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CTO Wisdom with Sushma Nallapeta | Beyond the Program
23rd April 2024 • The Pair Program • hatch I.T.
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CTO Wisdom with Sushma Nallapeta | Beyond the Program

Welcome to CTO Wisdom. In this series, we interview technical leaders who have stepped into executive positions.

Today’s guest host, Eric Brooke, speaks with Sushma Nallapeta, CTO of Trusted Health.

In today’s episode, they discuss:

-How success changes for each role

-Finding the balance for each role between control and influence

-The importance of confidence

-Making decisions without having all the information

-How to know your customer

-Building strong partnerships

-Networking with peers outside of the business


About today’s guest: As CTO of Trusted Health, Sue Nallapeta leads an organization of over 100 technologists, reimagining healthcare staffing with a core mission of helping people find care. With a background in Computer Science, Sue has over a decade of experience across various consumer facing businesses, marketplaces and enterprise software. She has navigated the landscapes of both public companies and startups, weathering numerous acquisitions on both ends of the spectrum. She has built highly performant, vastly scalable engineering systems that have touched millions of customers and led product and technology innovations that have contributed to top line company growth.

About today’s host: Eric Brooke has a rich and varied leadership career - leading up to 21,000 people and Billions in revenue, throughout 14 countries. In their career, they have been an Executive six times (e.g. President, CEO, CMO, and CTO) and a Board member of multiple organizations. Eric has been a CTO of scaling startups from 0 to 120 engineers. As an adviser and mentor, they have helped multiple other startups scale both in Canada and the US. As well as supporting multiple startup incubators such as 1871 in Chicago and TechStars.

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Transcripts

Tim Winkler:

Hey, listeners, Tim Winkler here, your host of The Pair Program.

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:

We've got exciting news introducing our

latest partner series Beyond the Program.

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In these special episodes, we're

passing the mic to some of our savvy

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former guests who are returning as

guest hosts, get ready for unfiltered

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conversations, exclusive insights,

and unexpected twist as our alumni

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pair up with their chosen guest.

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Each guest host is a trailblazing

expert in a unique technical field.

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Think data, product management,

and engineering, all with a keen

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focus on startups and career growth.

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Look out for these bonus episodes

dropping every other week,

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bridging the gaps between our

traditional pair program episodes.

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So buckle up and get ready to

venture Beyond the Program.

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Enjoy.

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Eric Brooke: Welcome to CTO Wisdom.

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My name is Eric Brooke.

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This series will talk to leaders

of technology at organizations.

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We'll understand their career, what

was successful and what was not and

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what they learned along the way.

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We'll also look at what the

tech market is doing today.

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We'll understand where they gather

their intelligence so they can grow

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and scale with their organizations.

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Welcome.

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My name is Eric Brookee and welcome

to CTO Wisdom today with Sue.

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Hey, Sue.

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Sushma Nallapeta: Hi, Eric.

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Nice to be talking to you today

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Eric Brooke: and to you.

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Thank you for coming on today.

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Could you give me your

elevator pitch, please?

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Sushma Nallapeta: Yes, I am soon.

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I'll update.

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I'm currently the CTO at trusted health.

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Trusted.

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Health is a health care marketplace

company, a leading labor marketplace

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and workforce management platform

for health care workforce.

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We mainly focus on travel

nurses and allied professionals.

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Our mission is to help people everywhere,

get care and we are transforming the

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travel industry and making it more modern.

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We are a CDC company and 300 employees,

a hundred people in engineering.

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Eric Brooke: Cool.

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Thank you for that.

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Um, let's talk about your journey.

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What was it like when you

started in your journey?

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What were you passionate

about in technology?

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How did you get started?

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Sushma Nallapeta: It's a funny story.

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Actually, two names come to my

mind, uh, when I think about

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how I got into technology.

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It's Dave and Keen.

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They're not people.

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They are characters in a very famous

game back in the day, in late:

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Um, I think mid nineties,

early nineties timeframe.

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I grew up in India.

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I got access to computers when

I was in middle school and I

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was super crazy about games.

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Every time I got a chance, you know,

uh, to go to the lab, we would just

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go type in some DOS commands and

then start playing some DOS games.

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And so that was a thing.

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Um, I, that's what kind of got me

super excited to continue to explore

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the world of computer science.

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And, uh, I also wanted to

study computer science.

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So, which I did, I did

my bachelor's in India.

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I was at that time, I was super impressed

when the IBM's deep blue program came

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out where it defeated a very famous chess

player and then IBM Watson happened.

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So I was following that.

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Uh, journey and that got me super

excited to pursue the world of A.

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I.

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If you think about, um, you know, A.

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I.

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has been around for a long time and, uh,

IBM actually was a pioneer in a lot of

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stuff that they tried back in the day.

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So that got me excited.

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Then I came to the United States,

uh, to pursue my graduate degree.

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And, uh, and that's where

my technology journey began.

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Eric Brooke: Um, so you got,

you're in America, you're working,

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um, as a software engineer.

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And, Question mark.

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Sushma Nallapeta: Yeah.

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So, uh, initially I was doing

research under a couple of professors

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back in, uh, university of Texas.

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Uh, and then, uh, after that,

when I graduated, it was:

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December 2007 job market was in a

very bad state, uh, at that time.

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So, and then, so I got into consulting.

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So I was doing a lot of, uh, I

joined as a software engineer.

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I was doing a lot of e commerce.

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Uh, software building and it gave

me a very strong foundation because

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especially when you're in consulting,

you're already talking to customers.

