When is a computer-science engineer considered successful? A job at a giant MNC in India? A job at a giant MNC abroad? How about working with people who made Windows? Well, Mr. Yash Sharma, Batch of 2006, fits the bill perfectly. The portfolio reads two years of working in HCL in India; a little longer in HCL, Redmond; five years in Microsoft, Redmond and a current pursuit of MBA at University of Washington, Michael J. Foster School of Business. The Buffered Writers sat with him on the eve of Republic Day (PST) and he was, if anything, eager in responding to our queries, hoping to guide us into a better future. Excerpts from the interview follow:
Hind: Let’s begin with old times, Sir. Your transition from India to US back in 2007 to be precise. How was it like to shift from the indian work culture to US’s?
Yash Sharma: Back in 2007 I was still a novice in the industry with two and a half years of experience working in HCL in India. The shift was a welcome change for me. There was a visible contrast between the two cultures. One of the most glaring difference I found is that in India managers in IT field value longer hours of work more than they do the contribution. It becomes a matter of quantity rather than quality. While in US, they don’t care as much for hours as they do for the quality of input.
And I value that attitude very much, focus should always be on contribution, on what you learnt from the project rather than how much time you put in.
Saurav: Sir, from our exposure to the world around through internet, books and media, we are of the view that people working in US are more vocal of their problems and wants. Would you agree to that?
Yash Sharma: That’s exactly what I was saying. Submissiveness in a job does not only involve the employer but also the employee. I think it’s part of the culture. At times the vocality is not called for and some people might take it in negative way.
But you’re right in saying that employees in India are a bit conserved. And yes, US people are more vocal. It only helps that here in US managers are also amiable, and make it a point to not bring in the work hierarchy in middle of such conversations.
They want such an environment and I believe it improves the team.
Hind: It’s been more than 7 years of you working in US. Would you say there’s something better in Indian work culture than US?
Yash Sharma: Better… [laughs]. It’s been long. I don’t know if what I say would be true anymore. There probably are some things better in India. [pauses] I think US people focus more on work than their families. It’s part of their culture. [laughs] I can’t really come up with something better in India than US.
But seriously, I think in India, commitment towards everything is a little more even than in US. Indian people put more focus on family. The work environment, I think, makes them very hard working.
Saurav: Sir, we know some of the most obvious perks for a computer engineer to be working in US - pay is good, it’s the States - land of opportunities and what not. What would you say are some of the lesser known perks?
Yash Sharma: Companies here make a commitment when they hire you. It’s a lengthy process and they grill you aplenty. But when they hire you they make sure that they want you to grow. You’re assigned projects that helps you learn rather than just draw mindless work out of you. And it’s no charity, they develop you into assets which have the potential to groom their own company.
The family environment at work is more prevalent in US than in India. Their expectations from you changes your mindset. That’s also one difference between the two countries. Familiality is more here in the states.
Hind: Maybe, it’s because Indian managers know that their employees are going to leave them much sooner than later.
Yash Sharma: [laughs] Yes, maybe. I remember once listening to the president of HCL in India saying “I know we’re just a catapult for you to get into better jobs”. But the question is how can you, with that kind of mindset, convince people to join and work with and for you.
Hind: During the last seven years, did you happen to come to India for any work trips?
Yash Sharma: No...
Saurav: Not even once?
Yash Sharma: [laughs] Yes, not even once. You see, the business in microsoft is modelled this way. The operating systems part that I have worked on mostly is done primarily here in US. A small module of it is also handled in the Hyderabad office. But I never got to visit those guys.
Saurav: When you joined the industry the culture of start-ups was not as extensive as it is today. What are your views on it? Would you recommend joining one?
Yash Sharma: I encourage startups. I believe that you learn a lot when you are involved with one. The technical challenges they solve and face give you a first hand experience of the heavy lifting that is an integral part of establishing any company. If you want to be a part of one, which I strongly recommend, and get a chance to, don’t shy away from the opportunity. Don’t work for 5 years to someday begin your own venture. If you get a chance to work in a startup of somebody else today, grab it.
Hind: Do you see this culture dying sometime in the future?
Yash Sharma: I do not see the startup culture dying. There are so many springing up and so many perishing on any day. You start with an idea, and then you find it’s already been worked upon, and you start in some other direction. People do get washed out as it takes a lot of energy in starting one. The amount of time and dedication one has to invest in a new venture is immense, and its a tiring process. Many entrepreneurs take a break and join a well established firm after a failed startup.
But there are so many problems to solve and as long as there are problems to solve, there will be startups. I dont know why has this culture started recently, but I do not see it dying anytime soon.
Hind: Sir, let us talk about your MBA now. Generally in India, people opt for an MBA straight out of college, but you have been working for over 10 years, and it is now that you have enrolled in an MBA program. Which of them is the wiser choice?
Yash Sharma: I know that I speak for a lot of people when I say this, it’s an opinion that I and many of my colleagues share, that an MBA is essentially a mid-career move. When you do an MBA, the kind of skills that you learn, the kind of problems you are taught to deal with, unless you have seen and experienced them first hand, you will not be able to fully comprehend the value and importance of what knowledge is being imparted to you.
Having been working for so long, when I attend my classes, I am able to ask informative and well researched questions. Questions that help me and my classmates in being better managers. Fresh college graduates do not have the prerequisites of an MBA program.
Saurav: What about an MS program? Should one gain experience before enrolling in one or opt for it straight out of college?
Yash Sharma: An MS is quite different from an MBA. If you plan on opting for an MS, try do it at the earliest. Fresh graduates are the best candidates for an MS program as they are still in their learning modes. You will be able to relate better as you have just come out of a college.
Hind: Any advice for the current students?
Yash Sharma: Keep yourself flexible. You should always be learning and growing for as long as possible. Never settle with your skill set, keep improving and adding to them. An employee that can adapt with time is a valuable asset to every company.
Keep looking for opportunities to work in a startup in your initial years to maximize your learning. But do not do so blindly. Evaluate the kind of startup that you are about to be involved with. Look at what stage of their implementation they are on. Ask their founders about the vision they have, how far do they see themselves going. Unless there is passion at the roots, the startup will not flourish.
Saurav: What do you remember about ISM?
Yash Sharma: Ramdhani. I remember…
Hind: Sir, RD.
Yash Sharma: Oh yes. But we had a batch-mate we used to call RD. So, RD for us became Ramdhani. Back then, eateries around ISM were scarce, so Ramdhani was our go-to place, especially after a tiring night-out.
Saurav: Lastly, Sir, are you still a citizen of India?
Yash Sharma: Yes, in fact, I am.
Hind: Well then, Happy Republic Day Sir! It was a great time chatting with you.
Yash Sharma: Same here. Thank you. And Good Luck.
Saurav, Hind: Good Bye Sir.