The Business of Curiosity Progression with Anudeep Parhar (1/2)

Welcome to episode 208 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 1 of a discussion with Anudeep Parhar, talking through his early career as a developer, and interest in technology in business, and the progression up to different levels of management.

Original Recording Date: 01-06-2023

Topics – Meet Anudeep Parhar, A Heads Down Developer, Talking about and Learning about the Business, The Move to Management, Progression to VP

2:05 – Meet Anudeep Parhar

  • Anudeep Parhar is the Chief Operating Officer for digital operations at Entrust. Entrust is a technology global company based in Minneapolis, Minnesota servicing two broad sectors – payments and identities sector and digital solution and cybersecurity sector. You can find Anudeep on Twitter here.
  • Anudeep pursued a degree in computer science in college. He shares that it was the only thing he’s good at and was easy for him.
  • Both of Anudeep’s parents were academics, and he grew up near a university in New Delhi, India. As a result he was around cutting edge technologies for the time (when punch cards and mainframes were considered posh).
    • When he was growing up people pushed those with the attitude and aptitude toward engineering and other STEM fields.
    • It was something Anudeep discovered he was good at, and he remembers the fun of writing his first program. In his middle school / high school years he gained exposure to some bespoke programming languages before personal computers existed.
    • Anudeep says he really doesn’t have any other skills. It is all he does and all he knows.
  • Anudeep likes to learn new things, and early on learning was a source of energy for him.
    • Finishing his bachelors was hard core computer science stuff like data structures, algorithm development, abstract mathematics, and how finite state machines work.
    • Learning these foundational concepts provides depth and informs how the technology we see and use (phones, desktops, etc.) actually work.
  • One reason for pursuing a master’s degree was his family background. It was kind of expected.
    • Anudeep mentions some general advice at people a young age was to do engineering and then do an MBA to get into business.
    • He received advice from his parents and some of his parents’ co-workers that on the job management experience might be better, and computing was exploding.
    • Since people thought computer networking was going to be huge and there wasn’t really any on the job training, you had to go to school to learn these things.
    • "I was interested in learning about some of the emerging, cutting edge technology which was supposed to change business forever, and there was no other way to do it except got to school" – Anudeep Parhar

6:37 – A Heads Down Developer

  • Anudeep started as a heads down developer. At the time many of the storage devices in use were still CDs.
    • Many in the financial services and legal space had CD towers people could access from their personal computer.
    • One of Anudeep’s first projects was writing some publication software that allowed taking digital content and publishing it to a CD in a form that was easily searchable.
  • Is this first role where Anudeep’s interest in FinTech began?
    • Anudeep left Thompson Reuters in 2009, but when he joined in the early 90s it used to be called West Publishing, a very forward looking technology trying to take legal and financial content and put it on digital media.
    • This was digital transformation 101 happening 30 years ago. They would take content that financial and legal worker could use to be more efficient in their daily work.
    • Financial and legal professions are based on research, precedents, being able to look up historical information, do what-if analysis, etc.
    • Another way to state the high level goal is rudimentary control systems purely based on research.
      • One system was to build media where you could put digital content.
      • In a time before Google search when Netscape and Mosaic were only beginning to be a thing.
      • Search algorithms to this point revolved around terms and connectors like "and" as well as "or."
      • Natural language search algorithms, in contrast, would allow searching a large set of data using verbose terminology (i.e. give me all cases in the state of New York in the jurisdiction of Manhattan where personal injury was involved as well as a banana peel in the rain). The search would translate natural language into terms and connectors and bring back a resultant set of data.
    • Anudeep had a lot of fun doing this. Around 1995 / 1996 he realized the technology was very cool, but realizing how professionals and businesses use the technology was also very cool. Being able to understand how using the technology made legal or financial services professionals or legal professionals better at their jobs was a very early form of digital transformation.
    • Anudeep got his technical chops in content-based systems in the financial services space.

