretty well, because I remember even in my job interview for ZS, a huge factor that helped me was the project that I did in IIT Delhi. ZS is an analytics company, but their customers are predominantly from the healthcare space. The fact that I had done some statistics, analytics, or mathematics in a nursing home or a healthcare space, it checked both of their boxes and they were like, “we want to work with you”. I got very lucky over there, with ZS Associates.
The internships, I would recommend that folks who want to pursue a professional career do something professionally, because you just end up being more professional, be it in terms of what a schedule looks like. There are things that are not taught in college but you can only learn once you come into a workplace. I would always recommend folks do a combination of projects with professors but also do a professional internship in a company, especially if you’re looking for campus placements after college. If you’re pretty sure you want to go down the master’s route, or do an MBA, or go further down the studies path and do a PhD or something else, or completely switch gears, that’s fine. But if you’re looking for a professional career after this, look at that, because that just taught me the importance of Microsoft Excel, which every student reading this will learn when they go to their first job, and things that are important, like how a company works. I think as students we have a very idealistic sense of how things work; bottlenecks are eliminated pretty quick because everyone is on the same page. Everyone is on the same campus, so in case of a distributed workspace, we’re like “We want this, but that team hasn’t sent us this, we can’t get this done.” Do we have an alternative, or do we just have to wait for that team to send us this? So you figure out the real work challenges in what is happening in some of these bottlenecks that as a student we face less of, because we’re all on the same page, we’re all young, we all go out there and get it. I feel like that professional experience helps you navigate the ambiguity of a job.
Can you specify at what point you did your internships? Were they in your third year summer, third year winter?
Oh my god, you’re really testing my memory. [laughs]. Let’s see.
I think IIT Delhi was between- well, it was a summer, because it gets really hot in Delhi. Either it was between second year and third year, or between third year and fourth year. I want to say it was between third year and fourth year. Because between second year and third year, I think I had to stay back in Trichy because I did not have enough attendance- so don’t do that, all students- and I had to stay back and complete a course and I got a redo. I had two redos during my college, and I stayed back in my fourth year December, because I did not learn my lesson as I should have once that happened to me in second year. The Rane India, Madras, was I think December in third year. I did both in my third year, one in December- I’m actually confusing myself, I think one was in December in Madras, and the next in IIT Delhi in the following summer.
What do you think is special about, or exclusive to your experiences in NIT Trichy? What are some of the experiences that you still cherish?
The thing that stays with you the longest is friends. For me personally, there are no two ways about that. 100%. Everything we went through, most of the memories are associated with people, most of the memories are associated with my friends. I, personally- how my mind works is that I don’t associate a lot of memories with places. It’s never like, “Oh remember we used to go to Snacky and do this”, it’s always like “remember we used to do this with this person”. Most of my memories are associated with people, and that’s what I cherish the most, and that’s what I hold on to, the tightness as well. I mean, of course, not the best way possible, if I could go back in time I would do some things differently. The friend network has stayed with me, we still have a WhatsApp group where we still send each other annoying messages, we still celebrate each other’s birthdays. This time, when everybody is staying at home has only brought us closer. We do video-conferences and play games like Ludo and hearts online. The friends will stay with you for a long time, hold them close. Other things I remember were the hardships- you do remember the hardships as well; the difficult times we went through. I think in our four years, power-cuts were our largest hardships; which, putting things into perspective, is not the hardest thing you could go through. A lot of folks go through way more hardships. But it was our hardship, and it was what brought us together, and stays with us. And it was a shaping point in all of our careers, I would feel like, you know it makes you feel like, you know, things aren’t always going to go your way. You would feel, “I have the nighttime to prepare”, but the lights would go off and you wouldn’t have the nighttime to prepare. It teaches you the importance of resourcing and building contingency plans and everything else. Some of those small hardships as well taught us lessons that are valuable today; don’t take anything for granted, your resources could change in any point in time, and how to survive with less as well. I think all of us to some extent in NIT Trichy feel like we’re deprived of something, whether it be proximity to family, whether it is food I like, whether it is the ability to go out and do certain things- we all feel deprived off some things. But that deprivation teaches you some things as well, in terms of priorities, how valuable things are in your life, what you could achieve and what you couldn’t achieve when that was taken away from you, and how resourceful you could get to try and get that back, like “I’m far from my family, but I have my friends here. I don’t have my parents with me, but I have my brothers and sisters”. How you cope with those things is important as well.
