The man behind the image makeover

The rise and rise of the technical expert at Adobe

To be an IITian is an unfulfilled dream for many engineering aspirants. Thanks to the rigorous entrance test, barely a per cent of them finally make the cut. But for Seetharaman Narayanan, Senior Scientific Officer at Adobe, getting into IIT was a breeze.

Interestingly, he made it to IIT Madras, despite landing an hour late for the entrance exam due to a freak incident. He took up the Naval Architecture Course that was offered to him at the institute. However, within three months, he called it quits to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli.

After graduating, Narayanan wanted to pursue a Master’s in Management. He appeared for the Common Aptitude Test (CAT) and came out in flying colours. “Though I got interview calls from the three IIMs – Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Calcutta — I did not get through,” and went on to pursue Masters in Mechanical in Southern Illinois University. “I realised that everything happens for a reason,” says Narayanan, in a disarmingly simple and and unassuming way.

Dream job

After his post-graduation in Mechanical engineering, he went on to qualify for another Master’s in Computer Science Engineering from the same university. This resulted in his finally finding his dream job in 3D graphics. “While I liked my job and there were several technical challenges that made the stint very exciting, it did not pay me enough. That was when my boss moved to Adobe and told me about a position in their Photoshop team”, Narayanan explains. And there was no looking back, since then. Having joined as the junior-most technical employee in his team, he has now risen to the top leadership position in the technical side, by sheer hardwork and perseverance.

He recalls his early days at Adobe when his boss was unsure of his ability to solve critical technical issues. “Whatever work I was given, I used to finish and go back to my boss and ask him for more”, he says. He slogged for hours in office. However, he found that two other senior members in the team were not co-operating. One day I helped them with a critical issue and thereafter my boss started throwing all the problems at me”, says Narayanan, half in jest.

Leading by example

When you work hard and people see you doing it, they will naturally emulate”, explains Narayanan.

He joined Adobe at a crucial point in time, when the company was trying to incorporate the Adobe Photoshop software into the windows platform; Narayanan played a big role in helping the company achieve this.

His customer-centric approach differentiated him from the boys, say people who have worked with him. A case in point is the tireless efforts he had put in to develop a file browser for Photoshop, which was not part of the intended design, but was incorporated to improve customer experience.

“The best way to motivate me is to put me down”, laughs Narayanan. “I then take it as a challenge and try to prove otherwise”. Even with Photoshop, he looks for critical reviews and tries to fix people who nitpick on him. “While it’s nice to get a pat on the back, it is the critical reviews that help one improve. We don’t sit on laurels but try to improve, and we are our own biggest critics. It’s a culture that we have built at Adobe”, adds Narayanan.

Born into a middle-class family settled in Chennai, Narayanan has worked his way up and recognises his family’s support all through his journey. “We were a family of eight, including my five siblings and despite our modest background, my parents ensured that all their children earned a Master’s degree”, he says.

A big believer in positive thinking, he talks about how important it is for one to make a conscious effort to not be unhappy about anything for too long. “I feel very blessed, and right from my childhood days, I have never had the feeling of deprivation. I always see the glass as half fulI”, he says . He also stresses on the need to create a positive culture while working as a team.

So, what is his advice to young tech professionals? “I don’t see job as a job but as a home away from home. So I tell my team mates, every Sunday night if you feel like another week of grind (in the offing), you then have to look for another career”, he adds. Though It is important to like what one’s doing, he says.

Besides work, he enjoys watching different kinds of sport — cricket, football and basket ball. “I stay up all night to watch world-cup and made a trip to Australia and West Indies to watch the game live”, says Narayanan with a smile.

Investment style

As an investor, Narayanan is very conservative and,more so, given that he is at the fag end of his career, he has reduced his equity allocation to about 60 per cent, with the balance invested in bonds and cash. Going ahead, he plans to reduce equity allocation further.

He uses robo advisory service — Wealthfront — and has spread investments across other markets too. Nearly 60 per cent of his equity investment is in the US market and the rest are spread across other markets.

Despite being in the Silicon Valley, which is the most happening place as far as start-up investments are concerned, he has not yet made big bets on start-ups. However, he has identified a few, co-promoted by his friends, and plans to make some token investment in those start-ups.

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