Bluebilities: Srinath Rangarajan, very happy to have you on the call. I would just like to know what was your background and what do you do here in Germany? Can you just give me a very short overview?
Srinath: I came to Germany in 2010 my for my master’s in Automotive Engineering in RWTH Aachen. It was an international master’s program. Once I finished it, I didn’t feel like I wanted to be an engineer anymore. Which was very ironic, considering I was graduating from one of the most premier engineering institute of Europe, but that was the story and I was wondering what I wanted to do, at this point. I had different options lined up in front of me. One of them was going for one of these classical trainee career program that every big company seems to offer for entry after graduation and the alternatives were to try and go and do an engineering a job with one of the firms and try and find a way of getting a more permanent employment.
The alternative was to go and do management, which I felt very keenly drawn towards because I had always been doing projects which had a flavor of management to them, right from my undergraduate and master’s studies. What really made sense for me was to invest time and energy into doing a PhD in the field of management.
That is how I ended up – I am already doing my internship and my thesis, consecutively, at Bangalore. Basically, I used my networks which I have built at Bangalore during my internship and my thesis to try and find a position to do a PhD in management within Bangalore. So, that’s an external PhD. Then I had to fight a lot for it. It was not a cakewalk, but my efforts were rewarded at the end when I managed to get a position in the team that I wanted to be in, as a PhD student. Since then, I have been doing my PhD and working close to full time on practical projects.
I was doing that till September last year when I decided to move from Bangalore to look for different opportunities to do different things. That’s how I ended up with as a senior researcher in the field of automotive.
Bluebilities : You have been working in several organizations. Did you find it very easy to find all these positions, respective of your educational background? How did you feel?
Srinath: To be perfectly honest, I think it has a lot to do with mindset and how much diligence you show in your efforts to find a position that you really want. A lot of people graduate, even from Aachen with master’s degree from some of the best institutes across Germany, but they find it really hard to find jobs. They find it really hard to integrate themselves into the society. I also made some of these mistakes eight years back when I came to Germany. One of the first thing that people told me when I came here was that German language was a very important aspect, but I didn’t care about it at that point because you come here as a student and you think you’re in a very global world where you can get away with just about anything, as long as you can express yourself fluently in English.
That probably, the mindset that you come with. For me, it was a tough learning experience. Somewhere down the line, when I realized that it’s not enough when I say that I’ve lived here for a few years, but I can only converse in English and I don’t feel confident conversing in German. Then I had to really put effort into doing that. The other thing that I feel is a big challenge for- -again, a mindset challenge for a lot of people is that, especially, when I reflect on the peers that I had over the years, the Indian peers, specifically. The people who were coming from very silo kind of a background, that they had lived in the same city all their life.
That they’ve been living at home. They’ve never lived in a hostel. They suddenly get thrown into an environment where they are living in a foreign country, in a foreign culture, in where a foreign language is the medium of communication. It’s a big culture shock for them. In my case, this was highly attenuated by the fact that I didn’t grow up in a single city. I grew up in different cities across India. I was born in central India. I grew up in north India. I did my middle school in west of India. I moved to south India to Bangalore for my high school.
I moved to National Institute of Technology for my undergrad, where again, I had a melting pot of people from different cultures and backgrounds coming in. This background while you were working off, while being exposed to different cultures, different languages, different kinds of people. I think it played a big role in me being able to adapt more quickly to society in Germany when I moved here. I think that’s one of the things that people often mistake when they come here. That they’re trying to Indian community to their Indian friends.
Far as it goes it’s also quite often that they stick with people from the same region. It’s not uncommon to see a Tamil student who comes here and finds four other Tamil students and they will just form a small group and stick together and not really, go out and interact with people beyond this group. By forming these case doesn’t really help. It’s not going to help you entertain, it’s not going to help you improve your language skills, it’s not going to help you become a part of the society and unless you take effort on these intangible factors, moving ahead in the job market is actually difficult.
In contrast to me, I know people who came here at the same time as me and for various reasons they didn’t hit a to where. They made the wrong career choices along the way because they didn’t had the right guidance. These guys moved back to India to jobs which aren’t really, something to be envious of, to put it mildly.
Bluebilities: You have just told about your hindering factors. What were your supporting factors, generally? What factors did support for the growth of your career to integrate, to better suit for the work environment?
