I think it is safe to call someone with over 15 years of experience in the Industry a veteran. But if you were to meet Kingsley Joseph, veteran wouldn't be the first words that come to mind. His laid back demeanor and friendly attitude (and not to mention his young looks), would lead you to
believe he's one of the lads.But like the Micromax Jumbo advertisement, Kingsley kept growing in stature as I spoke to him, dwarfing many, many things that I've had the honor of covering in the past. I was listening to the story of the journey of a self-made man, who did what he loved to do. He's worked with the world's greatest minds and billion dollar firms like Salesforce. But all the while, he never lost sight of what he wanted to do - to build things.
Here's Kingsley's interesting story, on computers, design and Starting up.
The early days; From showoff to skill
I asked Kingsley on how technology began for him and he said, "I taught myself programming when I was in 8th or 9th standard. They taught us BASIC in school, but I quickly moved on to C, which I learnt from books like 'Let us C'! There was some speech competition I had won and they gave me a fairly large gift voucher for Higginbothams, and I used go there every month, to buy computer books with that."
"But honestly if you ask me why I started programming, it was so that I could show off! I grew up watching films like Roja, where the hero was a guy in glasses, who sat in an AC room and coded stuff. Of course it became a lot more serious as time went by, but that's how it started!" Kingsley then went on do a Fashion Design course from NIFT, where he took a small hiatus from coding. He said, "I was still working with computers, but more along the lines of graphic design."
What followed after this was a series of Jobs, one better than the other.
Early professional life
Kingsley's first job was at Aptech, where he taught design. "It was a fun job. I had people who either understood design but didn't know how to use tools or knew how to use the tools, but didn't know a thing about design. I really enjoyed that. Along with that I did a fair bit of freelance work as well and before you knew it, I was earning more from my freelance job than my day job."
This continued for a while and it wasn't till a few years later, when Kingsley joined a real IT job. "Now that I think about it, I have close to 10 years of experience on Mobile Development," said Kingsley, who while working in this firm, worked on Internet and WAP products.
"You're working with one bit graphics (think snake game on old Nokia phones), a lot depends of usability. Again I started learning more about usability and I used to write about it in a blog, back in 2001 (which could have been one of India's first blogs!)."
Tamil and Marissa Mayer
By now, Kingsley was considered as an expert in the field of usability, but he said, "That was only because I was the only one talking about it. I went to a usability summit which was held in Chennai in the early 2000s and that's where I saw some really great people, who were Phds in usability."
He then joined a company called Inautix, where he worked as a product designer and Kingsley considers this as a very enriching experience. He said, "It was great education for me. I had the chance to work with these brilliant, learned people and that really helped me learn more about design and usability. However, it was also a big company and there was loads of free time."
In this free time, Kingsley helped Google with translating English to Tamil, for Google Translate. "During this time, Marissa Mayer mailed me to coordinate the work for the project. I really had no idea who she was and it was only through blogs that I knew that she was a really big person at Google. I even asked her for personal advice on what I should do with my career and she asked me to qualify myself in usability. But I ended up joining a B-school in the US anyway."
The US - education, corporate and back to startup
Kingsley finished his MS from the Indiana University, Kelley School of Business. This is where Salesforce happened. "I had a friend who was a friend with my then boss. He had a job description, which I was suited for and my friend told him that he should hire me. I applied, and failed twice! Even though the college I studied from was a good one, Salesforce had a high bar on academics and I didn't meet it."
But somehow, he did get through and within a year, he reached the high performer's bracket, for his work with Saleforce's social facing activities. "George Hu, who's the current COO of Salesforce, said 'I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into while hiring Kingsley, but everything worked out just fine'. That was great."
The startup bug
After 3 years of working, Kingsley quit Salesforce, to join Digital Chocolate, a startup founded by Trip Hawkings, former Apple CMO and founder of Electronic Arts (EA). "Saleforce was a 1500
member team when I joined them. Now this is a large number, but there was so much freedom to build things. I myself have acquired a company, so you can imagine the kind of freedom that we enjoyed. However, by the time I quit, we were about 3500 people and I was no longer building things. I was optimizing.""Now this coupled with the fact that I could work with someone like Trip, was enough incentive for me to quit." At Digital Chocolate, Kingsley set up a game studio for them in India. However, he quit that as well, to start up on his own.
Starting up and doing whatever the F@#$ you want to
Kingsley is currently works with TripThirsty, a travel wishlisting and deals portal. He also helps out his wife's cupcake business (Which is an interesting story, which we will soon write about). When asked about why starting up and why in India, he said, "You know, I've always thought about this, and in 10 years from now, not starting up would have been a really big regret that I would have. As far as India is concerned, these are exciting times. The ecosystem is small enough to reach the biggest guys in the game. In US, starting up for a non citizen is a difficult thing. Secondly, the ecosystem is too mature. It is open and accessible and I've had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest names in the space, but it is sophisticated and complicated in its own way. In hindsight, I'm so glad that I gave India a chance."
For someone who's spend so many years at the worlds best work places, with the worlds best minds, Kingsley's advice to budding engineers is simple, yet deep - "Do whatever the F@#$ you want. There are not enough people doing that and I think you should just indulge in the things you want to do the most."
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