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You're trying to understand their problem.

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You're trying to figure out different

technologies, different choices of

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languages, and so it gave me a breadth

as well as depth, uh, early on in my

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career that I was very fortunate for.

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I did everything from Lotus

Notes administration, if

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you remember Lotus Notes.

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To front end back in development,

all of those things, um, and, uh, you

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know, I was very excited about learning

new things and new technologies.

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And slowly, as I started interacting

more and more with customers,

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that's where I started to feel.

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Passion for really connecting business

and technology and and then people.

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So it's really the, um, uh,

attachment of all the things.

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Eric Brooke: Awesome.

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So you're traveling a journey as an

engineer, like, um, at what stage did you

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start considering about managing humans?

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Sushma Nallapeta: Yep.

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When I was at that company, I started

to kind of play the role of a tech lead.

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And so, uh, and the more, uh, the

more I started to play that role,

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uh, and started to mentor junior

engineers, I kind of knew like, I'm

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really passionate about management.

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I wanted to bring the best in people.

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And I often found myself not just

telling them, Hey, do this project,

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do this work, but connecting the dots.

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It's like, here's the end goal.

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We're building an e commerce site.

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Here's how many people

it's going to serve.

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Like, here's the product and why that's

important, what the company is trying

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to do, and then connect the dot back to,

if you build this one feature, what's

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the impact that you're going to have?

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Uh, and so that's when I didn't even

know what management was uh, back then.

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So I was like, but this is

something that I want to do.

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I did, I talked to some

people, did some research.

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I was like, okay I want to be a manager.

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I went and talked to my boss, um,

and said, I want to be a manager.

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And he's like, you're crazy.

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Uh, management is like,

you know, uh, useless.

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You, you are a very good techie.

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You should pursue that out of architecture

and be, be an architect someday.

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And so then I slept on

it for six more months.

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I was like, no, I really want to be.

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a manager and that became

more and more real.

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Um, so then I actually, uh, joined

Kodak Gallery, uh, which was a startup

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at that time acquired and owned by

Eastman Kodak, um, the, the camera

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and film company, uh, as a manager.

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Eric Brooke: So what were the things

that you would say in hindsight that

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you'd learned from the transition from

engineer to manager that you didn't

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necessarily perceive at the beginning?

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Sushma Nallapeta: Um, I think one,

obviously, when I first became a manager,

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uh, what became very obvious to me is.

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It's always about people.

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It's always about managing expectations,

and it has nothing to do with your

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actual software engineering skill set.

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For a long time, I tried to really stay

close to technology, really keep my hands

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dirty, do a lot of hands on coding and

stuff, but then I was actually not doing

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a lot of, like, different parts of my job.

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Which is managing stakeholder

expectations, sometimes really figuring

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out a delivery and really figuring

out processes and things like that.

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And I think that was a

huge realization for me.

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Um, the second big thing that became

very obvious is how do I manage up?

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Because a lot of times it's very

easy to manage down, manage out.

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You're always, you're talking

to your team all the time.

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Uh, you have built a solid relationship.

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But really struggled a lot with managing

up and figuring out exactly, like, what

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type of information to send upwards?

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What makes sense?

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And what do they want to hear?

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What are their goals?

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And how do I make sure that I'm

connecting the dots and stuff?

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So that those were some

very early learnings.

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One interesting thing that happened is,

The company went through bankruptcy.

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The parent company, Kodak,

went through bankruptcy.

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So our company that focused on e commerce

photo products, we went through a series

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of, uh, you know, uh, situations where

we didn't know what was going to happen.

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If we were going to survive, if we

were going to become independent,

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are we going to get sold?

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Are we going to get shut down?

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So we didn't know that.

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And so the leadership actually had

us all focus on building a brand

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new product and which we did.

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And so we're just going through that

adversity and figuring out how to lead a

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team, because you can be too transparent

and say, we actually don't know if we

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could shut down in 3 months, but you also

have to balance that with motivation.

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It's like, okay, you have nothing.

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To gain other than experience, and

you literally could have no job

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in three months, but let's all get

excited and do this one last thing.

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Um, so that was, I think, years of

learning bagged into a few months.

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Eric Brooke: Yeah, absolutely.

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Very stressful, but a great

opportunity at the same time.

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How did it pan out?

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Sushma Nallapeta: The company actually,

so we launched this new product.

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It was a huge success.

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Unfortunately, the parent

company had sold us off to shut

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or fly, which was a competitor.

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And it was like, just for peanuts.

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They just wanted to acquire

the website and technology.

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Um, and so everybody pretty

much lost their jobs.

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Uh, but I think having having gone

through that, I think the whole company

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had bonded and we had really accomplished

something before we actually left.

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So everybody had picked up new skills.

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Everybody had learned a lot of

managing through difficult situation.

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So.

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Uh, we all went on to find other jobs

and, uh, figure out our next, uh, journey.

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Eric Brooke: Cool.

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What happens next?

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Sushma Nallapeta: So I was on a, uh, a

visa and I came close to like, you know,

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uh, almost getting out of the country

because I couldn't find another job.

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And here I was like one year

of management experience.

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Um, and you know, everybody was

like offering me IC roles and I

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struggled to really figure it out.

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Uh, you know, do I want to go back

to being individual contributor or

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do I want to stay in management?

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My passion was with management.

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And I knew I didn't want to go back,

but the opportunities surrounding me,

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me were, um, you know, all I see roles

and it was a desperate situation.

