Check out the full transcript from the second episode of the TechGuide podcast, featuring an interview with Niraj Jayant.
Niraj Jayant is an Austin-based Senior Engineering Manager at Bolt.
He graduated from UT Austin in 2016 with a degree in electrical and computer engineering.
He first broke into tech in 2013 when he interned for Microsoft as a Software Engineer Intern. He interned at Microsoft for three years before accepting a full-time position as a Software Engineer 2 with them in Mountain View, California.
In 2018, he moved to FinTech startup, Bolt. At the time, he was the fifth engineer amongst those that had experience at Airbnb, Google, and Meta. He then took on a large role with the company as he manages 45 people.
In 2020, he obtained a certification in artificial intelligence from Stanford.
Here is a summary of key takeaways from the conversation:
- Niraj Jayant is an Austin-based Senior Engineering Manager at Bolt, a fintech startup. He graduated from UT Austin in 2016 with a degree in electrical and computer engineering.
- Jayant started his career in tech in 2013 when he interned for Microsoft as a Software Engineer Intern. He interned at Microsoft for three years before accepting a full-time position as a Software Engineer 2 with them in Mountain View, California.
- In 2018, he moved to Bolt, a fintech startup, where he was the fifth engineer amongst those that had experience at Airbnb, Google, and Meta. He now manages a team of 45 people.
- In 2020, Jayant obtained a certification in artificial intelligence from Stanford.
- Outside of work, Jayant is passionate about wine and is pursuing a certification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). He also enjoys playing pickleball.
- Jayant believes that ownership, humility, and flexibility are key characteristics of successful engineers. He also emphasizes the importance of learning from mistakes and being open to learning from others.
- He developed a framework for solving ambiguous problems, especially in an asynchronous work environment. The framework is called “Motivation, Context, Conclusion,” and it involves understanding the motivation behind solving a problem, gathering all the relevant facts (context), and then drawing a logical conclusion.
- Jayant’s career journey shows the importance of being open to opportunities, being passionate about what you do, and continuously learning and adapting in a fast-paced tech environment.
Ryan Atkinson: [00:00:00] Niraj, thank you so much for being here.
I’m super, super excited to have you on.
Niraj Jayant: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. Really excited, uh, to give some advice to some folks and share some stories with.
Ryan Atkinson: I wanna talk about your non-working, what you do outside of work because you are a wine wizard, you’re pursuing WSET.
I don’t know if that’s how you pronounce it, but can you first tell us what this is and why you wanted to pursue it?
Niraj Jayant: Absolutely. So I guess they pronounce it WSET, so in the wine world, there’s kind of two big global organizations. So the court of master sommelier. And WSET. So the wine spirit, education, and trust.
So I would say the big difference between the two is the CMS is kind of more focused for, so people who are on a floor pouring wine at restaurants, et cetera. And then WSET is a little bit more educational focused, so people who tend to go farther teach seminars. Maybe your beverage directors at restaurants, but again, more on teaching seminars.
Anyway, so it was funny, I was actually at a birthday, like one of my birthday party, um, and I was in San Louise Obispo, which is really close to this wine country called Paso Robles in the central coast of California. And so I, you know, I was there, I was going to this winery. I was kind of blabbing a lot at the, at this vineyard called dinner.
And my friend was, You know, like you talk so much about wine, but you’re not certified like you don’t know anything. And I was like, you know what? Like, that’s honestly really good feedback. And so that actually prompted me to go down this whole rabbit hole of, uh, going down and doing my WSET studies and so did my level two and level three back in 2021.
And I’m currently going for. My diploma, which will probably take about two or three years to finish. But really, really love that as my side hobby. And then obviously with you, I met you at pickleball, which is my, I guess, more physical activity and sport hobby.
Ryan Atkinson: It, it’s incredible. Cause I didn’t even know you could get certified in wine, so when I was like looking this up or you were telling me about it, I was like, that’s a thing.
Like you can get a certification in basically anything nowadays. So applaud to you. Cause I think that is very, very cool. [00:02:00] Yeah, I wanna start in your early career because you got your degree in electrical and computer engineering at UT Texas. Did you always know you wanted to be a software engineer?
Or how did that really get going and say, I wanna study electrical and computer engineering?
Niraj Jayant:Yeah, that’s a really good question. Very interesting backstory. So when I was applying to colleges, I, so I grew up in Houston in the suburb called Clear Lake. So my mom. Hey, you know, you’re either gonna go to an Ivy League school or we’re sending you to Texas.
That was kind of the, the deal she made with me. So I actually applied, I wanted to go into finance initially, so I applied early decision to Wharton, to the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, and I didn’t get it, so that’s cool. You know, that kind of killed my finance dreams. And so I was talking to her and she said, if you, if you just do engineering, you can always go figure out what you wanna do with your career later.
