Making Calculated Risk Decisions with Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi (3/3)

Welcome to episode 247 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_) – two technology professionals with backgrounds in IT Operations and Sales Engineering on a mission to help others accelerate career progression and increase job satisfaction by bringing listeners the advice we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 3 of an interview with Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi, detailing how Sirisha made the decision to leave the corporate world, how she became interested in podcasting, and how life has been as an entrepreneur.

Original Recording Date: 09-16-2023

Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi is an entrepreneur who started her career working for a semiconductor manufacturer in the tech industry which resulted in 17 years of experience. If you missed parts 1 and 2 of our discussion with Sirisha, check out Episode 245 and Episode 246.

Topics – Walking away from the Corporate World, An Interest in Podcasting, Loss Aversion and Sunk Cost

2:35 – Walking away from the Corporate World

  • Nick had the chance to meet Sirisha at a local podcast meetup and wanted her to share the story of walking away from her job at TI with our listeners. Did it have anything to do with learning to set boundaries, the pressure of the role she was in at the time? And did the two months away provide unexpected clarity?
    • Sirisha was working her full-time job, she was podcasting at night, and she had teenage kids at home. At some point she realized she was dropping things at home.
    • “When I looked at it, I realized time was my biggest constraint.” – Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi
    • Sirisha tells us she had her finances in a state which allowed her to make a calculated risk decision.
    • What Sirisha is working on now is constantly changing she says. She has many ideas, some that work and others that do not.
    • During the time of this recording Sirisha has kids in college and tells us it’s probably not the best time to make a decision like this.
    • With time being the biggest constraint, Sirisha had to decide where she wanted to go.
    • Sirisha’s organization was very supportive, and she was able to take a leave of absence. Her son was about to be in college, and this time also gave her the ability tot think about what she wanted to do.
    • As Sirisha was working through the various projects she had going, the time off gave her the space to come to a decision.
    • “There are all these things I want to work on. There’s never going to be a great time, and the time for me is now.” – Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi, on the decision to walk away from the corporate world
    • Sirisha feels she will probably re-enter the corporate world in some manner, but it might not look the same. The experience she has gained to this point doesn’t go away because of the decision.
    • Sirisha tells us she has learned many things from podcasting that she never would have otherwise. She can, for example, combine her tech experience with knowledge of how we show up externally and the importance of it.
    • The two month break reiterated how well each team member who was working for Sirisha at the time performed in their role. The fact that she was able to disconnect helped Sirisha understand there were other things she could do and that the time to take a larger break was now.
    • Sirisha says this is her 3rd career break. The layoff and being a stay at home mom were the others.
    • It’s not that Sirisha has retired. The things she is choosing to do just are not inside a corporate structure.

5:46 – An Interest in Podcasting

  • Podcasting came into play during her last corporate role somewhere around the time COVD hit.
  • Sirisha had been mentoring young women (college students) virtually and in person for many years and was looking for additional volunteering opportunities.
  • Sirisha had specific types of opportunities in mind but wanted to ensure it was something she could commit to doing. The age and stage of her kids was a consideration on use of her time as well. During COVID, she started thinking again about what she could do.
  • Sirisha saw podcasting in some ways as a larger form of mentoring. Mentoring / volunteering wasn’t the only aspect. In her progression into leadership she realized there are groups of people who will ask for what they want, a group that is very good at what they do and happy where they are, and another group that might be unsure about things like pursuing management or something else.
    • Sirisha found herself in that last group for a long time (unsure).
    • We have to do some setting up to prepare ourselves for career moves like going into management, for example. Things do not happen by just flipping a switch.
    • Sirisha decided to start the podcast to talk about the set of questions women might want to ask who are in this same category (unsure). Sirisha started with some of the questions she had from earlier in her career.
    • The first few seasons of Sirisha’s podcast (the Women, Career, and Life Podcast) are about returning to work after a break, and the first season starts with getting laid off.
      • Sirisha had been laid off in the past, and her guest host at the time had taken a break from work at one point.
      • They also felt mentorship was very important and discussed it in some of those first few episodes.
    • When Sirisha and her guest host at the time looked around at the podcast ecosystem, they saw many great podcasts but didn’t see a lot of people who looked like them.
    • Sirisha says the culture she grew up in is part of who she is. There are things that do and do not go well when trying to fit into a different culture.
    • Sirisha wanted to talk about some of the above topics because she felt like they were not being discussed enough. She also selected other topics of interests (something she saw or read about), starting with career and doing an entire season on finance.
    • Sirisha tells us there were not many sources supporting women holistically combining the topic of finance and career. Most would talk about career but not add the finance piece.
    • “As much as we all love our jobs, we go to work to get a paycheck and to be financially vested and have independence and have the opportunity to make choices. If I do not know how to manage my money, I am always going to have a challenge. I am going to work forever.” – Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi
    • Sirisha tells the story of a friend who had a big misconception on how much to save for retirement. Sirisha helped this friend understand she only needed about 25% of what she originally thought.
      • After the lunch meeting with her friend, Sirisha had the friend run a retirement savings calculator and held her accountable to go and do it
      • Almost any investment account we hold will have a simple calculator for retirement. If we know how much we spend, usually you need 25 times that for retirement.
      • Knowing the target amount we need allows us to make certain choices about choosing to work and aspirations for things we or our families might want to do (i.e. travel, etc.).
      • We talk about this lifting some of the weight off your shoulders knowing retirement is covered, etc.
      • Sirisha suggests working backward from an amount you need and working it toward an age of retirement. You need to start somewhere.
      • Sirisha says in looking back on her financial plans over time the target retirement age she has used or estimated for has always been consistent.
      • “No matter how much money you make, everybody worries about it.” – Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi, on the topic of retirement and its relevance to all of us