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Uh, however, I kind of continue to

tell myself and just learn new skills,

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keep trying, and then, uh, I did get a

job as an engineering manager, uh, at

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Blackhawk network, which was a payments

and a gift card company, and it was

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still private when I joined, um, and.

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Pretty soon we went public and

went through a rapid growth.

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I went from taking on one team to

two to three and four and continue to

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learn a lot of things along the way.

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And we also went through a lot

of, um, acquisitions and MNA

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where we acquired, I think, almost

10 companies when I was there.

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Uh, so really figuring out how to

merge the tech stacks, um, and how to

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just go through scale and grow was.

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A lot of learning again,

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Eric Brooke: so could I go back

to that moment when you're kind

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of adding teams so you get to

your third and your fourth team?

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What are the things that you felt

that you had to do differently

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as an engineer manager?

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Because that's obviously a lot workload.

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Can you remember, like, what

were the things that you changed?

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Sushma Nallapeta: I think number

one, like, you really figured out

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pretty quickly that you cannot really

be an expert in every technology

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that the team is working on.

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So initially I had, I was managing like

a full stack, but mostly front end team.

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And then I took on mobile.

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And I had never worked in mobile,

uh, neither iOS or Android.

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And this was my first time.

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And I had to really manage a

team and learn to manage a team

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for a technology that I do not

even know how to, um, go about.

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And then that that's one thing

that comes along with it.

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And then very soon you need

to start scaling yourself up.

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Uh, it's very easy to manage.

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Maybe a couple of teams have

even managed like almost 13, 14

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people directly at one point.

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And, but very soon it's not scalable.

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You can't go through 14 performance

reviews, have career conversations.

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Some point you need to start figuring out

how to build leaders or you'd hire leaders

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from outside or build them yourself.

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And, and a lot of times you're

like, what type of leader do I want?

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How do I even go about.

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Building those leaders.

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So I think those were some

interesting questions that went

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through my mind at that time.

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It's how do I create redundancy?

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Um, and then when I brought on those

managers, and now I had four teams,

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four managers reporting to me, and

then I went through this phase almost

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like for a few weeks and a month,

not knowing what my role was anymore.

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Because I was like, Okay, now

I don't know what's happening.

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All these managers are capable.

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They're all doing their things now.

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So what should be my role?

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How do I guide them?

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Am I even needed at this point?

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And it took a while for me to figure out

that actually now it's no longer about

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execution, but it's also connecting.

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The strategy with execution and there

is nobody in between to do that.

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And that's the role that

I need to be playing.

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So it took a while to really click, um,

that that's what I need to be doing.

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Eric Brooke: So, yeah,

let's explore that further.

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Cause it's quite a, a step change.

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One minute you're in kind of direct

contact with people and the next minute

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you're managing through managers.

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So in hindsight, um, when looking

back at managing managers, what

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did you learn from that journey?

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Sushma Nallapeta: It was a

very interesting journey.

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When I started to take on these

managers, I think one of the first

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things I realized is you cannot

really have a full understanding

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of everything everybody is doing.

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And you have to figure out one, how to

get that information from your manager

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to how to enable your manager and give

them space to make those decisions

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that you no longer are privy to.

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Thank you.

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And then three, you also have to figure

out how to remove their blind spots.

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And so that's a little tricky because

one, you don't know if you need to wait

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for your manager to come to you, uh,

with problems or do you, or you see

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the problem happening, do you just dive

right in and start to help them out?

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And I think it takes a little

bit of time to balance that out.

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So I went through those struggles myself.

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It's, uh, I have micromanaged

sometimes and annoyed my managers.

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I've empowered too much and then also

suffered from them not giving me the

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right information and me communicating

the wrong information upward and so on.

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So it's, um, those are some interesting

challenges that you go through

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when you're managing managers.

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And the 2nd thing is also about

understanding the sphere of influence.

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It's, if you're a manager, your

sphere is probably limited to your

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team and the stakeholders like

PMs that you closely work with.

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But as you go to managing managers,

now your sphere has just exploded.

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It's no longer just your team and their

stakeholders, but you have your own

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stakeholders and you also have upper

management that you need to manage.

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And so you have to figure out

different types of communication

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across all these different levels.

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Eric Brooke: Yeah, it's a lot of work.

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It's a very different type

of work, as you rightly say.

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So that's great.

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Okay, continue the journey

for us, please, Sue.

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Sushma Nallapeta: Yeah, so I

was there for almost five years.

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I managed managers, built a

lot of systems, scale systems.

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And I felt like I was missing, um,

really like figuring out what being

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an executive looks like, or even

furthering my leadership journey.

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Uh, at that time, um, you know, uh, I

had a couple of opportunities to pursue

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and I was very excited about, uh, you

know, consumer in general, consumer

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tech impacting millions of people.

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So I joined this online

dating company called Zoosk.

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Okay.

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And it was very exciting problem to solve.

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I joined them as a senior director.

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Uh, I was, I had taken on like all

of the applications teams and they

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were going through a very interesting

phase, um, because they had gone

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through a big growth journey.

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Uh, they had tried an IPO and at

that time decided IPO was not,

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they were not ready for an IPO.

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I had stopped and then they were

continuing to really make their

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operations super efficient.

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And so I joined at that juncture.

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Uh, so they were, I think, half

mature and half, like, chaotic.

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So it was like a perfect blend for

me to come and solve some problems

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and bring some calm to the chaos.

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And then also learn from things that

are really working and figuring out how

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to continue to scale and enable that.

