Employee Spotlight: Chetan D Shah

In conversation with one of Niyo’s Principal Engineers

Chetan D Shah, born in Rajkot, Gujarat spent most of his early years in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu. He works as Principal Engineer at Niyo. His backpacking adventures have taken him across the snow-clad mountains of Leh-Ladakh, the colorful desert state of Rajasthan, and the coastal stretch of Gokarna-Murdeshwar along the western ghats. He dreams of visiting the lesser-explored terrains of North-Eastern parts of India someday. Documentaries about history, mythology, white-collar and legal scams catch his fancy.

“To move into a start-up workspace, you have to unlearn many things from the corporate work environment. If it is still very early in your career, it is easier to do that and get accustomed to a startup culture. Once you get through the initial grind, the rest comes naturally.”

Q. What motivates you to wake up and go to work?

When I choose to work on any project, I’m looking to solve a bigger problem, even if it means improving it one step at a time every day; it counts as progress. Sometimes one gets demotivated when things don’t go as expected, but I have a great team who come back with a plan B and we get back on track, and this keeps me motivated to go about making a change each day.

Q. What has been your career path before joining Niyo?

I graduated in B.Tech, IT from PSG College of Engineering, Coimbatore and my first job was through campus placement for CA Technologies in Hyderabad, the 5th largest software company in the world. It was an exciting phase of my life. I was a young boy, fresh out of college and outside my hometown for the very first time. Given the freedom and the choice of places to hang out in Hyderabad, I fell in love with the city. I worked there for about 4 years on the Java J2E platform. The company was developing a new product from scratch in the India office; it was about managing mobile devices and deleting mobile data remotely. While working with my US and UK counterparts, I learnt a great deal about the product management process. I couldn’t have asked for more from my first job.

Later, I chose to move a little closer to home and came to Bangalore. My work in Goldman Sachs for about 4–4.5 years had a positive impact on my career. As an individual contributor, I worked there on multiple private wealth management projects.

For a short 1–1.5yr, I worked at Yodlee, a Bangalore-based fintech. The company provides services to manage an individual’s finances in several accounts from a single platform.

Q. How did you get your job at Niyo?

In 2018, there was a lot of action in the startup space, but it wasn’t mature enough. Joining a startup at that time was a risky proposition for me considering my financial dependencies, but I was looking for good opportunities and came across Niyo. It was trying to solve a genuine problem with the Bharat salary card proposition for blue-collar workers. I spoke to Vinay at length about his plans. It was a difficult problem to win, but Niyo co-founders had their feet grounded and were dreaming big. They were doing a great job with numbers and the problem statement itself. I was looking for a comfort level with people I’d be working with and felt Niyo was the right place. At the end of the day, apart from career growth and job satisfaction, that’s what matters the most. I’ve been with Niyo for 3 years now and it has been an exciting journey throughout.

Q. What do you do at Niyo? What entails your typical workday?

I work in the wealth management space now. Being a gujju, money management comes naturally to me. We are currently building systems that’ll enable users to buy international stocks right here from India.

My day starts with stand-in calls with stakeholders, identifying blockers and helping the team to fix them internally or taking external help to fix these hurdles.

I used to be an individual contributor earlier, but with time, took lead in a management role nurturing small teams and helping them grow and take ownership of tasks. I help in keeping the team on the path and guide them in reaching the end goal.

I take time out to plan the project management aspects of it and identify dependencies. I set aside time to code or debug and review my team’s work. There are regular meetings with managers to take stock of production issues. I allocate bandwidth to tackle any unexpected situations and if there are no surprises on any given day, it’s a good day.

Q. What has been your favorite project at Niyo so far? Why?

I was part of the team that built the Card Host which stores real-time data. With digital banking, FTs, card swipes, online transactions, and ATM withdrawals occurring at any time of the day, maintaining it up and running at all times with the least downtime is crucial. This system is built to take a comprehensive load and is extensible for future enhancements with no single point of failure and enough resilience built-in. It is heavily used by Bharat customers. It can be configured to comply with other products too without having to reimplement, saving at least 6 months of work. It is PCI certified and that’s exciting because very few startups make it to this point.

Q. Are there any specific traditions/habits/culture quirks in your team? Are things different now that we’re all WFH?

Maintaining transparency with my team by giving them insight into how a product is performing has been a priority throughout. I listen to them and help in any way possible. I do make it a point to tell my manager the efforts my team has put in, this motivates them to think outside the box and take up challenges.

Pre-COVID times, we did have little celebrations whenever we would have a successful release or we would resolve a major issue working relentlessly around the clock. My team would take a break post-release: we’d go bowling, or for team lunches, and even have karaoke time together.

With WFH, it’s a little difficult to do all those things. Now post-release, I let them take time off but plan it in a way that there are folks who can monitor the systems while they travel or take time to spring back into action.

Q. How difficult is it to move from a corporate work environment to work in a startup?

You have to unlearn many things from the corporate work environment. If it is still very early in your career, it is easier to do that and get accustomed to a startup culture. Once you get through the initial grind, the rest comes naturally.

Q. What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I’ve gone backpacking across most of India — Leh, Ladakh, Manali, most of Rajasthan, Goa, Gokarna, and Murdeshwar to name a few. Places of mythological history and architecture interest me.

Leh through Chetan’s lens
Leh through Chetan’s lens

Q. How do you unwind from work?

I do get bored a little quickly as compared to my peers. I like to try something new during such times. I binge watch documentaries that stimulate my mind: history, mythology, legal thrillers like “Scam 1992”, financial and legal fraud documentaries, white-collar crimes like in “Suits”. This way, by the time my teammates are looking for stimulation; I have plenty of suggestions ready for them to try!

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