12:31 – Loss Aversion and Sunk Cost

  • What does it really take to walk away from a job you might have enjoyed?

    • Sirisha says she was able to work with some wonderful people in her corporate job, but for her, it was the right time to walk away (from the role at Texas Instruments).
    • Sirisha doesn’t actually miss her job. She likes what she is doing now, even though it is in an ideation stage. There are certain things upon which she has been executing as well.
    • Sirisha had been thinking about making the move the summer before she did it. She had a friend who could not afford to leave her corporate job, and Sirisha had been thinking about doing it. There are many things a job provides, and it is a risk decision to walk away.
    • For Sirisha to take the next step in her career for upward mobility would require a lot more work and a lot more learning. The point of doing something new for Sirisha is learning, and she would not do something like that half way.
      • Each of us builds a personal brand and wants it to be good regardless of what we pursue.
    • “I want to leave on a high note on my terms as much as possible.” – Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi
    • Sirisha knew it was going to take a lot of time in a new job. Maybe she could keep the podcast going, but it was not going to allow her to focus on many of the ideas she had going in her head. She had to decide how and where to spend her time.
      • “If I couldn’t do justice to the job then it wasn’t fair to that job, to the people in it, and not to me either.” – Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi
    • After the 2 month break Sirisha realized that though she may have ideas in her head, when she was at the office the only thing she could work on was office work, even if it was her peak mental output window.
    • Sirisha wanted to work on things that were important to her. If she put it off for a year or two, she may not have the energy and enthusiasm to pursue the different ideas on her mind. And waiting could mean the ideas may no longer be relevant.
    • Sirisha also wanted to be there for her kids (who are older teenagers getting close to college). The choice to leave the corporate world has given her the luxury of taking her kids to school, which she has enjoyed doing (getting to do it when they were young and recently in this phase of their lives).
      • “I will never get that time back with them…in whatever way that ecosystem turns out.” – Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi, on the importance of spending time with her kids
      • Sirisha emphasizes for us that a decision like what she made is a hard one.
    • Sirisha doesn’t classify this decision as loss aversion but more like sunk cost. She tells us these concepts are some of the hardest we have to deal with.
      • Over the course of 3 months Sirisha has tried different things and spent money pursuing those things. She refers to it as being a journey. Some things did not have the potential she originally thought they might in the beginning.
      • Sirisha has learned she did not do customer research as well as the thought she had as one example. She also sought help from friends who own and operate their own business.
      • After focusing on one thing that was not working well, she had to decide to let it fade away to focus on something else she wanted to do. Even if we have spent months ideating on something, we might need to let it go and move on because it isn’t working or it won’t produce what we wanted.
      • “Because we have put so much into it we keep thinking we need to keep throwing more at the pile. It just doesn’t get any better. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses. But I’m making it sound simple. There’s nothing simple about it. There are things that I have not made decisions on like that, that I continue to sink cost into.” – Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi
      • Sirisha likes to make pros and cons lists by hand in a notebook to help make decisions due to having so many thoughts in her head and hearing so many opinions on the matter. It’s hard to really think through a situation in all of this. Sirisha likes to write it down, think about it, and then use the information to try to make the best decision she can.
      • “In hindsight it doesn’t matter if it was good or not, but that was the decision.” – Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi, on making the best possible decision you can on something at the time
      • When Sirisha was trying to decide whether to go back to work after the 2 month leave of absence a friend suggested she try the role for a couple of months. But having been a hiring manager she did not want to do that to the organization and at the same time did not want to make the commitment. Her advice to all of us would be to not look back on making a decision like this after we’ve made it.
  • Was the moment she realized she was oversubscribed in many areas when Sirisha started thinking something needed to change?

