Notes after working at a 14-people startup



Table of contents

I worked at Subconscious Compute—a toddler of a startup at Bengaluru for 5 months—and I know I can write this post in two ways: like a typical Glassdoor review of the company, or like one of my usual blog posts – a candor walk-through of something that was new to me with some gratitude towards the end.

From day one, I wanted to write this blog down with every detail, and make it as fun and artistic as the public image of the company on LinkedIn. But right now, a lot of happenings have become fuzzy in my present memory to be reviewed and summarized in detail. Therefore, what I’ll present will be my current viewpoints and major events, obviously, as many perspectives were molded, reshaped, learned and unlearned during this journey – the first chapter of my life in the workplace. For example, people and practices I thought were the most ridiculous entities of reality, currently feel just typical, and perhaps a bit oddly ironical.


The day’s work at SubCom starts with a sip of Sundar’s hot coffee in the morning. You can also get sandwiches, if requested – something that is vividly missed by all of the past employees. The office is a paint-peeled old house from the 2000s – the kind which comes to your mind if you imagine where Ruskin Bond lives. The inside, however, is embellished, painted with fresh white and filled with modern furniture from IKEA on the floor and on the walls as far as eyes can see. The principal recreation at SubCom is Kaalu, the office pet – a pretty black Labrador who is mostly silent and contemplative like a couple other of her human peers of the office. Kaalu has allegedly never even thought of biting someone, therefore feeding her a part of afternoon snacks is part of the company’s ethical culture – and is always most welcome. The ethical culture also includes the monthly visit of the CEO, who flies in from the national capital – an event which has often peaked my levels of excitement due to many gallant reasons such as free food. Just like how Melquíades and the gypsies arrive each time with shiny new things in Macondo in Gabriel Garica Marquez’s One Hundred Years Of Solitude, the CEO presents himself with the latest buzz, words, and numbers about how the company is doing on the market. Clearly, it’s rather difficult to find something that is not slightly comical or enjoyable on an average day at SubCom.

At my office, I'm one of the handful the representatives of South India.

There, I speak of mundu and our aeons-old culture – and how we survived all the foreign invasions.

— aswin/c🎋 (@chandanaveli) June 5, 2023

The internship and work

The first flower opened and summer made way for spring🌸. The spark of fresh adventure ceased from my eyes and I conformed to the daily cycle. I started making progress on my work by learning Rust (programming language), my project, and about the indoor culture – the general attitudes and histories of the prominent, subtle, and past figures of the office. Outside, it rained once; the next day was twice as hot. We shifted the location of our lunch and all-hands meeting back downstairs. The days seemed to go by whatever I did. Slowly, it became apparent who runs the company and why – it was like saying the Emperor of Rome controlled everything even though there was a Senate and showered his favorites with privileges. I know it’s easy to conform to your biases, and even more when the average of the room is inclined towards it, but this was more than just palpable. Meanwhile, the clergy of Sahakar Nagar passed by the office in a steady but leisurely stream with their fancy dogs and AirPods.

Soon I realized that when it comes to work, I just have to get it done rather than wait for guidance. Most engineers under this roof, I felt, worked with very little guidance and context of what they’re holistically building—an amount very less than I’m usually used to—an amount not uncommon in startups. This made me wander off the edges a couple of times and work on things that are not useful.

I can say the internship was a major odyssey for me: I went from feeling lost and uncertain to confident and capable, both technically and spiritually. From a purely technical standpoint, this was the most complex software I’ve ever written: it interacted with databases, network APIs, threads, operating systems – all in Rust. Things were difficult. And vague. There was not much solid plan on system design and I had to talk and learn from the other people that were doing it and learn the right way. I learned many new things and I was naturally motivated to work overtime and go tangentially to try different and new things. Looking back, a part of me feels like I didn’t have to commit so much, as I later decided not to stay. But the overall experience was worth it for the reasons aforementioned in the paragraph.


Let’s start with work. Since I spent some time designing systems, I have a couple of notes to add on that. It’s interesting to me that systems design is not a linear process as I previously thought: I imagined even the most experienced software engineers to have a solid and direct plan right from the beginning and stick to it throughout the engineering journey. But a more effective workflow seems to be to begin with a couple decisions from what we know so far, hand-wave and build a tiny prototype, and reiterate on the basis of feedback, quality and scope. I could go on and talk more about similar insights, but it would be irrelevant as the nature of advice in this realm is loose and sounds rudimentary unless applied with context.

