It was a mildly hot Saturday afternoon of late March 2016, when my phone buzzed. It was a LinkedIn notification that Mayank Kumar, Co-Founder and CEO of UpGrad had viewed my profile. Half an hour later the phone buzzed again – Shehzia, the Program Director of the Data Analytics program, UpGrad had viewed my profile. She also left a message that they were looking for someone with a Statistics background for the Program Associate position, for the Data Analytics program. If interested, I was to call her back. After contemplating on the ideal time duration that I should wait before calling her back, I called her after about 40 minutes. The call lasted for about an hour. Next afternoon, I had an even longer call with the Program Manager for the Data Analytics program. On Monday, I received a call from UpGrad HR with a job offer.
About a month before this story unfolded, the results of the UPSC Civil Services had been released. It was my third attempt and just as the previous two, I had not made it to the coveted service, yet again. After a serious introspection as to where my career was going, I decided it was time to pull the plug on my IAS dream and get back to where my actual skills and knowledge lay – Statistics and Data Analytics.
However, the road was never going to be smooth. I had lost touch with the subject over the 3 years of prepping for the IAS and the startup boom had completely transformed the career landscape in the Data Analytics field. New tools had emerged and gained traction in the market. So I needed some time to get my ‘mojo’ back and revisit all the old concepts as well as learn new tricks of the trade.
So, when I got this offer from UpGrad, I gladly accepted it. It was tailor made for my situation. I would be revisiting and learning Data Analytics on the job while getting paid for it! I couldn’t ask for a better bargain. So after relocating to Mumbai from Patna on a short notice, I joined UpGrad by early April 2016.
In the beginning, it was an overwhelming experience. And I am not even talking about the humidity level of early April in Mumbai! On just the third day of my joining, I was in a review session with the three co-founders and the media mogul Ronnie Screwvala. In this session, the team was to look at the initial few sessions of the Data Analytics program and provide feedback. In that meeting itself that I realised that this startup was not just another startup and the primary reason was the attention to detail that the top management had for the last mile student experience. Being in the field of online education, where there’s no dearth of free courses on all subjects under the sun, the excellent learner experience was what was going to separate UpGrad from the rest.
Another key quality that I noticed in the top management was that they were willing to get their hands dirty with actual content creation work. I have had the opportunity to work with the co-founders on topics ranging from Hypothesis Testing to K Means and Hierarchical Clustering. The CEOs and CTOs of the company did not shy away from doing the grunt work like getting deep into the concepts, writing scripts, creating assessment questions, conceptualising animation and graphics and even answering student queries.
However, it was a tough few initial months at UpGrad. The Data Analytics program was scheduled to launch towards the end of May, but the content of the initial parts was yet to be ready. So it was a tight race against time and it took a substantial number of all-nighters and working weekends to launch the program on time. But, what made these nights and weekends memorable was the collaborative effort put in by different teams at UpGrad. We had the production team working with us on the video components, the Tech team fast-tracked their effort on the Learning Management System. Even the finance team was generous with the reimbursements for our late night pizza parties. Finally, through this combined effort, we managed to launch the program on time.
Joining a product team at such an early stage has its own advantages. First, you get the satisfaction of having built something successful right from scratch. Second, you get a 360 – degree view of all the aspects of the products – ranging from sales and marketing to finalising student selection criteria, onboarding industry experts and subject matter experts (SMEs) for the program to assisting in B2B collaborations.
Just as in any other product, what matters at the end is the feedback from our learners. While we received a fair share of brickbats initially from our learners about exceeding the promised learner time required per week, there is nothing more gratifying than the content that you created getting high student rating or the learners appreciating your content on their Whatsapp group (yes, we have sources in that group!).
However, as a team, what we put the premium on is whether the learner is actually gaining from the program and if this is bringing a tangible impact on his career prospects. Thus, instead of high student feedback rating, it’s the news of career transitions of our learners that really gets us partying.
The other aspect that we give importance is the perfection in execution. The sheer volume of the content that we churn out on a weekly basis is enormous and we strive to achieve a zero-error count in our content. In fact, there are internal Slack channels where the whole of UpGrad gets notified whenever a learner raises a content-related concern. Well, this ensures two objectives are met – the student’s query gets resolved on a priority basis and if the issue raised is genuine, the content creator becomes extra cautious from the next time onwards. From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s always better to ensure zero-error in your content than to be embarrassed on public Slack channels!
We have now launched the 5th batch for the newly termed ‘Data Science program’ and this has become the largest online program in India. So, what did I gain from this program? Well, as I mentioned before, I wanted a role where I could learn on the job and at UpGrad, I never stopped learning. I always get to learn about new topics, new tools, work on new programs, work and network with top industry SMEs, and get paid for all of it!
Want to be part of a similar journey, one that is exciting and challenging at the same time?
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