In this regard, if you could redo some of the things if you had the chance to go back in time, what would you change or do differently?
So much, so much. I could talk for 24 hours, and not just about B.Tech. Reversing time is the most phenomenal question always; it leads to so many possibilities. You feel like Dr. Strange and you have all these realities and you feel like, “oh what could have happened if I could go back in time and make a different decision”. But, I’ll stick to my framework of when everything’s changing, hold on to what’s not changing. I don’t think I would have changed my course selection; I would have stuck with Production Engineering, which is a question I get asked very often, and I’ll proudly say Production Engineering. I maybe could have spent my time a little bit better. It is one of the resources that is known to be limited. Everything else could potentially be an unlimited resource, but time is a limited resource. We’re all mortal, we all have a specific amount of time, so what you do with your time is what is going to make some of the other resources unlimited for you. I probably would have better utilized my time. I would have tried to make more friends, expand my network a little bit more. Right now, when I look back at my network, they’re all very similar people with very similar backgrounds. I would have tried to expand that a little bit more. I would have maybe established certain connections to stay close- all of us have a core group of friends, expanded group of friends, and then an expanded group of friends. I feel like I’ve only remained in touch with my core group of friends, and that’s on me and not on anybody else. But I could have maybe laid the seeds or laid the foundations to stay in touch with my expanded group of friends, that I did not do. At that point in time, it sounded like a lot of work, I was like, “yeah, meh it’s fine, I don’t need to worry about what they’re doing”. But sometimes you sit and wonder, “oh, what are they doing? It might have been nice to maintain more friends”. That’s probably something I’d do a little differently. Not getting redos and maintaining attendance is also something I’d do differently. Staying back in Trichy in the summer is not something I’d recommend. If Trichy gives you nightmares, being in Trichy when nobody else is around in the hostels, during the hottest months of the year, and when all the bloodlines (so to say) of college are closed as well, there’s no dhabas, there are no places to go and eat, is a different kind of nightmare. Avoid it. I didn’t have internet, at the time I was there, we didn’t have Wi-Fi, we used to have these dongles that we’d use to connect. We’d have these MTS and BSNL dongles. A few folks would have these dongles, we’d borrow or we’d go to their rooms and use them in case of any critical work. Otherwise we’d have to go to the unreliable-at-that-time I-Lab and do any work that you were doing, or you would download stuff and watch them on your computer. A lot of the time I spent on my computer was downloaded movies and TV shows, it wasn’t real time content, learning from the internet and watching videos. Given what I know, and what I’ve learnt from the internet now, I probably could have been one of the dongle-getters, to spend more time on the internet to increase my learning and to do things a little differently; spend a little less time watching movies and TV Shows and a little more time watching Coursera and YouTube. That being said, I take pride in the fact that all the movies and TV Shows that I watched shape your mind, it informs you about a different culture, and it prepares you. A lot of folks here ask me, “hey, you came here from India to America, was there a shock?” and sometimes I say it wasn’t because of all the movies and TV Shows that I’ve watched. I was prepared on what to expect when I came here. But for them, the reverse sounds like shock because they’re not exposed to our culture the same way we’re exposed to their culture. I think somewhere down the line it shapes how you think, it improves how you think. I think there’s no shame in watching movies or TV shows, but I think I could have distributed my time better and could have spent my time educating myself online as well.
Do you have any particular advice for people who want to come and seek work abroad? And if so, how difficult or easy is it going to be to adapt, considering COVID as well, being the current situation. Apart from the regular skills, in these times are there extra skills one might require?
