Alumni Corner: Navin Sarma (Cohort 11)

A photograph from QUEST alum Navin Sarma’s website, http://navinsarmaphotography.com.

Students can be feel a lot of pressure to know exactly what they want to do in the future or what they want to pursue as their career. However, most professionals tend to switch jobs fairly often, with good reason. Whether it’s because they have found a position that better fits their background, are pursuing a diverse set of skills, or are simply switching to a career that fits better for them, professionals tend to switch companies every 2 to 3 years. QUEST professionals are no different, as is the case with Navin Sarma from Cohort 11.

Now a project manager at Google, Navin has a wide range of experiences under his belt. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems from the Robert H. School of Business, Navin became a Business and IT consultant for PwC. “I had no real plans to become a consultant out of college.” When asked what drew him to the firm, he said that his decision to join PwC was “based more-so on practical need to get a good paying job at a reputable firm” and that “there was a huge market for consultants in the IT audit space.”

Although Navin did not have a ‘dream job’ as a student, he did enjoy the cross-functional nature of QUEST and wanted to pursue a career where he could work with a wide range of professionals. “The good thing about consulting is that it is project-based like QUEST and can involve people from all walks of life. From that perspective, consulting was a great profession for me.” However, Navin wanted to eventually become more technical, as well as “weave some personal interests (photography) into [his] position.” Because of his passion for photography, Navin founded his company, Navin Sarma Photography, in 2006. “It quickly became an outlet for me, cultivating artistic ambitions I never knew I had. As I got more into photography, I considered it more seriously to become my full-time job. For a few years, I was regularly teaching photography, presenting at shows, and selling my work to move towards photography as being my full-time gig.”

One of Navin’s landscape photographs from his website, http://navinsarmaphotography.com.

The prospect of turning his passion into his primary source of income was appealing, but Navin found that he would have to make concessions. “My ideal set up would be that I would independently shoot a given subject, edit to my own personal taste, and display the work for sale for those who aligned with my vision. Often times, this worked, but it was not enough to create a steady stream of income.” Navin enjoyed teaching, but found that he would have to teach much more often to support himself if it were his main source of income. He also mentioned that when income is in play, he would “capture more commercially viable photographic subjects or edit in more ‘popular’ ways vs. [his] own tastes.” Because of these reasons, Navin decided to keep photography “pure and just for [his] enjoyment.” “I shoot for myself, and if people like my images they purchase them. Win win.”

After quickly gaining a wide range of IT audit and consulting skills during his 4 years with PwC, Navin spent 5 years with Booz Allen Hamilton as a program manager while continuing to pursue his photography company. He then moved up to become a director in management consulting with a government consulting company, Management Strategies. Not too soon after, Navin became a client executive for Hewlett Packard, where he was the point of contact for government agency CIOs and head of strategic sales solutions. When asked what the main reasons he would join another company were, he said, “The most important would be the opportunity itself and the nature of the problem set. If I am jazzed about it, it would get me interested. Beyond that, team culture, location/travel, and benefits are important, but being totally enthusiastic about the gig would be key.”

Navin is now a product manager at Google and says that it is close to his ideal profession at the moment as it weaves together his passion and his interests. “I took my experience as a management consultant and career strategist and photographer and am now a Product Manager at Google driving computational photography research and production.” Navin still has his photography company, but it is “totally self-guided and independent of the desire to make income.” His current position is a great fit for him since he “[loves] the business and impact that photography and imaging has on the world,” and that he is “responsible for bringing cutting-edge, nascent tech to market in a way that scales globally.”

When asked what advice he would give the QUEST community, Navin said, “Don’t hesitate to try something new, personally or professionally, especially if it stretches you out of your comfort zone. Then after you have done this new thing, take some time to think back on your experience and how you feel about it.” He mentioned that new experiences can be risky, since there’s always the opportunity cost of what else you could have been doing, but that “every step in your career will teach you something – how to deal with conflict, how to rise from your own poor performance, and how to operate in different work environments. Consciously and subconsciously, these experiences shape you and will lead you into being well-rounded, experienced, and ready to tackle what’s next.”

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