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Um, I, I think I was in that role

probably for nine, ten months.

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Uh, this when the company went through

a lot of changes, the CEO left the my of

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engineering left and then immediately the

interim CEO is like, hey, I need you to

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take on, uh, being the head of engineering

and my 1st response to him was.

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I don't know if I can do this.

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And so then both my SVP

and, uh, who was leaving.

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And then the CEO was like, one, we

absolutely believe you can do this.

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That's why we are asking you to take

this on and to don't ever say that

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to a CEO again, even if you don't

know how to do something, it's okay.

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You have to always show confidence.

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So that was my first.

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Learning of, um, you know, how

executive communication actually works

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and how you should always show up.

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Uh, and I think that lesson

has I've taken on that lesson

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at the board level and across.

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Um, various different levels.

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I took on, uh, the head

of engineering role.

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I took on every pretty much all of the

team's infrastructure data engineering.

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Um, you know, we were also migrating

from a data center to cloud.

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So we had all these

tech ops folks as well.

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So there was a huge, um, migration

plan that we were taking on.

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And security, because it

was an online dating site.

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We had a ton of personal information.

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We were always prone to attacks people

trying to do account takeovers and stuff.

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So really like dive into like 5 different

areas that I'd never managed before.

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And especially security.

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And with all these problems, I was

playing the role of a CISO, I was

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playing the role of a CTO and, uh,

like trying to balance everything.

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Um, so it was a lot of learning.

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Uh, uh, the, finally we had a new CEO

who came in, who sold the company, uh,

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and my journey there ended and I moved

to my previous company, Apartmentalist,

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another marketplace business,

um, which was in a renting space.

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Eric Brooke: So before we move on

to that, talk to us about like.

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Um, the head of engineering, how that

differed from being like the director.

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Now you've got all of these

technologies, all of these people.

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Um, what were the things that you

learned in that part of your journey?

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Sushma Nallapeta: So many

different, uh, lessons.

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I think one, you have to make, be

willing to make really difficult choices.

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Uh, about people and, and some of these

people are people that everybody loves.

358

:

They have very good relationship, but you

zoom out and then you start to look at

359

:

the org as puzzle pieces and figure out

what does not fit anymore and who are your

360

:

detractors and who are the people who are

really trying to push the company forward.

361

:

And that's a very tough place to

be because you literally went from

362

:

having a lot of these people as

peers to now becoming their leader

363

:

and having to make some tough

decisions to even like, let them go.

364

:

So, I went through that immediately

as I took on, I started to understand

365

:

org and figure out, like, what's

working, what's not working and I do.

366

:

Really part ways with some senior folks,

uh, in the business and, uh, try to

367

:

really change up our arc structure to

be more future proof and like thinking

368

:

about where the company is going.

369

:

And as expected, it didn't go as well

because some people were excited,

370

:

adverse emotional reaction to it.

371

:

Uh, once I had to QA department because.

372

:

I was like, we need to make sure

that we're moving towards automation.

373

:

The QA engineers need to have a

career path, so they need to be

374

:

part of the engineering team.

375

:

It doesn't make sense for them to have

a separate organization because always

376

:

the engineers would throw things over

the wall and say it's QA's problem.

377

:

So I wanted to eliminate

that and be more efficient.

378

:

But the QA engineers were

like, We don't get this.

379

:

Like, why are you doing this?

380

:

Why are you getting rid of a leader?

381

:

And, you know, we don't want to

be part of this team and so on.

382

:

So it took a while and a lot of

messaging and building confidence

383

:

in the teams of what exactly I was

trying to do and why it was important.

384

:

And honestly, like, I didn't even

know if I made those right decisions

385

:

until I actually left the company.

386

:

And then some of these engineers

reached out and said that was the

387

:

best decision ever because they,

they had all changed their careers.

388

:

They had moved on and

learned new skills and.

389

:

And they had moved on to become

software engineers from QA.

390

:

Eric Brooke: Yeah.

391

:

Change is difficult for all humans.

392

:

Um, but it does give us opportunities

if we can free frame it in our own mind.

393

:

So love to hear that.

394

:

So you've gone to your next

organization, as you said, after this

395

:

organization, tell us about that.

396

:

Sushma Nallapeta: Yes.

397

:

So, um, it was founder led, uh,

one of the co founders, uh, hired

398

:

me, uh, uh, and then, uh, you know,

I was leading all of engineering.

399

:

The team was pretty small when

I came in, it was about 25.

400

:

So I'd gone from managing a

bigger team to a smaller team.

401

:

Um, but the company was growing

pretty quickly in my first year.

402

:

I think I doubled the team.

403

:

And then again, second year, another

significant growth milestone, and

404

:

we had to double the team again.

405

:

Um, but while doing all of that,

I think what I realized one,

406

:

the way we were doing product

management was also very different.

407

:

Um, we were, we had a lot of traffic,

so we were, we were able to run a lot

408

:

of tests, how our approach to product

strategy, our approach to design.

409

:

Everything was different

from what I had been used to.

410

:

So that was a lot of exciting

learning in those years.

411

:

And then pandemic hit.

412

:

And it was a whole new world.

413

:

The company went from, you know, being

in person to completely remote and

414

:

we, I'm going through this phase of

unknown because if you think about

415

:

pandemic and rental industry, nobody was

moving for like a period of 45 months.

416

:

So the macro was like, really in

a bad shape and we didn't know

417

:

how long it was going to last.

418

:

People were just staying

put where they were.

419

:

Nobody was paying rent.

