Kartic Vaidyanathan is currently working as the Director of Operations at Cognizant. He has over 20 years of industry experience, primarily in IT products and services companies. After graduating from IIT-M in 1996, he joined Infosys. He then joined a startup called Yantra (spun off from Infosys) in 1998 and worked until 2005, when it was acquired by Sterling Commerce. He continued in Sterling Commerce until 2010, after which he joined Cognizant, where he continues to work till date. During 2006-2009, he did his executive MBA from IIM-Bangalore.
How does feel to be back in insti after all these years ? What changes do you observe from your time ?
In the initial years after passing I used to visit insti. But after moving out of Chennai 2-3 years later the visits were much less frequent. I was there for the reunion for last month. There have been a lot of changes, newer hostels, new messes. The IIT M research park was a big revelation for me. It’s a fantastic move to bridge the gap between academia and industries. This is need of the hour in today’s world and IIT Madras has done a great job in accomplishing this. CFI too is a major development since the time I passed out. We never had such an opportunity during our days. We had very limited opportunity to apply what we learnt in the classroom and therefore I would urge the students to make best use of these facilities.
Can you recall a few memorable incidents during your time in insti ?
I don’t know whether I can term this memorable, but there is this one really funny incident that I still remember. The institute library had a glass door with nothing marked on it. It was so transparent that you couldn’t make out that it was a door. So I walked through it, crashed it and got admitted in the hospital. A lot of my friends tease me about it till date. After that incident they added some markings on the door to make sure this never happens again. Apart from this my time in insti was thoroughly enjoyable and I made a lot of great friends here.
How does the experience gained from insti life help a person in his/her career ?
One should make the best use of time in non academics in IIT. A lot of my friends who I interacted with in the reunion have the same opinion. One should develop all round skills, enhance their interpersonal skills by participating in different activities and organizing events. Basically doing anything that’s practical in nature as opposed to academic helps a lot. This has been my biggest learning so far.
Can you tell us about how you ended up working in a startup after infosys ?
I didn’t consciously move from infosys. This startup- Yantra that I joined was a part of Infosys. Our sales Vice President at that time decided that it’s worth starting off as a separate product. Infosys did all the hand holding and provided us with adequate support initially. But it wasn’t officially part of Infosys as a new product is always risky compared to services. With an assurance from Infosys about our future if anything went wrong, around 25 of us made decided to make the jump. But it was a fantastic experience working in the US for a product company and we managed to grow it to about 500 people. Then in 2005 sterling commerce bought out Yantra which was again not a conscious decision, but out of my control. It was something that just happened. After that I continued to work in Sterling commerce for a few more years.
Why did you decide to move back to Chennai?
Firstly I was missing my hometown Chennai and felt that I had to shift back. Secondly I had been working with same set of people for the past 14 years. Although I officially moved companies twice, my colleagues were the same bunch of people throughout. I needed a change in the working environment, so I wanted to venture out to work in a new firm. I wanted to apply whatever I had learned for the last decade or so in a different environment and ended up joining Cognizant Chennai.
What was your thought process behind opting for an executive MBA?
After a certain stage the learning curve become very narrow in the corporate world. Although initially the learning curve is steep, I had reached some sort of a saturation. I had got bored with my managerial role. It’ was not very hands on and at the same time I had lost pace with technological side of things.I was at a crossroads, so I wanted to explore MBA and since I would continue working for corporates in a managerial capacity, it made a lot of sense. It was a decision taken purely based on my thirst to learn more. And luckily IIM B was just 2-3 kms from my house in Bangalore. My company was also very supportive of this decision as I had spent over a decade there.
How do you see the startup culture growing in IITM and in India?
We have a very supportive government at the center which has launched initiatives like Make in India and Startup India to promote entrepreneurship. This is probably one of the best times to live in India. The number of people going abroad has come down significantly from our time. There is an abundance of opportunities in India. It is very different from our times.
I got a wonderful opportunity to be part of a 25 member startup and it was a brilliant learning experience. When the company is small the team bonding, the sense of purpose and energy levels are extremely high. But in a large company, interaction is very limited. I would urge young people to be part of startups if they get an opportunity. It is truly an amazing experience to have.
What made you decide to stay back in India at a time when 70-80% of the batch used to go abroad for higher studies?
It was more of a personal thing actually. A few of my cousins had gone abroad and I realized that it’s very difficult to come back to India once you get adjusted to a certain standard of living. But I essentially wanted to live in India. But luckily even though I didn’t go abroad initially I did get an opportunity to experience the culture in the US during my stint at Yantra for a couple of years.
Students these days face a big dilemma at the time of graduation, whether to take up a job, go abroad for higher studies or try to start something on their own. What’s your opinion on this?
This is my just my personal opinion but ultimately each individual has to come to his own conclusion. One thing you’ll find is that the real world is vastly different from the academic world. I would personally recommend students not to go for higher studies just for the brand name of a university unless they are really passionate about research. I personally feel you will pick up a lot more if you do things practically as part of a job or a startup. I would li
And when it comes to Job vs Startup it depends upon one’s risk taking ability and ultimately I would advise students to follow their heart. One of my favorite quotes by Steve Jobs makes a lot of sense in this context – “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future”.
Most students don’t end up taking up jobs in their core engineering field but instead branch out to other sectors? What do you feel about this?
It was the case during our era too. I maybe wrong but I feel most of don’t have proper guidance as to what to do after high school. If we are very clear about what we want to do in life, some of us may not even want to join IIT. I know a friend who after 4 years as an IT professional quit his job, and now is an English professor. I’m sure there must be plenty of other cases like these. There’s nothing wrong with this trend and it exists mainly because of lack of clarity and peer pressure. And sadly many of us are still not clear. The earlier you get the clarity the better it is for you.
Would you like to share some specific incidents/experiences from which you have learnt a lot in your corporate career?
Of course, there have been a lot of such incidents over the course of the last 2 decades. From the top of my mind, I can think of the most recent ones. When I shifted to Cognizant I was moving from testing to services. I thought my vast experience in testing products would help me adjust to the new role quite easily even though this was something which I had not worked on before. But even after almost 15 years of IT experience I literally struggled a lot during my first year at Cognizant. But thankfully I had a set of mentors guiding me through the whole process and I emerged successfully having learned a lot. One more thing was, working from a smaller company I shifted to a much bigger company. In Yantra, the company size was 500, whereas the team I was managing in Cognizant was alone 500 while the company strength was 80,000.
What has kept you going all these years amidst all the pressure and the monotonous nature of corporate life ? And who has been inspirational to you?
I had no choice. But on a more serious note, the thirst to learn more, experience more and grow along with it has been my biggest driving force. I am an avid learner and extremely curious by nature. I always try to study successful people, the best practices and apply them in real life.
I can’t just name one person who had been inspirational. I am a person who believes that there is good in everybody. On the top of my head, I can probably name dozens of people both in the corporate world and in my own company as well.
Do you have any words of advice for students of IITM?
You guys are blessed with a lot of things, especially the environment that IITM is providing you and the era we are living in today. This is probably the time ever to be living in India. Follow what your heart says, but with a certain amount of validation. Do not blindly copy what your peers do. Each one you is different.