Srinath: I mentioned this earlier when I said that I used the networks that I built when I was doing my internship and my thesis. I believe too strongly in the power of these networks in these six years that my current PhD topic, actually, focuses on how managers use their networks when they are doing strategy. I genuinely, honestly, believe in this and I think that’s the biggest support that I’ve had over the years. Especially, the last couple of years I have noticed how much of a role network can play on diverse dimensions. The broader your network, the more people you know, the more chances you have of being exposed to innovative ideas, to diverse topics, to different opportunities.
That’s how things works. That’s how we are having this conversation. I met someone at an event. We had a great interaction. Our thoughts matched. We respected each other and that opened up some opportunities for me. My own career is filled with such instances. My first internship at Bangalore, I got it because of the network. I created that network through diligence. I performed really well in one of my courses because I knew that people who topped in the course were given opportunities, internships and thesis at the institute.
That’s how I got into the Institute for my mini-thesis at Aachen and through the group of the department where I was doing my thesis, I found out about the internship opportunity in Bangalore. Then I head up in Tokyo and then, through my manager at Tokyo, I found out about the master thesis opportunity in and through my manager at I think I found about the PhD position in strategy.
One of the biggest task in my role in the strategy team of Bangalore was to completely build up a network of external experts from ground zero in China. My career is completely based on network and that’s why I strongly believe that networking plays a huge positive role in career development.
Bluebilities:: How did you feel that being an Indian working in Germany, working for China?
Srinath: I think that the work I did in China taught me a lot, actually. When I started I was an Indian guy working at a German firm for the Chinese market while doing a PhD in a Swiss University. If you think about it, that’s like a very global setting to be at. This provides a lot of diversity, not only in cultural aspects, but also in thinking. When I started, I was also lucky that I had an extremely supportive and helpful manager. When I started he told me right away that, „Hey, listen. You know nothing about China. The first one year that you’re working here you should invest time completely in learning about China and learning about the market, learning about the culture, learning about the institution there, learning about how business is done in China.“
He even took me to China. Even though I was a PhD student I had the opportunity to travel to China, pretty much once in every two months and I had the opportunity to interact with a lot of managers and top managers in Chinese firms during this period which helped me understand all these factors at play. I think that clearly paid off because in the end of the one year, I did some internal white papers in Bangalore to teach the other people about the Chinese business and even presented for three, four years, the role I was doing, presentation on how to do business in China in the university, in Bangalore and so on and so forth.
It was a very funny story how I end up coming to Aachen the first day. However, I got here and then I was very curious to know what I had gotten myself into. The first day that I got to Aachen, I met someone who was one year senior to me and I asked him, „Hey, can you tell me something about the course? I am here and I would like to know how it is.“ I will never forget what the told me. He asked me very point blank, „Have you ever failed in life?“ and I was like, „No, I’ve been a topper in university, in school and so on and forth. I never failed in life.“
He very simply told me, „Well, you will learn how to fail here.“ and this was the kind of mindset a lot of people in Aachen had. That it’s a very difficult place to graduate and what you’re going to learn is how to fail and how to put up with failure. However, when I left the university I didn’t feel that this was a true statement. I didn’t learn how to fail. I learned how to succeed. Basically, the idea was that, at least for me, my best take away from Aachen was, when I studied in India I was in a deemed university, at a National Institute of Technology which had sort of a continuous evaluation system. I was very happy, you’re doing assignments and you know how assignments are done in the boys hostel or a girls hostel. You maybe have one person doing it and then the other people, basically–
Bluebilities: Copies it.
Srinath: Yes, let’s put it that way. That’s how typically things work. Even when it comes to like internal assessments, exams and mid-semester exams, the final exams. You know that the numbers still works in your favor because the final exam was worth 40 points. You do an internal project, you get 20 points, you get 5 points for attendance and the rest you get it from your internal evaluation or project, blah-blah-blah. Basically, you can game the system to make sure you pass without learning anything, really and the fourth semester shock for me in Aachen was that there is no such thing as internal evaluation in the German system, you have an exam at the end of the semester. You learn, you go and you write the exam and you finish.
Now, this is where the peculiarity of the German system came in. It was not just an exam like in the Indian school education system where you basically had an entire textbook that you learned and then you might have straightforward questions and you just had to write straightforward answers. Sometimes, you are graded based on how many pages you wrote and that’s it.
Bluebilities: Yes, you are right.
Srinath: Here you’ll see questions were completely application based. Unless you understood the idea and unless you could apply the concepts, you could not going to solve the problems that they put out.
This is why the confidence of these professors at one of the best institutes in Europe comes in. They were like, „You can go and practice all of this stuff and then come and write out papers and we’ll still make sure that it’s going to be difficult for you.“ So every successive semester, the paper got harder.