It’s just a very. Hobby to, or a very good degree to start with and then you can figure the rest out later. Yeah. So she was actually she’s a software engineer. She works in the aerospace industry, so she does a lot of defense stuff, which is super cool. So I was like, okay, I’m gonna try electrical engineering.
And I fell in love as like the first day of the first class I was doing assembly and like this very low level basic programming and I was like, this is so cool. It’s very logical. I can understand. Things move around and I fell in love. Um, so to answer your question, it wasn’t what I wanted to do from the get-go, but as soon as, as I was a freshman in college, fell in love with it.
Ryan Atkinson:Yeah. What was that first course that made you fall in love with it? Do you remember it? Do you remember like the teacher, like what course was it?
Niraj Jayant: Yeah, it was called Introduction to Computing. The professor was amazing. Um, so like, I mean, okay. We literally started coding in binary, so it’s zeros and ones, and I think we had to do.
A merch sort. So this is some more complicated technical thing, but basically it’s how you sort to. Lists of numbers. And so anyway, you’re typing in zeros and ones, right? So these computers back in the day, everything is bit based, right? So even the image, the sound, everything is just zeros and ones [00:04:00] transmitting.
And they wanted us to really internalize that and understand that fact. So back in the day, these are four bit computers. So you have 16 options. So there’s like add. Multiply, whatever, and you can do really crazy stuff just with that sort of, those basic building blocks. And so started with binary and assembly and then what you see nowadays, these very higher level languages, they’re all just like translated down into the, the core basic, yeah.
Building blocks as mentioned. And so they wanted us to kind of start from the bottom, which I thought was a really cool approach to it. That class helped, like, made me fall in love with it. And then in the future, as I got later on in my college career, I really loved computer architecture. So working with more embedded processing systems.
So we actually like flashed a program onto a chip. So there was a, you know, the game snake where you like eat the snake and whatever, like we built like a two pair version of that onto a screen. That was, it was really, really cool. And I think. Like really solidified this idea that it seems like magic, right?
You turn on your game boy, your PSP or whatever. Back in the day, I, I know now how it all just like, it’s just like very basic, sort of like computer registers and all this stuff, which was really cool and, and magical.
Ryan Atkinson: That’s really, really cool. And then you got your first internship with Microsoft in 2013.
Tell us about that. I mean, how did that, how did that really come to be? How did you get into Microsoft, a big tech company, one of the biggest in the world?
Niraj Jayant: I mean, how did you break into Microsoft for an internship? Well, I got, I got a one word for you. It was luck, honestly. So the freshman year internship was there, there was nothing else but like, but there, there was nothing insightful that I kind of learned from it.
So obviously I was not a good programmer back then. Right. And so I go into my, I. I remember he asked me this question, I actually remember the question. It was like given three sides of a triangle, like tell if it’s like scaling or Altus or, uh, I saw salute, whatever, all the triangle terms. And so whatever I do that, it’s, it’s kind of okay because I’m just a little freshman at that point.
But I remember he was like, tell me like something that you’re really passionate about. So when I was in high school, I, I played [00:06:00] tennis growing up and so I started a tennis racket stringing business, uh, to make extra money on the side so my teammates would pop their strings and then, do it. Like for 10 bucks I could do it.
Rakuten probably 20 minutes, and I would just have it right next to my Netflix on my tv. Right. So I, I was like cranked out, like, I mean, for a kid I was like, I probably made $3,000 over the course of my high school career. But you know, that was like significant money back. Back then. Yeah. So I tell him, I’m like, okay, like these are the different types of machines.
Like this is like pull weight and drop weight and there’s like hybrids and whatever, and I just like go on this long and I start talking. I like realize I blew way over the interview time, but it was the passion I think like, so he was like, okay. This kid doesn’t really know how to like to code yet, but like he can get passionate about, I like topics that interest him and so we’re gonna take a bet on him and we’re gonna kind of give him this opportunity.
So, um, and then, okay. Also like, as part of that whole luck thing, I remember I was supposed to go to Redmond, so obviously they’re headquartered in, in Redmond outside of Seattle. And then they canceled on me like the last second. And so they’re like, can we fly you out to California? Like we’re really sorry.
Like there was some scheduling mishap in Redmond. I was like, I don’t care. Like it’s Reddit, it’s California. Like they’re all the same to be at this point. I’m just traveling from from Austin anyway, so I feel like. You know, I mean, obviously I did okay I think in the interviews, but I think maybe they felt bad that they rescheduled on me last minute, so they gave me kind of, they threw me a bump.
