Notes from my first workplace as an employee



Hey, we’re back.

The cadence of these notes will vary like a meandering river as it was not easy to connect different things and also keep the same voice – “I am not an expert; I’m just writing it down as I fare forward and figure it out” throughout the blog. I also feel this blog post lacks a certain standard of emotional density that I thought this would have when I envisioned writing it. Nevertheless, the deliverables of an average blog post on this site: candid accounts of experiences and reflections, with an edge for optimism, can be easily observed even by the accidental audience on this blog post.

It’s a sudden disbelief – the realization that it’s been almost a year since I started working. I feel and fear life might just slip by.

I reckon that’s alright. Anyway, times have changed. And the future is now.

How it started vs. how it's going

— Ishan (@radshaan) February 22, 2024

Table of contents

Cold boot

Bengaluru. 2023. I set up my computer in the midst of a failed monsoon and the murmur of the HR-ladies. It felt like just another day but around a slightly different place and people, as I had left my previous workplace as an intern only a week ago. It was part two of the hopeful transition to the ‘brave real world’, from a decade and half of schooling – which, looking back now, had an uncompromising regimental nature. I felt privileged to be here.

On the first day, even before starting with the work, I felt privileged for two reasons: I’m going to be the first person in a brand new full-stack internal-tools-automation-development team inside the company’s premium support team—a team of experienced troubleshooters (mostly, network engineers) and relationship managers who work exclusively for the enterprises who just can’t afford problems—built to ‘automate and generate insights’ from their global deliverables, and I report to this team’s director in the APAC (Asia Pacific and China) region, at least on paper.

For reasons still unknown, my desk was in the middle of an ocean of Professional Service Consultants (folks who help deploy the company’s products), beside their senior manager—the nicest guy, the kind you’d want to grab a beer with on a Friday—who had taken my first round of interview. Between his meetings, he explained a huge part of the organizational structure, a holistic idea of how different teams come together, helped break a lot of ice, and ensured that I get the smoothest transition.

With no lack of optimism, I went through the initial company training, and slowly got to learn about the culture and the central characters of this giant new world, from team meetings and micro-interactions near the watercooler. Corporate felt fairly straightforward – an inevitable and ultimate structure of humans working together and the most optimal way to compartmentalize and replicate the initial success of a company. It also didn’t take much time to understand the general company culture – you can do what you want as long as you deliver. At least, that’s what my impression was and what I later internalized for modeling my rhythm and expectations. This was present in the warmth and the lack of frustration that people shared, at least in my team and in the teams surrounding the place I sit, and it crept into me easily like a hand in a glove. This incredible relationship with free-time was a refreshing change from the fast-paced worlds of school and startups, where keeping up was essential. At ease, I walked around the office just listening to music and writing Tweets between the work rise and fall of my flow states.

Being at a place where I've only visited during breaks from academia makes me feel like I am able to live in two worlds now – two previously disjoint mental states and experiences.

Super grateful to be in the small group of people in the world and in tech to be able to do this.

— aswin c (@chandanaveli) July 17, 2023

The work

When the first project was introduced to me by a regional manager who acted like my local manager, I realized a couple of things: very few folks in this premium support team knew much software engineering and what’s possible with it. This allowed me to display great influence in a few months. This also meant that it was difficult to get things done for anything technical beyond programming—such as access to another team’s API (A place to get data)—which was never done by someone in this team before. Only a couple of furlongs down the line did I learn how to talk to my manager, in the way he understands so that he can help me get things done. I also expected to see a monorepo (single platform for accessing all data and all code for all employees. Google famously has this) and somewhat easy programmatic access to all internal services – but that was not the case and many teams worked almost independently with less collaboration.

