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April - 2008 - issue > How I Got Where I am Today
ChipShape-Passion
Priya Pradeep
Monday, March 31, 2008
Being an independent thinker, Venkat Rajaraman, currently CTO, Su-Kam Power Systems, a power backup provider, is refreshingly devoid of herd mentality. He returned to India in 2003 from the U.S. before the returnee trend became de rigueur for experienced Indian professionals from the U.S. This decision received a lot of flak from his friends and well-wishers as he had gone against the grain then.

“I passionately follow my heart,” reveals Rajaraman on his career moves, which makes his approach to building his career non-clinical in nature. The second round of flak was welcomed by him wholeheartedly when, after 18 years in the IT industry, he switched tracks to a career in the power sector a month back with Su-Kam. The alternative energy industry has been getting a lot of attention lately in India, given the dire need of the nation to grow despite the infrastructure hurdles. Rajaraman seems to make his moves well in advance of the prevailing career climate and thus has the early mover advantage before the rest follow suit. Perhaps his passion for chess helps him make the right strategic decisions with ease. “The power industry was earlier dominated by electrical engineers; however now there is significant embedded systems within electrical equipments and I just seized the opportunity to be part of a potential growth story with a promising future, given my ASIC background,” elaborates Rajaraman.

Prior to Su-Kam he had a flourishing career with PortalPlayer in India where he was the VP of Engineering and handled the Apple account amongst others. “Our team was associated with the creation of the controller chip for Apple i-Pod and it feels wonderful to have been associated with such a successful consumer electronic product. While working on the Apple account, PortalPlayer’s finances were in the doldrums and it was a do-or-die situation for the company. Hence against many odds we made this chip’s tape out successful, making the project my biggest achievement to date,” underlines Rajaraman. PortalPlayer went public on Nasdaq in 2004 and was later acquired by Nvidia in January 2007. Rajaraman ran the engineering division for Nvidia from Hyderabad.

Rajaraman and Kunwer Sachdev, CEO, Su-Kam were good friends at this point of time. After exiting Nvidia, Rajaraman toyed with the idea of setting up a startup within the biometrics domain. And when it was taking shape Sachdev came into the picture as an angel investor. Unfortunately, the startup did not scale up as envisioned and Sachdev made an offer to Rajaraman to be the CTO of Su-Kam, which he grasped eagerly. “I have undergone a radical shift in my career recently. However, I am not free of apprehensions about whether my big move would backfire and thus am keeping my fingers crossed at this juncture where my present assignment is viewed as a challenge to conquer,” he says candidly.

His career is built on four pedestals — following the heart to engage in work passionately, persistence, consistency, and building on core strengths. “You should know what you are good at and more importantly what you are not good at.” Rajaraman is an example of a person who knew what his core strength is… you might have guessed it… it is the chip. Right from the initiation of his professional career at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre to Sun Microsystems to Nvidia to Su-Kam the obsession with the silicon chip is apparent. Hence in his own words, the element of his career journey - the chip - resulted in him being a marathon runner than just a 100-meter sprinter.

Rajaraman’s professional marathon began when he completed his studies in 1988. He is adamant that for career success you have to follow your heart, more precisely your passion. “Do not over analyze career moves,” is his advice to young techies. This led him to resume his studies in business management from XLRI Jamshedpur after one and a half decades of professional work in senior positions. Rajaraman has definetly done whatever it takes to live his passion, defying conventions.

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