Rahul Ranganathan

10% Salary Hike and Product Manager Role in Dream Industry

Before Stoa
Analyst, Citi Group
After Stoa
Associate Product Manager, FlashPrep
Education: 
B.S in Engineering
Package: 
10% hike

When Coimbatore native Rahul Ranganathan joined Stoa School’s second cohort, little did he know that it would serendipitously lead him to a job he didn’t even realise he wanted.

Rahul, who comes from an engineering background, started out working as a Technology Analyst at Citi, a legacy company. But realising he wanted to break into a startup and play a bigger role in the workings of a company, he applied to Stoa.

Stoa helped him land a job as an Associate Product Manager at FlashPrep, an EdTech startup backed by Better Capital and Firstcheque. It’s worth noting that Rahul has been told he’s good at teaching, and now he's at a startup whose aim is to enable better learning.

Below is Rahul’s story, in his own words.

One of the most rewarding aspects of Stoa is the sense of community that exists within the system.
What were you doing before Stoa?

I was born and raised in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. When I was in school, I decided I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. But this wasn’t because I had any particular interest in the subject – it was mostly because that’s what my parents wanted. I worked hard towards that goal, but eventually, fell short by around five marks and couldn’t secure a seat in a medical college. It was upsetting at the time but now, when I look back at that moment, I feel nothing but gratitude.

At that point, I changed tracks and chose to pursue a BTech in Information Technology, since it was the next thing that I found interesting and thought would be useful in the future. My brother was a computer science engineer, so I figured if I was struggling with coursework, he’d be able to help me out. Right out of college, I got placed at Citibank, working as a software engineer with the US regulatory group.

The first few months after joining Citi were exciting. But slowly I realised that I wanted more from life. Citi is a massive organisation, so even if a small thing had to be changed in the system, it would take a month or so to make that happen, given all the processes involved.

And even though I knew back in college itself that coding and computer science would take over the world, and that being a software engineer meant that my life was sorted, I never enjoyed it that much. I knew that I would, at some point, want to do a management program — most likely an MBA — or move into a startup. I would have probably applied to an MBA program right after college, but when I landed the job at Citi, I put my plans on hold. And because Citi is a globally recognised brand, I stuck with the job for two years.

What initially interested you in Stoa?

I came across news about Stoa School’s launch one day as I was randomly scrolling through LinkedIn. This was in 2020, when we were in the midst of a Covid-19 lockdown. I had decided to use that time to prepare for the CAT entrance and appear in November that year. But when I saw what Stoa was offering, I was intrigued.

Here I was, planning to spend around ₹20 lakh and pour two years of my time into a full-time MBA. Stoa, meanwhile, was promising me everything I wanted at 1/10th of the time and cost investment. It made sense on all fronts. Moreover, I figured that even if Stoa didn’t work out for me, I could still go ahead and apply for an MBA a year or two down the line.

My goal was to secure a job outside of software engineering, and in a field I enjoyed. While I was in college, I used to work part-time with an NGO called Make A Difference, where I spent my free time teaching children living in shelter homes. I did this for three years while studying, and continued doing so for another year while working with Citi. During this time, I learned that I really enjoyed teaching and interacting with young people. Little did I know that just a few years later, I would be putting those skills to use at a startup operating in the EdTech space.

How was your Stoa experience?

At FlashPrep, I hold the position of Product Manager, which involves a spectrum of roles and responsibilities. I have never held that role before, and had never even directly interacted with any product managers in my life. The learning curve was steep, but the introductory sessions we had at Stoa during product week proved to be really useful.

Another thing that benefited me a lot were the coaching sessions. I had never been coached, or even thought of going for a life coaching session before. The four sessions I had with my assigned coach gave me a fresh perspective on how I perceive myself and where I see myself in the future. But once I was handed the right tools and the reading material, it all cumulatively led to me aligning myself with my goals. Before that, I didn’t even know whether I really wanted to be in tech, or whether it was externally motivated.

So, yes, aside from learning the fundamentals of business management, I also experienced a huge mindset shift. And that wouldn’t have been possible without Stoa’s cohort-based learning model, and the people teaching and coaching us.

One of the most rewarding aspects of Stoa is the sense of community that exists within the system. I met wonderful people, and was able to build a really strong network in my six months there. I know that even today, I could freely reach out to any Stoa fellow and ask for help. There’s no sense of competition, or envy that someone else is doing better than you. Overall, everyone has a very positive mindset, which is amazing to experience.

And the power of the network is immense. I wouldn’t have my current job if not for the connections that Stoa’s founders brought in. Also, going forward, if we want to hire for our teams, Stoa is the first place I would approach.

What was your experience applying for jobs after graduation?

Even before I had joined Stoa, I knew I wanted to quit my job at Citi soon. I had begun applying to management roles in companies, and even interviewed with a few, but eventually didn’t make the cut. Once at Stoa, the team helped me polish my resume and taught me how to position myself for specific roles while applying.

While all of this was going on, FlashPrep’s founder showed interest in hiring from Stoa for some open roles. As soon as the opportunity came in, I applied. I had gained front-door entry into the company, all thanks to Stoa. I still had to prove myself, but if not for Stoa, the FlashPrep team probably wouldn’t have stopped to notice me.

All of this helped, but a major hurdle was the three-month notice period at Citi. Three months is a long time for a startup to wait for an employee, after all. But the FlashPrep team was willing to wait. So, three months into my Stoa program, I took the offer and put in my resignation at Citi. Ninety days later, I was working at FlashPrep.

Finally, any parting words of advice for anyone signing up for the program?

I want to tell anyone applying to Stoa to be open to whatever is going to happen. There will be a lot of new experiences coming your way, and it’s important not to restrict yourself based on what you believe is good. This will change your perspective in a massive way and only serve to benefit you.

Another thing I’ve been recommending to folks like me, who come in looking for a career change, is to identify the direction you want to head in. For me, I realised in my time at Stoa that I wanted to do work that is directly useful to someone. And EdTech does exactly that. I don’t know if I’ll stay in EdTech forever, but I do know that my end goal will always remain the same — I want to have a direct, positive impact on another human being’s life.

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