It’s Still Day 1!

Reflecting on the pivotal moments, mentors, and mistakes that shaped the first 15 years of my career.

This week marks 15 years of my career journey, and as cliché as it may sound, it has been a roller coaster ride. A lot happened in the last 15 years and there are many things that I am grateful for. When I started, I often wondered if I would ever reach that stage often asked about in campus interviews—”where do you see yourself 5 years down the line?” So, this is a significant milestone to take a pause and reflect on this journey and indulge in a bit of reminiscing.

I am grateful that despite some questionable decisions I made along the way, I find myself where I am today. And as much as I’d like to attribute it to my hard work and intelligence, the truth is, it’s largely due to the good fortune of crossing paths with a few people who played pivotal roles in my career. Documenting this journey here today and talking about my mistakes will hopefully make me more empathetic towards the young folks around me – at family and work. Optimistically, it might help someone learn from my mistakes and experiences, and more importantly, it will help me recall the early years of my life as I advance in age and have a chuckle or two at my foolishness!

my career journey

Chapter 1: Finding My Bearings | Jun 2009 – Jan 2010

It all began in 2009 when I moved to Hyderabad to join Deloitte Consulting as a Business Technology Analyst. I had little clue about the job itself. All I knew was that I wasn’t cut out for steel plants, having spent a brutal summer at the Bhilai Steel Plant the previous year. Luckily, I got into Deloitte Consulting through campus placement, which felt like my ticket to a sorted life! Naive, I know!

2009 was a turbulent year for the global economy, still recovering from the 2008 Lehman Brothers collapse. As such, there were no immediate projects for us fresh graduates. For most of that year, we were trained on programs—PeopleSoft, Siebel, Tax, L&D—you name it, we did it! Senior partners were getting concerned about our morale and would go out of their way to keep us engaged—sometimes even treating us to drinks and dinner, which was quite uncommon for a fresher on the bench.

at deloitte
first day at Deloitte

By the first half of 2010, I finally found myself on a project involving Siebel CRM technology. I had to migrate data from a legacy system to the new one. I realized I had zero interest in this work. Somehow, I managed to survive the project, but it became painfully clear to me that I didn’t belong there.

I started exploring other career paths, and with no mentor to guide me, I started applying to various fields based on my fleeting interests:

  1. Coaching institutes, because I loved to teach (still do!)
  2. Social Media Agencies, because of my interest in blogging and designing websites on Blogger and WordPress
  3. Banking, because of my love for numbers (though, considering the working conditions in public sector banks today, I’m grateful I didn’t clear those Bank PO exams)

I received a few offers and I probably would have taken one of those.

alternate career

But fate had other plans.

It was a typical day in September 2010, work dragging along at a snail’s pace. I sneakily logged into Facebook to harvest my virtual farm on Farmville (ykiyk). That’s when an ad caught my eye—Facebook was hiring for their newly opened office in India. Without much thought, I applied. A few days later, a recruiter called me and soon interviews were scheduled. Two months later, I received a verbal offer from Facebook.

But, there was a catch.

Facebook wanted me to take a 20% pay cut on my current total compensation. With no mentor to guide me, I reached out to a blogger I followed for Excel tips—Chandoo. He was kind enough to respond to my email and shared his perspective.

guidance from chandoo

I negotiated hard with Facebook to at least match my CTC with that of Deloitte, but that didn’t happen. Instead, they offered to increase my RSUs (Restricted Stock Units). Foolishly, I declined this offer!! I didn’t know what RSUs meant, nor realize how valuable they would be in future. I was on the brink of rejecting the offer when KR, the MD of Facebook India at the time, called me. She was personally invested in hiring the first 100 employees of Facebook India. KR shared her own career journey and how she navigated similar dilemmas early in her career, emphasizing the long-term impact of such decisions. She invited me to the office to meet with a few folks visiting from the US and hear their experiences at Facebook before making a decision.

During this visit, I had my first meaningful conversation (aside from the interview) with KB, my future manager. She underscored the immense value of the opportunity I had in front of me and advised me not to prioritize a slight increase in salary early in my career, especially if I didn’t have immediate financial obligations.

