Mentor Stories

Niraj’s unusual career journey: From a scientist to an entrepreneur

“I am leaving job and will be joining Infosys”, I told to my family. My father was
surprised and a bit upset. Why anyone will like to leave gazetted officer job of central govt? While he tried to explain me the advantage of a secure job with pension I had made up my mind. This happened when I quit job of defence scientist from DRDO to join Infosys.

I joined DRDO as “Scientist C” in 1996. First few months of training were great but that phase ended when I joined a lab at Pune. I always wanted to explore different fields and learn more, however, I was not getting this opportunity in my job at DRDO. It was a prestigious job but predictable and monotonous. I knew my career path and more or less, could say that after so many years where I will be. For many people, such a predictable job is a big comfort but the same feeling was making me uncomfortable. So when I found an opportunity with Infosys, I took my wife into confidence and joined Infosys. While I was expecting the change in working culture, the magnitude of change was a big shock for me. The idea of recording In/Out time was a shock. It was difficult to accept the facts that working long hours will be norms and one has to fill a time sheet on activities done. I also realised that financial gain on paper is not translating to saving. In DRDO I had a nice quarter, officer’s mess and canteen facility but never valued them. Now I was realising the challenges of private jobs.

But it was fun as I started learning and adjusting. The excitement to work on new projects kept me engaged and onsite opportunity was always tempting. After spending few years and playing different roles when my work moved to managing a team, I realised that I must learn the skill of management. I always believe that while skills can be acquired on the job but it is always good to learn the basic of any subjects in a structured way. Years of experience at garage may make one a good mechanic but it will not make a person an engineer. So I looked around available options, and what can be better than IIMB? As I was having almost 8 years of experience and not in position to leave job to get MBA, I joined PGSEM program at IIMB, and it was a truly life changing experience. The course taught me time management, prioritization and most importantly the value of learning. It was tough to manage the office, family and rigorous demand of the course but it was fun. I got a chance to meet some super intelligent minds and made few super cool friends for life.

I rebooted the life after IIMB as was looking for challenges. When a smaller company approached me for a right role where I had chance to build a team, I could not say NO. During my interview when asked about my risk taking ability, I told that without self-confidence and ability to take risk, I would not have resigned from central government job. It has been my strength throughout the career and I took risks. Of course some paid and some didn’t but learning from each was had been valuable and had shaped me. When Wipro acquired an engineering service company “Quantech”, 2006 I was one of the first to join the merged entity. It was fun to see how people dynamics play most critical role in integration of two companies. The academic case studies on it were looking like a kid story compared to challenges of M&A on ground. It was roller coaster ride. After 3 years when the CIO’s office wanted me to manage an ambitious IT Program to automate the internal process, I was really excited. Those 4 years with CIO’s office helped me to fine tune my skills of consulting, solutions design and process improvement.

But finally my itch to start something of my own was catching up. I started a company in education domain with a dream that in a month we will be unicorn. I believed that the day we will start our offerings, our servers will crash due to excessive traffic and we will be on posters. But nothing happened. I learnt the hard truth of business and realised the importance of right team, source of funds and other unknowns. The failure changed me as person for good. At this time I decided to pull back and go back to drawing board. I joined with a friend and saw opportunity in defence manufacturing. It is fun and exciting as it allowed me to interact with DRDO and Armed forces again. The freedom to shape the things is intoxicating along with dream to relaunch my own start-up soon.

Authored by:  Niraj Sahay, President, Kinetix Engineering, IIM Bangalore, IIT Kharagpur

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