The intellectual lessons I learned during the time can be summarized in three phrases: break problems down, document your effort, and seek definition of done. I learned about the first phrase in the design phase of the project, where the focus was on creating the right data structures that could abstract the high level functions – the ones that you can talk about and maybe draw. It’s important to always look at from a level below the one where you’re thinking, so that it helps you code and build ideas that fit together. Second one is about documentation: keeping a log of your activities—links, screenshots, or your musings—will help you contextualize where you are at in the problem you’re solving. It’ll also be easier to ask for help if you get stuck, since you’ve already written down about it. Third one is about what completes your work. For this, you have to talk to who’s in charge and pivot to seek more clarity about what he has in mind about what you’re doing or building. This is an iterative process and never stops unless you’re absolutely sure that the current plan is going to work or is deemed to be complete soon.

The social fabric inside SubCom was young, open and nourishing; everyone except the co-founders were mostly people in their 20s at the time and we all helped one another in ways we could. When discussing the culture and community inside startups, it is often said that the small social fabric leads to strong bonds between coworkers. I have found this to be true, but only with some people. My experience has shown to me that this bond is not exclusive to startups, but a people-dependent thing.

It was also interesting to see how people with different backgrounds came together at a workplace. There was a graphical illustrator, engineers, and a person who handled sales and HR. Everyone worked together like a well-oiled machine, each person’s work complementing the others' like different instruments of a melodious symphony. I went to an engineering college and my worldview was thus centered around just tech. Seeing how the work, ideas, and conversations came together from people with different experiences, in a product or a great result of work, was interesting to see and revealed to me many elements of work that I didn’t see before.

To write about every discriminate change of perspectives towards work feels impossible due to the point of reference I’m currently upon – which is incomparable to the previous milestone. Moreover, in the process, I’ll have to fight a great deal of imposter syndrome as I’ll be revealing how naive I was previously.

Closing thoughts

My sojourn at SubCom was a small one. Nevertheless, even before my early and relatively short-noticed departure, I was given a warm goodbye party, a plant with a yellow ribbon around its vase, a note with good words, and a pinch of life advice from the CTO. I wish: I had given a better farewell speech, the best for the company and its people, and to come back if a promising opportunity presents itself.

Jobs in tech have an incredible yield in terms of wealth and knowledge – and both go up over time. I now also understand that peace of mind, pay, and balance are as equally important as learning. An environment with a little more stability—unlike SubCom, where plans and promises can have an element of whimsical arbitrariness throughout their lives—looks more promising at the moment for my career, personality, and my life in all directions, at the moment. Work definitely feels more relaxing than academia, I must say. Although there are parameters to keep up with, the human element in the workplace allows for flexibility and lets you work at your own pace and rhythm.

I've been thinking on the same line.

Recently, I took a sick leave from work and noticed that I was not nervous about what I was missing out on. This was not the case in school or college, where I would think about the classes I was missing and how I needed to "catch up."

— aswin/c🎋 (@chandanaveli) May 28, 2023

Crossed roads do definitely invoke the best of insights. I reckon, the only quantifiable benefits at a startup might be equity and ownership of work – rest is all subjective. As an undergraduate, I was obviously blindly captivated by the idea of starting a startup and owning a business with the main reason being able to focus on pace and building new things. Now I get a glimpse of what more is there to it – and there’s obviously a lot. Another thought that comes to mind is that: it makes more sense to return and join similar environments after gaining more technical or life experience. This would make it easier to navigate around the people, spot red flags early, and focus more on the relevant things.

As I said earlier, technology was all I cared about and was looking forward to working on. I only wanted to learn more and solve the hardest technical problems. Now, I feel a subtle shift in that – what also brings impact and also solves real problems are great businesses and working with great groups of people. Since a relatively sized dream of working at a startup has come to an end, I’m letting myself roam free for a while for thoughts about what’s best for me to grow and marinate in the tub of self-reflection.

Oceans of gratitude for the opportunity, experience, and the trust Subconscious Compute lays on young and puzzled undergrads like yours truly.

As promised at the beginning.

Thanks to Arun, Niranjan, Vikranth, Hari and Amrita for reading the draft and suggesting improvements.

Note about the use of AI: Large Language Models were used in the process of the writing this blog to improve grammar, tone and voice. It was not used to create content; The thoughts and ideas expressed herein are my own.