Welcome to the next feature in our Leaders in Tech editorial series. Speaking to leaders in the industry to capture their stories, career highs and lows, their trials and successes, their current company and their role, most recent projects, advice to others, and the individuals who they most look up to in the industry.
This week, we talked to Suresh Dwadasi, Delivery Head at a multi-national bank, to find out more about why he joined the tech industry, what his role entails, what are the challenges he faces as a tech leader, and his advice to aspiring engineers and developers.
What are your current roles and responsibilities?
Currently leading a diverse, global team for the bank and focused on building the most awesome team on the planet. Have been part of the bank’s transformation journey of adopting DevOps ways of working and transforming applications to adopt APIs, Cloud, and the Mobile First strategy.
I am passionate about “Inclusion and Diversity’ in the workplace – and have been focusing on hiring and integrating people with disabilities in the workforce.
Can you tell me a bit about your journey?
I get questions all the time from my junior colleagues about how I got to be where I am today (and it’s really hard to answer because I don’t feel like I have arrived honestly. I am still somewhere middle of my path). However, when I sit down and really think about the answer to that question, the simple answer probably is taking steps.
I am huge on goals and taking steps towards goals. I learned valuable lessons from my parents (especially from my father) – who made me realize how important to respect and serve the organization with dignity and purpose all the time. I have also had the privilege to work with and learn from some great mentors – that has also helped me in the journey.
What drew you to the tech industry?
I serendipitously entered the technology industry after my graduation, and I have remained because of the ever-changing nature of the industry. Secondly, the technology industry is fascinating because of the learning and disruption it sparks all the time along with the cognitive flexibility it brings.
How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?
Crises and uncertainty cause people to complicate things. A leader’s job is to simplify them and set the action plan”. It is imperative for the leaders to follow the “First principle” thinking during the crisis. First principle thinking helps the leaders to look at the opportunities in crisis than the limitations.
Following are some of my views to help during difficult times.
- Creating a psychologically safe environment is the number one priority. As leaders, we all need to remember that organizations are built and run by humans (not automatons). Steering through crises and rapidly-changing situations requires agility, the ability to innovate, and creativity. But these qualities need an environment of psychological safety where the mindset of people would be “hope for success”, rather than a “fear of failure”.
- Regular communication is a must. Do not keep the team in dark: regular conversations with the team – whether that’s over a phone or video call – to help them feel trusted, valued, informed, and included. The tag line is communicate more – even if it seems redundant. Daily wellbeing check-in (web-based) is one such practice that we have followed during the pandemic and it is greatly received by the entire team.
- Upskilling is the name of the game: As the saying goes “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes”, is simple yet so true. The world is on the cusp of new age, in which technology, data, automation become the most powerful drivers. Continuous learning has always been of paramount importance.
- Leading by putting people first: Often times, agility and resilience can be taught by example, which is where leaders have a fundamental role to play. A recent event that comes to mind is how our leadership team showed resilience in facing the COVID-19 crisis head-on. The situation was monitored closely and updates were shared regularly.
What are your current goals?
For everything that changed in 2020, one thing that stayed the same was the importance of technology to business success. Technology today is evolving at such a rapid pace, enabling faster change and progress, causing an acceleration of the rate of change, until eventually, it will become exponential.
However, it is not only technology trends and top technologies that are evolving, a lot more has changed this year due to the outbreak of COVID-19 making IT professionals realize that their role will not stay the same in the contactless world tomorrow. And an IT professional in 2020-21 will constantly be learning, unlearning, and relearning (out of necessity).
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has already received a lot of buzz in the past decade, but it continues to be one of the new technology trends because of its notable effects on how we live, work, and the trends. AI, cloud strategy, and Data will continue to play a pivotal role.
In addition to the above, the following are some of the focus areas for 2021 and beyond.
- Automation remains Paramount
- DevOps based Cloud-native development & Testing
- AI/ML for automation
- Accessibility will be in major need due to digitalization
- Performance engineering
- Security matters
What are you proudest of your career so far?
I’d have to say I am most proud of my team. The reason being, it is one of the most diversified, like-minded, and highly talented individuals. Every day we wake up with the intention of “Delighting the customer experience” by providing best-in-class products and services. Working with this set of individuals globally is probably the proudest of my career.