But anyway, so once they, like, once I got that freshman year internship, I really appreciated them for that. Right. Like they kind of took a chance on me. They really, yeah. Like I said, they kind of just took a chance on me and so, Second, third year, I was like, okay, like I wanna just stick with this company, do three years of internships with them, go start their full-time, hit the ground running and take a like, kind of pay them back for investing in me so young.
Ryan Atkinson: That’s really cool. So it sounds like, I mean, maybe it would’ve been, it was a little bit of luck, but I mean, in high school you’re doing this really cool like tennis string business where yeah, you’re just working on, while you’re like watching Netflix, but this was something you were actually passionate about, and you could say that in the [00:08:00] interview.
But I imagine from a Microsoft like recruiter standpoints, like, wow, this kid actually gets it. Like he was doing this in high school and he is passionate about this. Like, let’s take a chance on him.
Niraj Jayant: Yeah, absolutely. So I. People probably kind of psych themselves out. Um, again, they’re, they’re not gonna expect you to come in and be the wiz kid, the kid who solves all the like, insanely, hardly towed problems or whatever because you just don’t have that experience here, right?
Like, what’s more, what’s actually more impressive or what’s better for you when you’re looking at these internships is to be flexible and hu and humble and just open to learning. It takes you many, many years to kind of get that expertise. And they know that, and they just want people who will have a good attitude and, and are willing to kind of put in the hard work to learn.
Ryan Atkinson: That’s awesome. And then they must have known that you worked really hard because you eventually transitioned to full-time with Microsoft. Um, take us through that transition. I mean, was this conversations you were having during your senior year where it’s like, Hey, we wanna bring you on full-time?
Was there any pushing by your end where it’s like, I wanna work here full-time, or how’d that happen?
Niraj Jayant: Absolutely. So basically like the way internships work, right? So you have a 12 week internship at the six week mark. You kind of know if you’re on track or off track as an intern, going to another intern. Maybe the bar is a little bit lower as an intern going into full-time, the, these are more serious conversations, right?
Because if you think about it, yeah. Company’s holding open a headcount now for. Almost like nine or 10 months, which is like very unheard of. And we’ll get to that probably in my later startup experience. So they’re really, really kind of taking a bet on you. And so, um, basically as my junior year internship ended, they did extended offer.
I did want to see what other options were out there and kind of. Yeah, negotiate. So I, I got offers I think from Uber, Yelp, and a few other tech companies at the time. But what stood wow, Microsoft out was, um, they actually leveled me up. So they were like, Hey, you’re three, you did three internships. We’re gonna count that as a year of experience.
We’re gonna bring you in at level 60 or whatever. Like, I forget how they do their numbers. Yeah. Which I was like, okay, great. This is like a no-brainer opportunity. So I could [00:10:00] start at a higher level, hit the ground running. I already had context. I knew my team really well. That’s kind of why I decided to start there full-time.
Ryan Atkinson: Do you, is there any part of you, or would you recommend people to stay at the same internship or same company while interning, or is there any part of you that regrets not like jumping around from internship to internship?
Niraj Jayant: Good question. So my statement would be, at large companies, it’s very hard to talk about culture, generally speaking, m.
Does not have one homogenous culture. It is very much the culture of your manager, right? Like the manager will determine how happy you are, how good your life is. And so if you get a good manager, I don’t see a reason to leave because it is kind of a crapshoot. If you go to a different company, you could get, it’s all just randomized at that point.
On the flip side, when we talk about the bolt experience later, I did find that potentially something that. Maybe hinder me in in my career was you learn from people who are used to doing things one way, right? The Microsoft way, and Microsoft has figured out a lot of really amazing stuff. They set up really amazing processes, whatever.
Yeah. It is still very valuable to have a diversity of opinions and so for you as an individual to get that diversity of working experience surely can be valuable. I think it kind of depends, like if you’re pretty set on you like this manager, you could see yourself working for them, learning from them, et cetera.
Double down, right? Like you can move so much quicker than if you swap around, if you’re kind of lukewarm on it. If you’re still not totally sure what you want to do, absolutely diversifying will give you the ability to know what you like and more importantly, what you don’t like.
Ryan Atkinson: That’s interesting, and you diversified in your career because you moved to Bolt in June of 2018.
You’ve been there for four and a half years now. So tell us why Bolt at this time and what’s like your role at Bolt?
Niraj Jayant: Yeah, uh, okay, so why Bolt at that time? So I, let me, I have [00:12:00] to kind of explained my role at Microsoft cause it was really, really interesting. I was on the PowerPoint team being on office.
They touched billions of users, literally, and so that was like an unbeatable experience. But what was really cool is they were moving away from these monolithic application releases into microservice deploys. And so my particular product was called PowerPoint Designer, and so it was AI backed. How do you format slides for people?
