Why Do We Do It This Way? How Can We Do It Better?
In her popular book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck describes her notion of two basic states of mind that inform how we learn and succeed. The first is the “fixed mindset,” where a person might believe himself to possess genetically immutable traits. Such a person might think, for example, that he is a strong athlete, or is bad in math, or good with people. The second is the “growth mindset,” where someone believes she can work to develop traits, strengthening areas of ability and making improvements in weaker areas. A person with such a mindset, for example, knows she needs to schedule extra study sessions on a particularly tough area of calculus and work hard to improve her Spanish vocabulary, not because she is “bad” in math and Spanish, but because she knows that with hard work she can improve in each, regardless of whatever innate abilities she might have in these areas.
In talking with Anoop Shankar, a TELUS Business Analyst and Consultant and UBC CS undergrad alum, one feels one is in the presence of a person who intuitively embodies the spirit of the growth mindset. Just six years out of the UBC program, Anoop, a gregariously friendly and eloquent person, has made a mark at TELUS in numerous positions requiring an array of skills. In each of these his first thought may well have been, “I don’t have experience in that!” But because he’s a self-professed lover of change and positively fearless when it comes to taking on new challenges, he has put himself in positions where he’s had to develop subject matter expertise where formerly he had none. In short, he’s taken the growth mindset and used it to develop professionally at an astonishing rate.
No stranger to change from his earliest years, Anoop, born in India, moved with his family to Indonesia when he was five, then in Grade 10 attended The Southport School on Australia’s Gold Coast. There he began to study computer science, finding the classes “really interesting, with a lot of potential, in a growing industry.” In thinking about his post-high school options, Anoop decided to apply to universities in the U.S. and Canada, ultimately narrowing his focus to Canada because he felt the opportunities were as strong while the costs were lower. Accepted to Waterloo and UBC, he decided to come to UBC due to the CS department’s strong commitment to the co-op program. (He notes that Waterloo also has a solid co-op program, but at the time the program had a restricted number of positions for international students, a definite drawback for him.) He also thought he’d fare better in Vancouver’s milder climate!
As Anoop describes his experiences at UBC, it quickly becomes clear that not only is he a person who loves change and the challenges that change inevitably brings, but he’s a natural networker who enjoys meeting people as well, and he’s seen the upside of such behaviour. At the beginning of his second year in the program, for example, he volunteered for the Imagine UBC program, a day-long orientation program for incoming students. Signing on to be a “MUG” (My Undergraduate Group) leader, Anoop ran into Ian Cavers, a professor whose class Anoop had particularly enjoyed the previous year. When Anoop mentioned that he was looking for a student job to be better prepared for his first co-op placement, Ian encouraged him to apply for a TA-ship in the department. Surprised that he might be considered for such a position as a second-year student, Anoop nonetheless applied for the job, and he was awarded a TA-ship shortly thereafter. As another, he remembers attending professors’ office hours even if he didn’t have particular questions, finding these great learning opportunities as well as good ways to meet other students keen to learn, with those students often becoming great study and group work partners.
Finding the volunteer work with Imagine UBC rewarding, Anoop undertook a succession of volunteer positions while at UBC and ended up devoting considerable hours to both the International House, where he counseled international students on everything from assimilating to finding jobs to coursework requirements, and to the CS Tri-mentoring Program, where he has been matched with numerous undergraduate CS students. Once again putting himself in novel situations so as to learn as much as possible, he worked both as a concierge at UBC Robson Square and in one of the CS labs, helping “with whatever they needed,” assisting with conducting on-campus trials and group studies.
Seeing how the lab functioned helped Anoop realize that he wasn’t so much interested in the purely technical end of computing. “I saw these guys who were programming and saw that they were really, really talented, and I thought, ‘I have a lot of catch-up to do if I’m going in that direction.’” But as this realization occurred, he also was becoming more aware that he’d been coupling his CS studies with Commerce all along because he was more interested in the intersection of technology and business than he was with the straight technical applications in the field. In the end, Anoop majored in CS and minored in Commerce.
Part of this realization grew out of his co-op experiences, which Anoop, like so many others in the department, thoroughly enjoyed. His first experience was at Teck Cominco (now Teck Resources, Ltd.), a mining company in Calgary, which interested him partly because it required an eight-month move to Alberta. More change! For the first four months of the position, Anoop provided P/C and applications support for a variety of the company’s international clients and for the second he developed Crystal Reports to help clients present data from Oracle databases. In these positions he got to visit the mine sites directly and talk with line and production managers to assess their reporting needs. In this capacity he quickly saw how strong “an enabling function” IT is in an industry such as mining. “Here the IT isn’t itself making the money—the mining is—but if the IT stops, the money stops.” He also came to see that his desire to make a difference in such a setting was directly related to his ability to “come out of the back room” and work directly with end-users. Once again he was seeing that his talents lay with aligning the needs of business users with technology.