What is the favorite part of your job?
The favorite part of my job is the opportunity to work alongside my colleagues. They are always super motivated and inspire me daily.
The best part of being a leader in the sense of giving someone the chance to reach their potential. It’s a great feeling to see someone’s skills and be able to help them develop their skills while supporting them.
What has been your greatest challenge from working as a tech leader?
With technology pushing the boundaries of what we can do and how fast we can do it, we need to adapt and change at a faster pace than ever before.
- Predicting the exponential growth of technology
- Adapting to the pace of change in the workplace
What is the most important risk you took in your career and why?
The biggest risk I have ever taken would be a change in my career track. All of us (well, almost all) work as programmers and love it and take immense pride when the code works perfectly in production.
During the peak of my career, I have taken a risk of switching to the unknown side. Guess what? It worked! In fact, during the first few weeks, it was very unusual to find a defect and not fix it on the spot. I repeatedly caught myself diving into the code to find the cause.
I am glad that the industry is revolutionized and the line separating developer and tester is now slowly blurring. The important message which I hope that I can give some courage to those of you who are scared to change their career track. This might sound cliché, but anything is possible (Specially people who love technology can create wonders and it doesn’t really matter!!).
How do you continue to grow and develop as a tech leader?
In addition to the points which I have articulated on technology advancement, the following principles would help if we adopt them religiously…
- Continue to learn and upskill – Become a lifelong learner
- Mentoring and reverse mentoring is key
- Teach others and share what you know
- Its ok not to know everything attitude
- Finally, stay humble.
What have you learned from your experience so far?
- Never stop learning! As the saying goes, “Leadership and Learning are indispensable to each other”. No matter how busy I am but the commitment is to spend at least an hour a day – or five hours a workweek in reading books and learning new.
- Be authentic! As time goes on, some leaders develop an artificial public persona which they believe is more “leader-like.” This is a huge mistake. Leaders can be introverts, extroverts, but to truly win the respect you have to be authentic.
- Walk the talk! People may listen to what you say, but you can bet they’re much more focused on what you do.
- It’s not about you! Leadership is about bringing the best out in others, not building a narcissistic cult of personality. Stay humble, and never lose touch with the most important individuals: the people who follow you and make you succeed.
- Be empathetic! When I deal with a difficult conversation or negotiation, I try to place myself in the shoes of the other person. Having empathy is crucial to leaders because we are constantly dealing with people management and communication
Do you have a memorable story from your experience you would like to tell??
There are many but would like to articulate the recent one. Most significant accomplishments are like barn raisings. They require a collection of like-minded individuals who are dedicated to the success of the mission. As the story goes, like every other dark cloud, the year 2020 also had several silver linings. This year two wonderful things took place, first and the most precious “Nature has self-healed itself” and the second, humans realized the potential of learning new skills.
During the pandemic, we have encouraged and facilitated our entire team to achieve their learning goals and prepare for the future. Following are key achievements.
- Over 70 % team achieved industry certifications. Out of which majority of them are cloud certifications. How often we witness the QA team leads the league table in the cloud certifications.
- Collectively it went through over 380 k hours of online learning achieved
- Various learning competitions initiated regularly.
In summary, the initiative started with the intention of the engaging team but we went on creating the history and recorded more learning hours compared to all other previous years. It is absolutely one of the most memorable years for the entire team.
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring engineers who want to grow in the tech industry?
- Growth Mindset: Without a growth mindset we can’t learn unlearn and relearn new skills
- Being adaptable: Working without boundaries. People with high adaptability are often described as “flexible,” team players,”
- Critical problem-solving skills: Problem-solving and critical thinking refer to the ability to use knowledge, facts, and data to effectively solve problems. The ability to break the problem statement into parts is important. So people with problem-solving skills will have more scope of career advancement in future
- Digital awareness requires you to be able to make sense of new trends that impact and disrupt the industry. And this does not necessarily mean knowing all technical nitty-gritty but about the larger picture of how tech is impacting our roles and the industry that we operate in.
- A human-centered design is about thinking through the lens of employees and customers.
- Business storytelling: Storytelling has always been an integral part of our lives. But stories are more than just entertainment. Starting back in ancient times, people have used stories to communicate, learn, and connect with each other.