So you get away from like, You know, white slide with three blank, three black bullet text points. It would actually create a smart art for you, or that’s an image like it was, it was really, really cool. And they were deploying this thing like once a month, which. kind of a new paradigm for Microsoft, uh, from like these three year big, uh, office releases.
Um, so you know, honestly there was some big companies sort of, uh, shake up. So another VP kind of wanted the AI mandate and so a lot of people in my leadership chain, yeah, were let go at Microsoft. And so that’s what prompted me to start looking. So I was living in San Francisco, taking Caltrain down to Mountain View, so I was commuting an hour and a half door to door each.
I was like, okay, I wanna go San Francisco based startup with less than 10 engineer. And I did not care about the domain. So Bolt was five engineers at the time. It was like a 25 person series a company trying to revolutionize how we do e-commerce checkout. And to my point earlier about the diversity of opinions, one senior guy from Google, one senior guy from Facebook, Airbnb, Twitter, I was like, wow, this is amazing.
Like literally they all came from different Oh yeah. And so that was that sort of melt, like that melting pot and people could bring their expertise from where they were at. And then we get debated and. Pick the best solution for us. So my motivation at that point was be a sponge. Just learn as much as I can from all these people.
I was the worst engineer, I was the most junior person. I was like, this is perfect. Um, so grew the company. We found product market fit. 2019, we grew to 30 engineers, and that’s when I became a senior ic. So a senior engineer on our financial products team. I’ll, I’ll say another, I’m gonna use this word luck a lot.
For [00:14:00] people who wanna break into management, luck is like the other thing. So it is very hard to get your first manager job. You do have to be at the right place at the right time, and no one is ever gonna hire, hire you diagonally. Meaning if you’re a senior engineer, you will never go get a manager job externally.
You have to already be a manager and then move laterally. So I was a senior IC on this financial products team, probably fourth on the totem pole. So there’s a manager of two senior people. They all left for whatever reason, right? They left. Now I’m the most senior person. There’s no manager. I become the manager of the team in August of 2020.
Then we fundraise and as many, whoever has been in startups in 2021 knows. Cash was really cheap. We needed to grow really aggressively. So I grew from six engineers reporting into me to to 45, amongst five different teams with like five different managers kind of at its peak. Which was crazy. That all happened within the span of like, I guess like 14 months, a little over a year.
And so that was an interesting step. So moving from a manager, a direct M one line manager to a manager of managers, and there were certainly growing pains along the way. I was directly managing. 20 people at one point. So my, like half of my league was just one-on-ones. Oh my God. And then there was all this other stuff going on.
It was very hard for me to figure out how to, so anyway, I was kind of burning myself out. Yeah. A little bit. So I had to learn how to be a lot more high leverage and work through my managers and other tech leads to, to get things done.
Ryan Atkinson: That’s incredible. So you went from managing a few to 45 and overseeing the managers of That’s right.
Niraj Jayant: Yeah, that was. That was crazy. It was a crazy time.
Ryan Atkinson: Yeah. I’m curious, so let me, let’s think about everyone, the 45 people that you managed. What are some of the characteristics that like really stood out to you for the top performers of those 45 people? Because everyone, I think in their young careers, it’s like, oh, I wanna be surrounded by great people.
You might not have access to them, but I wanna be a high performer. So what [00:16:00] characteristics to you from the 45 people really stood out?
Niraj Jayant: Yeah, so I think one is ownership. People you will, you will make many mistakes. You will always make mistake. Humans make mistakes. That’s fine. , I don’t care if you make a mistake.
I care how you respond to that mistake. Do you own it? Do you step in and fix it? Do you set guardrails up so no one else can make these same mistakes? That’s a really important quality to have. I think some of the most successful engineers definitely had that attribute to them. Humility. You do not know, and it’s very important for you to go learn from other folks or whatever and, and like be very curious about that.
So I think people who have that sort of curiosity and humility and, and willingness to kind of learn and admit when they don’t know and, and see help, I think it’s been really yeah. Uh, impactful as well. And then I think like at startups in general, that you have to be flexible. The more senior you get, the more ambiguous the problems are given to you.
So I, we have this like different leveling system, so I’ll kind of explain it. So as an L three, your entry level, I say your sphere of influence is one person, right? You’re given a task. Task is kind of broken down. You just execute great L four, which is the next level is three people. So you’re given a problem and then you need to break it down and then have roughly.
People’s scope of work. So you’re kind of breaking those tasks down and you, you have L three s that can help you execute. L five is eight, L six is 20, L seven is like 40 plus, right? So you kind of like start to operate these different levels and as a manager or as a successful engineer, you need to kind of understand and take things off of your manager’s plate in a lot of ways and then break it down because they won’t always have time to like deep dive, spend a lot of thought into all the problems.