Bluebilities: Let’s also move to the next question. I will just ask. Being an Indian, can you just say how do you differ from a German employee by this one nationality who is a German speaker, comes from German background is going to bring a value to the company. Whatever may be the companies you have worked ever, how do you differ in bringing a benefit to the company. You got my question?
Srinath: The one thing that I have always heard as feedback from my managers in the last five years, let’s say. It’s the fact that they appreciated and valued me as an Indian because of the field that I was in. If you are in an IT company like Intel or I don’t know X, Y, Z, then you already have so many other Indians that in a lot of place, you know someone very novel in these companies. The same goes for a lot of [unintelligible 00:20:34] because a lot of these engineers graduating from automotive courses and mechanical courses end up somehow in these roles.
You are not exotic at these places. The fact that I chose a very different career path and ended up in management makes me unique because there are not too many people there, in such roles, who come from the background that I come from.
Bluebilities: No. In what they are– There should be some parameters where your manager will judge you from others. What are those parameters, I mean?
Srinath: First and foremost is diversity. Let’s be very blunt. Every company wants to show that they are having inclusion and diversity and they have international people working for them X, Y, Z. Every manager is always happy when he is able to recruit someone who is not German, but is very dumb. That’s the truth of the matter. Ultimately, how companies work. In fact, you want people who can fit into a part of the team that they are recruited in to. Unless you are a part of the team you are not adding value to the company. You are not adding value to your team.
Just because you are different doesn’t make them hire you. They hire you when you are able to add value even though you are different. If you are someone who is from India then you are coming from a very different background. So you have a diversity in the way you approach things, the way you look at things, the way you address problems, born out of your education and your experiences. Which is sometimes very valuable compared to a German graduate who has only learned to do things the way a German job. Of course, these things are getting mitigated by the fact that we have a more and more connected world and people have more and more international exposure even in your school days, but actually go higher in the hierarchy, these are certain skill which are very valued.
Bluebilities: What is your perspective about bridging the Indian skills for a German market, making them work for the German companies?
Srinath: Let’s be perfectly honest. I have also been involved in recruitment processes in different companies and no manager is going to hire someone, only because you come from a particular environment. There are those cases where preference is given to local people, on the basis of the fact that they are better integrated into the society. However, especially when it comes to IT, you can also argue that just because you are an Indian positively when it comes to IT. That goes both ways. At the end of the day, what a person who is recruiting, really looks at is: A: are those skills fitting requirements that I have? B: Is the person fitting into the team that I have?
Your skills might be a perfect match, but if you don’t fit as a personality into the team then the recruiting manager is always going to be a bit hesitant. This is where the whole soft skills aspect comes in. How well can you integrate yourself into the society? That can be about language, that can be about simple things like bringing a cake with you on your first day of work or a cake on your birthday or being a part event at the office, things like that, but if you are going to live in your own little world, in your own little community and not make efforts to integrate, then that shows.
In those cases, even if your skills match one to one with a job description, you are still not going to be the favorite candidate. I have said no to people while recruiting them for this very reason. I know how this system works.
Bluebilities: That was very nice talking to you. Can you just– I think you are aware about Bluebilities and what Bluebilities is doing right now. We care more about the Indian communities. We are focusing on the Indian diaspora, very well valued, high potential. There are people who have graduated from German universities. Also, we are little bit open right now. We have a lot of companies working close together and we are recruiting guys, we are fulfilling the gap and we are more focused into the Indian community. We had, somehow, directly or indirectly, we are contributing to the enrichment of the Indian diaspora living here in Germany. What is your stake or what is your opinion? Can you just share about the views of Bluebilities in your own words? Maybe a very short description about.
Srinath: I found about what you guys are doing. I was actually, genuinely, happy that someone was doing this because from my own personal experience I can say this for sure that a lot of Indian students in Germany are not guided properly. They are not mentored properly and that is why we have the issues that I talked about in the last few minutes. These questions about integration, these questions about language, these questions about living in your own little world even though you are part of a different country right now.
This is all down to the fact that they have been mentored poorly and I think this is where a big role is played by companies like Bluebilities, for taking it up as an initiative to educate these students and to tell them, one way or the other, „Hey, look. These are the things that you should be doing.“ There are hundreds of thousands of opportunities available for you, but you have to do some things to be compatible towards those opportunities.
Bluebilities: That’s great. Thanks a lot, Srinath. It was a wonderful conversation with you and hope you will be also part of Bluebilities‘ maintaining leadership programs soon and which I will get back to you all the same.
Srinath: Pleasure’s mine.