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What's it like to be an engineer today?

Sanjana Ramachandran
Sanjana Ramachandran
Four and a half years ago, I was preparing to leave my coding job for an MBA. After serendipitously scoring the 99th percentile in CAT 2016, I had to make sure I didn’t screw up the subsequent rounds: an essay test, a group discussion, and interviews with faculty members.
There are coaching centers that help you prepare for just these modules. In one of the “mock” interviews they conducted, I was asked why I should leave my job at Amazon for an MBA. The teacher, posing as a faculty member, explained the math to me: “See, right now, you earn… how much?” he paused. “18 LPA*,” I said.
“So for two years you won’t earn that—that’s 36 LPA lost—and you’ll also have a student loan of Rs 20 lakhs for your MBA. Say you get that marketing job you want afterward. It will pay you around 20 LPA only, not much more than what you are making right now,” he said. “You’ll spend years clearing your loan and meeting your expenses, and only then start earning. Do you still want to do an MBA?”
“Yes,” I said, clearly acing the mock interview.
“But why?!” he burst out. “It should make no sense to you.” Seeing it didn’t already, but not for the reasons he hoped, he explained further. “This is what your answer should be. Make a table.”
On a piece of paper, he drew two rows and a few columns. The first row indicated my wealth trajectory if I continued being a developer at Amazon, and the second if I did an MBA and then got a marketing job. Some simple but forgettable math later, he said, “See? You should tell your interviewer that your net wealth after an MBA will clearly be higher because as a manager your salary will appreciate so much faster.”
Having now been in managerial roles and also seen what it’s like to be an engineer, before and now, I know a few things:
1️⃣ Our institutions have GOT to evolve from equating education with jobs, and jobs with salaries. There’s more to all of it. Reducing them to one dimension doesn’t enable students to accurately gauge what they want for themselves.
2️⃣ As the nature of work evolves, we won’t have to optimize for one career path versus another. We’ll be able to wear the multiple hats we CAN wear across organizations and in different contexts.
Not only is my own trajectory an example of this, but so is that of Nipun Agarwal—an electronics engineer turned developer—and some other engineers I spoke to for my report at Rest of World. They describe what it’s really like to be at the centre of today’s tech market: https://restofworld.org/2021/free-bmws-and-mercedes-how-indian-tech-workers-are-leveraging-an-unprecedented-hiring-boom/
*Lakhs per annum in INR
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Sanjana Ramachandran
Sanjana Ramachandran @ramachandranesk

longish essays on life that should really be in a diary instead

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