April 5, 2022
I am excited to have the “accidental” software developer, Anupam Krishnamurthy with us today to help 20-yr olds navigate careers. He has pursued careers in space science and management consulting. Now, software engineering is his third career.
Anupam graduated as a mechanical engineer from NIT Surathkal, after which he built satellites at the Indian Space Research Organization(ISRO). He then got an MBA at FMS Delhi, after which he worked as a management consultant.
Today, he works as a software developer, which has nothing to do with both those degrees! How did that come to be? Read on to find out more.
Why Anupam decided to call it quits on Launching Satellites at ISRO
Hi Anupam, thanks for your time today.😃 Can you tell us more about your transition from Space Scientist to Management Consultant? What were you doing as a Space Scientist? Why did you decide to move to a different career?
I moved on from being an engineer in the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to obtaining an MBA - that was rather unconventional. As a mechanical engineer in ISRO, I assembled satellite parts, configured their layouts, estimated their center-of-gravity and moment-of-inertia. All of this was exciting work - there is no parallel to the excitement one feels when a satellite you have assembled by hand is launched into space! However, ISRO is also a large government organization, and like any other, it has rigid career progression paths. I realized that it would be more than a decade until I would have the authority and the resources to make transformative decisions within the firm. This didn't appeal to my impatient 20-year-old self. There is one anecdote worth pointing out. I once detected a potential mechanical assembly glitch in the satellite, which I pointed out to my boss. This glitch wasn't visible to the eye, so he brushed it off. So I reproduced this glitch with a similar setup outside the satellite, to convince him of its existence. Nevertheless, he overruled my decision stating that the satellite's schedule was more important than investigating this glitch. I decided that this wasn't an environment that I would enjoy working in, so, I moved on. I was in my mid-twenties back then, and I wasn't sure at that point on where I wanted to go with my career. Therefore, I did what most privileged and confused Indians in their 20s do - I wrote the CAT got an MBA. After finishing my MBA, I landed a job as a strategy consultant.
Whao!! Your work at ISRO was so cool. It is also interesting that you were good at your job when you decided to move on. ISRO lost a passionate employee because of a toxic work environment. I myself stopped pursuing a career in accounting last year. And if I do an MBA it will be for the same reason you did one😂
What did he do as Strategy Consultant in his 2nd career
Then what happened? As you landed a job as a strategy consultant did you know what you were about to do? What was your experience as a strategy consultant? What did you actually do there?
During my MBA, I figured that a consulting job would suit me better than the alternatives on offer. This turned out to be correct. I really enjoyed my job as a management consultant. In this job, you work with a company that has hired you to help them solve a compelling business problem. Specifically, as a strategy consultant, you are concerned less with the immediate day-to-day problems, but with more middle-to long term problems such as which technology would be most relevant in a market, how can the client enter a new market, how an automotive supplier stay relevant when their business model is being disrupted by electric vehicles etc. etc. What we actually did was - Figure out what the client's goal was - Interview employees of the client to ascertain their problems - Do tonnes of research, using internal knowledge and the internet, to craft our point of view on this problem - Communicate a solution to the client Most of what you learn to do as a consultant is the last point - communication. I found this to be the most underrated part of the job. A career in consulting is great for somebody who wants to figure out what they ultimately want to do. This is because you have rather short projects in which you get to work in a variety of industries and teams. Most of all, I learnt how to perform consistently in challenging, high-pressure and uncertain environments. The profession battle hardens you.
How did he become the “Accidental” Software Developer
Hmm, interesting. How did you become an accidental software developer? Did you run into any problems?
In 2017, 2 years into my career as a strategy consultant, I moved to Germany for personal reasons. As I mentioned, communication is among the most important skills you need as a consultant. Given I wasn't a native German speaker, I felt like a sailboat with a gaping hole in my sail. I figured that I had to learn a skill that was rather independent of language to stay relevant. Therefore, I started learning how to automate business processes on a low-code automation platform. It involved automating routine tasks that white-collar workers perform on their computers - routine tasks done such as importing data from a website or generating PDF invoices on demand for end customers. The low-code platform made it easy for me to write automation scripts despite not having a background in computer science. At some point, my German got better, and I had the option to return to my career in business. However, I noticed that I enjoyed automating stuff more than creating and making Powerpoint presentations. In effect, moving to Germany and being forced to reinvent myself was the accident that led me to become a software developer.
What does a typical day of work look like
I see on your website that currently you work as a Quality Assurance Engineer.
- Can you tell me more about this role? I want to know specifically what tasks are you doing when you are working. What does a typical day of work look like?
- Also, what do you love about your work?
→ Can you tell me more about this role? I want to know specifically what tasks are you doing when you are working. What does a typical day of work look like?
