‘The Risk I Took Helped Me Find A Profession Where I Feel I Can Contribute The Most’ – Satyaki Dutta, TISS Mumbai – Best30 – Class Of 2019

Satyaki Dutta was born and brought up in West Bengal. He did his schooling from Don Bosco Liluah and went on to pursue a degree in Information Technology from the Institute of Engineering and Management in Kolkata. He joined Infosys Ltd. after his graduation and worked there for over two years before shifting gears to a product-based company called LabVantage Solutions. After a year at LabVantage, he decided to pursue his post-graduation in Human Resource Management and Labour Relations from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He did his Summer Internship at Deloitte USI. He has also done fieldwork internships in organizations like Nestlé, FIS, Aon and RPG Group besides doing a live project with Accenture.

He has a flair for public speaking and debating. He has held several leadership positions in the past like being the President of the Space Byte Club in school to being the co-founder and President of the Literary Society in college. When he is not attending lectures, he can be found flipping through the pages of a book, watching a movie on Netflix or playing a match of chess.

Name an instance where you wanted something and went out of your comfort zone to achieve it OR Tell us the biggest risk you have taken so far in your life.

Back in 2013, I landed a safe and comfortable job at Infosys Ltd. after graduating from college. A nine to five job wearing business formals, having lunch at fancy cafes and coding what was given to me by my team leads ensured that I had a stable life, enough money to explore Bangalore in all its glory and time to pursue my interests and hobbies. I was doing what I had wanted to do when taking up Information Technology as my major in graduation. Two years passed. Each morning it seemed like my life was reset to have the same set of variables with similar outcomes and little deviation. My journey took me from being a Systems Engineer to a Senior Systems Engineer. I had no reason to complain though. I was working for the then harbinger of the IT industry in India and in about a couple of years, I would have probably travelled on-site to the US, a dream for most of us.
There was just this one thing that bothered me. My learning had stagnated somewhere in this comfort zone that I had carved for myself at Infosys. I read books on how one needs to constantly evolve and challenge oneself but none of that was a possibility had I stayed on in the company.

That is when I decided to take a leap of faith and join a start-up in the field of lab information management systems. It was a challenge in every aspect. I was never into chemistry or biology and did not know the basics on which these systems were founded. I was leaving behind a comfortable regime to be part of a culture which demanded long hours at the office, weekend work, greater responsibility and accountability of actions and more face time with clients. It took away the glitz and glamour of an IT giant and left me in the dark alleys of the industry to find a way on my own. The bright side was that it offered immense learning opportunities. I would be in charge of a project. I would be part of the entire Software Development Life Cycle and not the modern equivalent of an assembly line worker, a skin in which I had grown exceedingly comfortable.

It was risky. The startup could go kaput any day. My actions would directly reflect on the bottom line of the company. Having an obscure name on my CV would raise eyebrows questioning my competence. And this was just the professional bit. From a social angle, it meant long hours explaining to everyone what it is that I do and more importantly, why is it that I made this unconventional transition.

However, I took it on as a challenge in 2015. In one year, I was handling four client accounts all by myself. I was glued to my laptop all day, not just coding anymore but thinking of providing the best solutions to a client that matches their requirements. Other times I was working on firm projects, trying to make the product sold by the company more robust by suggesting changes to the functionalities. It is this process of constantly evolving and changing systems that I came in close contact with a profession that I felt had tremendous scope for improvement in a start-up – Human Resources.

I had seen the best of the function at Infosys, so much that I never realized that the function exists and is behind the seamless employee experience. It was that invisible hand that ensured every other function works in cohesion with each other. A start-up is generally not expected to have rigid structures but HR is not always bureaucracy and red-tapism. I started exploring the subject and it led me to TISS a year ago, shifting the gears of my life completely. The risk I had taken has opened up new doors and opportunities for me in my life and helped me find a profession where I feel I can contribute the most.

 

What is the one thing you can claim to have some level of expertise or depth of knowledge in – it could be anything – a subject, a sport, a hobby, a venture, an initiative which has led you to do deep work in that field?

