If Truth Be Told: A Monk's Memoir (8 page)

BOOK: If Truth Be Told: A Monk's Memoir
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'But I have to give two weeks’ notice.'

'I strongly recommend that you start on Monday because we don’t want to lose this opportunity. I have already talked about your visa situation and Daniel says he will have the contract drawn out accordingly. I doubt we’ll get a chance like this again.'
              It was true; I didn’t want to lose this chance. Pure Commerce specialized in building payment gateway systems, one of the first companies in Australia to do multi-currency payment processing online.

Right after this call, I broke the news to Greg and Joe, telling them that I was leaving their company.

Greg took me in the meeting room, closing the door a little harder than usual.

'Tell me now,' he said with a neutral expression. 'What's the matter?'

'I want to leave TTA.'

'But I even offered you a free stay at my home!'

'I know, Greg. I’m sorry. I have to go because I need to pay for my uni education.'

After some more discussion, where he tried to convince me to stay on, we arrived at the subject of the notice period rather abruptly.

'Well, you do some thinking and let us know on Monday.'

'Actually, I won’t be coming to work on Monday.'

'What? You have to give us two weeks’ notice.'

'I’m sorry, Greg, I can't because the new employer wants me to start on Monday. Rest assured, my code is fully documented.'

'This is insane.' His voice was a little raised now. I sensed that he was more angry than sad.

'I’m sorry.'

'You think it over properly, mate,' Greg said tersely as we finished the meeting.

This was April 1999 and I had worked at TTA for over six months. I left that afternoon and didn’t go back the following Monday. The green bean that I was, I didn’t value my relationship with Greg and Joe. What was even worse was that I knew this was not the way to quit, but was unable to resist the new job opportunity. I felt I couldn’t afford to let it go as I needed the funds to pay for my education. Still, leaving as unprofessionally and ungratefully as I did was a mistake. A moral error. Professionally, I had done more than my fair share since I was only being paid for twenty hours whereas I had worked twice as many hours. Personally, I had thoroughly failed in repaying Greg’s kindness. I owed both Greg and Joe an apology, something I never got around to doing.

I started at Pure Commerce with great enthusiasm. Other than me, there was just one more person working there: Daniel. I searched for other employees but there weren't any. I was his first and only employee and it would remain like that till the last day of my employment there. It didn't bother me though. I was being paid a good salary, the work was interesting, I had a personal phone on my desk and my computer had Internet access.

While I was working at Pure Commerce, I also managed to complete my two-year college diploma. In fast-track mode in a year’s time. But this diploma was merely a milestone and not my destination. After finishing the course I had struggled so hard for, I realized that I had actually not learned much in the past year. My work experience had been far more rewarding. If I could, I would have dropped out of this course but that was not a possibility for it would mean a violation of my student visa and subsequent deportation from Australia. My heart was set on a university education and I wanted a proper degree, at least a bachelor’s. At the same time, giving another three years to a bachelor's degree was not something I was prepared to do. I wanted to do it as fast as possible and get it out of the way so that I could focus on my career.

Meanwhile, there was a small issue with my diploma. I had scored well and was qualified to receive the diploma but it turned out that if I wanted to receive my certificate, I would have to pay the full fee for the second year too. This wasn't unreasonable but I just didn't have the $5,000 to pay for it. Not losing hope, I took my transcript and went to meet the course coordinator at the University of Western Sydney. He looked at my application and then examined my transcript, resume and the sample printouts of my software coding, all of which were neatly pinned to the application form.

'Why do you want to study at UWS?' he said.

'Because it’s one of the best universities here, and offers just the course I want to do.'

'But you are already employed in the industry.'

'Yes, Mr Hosey, but I want to learn more about software modelling and business systems.'

He interviewed me for about fifteen minutes and subsequently marked on the application form: 'Exempted from the first year core subjects’.

'I’ve given you the maximum permissible exemption. Welcome to UWS,’ he said.

Mr. Hosey also approved my request to pay the tuition fees in instalments. My efforts at the business college weren't a waste after all. Not only did I save a year of my three-year degree, I also saved $14,000 in just tuition fees. I moved out of Anthony's place and into my own flat in a suburb called Parramatta as it was closer to the university. Suddenly, I felt there were no problems in my life. Everything had worked out.

During my daily commute on the train, I started writing articles for publications so I could better utilize my time. These were largely technical journals and magazines based in the US. I was paid US $500 for every article. I stopped writing after a couple of months, however, due to the lack of time. You had to pitch the idea, write the article and supply sample code. None of this was hard, but it was time-consuming and time was something I didn’t have to spare. I began using my commuting time to do my university assignments instead.

At Pure Commerce, pleased with my work and the revenue my applications were generating, Daniel gave me a $30,000 raise, spread over four months. While this was highly motivating, I was no longer excited about the company. There were two primary reasons for this. First, being the only employee here, there was no sharing of knowledge with teammates, no one to bounce ideas off. My spirit of competition was suffering because there was no one to compete against. 