Even though I merrily sailed past the design and the initial sprints (a fancy word of the phase of a project where you do the thing) of the first project—which was essentially a bug report dashboard—after a few weeks of discussion and thinking, the first quality instance of software engineering and my initial essence of ‘making what people want’ was when I started working on the side with a couple of fellas from the Sydney office, where an enterprising and rather workaholic manager had started a backyard-grunge automation ‘club’ to help relieve themselves from the lack of software tools they had for their daily computing. This is where I helped build a tool to track the time and effort spent on international support tickets by our engineers, and could get to a stage where I could call myself a ' full-stack engineer’, still a tiny one, without feeling bad about it. The tech stack for this tool was completely new for me – a web User Interface (what you see in a website), browser extensions, MongoDB (database – where you store data, usually as tables), APIs (a place where you can get data – a thing connected to the database). This was later deployed and I got feedback from users from places I’ve only seen on a globe, allowing me to learn a lot about product engineering and how to think like a user. The tool showed up at the umbrella organization’s All Hands (big quarterly team meeting) and I recognized that I don’t have to do hard things to make an impact.

It appears that, if you just decide to fix a problem, it'll be shipped around the world if it works.

— aswin c (@chandanaveli) April 12, 2024

This project was a reinforcement to the idea that there are no limits to what I can do – I can just do more things than what I’m supposed to. The way I think about it is: just do it, as long as you aren’t hurting anyone or anything. The tracker project I talked about earlier wasn’t really my job and I just asked the guy and started chipping in when I heard about it. Ultimately, I believe that it left more impact—by showing the leadership about what’s possible—than the first bug dashboard project.

I also felt something spiritual about building something—here, software—by myself, letting people use it, listening and prioritizing the feedback, and maintaining the product. The most striking element to me was in experiencing how software is not a static entity – but a dynamic, evolving organism that grows and adapts based on the needs and experiences of those who use it.

Meanwhile, on the other side of life, by the time I was riding the high of having users for what I built, the bank account had quietly snowballed into something an early-20s person would call ‘a bit of wealth’. And wealth is amazing and relaxing: it frees you from stuff so that you can do other stuff. I walked into fancy restaurants and bars, bought a nice phone and laptop, and gathered many other experiences that the money and freedom unlocked. Everything else I could do to increase my breadth, in the context of life, seemed to be causally related to the wealth and freedom that came from this job—notably due to its nature and position in tech—and I naturally started prioritizing the things at work the most in the day. Now, I think I’ve started taking this lifestyle for granted.

it appears that being in the middle of middle class with some drip (style, taste, interests, and charisma), no scarcity, and a job you don't hate, is a great platform to explore new avenues in life without the associated complexities of having too much or too less money.

— aswin c (@chandanaveli) February 19, 2024

A tech job like this made it very easy to have more of every other aspect of life. I could work from home, drop by the office, maybe play Wordle, mess around with other stuff – as long as I delivered, which for me, was mentally taxing only till the programming part was what’s left. In other words, the hardest part was in finding what’s worth doing.

But soon, it kind of crept up on me. One day, sitting at my workstation, I stopped typing, stared blankly outside the window, and had a subtle realization: the qualities of the current lifestyle—of waking up in the morning, getting ready, going to work, and coming back not strictly tired, but with a lack of energy to do other things if I had any; the current lifestyle and the compartments of my mind that powers each quarters of it—is how it’s going to be probably for the rest of my life. Time will pass, but my future might not arrive. It was a reminder that greatness and comfort rarely coexist and I need to get out of my way and do things if I want to be and stay great.

The experience

I was sure that working in a company like this would shed more light in my intellectual universe about people and work rather than tech – and that came out to be true. Clearly, I now understand that the world is not just tech: there’s sales, finance, support folks, integration/deployment folks and a lot more whose work is indispensable for a successful organization. And if you’re a brand-new startup founder who thinks you don’t need one of them as you scale, you’ll likely fail. Most of what fits under the word ‘wisdom’ came from some great and experienced—in life and career—people around me. Notably, my manager—who got his first job around the time I was born—and anyone who has years of experience (which shapes as intelligence) in their pockets, sometimes radiates levels of freedom and intuition that border on the supernatural. Most managers—who appear to manage their teams stepping in and out at the right times—and engineers of that kind seem to know what to do. Everywhere I see examples of who I could be, and of course, crystal clear examples of people I don’t want to be.