420

:

Nobody was like, you

know, changing leases.

421

:

So, the property managers were complaining

to us saying, you know, I can't even

422

:

evict anyone who's not paying rent

and then no new renters were moving.

423

:

So, we went through a very tough phase.

424

:

Um, and, you know, we had to, uh, do

layoffs and, you know, doing my first

425

:

layoff was very hard because, you know, we

got to a point where we were like, okay,

426

:

you know, you start to have an approach

and a method to doing these layoffs.

427

:

There's never a right way, but you

kind of start to pick your list.

428

:

You talk to your managers and figure

out, uh, you know, um, who are the people

429

:

and stuff, but eventually you get to a

place where you need to go deep deeper.

430

:

And then when you have to cut

even deeper, then you have

431

:

all these hard conversations.

432

:

And 1 such conversation was with 1

of my directors, where we were trying

433

:

to make a decision of do I cut a

manager or like, do I cut an engineer?

434

:

And then he basically said.

435

:

No, let let me volunteer for it

like you need all these people.

436

:

These are great, but you

don't need another layer or

437

:

at least a period of time.

438

:

So let me volunteer.

439

:

I'll be part of this.

440

:

I'll help you transition.

441

:

And that was a very hard thing

for me, because if someone that

442

:

I saw highly, um, you know, like,

basically volunteer himself.

443

:

So going through that was like, again,

a whole new experience and lesson.

444

:

And then, you know, uh, the

company turned around after the

445

:

pandemic, things started to go well.

446

:

Um, and I also started to get involved

a lot more within product and I

447

:

got a lot of opportunity to kind

of really figure out how to drive

448

:

business outcomes through technology.

449

:

And we've did a lot of initiatives that

really contributed to top line growth.

450

:

That was super exciting.

451

:

Um, and so that was my, I think almost

four year journey at ApartmentList.

452

:

Eric Brooke: Wow.

453

:

Um, Courage from your director, um,

but also a tough time for anyone in

454

:

leadership during COVID, let alone the

people that obviously are laid off.

455

:

Um, after the layoff, how did the team do?

456

:

What were the things that you felt that

you and what was left of management

457

:

had to do to support the current

team, um, that was still employed?

458

:

Sushma Nallapeta: I think the

biggest fear that the team

459

:

goes through is, is this done?

460

:

Uh, like they're, they're always looking,

uh, around their shoulder, figuring

461

:

out when is the next one coming, what's

going to happen, that fear of unknown.

462

:

Number one, and then two, as

leadership, we have to do a

463

:

lot to build that confidence.

464

:

Yes, we made, uh, we took a

big decision to eliminate a

465

:

lot of roles in the company.

466

:

And, and, but now what, like, what is our

strategy and why do we think eliminating

467

:

these roles is actually going to help

us in the near term when we need to

468

:

do all these things and we need all

the people to help build those things.

469

:

So, I think that is very key, especially

as an executive team to build that

470

:

confidence, but to do a lot of that,

like, understanding what our strategy is

471

:

figuring out, like, how to communicate it

and then seeing that over and over again.

472

:

Because you're never done, uh,

you have to repeat it, uh, until,

473

:

like, people really get it.

474

:

Like, when you start getting tired of

repeating it, now you know that you've

475

:

done your job and then they got it.

476

:

Um, so, I think those are a couple of big

things that stand out to me, especially

477

:

after, like, the riff and the layoff.

478

:

And then starting to

build the team back up.

479

:

Because it's 1 part is, yes, you

eliminated the role you're done.

480

:

But then again, when the next

performance review cycle comes,

481

:

how do you measure performance?

482

:

How do you set them up for success?

483

:

Now, if you have a manager who had 4 or

5 people, and now they have 2, like, how

484

:

do you kind of build their career growth?

485

:

And what does that look like?

486

:

Because you have a lot of people

in leadership positions and

487

:

management positions, Who associate

growth to the number of people

488

:

that they manage or their scope.

489

:

And so, but in an environment that

is super constrained, you have to

490

:

change the dynamics of that role and

really like helping them understand

491

:

that here are some new skills that

you can pick up and this is going to

492

:

be helpful for you in the long run.

493

:

And here's how and connecting those

dots is going to become critical.

494

:

Eric Brooke: Thank you

for sharing that wisdom.

495

:

Okay, so what's next in your journey?

496

:

Sushma Nallapeta: I'm, uh, that's

what brought me to Trusted.

497

:

And, you know, I've, I've always tried

to solve problems that help people.

498

:

It was one, at Zeus, like, uh,

connecting different people.

499

:

At Apartmentless, it was

helping people find homes.

500

:

And now, finally, I'm

helping people find care.

501

:

Um, so I was super excited about

the mission and, uh, I generally

502

:

love marketplace businesses.

503

:

And I think what was unique about Trusted

is one, the segment that they were

504

:

really trying to help because coming out

of COVID, you realize like the biggest

505

:

shortage in nurses, nurses are burnt out.

506

:

Even normal times, and a lot of nurses

had to come out of retirement to support

507

:

the covert, uh, search at that time.

508

:

So really trying to help, um, move

the needle and help these nurses,

509

:

um, find, uh, care, help people,

help patients find get faster is

510

:

something that, uh, resonated with.

511

:

So that was exciting.

512

:

And then also, we, uh, had a unique setup.

513

:

We have a marketplace business

and enterprise business.

514

:

I had been with enterprise

almost like three companies ago

515

:

and, and that was in FinTech.

