Startups 2.0 – Where to work: Sahaj Software

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Imagine an organisation where you, as a developer, get complex pieces of work on the table, where there is a culture of such transparency that salaries are openly discussed, and what to do with the profits is decided as a team, and you are highly valued by your peers and the clients you deal with.

The kind of environment you have dreamed of working in and the kind of problems you’d be hungry to get your head into.

A company of software artisans

Sahaj Software was founded in 2014 by technologists who had clear ideas about what makes a free, creative, inspired workplace, and started up to create exactly that – a tech consulting start-up that takes an artisanal approach to software development and organisation building

Sahaj challenged industry norms in every aspect of building their business. They questioned why service providers should handle the same client’s work for years. Why people shouldn’t get to work on fresh challenges instead of the same old boring rote. Why companies should make compromises in the quality of work or the growth of their people. Why companies should have hierarchies, why salaries should be a secret and why people should be “managed”.

So they changed all of it at Sahaj. And they have built a unique, well-respected and profitable company in the tech consulting world.

Today, Sahaj has over 100 people across 5 offices in Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, London and the Bay Area. Their plan is to grow while also keeping their dual focus on quality 

What makes Sahaj unique exactly?

So many things. And, if you feel it is not enough, and there is something else you would like to change, you can simply join Sahaj and make your case. Chances are, if it improves life in any way, it will be done.

  1.       Let us start with how Sahaj selects projects.

First they evaluate the project for its feasibility – whether the solution envisaged by the client actually solves the problem. Then they see whether the kind of artisanal expertise and value Sahaj brings to the table are indeed required for the project.

Why? Because it is not just about getting new business, but about the people working on the project getting the opportunity to do their best work, with every project.

  1.       Next, the kind of work Sahaj takes on.

For example, a platform to bring contextual learning to children in kindergarten +5 years of age. Sahaj played a huge role in building a system that imparts basic literacy, numeracy and cognitive skills to 200 million children. It was a project with multiple parts like delivering content while the device is offline, building the data pipeline, designing the service component to act independently of the UI, accelerating time-to-updates and making overall engineering and DevOps enhancements.

Kiran Gururaj joined Sahaj in 2014 and is one of the developers who had worked on this project.

The scale and impact of the project was a humbling as well as a gratifying experience for me. There is huge pride when your day-to-day work can have a lasting impact on a future generation. The icing on the cake was the kind of people I got to work with and the technology stack we used.” 

  1.       Dispensability (and not indispensability) as a measure of success.

Sahaj works with the client in such a way that they get to be dispensable. You heard it right. In fact, Sahaj believes in its policy of ‘doing a good job and moving out’ from its very core. They work with the client’s tech team, and develops the solution together with them. So the client is fully clued-in to the ins and outs of the software, and by the time the project is delivered, the tech team is more than capable of owning its future evolution. Unlike the norm in the services industry, where being indispensable is the goal and repeat business is seen as a badge of pride.

Rohit Bansal, cofounder of Sahaj:

“Instead of building a complicated system that nobody but the people who built it, can sustain, we work with the client’s team to develop a simple solution. In the process, we get to build the most organic solution, and the client’s team learns too. When the project is over, we move on to fresh challenges, where our team gets to think afresh and stay curious rather than add on to a solution which is already in good shape. 

We believe in this approach. If we are at a client’s office for more than six months, we bother. We discuss and figure out whether there is a delay or lack of clarity or is it that the client is becoming dependent on us. We believe in this so much that on one occasion, a client said it looks like we are in a hurry to hand over and run away! The goal is to add value and produce quality work; not to be indispensable.”

  1.       The Sahaj culture.

The questioning approach of Sahaj resulted in a culture that stands out.

  • Every developer at all levels of experience is a Solution Consultant, and they interact directly with the client.
  • There is a culture of brutal transparency. Salaries are openly discussed. Client contracts, company profits and all other information is available for anyone to access and question. Open feedback system is in place. Equal opportunities to grow and choose what to work on.
  • People are co-owners of the company; it is not an employer-employee construct, and the word ‘employee’ is actively discouraged at Sahaj.
  • Everyone manages their own work, days of leave etc. There are unlimited leaves. It is not monitored but trusted. With great power, people seem to happily take great responsibility.

Why work at Sahaj?

Clearly, Sahaj isn’t like any other software service provider. Sahaj is a company of software artisans working together with a deep commitment to their values and ideas. Business success has been an organic outcome of that commitment. That is a rare feat.