And so the more ambiguous the problem is when you take it off their plate, the more impact you can.
Ryan Atkinson: So let’s say you are given an ambiguous problem. What’s like the first step that you take personally to like, solving this problem? Gathering all the pieces. Yeah. To figuring out how can we solve this ambiguous problem.
Niraj Jayant: That’s a really good question. [00:18:00] So I’m gonna couple that answer with another very big phenomenon that happened. So March, 2020, the world shuts down, right? Covid happens. Now we’re all asynchronous. So not only do you have ambiguous problems, you need to communicate this in an asynchronous manner. So I developed this framework, it was called.
motivation, context, conclusion. So motivation was a one sentence description, like what is the reason we’re trying to solve this problem? And if the motivation was wrong, like let’s say the motivation was like, Hey, like we need to solve X, Y, and Z to bring down the cost for the customer. And I say, Hey, actually that’s not right.
Like I don’t want to bring down the cost for the customer. I want to, let’s say, improve like their authorization rate or something in the payments world. Mm-hmm. . So you can, so that’s like the very first. , and it’s very important that you agree on the motivation. Then context is just a bullet list, point of facts.
No biases, no opinions, just facts like this is how much is processed. This is the cost of this. Like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. You just put down every single fact that you. Can, you know, derive related to the motivation, and then you write a conclusion. So the conclusion is like, given the question that you, have, you asked, given the context and the facts that you have, what is the logical conclusion that sort of pops out?
So anyway, to your question, I, I did not have time to go do, I cannot go figure out all these different problems, right? Like as a manager, the rotten milk floats at the top. You only see problems. And so I would delegate all these things out to my engineers. I’d have them write this. I could follow it. It’s like a two page document.
I could review it in 15 minutes. Sweet. It’s very easy for me to be like, okay, like I saw where you maybe missed the conclusion and so here’s how we’re gonna adjust for it, right? So that is how you have to have a very structured way of thinking when dealing with ambiguous problems. And that’s the way that we kind of try to tackle it.
And it also helped with our asynchronous communication.
Ryan Atkinson: That’s amazing. So you really started off like, what’s the end goal in mind? I feel like enough, not enough people do that, but that’s what you were hitting at with the motivational pieces. Absolutely. What are we really solving for here? And is this the right thing that we wanna be solving for?
Niraj Jayant: That’s exactly right, actually. And to take that point even [00:20:00] further, so when I work with my product manager counterparts, They, so what I always tell them is, you bring me a hypothesis, right? You have some question about what consumers want, what is their behavior going to be, whatever. And my job is to tell you what is the quickest way that we can get that answer.
You do not need to go build a full-fledged feature. A lot of the times you can put a button there and be like, Hey, how many times do they click the button? And if they don’t click the button, you don’t need to build the feature, right? You, you can get the answer to the question in very creative. So absolutely.
You, you, I like the way that you kind of explained it, like figuring out the motivation is honestly the most important part and people who can articulate it very clearly can solve ambiguous problems.
Ryan Atkinson: Yeah. That’s there was a LinkedIn post today. Someone was like, what did the greatest storytellers do?
And it’s like they start with the end goal in mind, I think. I mean, that’s exactly what you did as well. It’s what do we want to get out of this? What is the motivation? And I think that’s a really cool structure. You developed this framework. Yeah. .
Niraj Jayant: That’s amazing. That is like such a cool thing. I mean, I’d say that like I did develop it.
Yes, that is true. It was after I had failed miserably many times to, to, you know, like figure out, because to the point earlier, like I was burning myself out. I was going too deep into these areas and so instead I took a step back and said, Hey, what if I can help with this framework or develop this framework to allow me to have higher leverage?
And so it was a lot of trial error. But yes, that would be the framework that. On.
Ryan Atkinson: And let’s talk about more leverage as well, because you got in back, going back to 2020, you got your AI certificate from Stanford. Um, yes. And ai. Let’s talk about that. Can you just give us an overview about like, what this was, and let’s start with the motivation.
Why did, why did you pursue this and what is the a AI certificate?
Niraj Jayant: So as mentioned, I was, I started this thing probably in 2018. I, I would guess while I was still at Microsoft. Okay. So you asked me a question like, Why is it very good to go to big tech companies? Answer. They give you really good benefits.
And so Microsoft would give me $10,000 a year to to do tuition, stipends and all this stuff, right? [00:22:00] I mean, that’s a lot of money and a lot of people don’t take it. Oh my God. And I was like, this is amazing. Right? So. given that I was working on this designer thing, given that it was in the AI field, given Stanford is in Palo Alto, which is like one stop away on Caltrain.