As I was leaving, KR walked me to the door. She pointed towards the handful of employees occupying the few seats in the otherwise huge office and observed that each of them was capable of earning more salary elsewhere, but they had chosen Facebook for long-term career prospects over short-term financial gains.

Luckily for me, good sense prevailed, and I accepted the offer. Those few thousand rupees didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Today, I often wonder where I would be if KR and KB hadn’t invested so much effort in convincing me. More importantly, I wonder why they even bothered. They weren’t seeking a specialized skill that only I possessed; they could have easily found hundreds of people far more capable and intelligent than me. Yet, they took a chance on a confused youngster and guided him to think long term and make the right decision. For that, I will be eternally grateful!

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Chapter 2: A New Beginning | Jan 2010 – Jul 2011

Moving to Facebook turned out to be the best decision of my career. I joined a tech behemoth in its early days, and got a front seat view of its meteoric rise. I had the privilege of working with incredibly smart people, learning a lot along the way. I was there to see some of the major milestones of the company that others read about in books today – such as, Facebook going public, the ‘Lockdown’ and the fight to survival caused by the launch of Google Plus, launch of Timeline and so on. I also got to witness firsthand what a good work culture looks like. Most importantly, I figured out what I am truly good at.

fb ipo
Facebook IPO – witnessing the history getting written

I started as an Ads Reviewer, which meant I had to review ads for policy violations. Not the most exciting job, I know. We would create schedules to ensure that by the end of the day, we had reduced our queue to near zero so that when the team in Austin logged in, they wouldn’t have to deal with our pending tasks. Despite our best efforts, we often struggled to bring the queue to zero.

My managers, KB, and MY realized early on that I had a knack for solving analytics problems and tasked me with designing an optimal schedule based on historical data and trends. This was my first brush with analytics and I loved it!

A few months later, KB started a new team focused on using analytics to help advertisers get the most value out of Facebook’s ads platform. Meanwhile, the ads review work had grown significantly—we were no longer just reviewing ads but also identifying risks early on and framing policies to keep the platform clean. MY was leading this. Some of us were given the option to pick one of the two teams.

I didn’t know which way to go!

Noticing my confusion, MY took me for a walk, asked me questions to help me understand where my heart truly lay, and then suggested that I move to the analytics team.

If not for KB’s initial push to move me to analytics and that walk outside Building 11 with MY, I probably would not be in analytics.

Chapter 3a: MBA – Here I Come! | Jul 2011

After working for close to a year and a half, I felt the itch to do an MBA. My reasons were twofold: pressure from my parents, because everyone around them was sending their children to MBA, and peer pressure, because everyone I knew was going for an MBA.

I wrote the CAT, cleared interviews, and got selected into IIM Udaipur and IIT Kanpur. I chose IIT Kanpur for my MBA. My reasons were simple: it was closer to home and much cheaper than an MBA from an IIM.

When I informed my manager, KB, she told me that I was making a wrong choice. She discussed my case with KR, and SS – the HR Head of APAC and requested them to guide me.

KR told me that I was making the wrong choice and I should be targeting institutes likes Stanford, and that being an Stanford alumni herself, she will help me with my application.

SS asked about my motivation for MBA and then told me I was making a wrong choice. She connected me with a friend of hers, AS, a senior VP at an investment bank in the US, who, you guessed it, told me that I was making the wrong choice.

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I wish I could say that, with such good guidance, I made the right choice and eventually went to Stanford or ISB. But, as they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. I decided to go ahead with IIT Kanpur.

Though I did not heed their advice, I’m grateful for the time SS, KR, and specially AS, took out from their extremely busy schedules to guide me. They didn’t have to do any of that, yet they did!

I still remember my last day at Facebook. We went for my farewell lunch, and my team gifted me a poster signed by everyone — it still adorns the wall of my study. The highlight of the day was KB walking down five floors with me (we were health-conscious!) to drop me at my cab.

farewell gift
farewell gift from my team

All the ‘gyaan’ you see from LinkedIn influencers about how to treat employees can’t match the feeling KB’s simple, thoughtful gestures left me with. It was the only time I cried while leaving a company. To this day, my approach to managing people is heavily influenced by KB’s people management style.