10:54 – Talking about and Learning about the Business

  • Nick says many technologists do not dig into what the business they work for does, and it ends up making them less valuable to the company than they could be otherwise.
    • Anudeep agrees and cites a discussion from a community meeting he attended in Minneapolis with other technology leaders. In these meetings technology leaders are often providing mentorship to other attendees.
    • If we expect technology exec leadership to be a critical part of the business, one must be able to explain how your company makes money. It’s not a generic statement about the company selling health insurance, for example, but rather a description of how the business actually works. If you don’t understand that, your job is not as much fun, and you are really only an enabler of value creation as opposed to a creator of value.
    • Anudeep has a personal drive to be in line of sight of revenue regardless of what he does. Even if you are essentially cost to the business, you have to be worried about productivity, how to enable growth, etc. If you don’t bring that point of view how would you expect the organization around you to do it?
    • In peer groups, Anudeep likes to ask people to explain how their company makes money and what the go to market is. Often times people will say "that’s not my job." That is how you will limit your career. People who are interested in these things will have a really interesting career trajectory.
      • Many who are interested in these things go into leadership.
      • Anudeep has seen individual contributors who are really good at this as well.
    • Anudeep says technology career development is not a linear path like other disciplines.
      • "One of the reasons I like the technology career path and the technology discipline so much is there is a lot of zigzagging you can do to move your career around." – Anudeep Parhar
      • There is a large need for talented programmers, architects, quality assurance, and network engineers and a lot of money to be made.
      • In order to be effective and really good at what you do as you move higher up in an organization (even as an individual contributor), you have to be able to understand the business impact you are making and be able to articulate it. It does not mean you will have a bad career. It just means you will be limited.
      • Anudeep sees many high potential high performers get very frustrated because they do not have the vantage point in their careers to be able to have those conversations. They get relegated to saying "when we understand what we need from tech we’ll come back and tell you."
      • You may have ideas but not have the internal personal brand that people might expect (i.e. part of it being the ability to talk about the business you are in).
      • Just to emphasize, this is not specific to executive leadership and applies to the individual contributor as well.
      • "If you understand what the business is, that will make you better at your job. That’s just a fact." – Anudeep Parhar
  • Not everybody needs to be extremely technical or extremely business savvy. From the lens of career development, these are some of the skills and talents and perspectives that people look for.
    • Anudeep’s master’s thesis was based on the concept of retargeting target code for different hardware implementations (a nerdy way of saying what Java does). The idea is write code and then regardless of the underlying microprocessor architecture, one could retarget the code to run on that specific microprocessor architecture. Many years ago, the software and hardware were very tightly coupled.
    • When Anudeep was at Thompson Reuters, there were people who said they needed to move their code from C to C# or Java, but no one could explain why. Usually the reasoning was "because it’s better." They could not explain how it was better (i.e. the business benefit).
    • In the above scenario where no one could explain why swapping the code language was the best move and it’s business benefits, it is thought to be a bunch of technical people talking about new shiny objects. If you talk in terms of productivity, enabling growth, creating value for your customers and partners, etc. it’s a slightly different way of talking about it.
    • When people hear the benefits described in this way, they think "I should be enabling newer technology and upgrading technology in order to do this."
    • There were similar conversations that happened when Microsoft came out with the .NET framework. People wanted to make a switch because "it’s better." But how is it better?
    • Anudeep has seen it happen so many times, and it happens even now with technologies like ChatGPT.
    • "Unless we are able to at least talk about it and how it impacts our business, it’s just a piece of tech." – Anudeep Parhar
  • There’s a deeper level to this point in that we should be communicating with people in ways and terms they understand. A front line manager or skip-level manager likely will have a greater understanding of the business as a whole. We need to be able to effectively communicate why we should do something to our leaders or peers, and it seems like that it something that is not always developed or taught as people come through the ranks.
  • Anudeep agrees, and from his point of view, some of this comes from:
    • Not everyone has the desire. At various levels you have to be dangerous enough technically and must have enough "chops," but you’re expected to be more "business savvy."
    • It’s leading by example. If you’re an individual contributor you have to spend your time learning about these things. The morning of the day we recorded the interview Anudeep was reading the news about labor numbers the way they are and how it might impact macroeconomics (which someone may or may not need in their day job). Anudeep’s CEO even sent out his thoughts on the news.
      • "It surrounds your thinking on how you look at the business." – Anudeep Parhar
    • Anudeep believes a lot of this is setting the example and making people aware of how you think about these issues (i.e. the news on the labor market above), and then naturally people will gravitate toward a need to learn more about it as well.
    • There’s no specific playbook here according to Anudeep. It’s more of a mindset. If you are interested, you should learn, and if you learn your career will likely progress. Both your growth and earning potential will increase if you are more savvy.

