Coffee With Sidin Vadukut – Journalist at Live Mint (NIT Trichy IIMA alumnus)
“Chase your passion, not your pension.” said Denis Waitley.
And one person who follows the above saying is none other than Sidin Vadukut. Sidin is an alumnus of NIT Trichy and IIM Ahmedabad. He is now a writer at Live Mint. He maintains an excellent blog – Domain Maximus. Some of his writings have been published in Rediff.com like this. Sidin is one of the popular seniors of NIT Trichy. I really admire Sidin and I always wanted my blog to as famous as Sidin’s. Its my pleasure to host Sidin Vadukut for a CWS interview.
Coffee With Sidin Vadukut
Me: Sundar Rajan G S
SV: Sidin Vadukut
Me: Hi Sidin, Welcome to CWS! Can you give a brief introduction about urself to CWS readers?
SV: Hi everyone. I graduated from RECT, as I cannot help but call it, in 2001. After working in core engineering and supply chain for a couple of years I took the CAT exam and enrolled at IIM Ahmedabad in 2003. After a spectacular couple of years there, I joined a consulting firm before deciding one day that I wanted to write for a living. This was partly due to the success of my blog which I’d been writing since sometime in 2002.
SV: After a lot of grovelling and begging for writing jobs, which were exciting and thoroughly non-lucrative, I now have an exclusive writing agreement with the mint newspaper. I write for the weekend features magazine and also for the livemint.com blogs section on tech, web and office leisure!
Me: What exactly is your work at Live Mint? What do you write there?
SV: Besides the daily biz paper we also bring out a weekend features magazine, called Lounge, that incorporates everything you’d see in a usual lifestyle magazine plus more. Lounge is particularly good at culture, style, fashion, books and great interviews. And it’s getting better. We’ve been called the best weekend broadsheet in the business. I completely agree of course.
SV: I am a member of the team and spend most of my time writing cover stories, checking out tech, web and sports and ideating issues. I also edit the weekly interview (Business Lounge) and help in editing overall.
Me: When and Why did you switch to writing? Do you have any prior experience in writing?
SV: Technically I switched in early 2006. I’d been blogging for four or so years before that. And had a couple of newspaper stories to my credit. It was a huge leap of faith of course. But my success in blogging helped. www.whatay.com, my blog, does around 20000 views a month. That was a great source of strength.
SV: I used to flood the RECT noticeboards with nonsense of course! And I edited the “Pierian Spring” (College Magazine) when I was there too. It wasnt super. But it was not too bad either.
Me: What is the career path of a journalist? What are the entry points? If one doesnt want to take up
journalism as a profession, but still write, are there options? How important is a degree in journalism for one to become a good journalist?
SV: The last thing you need is a degree in journalism. We have several journalism graduates who can’t write a thing. What you do need is the ability to read, research, be receptive to feedback and an ability to keep working. Expertise in a domain helps too.
SV: Newspapers and magazine are desperate for good content. Starting a good blog and building up a network helps. And once you know one or two people in the business then you should be able to make your break. But remember that everyone and their mother-in-law thinks they can write. So do get feedback on what you write and learn a little reporting. Basically picking up the phone and talking to people.
* How relevant is your degree in IIMA to your current profession. I am sure the meta B tech is certainly not being used. A lot of people are making career shifts like this. Is it a good choice to make? Dont you think the education is wasted? What are the skills required to match the requirements in the new field when one doesnt have a formal education in that field?
SV: Great great question. And I’ve asked myself the question several times. The thing is my education has been instrumental in my approach to how and what I write. To that extent it’s been helpful. (The engineering makes you analytical and the MBA makes you structure your arguments well.)
SV: And I personally don’t think you’re education is wasted if you don’t do what you were trained to in a college. (Most of Infosys has wasted their education then!) But I have used my MBA much more than my engineering in my writing. Both in terms of networking and for the fact that I can always do a little business writing too. But the notion that my eduation is wasted is a terrible one. Rather I think if everyone had the chance to make a living off what they did best we would all be happier and better off.
Me: You were working as an independent consultant for a while after you completed an MBA from IIMA. Can you tell us something about this experience?
SV: Not independent to the extent that I did one thing for one client at a time. But I dabbled in retailing for around a year and a couple of small projects. Nothing glamorous. Learnt a LOT on the job AND paid the bills. That’s pretty much that story.
