In Pursuit of Techno Nirvana

Date:   Saturday , May 31, 2008

It may seem true that he is programmed to be a programmer. At the age of ten his father brought home a small Zilog computer. Bharat Vijay then plugged the computer into the TV and started working with it. Nobody taught him ‘how’, but he intuitively figured out a lot about computing and indulged in programming without knowing the actual working of a computer. As a teenager, the 13 year old wrote software for a pinball game using BASIC. The game became so popular, that the much older engineering students at BITS Pilani, Rajasthan played it with gusto. Technology was a magnet for him, that later dictated the course of his career in it.

Wedded to Code

Now Bharat operates from Bangalore, at the Palo Alto, California headquartered, which is a provider of online shopping services, as the Chief Technology Officer since August 2006. According to him this is the closest he has come to his longing to work in a “Made in India Start-up”, having the focus to address a global market. A product built here, steered by Bharat, is the iRead, which is the leading books community application on the social networking site, Facebook. It addresses the “me too” instinct of people, wherein different people would like to get in touch with each other and share news on what books they have read or what movies they have watched. If you need five books, Ugenie’s proprietary product scours the Net for the best prices for the combination of your choice from different sources or retailers online. The listing of the minimum prices is presented which includes shipping and tax costs. At present one million users worldwide use the application. The Indian developers who made this happen, under the aegis of Bharat, were voted among the top 10 developers on Facebook in 2007. Appreciation is pouring in for the Ugenie team, its founders and Bharat. To reach where he is today, he had to go through his share of struggles and cross many milestones in the last 20 years of his career.


When Bharat was doing his Masters’ in Computer Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he took up two jobs to take care of his educational expenses. The struggle was made acute by a niggling health issue at that time. However, Bharat has always celebrated his struggles. His success mantra? “I don't consider myself very smart, I am just relentless. I chase struggles and never take my eyes off the current objective,” answers Bharat.

Though the highs in his life seem to be in full flow now, there were despondent moments too. At his first job at Oracle, Bharat fell victim to overconfidence. After testing a product for 36 hours he felt super confident that the product would work that he didn’t bother doing a final test and ultimately shipped the product. Unfortunately there happened to be a defect in the master copy. The company lost a considerable amount of money. Then something incredulous happened. His manager took the blame for the entire episode on himself though privately he chastised Bharat. That was a revelation for him, as he learnt that the team lead ought to bear the heat if anything misfired even though it’s the subordinate’s folly and if there is a happy outcome of the team effort, then the good tidings ought to be credited to the team. “My path to the top was dotted with innumerable struggles. For instance, after the goof up at Oracle my manager gave me as the next assignment a project not done by anyone else before.” Bharat was told that this project was crucial and its result would determine his future at Oracle. He was given a two-week ultimatum. Nearly at the end of the two-week period, on the last day to be precise, he was given a manual of 500 pages and he had to read it cover-to-cover to complete the project.

Another rough patch he faced early in his career which turned out later to be a blessing in disguise, was in a U.S. based startup, InterMax Systems, where he worked after the Oracle stint. Over a few days almost the entire team of 25 odd members left during a bad patch that the company had run into. Bharat stayed back, took stock of the situation, and promised the management to build a new team. He took great effort to build the company over a period of three years where he was the Lead Architect. He succeeded because he was passionately into programming.

After the success, came the question of the next challenge for Bharat. This time his wife showed him the way. After the stint in a managerial position at InterMax he actually moved on to Yahoo! Sunnyvale, California at the advice and conviction of his wife. He went back to being a developer from a manager and therefore had to start all over again. Those who were close to him wondered whether he was keen on messing up his career by going back and forth between being a developer, a manager and once again a developer but Bharat never wavered from the decision made on his gut feeling. Since Bharat joined Yahoo! in its initial days, prior to the India stint with it later, he was always in the startup mode of functioning and did not feel the need to found a startup. He along with others built up teams, processes and products from scratch, which included the basic infrastructure on which Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! Finance now run. Later, he along with others built the Yellow Pages product, which is the company’s directory search, and also a travel product. Days flew by fast and now Bharat longed to be a part of India’s growth story in the new century. He took the lead to start the data mining initiative for Yahoo! which created a new revenue stream for the company.

The India Leg

Taking initiative was never a problem for Bharat and it was he who had voiced the idea of building the Yahoo! India center. The management in the U.S. gave a go-ahead, but on the condition that he would do everything. “Sometimes if you want something badly you just have to ask for it and many a time it is a surprise how quickly you get what you want. Maybe the first ten times you ask for something you may be refused. However you will get it if you persevere with your request, and if you are prepared for the opportunity you are demanding,” voices Bharat with conviction.

He returned to India and started the Yahoo! India center, and that turned out to be the toughest assignment for him ever. In the dot com bust era, with people questioning the need for remote centers and without much local infrastructure at that time, he and his early hires had to do all the running around – from real estate negotiations to meeting some very stringent deadlines. The Bangalore debut of the company took off on a shoestring budget with tight timelines. This meant 18 – 19 hours of work daily. The hallmark of this team was that they never took themselves too seriously and played some legendary pranks on themselves and even on visiting dignitaries. Bharat still enjoys the reputation of being Yahoo!'s most notorious prankster.

The team added significant value to Yahoo! On one occasion, at 8 p.m. Pacific Time in the U.S., just when the India group was setting up, the CTO needed some critical information for a mega deal for a 10 a.m. meeting the next day. With one dial up line, shared among 5 people, they worked all night and created some complex software to get the information in time. Over the next few years, the team launched several products ranging from data mining, powering Yahoo!'s ad server and search to e-commerce and grew from a handful of people to well over a hundred. All this took considerable planning, several trips to Silicon Valley and many late nights in conference calls and coordination.

The deeply-engrossed-in-work team was always appreciated for their work. Hence, it did not surprise anybody when the company proffered Bharat the Superstar award during his stint here, along with 15 Yahoo! employees selected worldwide for this honour. Many challenging milestones were achieved on the way and soon Bharat entered a plateau called the ‘comfort zone’ and it was time for him to move on.

Bharat’s pursuit for the next challenge led him to Amazon in 2004 where he was the Vice President and Managing Director, A9 India. A9 is the Amazon search engine, which gives, focused results on the product type you want which is listed on its site. Bharat played a significant role in the development of the A9. Amazon being a huge retail chain on the Internet, he wanted to experience working there, as it would give a new dimension to his career. Bharat always wanted to be part of purely ‘Made-in-India’ startups. This led him from Yahoo! to Amazon India. Though the entity had an U.S. origin, it had incidentally launched three completely ‘Made-in-India’ businesses where everything was done in a complete cycle from the bandying of business ideas to the actual execution. Bharat knew where he wanted to go and was living his India dream, due to the astute career choices made by him in the past.

Now happily at Ugenie, he attributes his career success to the collective effort of his team and his focus to chase the one constant factor in his career: writing code to change the world’s mode. For Bharat, it is not in the pursuit of happiness through technology that he finds his fulfillment, but it is the happiness in the pursuit of technology that goads him on.