    • Earlier in her career when Sirisha quit to be a stay at home mom she was oversubscribed. She had a 2-year-old, was expecting another child, taking 2 graduate classes, and working full time. After already previously thinking about being a stay-at-home mom she decided to quit.
    • Sirisha stresses the importance of self-care and doing things that are important to us. She shares a story of taking time to read after having a newborn and already being sleep deprived and said it was the only time she got for herself. Sometimes we will have to lose time to make time for the things that are important.
  • If you want to follow up with Sirisha, you can find her:

    • On her website – this contains information on her background, her radio show, her podcast, the keynote speaking engagements she does
      • Sirisha does speaking engagements on leadership and getting more women into the talent pipeline. She also partners with universities to get students ready for the corporate world and financial journey ahead.
    • Connect with Sirisha on LinkedIn and send her a message – Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi
  • Mentioned in the outro

    • Nick wishes he would have had 10-15 more minutes to ask about Sirisha’s resignation from her executive role and the reaction from her managers to that decision.
    • The pros and cons list Sirisha made to help make a deicision on whether to stay or leave her job seemed similar to the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis discussed in Episode 246 she had previously done when evaluating career moves. Sirisha did a detailed analysis before making a decision and did not just react to a situation on a whim.
      • John tells us this is about trying to make a conscious decision with all the necessary context after doing some analysis.
    • Nick feels it might not be proper to call what Sirisha is doing a sabbatical. She is definitely working but working on things that are more interesting than what she was doing.
      • John pushes back a little bit here, saying the whole idea of a sabbatical is to take time away from work but to work on something else (i.e. not just take a massive vacation). Maybe it’s to study something or taking time to write a book / pursue some other creative endeavor.
      • John would agree that the sabbatical usually involves some kind of continuity with an existing employer. Or is John just being sassy here?
    • Sirisha’s comfort with trying different things and not continuing the things that did not work sounds similar to the entrepreneurial spirit Al Elliott discussed in Episode 235 and Episode 236.
    • Sirisha was able to choose to walk away from her job because she had prepared herself financially. We do not all have the luxury of choosing to just walk away from our jobs tomorrow.
      • John says she likely changed the way she was spending money as a result of the choice to ensure a longer term financial success.
      • In addition to the pros and cons list, Sirisha sought the help of trusted friends and advisors before making the decision to leave her corporate job.
    • Nick can understand getting creative ideas during your peak mental time of day and not being able to act on them. If he has a great idea pop into his head for an episode of the podcast, he cannot just abandon everything at work to go execute on it.
    • Using your peak mental time for things that are interesting reminded John of our discussions of Cal Newport’s Deep Work book. We have a finite amount of concentration time during any day to spend on important intellectual tasks.
      • Check out Episode 141 through Episode 147 for our full review of the book.
      • If you’re not using concentration time (or deep work time) for a creative project on which you wish you could be using it, think about where you could preserve some of that effort. If it absolutely must all be spent only on your day job (i.e. cannot reserve any for yourself), then you have some things to consider.
      • One option here upon noticing something is more interesting than your current day job is to consider using relatable experience to get a job that allows leveraging your current skillset and experience to do something different and focus at least more on the topic(s) of most interest to you.
        • John reminds us this is not a binary decision and isn’t just between continuing in a job and quitting to work on something else.
        • Some of this time may be reserved for passion progress or personal pursuits if one were to take a step back from a lead role or focus or something less demanding.
        • Even for Sirisha who measured her decision very carefully, the process was a transition of attention.
      • Nick thinks there are 4 categories:
        • Can I fit the things that are more interesting to me into my day job in some form? It might not be exactly the same but could be similar to / a form of what is more interesting to scratch an itch.
        • If I cannot do the above, can I preserve some of my deep work time to work on what interests me outside of work hours so that I still make progress?
        • Can I leverage my relatable experience and the skillset I have today to get a different job that uses some of the skills I have but allows me to do some / more work that falls under my area of interest? I could be bringing a lot, a little, or no expertise in my area of interest potentially.
        • Do I have the financial means and support to completely turn toward the thing that is the most interesting? If not that may answer the question for you. Maybe the finance element comes into play even more if this is an entrepreneurial effort where you are completely self-supporting. Consider also jobs outside of your current organization which might support what you want to pursue.

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