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Five Lessons that Transformed Me

All of us have certain incidents in our professional lives that leaves a deep impact on us and shape our outlook and style. As I reflect back and introspect, here are a few stories and memories that molded me into what I am today and I am so glad to have had these experiences.

#1 — “If you don’t ask, you don’t get it” — Mahatma Gandhi

After finishing my graduation (read Botany Major :)) and my diploma in computer science, I started teaching as a Computer faculty. Yes, I am of that generation when IT was relatively a new career option and I hopped on it because that just seemed the right thing to do. Anyhow, along with my teaching job I was also exploring an opportunity to become an application developer (as it seemed more cool). During a visit to a job fair along with my friends, I happened to meet a Senior SAP Consultant. He spoke to us for few minutes and gave me his business card asking to keep in touch. His job title did not make a lot of sense at that point of time and I was not very sure how he could help me.

A month passed and I did nothing about it. My friend inquired if I had called, and on hearing a negative, he coaxed me to call the gentleman. Finally I did and he asked me to come over for a discussion. The meeting turned out be a game changer and in a month’s time I landed up my first job as a Visual Basic (rings a bell?!) developer at HCL Infosystems. Since then there has been no looking back.

**Do you have any options that you have not explored as you are not sure? Don’t wait, just go and ask for it.

#2 — “Never let self-doubt hold you captive”

This incident is from the relatively early years of my career. Going onsite was a BIG deal and if it was USA, then even more. And I was no exception. :)

I had landed up a new job after coming back from an extended maternity leave. In my first offshore assignment, we had an awesome techno-functional onsite coordinator who enjoyed high credibility with the client. Few months into the project, he decided to leave. The client and my leaders unanimously chose me to go onsite as the replacement for a period of 4–6 months. I was thrilled but a part of me was terrified with the thought of leaving back my toddler for such a long period. Along with that self-doubt of filling up the big shoes of the previous consultant crept in.

As they say if you really yearn to do something then the universe comes together to make it happen. I got a great family support, prepared myself thoroughly before landing onsite, spent time to build rapport with client contacts. Armed with all these, the next few months were some of the best in my career - learning across technology, culture, people and myself. I would have regretted if I had not pushed myself to do it.

**Don’t hold yourself back, take that leap of faith — have a plan and take the plunge.

# 3 —” Uncertainties will remain. Get out of your comfort zone and lean on the power of community to learn and share” — Malthi. :)

Different things motivate different people. For me “Change” has been the only constant. I like to dabble into something different constantly.

In one such transition in 2010, I “accidentally” moved into a Global Product Manager role. The scope and responsibilities of the role were ambiguous. When I started to look around for references, I realized that internally in the organization there were hardly any similar to my role. Product Management was an emerging function at that time in India. I started to look externally for peers to learn and understand the nuances of this role across the industry. This is how I started to leverage the power of community through events, round tables, coffee-meet ups etc. I networked with experts and practitioners for advise and to stay updated with the new trends. I started contributing in many different ways. This helped me immensely to build my craft, organization and process. The support of my leaders to empower me to experiment and learn was a great enabler.

**One critical learning is community is “more about give than take”. I continue to practice this till today. The only way to stay relevant is to learn everyday.

#4 — “Customer Centricity — There is no alternate for this”

Since the start of my consulting career, I was always in front of my customers trying to understand their problems. My PM role for Enterprise products further strengthened this skill. However, when I started as a PM for a consumer product, the magnitude of customers/users were 10x than I was used to.

The focus, expertise, infrastructure, support and processes in place for building customer connections and empathy, helped me to ramp up quickly in the new space. This value endorsed and practiced by every leader and product builder (including developers) in the organization was a great experience.

**Dwelling in the “problem-first” space and focusing on the “what” is the approach I recommend to my teams. So get out of your offices and visit your customers. That is the only way to build products they will use.

#5 — Be the change you seek. Find your passion and run with it. Don’t wait for someone to tell you.

As I started to engage with PM communities, another area of my interest was to participate and contribute in Women-in-Tech (WIT) initiatives. I loved the synergies, the learnings, networking with my role models and the impact I could create. In the last couple of years I started to engage more in Diversity and Inclusion initiatives and spent my energy on WIT in my organization so that we can learn, share and connect.

The trust and belief of our sponsors helped us to scale new heights with “many first” experiences and events. The endorsements from fellow women technologists and leadership was extremely gratifying for the volunteers. To some extent it was also a self-discovery process (including writing among many other) for me as I indulged deeper into this and derived lot of satisfaction.

**My key learning, do not wait for that BIG opportunity — they come in small packets. Find those whitespaces and follow your dream. People will come along and roads will start appearing.

All of us have our stories and I hope you found some of these relatable. My latest interest is to work with the start-ups to strengthen their business, product strategies and connect them to investors. Mentoring is another activity where I find myself engrossed. That will probably be the topic of my next article.

Do drop in your stories and your learnings from them. Sharing is caring :)

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