The lens of COVID is such a difficult one to answer, because it is just so unknown. Having not gone through it myself during COVID, I don’t know what people can do during this time to be successful, or about the hardships people are having. But I can speak from personal experience, for me personally when I switched- I switched within the same team, from a professional standpoint. I moved to San Francisco, which is a place that has tonnes of Indians and tonnes of people who went to school and college with me as well. I still had a lot of things that were not changing for me, and I could ground myself with that. A lot of my friends moved to places like Minnesota, Kansas, Georgia and how do you move there? For me, moving outside of San Francisco or New York sounds so hard, because for me it’s here that there is a concentrated population of Indians, or friends who have come to college with us, or school with us. That was a huge helping hand when I moved here. When I moved to San Francisco, there’s a notion of a credit score, I needed to get an apartment, I had no idea how to figure that out. I called my friend from NIT Trichy, and he was my roommate for my first two years and he helped me out because he had already been there for one year before me. Your network is going to be extremely helpful, your friends are going to be extremely helpful. Try to do research, I think one thing that was surprising to me was similar to what westerners do about India. We complain saying there are so many micro-cultures within India and yet you look at India as the same thing; I think we do the same about the west as well. We look at America and we think one thing, but when you come here you’d realise there are a lot of micro-cultures here as well, a lot of diversity in America as well. Research not just about the USA, but also research about whichever city or state you’re going to. Find out whether you already have a network there, what people who are already there go through, and nowadays there’s vlogging- I’m selling YouTube so hard- but there’s vlogging and videos and so many other ways you could get yourself informed, “What life looks like in Washington DC”, “What life looks like over here”. Then again, I’m only talking about the USA, you could do the same for any other country in the world, any other city in the world. You could say, “hey, do Indians find it easy to go to Frankfurt?” My sister went to Frankfurt to study and at that point of time she didn’t have as many resources. A lot of us in India were like, “everybody speaks German there, what are you going to do there?” But now you can make much more informed decisions because you have access to much more resources. But now you can search, “what percentage of Frankfurt speaks English?”, “What percentage of Frankfurt speaks German?”, “could you get through Frankfurt speaking the languages you know”. If you do need to take a language course to ramp, could you partner with an agency in India to kind of get you on board? Do your research. That will 100% help you to be more successful, and will reduce some of the shock. That being said, be prepared for the shock, it’s going to happen. You could do any amount of research, there will be a difference. Embrace the difference. You try to think back at the reasons you made this decision, and that was a big part for me as well. You will have these days, people have had these days in NIT Trichy as well, being like “ah, there’s no water, ugh, there’s no electricity, what is this?” and then you think back and go, “Why am I here? Am I here for water and electricity? I have water and electricity at home. I’m here for something that I wouldn’t get at home. I’m here to get an educational degree, I’m here to stay with my friends and learn in the quest for knowledge.” So focus on the things that brought you here and not the things that you’re giving up, and that is the framing that helped me. I don’t have samosas and pav bhajis here while they have hotdogs and burgers, but I came here to accelerate what I was doing on a professional standpoint and unlock some new opportunities, and that is still here. Maybe samosas and pav bhajis are the trade-offs. It’s not the best way of thinking about it, it’s a very “silver-lining” way of thinking about life and I don’t recommend you apply it for everything. But for me, in the moment, it did help me find the things that are the silver linings, and think about “this is what got me here”. I tried to focus and put my energy into those things. I came here for the opportunities, so let’s spend time on the opportunities and make the most out of it as possible.
You had mentioned a shock in terms of living. You have worked in India, and now you have worked in the USA, was there a professional shock as well?
