Name: Ajay Sabhlok
Ajay Sabhlok has just recently joined Rubrik as VP of IT Enterprise Business Applications.
Prior to joining Rubrik, Ajay was Senior Director of IT Applications for Global Services, Marketing, and Enterprise Data at VMware. Through his role as an IT Applications leader, Ajay is responsible for partnering with business stakeholders to identify and deliver initiatives for enabling approved future state capabilities, processes, technology, and innovation architectures, and providing application support and maintenance.
Previously Ajay worked in IT management roles at Logitech and Mercury Interactive, as a Senior Principal Consultant for Siebel Systems, and as a Lead Engineer for Oracle. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, India, and a post-graduate diploma in software technology from the Center for Development of Advanced Computing, Mumbai, India.
Ajay lives in San Ramon, California with his wife Meenu, and two daughters Shefali and Sarisha. Meenu is also an IT professional. Shefali is starting college as an undergraduate pursuing Neuroscience. Sarisha started high school and has interests in modeling, dancing, theater, and singing.
This interview was held during Ajay’s last week at VMware. He had accepted his new job at Rubrik.
The first six questions below are the same that I ask all interviewees. The seventh question is specific to Ajay. This and all of my interviews will be made into a podcast that I plan to release by the end of 2018. I hope you enjoy!
What’s the most important factor you consider when hiring someone?
I really enjoyed Ajay’s answer to this question. He first said that he has a good process for finding a candidate that has the right skills for the job, what really matters is their passion.
I’m looking for a few aptitudes and with passion being the top of my list. What I am seeking is how passionate are they about the area in which they have the expertise and in which they would like to make a career out of.
Ajay also talked about the importance of teamwork.
There is something else that I think is super important at every position, which is how good a team player would this person be.
Who was your most effective boss, and what made him or her stand out?
The way Ajay answered this question really tells you a lot about his own management style. He had a manager that set expectations and empowered him to be successful.
What was amazing was that firstly I felt empowered when I was working for this person. I immediately saw that this person empowered me to do a lot of things and then laid out a set of accountability that they would hold me to and then said ‘You know you are accountable for these things, not me’. You have the power to make all the decisions, go after or build relationships you need to move the needle.
He went on to say that this manager was observant in identifying dysfunction within and across teams, and helped to work through those issues.
My manager also shared a few important traits like helping me understand how to remove the dysfunctions between teams.
I later realized that these are some of the things that come in the way of good work.
He would always make those observations along the way and then just subtly call us and say you know I noticed that there’s is a bit of friction between you guys either in your tone or even personalities etc. Is that something you could work out?.
What was the most difficult transition that you made in your career?
Many of us have gone through unexpected changes in our career that impacted our role and/or job. Ajay talked about a time when his job was eliminated, how we dealt with it and how we all should think about major changes.
I felt most challenged when I was at one of my positions at Logitech and the company went through a tough time. I think this was in 2009. The economy was a huge challenge. And so they had a huge revenue drop and they rolled back IT (cut it to a size from the past).
I was looking to grow my career and then boom. So I think when you go through these transitions you then have to pause and say ‘Okay what’s next’.
I said ‘Hey, let me take my time to transition into something newer’. But meanwhile I’m just going to go and try a few things out.
Ajay took on a few “gigs” during this time, building relationships and exploring new areas. He made sure that he completed what he was asked to do before moving on – demonstrating a level of commitment that has made him successful.
I built some great relationships. …I was able to keep exploring what I really wanted to do next. … I really wanted to make sure that I saw that commitment through, which is the other trait that I always recommend to commit and deliver.
Ajay took away from this a great perspective on major changes. That is – things will work out!
Even within the company, when change comes and everything starts shifting around you, you feel vulnerable and you feel your support system is collapsing but what I tell people is that – ‘Look you are an expert. You have amazing skills. You do great work and if you believe in yourself then don’t react to everything. Give things time to settle. Yes communicate. Talk to people, but don’t take it to heart. Don’t get too overly emotional.’
How do you approach helping someone with their career development or path?
Ajay works hard to build relationships and really gets to know his direct reports as well as members of his larger organization.
My approach is that I love to know who my team members are. I like to know them personally.
I also reach out to people that are part of my hierarchy because I really love to know who these people are. What are they passionate about, what they contribute, what they enjoy and so that I am aware of their challenges.
By doing this, he develops trust that allows for the kind of open conversations that are critical to career development.
I am not a manager who believes in micromanagement rights. I feel it’s important to empower your people. I will trust you and I think over time we’re going to build that trusting relationship. Here’s what you are responsible for, and here’s what I would hold you accountable for.
I have an open door policy on where people can talk to me if they have challenges, questions, concerns, or they just want to brainstorm ideas. I tell them that I’m up for anything right from the deepest technical architecture to any kind of personal issues that people face.
To help with this process, Ajay leverages the tools that VMware provides. These tools capture the conversation and make it easy to pick up where you left off.
VMware has a tool called the Personal Development Plan (PDP). These templates are great to capture conversations that I typically have during a one on one. I do regular one on ones with my directs and then periodically with the other people in my Org. Whenever we have them, I encourage the use of the PDP to keep a log of those conversations – in terms of activities for development, training, the career path they are seeking, etc.
Because you have so many people you tend to forget what did we talk about a few months ago. The PDP helps with this by putting in place an action plan.
What tools and tricks do you use to find work-life balance?
Ajay has a very practical approach to finding work-life balance. He determines what that balance means and then takes action to achieve it.
You have to figure out when you say you want balance what is that? Is it that your personal life is impacted, is your family concerned about your availability or is it that you’re not able to pursue your hobbies because you feel you are overworked? I think if you have a clear idea of where you feel your work life balance is impacted, then you can actually start to do something about it.
If people know where you are, people know about your availability, I think they’ll leave you alone and they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, I know this person has a family event and so he’s offline.’
Ajay provided a simple yet great recommendation for keeping work-life balance – communicate when you are on and offline.
Be clear in letting people know through a global calendar of some sort,… I’m not available. I’m offline.’
How do you go about building relationships with your peers and other leaders in the company?
Ajay has good recommendations for building relationships – it is clear that this is one of his strengths and has helped him to be successful!
Relationship building is not a straightforward activity. That’s because two personalities come together and each has their own pursuits. The important thing is for people to somehow connect. For the other person to feel that you are being genuine about extending partnerships or building that relationship or offering help.
I try to understand what their pursuits are and what they would like to achieve. So just purely develop an understanding of their perspective, without actually imposing my own on them.
I think once I understand where this person is, where that person is going. …share what my team does. … what I can do to help you. …I will try to figure out what are the best ways to reduce the barrier – because there’s always a barrier.
How do you balance being deep technically with being a good manager and leader, helping to empower your team?
I know a lot of managers who were very strong technically and struggled with letting ownership go as they took on larger and larger roles. Ajay has found an excellent way to stay engaged while empowering his architects and managers.
I think it’s a challenge for managers to be hands on. I think there is a desire for managers to keep in touch with technology. I caution managers because I think the role of a manager is that of a mentor. You have the responsibility of the entire team. I think the best thing for managers to do is first focus on being a mentor.
I typically offer to vet your ideas against me. I say, ‘Look at the wealth of experience that I have. I have developed a perspective on everything. So any architecture, any solution, vet it against my knowledge and I’m just going to listen to your pitch. I’m going to ask you a few questions’. That’s really the extent to which I go and I don’t mean to say ‘Hey, do this or do that’. When I’m asked I do express an opinion, but it’s really an opinion. Go by your intuition and best judgment. Take input and I will absolutely give input. I’m opinionated. I will tell you what I feel.