Chapter 3b: And Here I Leave! Jul 2011 – Dec 2012

I know how foolish I sound with my reasons and choice of college for MBA. I wish I could say something insightful in my defense that would show how intellectually sound my decision was. But the fact is, I was guided by my emotions and made a choice that I started regretting within a few weeks of joining the course.

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It was during one such moment, questioning my life choices, that I made a post on Facebook. KR replied to that post with three words: “Just come back!!”

facebook post
Post that triggered my second innings at Facebook (Meta)

Those three words changed the course of my career. I realized that moving away from a wrong decision is also an option. After much contemplation, I spoke to KB and asked her if she would take me back on her team. Within days she had gotten all the necessary approvals, and five months after leaving Facebook, I started my second innings there.

As a result of this wrong decision, I lost a good chunk of my unvested equity in Facebook, something that I regretted for a long time, but I don’t anymore. I only wonder, in an alternate universe, if KR and KB had not given me the opportunity to be on the spaceship a second time, what would I be doing today!!

Chapter 4: Second Innings at Facebook | Dec 2012 – Jul 2015

A lot changed in the 5 months that I was away. The fast-paced nature of our work was not so evident when on the inside, but coming back, I realized how much had been accomplished in those 5 months and how dynamic the culture at Facebook was. During my second stint, I worked with three managers: KB, AG, and NC, in that order. I was once again lucky to receive the right kind of support from each of them, which helped me grow in my career.

While the first stint felt like being in college, this second stint was when things got more serious at work. This period also saw an increased focus on mobile platforms. It was a great time to be at Facebook, witnessing how the company moved from strength to strength with such agility.

Personally, this was a very fulfilling journey for me. In addition to working on various analytics projects related to sales, I got the chance to present our sales analytics solution before clients at Facebook HQ in the US. I learned to work in complex stakeholder scenarios involving multiple teams globally and picked up the art and importance of storytelling and data visualization.

facebook hq

Two and a half years later, I decided to leave Facebook. I was upset because of a missed promotion and didn’t feel valued. It was only a few years later, when I was managing a team, that I realized how difficult it is to manage the expectations of your reports while ensuring you are thinking of their long-term well-being. I came to understand why I wasn’t fit to be promoted at that time. When this realization hit me, I reached out to NC, my manager at Facebook during that time, and told her how I now appreciated the decisions she took then. Ever since, I have reached out to her multiple times for guidance on various issues and always came away with a clear plan of action.

Chapter 5: A Brief Encounter with Amazon | Jul 2015 – Jan 2016

After leaving Facebook, I joined Amazon and for the first time used analytics for planning operations at scale. It wasn’t as exciting as the work I was doing at Facebook, but it was great in terms of the technical learnings. The six months that I stayed at Amazon sharpened my SQL writing skills. I also learnt how to create analytical models to test different scenarios.

Despite all the learnings, I found it hard to adjust at Amazon. The work, culture, office amenities, and overall vibe were very different from what I had experienced at Facebook. I tried making friends, but no one seemed interested in talking anything other than work. At the same time, life around me was changing drastically and it was emotionally very taxing. Most of my friends who had made Hyderabad what it was had moved away — SV, DP, SM, SCS, DS, and others. The state was recently divided into two, leading to a flurry of construction activities all around, trees being felled, places that I used to visit slowly disappearing, and known faces at my fav cafes getting replaced. Hyderabad had suddenly turned into a stranger, and work at Amazon didn’t seem fulfilling. And thus, within a few months, I decided to leave Amazon and Hyderabad, and moved to Gurgaon to join Saavn.

Chapter 6: The Startup Days at Saavn | Jan 2016 – Mar 2019

If it weren’t for RS, I might never have landed the opportunity at Saavn. After applying for a role there and hearing nothing for weeks, I tried reaching out to Saavn employees on LinkedIn, but without success. Desperate times call for desperate measures and so I started searching for Saavn employees on Facebook, with Tinder next in the queue! Luckily, I came across RS and messaged him. To my surprise, he not only responded but also forwarded my profile to the hiring manager.

Saavn was my first experience working with a startup. I quickly realized that things worked very differently compared to established companies like Facebook or Amazon—from hiring to onboarding to problem-solving, everything had its own flavor. I was the first hire for a newly launched team, and it seemed no one knew what I was supposed to do. My manager was in the US, while I was in the Gurgaon office, which housed about 15-20 employees across Sales, Ad Ops, and Account Management. No one seemed particularly bothered about this new person wandering around looking busy.