Yes. I feel like I’m talking to a journalist, but I’ll caveat it again: this is my personal experience, conditions apply. In India, even at Google, when I said that people had very different professional backgrounds compared to me, their personal backgrounds were very similar. In our five days of work a week, we would- for at least 2 or 3 days- we would all go out together, get food, get a round of drinks, hang out at someone’s place, play some games, watch a movie, do something. Work was a source of friendship. When I came over here- I’m not saying work is not a source of friendship, you still make friends at work- but I think people have a stronger sense of professional and personal boundaries, and they enforce that in a stronger way as well. Post 5 pm drinks became a thing on my calendar, “Let’s do it in two weeks”. I’d ask “why can’t we just do it now”, they’d say, “well, I’m busy”. The sense of time I’d say was an eye-opener to me. I was very liberal with my time before I came here, as were a lot of my friends and a lot of my professional network over there who I was basing myself on. People over here have a huge respect for time. Time as a resource, I have emulated what a lot of folks over here look at it as. “9-5, we can have the best time. We can go out, we can have lunch, we can be best friends. But at 5 I’ve got to go back to my spouse, my family, my dog, my friend, or whatever it is”. People try to form a sense of boundary, so that was a shock. To me, that was a huge part of how I built my professional career in India, doing what you did after work translated into what you did in work as well. I built some friends, maybe they’d come to me with a project idea, maybe they’d help me with work. That does hinder to some extent, it scared me a little about how I’d be able to grow professionally if these people weren’t my friends. Aside from that, I think there’s a lot of professionalism over here. I think in India there are- then again, very personal experience so- there were a few more biases in India that I don’t think exist here- around gender, age, education, race, and so on. Over here I feel like it’s a little less, of course it’s not perfect but it’s a little less in terms of those things. Especially at a company like Google, I truly felt valued for the ideas that I brought to the table, and not for who is behind those ideas. That is something you strive for professionally, and it was nice for me to experience that here. In India, a lot of times I felt it was “oh, this idea is good, but who’s giving this idea?” but here, it’s either “that’s a good idea let’s run with it”, or, “that’s a bad idea, here’s how we could make it a good idea”.
Another thing I’d say, and I’ll wrap up with this third point, is that people in India usually struggle to say “no”. If I took an idea to someone, they’d be like “yeahhh, but let’s do it this way”, or, “Yeahhh, but let’s go down that path”. It was very encouraging. People over here are very blunt. They give it to you as it is, but still in a very friendly way. They deliver it with a candor instead of being dismissive. They build that candor with you so you don’t feel like you were rejected, but rather your idea was rejected. I feel like going through rejections was something I’ve gone through a lot more here. I’m not sure what I’d say if you were to ask me to attribute it to something. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m taking more risks here, or whether the people are different, or whether it was because I’m not bringing too many good ideas to the table. But I just feel like in India I wasn’t getting rejected as often, but when I think back I was getting rejected, it’s just that nobody was telling me I was getting rejected. It’s like, “oh yeah, that’d make an amazing project”, but they’d do nothing about it, but over here it’s like, “it’s not going to make an amazing project, so let’s not do anything about it”. I much prefer the latter, from personal preference. That was a professional shock for me, but it was a good shock. The feedback loop was much tighter, I’m understanding whether it was a good idea or a bad idea much sooner, instead of waiting for two months and noticing, hey, you didn’t make progress on that idea for two months, so now I know they actually thought it was a bad idea.
Regarding your projects in sales and advertising, could you explain some of the projects you’ve worked on? Are there times when you cannot reveal what projects you’re working in?