516

:

Um, so I was like very excited

about trying to marry the two,

517

:

like, how can I take this consumer

side of the business and connect

518

:

the dots with the enterprise side?

519

:

And how can this become a

strong mode for the company?

520

:

And.

521

:

Um, so that was what

brought me to Trusted.

522

:

Now I've been here for a year and,

uh, it's been an exciting journey.

523

:

Eric Brooke: So you're a CTO now,

what would you say is the difference

524

:

between that and being a head of

engineering or like a VP of engineering?

525

:

Sushma Nallapeta: I think, uh, I

think the biggest thing is playing

526

:

that strategic role and understanding

that the buck stops with you.

527

:

Uh, I think the.

528

:

When I say the buck stops with you,

you have to be willing to make all

529

:

types of decisions, whether it's tough

decision, whether it is like, you

530

:

know, budget decisions, whether it

is the strategy, like be willing to

531

:

fill in the gaps wherever possible.

532

:

The big difference between head of

engineering and CTO, again, there

533

:

could be differences depending

on the size of the company.

534

:

At least in my own experience, Zeus was a

lot smaller, the role that I was playing

535

:

while strategic, but a lot of it focused

on, uh, like managing, um, you know, the

536

:

team execution, really fixing a bunch

of stuff that was broken, uh, focusing

537

:

on people process and tech at large.

538

:

Now as a CTO, it's a lot of that plus.

539

:

Really understanding what is a competitive

advantage understanding, like, you know,

540

:

you're not just a functional leader,

but you're also a business leader.

541

:

So really trying to figure

out how can I help my peers.

542

:

Uh, in some of the problems that they are

facing, we had a huge initiative last year

543

:

where engineering finance partnered up to

really like, look at our, um, you know,

544

:

how we do payroll, how we actually, like,

measure, um, our gross margin and things

545

:

like that and did a lot of efficient, um,

uh, efficiency improvements on that side.

546

:

And then the third part of

it is also external facing.

547

:

Like, how can you keep

up with the industry?

548

:

What trends?

549

:

Uh, are going on and how can

that be a huge advantage?

550

:

Uh, and right now, I'm dealing with

a lot of build versus buy decisions,

551

:

especially in a macro environment

that is getting tighter and tighter.

552

:

You have to focus on operational

efficiency, and you have to figure out

553

:

a look at all your software and figure

out where your engineers time is going

554

:

in and see if it's worthwhile to invest

those engineers, building those systems,

555

:

or should you just replace and buy it?

556

:

And have them focus on something that is

a clear business differentiation as well.

557

:

So, uh, those are some key

differences in my experience.

558

:

Eric Brooke: Thank you, Sue.

559

:

Um, so when you think about success,

what does it look like for you and

560

:

what has helped you be successful?

561

:

Sushma Nallapeta: When I think

about success, I think success

562

:

has the definition of success has

changed depending on which company

563

:

and what role that I have played.

564

:

The success for me now is very closely

aligned with the company success.

565

:

So it's like, if we can really, um, you

know, come out of this macro continue

566

:

to really help people find care faster

and reduce that time to care component.

567

:

Uh, that to me is success.

568

:

And personally, if I can help the company

go through that journey and like be a

569

:

strong player, and then eventually like,

you know, um, take the company public.

570

:

That to me is success.

571

:

When I was in some of my previous

roles, like when I was a manager,

572

:

success to me was becoming a CTO.

573

:

Um, not knowing what that looked like,

or, you know, success to me was, Just

574

:

my own, um, like career journey success

to me was I have to go from managing

575

:

maybe one team to multiple teams that

to go from managing a function that

576

:

I never managed before and so on.

577

:

So, um, the definitions of success

change for people as they go through

578

:

different companies and roles.

579

:

Eric Brooke: And what has helped

you be successful in your journey?

580

:

Sushma Nallapeta: Um, I think one

really, uh, when I was an engineering

581

:

manager, what I really focused on

was understanding the business.

582

:

I was all, because I came from that

consulting background, I always wanted

583

:

to know the why behind everything.

584

:

That helped me form strong

partnerships with people.

585

:

Like I, when I was an engineering

manager, I was like great

586

:

friends with the security team.

587

:

And nobody's usually great

friends with security team.

588

:

Um, because I really try to

understand why, you know, they wanted

589

:

us to do code scans and why they

wanted us to find vulnerabilities

590

:

even before it got to production.

591

:

I got firsthand on what type of

attacks they're trying to prevent

592

:

and why that's important and so on.

593

:

I tried to go deep and understand

their pain points that helped me

594

:

put the right processes in place

so that, you know, it's not an

595

:

afterthought, but it's more proactive.

596

:

Our engineers are trained to

actually, like, look at some of

597

:

these things as they're building

software versus after the fact.

598

:

The same thing I spent, I used to spend

a lot of time with marketing, customer

599

:

success, risk, trying to understand

the different nuances of the business.

600

:

And I think that's, is a key

differentiation that I feel helped me

601

:

really succeed because I was able to

carry that trade across other companies,

602

:

because when you become an executive.

603

:

Uh, your entire skill is around

understanding the business and

604

:

understanding your customer base.

605

:

And if you can do that internally, you can

apply the same thing externally as well.

606

:

Eric Brooke: Thank you.

607

:

Invaluable lessons there.

608

:

So, um, what do you, what is your

interaction with the executive look like?

609

:

What, how does it feel to be in the exec?

610

:

What are the things that help

you to be a successful executive?