The one subject that has fascinated me ever since I joined the HRM & LR course at TISS is Compensation and Benefits. I have always had a keen interest in numbers and this subject opened up a world of numbers for me in a profession that mostly falls under the purview of social sciences. Compensation is a driver for attraction, motivation and retention of employees in an organization. Wage costs being a significant proportion of what companies have to shave off from revenues, Compensation and Benefits professionals are called upon for strong controllership in any organization. They are also expected to tread on a thin line, trying to balance expectations of employees and the core philosophies of the business. Overall, it seemed to be a very exciting area to explore and delve deep into.

My interest in Compensation led me to take up Advanced Compensation and Benefits as a subject in postgraduation. This helped me expand my horizons of knowledge further and move beyond the mechanics of designing compensation to CEO compensation and the use of stock options as a tool for driving certain behaviours in employees.

While I had delved deep into books, research papers and articles on compensation for over one year, my learning was incomplete without applying the concepts in a real-life project. To achieve that, I took part in a national live project competition organized by Accenture in which one of the many areas for a project was compensation analytics. With the help of my team, we did a month-long project on emerging trends in total rewards analytics, explored the different facets of total rewards that can be instituted in a service sector organization, interviewed various companies on the extent of analytics used in their organizations, built a model for implementing analytics at Accenture, brought to life a prototype to show our model in action and finally charted out the road ahead that they can take up depending on the success of the initial model.

We won the national round of the live project championship after we presented our work to the leaders at Accenture. We were then asked to author an industrial report on emerging trends in compensation analytics which was sent out to all the organizations who participated in the study.

The quest for knowledge in this domain, however, is not satiated by this singular victory. I continue to read more and more about this topic and will try to work on compensation projects in the organization that I will be joining after graduating from TISS to build a stronger grasp over this subject.

 

If 10 Million Dollars (approximately INR 75 Crores) is given to you to use it any way you deem fit what would you do with this corpus?

I have always deeply felt about the cause of education for all. This feeling was inculcated in me when I was in school and we had a subject titled ‘Socially Useful Productive Work’. It took us out of our classrooms to brick kilns and slums and exposed us to the dire conditions in which children our age were surviving, without the basic needs of food, clothing or shelter fulfilled. We were then asked to contribute in any meaningful capacity we could to their lives. While it always took the form of buying books and notebooks for them, I wanted to do something that would last beyond that one standalone activity of donation. It’s like what the Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Poverty and hunger are never chosen as a way of life. These children were suffering for no fault of theirs and it was only fair that some mechanism of redistribution of wealth helped them experience the same privileges that an educated person enjoys. However, I was never endowed with a corpus which I could use to do anything lasting for them.

When I first started earning at Infosys, I felt more empowered to make a difference to their lives. I signed up with CRY (Child Relief and You) and became a regular visitor of the ‘anganwadis’ where we interacted with the children and ensured that they do not drop out of school no matter what. As my salary kept increasing, I started contributing regularly to the SMILE Foundation. However, these were peanuts compared to what I wanted to do for the cause of education for all.

If I am given 10 million dollars, I would bring to life my vision by first improving the condition of the schools in at least my hometown. I would improve the sanitation in these schools, ensure that teachers are given enough incentives to come to classes regularly and be deeply invested in the learning of the children. The basic infrastructure in India is already present, we just need to ensure that we make the most out of it and schools do not reduce to hubs where children are pushed for their mid-day meals.
I will reserve a part of the corpus for a scholarship fund for the meritorious children who cannot afford quality education for lack of funds. I will ensure that we have enough philanthropists who contribute to the fund regularly so that it never runs dry when a child seeks help to finish his/her education. We have in place several relief funds for a college education but very few that sponsor school education at an early state. This fund will take care of that.

Beyond taking care of the basics, I would also like to make other changes to the education system with any additional funds that I might have left over. I would like to integrate technology in education and focus on students imbibing skills which are employable. I would like to make that day a reality when no child will be denied quality education. Our ability to foster literacy and capitalize on our demographic dividend will go a long way in deciding the future of the country.

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