“In order to move ahead, you need to build on who you are as a person. You need to know that for yourself first.“
When we initially reached out to Rukshana Sundar, she was a Feedback Manager at Verafin, and by the time we had our chat she had already moved on to a Product Manager position. Rukshana’s career journey shows that even though some doors may seem closed, knocking on them and asking questions can go a long way.
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techNL: Thanks so much sitting down with us. To start, could you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Rukshana Sundar: Sure! My name is Rukshana Sundar and I’m originally from Sri Lanka. I came to Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) in 2014 as an international student on scholarship and I graduated in 2017. I’m also a trained classical Bharatanatyam Dancer, which is a very traditional Indian form of dancing. I learned it for 13 years and then through university I pursued it. I performed at a lot of different shows and even performed at TEDx Youth St. Johns. I was really intrigued, so I also applied to become a speaker in 2017. I was one of the six speakers [that year] and that is one of my most cherished experiences to date.
When I’m not at work though, I’m usually with books. I love reading. I wouldn’t call myself a fitness enthusiast, but you know, I try to get my steps in here and there, and I do things that help me relax, like yoga and hiking. That’s basically a little bit about myself, in a nutshell.
Thank you! I’d love to dive into your previous role and ask what a typical workday looks like for a Feedback Manager at Verafin.
Basically, a Feedback Manager looks at customer feedback. At Verafin, we have a very customer-centric approach when it comes to releasing software updates. Making this as simple as possible, Verafin is an anti-money laundering software company. Every week, we release a lot of new software updates and we have customers who use those updates. These customers give us feedback about things that could be in the application, but aren’t yet. We’re a new, small team, and as a feedback manager I would gather that customer feedback and manage it.
[The feedback could] also come from prospective customers, which the sales team gives us. For example, if a sale doesn’t go through, then the sales team would highlight the specific feature that we don’t have in the application today, but a competitive product does. We track that kind of stuff in the feedback management world.
We also make a lot of dashboards out of [the information we receive], and come up with suggestions for our development teams as to what could be in the product road map in the future. These are mere suggestions, I’m not saying we are the ones who decide what’s going to get shipped next week or anything. That’s basically the feedback manager role.
Now that you are a Product Manager, what are you most looking forward to?
I graduated with a business administration degree, so I don’t have a computer science background, but I’ve always been technically inclined. When I was at MUN, I worked at The Commons for the duration of my program. I was there for three years and towards the end I also worked at Information and Technology Services, which is basically like the helpdesk for staff and faculty at MUN.
Once I came to Verafin, my roles were primarily business oriented. I started with the support team, then customer success for a long time, and now I’ve switched over to product management, which is essentially where the feedback manager role also fits in as well. In my new role, I’m looking forward to expanding my technical skillset to have the ability to run queries if need be and to understand our vendors. Vendors are the companies and products we integrate with. In this product management interfaces role, I’m going to get to work very closely with our vendors and see how the technical pipelines are built so that we synthesize our data, to make sure that Verafin is giving customers the most value given the data that we actually have.
I love how your business education experience combines with your technical support work experience in your new role. I’d love to know what part of your education or work experience you feel best prepared you for your current role?
I think the primary factor that really helped me is the different types of work experiences that I had as a student, and I think that it’s really important for students in school to know, because when you go to university it’s a lot. You’re learning to take multiple courses, you’re juggling everything, it’s a life shift. You’re just dealing with multiple challenges. Your primary functionality is to come to school so that you can get good education, but I think along with that it’s so important to have work experience.
The experience could be anything, as long as you are gaining skills. For example, when I first came to MUN I did a lot of volunteer work that gave me customer-facing skills. That helped me get a job at the Commons, [where] I built on that. I was able to speak with more and more people from different walks of life and help them technically answer any questions about using Microsoft Word and so on. From that, I moved to MUN’s service desk, where I gathered call experience. I think it’s one thing to have face-to-face interactions, but it’s a whole different thing to have over-the-phone conversations. You don’t have that in-person presence, but you still have to effectively communicate and help the other person. It’s collectively all these work experiences in addition to the books and case studies that I’ve read and the degree I completed.