Me: What exactly in retailing? Can you elaborate it a bit?
SV: I was helping an Indian Company roll out a retailing business plan. This included everything from planning, strategy to roll out.
Me: How easy it is to get projects as an independent consultant? Especially for someone who is fresh graduate out of IIMs?
SV: For me it was a one-year or so long contract. It is tough if you have absolutely no background. So I wouldnt recommend it for people who have no experience at all..
Me: How is independent consulting different from the consulting done by the firms? What the pros and cons of the two different types of work? What are the skill sets/attitudes required by a professional to take up consulting independently? What are the same for doing in an organization? I assume the skill sets required would have some subtle difference.
SV: Well when you are a consultant in a firm your livelihood depends on the firm’s selling skill. You need to work hard. But performance isn’t a life or death situation. When you work on your own it’s much more demanding. And you need to do your own marketing and sales and accounts and all.
SV: Chalk and cheese really. Though the fundamental problem solving skills required are the same. Otherwise independent consulting requires the same skills any startup entrepreneur needs. Overall a consultant needs great problem definition and solving skills, a head for analytics, an ability to communicate by word and rote and, not many people think of this, good people skills. Most clients already know what’s wrong and how to remedy things. Sometimes your job is to structure their thinking.
Me: You passed out of the coveted IIMA. What are the things a student must do to get the most of his IIM life? What are some of the common mistakes that students do when they are in IIMs, which they can avoid?
SV: IIMs normally offer great opportunity to learn both life and academic skills. But you need to come in with an open mind and without the need to incessantly compete. This is really tough for a lot of people. When you have so many smart toppers around not everyone can continue being one. So you may have been super stud in college. You probably won’t be one here. So learn not to put fight. It will make your life miserable. Time management is critical. A lot of people try to continue with their overnight college exam night madness. Don’t try to do that.
SV: Make the most of the opportunities open to you. Try out things, do projects, and leverage your professors. There are great teachers at the IIMs who really want to connect with you. With a little patience you can.
SV: Most importantly get your life fundas right. Know what you want from your job. And not just in terms of money. Getting the highest paying job shouldn’t be your priority. Getting the one best suited to your needs should. And also think outside campus placement. An IIM will help you get the right job you want. Provided you work out what it is.
Me: There is so much shortage for good teachers in the country? Do you think this is a serious problem that India is facing? What do you think the government/individuals should do to avoid this problem?
SV: It is a serious problem. And it has a simple solution: dole out the right incentives. Job security and low workloads are absolutely the wrong incentives. Pay them more, try to bring research back into our universities, and have a merit-based reward system. I’ve seen enough in the last few years to know that hoping that people will do things without the right incentives is unrealistic. So is it with teaching. But then these are tough decisions to take. And so we dilly dally with the wrong ones
Me: You are one of the “most read” alumni of NIT Trichy. What message would you like to give you to NIT junta based on your wide ranging experience. Can you share some of your learnings?
SV: I am honoured. I was supposed to come down to campus for an event and meet people. But that fell through. But well I am by no means a wizened old alumnus. I am learning as much about life as most of you guys are. But then there are a few key lessons I have learned:
- Lose the cynicism. I see way too many people coming out of college cribbing about everything. Stop that. When you are beginning your working lives it helps to be positive and realistic. Knowing that life has a tendency to suck, lets make the most of it!
- Be professional. Fresh grads used to the relaxed pace on campus try to do the same thing at work. Let’s get a little more disciplined about work and responsibilities.
- Stay ambitious. Dont let bad jobs or poor grades off campus put you down. Its the freaking beginning of your lives. Ten years from now you wont rememeber your first job or your grade sheet.
- Finally be honest to yourself. Don’t tell yourself you love your job or you really want to do an MBA if both are untrue. Experiment when you are young enough to take the risk and still fall on your feet. Be it a career in writing or a Web 2.0 startup. At best things go well, at worst you have extremely cool experience for that IIM interview!
Me: What are your future plans?
SV: Get my first book out. Grow into a better writer and journalist. Become a brand for good content. And if those things happen the future has to be good I think.
Me: Sure Sidin!! I wish you all the very best in your future ventures.. I am sure you are already a brand for Good Content! Thanks for sparing your time for an interview on CWS!
Readers, hope you enjoyed this edition of Coffee With Experts! For previous episodes of Coffee With Experts, click here.