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saavn days
recording my music album at Saavn studio 😛

For a few days, I felt lost in this startup wilderness. But as soon as I embraced the ambiguity, things started falling into place. I began working with the Sales teams, Account Management, AdOps, Marketing, Content, and any other team that needed help with data. Within months, I was hiring and managing people for this new team, negotiating with vendors for cheap Tableau licenses, and collaborating with the Engineering team to get the data needed for analyzing ad campaigns.

A year later, I found myself wearing a product manager hat, creating mockups for a self-serve tool, and hiring front-end and back-end developers to bring that vision to life. I worked with senior folks from agencies like GroupM and DMPs like Zeotap and Lotame, attended many Adtech conferences, and also met some celebrities! I worked with HR to bring some structure to the levels we were hiring at and ensure pay parity, and introduced 360-degree performance reviews for my team, a practice I picked up during my Facebook days.

Leaving Already!

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Saavn was like doing an MBA on steroids. I couldn’t have asked for a better startup to work at. While the scale was nowhere near that of my previous companies, the breadth of learning was immense. Within a couple of months of joining, we went to Dubai for an offsite. I remember presenting my vision for this new team, boldly stating, “My goal is to make my job redundant,” (a mantra I had picked up from KB during my Facebook days) – meaning that I would scale the tasks I was hired to do so I can explore new and uncharted territories. At most places, this would have remained just a quote, but at Saavn, I got to make it a reality.

For that, I am incredibly grateful to my manager, GK, who left me to run things my way (other than occasionally renaming my team’s folder that I had created on shared Dropbox space, giving me a minor heart attack every time it went missing). There were times when GK and I didn’t see eye to eye on certain issues, but he gave me the comfort to express my disapproval on such occasions. We had our share of disagreements, which left us both frustrated at times, but he also taught me how to think big and constantly pushed me to challenge myself. There were times when he had more confidence in me than I had in myself. Most importantly, he trusted me to lead and grow a team—my first time as a people manager.

Saavn also changed the notion for me that managers can’t be friends with their reports. RS and ST, who reported to me, remain good friends to this day, someone I can rely on blindly. We make it a point to catch up whenever I am in Gurgaon.

The highlight of my Saavn journey was captured in one sentence from the email I received from GK when I resigned: “Even though this is approved, I am still hopeful that I will persuade you to change your mind before <redacted date>.”

saavn resignation

It felt nice to know that my manager valued me.

Chapter 7: My Uber Ride Has Arrived | Mar 2019 – Present

Mar 2019 is when I moved back to Hyderabad and joined Uber. KB was setting up a new team at Uber. During a call with her months ago I had told her that I am thinking of moving out. She remembered that and reached out to see if I would be interested in joining this new team. After navigating through 5 rounds of interviews, I made it to Uber and got to work with KB, albeit briefly, and MY again.

At Uber, I collaborated with many exceptional leaders, learned the intricacies of program management, and gained valuable experience solving complex analytics problems alongside teams from Data Science, Product, and Operations. While I have consciously decided not to write about my time at Uber as I am still employed here, I will say this much – Uber is the longest tenure I have had at any company, largely due to the amazing people I get to work with, my manager UN, and the wonderful people I have the good fortune to lead – SKT, VM, VV, ADG, AV, DK, MN and SS.

So, that’s the last 15 years of my professional journey condensed in about 3500 odd words. While I have mentioned people who played a pivotal role in shaping my career, there were many others who helped and supported me at different times. Some I am still in touch with, some I lost contact with along the way, but have fond memories of my association with each of them.

Here’s to continuing this journey, embracing new challenges and opportunities ahead. Reflecting on how others have generously and selflessly guided me, I hope to have the good fortune to play a part in shaping someone’s career someday. That, to me, would be the true measure of success.

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  1. What a fantastic and inspiring read! Your journey over the past 15 years is truly remarkable, filled with pivotal moments, valuable lessons, and incredible mentors. I loved how candidly you shared your experiences, both the highs and the lows, and the impact they’ve had on your career and personal growth. Congratulations on reaching this significant milestone, and here’s to many more years of success and fulfillment ahead!

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