Stepping sideways to move ahead – Karthik Sundaram (M&P)

In the twenty five years that have gone by since we graduated, I watch many of our classmates’ career paths with interest—Vishwanath is a senior general manager at Lucas TVS, Sudarshan is leading some line of business with Chevron, Raghupathy is probably on his way to become a Vice Chancellor at our alma mater… the list is incredible, right?

On the other hand, I am curious to see how many of us stepped off the path and what they are doing now. Venky Natarajan now leads Lok Capital after moving out of traditional engineering, having put in stints at Intel Capital, and prior to that working as a design engineer in the semiconductor space—Linkedin is such a dead give-away!

This blog post is to evoke responses from the rest of our team to share their career paths—have you been on the straight (and not necessarily narrow) or have you been wandering, stepping aside, and now striding ahead?

I firmly stepped off the engineering life after 14 months at Hindustan Motors—getting on a bus at 6.30am to go sweat at a factory for 8 hours was just not what the doctor ordered. In a spurt of inspiration following our senior Anantha Krishna, I applied at the National Institute of Design—and was accepted amongst 7000 applicants. Little did I realize the NID ranked above the IIM Ahmedabad during those days—I did clear the CAT, but failed to land up at the interview in my superior sense of self-confidence.

At NID, my classmate and I won a design award for a not-well-known company at that time called Nokia in mobile phone design, and moved to work at their design agency in Columbus, OH—Fitch. Whilst I was interning there, opportunities in the booming Middle East made me review the worth of working there and I winged it to Dubai with a wish and a lot of hope.

I landed at a small retail store that we grew to the largest retailer of home furnishing—Home Centre—and I moved on to work with McCann-Erikson, the big agency. An engineer-turned-designer now working as a creative director—I sure didn’t see this coming.

From Dubai, it was a short flight to the Far East, and I shuttled between Singapore, Hong Kong, and other major East Asian capitals to work in creative. In 2001, the world collapsed as US stock markets dived and the Far East took a big hit. I moved back to the comfort zone of Chicago and college.

In 2002, an accidental neighbor on a flight offered me a job at a magazine—the Silicon India—and I took it up with gratitude. For the next couple years, I had the most amazing ride as CEOs and Venture Capitalists pitched their companies to me, and I learnt everything about technology from Stanford, MIT, Harvard, and other Ivy League graduates. Who else can claim such an education—for free?

I also realized that most engineers—mechanical, electrical, or civil—are not the best of communicators, and built a practice that focuses on just technology communications. What these guys (and girls) build are incredible, but they are so terrible in making their products or services appeal to prospect customers.

I stepped away from engineering 25 years ago—but now all of it is relevant. I stepped aside, but today Purplepatch Services LLC is probably one of most renowned firms in Silicon Valley for turning boring technology brands into sexy ambition-filled names.

What is your story?

4 thoughts on “Stepping sideways to move ahead – Karthik Sundaram (M&P)

  1. Pingback: Mullai to Meyyammai to Mellow – Karthik Sundaram (M&P) | Nanbenda'89

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  3. Pingback: In 4 years, much (mess) Food for thought!!! – Anand Kumar (E&E) | Nanbenda'89

  4. Pingback: Karthik Sundaram on Approaching Life as a Collection of Journeys (#009) – ContraMinds

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