Having the Teck Cominco experiences directly affected his next co-op placement, which took place at Vancouver’s Business Objects, where he worked another eight-month placement in the more technical role of QA Tester. There he put to use his experience with Crystal Reports by creating and maintaining test plans in VB.NET for integrating the testing of Crystal Reports in Visual Studio.NET 2005. Crystal Reports is a Business Objects product and the Business Objects recruiter must have been very happy to see that a co-op candidate had experience using it and wouldn’t require on-the-job training. Finding himself at Business Objects was, Anoop feels, a consequence of his being open to any and all possibilities. “I really think you have to learn as much as you can with whatever gets thrown at you,” noting that although the often-bandied-about statistic of “practicing for 10,000 hours” before you become proficient at something is true, it’s equally true that “a person needs to remain open to new possibilities.”
Having worked for the medium-sized Teck Cominco and the much larger Business Objects, Anoop took yet another career tack and did his final co-op placement in a 45-person medical device and testing startup, Vancouver-based Perceptronix Medical, Inc. There he interacted with scientists and medical researchers to clarify their requirements specifications and he refactored Java software so that run times for various programs dropped from eight days to several hours.
Back at UBC, Anoop was taking a variety of courses, and he recalls with particular satisfaction CPSC 319, Introduction to Software Engineering Project, CPSC 304 and 404, Introduction to Relational Databases and Advanced Relational Databases, and CPSC 344, Introduction to Human Computer Interaction Methods. The software engineering courses provided him with real-life software production for “customers,” in this case, UBC Biology Department researchers in need of various software programs. Such work came in handy in a part-time job Anoop held while at UBC, where he worked as a User Interface and Usability Analyst at UBC itself, helping design the student interface page for the Student Service Centre.
At the same time that he was graduating from UBC and looking at these first work experiences, Anoop was having an experience common to international students here in Canada: he was trying to find a job while operating with a student visa that only guaranteed he could stay in Canada for a limited amount of post-graduate time. (When Anoop graduated, he had just one year to find a job. Since that time international students are allowed to remain for three years.) If a student found a job within that year, he or she would need to convince the employer to become a sponsor while the student applied for a work permit to remain longer in the country. Anoop consequently found himself in the position of making it to the second or third round of interviewing with a firm only to find its interest wane as it realized he was only guaranteed a spot in the country for one year.
All of that was to change, though, when Anoop interviewed with TELUS. “TELUS was one of only a few companies for whom [the visa issue] wasn’t a concern.” Hired into the telecom giant in July, 2006, Anoop entered the Business Transformation Leadership Development Program, a 24-36 month program that rotates new hires through multiple roles and departments with an aim to helping the candidate assess strengths and gain broad experience of the firm and his or her future within it. In his first position Anoop worked as a Developer Analyst, learning about project management, business systems analysis, software engineering for custom web application development, Quality Assurance, and training. Hired into that initial position as just one of eight employees out of 400 applicants, Anoop quickly became indispensable, finding a way on one project, for example, to shave $50K in operational costs by developing a web application to automate work that had been previously done manually. In his next BTLDP position as Project Manager and Marketing Analyst, he helped the company save $150K in annual operational costs by delivering a customer-facing application. Proving himself a quick study, Anoop was then hired onto a 50-member “SWAT” team to fly to Ottawa to resuscitate a multi-million dollar government contract that was experiencing mid-project difficulties. There he learned that he had a flair for working with large, complex projects.
At the same time he was also honing his people and leadership skills, a fact brought to the fore when TELUS hired him to be an acting Team Manager for the BTLDP and then—at Anoop’s behest—to overhaul the entire BTLDP on campus and on line. Seeing the potential to make a solid program even better, Anoop revamped the program’s interview guide, increased its web presence, created an internal role for the program with the HR department, thus reducing managerial time in the hiring process, brought numerous team participants, managers, and HR together to update the entire program, and increased the number of campus info sessions and job fairs. Altogether his work resulted in a 50% increase in the number of applications to the program.
Continuing his ascent at TELUS, Anoop then branched out into his first non-BTLDP position, that of Business Systems Analyst for web portals and large, complex deals. In this he capitalized on his earlier experience with the firm’s government contracts, and in his first role worked on a multi-million dollar contract with the Government of Quebec and the city of Montreal. Because he was successful in building a case for in-house development work, TELUS realized a $300K savings with the project. After its completion, Anoop took on the role of Business Systems Analyst II, this time working with external partner Hewlett-Packard to direct the use of a $2 million portfolio and project management software and process transformation project in the IT department. This project looked at improving the financial management of all of TELUS’ projects. He also took on an additional role as a Business Analyst/Consultant with the Business Transformation group, working this time with company VPs and BTLDP directors to look at macro issues involving strategic business planning and priorities, as Anoop says, “to deal with the big, ambiguous problems, to put a framework around them and find the subject-matter experts in the company to deal with the problem.”
It’s in this role as internal consultant to TELUS that Anoop now finds himself, eager for new possibilities at work and in his personal life. Soon to be married, Anoop enjoys a life full of spare-time activities: long-distance running (he’s training for a local half-marathon and has already signed on to compete in another in Barcelona next year), tennis, ballroom dancing, photography, travel and food. “I love trying new foods,” he says with a smile. After hanging out with him for just a little while, you know this is a comment not just about food and dining. It’s a comment about Anoop’s eagerness to work collaboratively with others to solve complex business problems, to make a meaningful contribution to society’s business and technical needs, and to do these things with energy and optimism. It’s a comment about Anoop, walking onto a project, smiling broadly, and asking, “Why do we do it this way, and how can we do it better?”