Yeah, there are times when I can’t reveal a lot of details, but one of the good things about working for marketing is, marketing is something that you can show what you work for. A lot of times, I’m a part of a campaign, and in some way it has to get out to the customers. Thankfully, I work in B to C marketing, I don’t work for B to B marketing. A lot of the brands I work with are consumer facing brands- Adidas, Gucci, Levi’s- so a lot of times I’ll be able to associate myself with a particular marketing campaign. That being said, pre-campaign and post-campaign are two very different things. Like the build up to the campaign, no way I can talk about what Nike’s Olympic strategy was until after the Olympics, until it has already taken shape and you’re like this is what it is. Pre and post are very different; pre- there’s a lot of secrecy, there’s client confidentiality, “hey, we don’t want to express this out in terms of what we’re doing”, because a lot of these brands hold their competitors very close, and marketing is a competitive edge. We don’t want to go out here and tell what we’re doing before we’ve actually done it. In the same way, we don’t want to go out there and tell what we’ve done after we’ve done it. Let’s say Nike had a blockbuster year, and it’s attributed in some shape or form to a marketing strategy that we devised with them. They don’t want to go out there and tell, “Hey, we had a magical year, and this is how we did our magical marketing, and that is what helped us sell a lot more shoes than what we were expecting to”, because then that is something that becomes their competitive IP that they’d want to preserve and use it year after year after year, and use it with a competitive edge, and let other people figure it out by reverse engineering it. They don’t want to go out there and give it to them directly. There is still this sense of secrecy when working with these customers because there is this competitive edge for them.
If your juniors, or any current student were to pursue this career, would you recommend it or not? If they wanted to pursue, what are some of the skills they could acquire, or some of the groundwork that they could do earlier on to have a better edge?
The first question I can’t say no, because if I say no then I’ll go into an existential depression, because, well, if you’re not recommending it for others, why are you doing it yourself? So yes, absolutely, I would definitely recommend doing it, I love doing it, which is why I do it. Yes, consider it as an option, just how everything else is a potential option. If it does sound exciting, I think from a groundwork standpoint, sharpen your basics. Be strong in your ammunition, your thought process, how you analyse situations and decisions. If you wanna make more strides towards it, there’s a lot of books on brand marketing, advertising, there’s a lot of research being done, there’s a lot of courses as well. I think NIT Trichy used to offer a Marketing Management elective as well. It was through the marketing management course at NIT Trichy where I learnt the 4 Ps of marketing. It is a little archaic, we don’t use a lot of that anymore, but every piece of education is good education. It helps build a good foundation for you to learn further. For a lot of software engineers, what they learn in college isn’t what they code later in jobs, like the languages. But they need to learn that to be able to be successful here. Improve that foundation; you could learn either through electives or by yourself. You could learn about marketing, advertising strategy, etc. Digital transformation is a huge topic right now, and a huge area of opportunity, for both customers and job creators. Marketing transformation with a digital lens- which is what I spend most of my time on- is a critical component of the larger digital transformation that a lot of these companies are going through, and it is going to be even more relevant in countries like India which aren’t digital first countries but are striding to be digital first countries, and are making huge waves in getting there. Try to position yourself as a marketing expert if you were to get into this, but also understand that your work plan is to the larger company goal. One of my ways of thinking this is, “if you’ve got two minutes with the CEO, what would you tell them?” How does your work ladder up to the CEO? Be aware of what you’re educating yourself, and how it ladders up to the company’s bottom line or baseline. Another thing I would say is- and this is something that I had learnt outside- force yourself for some sort of financial learning, which is something NIT Trichy didn’t give a lot of opportunity for. But students over here who go to multidisciplinary universities have the opportunity of taking finance courses. But now with the access of online resources, learning how to read a company’s financial statement, understanding some of the jargon- on what profit is, what margin is, how companies function, irrespective of what industry you get into, are important at some point in your career. Understanding how money flows, how money gets out, how money gets allocated, what the CEOs are saying when they’re giving their speeches- a great thing is a lot of this information is public. When someone is doing the stock exchange, they need to make this information public. Go out there and read Google’s financial statement, read Nike’s financial statement, understand what the CEOs are saying about the company, try to see what’s happening. It’s not a skill I want people to pick up in college unless it is something that fascinates you- the understanding of a company- but somewhere down the line you’re going to have to deal with it, so get an early start.
This might be repetitive, but what do you like about working for Google? Why do you think they enjoy the reputation that they do? What have you learnt from, or acquired since working in Google?
