After a pretty long and rewarding career of close to fifteen years in the fields ranging from steel, to IT and finally to analytics, Kalpana Subbaramappa is currently pursuing one of her umpteen dreams of being an entrepreneur. She works with Protrack Education and designs and runs programs for the analytics talent industry
Sometimes you meet people in life and are instantly left in awe of their enthusiasm and energy. Something similar happened to me when I met with Kalpana at a local coffee shop. As she approached the table on which I was seated, she had a big smile on her face.
Kalpana, please tell us about your journey so far
I was born in Jorhat, Assam. My father was in the Indian Air Force so we lived in Assam, Pune, and Chandigarh before we settled in Bangalore in 1983. I was ten years old when we moved to Bangalore. Our family like so many other families focused a lot on education. I have an older sister and two younger brothers. We studied in Air Force school. I was a nerdy child. I took up engineering after school at Mandya and specialized in Electrical Engineering.
In Bangalore, IT was booming when I graduated. But I was vociferous about staying true to the engineering stream. I struggled to get a job for a year in spite of being a topper. I took a lot of competitive exams, exams for BHEL, HAL, Coal India, BEL and SAIL. I joined Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) at their Bhilai Steel Plant as a Junior Manager in the Materials Management department. I worked there for three years and had a great time. It was fun and the one year management training program gave me a solid foundation for the rest of my professional career. I realized though that this wasn’t my life’s goal, I didn’t want to continue in the public sector. I was very sure I wanted to go places and retiring from a PSU job was not what I wanted.
I returned to Bangalore and did a Master’s program in IT from IIIT Bangalore because I knew as an Electrical Engineer without the required relevant experience I would not land a job in IT. After my Post-Graduation I joined GE Global Research Centre as a software engineer in their Re-engineering laboratory. GE as a part of its employee development policy allows and encourages employees to move between businesses and to change roles. After 3 years in the Research Centre, I applied for a change and got a role in the GE capital business in their Analytics practice as a Six Sigma Black Belt. After my stint in quality I moved into a lead position in the Risk MIS/ BI Team. Gradually my role kept enhancing and I got additional responsibilities of leading more teams in the Risk group. In 4 years, I was leading a team called the Decision Sciences team, a team of almost 50 people, and a diverse set of people at that.
At a point when I felt my own learning had stopped, I asked for a change in role. I also wanted an international rotation and opportunity to work from a client location. I went to Detroit, USA in a Customer Relationship/Account Management/ Pre-sales support role. In my stint supporting Business Development and Sales process I got to travel a lot. After about two years I realized that I wanted more in my career/life and my current job was not satisfying those needs. I finally resigned from my job in US and came back to India in May 2010.
When I took a break from my corporate job I was very sure that I would not go back to another job with grueling schedules and a breakneck pace. For a year I didn’t do anything, in fact for six months was completely disconnected from the face of the modern connected world. I traveled and spent time with family. At this point I decided that I would do something on my own and try the entrepreneurial track. And anyways, I was the only person in the family who hadn’t been struck by the entrepreneurial bug so far. I was always interested in the field of education. In fact, being a Maths teacher was an alternative career choice. I decided to design programs to develop talent for the analytics industry (both corporates and academic institutions). The programs have taken off successfully. We currently offer a certification program at IIIT Bangalore.
What do you love about what you do? What are your interests, aspirations?
I do what I enjoy. The day I don’t enjoy what I do I get going to find a new interest and a new perspective. I don’t like to be in a place where there is no learning and positive energy around me. There are so many things to learn and do in one’s lifetime.
I believe in living to the best without regrets. I do not have the temperament to become a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. I don’t have that killer instinct. I don’t want too much money, just enough to travel. I love travelling. We are a group of friends, we travel every year. Year 1 was Sri Lanka, 2 was Kuala Lampur and Cambodia, 3 was backpacking in Europe, 4 was USA, 5 Egypt, 6 China, last year we went to Indonesia, Bali and this year we went to Vietnam and Thailand. I also travel at least twice within the country each year. My next international holiday goal is to travel to Antartica and the Easter Islands J (but being an entrepreneur I will have to do some serious financial planning to afford it).
I learnt storytelling at Kathalaya with Geeta Ramanajum. Storytelling and oral traditions were always an interest area and that’s how I discovered Kathalaya and Geeta in 2012. I did a series of storytelling at summer camps for kids in 2013. One camp where we had older children we actually a got a book printed of the stories written by the children. The journey as a Storyteller has been a fantastic one so far and has helped me explore my own self. I am also interested in the narrative medicine or stories for healing. I also am interested in maths and science stories – to make maths and science interesting to kids and also simplify learning.
When I was at SAIL, we were asked to make a list of things we wanted to accomplish in next five years and go back to the list to see if we’ve done so. That’s when it dawned on me – the importance of living life well. That touched me. I don’t want to live with any regrets and live each day to its fullest. Some items on my list were to learn to read Kannada and read Kannada classical literature – check, learnt photography – check, baking – check (I actually did a proper certification course in baking from the Bakery Training Institute).
I learnt weaving and belly dancing when in Detroit. I like stitching, crocheting, weaving anything where there is creation of a visible artefact. I don’t like being a uni-dimensional person, I want to constantly explore about myself and the world around me. Along the way, I have had a lot of interests and ensure that I take each of them to some conclusion. I may not be an expert. A big motivation is also the diverse group of people I meet when I am learning new things.
I love to read. I go through genres of books – travelogues, philosophy, fiction, history, anthropology and currently I’m reading a lot of Indian Mythology. I’m reading “Mahasamar” 9 volume series by Narendra Kohli. My reading also influences my new interests. For example reading Jared Diamond’s books have inspired me to do a course in Anthropology, I want to go to Botswana after reading Alexander McCall Smith’s books.
My next big idea which is taking a good shape but need more of my time and attention is opening a day care center for the elderly.
I want to learn something new each year. One lifetime is not enough!
What are the challenges you face currently?
As an entrepreneur, money should not be the focus. I quit in 2010 and now I am at the end of my bootstrapping phase. I know money will happen but it’s a challenge to keep staying afloat. I have job offers but I want to make something out of what I have ventured into.
Who are your inspirations?
My parents are my greatest inspirations. They always keep learning. That’s how I imbibed this desire to keep learning. My parents gave us a lot of freedom, never discriminated between the children and gave equal opportunities to all. My family – my parents, my siblings an elder sister and two younger brothers are my biggest supporters and stand by all my decisions.
There have also been different people at different times that have inspired me.
What career advice would you like to give?
Enjoy what you do. Give it your best. Don’t blame anything on fate or other people. We all have choices and we make those choices.
Build credibility. Bring something significant to the table. Don’t skim through stuff, go deep, and build competencies. Have life beyond work. Don’t be uni-dimensional.
Image Courtesy – Kalpana
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