19:16 – The Move to Management

  • Anudeep says there wasn’t really a time when he had a mindset shift / switch in progressing to people leadership. The individual contributor term did not really exist during his early career. If you wanted to grow your career, going into people management was just part of that journey.
  • Later in the growth of the technology ecosystem the term individual contributor became a larger part of human resources vernacular.
    • Around this time people realized there were subject matter experts who were needed to do certain things really, really well but that . But those individuals did not need to manage people.
  • Anudeep did not wake up one day thinking he wanted to manage people. He thought that was just what you were supposed to do.
    • "Otherwise you’re just pounding code all day long, and I just didn’t want to do that all day long." – Anudeep Parhar
  • There is no reason you have to lead a team of people to understand the business better.
    • There are several positions even at an executive level where you have a team of 1 but are a critical driver of the business.
  • Not everyone is predisposed to interpersonal skills, which is not a knock on anyone. Some people do not care for it or do not want to do it.
  • Self-realization is important here because moving into people leadership is a journey. More and more of your time goes toward enabling the team to be effective rather than on you being effective.
    • You get things accomplished through the team rather than with just yourself. It’s a different skill that you have to enjoy doing.
    • Many with an engineering mindset found you cannot be a super engineer and manage people, and Anudeep also went through it. If you try to do it you will not have work life balance (i.e. you will be pounding code at night and managing people during the day). You have to explicitly understand that you will make some tradeoffs.
    • In today’s business environment, Anudeep does not believe you have to go through people management to be successful.
    • There are some very strong roles which traditionally may have been individual contributor roles that are very high in the organization (may have smaller teams around them). Very large organizations like Microsoft, Amazon, or United Healthcare have CTOs (Chief Technology Officers) that are not there to manage large teams and build products but rather put them in positions high enough to have some positional authority and enable them to spend more time thinking about how technology will transform the business. You cannot do this if the majority of your time is spent on people management.
    • There are positions at high levels inside organizations where you can lead a small team and still have a very meaningful impact on the business (while also growing your career potential).
  • Anudeep struggled with becoming a little less "technical" and not being a super engineer any longer.
    • It’s a great feeling to solve a big problem, and you want to tell people about it. But more and more as a people leader you have to see that it’s about what other people are doing.
      • "Your idea of success and that eureka moment changes. You start enjoying more when teams do work. The higher up you go, there is a very clear shift that happens." – Anudeep Parhar
      • When you move from a manager of individual contributors to a manager of managers, it changes your perspective. You have to be more empathetic to the fact that you are working with people managers who themselves are career-oriented.
      • The work becomes how to build better teams, and when you are not around, how do you keep delivering all of this?
    • Nick says it does not make you less of a person to step up and put something down partially that you used to do full time.
      • Impostor syndrome for technical types has always been there but presents a little differently across generations. Anudeep’s kids are growing up and think they can take over the world (not seeming to be inhibited by impostor syndrome). Anudeep felt it and still does today.
    • Some of this was a lot of right time / right place / right opportunity instances for Anudeep backed by hard work.
      • The feelings we’ve discussed are all natural feelings and provide us with a healthy way of looking at things.

