When Shankar Kanthimathinatha Pillai talks about his vision for an engineering team, he's speaking from 14 years of experience. Currently Vice President Engineering at Validus Capital, he began work for the online financing marketplace through the role he landed through online talent marketplace 100offer. He has spent his career doing a combination of software engineering, tech hiring, software architecture, and management.
When hiring prospective talent for Validus, Shankar looks for a combination of know-how and passion. Passion, in particular, is a theme that has driven him throughout his career, and he believes that this component is the best indicator of a hire's success.
"I look for passionate programmers. Everything, I work around that aspect, whether they are looking for a change because of career growth or if they are looking for monetary benefits - if that is a greater emphasis than passionate programming, then no," he explains.
I look for passionate programmers. Everything, I work around that aspect.
Passion has also been a driving force in Shankar's career. When he was growing up, he recalls that his family emphasized education. Everyone was expected to do something "knowledgeable" that contributes value to society. Software engineering is certainly a role that fits that criteria, but engineering is not where he primarily saw himself heading as a child.
"If you asked me, in one word, I would like to be a scientist," he says.
The making of a scientist
Entering the job market as a fresh graduate in India in 2004, though, he had to make some choices about his future. He originally decided to enter the workforce first, keeping the option open to further his education later. He began his career at IT consulting giant Infosys in Chennai, where he remained for three years.
So I got to be a scientist!
"I wanted to be in core programming rather than be in the services where I was not able to do a lot of programming," he explains. So, when digital giant Adobe came knocking, he left and worked in Bangalore - first as a web engineer on the Adobe partners Portal, then as a computer scientist. Adobe would also be the company that introduced him to working with customer relationship management software Salesforce.
In a way, his time there also brought him full circle with his childhood dream. "So I got to be a scientist!" he notes, with a chuckle. Adobe also gave him the chance to work his skills to a depth that he had not previously been able to reach, skills that he still uses in key responsibilities in his current everyday work.
Around 2011, he would take up a master's degree in cyber law and security, which he completed in 2014. 2011 was also the year Singapore first entered the picture.
The road to VP at Validus
"That experience and exposure [at Adobe] got me noticed by my future boss in Singapore," Shankar remembers. The two connected, and Shankar came to Singapore to work on cloud transformation with Salesforce and Amazon Cloud with a Singapore-based startup, Hiperware at the NUS Enterprise Incubator.
That was seven years ago, and he remembers Singapore having a completely different technical landscape. "When I came in, there weren't enough meetups, weren't enough seminars or symposiums or events," he says. He was fortunate enough to attend some of the firsts in the technical events in Singapore, like the Salesforce User Group meetings and the Amazon Web Services Tech Summits. He points to this year when Alibaba decided to host its first summit outside of China in Singapore.
While at his first job in Singapore, he welcomed the opportunity to expand his skill set. "It was a better decision I made back in time because I was able to work on some of the things I would not have been able to do at that scale, because working in companies like Adobe, you get to do a lot of tough stuff [like] core programming, but you don't have the kind of responsibilities that would take you to the next level in your career," he explains.
He would continue to work with CRM and Cloud for six years at a cultural exchange and education services firm Intrax and a music electronics company MUSIC Tribe before landing a role at Validus through 100offer. These companies helped him appreciate how technology adds value to the business and why customer experience is critical to the success of a business
He remembers Singapore having a completely different technical landscape.
Shankar had hired before in his previous roles, but Validus is the first time he's been able to structure the process and take a more long-term view on the department. Validus' core tech team is growing fast, and quickly expanding to work with tech partners as well as talent outside of Singapore. It's a challenging task but one that Shankar says encourages him to stay up to date and look for new solutions.
In the meantime, he continues to keep the passion alive in his workplace by keeping the quality at the forefront with his hires. The developers, of course, need the technical chops to work at Validus, but passion means that the talent is willing to learn the places they need to fill in the gaps and work on those skills.
"That passion for programming is what personally helped me to grow," he says. "It's more about sticking to your fundamentals and building things from the ground up in the right way."
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