611

:

Sushma Nallapeta: You know, it's,

it's so interesting that a lot of

612

:

my team members sometimes ask me

what happens in those meetings?

613

:

Like, what do you guys talk about?

614

:

Um, I think, you know, half of that

time is actually spent on really

615

:

like, we are the first team, like,

there is a concept of the first team.

616

:

So who is your first team?

617

:

And how are you building

that relationship and trust?

618

:

I'm a big fan of the five dysfunctions.

619

:

So, we do spend a lot of time at least I,

I have, uh, in the last 3 companies that

620

:

have been part of the executive team on

like, just building that trust, building

621

:

that collaboration, understanding and

building that empathy with each other.

622

:

Uh, so that's a lot of that.

623

:

And then, uh, the 2nd aspect of it is.

624

:

Really figuring out and in any

given week, what are some of, um,

625

:

uh, the, uh, headwinds tailwinds

that are impacting the business.

626

:

Um, because we all need to look at our

outcomes that each of us are responsible

627

:

for and really try to connect the dots

across the whole business and say, Hey,

628

:

this is what's happening on this side.

629

:

And this is what's happening on this side.

630

:

And, and then once you kind of

start sharing and looking at.

631

:

The bigger picture holistically,

you start to find solutions.

632

:

Um, so, uh, you know, uh, my, a lot of

my interaction is relationship building,

633

:

really understanding, um, what some of

their pain points are and figuring out

634

:

how technology can solve those problems.

635

:

Eric Brooke: Um, so in terms of

like, beyond the exec to the board,

636

:

um, what would you say that you've

learned about your interactions with

637

:

the board for, um, an executive?

638

:

Sushma Nallapeta: Yeah, so I think for me,

I, again, I apply the same relationship

639

:

management to the board as well, but with

board, it's a, it's slightly different.

640

:

I think you have different

types of members of the board.

641

:

There are investors, and then

sometimes there are independent board

642

:

members when you're interacting with

investors, a lot of times, it's 1.

643

:

they want to understand financials.

644

:

They want to understand

the work that you're doing.

645

:

How does it impact either

top line or bottom line?

646

:

And sometimes I've also had interactions

with investors where they might have.

647

:

Actually, come across some company in

their portfolio, and the thing that

648

:

could help solve the problem that we

have, and they sometimes connect the dot.

649

:

They want me to have a discussion

with that a company and give

650

:

them an understanding of

whether it can help us or not.

651

:

So, that's part of half of the equation.

652

:

The other half, especially

with independent board members,

653

:

they have a lot of insight.

654

:

The reason we companies bring on

independent board members is for their

655

:

experience of running such a company in

the past or experience that can closely

656

:

relate to the industry that we are in.

657

:

And a lot of the interaction there

is just getting advice and figuring

658

:

out what worked for them and what

did not and really listening and

659

:

understanding and figuring out what

can you actually take and apply.

660

:

At your company, versus what

might be something like a lesson

661

:

that you have learned that you

can share with them as well.

662

:

Um, so a lot of my interaction

with the board is around giving and

663

:

receiving, uh, information and advice.

664

:

Eric Brooke: Awesome.

665

:

Um, so if we take a look, what are

you seeing, Sue, across the wider

666

:

tech market, um, today, January,

oh, sorry, February, um,:

667

:

Sushma Nallapeta: What, I think, one,

obviously, everybody's talking about AI,

668

:

um, so that is definitely, uh, intriguing

for me, um, because, you know, I started

669

:

my AI journey, like, 15, 20 years ago, and

at that time, it was super rudimentary.

670

:

You would get so excited by just.

671

:

You know, uh, analyzing, uh,

text a lots and lots of text

672

:

and making sense of that text.

673

:

And now, uh, chat GPT makes what we

were doing for months, uh, very easy and

674

:

get it in a fraction of milliseconds.

675

:

So I think that evolution is definitely

something that I'm keeping an eye on.

676

:

But most importantly, I think where it

can really help is to streamline your

677

:

internal Operational efficiency, I think,

in this climate, all companies are looking

678

:

to cut cost, focus on profitability, uh,

not growth at all costs, like, really

679

:

making sure that you have product market

fit, you continue to have that mode.

680

:

And if you lose it, try to find.

681

:

Uh, different competitive advantage and

then really streamline your operations

682

:

so that you can be profitable and I

can definitely I think a lot of times

683

:

people think of as like the school is

the application that interacts with

684

:

customers and can do a lot of good stuff.

685

:

Yes, it can do all of

that, but it can also help.

686

:

Operationalize a lot of your

internal inefficiencies.

687

:

So we've been experimenting with that.

688

:

How can we, uh, you know, uh, we

have a lot of, uh, manual mechanical

689

:

Turk in between automation.

690

:

So, how, how can we actually eliminate

some of that and build intelligence

691

:

so that our jobs can be curated?

692

:

Much faster, like how our internal

operations team has tools at

693

:

their disposal that they can use

and get inside so that they can

694

:

interact with customers better.

695

:

That's definitely something that

I'm seeing in the wider market.

696

:

Um, and that is revolutionary and

really will probably help the decision

697

:

making process, uh, go much smoother.

698

:

Eric Brooke: That's awesome.

699

:

Thank you for your perspective.

700

:

Um, is there a problem that you're

digging into or trying to understand at

701

:

the moment that you're willing to share?

702

:

Sushma Nallapeta: Yeah, I think,

um, as companies evolve, your data

703

:

ecosystem becomes extremely complicated.

