C-suite career advice: Dinesh Varadharajan, Kissflow

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? “To never stop learning. It’s easy to settle into a rut, but having the constant curiosity to keep learning can both help succeed.”

Headshot of Dinesh Varadharajan, Chief Product Officer at Kissflow

Name: Dinesh Varadharajan

Company: Kissflow

Job Title: Chief Product Officer

Location: Chennai, India

Dinesh Varadharajan is the Chief Product Officer (CPO) at Kissflow. With profound knowledge of the design and technical implementation of BPM solutions, Dinesh oversees the company's product operations. He was part of Kissflow’s early team and has been with the company for nearly two decades. Varadharajan is a hands-on executive with a wide range of experience working with cutting-edge technologies, developing innovative products, and mentoring highly productive teams. He holds an MCA in Computer Applications from Bharathiar University.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? To never stop learning. This seems like a cliché statement but it’s something that is so often forgotten. It’s easy to settle into a rut, but having the constant curiosity to keep learning can both help you succeed and advance in your current role, and also keeps your horizons open as you advance in your career, potentially jumping to a whole new industry along the way.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The worst business advice I received was to never get involved in a startup. The sentiment that underpins this advice is understandable. Startup life is challenging and requires a lot of grit and tenacity and patience. A lot of startups fail, but that should not keep you from taking the risk of joining a startup that aligns with your skills and larger vision. I am glad I did so and have been fortunate that it’s worked out well for me.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Depending on your field and area of specialisation, the first few years of IT can be largely an extension of what you learned in college. My advice would be exactly the best advice I received: keep learning. If you are a developer, keep up with the latest in-demand programming languages. Networking is also important. This can include attending industry events and growing your connections on LinkedIn, as well as niche industry groups on Reddit and other social channels.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? Since my childhood, I was very much interested in science and technology – specifically Astro-Physics. I enrolled in Physics for my undergrad. During my second year of college, my professors nudged me to learn about computers as they had the potential to offer a lot more growth opportunities based on practical applications. When I got introduced to computers, it changed my whole career vision and path. The ability to create something fascinated me and I quickly got hooked on it.

What was your first job in IT/tech? I joined Selectica fresh out of college. The Selectica leadership team replicated Silicon Valley’s innovation-led culture in their India office. and I am very fortunate to have been a part of that. It provided me with extraordinary learning in the first few years of my career. This first job really set the foundation for where I am now.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? A common misconception about working in tech is that we are all coders. While it’s true that for many tech roles, we have to learn a lot of programming languages, the truth is being in tech is all about problem-solving. Coding is just a means to solve those problems. Just like violinists who create music using violin, techies use code as a tool to solve people and business challenges. Additionally, there are many other career options in IT and tech that don’t directly involve coding, including designers, UI/UX specialists, business analysts, systems administrators, and more.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Look beyond self-defined boundaries or societal norms. We often associate successful C-level positions with Fortune 500 companies. However, there are many opportunities for C-level positions at emerging growth-stage tech companies including chief product officer, CISO, CMO, etc. No matter the size of the organisation, if you’re starting out in your career, have patience as you advance and gain experience. Unless you launch a company and name yourself CEO or COO, you will not walk right into a C-level position as your first role. Keep working hard, and again, keep your network/connections up to date.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I am more interested in the journey than the end result. I don't think about the end result, as there will be nothing left to achieve once you get there. My biggest ambition is to continue to learn and grow and do what I can to be part of a team/company that empowers its customers to achieve success. If I can do that, I will be satisfied.

Do you have a good work-life balance in your current role? I don’t believe in the concept of work-life balance per se, as I love both. Both work and life are intertwined and I like to have it that way.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Nothing. Every choice leads to a different outcome. We make hundreds of choices every day.  So, it is impossible to pick a choice that would have changed my career for the better.

Which would you recommend: A coding Bootcamp or a computer science degree? Both are important. A computer science degree sets the right base and boot camps and hackathons help us continuously hone our skills.

How important are specific certifications? I don’t believe in the concept of certifications as a be-all and end-all. That is not to say they have zero value, but true learning happens every day.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates?  Strong problem-solving skills. Curiosity, able to quickly learn and adapt. Strong opinions and conviction.

What would put you off a candidate? The idea is that individuals are more important than the team. Arrogance. No inclination to learn.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Not prepared well, including coming in with no research or knowledge about the company they are applying to work for.

Not asking/having clarity about the role they are applying for. Roles and responsibilities may be more fluid for entry-level candidates and positions, but it’s important for all candidates (especially for higher-level positions) to ensure that they ask about and leave with clarity about the role.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? Candidates need to have a mix of both. Tech is a means to solve a business problem. Without knowing about business challenges, it is like shooting in the dark. Having both technology and business knowledge is a winning combination that can arm individuals to approach challenges and opportunities from multiple perspectives and find solutions that are both effective and aligned with broader business goals.