Amazing. I feel respected and satisfied. Most days I go to bed feeling very happy. A huge part of the credit goes to Google. I think when you’re- if I were to put a pie chart of things that contribute to stress for a lot of folks, work or what the company does, the company’s policies could contribute to a significant amount to the person’s stress, worry, anxiety or uncertainty for a lot of folks. Thankfully, Google does a lot of things for their employees to try to minimize that to as much of an extent as possible. I feel extremely flexible; I rarely feel like I have a huge deadline in front of me and I’m in total control of all the things around me. Google takes care of a lot of things as well, with their food policy, and other benefits we’re given as employees. That’s one less thing for me to worry about, which in the larger scheme of things matters a lot. Initially when we got in, it was, “oh yay! Free food!” But now that it is me having to stay at home and prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday, I don’t need to worry about this, I don’t need to care about cooking lunch for 30 minutes everyday. It’s awesome that Google gives me lunch, so that’s one less thing to worry about when I wake up. I could spend that extra 30 minutes getting extra rest, reading the newspaper, spending some time with my loved ones. Google has done a lot of research in this department, and they’ve figured out about employee science pretty well, and continue to do a great job in re-imposing the best practices they’ve figured out, but also continuing to innovate and adapt to whatever the new situation is. That I think is a large reason why they have the reputation and the following that they do. Another reason we have the reputation and following I’d say is because at Google, everything is about the user. Everything else comes second. I work for the business arm of the company, and I will echo that too. The number of times I’ve gone and said, “this looks like a great business opportunity for us”, the first question I’d get is, “what does it look like for the end user?”. “Is it going to be more annoying for the user?” Even if Google was to make more money, if our user is going to get more annoyed, we’re not going to do it. We still end up annoying a few of the users, but we do a lot of user acceptance testing to see that the users accept the changes that we make. Because it is a huge sense of responsibility; when you have 2 billion plus user globally using your products and using your platform, there’s a huge sense of responsibility to maintain a user base of more than 2 billion and continue to serve them. Because we have consumer facing platforms like Gmail, YouTube, Google Search and Google Maps, it gives us a great platform where people associate us with things that come in handy and come in helpful in times of need and that’s what drives us forward, the reinforcement that “when I was lost, I used Google Maps. When I didn’t know the answer to something, I had Google Search. When I wanted to set up an e-mail and other people were charging me, Gmail gave me a free e-mail account”. When you can help people, you reinforce your brand with the people, and that’s a huge force in our marketing plan as well. We could charge for Gmail, we could charge for YouTube, but we choose not to. We think of it as our marketing cost, or our activation cost or something else, but let’s give it for free for people who’ll find it useful. What have I learnt or acquired since working in Google- I think, everything. Everything that I’ve learnt in the last 7 years, I’ve learnt in Google. Google is the only place I’ve worked in, apart from a short stint at ZS Associates. Huge credit to any of my professional development goes to whatever I’ve learnt at Google. But I think I continue to learn more every single day at Google. I think we are very tightly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. That gives me a platform to learn not just from people who are very similar to me, but also from people who’ve had very different personal and professional experiences. Experiential learning might be the best form of learning; I think it gives me the most redemption, whenever I learn something. I’m very lucky to have the size of people and diversity of people that I have at Google to learn from, and their experiences then shape my experiences as well.
If you were a recruiter for Google, and you were to come to an Indian engineering college, let’s say NIT Trichy, what are some things that you’d look out for, in a student, either as an intern or a full-time employee?