704

:

And, and, you know, especially with

startups, as they have gone through

705

:

multiple stages of evolution, it becomes

so key anything that you build today

706

:

might not be relevant 2 years from now.

707

:

And so, especially in a journey of

several years, and, like, covered, uh,

708

:

bombs and things like that, what ends up

happening is 1 people have come and gone.

709

:

The context has been lost.

710

:

People have built your data model

and your data, your events, all

711

:

of that in a certain, with a

certain understanding of where the

712

:

business was at that point in time.

713

:

But the business has evolved since then.

714

:

So now it's like you end up not

really getting the right insights

715

:

for your business to be able

to make effective decisions.

716

:

So that, that has become a big problem.

717

:

And I've seen this pattern emerge

across other companies as well.

718

:

Thank you.

719

:

Go from having.

720

:

Really good data to like a face

where like used to can make sense

721

:

of anything in the business.

722

:

And then you invest a lot and

really cleaning up your data.

723

:

So we're going through an

exact same problem right now.

724

:

And we've been focusing on that.

725

:

How can we make sure that this data

governance, this data sanitization,

726

:

that we can look at the data and

insights and make something out

727

:

of it and make the right decisions

for our business and our customer.

728

:

And that's been super exciting

for me to just plain old dig into

729

:

the database and run some queries

and understand what's going on.

730

:

Eric Brooke: Yeah.

731

:

I love business analytics.

732

:

It's a fun space and the smarter you

can make it, the better for everyone.

733

:

Um, um, okay.

734

:

So when you think about your journey,

What has helped you grow or helps you

735

:

grow and what helps you scale yourself so

that you're able for all the challenges?

736

:

What are the things that

you use to grow and scale?

737

:

Sushma Nallapeta: I think one, um, I am

a big believer of network and community.

738

:

So I have spent a lot of time,

especially in the last nine to 10

739

:

years, really building a network

focusing on, uh, you know, creating

740

:

this group of advisors around you

so that you can go to them for help.

741

:

Um, so that has helped That is

something that I'm really begun.

742

:

I also mentor on several

platforms as well.

743

:

And that also helps me learn and

then continue to build that network.

744

:

Both ways.

745

:

I think people other CTOs

that I could rely on the CSOs.

746

:

But also, like, directors and

engineering managers and engineers,

747

:

um, that I could, uh, hire at a

potentially and any given point in time.

748

:

So that's something that

has really helped me.

749

:

And I do continue to invest a lot in that.

750

:

Um, and that's that's 1 and then

2, because of this network, uh,

751

:

you, if you invest in really

learning and understanding,

752

:

you actually can understand.

753

:

Where the industry is going, what are

some of the problems that people are

754

:

facing and then really draw parallels

to your business and get this, uh,

755

:

understand and learn the same lessons.

756

:

Um, because a lot of times we make

the same mistakes over and over and so

757

:

it's better to avoid those mistakes.

758

:

I've seen this as an example when I was,

uh, at Blackhawk, um, you know, FinTech

759

:

company, we would have to connect with a

lot of different banks and legacy systems.

760

:

And every legacy system works differently.

761

:

Some are file based and even

file formats are different.

762

:

Some are XML and nobody

had heard of JSON then.

763

:

Um, and you know, people

have like CSVs and stuff.

764

:

And then there are companies that

have APIs, but they might not be rest.

765

:

And, you know, they're all these,

uh, old school, uh, type APIs.

766

:

So when you're actually building

a system, You have to cater to

767

:

because we are an enterprise company

to cater to every nuance of all

768

:

of these different businesses.

769

:

And we went through that journey

of building customization for

770

:

everybody and then realizing, like,

this is impossible to keep up.

771

:

So, how about then standardizing

and getting to a point where

772

:

we can build a common layer,

but still have customizations.

773

:

And eventually we start to get big

where then we start to have our own

774

:

APIs that people can integrate with

versus us integrating with everybody.

775

:

And then I had to repeat the same

thing in my previous company, and

776

:

then we have and we're going through

the exact same thing again now.

777

:

And but when you're part of this

community, and you start to share

778

:

some of the same pain points that

you go through, that you immediately

779

:

can avoid some of these pitfalls and

problems and just learn from somebody

780

:

else's mistakes and experience.

781

:

Eric Brooke: Yeah.

782

:

Most excellent advice.

783

:

You reminded me of soap

there for a second.

784

:

I was thinking, I don't want to

have to go back to that, but yes.

785

:

Um, great points.

786

:

Thank you.

787

:

Uh, I guess my final question

is what do you do for fun, Sue?

788

:

Sushma Nallapeta: I play tennis.

789

:

I have a nine year old, so a lot

of my time is not my time at all.

790

:

Revolving around her.

791

:

Um, and you know, sometimes we

just go out, um, and go to a movie.

792

:

We have a big movie.

793

:

And during between, uh, every year

between Thanksgiving and Christmas break.

794

:

Uh, we have to rewatch

the Harry Potter series.

795

:

Like we read all the books and

then we rewatch the entire series.

796

:

And that's something

that we just enjoy doing.

797

:

And we forget all about it for

the one, for the rest of the year.

798

:

Eric Brooke: So thank you very

much for sharing your experiences,

799

:

your wisdom, and your insights.

800

:

It's greatly appreciated.

801

:

Sushma Nallapeta: Thank you so much, Eric.

802

:

It was great to have a

conversation with you.

803

:

Eric Brooke: You too.

804

:

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805

:

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806

:

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:

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:

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809

:

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810

:

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811

:

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812

:

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:

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:

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815

:

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:

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