The Pursuit of Disruption- Part 1
And what it taught me
“One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.” — A.A. Milne
Last year, I shared my story about my serendipitous journey into tech. The catalyst that sparked my personal and professional growth and shaped its arcs and pivots? Disruption.
Sometimes, I unconsciously sought disruption. On other occasions, I relentlessly chased after it. Sometimes, disruption showed up unannounced and unwanted, leaving me no choice but to deal with it. Disruption has borne me many gifts, even if I didn’t appreciate it always.
Disruption allowed me to develop resilience and to appreciate diversity, and powered my growth. It allowed me to experience diverse workplaces ranging from Mumbai, Singapore, Wall Street and now Silicon Valley.
I chose to disrupt my trajectory of working for Fortune 500 banks (Citibank, Deutsche) by joining a small, privately held algorithmic trading software firm as its 6th employee and its first female hire. Later, I pursued a part-time MBA while working a demanding tech job on Wall Street.
When I was 7 months pregnant, I moved to the West Coast, worked East Coast hours remotely and finished my remaining MBA credits from Haas while on maternity leave. Then, I pivoted from an established career as an engineering manager to start off as a product manager.
In part 1 of this series, I will chart my early exposure to disruption — growing up as a nomad of sorts in India.
Once a rolling stone, always a rolling stone
My affinity to disruption is undoubtedly influenced by my childhood. As the daughter of an Indian army officer, I had moved around eight times before I finished high school, including two moves in 11th grade alone.
A peripatetic life was all that I knew. The kids I went to school with came from similar backgrounds so I didn’t find the moves unusual. Some notable memories:
As a 3rd grader, I joined a public school in Mumbai. The building was a modern facility in the verdant Navy Nagar locality of Mumbai, an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the megapolis.
The bubble did burst occasionally though. During the monsoons, it wasn’t unusual to arrive at school to find it teeming with fisherfolk from nearby villages.
They sought refuge since their shanties were damaged by the heavy rains. Watching us arrive, the squatters would gather their meager belongings, clutch their infants and head out to face another uncertain day, vacating the school so that we could continue with our education. It was a reminder not to take what I had for granted.
Soon, it was time to move to Dehradun, a town in North India. Eyeing the decrepit, barrack style public school, I was struck by its stark contrast to the school in Mumbai. This school was adjacent to a village.
There were no fences so meaningful boundaries didn’t exist. People and cattle could come and go as they pleased. The buildings were horse stables from the British era which had been repurposed. Unsurprisingly, most classrooms didn’t have doors or windows, leaving us to experience the bone shattering, harsh winter.
Cows would often wander into the buildings at night and leave behind little ‘gifts’. Students and teachers would adroitly hop over cow pies, as we gamely continued our education. If we were lucky, a snake might wander into the classroom adding a dash of excitement to the day’s proceedings.
What I learnt
1. Adapt, adapt, adapt
I didn’t realize it then, but these experiences of moving all over India, taught me to roll with the punches. My situation wasn’t unique when compared to my classmates, who also moved frequently. Naivete and insouciance were an antidote to this disruption that I hadn’t chosen for myself.
Each move felt like a brand new adventure, an exciting opportunity to explore a new world, meet new friends and experience a new part of India.
When I entered middle school, my dad was posted to Bengaluru. Given the large army base in this southern city, he was warned that there was a long wait for family accommodation.
We still moved. From a spacious bungalow the army had allotted to us in the northern Indian city of Dehradun, we now occupied a single room in the officers mess. This room functioned as kitchen, living area and bedroom for 5 people.
A makeshift study was created on the porch by hanging bamboo blinds from the ceiling. We moved home 7–8 times after that in Bengaluru, until we finally moved up the backlog and had a place to stay for the rest of my father’s stint in Bengaluru.
2. Perspective Matters
The public school in Bengaluru was luckily one of the best that I had studied in thus far. That said, we had no computer labs at that time, and no full time faculty for critical subjects. At one point, my father was transferred out of Bengaluru to a small town in western India. We followed suit.
The school was frankly terrible. After 8–9 months, he was, out of the blue, transferred back to Bengaluru. I was so grateful to be back. Making the most of the situation was paramount.
3. Appreciation of the vast diversity of the regional, linguistic and cultural traditions of India and later, the world
In an era of no Instagram, Facebook or widespread cable TV, these relocations traversing the length and breadth of India were experiences like no other.
Years later, when I joined college at B.I.T.S Pilani, I watched many of my classmates struggle with the unfamiliarity of being away from home; most folks gravitated to people from their state when it came to forging friendships. Puzzled, I then realized that some of them had never lived/traveled outside of the cities or the states they were born in.
As for me, I straddled a world in my head where every place was home and every place was not home, which also comes with its own set of challenges.
This appreciation for diversity was extended when I moved out of India. Living in Singapore and traveling to various other countries in South East Asia was uncomfortable, exciting and perspective shattering.
Over time, when things felt too comfortable, I wanted to shake things up again. This theme of seeking change to broaden my horizons continued when I decided to move to New York where I lived for 10+ years followed by a move to San Francisco.
In my next post, I will discuss how disruption shaped my professional journey.