"Engineering is more about people than tech"

— Addy Osmani (@addyosmani) February 26, 2024

Great people, I realized, are indeed built differently and what separates them from others is the kind of mindset (which sometimes becomes their whole personality). When I look at certain vice presidents and senior directors, they are indeed ambitious but also visionaries, which I think is what helps them plan the future effectively.

Working with a team and shipping things is indeed a lot of fun. In this new and small automation team where I was the first hire, it’s still just three of us now under my manager: a Program Manager and another guy like me. Building, owning and maintaining the tools and the team, creating structures and documentation internally, sharing responsibilities, and the relative speed in all of that, all have a spirit of a small and cozy startup which I adored.

A sufficiently large company (this one has 10K people) is definitely an essence of the whole world in a nutshell: there’s bureaucracy, structural inefficiency, impenetrable silos, personal interests, and a lot more standing in your way. Sometimes you feel like the leaders or the managers don’t get it, or an element of your plan that comes from another team or organization gets disapproved or gets delayed. But there’s no point in being bitter about them because it’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that the rules of the game got designed that way – something inevitable when a lot of humans are working together. If you want to play this game and win, you have to not hate it, and find new ways to bend the world to your will.

If you don’t get pushback from the establishment, it’s not the frontier.

— cdixon.eth (@cdixon) December 11, 2021
But if you just care, that itself is a moat. Even better if you display enthusiasm and agency—good engineering in my case—as it’ll put you on the right end of the bell curve. The greatest do not do it because they have to.

the best writers, programmers, artists don't do it because they have to

— kache (@yacineMTB) January 4, 2024


Much like the real world, this company is a mix of good and bad with more of the former. Therefore, I do see areas and roles to which I can expand and grow inside the company: we have lavish room for rudimentary tools with basic intelligence, if built, will be used for at least the next twenty years. I think this is almost inevitable if my tiny team continues to do things and build more reusable software and ultimately get more developer infrastructure. Secondly, the leverage you can exert simply by sticking around and slowly letting the organizational knowledge seep into you is not a joke. I visualize it as a gradual osmosis of insight and wisdom, absorbed with an open and patient mind. Also, I’d love to live somewhere close to San Francisco (cultural reasons, haha) and this company is headquartered in Sunnyvale.

I also need to understand more and ask the right questions. The questions, I realize, are usually abstractions on top of these two elementary branches of thoughts:

As long as there’s answers to these questions, I reckon I have work to do and a happy workplace to come back home from. My eventual plan and answer to a lot of problems I see currently inside the company is summed up by Kelsey’s quote and the following blog:

Silos are fine, as long as there’s an API between them - Kelsey Hightower

DevOps: Don't destroy silos, transform them by Fernando Villalba

"Destroying silos" is a clumsy solution to team isolation

Read on Substack

Since there’s always a 100 things that you can do and make better, you ought to prioritize on value and the amount of thinking required. I guess, a good enough thumb rule is to prioritize the list of what I want to do. At the same time, it’s also very plausible that the way things are, are in fact, the best way to do it and I’m just a tiny biased guy in a cubicle. Most importantly, there are probably a 100 things that are extremely obvious, but I just don’t understand since it’s just not talked about or written down. At times I feel like the reason why a better thing was not built, why a better thing doesn’t exist, or why the software or the process is functioning in a particular way, is closely related to how people are organized and managed the way they are. Sometimes, strange things become the new normal really fast.

The credit-card nonsense today is why I despair for for programming in general. People have internalized that incredibly broken systems must be that way for good reason, but it's the reverse that's true: they remain broken because people have internalized them.

— Casey Muratori (@cmuratori) March 4, 2024

In the end, I’m not sure whether it’s worth all the effort, but having plans and things to do is better than having nothing to do and chase. Even in the worst case, I’ll write and leave a good internal blog behind and move on like a gentleman.