I don’t want to crush anyone’s dreams, but I don’t think we hire a lot of entry level sales and marketing roles. That being said, there still are some entry level sales and marketing roles that we hire for in India. I’ll just answer this from a Google lens, rather than a sales and advertising lens. There is a- I’m selling YouTube so hard- there is a pretty good YouTube channel called “Life at Google”, that gives a good understanding of how Google hires, what are our hiring fundamentals, what our hiring principles are, what a marketing interview in Google looks like as well. Again, going back to the previous question on the tandem that Google has, there are lots and lots of YouTube channels and tonnes of dedicated materials for what the Google interview process is like, and what Google asks. There’s a lot of research people can do in terms of what Google’s hiring philosophy is. We typically hire under four buckets. It’s general cognitive ability, role-related knowledge, leadership, and what we call ‘Googleness’. General cognitive ability- table stakes. You need to be a smart thinker, you need to apply yourself, and do so not just to get the right answer but also in the right way. Because the things we take pride at Google is a lot of the questions we strive to solve don’t have the perfect answer. We are here pushing the envelope in building the unknown. If someone came here asking us how to build driverless cars, well, I don’t have the answer. All we need is a framework to try and figure out the answer. The framework is more important than the actual answer you give. When Google, or any other company, tries to test your cognitive ability, try to focus on your framework, think out loud. That’s when you want to think out loud and give a peak behind the gills of your mind. It’s less about giving them the answer saying, “seventeen thousand, five hundred and five”, but it’s more about “how did I get there? This is what I was thinking, these were the considerations. Are there any known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns that I’m not considering?” Ask every question to show that you are thinking about in a larger scale. Think about scale every single time you’re answering a Google question because it is a company built on scale. To give you an example, sometimes we might start saying, “If you were to set up a music company, what would be your go-to market plan?” That’s a very open-ended question. Some folks will just start diving in saying, “well, I know there are Carnatic singers that are underrepresented, so maybe we acquire them to build this music company”. But instead, why did you start with an opportunity so small? Are Carnatic singers going to be relevant? And who told you I’m going to be starting the music company in India? So ask some questions, try to understand, “Well, do we have a test market in hand already? Do we want to expand globally? Is there a particular segment we want to focus on? Is there a more-“. It shows you’re always thinking and considering variables that weren’t even presented to you. That is a core, core part of solving problems in Google: you don’t have all the variables. All your life you’ve been told, here are your variables, solve this equation. It’s an untypical process, and we don’t even give you the variables. But that is what you’ll need to get started accompanying Google. That is GCA, general cognitive abilities. Role-related knowledge is less critical for entry level roles, because we understand that people have not done the role before. But a lot of folks, not just for entry level, but later on in their life when they are trying to interview for Google, role-related knowledge is something that comes to play pretty hard in companies like Google. A lot of times I’ve heard a lot of my friends saying, “could you refer me to this position”, and I’ll be like, “yeah, but you haven’t really done this”. They’re like, “yeah, but I can”. Here’s the thing. Google decides the people who operate and the size of the things we have, it would be awesome if we could hire people based on what they can do, but we will need to at one point in time, We hire people based on what things people have done for achievements speak louder than potential, which might be a dream crusher for a lot of people, but that’s all the more reason for you to go out there and get some achievements. Don’t be always basking in the glory of your potential saying, “I know I’m a really smart person. When given the opportunity, I can do this”. Well, to get that opportunity, you first need to have achieved something small in it. Get achievements under your belt to try and score high in the role-related knowledge bucket, because if you show up with great GCA but zero role-related knowledge, the zero role-related proving of that knowledge as well. Because it’s not just having the knowledge, but also how you prove having the knowledge. It will lead to some sort of impact, whatever scale the impact be. It could just be marketing for Festember. But it shows I have some marketing skill, some digital marketing skill. Whatever scale you’re operating, whether you increased Festember’s foot-fall by 25%, that is awesome. Put that on your resume, talk about that when you’re talking about your role-related knowledge, when you talk about your marketing experience. Always contextualize what you’ve done, and always show proof for it. The third and fourth I’ll go through pretty quickly, because they’re less relevant. Leadership is less relevant for entry-level positions. What