So what is a software artisan? To state the obvious, it is someone who loves to code and thinks of coding as a craft. In addition, it is also people who question endlessly, till there is ultimate clarity, people who empathise with the audience for whom they are solving a problem, developers who think, “what needs to be done to solve this problem” and not “how can I use my skills to build a solution”.

Rohit: “While the tech industry has been disruptive in problem solving, there has not been anything disruptive in the way companies approach and nurture talent. We have created a culture where people thrive, and their goal is to do what they love. They are self-driven, they take control of their learning and experiences, and chart their journey in the direction they envision. Not just do what the company asks them to do – nobody wants to do that.”

Sahaj has been profitable from the very first year of inception. And bootstrapped the business to where it is today.

“People here really feel like they can influence what the company does. In fact, the shift to AI and Analytics was driven by people who wanted to work in those domains. After we made that decision, we looked into our networks to find projects in those areas. Tomorrow, if we collectively decide to drop everything and work on mitigating climate change, we would do it because that is who we are.”

Phani Kashyap joined Sahaj after spending over 18 years in recruiting across corporates and bigger startups. He is one of the Organisation Builders here. Sahaj does not have HR or Recruitment departments, but a small team that they call Organisation Builders, some of whom were active techies who chose to take on this role for the company.

“Sahaj is different. There is not just ‘no hierarchy’, but there is no employer-employee concept. The fact that it is a place where people love what they do, adds something special to the culture. I love being hands-on too. I do the whole thing from finding people to coordinating, scheduling, offer-scoping. We look for the same mindset in our solution consultants – to do the whole thing. There isn’t someone else doing a part of the work”

Dantin Kakkar is a developer who joined Sahaj as a fresher in 2018. What attracted him to Sahaj? He had apprehensions about taking the decision to join the startup world instead of going for a corporate job. Sahaj made a presentation at his college. The small focused team, the culture, the unique approach all appealed to him and he jumped right in. To start with, it was a 3 month internship, so he had thought of it as a safety net, and that in case things didn’t work out, he’d be out in 3 months. But in 2 weeks after joining, he decided that he was staying at Sahaj.

“I had worked at a big company before and did not like the work at all. Everyone was always complaining and wanted to leave. The atmosphere here is unlike any of that. Technically I learnt a lot. The flexibility to decide your work hours and the focus on not just getting the job done, but thinking about how it is done, and questioning why it is done a certain way are very important here. This way of working has evolved an automatic learning process at Sahaj, and not just on the technical side of things. Every company says all this in words, but here I am actually experiencing it at work.”

“In college, I literally did not know much about actual development. The average experience here is 10-12 years. So, if I am working on practically anything, I will find someone with incredible depth in it – someone who knows the ‘why and how’ of things. But they would not spoon feed me. They will guide me to think and find answers on my own. Beyond tech, I learned to communicate much more effectively. I am someone who asks questions until the answer is undoubtedly clear in my head. The way Sahaj works suits my own thought process.”

Priyank joined Sahaj in its starting days after spending 12 years at ThoughtWorks, Tavant and Infosys. Besides being a developer, he is responsible for taking care of the Bangalore office.

“We all take a great deal of pride in the organisation we are a part of, how we work and our own craft. That is why we think of ourselves as artisans. When we meet other technologists, we find there are so many people with whom it finds resonance.”

The consulting mindset is another aspect that makes the experience at Sahaj invaluable. It is something one can develop, if one is inherently curious and empathetic.

“Artisans are people who always think about how to make something a masterpiece. They don’t think let me create something using the tools and skills I have. It takes a lot of consulting skills to go to a client and deal with a project – asking the right questions, understanding, nurturing the direction – in addition to knowing the technology. We are able to do this because we are people who have the passion to see the problem, make it our own and have the ability to nudge the client towards co-creating the solution.”

 Who would love to work here?

  • Passionate, self-motivated developers with a focus on solving problems using technology
  • You think beyond your own skills – “what do I need to do to solve this problem” vs. “how can I use my skills to get the job done”
  • You want to actively participate in the end-to-end cycle of solution development
  • You think beyond tech – you have empathy for the user, curiosity for the product and the business
  • You consider problem-solving through code as a craft
  • You love challenges and a free environment to solve them in
  • You’d love to work with people who share your passion for problem solving

If this is who you are, and you want to work with others like you, check out the openings here. We also have our hiring event ‘Code With Geektrust’ going on exclusively for Sahaj till Feb 10, 2020. All you need to do is decide whether you are a software artisan, and take the leap.

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