Still, the days are a bit strange. Fast, synthetic, and unnatural at times. In school and college, there was something I was supposed to do at the time and also in six months, but now it is more up to me. I feel muddy and like there’s not a clear path ahead. It’s unclear what I’ll do next. Maybe that’s life.

I hear people saying your 20s is the best time for doing stuff – exploring, experimenting, taking risks, finding yourself. But without the familiar structure of milestones, it often feels like life lacks a fundamental framework to guide the way forward. The open-endedness is both exhilarating and disorienting. I can’t wait to get older and say that this unsettled feeling is the part of the journey as if I’m a podcast bro.

As Carl Jung wrote: “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”

— George Howard (@gah650) December 11, 2021

I recognize that it’s easy to get carried away with feeling that you don’t have a worthwhile job and ‘everything sucks’ if you end up having even a short series of bad days. Or on a random Wednesday, ‘the inescapable mediocrity of life and day’ might just occur to you and you feel like life is exactly the same everyday. At such times, I try to recognize the things I take for granted and what this job has allowed me to do: I recall an early morning meeting from a couple months ago with just my manager and that senior manager from Sydney, when they got a suggestion from a customer for a tool that needed to be checked and delivered fast if it works. Being able to even just participate in this meeting, let alone work on projects like this, feels like a privilege. Sometimes I forget that I did this and also that a global deliverable (first project) is now powered by the system that I designed and software I wrote and has now collectively saved more than 500 hours since December 2023. That’s something that I should internalize and become proud of.

I used to fear that working in a large corporate environment might nerf the ambition out of me, but I’m more ambitious now and hungry to achieve greater things and make things of value. Such things are obviously extremely personality-based, when I think about it now – you become who you choose to become, and you can always choose. It’s always: will over skill.

And one thing is much clearer: everything was worth it. All the effort I enjoyed and put into learning and doing well—while being an unpopular nerd in elementary school, doing side-projects while in college after class, in getting 80%-ish good grades, in ‘just doing things’—was worth it. A kaleidoscope of warm emotions crashes onto the roof of my mind when I occasionally get reminded of it. When this feeling is palpable and flowing inside my body, I don’t feel I am privileged or this future of mine was inevitable just because my family decided to install broadband internet at home back in 2007. Thinking about the compounded knowledge from the effort which allows me to think and finish my tasks now, makes me think of what’s next in this journey.

I wanted to ‘make what people want’ and I did a small yet fair share of that. This is great and I’m not done with this feeling. But soon, it might be time to seek higher standards and go deeper into a technology – since my love for deep technology is still alive. I shall see how that evolves.

The breadth in life which I seem to have collected somehow in just one year feels priceless – I feel balanced when I see the things I could create and do with my other interests such as photography and music. This obviously stemmed from the extra room for relaxation and free-time that I could easily summon, which left me in a position where work-life harmony (balance) felt like more of a ‘skill issue’ (something I can logically solve). Life in the city also offers an invariably vibrant spectrum of opportunities to just do things and meet people. Of course, I’m not accelerating my career as fast as I did before, say during COVID. But I’m not waking up in the morning and feeling like life is the same. All of this causally relates back to the affordances this job offered me.


The future comes sooner than you think. Here I am, writing this a year after one of the most remarkable transitions of my life so far, yet I feel I’ve forgotten most of what happened. Many nuances have fleeted; I wonder whether life will be richer if I take time to narrate and recollect my own past regularly.

But screw that, let’s go (we shall ball).

PS: Thanks to Reuben and Rejesh (interviewers) for betting on a 21-year old at the time of hiring.


— TDM (e/λ) (@cto_junior) April 17, 2024

Thanks to Ashutosh, Karthika, Nikita, Amrita, and Vikrant for reading the draft, providing feedback, and suggesting improvements.

Claude 3 Opus—Anthropic’s leading AI model at the time of writing—also helped to turn some drafts into sentences. Sometimes, I feel the AGI.