I was like, okay, this is like a no-brainer. So start my whole uh, AI certificate and I finished I think three classes while I’m at Microsoft. So they pay for three out of the four of them, and then I out of pocket the last one, right, which was no big deal. So anyway, the way that the certificate worked was you would learn kind of general artificial intelligence.
For your first two courses and then you could kind of pick specializations for the last two. And because I was in the PowerPoint space, I picked natural language processing as my sort of specialization. Oh, sweet. So one thing that we did that was super interesting for my final project, so I worked with another colleague at Microsoft, was the thesis was, could you.
Take a huge corpus of PowerPoint slides given their formatting. So the assumption was if someone bolded or underlined or italicized a word, it was quote unquote important. So you take this huge corpus, you run it through your machine learning model, and then. You generate, you kind of generate suggestions for individuals to bold certain words in in their slides, right?
You can imagine a designer could be like, Hey, yep, this is the thing that you wanna bring emphasis to. So that was kinda this like very practical way of combining the PowerPoint side with this more theoretical natural language processing side and kind of combine the two experiences in a really nice.
Ryan Atkinson: That’s interesting. So what’s the admission process like? If like I wanna go to Stanford, I wanna get my ai, AI certificate, what’s the admissions process to like enroll in these courses?
Niraj Jayant: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think, I think so through my program it was kind of executive, which just means you need to be working full-time.
So I had to prove that I was at Microsoft and I, I think give a reference and my manager was my reference. I had to show my undergraduate transcript. Kind of describe, hey, like why are you interested in ai? And I think that was pretty much it. So pretty standard, like just make sure that [00:24:00] you’re not some, you know, fraudster who is Yeah, whatever.
Kinda maliciously taking advantage of the program and then, It was, it was also tailored for, like I said, like kind of working folks. And so they would publish the lectures online. So you wouldn’t have to go to Palo Alto every time, but you did. You could. That was actually a very cool benefit is I could go to the Stanford library, meet up with the professor, so Cool.
Et cetera in person. Yeah. Which was like amazing, right? To get access to those types of folks, those high caliber individuals. I think that was it though. Yeah. For the admission process. . Yeah.
Ryan Atkinson: So you get, you get the certificate, you get, you’re specialized in it. I mean, what is the value of the AI certificate, like given you now?
Um, are you still applying some of the principles now or what’s been the value of it since you’ve been able ?
Niraj Jayant: It was, it became a little bit more like my wine studies. Like I, it’s great to have in my back pocket. It is not what I do kind of, yeah. In my, in my day-to-day. So the time that Bolt has mentioned with financial products, I got really deep into FinTech.
Back in 2019. Yeah, FinTech and NLP aren’t super related, but actually now that I think about it, I had this conversation with a founder yesterday and we were talking about like interesting applications of chat, G P T or these other sort of like really amazing Yep. Innovations in the financial product space.
And one truth is nobody understands how payments work, like what your interchange is and when things will settle. Like what? How you can optimize this stuff and. , I was actually ripping the pin on this idea. Yeah. Of having a chat bot that just basically explains to you like, what are the different scheme fees and this and this, and like, what could you do to optimize these various things?
Mm-hmm. And so maybe like two, three years down the line, I can actually finally marry the two and intersect them. But to be honest with you, I don’t, I don’t really do anything in my day job with NLP right now.
Ryan Atkinson: Yeah. But it’s nothing like you regret getting, I mean, it’s nice to have in your back pocket, but it’s not, it’s nothing where it’s like, oh my gosh, I wish I didn’t spend the time or energy on that.
Niraj Jayant: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. The Stanford. Alumni network and the UT alumni network. I don’t want to, you know, just, but they’re both amazing and they would, they had an internal job board. There was [00:26:00] really cool people. I, I got to meet throughout these programs, access to the professors as mentioned. Um, those things, certainly there’s no regret for that.
Ryan Atkinson: That’s awesome, and we are winding down on time here, but I am curious of two comparisons. You’re at Stanford, you’re at ut, you’re in San Francisco, you’re at Austin. Take me through that. When did you come to Austin from San Francisco and what has been one of the biggest differences between San Francisco and Austin regarding the texting?
Niraj Jayant: So after Covid kind of hit my wife and I, I, I got married back in Austin, September of 2019. We were kind of living in Covid San Francisco. Thank you. Thank you. Uh, for about a year and a half. And we wanted to get a house. And more importantly, we wanted to get our dog, Monty, who I know you got to meet on the pickleball court.
So that was a big awesome, right, like, go buy a house, get a dog, get a backyard, whatever. And so came back. Obviously we had a very close, close connections to Austin. We both met actually at ut. Her family is in Austin, my family’s in Houston. So it, it made a lot of sense. Now comparing the. One of the things I’m really excited about and actually would love to ask you about is I, I was pretty, you know, I knew a lot of founders and startup folks in San Francisco and the community was buzzing.