Secondly, I had already finished building the core software. It was the mango I had sucked dry and there was no juice in it now. Maintenance of systems was hardly a challenge for me. I wanted to build because building was the real deal. A software developer working on system maintenance is like an architect who, after erecting a world-class building, switches to the work of a janitor in the same building.

What next? I was itching to work on a larger and far more complex system, wanting to solve deeper and bigger problems. I rather enjoyed coding because it gave me an experience of complete absorption, almost like meditation. Just when I was contemplating moving from Pure Commerce, David Soo from Manpower contacted me. It was as if the Universe had been listening, and said, 'Granted.'

We met over a coffee and, as we chatted, he said, 'Someone like you should be working for a large corporate.’

'But who will hire me?' I asked.

'Why do you say that?'

I opened up to David and shared with him the work restrictions on my visa. Any public limited company would never take that chance, no matter how skilled I was. David, however, had a different view. He told me about an opportunity with a large company who would go the extra mile for me. 'But how will we resolve the visa issue?' I asked.

'Leave that to me.'

'There's another problem, David.'

Without waiting for him to respond, I told him that in the upcoming semester at university, there were two subjects that were only offered on a certain weekday, which meant taking a day off every week.

'Don't worry, we'll work this out.'


'Yep,' he said. 'Just don't mention any of this to the client in your interview. I'll handle it.'

Three days later, I was called for an interview with News Interactive, a division of News Corporation, the media giant. After a series of interviews, David struck a hard deal.

'I've some good news for you, Amit,' he said over the phone.

'Shoot!' I was so excited.

'Nah. Let's meet for dinner after work today.'

I went straight to Darling Harbour after work and we sat down at our usual table in Zafran, a plush Indian restaurant.

'Guess what,' David said in his usual matter-of-fact tone, 'I've got the package we were aiming for, along with visa sponsorship from News Corporation. Plus they'll give you a day off every week till you finish your degree
they'll pay for your uni.'

I was overwhelmed, and my eyes became moist.

'And I kid you not, Amit,' David continued, 'this is only the beginning. Your technical competence is intimidating.'

I did not want to sit on my laurels but do better. I wanted to pledge my loyalty to David, I wanted to make him and my employer proud that they made the right decision in choosing me. But I was reluctant to take the sponsorship from News Corp because it came with the condition that I would have to work for them for a minimum period of four years. I had never liked getting tied down. I told David about this. 'I'll get the contract amended,' he said.

'For as long as you are in this business, David, and for as long as I'm in this industry,' I said, 'I give you my word, you will be my only agent.'

I held up my sparkling water while he raised his beer mug.

'Cheers, mate.'


Soon after joining News Corp, they appointed me a technical lead. I was going to lead an entire team of developers. Everything was bigger here: projects, teams, responsibilities and challenges as well as the rewards. The office itself was far grander than anything else I had encountered so far. Situated in a place called Pyrmont, the office was a waterfront property with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. There was even free coffee and a pool table. And no, this wasn't the distasteful instant coffee but the real thing. Two baristas made the most wonderful cafe lattes, cappuccinos and espressos. We were in the throes of the Internet boom and employers were trying everything to lure skilled IT professionals.

It was a highly productive environment at News, especially suited for geeks like me. I kept delivering on my projects and they kept assigning me more. David and I became really good friends. We met at least once a week, if not more. A black belt in tae kwon do, he was kind-hearted and competent. He was a relationship builder: while I always focused on performance and delivery, David made me see that interpersonal relationships at the workplace played an even more critical role than performance; technical excellence alone was not enough for professional growth.

While at News, a former Pure Commerce client contacted me. They ran a highly profitable online casino out of Antigua and the Barbuda Islands. They wanted to meet me and a meeting was scheduled with the founder and other executives at their head office in Antigua. The chairman, tall, slim and grey-haired, introduced himself as Otto. They offered me the role of technology director. It was a $750,000 package. This was not just a raise but a quantum leap from what I was making, far more than I could ever hope to make in Australia. In return, I had to build a payment gateway for them.

I was ready to take up the position except for a moral dilemma I found myself in. I wasn’t sure I was OK working for a casino. The issue was resolved when I happened to meet a member of their customer service team while I was making a round of the office. He was replying to an email from an American customer who was begging for his transactions to be reversed because he had made a huge mistake. The American customer had gambled away $60,000 between his four credit cards. In his email, he wrote that he was going to lose his home. I asked the customer service person if anything could be done for this man. 'Don’t worry, I get many emails like this on a daily basis,' he said, dismissing the man’s plea.

I had to think no further. I told them I had to go back to Sydney to wrap up things there, and agreed to join them four weeks later. However, I had no intention of coming back. Till date, I don’t know why I lied to them but it was a strange environment there. I felt suffocated and wanted to leave as soon as possible. People were losing their lifetime savings and homes, and I didn’t want to be a part of it.

From Sydney, I spoke to the CEO and told him that my conscience didn't allow me to support a casino. News Corp, in the meanwhile, gave me a hefty pay rise of $25,000. They thought they had lost me.



BOOK: If Truth Be Told: A Monk's Memoir
3.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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