we try to understand something from all candidates is, when we’re hiring for Google, we hire for long-term. Retention is a huge part of our play which is why we spend so much money hiring candidates because we don’t want candidates leaving. When we hire you, we’re not thinking, “will you be successful for this next role that we’re hiring you for?”, we want to see “will you be the next VP”. “Could you be a good VP if given the potential, and do you have the indicators”. Of course, you’re going to be doing a lot of learning when you’re in Google, but do you have the initial indicators that we look for? Fairness, biases, how these things come into play in how you’re thinking and how you’re answering your questions will be a huge determinant for leadership. Respect for processes- I think one mistake that I see a lot of entry level candidates make for leadership style questions is that they don’t try to solve it just for themselves. I’ll give them a challenge, let’s say, “how would you go through this?’ they’ll say, “well, maybe I could talk to these people, figure it out and learn from them”. I’d say, “that’s awesome, you’ve solved it and you’ve got to the end point. But you’ve not done anything for the company”. What if another person faces the same challenge? How will he know how to solve it? So how do I solve it by keeping a process in place so that when he arrives at the problem, he knows how to solve it too? So maybe it’s just documenting these steps and putting it in an easily accessible link or something else. Try to always think about scale, try to always think about impact on a larger set of people than just you. And that is very hard to do coming from college, because it is all about personal survival, it’s all about personally differentiating yourself from your friends and peers when you’re trying to get a job as well. We really strive to look for that when we’re hiring candidates- how do you think about the larger organisation as well, not just your contribution to the organization, not just your individual experience. And the last thing to round it all up is Googliness. Googliness is just a term that we put over there- there are a lot of videos as well, “how to find googliness”, “what Google means when they say googliness”. In essence to me, Googliness is just, “are you going to add to the company in any form or way?” Are you going to reinforce and try to improve the values that we have? Reinforcing the values for fairness, vices- are you always going to be doing the right thing? If you see someone do the wrong thing, how do you respond? How do you report? If you see something that’s happening in the company- maybe it’s a user data leakage- how will you escalate that? How will you build the right process? How will you challenge the status quo? How do you function in ambiguity? All these things contribute to one’s Googliness, it’s a really hard one to define. But it’s more of a “value-add” kind of question to see what are the values you bring to the table, and do we truly see that culture add to the company, in terms of work-culture as well.
Did you get a chance to go back to college? Even otherwise, have you heard from your peers if they’d gone to college? How different is it right now, probably from what you’ve heard about from your friends also?
I personally have not had the chance to visit college. In fact, I haven’t set foot in Trichy since the day I left my hostel. In fact, I didn’t even get the chance to go back for my graduation ceremony. My parents live in Gurgaon and it didn’t make sense just to fly back to just for a day, and I think it was pretty close to my start-date at ZS Associates as well. Personally, I have not had the chance to visit college. I can’t answer how much has changed from my perspective. That being said, I hear stuff from people about a lot of things. As old uncles complain, we’re always complaining, “ah these young kids have it so easy, we had it so hard”. We do a lot of that. We do, “Ooo, look at them complaining about the Wi-Fi bandwidth, we didn’t even have Wi-Fi. Look at them complaining about water purifiers when we didn’t even have water. Look at them asking to postpone exams because they had a power-cut. What the hell, we lived through three years of power-cuts”. Yes, a lot has changed; a lot has improved. As it should. With time, things keep getting better. Of course, the potential is unending in terms of how it can improve, but I’m very proud of all the changes- I attended an alumni meet here in New York, where the director had spoken to us about some of the plans on campus. and some of the other things. But that’s the extent of information that I have on how much of it has changed. As I recall, there was a rumour about a Café Coffee Day that threw all our WhatsApp groups in a frenzy. “What, they got a CCD?!” I’m happy and proud to see a lot of the good stuff that’s happening. People send me waivers for me and my peers to be more involved; and I’d love for us to be more involved in whichever way possible. I hear from my friends that there is a lot of interaction happening in social channels. I personally do not indulge in social media, so I am unaware of a lot of those things, but I encourage you folks to continue leading on that. I think how I see universities- Indian, in US- alumnus is a large part of how we can grow the university, how we can be valuable to the current set of students as well. If there’s anything that you think I could personally do to improve, please let me know. I wish you guys all the best!