On Monday August 26, 1996, I was very excited. Few weeks ago, I had completed my software diploma education at a leading IT institute. The next phase in the course was one year professional practice at software companies to gain real-world experience. The institute placed me, along with five other classmates, at one of the most reputed companies in India. I was very excited that my dream to work in a reputed company was finally coming true. We all wanted to do good work during our professional practice so that the company hires us at the end of the term.
Our professional practice coordinator took us to the company. We were taken to a big conference hall. We were eagerly waiting to meet our manager. Shortly, a dynamic person entered the room. Our coordinator introduced us to him. The manager gave us an overview of the rich history of the organization. He explained that how relentless focus on quality was at the heart of everything they do that has made them a household name for the past 99 years! We were very proud to be selected to work for this prestigious organization. Then he made an important statement that shook all of us. He made it clear that we are only being taken to work with the company for one year. At the end of the term, we will have to look for job with other companies. The organization only recruits software engineers as full-time employees. The organization policy disallowed non-engineers to be appointed as full time employees. I was devastated. I thought it was unfair. How can the company decide we are not good enough without even looking at our work? But I recovered quickly and promised to myself that I will do such a good work that the organization will be forced to select me as a full-time employee. From that moment, I was on a mission. I could only visualize one thing in front of me; the end of the professional practice term and the organization selecting me as a full-time employee.
The company was executing a multi-phase ERP implementation with the help of a vendor. The first phase vendor implementation cost was Two Million rupees. That was a very expensive project back in mid 90s! We were recruited to gain an understanding of the ERP package and be ready to help the ‘main’ implementation team in any tasks that they may need help with. We took turns to share the three PCs that was allotted to us. I will read the ERP documentation in the morning and practice it on the PC in the afternoon. The complex ERP package had thousands of screens. Hence, we were reading everything that was possible to be ready to help.
I was working very hard to learn the package as quickly as possible. Every day, I would imagine how the events will unfold at the end of the one year term. I was determined it would not be what the manager had envisioned. I was looking for any and every opportunity to help the ‘main’ implementation team. One day, we learned that the ERP package was lacking a very important functionality that was prerequisite for its implementation. The vendor was very happy to do custom development of the functionality but would charge half a Million rupees. That was one fourth of the cost of the implementation. It was a significant cost for the company to absorb and they were exploring all avenues to minimize the cost impact. The ERP package was developed using a computer language that nobody in the company’s IT department knew.
I saw an opportunity to help the organization overcome the budget challenge. I worked overtime to learn the ERP software language over next few weeks. Then I quickly developed a bare bone prototype of missing ERP functionality. When I demoed the prototype to my manager, he got very excited. He wanted to present the prototype to the executives from head office who were going to visit in few weeks. He advised to add more functionality to the bare bone prototype and make it comprehensive. I worked hard to develop the functionality as robust as possible given the time constraint. Finally, the D-day arrived. I along with my institute team members, demoed the package to the head-office executives. They were quite impressed with the completeness of the prototype and how well it was integrated with the main ERP package. They approved to invest further to productionize it by allocating dedicated resources. We were very happy. The manager celebrated with an ice cream party! We worked hard and completed the customization as per user requirements and deployed it to production saving substantial cost for the organization.
Our success increased confidence of company’s management. We were given the responsibility to visit few smaller cities to implement part of the package. I successfully implemented the packages in few smaller cities. Later, I was deputed to a major unit as a core member of the team to implement the entire package. It was a challenging task. But with the help of the team we successfully implemented the package.
Finally, the end of the professional practice term was approaching. The management appreciated the significant contribution we had made for the successful implementation of the ERP package. For the first time in the history of the prestigious organization, they decided to recruit two non-engineers to their information technology division. I was one of them. I was very thrilled that the year long hard work paid off. I felt justice was done! I was very very happy. Even today I thank my manager for teaching me very important lessons early in my career. I may not have pushed myself as hard as I did if not for him setting a very high bar. I may not have realized what I was capable of if I had not been challenged. I came out very strong from that experience.
Everything that I could achieve in my career is because of my customers. Of course, I did have to put in effort on my part. But without customers giving me the opportunities and challenges, I would not have achieved the significant milestones as I could in my career. Hence I have always thanked my customers, both external and internal, for everything because:
- Customers gave me opportunities that I could fulfill
- Customers have continuously raised the bar higher helping me to continually strive to become better than yesterday
- Successful fulfillment of opportunities have Transformed Customers giving me immense satisfaction
- In this journey of Customer Transformation, I have seen myself transform and grow in every aspect of my career life
- Customers’ happy faces gives me the most satisfaction and energizes me to do more
Without Customers, I will not be what I am. This blog is a tribute to all my customers and I thank them sincerely from bottom of my heart for everything. I plan to share all my experiences, challenges, lessons learned, joys and sorrows in this journey of Customer Transformations and the resulting self-transformations that I have gone through.
What roles have external and internal customers played in your career?
Do you think we are ‘Superheroes’ because of our customers?
[Image: Steam Atic]