I think some people actually criticize it too much. Like there’s a kind of joke that. You go into any coffee shop in San Francisco and someone’s talking about disrupting blah, blah, blah industry, but , it’s cool, right? Like as a young professional and kind of in that space myself, I really enjoyed it in my kind of early twenties, Austin.
I feel like it’s developing and it’s, it’s, it’s really cool to see how it’s growing from. You know, floor is zero right from the ground up. And so that is one big difference as well. I, I’ve, I, I think like being a part of the growth of this sort of a community instead of kind of just being inherited into this very bur like already burgeoning sort of community is, is one big difference.
And then, The other thing is, it’s interesting, so I’ll, I’ll give you a kinda weird comparison. So I worked at a WeWorks out of both San Francisco and Austin. So in San Francisco, 8:00 PM it’s still pretty [00:28:00] full, right? People are still grinding away whatever, doing their thing and Austin. Yep. I’d say by five it’s, it’s empty.
They’ve kind of pooped on with their lives and went and picked on their, like they went to their other passions, which I think is actually very healthy. Like as I think about what I want out of my, yeah, next careers and everything, like certainly work life balance. Something that is important. And I do think Austin has kind of figured out a way to balance their innovation and grind and work hard culture with the more chill, relaxed sort of style.
And, um, getting to enjoy when it’s not too hot. Some of the, especially like the outdoors, Barton Springs, et cetera.
Ryan Atkinson: Yeah, a question just popped in my head from that. So does it shift at all, so young twenties, just fresh outta school, should you be in that gr obviously take care of yourself, but you should you be in that grind, grind, grind mindset, and then once you get to 26, 27, maybe venture outside of that or how should someone approach that?
And thank you. How hard they should be working at 20.
Niraj Jayant: It’s a good question. I think I did not develop necessarily healthy habits in that grind sort of culture, and so it did take me some time now in the later stage to kind of develop those boundaries and all this stuff. I think it was, so you think about like a treadmill, right?
Like. The fast you can kind of like accelerate your career. Obviously there are sacrifices. You do need to work really hard and that does take away from other stuff. But I would say like if you think about like what you want into your career, and let’s take me for example, going down engineering leadership, the amount of roles that are up higher and higher, they all diminish, right?
And so the way I, I always kind of viewed it was, okay, I can go really fast right now and then whenever I’m kind of done, I. Stop, you know, stop the treadmill and then just be content at this level, right? Because it’s very hard to get back on the treadmill if you kind of take that stop. And so I, I feel like to grow into like a manager, manager of managers, et cetera you had to kind of like move really quickly.
I, it’s not for everyone. I, I don’t know if I could make a general statement about it. [00:30:00] I do think. . What I observe is it’s like one, when you move into management from being icy, very hard to go back. Yeah. And then two, if you kind of like get off the treadmill on way, it can be hard to go back to just because the opportunities are a lot more narrow as you get kind of closer to the top.
So I’m not sure if that was a good answer, but that’s kind of my thoughts on it.
Ryan Atkinson: It definitely is because like I’m 23 right now and like I’m in the mindset of like, I’m gonna work super hard. Like I’m gonna sacrifice, like not having a girlfriend. I wanna get a dog. I’m not gonna get a dog because like, I just wanna be focused on like my work and like surround myself in as many opportunities as possible.
But it’s refreshing to hear that. , once you get off the treadmill, it’s a lot harder to get back on the treadmill. So while I have all this energy, like I’m super young right now, I can bounce around. It’s nice to be able to just stand that treadmill and to keep going on the treadmill, but I can get off at any time.
Niraj Jayant: Yeah, you can always get off. Right. And I think that’s something that people forget, but I, I would encourage you also, the times that I performed the best were the times that I also spent the most amount of time in wine and in pickleball. Because you do need that sort of break. That’s interesting.
Nourishment, refreshment to like get your mind off of work. I actually really do believe that people who work a hundred hour weeks maybe are not as productive as people who work 60 hour weeks or 40 hour weeks that have a little bit more of that balance.
Ryan Atkinson: I do a thousand percent agree with that. And so you’ve been in Austin for a while now.
You are, you’ve been part of the startup community, pickleball community, wine community. So many different communities reflect on that a little bit. I mean, talk about the people that are here in Austin and some conversations you’ve had where it’s like, oh my gosh. Like that is just opened up my mind if it’s on the pickleball court, if it’s talking about wine, if it’s talking about the startup community.
So what are some of, like some of the most insightful conversations you’ve had while in Austin?