26:17 – Manager of People Managers

  • If you’ve chosen the career of managing people, Anudeep advises not shying away from it unless it’s something you really don’t want to do.
  • To step beyond front line management, invest the time to learn how to lead people who are themselves people managers.
    • Your line of sight changes. Empowerment becomes a lot bigger part of your job as opposed to just getting the work done.
    • When leading a team of engineers, though no one admits it, the mental model becomes, "if they cannot do it I will just do it myself." So some people will stay up late and do the work for their team.
    • "Once you are managing people you have to be able to build skills and chops to be able to get people to do it." – Anudeep Parhar
    • You need to be particular about those softer skills like learning to do 1-1s, monthly meetings, etc. because each of these becomes a data point in driving people to complete work.
    • If you do not learn and spend time on these frameworks you will become someone who is a week away from delivering on something with no idea why you are behind.
    • Spend time learning the frameworks. Don’t think it’s obvious to learn these things. It’s good to read some books or take some classes. Most companies already have these frameworks, and it’s important to spend time learning about them.
    • Nick has heard of internal programs at VMware for those looking to pursue a career as a people leader / determine if it is right for them, and help in getting a placement in that type of role.
      • Yvette Edwards shared some details on this and other programs in Episode 202.
    • People who were hired during COVID times were certainly subject matter experts, and the expectation for them to come in and transform the business at all levels is high. But these folks despite understanding the business at a how level may not understand the internal business processes and policies or internal politics of the organization.
      • Anudeep suggests many will put more emphasis on upskilling people at all levels who have entered the organization in the last couple of years. And employees should take advantage of these benefits!

29:17 – Progression to VP

  • Anudeep owes a lot of his management and leadership success to his days at Thompson Reuters. He learned a great deal about the ins and outs of how technology organizations work. At some point the organization gets very large, which makes upward mobility harder.
    • When Anudeep left Thompson Reuters in 2009, it was about a 12 billion dollar business. This means management frameworks on how the business runs and how the business works were very different.
    • Anudeep was in a position where he needed to decide what he wanted to do. Increasingly running bigger teams or larger global teams was not as exciting to him.
    • He started to think about the next level where he could make a meaningful impact.
    • "You have to strive for those positions where you are increasingly walking into rooms where everybody knows more than what you do." – Anudeep Parhar
      • This could be people who run finance, HR, or some other function.
    • These experiences were exciting for Anudeep. He had a lot of good mentors and eventually decided to challenge himself.
    • If you want to be in this type of role, sometimes you have to look outside your current organization. It does not always mean that, but this is how it happened for Anudeep. He knew he had to go somewhere else and learn something else to have the type of impact he wanted.
  • Living in Minneapolis / St. Paul, it is a hub of health IT. Anudeep thought getting experience in this industry would be valuable, and that is how he got into Blue Cross.
    • This was a healthcare company that was also a non-profit (something different than Anudeep had experienced), and Anudeep wanted to learn how that sort of business worked (how it functions differently, drivers of the business, etc.).
    • This was an explicitly different job. Anudeep wanted to be out of development. He had done it for many years and wanted to take himself out for something he was very good at to learn (for example) how to architect large scale claim systems, how to build analytics systems that can decrease the cost of healthcare for providers, or how to build a better pricing or underwriting engine.
    • These things were very new to Anudeep. He would be able to work on solving a different industry problem with the same technology.
    • This was in the early days of digital transformation. Anudeep’s leadership at the time gave him a great opportunity to take a look at a new area and self-fund the things he wanted to do with technology. Doing this makes you start to become a lot more relevant.
  • Anudeep likes working for technology businesses and eventually came back to businesses that are a lot more technology focused.
  • In the move from senior director to VP, the expectations and span of control are different, but Anudeep wanted to be in his peer group, which is increasingly less technical.
    • He kept driving into newer positions in this way.
  • Anudeep was at an eCommerce company for a couple of years and learned a lot about how to take a public business private and what is really involved.
    • This is not something you get to do from a mid-level manager point of view. You have to be at the CEO’s table to be able to do that.
  • Anudeep was a CTO at Bloom Health (a late stage startup).
    • The expectations of the board and expectation of the senior leadership team are very different.
    • As CTO you’re expected to know the technology. But there are other functions.
      • Product management – how do you get out there in the market and understand what your customers want?
      • You become an evangelizer for what the company does using technical terms to share how your company will solve problems for other companies.
    • This was an interesting point of view because you become sort of the chief loudspeaker of the company as CTO. Anudeep loved this. He loved talking to partners, customers, and investor relations folks.
  • Nick mentions Anudeep must have learned a TON taking a public company private, much like Michael Dell did for his company as detailed in Play Nice but Win.

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