A Quality Assurance (QA) engineer within a software development team is responsible for the quality of the software product this team creates. My foremost job is to ensure that a software product - functions as expected - is free from bugs - meets a required standard of performance, security, reliability etc. On a day-to-day basis, as soon as a new feature is created, I test it like an end-user would to see if it works as expected. However, most software testing is now automated, and it is also the quality assurance engineer's job to figure out a robust plan to automate these test, schedule them, run them and continually maintain them. Most of my time, I am reading code written by other developers and figuring out ways to test it. I also write several automated tests myself.
→ Also, what do you love about your work?
What I love about my work has less to do with the role of Quality Assurance and more to do with the firm I currently work in. My company is a small IT consulting firm (about 50 people) with a fantastic work culture. We are given plenty of autonomy in a friendly and open atmosphere - one where the diverse skill set I bring from my previous careers serves me well. My role within the company is not limited to that of a QA engineer - it also involves thinking about underlying business problems, influencing the company's culture and being directly involved in running the company itself.
Top resources to get started as a Software Developer
Amazing how you learnt a new skill and got to a professional working proficiency when forced to reinvent yourself. Can you point our readers to a few awesome beginner-level resources in case they are getting curious?
- This article by Clive Thompson is great for somebody curious about the world of programming:
Ten Lessons I Learned While Teaching Myself to Code
Note from the editor: The following is a guest post by Clive Thompson (@pomeranian99), a journalist who's written about technology and science for two decades. Clive is a longtime contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired.
- If you liked this, you'd love his book Coders:
Coders: Who They Are, What They Think and How They Are Changing Our World
From revolution on Twitter to romance on Tinder, we live in a world constructed of code - and coders are the ones who built it for us. In Coders, acclaimed tech writer Clive Thompson offers an illuminating reckoning with the most powerful tribe in the world today, computer programmers, asking who they are, how they think, and what should give us pause.
- To start off with programming, I would recommend Python. It is a great general purpose programming language that is easy to start with. Learning Python 3 the Hard Way, a book by Zed Shaw, is a fantastic resource for a serious learner:
How to tackle stress?—From someone who changed his career two times
So by this point you have taken a couple of career changing decisions. Were these decisions difficult to take? How did you tackle with the stress?
My first transition into the management world wasn't hard. I had several peers making this transition, and it felt natural. The second transition was harder. I had to forge a new career in a foreign country, where my academic credentials from India didn't mean much. I also didn't have a great network of peers in Germany - I left those things behind. Yet, on the flipside, I was in a new, noise-free environment where I could think about what I really wanted without any external pressure. I have spent hours thinking and writing about things such as - What role does work play in my life? - What kind of work do I enjoy doing? - What kind of work am I good at? - What kind of work is valued by the market? It is key to find a meaningful intersection of the things above. A great book that helps you think through this early in your professional life is So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport:
So Good They Can't Ignore You
Cal Newport's clearly-written manifesto flies in the face of conventional wisdom by suggesting that it should be a person's talent and skill - and not necessarily their passion - that determines their career path. Newport, who graduated from Dartmouth College (Phi Beta Kappa) and earned a PhD.
I have found a practice of regular introspection to be a fantastic antidote to the stress of having to forge the perfect career path.
What motivates you to action when you are feeling stuck on a problem?
I love your story❤ It makes me hopeful. And I’m sure all our readers will feel so once they know your story. I guess we should wrap this up with some final questions unless there is something else you would like to share with us:
- What motivates you to action when you are feeling stuck on a problem?
- If you could go back in time, what’s one piece of advice you would give to the 20-yr old version of yourself?
→ What motivates you to action when you are feeling stuck on a problem?
When I am stuck on a problem that I have been bashing away at for a few hours, I step away from it and take a long break (usually a night's sleep). When I return to the problem, I have a new perspective on it that helps me solve it, or I discuss it with a friend or a partner. This can take one or more iterations.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to the 20-yr old version of yourself?
→ If you could go back in time, what’s one piece of advice you would give to the 20-yr old version of yourself?
I would tell my 20-year-old self
- Stop whatever you're doing now and read Linchpin by Seth Godin:
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? How to drive your career and create a remarkable future
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? How to drive your career and create a remarkable future : Godin, Seth: Amazon.in: Books
- It matters less what you do for a living. What matters more is how you do it.
- If there needs to be a constant in your professional life, it is the uncompromising pursuit of mastery in anything you take up.
- It is okay to not have figured out the one perfect career. That answer will evolve, and this evolution is healthy.
- Don't be worried about career switches. You aren't starting over, and you are not losing out on progress you have made.
- Talk to a 1000 other professionals who have discovered the joy of crafting meaningful careers😉
Thank you for your time Anupam . It was a pleasure to have you with us today. I am so excited about sharing your story on Beginner Maps. I know it will be incredibly helpful to so many 20-yr olds.
Thank you for having me. It was a sheer delight! I love your initiative and am honoured for having been a part of it. Thank you!