Niraj Jayant: The pickleball community, it brings together a lot of like folks from kind of different walks of life, right? Like, okay. I, I will also say, yeah, tech people tend to be a little bit insulated and perhaps they have their own echo chamber in, in sf they’re there.
It was mainly just tech people for the most part, right? Or at least who I interacted with. And [00:32:00] so I really enjoy kind of getting to chat with people who do very different things. And so that’s a lot of the value that I derive from pickleball and I’ve gotten. Folks like such as yourself, but other folks too for, and we grab beers and all this stuff afterwards and it’s really nice and refreshing to kind of hear about their challenges, their problems, and how they kind of view the things.
And so that’s really cool. In the wine community, there’s kind of two big societies I’m a part of. So Austin, Texas Wine Society, plug for them, or ATX songs, also a plug for them. And like they compete with Houston and Dallas and the Texas scene, Houston Dallas are much more established. They have. Michelin restaurants with crazy wine lesson and all this stuff, Austin, I just really love how down to earth people are.
Even in the wine community, they’re really sharp. They have these certifications, but they don’t want to necessarily be as ostentatious as wine has kind of negatively been portrayed of being. And so that’s a kind of an interesting take on that as well. Yeah, and I think like really cool. There’s actually a new wine bar that just opened up called Flows and uh, Cape Bottle.
Actually, it might work at Cape Bottle for five hours a week too, to kind of do something else for fun and break it into the wine. It’s really cool. Those people are so chill and like, I just really appreciate their perspective and, and their kind of approach to wine. And then in the startup community, I’ve been really fortunate to meet a few founders through my time at Bolt, so x kind of colleagues who have come here, like, and started their companies and then connected to these communities.
And so they do a monthly drink sort of session and I, I just really appreciate. How helpful everyone is to each other. You like, I met this person, they had this idea, I thought both could benefit from it. And so I connected him to our HR leader and you know that that was really great. And he kind of did a very similar favor for me when I was interested in something else.
Right. And so I would say my reflection is not necessarily, I thought SF was fine. Like I don’t think it was cutthroat or anything. I don’t think it was as friendly or warm or kind of outgoing in terms of personality. That would be how I compare those three different communities.
Ryan Atkinson: That is a phenomenal reflection on all the different ones.
That’s what, that’s what I really enjoy [00:34:00] about the Austin Tech. That’s one that I’m ingrained in the most is people here are super helpful. I mean, you’ve experienced it, you helped out someone, but they’re, you didn’t even ask for a favorite back. Maybe you did, but like they returned their favorite back to you.
And I think that’s something that makes Austin, the tech scene amazing here. So people are super helpful and very open to helping each other. Absolutely.
And one more question before we end it. This has been a great conversation. You think about your career, you think about where you’ve come, where you want to go.
I mean, when you retire, this is it. If you wanna retire 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, any of those times, what do you wanna be most proud of? Um, and yeah, what do you, what would you wanna be most proud of?
Niraj Jayant: I, I think I still am very passionate about building a product or an experience that customers just fall in love with.
Right. And so taking FinTech for an example mm-hmm. It’s actually quite embarrassing where the US is compared to India, China, et cetera. Like their adoption of digital payments. Yeah. Real time payments. They can settle really quickly. It’s just amazing. And. Whatever extent, we are very hamstrung by existing policies.
And so that is an area that keeps me very invigorated and passionate because I think there’s a lot of opportunity here. Yeah. But, um, I think one of the thing kind of as I maybe am moving from the entry level into more of maybe ma mature or leadership or whatever you wanna call it right now, is I really do want to.
I want to pay it forward. I wanna be a mentor to a lot of folks too, because a lot of people helped me out. Cool. I’m still in touch with my manager at Microsoft. This was like six years ago, and she gives me really good advice Yeah. On a lot of different stuff. Right. And so like every, like everyone you see at the top, like they all have help, right?
They were all helped on their journey of mm-hmm. and a lot of ’em help people also kind of on their journey up. Right? And so that is also something that I means a lot to me. I, I think I, I could probably see myself retiring and then doing wine teaching. To my point earlier about being more in education, like I would love to just teach seminars about wine and encourage the next batch of aspiring sommelier cool.
Uh, to, to pursue their craft. Um, so I think those two things are really important. Building products and experiences that [00:36:00] customers just love and really solving pain points, right? Because like, they are not the experts in this, but they just want to have a magical experience that, you know, the moment you kind of do it.
And then also teaching and kind of being hopefully useful to the next generation of leaders that are coming.
Ryan Atkinson: I love that. Well, you have been useful, this whole podcast. I loved having you on to talk about all things Microsoft, full advice, you have communities. Naraj, you were awesome and thank you so, so much for joining us.
Niraj Jayant: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. That was really, really fun conversation.