Saturday, 6 April 2013

Working in a start-up - An Experience

Swami Nikhilaananda said:
"We work, we fail, we dust off, we work, we succeed. Rinse. Repeat"

"It's a start-up. It's basically an e-commerce site for selling clothes. Are you interested?" asked my senior who was quitting Oracle to join Zovi. "Who even buys clothes online? And a start-up? Should I quit a stable multi-national giant to join a company nobody has even heard of? Ok, people say start-ups are cool all the time, but what if one day I go to office and I see a large -CLOSED- board there?" I thought to myself. "Yeah, I am very interested!" I blurted... Okay, I didn't blurt :P I gave it quite a bit of consideration.

People always talk about how cool start-ups are. And a lot of people are concerned about start-ups too. So I thought I should write a post about my experience in Zovi so as to give a picture of how a start-up environment can be.

After bidding farewell to my former colleagues and friends at the large offices of Oracle, when I came to the office of Zovi, the first thing that struck me was the size of the office and the number of people. I think I saw just about twenty at that time. That's it! I was taken aback, obviously, though I had expected a start-up to be that way.

But very soon, I also realised that quality and quantity are two entirely different things. Within the next week, I realised how little I knew. Every single person around me was scripting in at least three languages. Heck, the CTO of the company was writing Ruby. I felt like a complete dumbass, no clue where to begin. What the heck is this jQuery? I only knew if you use $ symbol in javascript, you were writing jQuery. Meanwhile, I was hearing words like 'listeners', 'queues' and a whole lot of jargon flying around. The VP of  technology was calling up customers and speaking in Bengali about estimated time of delivery. Wait, what? What does the VP of technology even have to do with customers and sales?

This painted a very clear picture to me - A start-up expects people to be like a Swiss Knife. They gave me a laptop that had a BIOS. Period. No IT department, nothing. Install Linux, they said. No standard distro, nothing. That was the second thing I learnt. In a start-up, objectives are told. How you achieve them is left to you.

One of the best things about Zovi is the freedom given to developers and the choice of projects. I often have people asking me - What do you do at Zovi, and I don't know what to tell them. Well, let's see... I have worked on our ERP system, a system that allows us to manage everything of the company, from inventory, warehouse, suppliers, customers, orders etc. I have developed an Android app for Zovi. And a bunch of other little projects.

But I have to give all credit to our CTO, Mr. Satish Mani. One day he saw a post of mine where I was turning an LED on and off based on face detection, just a little hobby project I was experimenting with,  called me and said "I saw your were doing some Face Detection thing. Can you write some code where a person can stand in front of a camera and a dress fits on him?" And thus Zovi Eye was born. Yes, I am not an expert in image processing, naturally, nor do I have a PhD. But we are encouraged to experiment, give it a shot, don't be afraid to fail. Worst case, it is a failed project, but in the process, you learn a lot. Try to see if you can get a minimum viable product up and running. And at Zovi, that's what we do. We write a lot of cool stuff. Some of them don't get to see the light of day, some are there playing big roles but people don't see the awesomeness of it directly and some are obvious. And that is why I absolutely love working at Zovi. Everybody is passionate about what they work on. Another day I was called and said "Write some code so that people can stand in front of a web-cam and their measurement can be obtained." This was a very challenging project and you can read about my experiment here. One day I was called and told "Write some code to find out how many of our customers are happy and how many are not from tweets and Facebook posts." Yeah, sentiment analysis. When I tell my friends who do MS and PhD about it, they say "Whoa! These projects are like the ones you do when you do an MS" In fact, I recently tried my hand at some video editing :P It's pretty random...

In fact, our Lead UX designer Anish Vishwanathan was working on some fancy rotating circles using SVG and we had to solve some trigonometry problems to get sectors. I actually wrote sine and cosine equations to solve and get Cartesian co-ordinates... I mean, I frankly didn't expect to use trigonometric functions after college :-) And yesterday, he was working on something in 3D.

We have a lot of cool stuff to share with you all, and we are thinking of starting a technical blog very soon to show some code we wrote that you can use. We don't claim to be super-experts, but we do hope you will enjoy some of the things we churn(ed) up

Apart from the technical side, our environment is very cool (literally too, our AC is broken, it's always cold :-/  I like it that way though). We have the same work culture as that of Oracle in terms of being lenient. No fixed work hours, as long as work is finished who cares, right? No dress code, no ID cards (though we have an ID card!) And we have a very transparent environment. In the end, though I am in the technical area, I get to see and learn a lot of non-technical things too.

So yeah, that was my experience at Zovi. Next time you decide to go online to buy clothes, think about the cool people behind the scenes and give them a virtual hi-5! :-)

Remember, it's ok to fail... Never let that hold you back
It's better to be a big fish in a small sea than a small fish in an ocean
Start-ups can be brutal if you are incapable of being a Swiss knife
A lot depends on people around you - I was very fortunate that way

4 comments:

Santosh Rajan said...

Nice Post and candid indeed. If you want to share code, maybe your company should open a github account, and share it there. Many companies do that. All the best.

Raveesh Mayya said...

Felt really good reading about your experiences with Zovi. Keep up your good work..

Anushka Sharma said...

Very nice post, impressive. its quite different from other posts. Thanks for sharing.

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Anushka Sharma said...

Very nice post, impressive. its quite different from other posts. Thanks for sharing.

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