Career Notes 3.6.22
Ep 90 | 3.6.22

Chetan Conikee: Create narratives of your journey. [CTO]


Chetan Conikee: My name is Chethan Conikee. I'm the CTO and Founder at ShiftLeft. 

Chetan Conikee: There are many things that I wanted to be, but given that I'm an immigrant, I grew up in India. It's very natural for majority of the parents in India to charter the course of the children to either become a engineer or a doctor, you know, it was a binary zero- one choice. 

Chetan Conikee: I drifted towards engineering because I always liked to hack, build things, reverse engineer things. So it came very natural. I chose math. I chose physics as my core subjects. And at some point, I got introduced to computer science in my early days at school. And then I coerced, my dad to buy a computer for me and my brother. Although, we spent most of our time playing games, we also began to understand how games worked, which means we started looking at code. One thing led to the other and I chose computer science as my bachelor's of engineering discipline. In the early days, I enjoyed every aspect of that discipline because, you know, it was very close to what I like to do because both the liking and doing has to matter and be in conjunction with each other. And from there on, I came to the United States to pursue my masters and sought a job as a computer engineer and grew up by ranks. 

Chetan Conikee: When I landed in the United States, the way of life is very different. The degree of curiosity in solving problems is very different. You're not told what to do. You have to actually figure out what to do. So the many journey points that help you figure out how to position yourself, how to create a brand equity or reputation so that you become recognized. How do you associate yourself with many communities so that you figure out a way to initiate dialogue, get answers to certain burning questions that you have in mind. And as a consequence, you find someone to follow because in every journey you get inspired, but that inspiration does not lead to anything if you don't have a leader that you want to follow and learn from. So if I charter on my journey back, I had the good fortune of meeting certain leaders and then making myself available and proving to them that I'm worthy to join their team, their effort and their initiative, and then observing these leaders of how they behave, how they actually charter their course towards company creation, ensuring that they build teams, making companies successful. And essentially asking questions without feeling like you make a fool out of yourself. I continue to learn today, uh, also as well, because you know, I'm still not done. 

Chetan Conikee: I started my career as a generic computer science engineer, because computer science is a very generic field. It teaches you how operating systems work, how computers are networked together, and then further on how to write applications to serve needs. Now, when you start generic, it is necessary for you to start sharpening your skills in specific fields. Every system albeit finance, e-commerce, networking, all have specializations, but they're using core principles of computer science. 

Chetan Conikee: I was fortunate enough in my early days to work at startups that were incubated by ex-PayPal folks who are looking at reinventing financial instruments. At that point I cut my teeth in understanding how to take principles of computer science and apply it to a certain domain and optimize it within the domain. A majority of disciplines that we speak of have to be securitized in a certain way because as we deal with financial data, as we deal with the customer profile data, we have to adhere to compliances. We have to make sure that we treat that data in a sensitive way. 

Chetan Conikee: As I grew up the ranks, I began to manage teams. And when you manage teams, you always land up failing audits because there's certain set of people who don't follow principles and rules. And naturally, as a consequence, you begin to subscribe or buy software instruments to observe and see if anyone's violating compliances. And with that observation, you figured out ways to automate to ensure that this doesn't repeat itself. Now I did that many a times and I realized that many tools didn't solve my needs. So I started inventing tools with the help of my team to solve our specific needs. Over time, lot of patterns emerged and with the emergence of patterns, I realized that maybe there is an opportunity to take these patterns and build a company so that we solve for others like me within the organization.  

Chetan Conikee: The entrepreneurial mindset is a sum total of many sufferings that lead to success. I'd use that term because as you go through the journey of being an entrepreneur, success doesn't come easy. You falter many a times, you learn as you falter and you optimize your own journey to take you to that path through success. I use the term sum total of many failures because entrepreneurship is a risk. You take a risk, but it's very satisfying when you actually see something that you built either in the open source or in the consumer space utilized and purposely purposefully being used in domains. It's an enjoyable journey, but, you got to make sure that you have a mindset tuned for it. 

Chetan Conikee: From an adversity standpoint, when you have a certain event that plays out in your life, it's important to introspect that event because we are the makers of our destiny. When we introspect it, you stop blaming others. This is one of the reasons why I've stayed away from large corporate structures and enterprise, because when you are in a startup, you have no one to blame except yourself. So once we introspect, we essentially observe and triage that incident just like we do in dev ops. As you post-mortem an incident, an issue without blaming others, you figured out what led to it, then as a consequence, you say, what can I do to make sure does not repeat again? You take that emotional, you process something, you say, what can I do with it? And then you pick up the pieces and you move on. 

Chetan Conikee: It is important to actually create narratives and scripts of your journey so that people remember you. I'd like to do that, which is getting to a discipline of essentially creating notes because over time, we as humans are essentially have similar patterns. And if someone is going through somewhat of the same journey, they can pick up pieces and breadcrumbs and apply it to their journey to optimize their own. It's something that I encourage for all listeners to do is take some time out. Write. Because as you write in open space, in public forums, you tend to reflect, and as you reflect, you tend to understand how you charter that course and how did you optimize that, that process and can someone to learn from it.