“Could you please ask your team to stop bothering me? I have nothing to help you with…”…This was the email Rama Velpuri sent out to one of his Vice Presidents at Oracle when asked for some help. This comment backfired on him later when Velpuri wanted to change roles within Oracle and move on to a different division—he faced obstacles galore. The Vice President spread the message to all other divisional heads that Velpuri was a difficult guy. “I missed a few opportunities,” he reminisces. “I learnt a great lesson in life then—never antagonize people.”
Velpuri’s bad attitude didn’t die easily. He sat in his 11th floor corner office overlooking the bay area with his feet crossed on the table and dared to smoke in a no-smoking building. “I can solve problems. I know my stuff. People think I am God. My SVP thinks I am a genius. Don’t mess with my attitude,” he often said to people around him and to himself.
A graduate from the Louisiana State University, Velpuri got his first taste of competition when he stepped into Oracle in 1989. “I looked to the right—there was a guy from MIT working there. And on the left was another guy from UCLA, or Berkeley. Here I was, Mr. Nobody from the South of US, from a small school. I realized in seconds that the competition would be stiff. I told myself, ‘I can do pretty much what these guys are doing because all I need is the ability to focus and understand.’ ”
From then on, for the next six months, he did all he could to make heads turn around him. Within eight months, his salary rose by 26 percent—while the norm was five to six percent. He was promoted to senior engineer. Velpuri was all excited. There was no turning back. “I made a decision then that I am going to be in the technology area making databases my foundation. One can start off with any technology. It really doesn’t matter.”
Born in a family of doctorate holders, Velpuri had the instincts for basic research. With the urge to master databases, Velpuri made it a point to devote his free time to experimentation. Every day after work, he spent several hours exploring different ways in which a particular customer problem could be resolved. His focus was on disaster recovery of Oracle databases. He used to ponder how to bring the databases up and running in a short span of time when they crash because of environmental, design, or operational failures.
Quite interestingly, Velpuri used to pick problems that he had resolved for a particular customer earlier in the day. So if it had taken two hours to bring up the database that morning, he would work in the evenings till he figured out how he could have possibly brought it up in 30 minutes. He found ways to achieve minimal or zero data loss. The next day he would promptly call the customer and say, “Guess what, I have an innovative way to solve the same problem and this is much faster than how I did it yesterday.” The customer’s delight could give Velpuri a great high. But more often than not, what gave him a greater buzz was the solution he had figured out.
One discipline that Velpuri followed was to make notes of his research work every day. In order to disseminate all the information he had gathered through research, Velpuri wrote a book on Disaster Recovery of Oracle Databases. “That book did amazingly well. It was called the Internals of Oracle, and was shipped with every license that was sold at Oracle. So within the first month of my writing the book, nearly 20,000 copies were sold. In the technology book world, that is comparable to sales of bestsellers,” recalls Velpuri.
Velpuri’s proactive nature coupled with the enduring spirit to pursue his dream set him off on a great career trajectory. He believes everyone should dream big in life like he does. And then work tirelessly to realize the dream. “The younger generation should realize that they have absolutely nothing to lose, but everything to gain. One cannot wait for Microsoft, Oracle or Cisco to call them. That’s the hard reality. They have to go work hard to make it happen,” says Velpuri. “Most people understand this but they do not want to go all out to achieve it.”
Velpuri was never a part of the true traditional organizational growth within Oracle. His desire to create tangible benefits to the organization made him instrumental in starting new groups at Oracle Corporation (Gold Support, Mission Critical Support Team and The Escalation Center) and thereby generating over $25 million in support sales. As an Executive Director at Oracle Corporation, he moved to Bangalore in 1996 to start the India Product Engineering Center. The two-year operation at Bangalore was extremely successful. Later on with a new assignment in hand, he started the Oracle Application Development Center in Hitech City in Hyderabad.
“The right way to analyze the growth of a person is not by measuring the number of years of experience or the number of people he manages or even his title. If I had gone the title route, it would have been as boring as I envisioned,” says Velpuri. According to him, the right metric is how much one has learnt, how much practical experience one has gained, and how many different job functions he has handled. The bottom line to him is: Do you understand the business better?
For Velpuri, beauty lies in the journey towards achieving the goal—not necessarily in reaching it! “If you miss one of your goals it doesn’t matter. Along the way, it is the learning that makes you a better person,” says Velpuri, who has been religiously setting five-year goals since the start of his career.
Velpuri believes that celebration of milestones is a must as the techie moves along the career path. “Celebrations energize you to make the next step. They also give you an opportunity to think and revise your goals. More importantly, this ensures that you are raising the bar of performance each time.” It is this trick that has made him constantly push along the career trajectory.
After an 11-year stint at Oracle, he tried his hands at entrepreneurship by founding Oramasters, where he developed products for proactive maintenance of Oracle databases.
Today as CTO of Kenexa Technologies, Velpuri oversees the development of Kenexa’s flagship products. He doesn’t feel he is at the TOP yet. He doesn’t even know what the definition of top is. “I think it gets blurred as I start going towards it,” he says. Now after twenty years in the industry, he still feels there is so much work that needs to be done, especially from an innovation standpoint. “But I do know, being at the top would mean you are much bolder and also more philosophical. I think, when you are at peace with yourself, you are at the TOP. That is when you can focus and execute in the best possible manner,” he says. Incidentally that is also when Velpuri puts down his feet from the table to the ground and raises his head to look beyond the sky, to the stars.