What would you recommend to students who are in a similar position to the one you were in and seeking roles in the customer feedback space?
I think you have to build on your authenticity. That’s the only thing that’ll take you forward, because with the Internet today you can basically follow steps on how to launch a job in tech, but that will only get you to a specific stage, and then you will stagnate. In order to move ahead, you need to build on who you are as a person. You need to know that for yourself first. For example, what is it that you like? What is it that you’re good at? How can you bring that to the table? I think that’s what you need to focus on, because it’s so easy for us to get influenced today. It’s so difficult to be an authentic person.
All of us have differences, and I think that’s really what helps companies succeed. If everyone is the same, you’re never going to be able to solve complex problems. You need different types of people with different types of experiences from different walks of life to actually cut through a problem and get to a solution. My recommendation really would be to understand what you like early on and build on that. Like for me, I didn’t have a lot of clarity [on what I wanted to do] when I was in school. I was like any other 19-year-old. One thing I knew was that I was really interested in technology and that was something that came to me naturally. I was able to grasp technical concepts very fast and very effectively, so I just basically worked on that.
You also have to enjoy what you’re doing. You can just do something you’re good at because it’s lucrative, and you can’t always do what you like all the time, but if you have the opportunity to build on who you think you are as a person, do it. Because eventually that will get you to where you want to be.
Most people have to go through a couple of years of real-life experiences to get to a stage that they can actually figure out what they like. So, the only thing I would say is be true to yourself and work on it. Even if it’s a tiny part-time or volunteer position, I think that’s really what’s going to get you far.
You talked about being true to your authentic self by finding things that you’re passionate about and working on them. What do you remember about your job search and the hiring process with Verafin? Did your authentic self help you get into this role?
I think it’s a really important question.
First, I want to talk about being an international student. When you come here as an international student, you come with time challenges. You have a limited amount of time to study and then once you study, you have a limited amount of time to work [based on your visa], and then once you work you have only one to three years to find long-term employment, and then you also have to have work experience before you can apply for your permanent residency so that you can establish your life in Canada. That’s a huge pressure for international students, and I genuinely don’t think a lot of people are aware of that.
A couple of different things helped me get this job. Firstly, like I said, it was definitely being my authentic true self, because every time I would talk to someone I would be so passionate about what I had done, be that working at the Commons or working at the service desk or dancing. These things were really important to me. If I look back on my university experience, that’s the one thing that helped me get to where I am, focusing on what I like and making that work to my benefit.
The second thing that helped was informational interviews. I don’t know if a lot of students know this, but the career development office at MUN offers a program called the Professional Skills Development Program, the purpose of which was to help international students amalgamate into the Canadian job industry. [It answered questions like], what are social norms and what kind of questions can you expect in interviews and how do you format your resume? Through that I [learned about] informational interviews, where you can actually talk to people in industry who offer their time, and they can be employees or experienced managers or even entry-level workers. I’d go to these information sessions with employers like RBC and ask if they would be open to having a coffee chat.
I wanted to ask people how they got to where they are, and the first person I spoke to was from KPMG. At the end of that 30-minute chat, I asked them if they could introduce me to their contacts. They then introduced me to two of their friends, one an employee at MUN, the other an employee at Verafin. I then got to meet both of those wonderful people and the person at Verafin actually offered to put in a word for me. This was in September of 2016, so I gave my resume, and I was really excited and I thought I was gonna get an interview call right away, but that didn’t happen. I think I should mention that because there were lots of failures. I think that’s it’s that iceberg theory, right? We only see the success. We don’t see how many failures actually lead to that success.
So, they put through a reference for me in September and I didn’t get any interview calls. I had been applying for jobs like left, right, and center, and I didn’t get even one interview call. And in my mind I’m thinking, oh man, I have all this experience, why is no one calling me? So then, in March of 2017, the pressure was intense at this point, because I’m graduating in in May and ideally I’d like to have a job by that time for my permanent residency. Then I see a poster at MUN advertising this program called an externship, which is basically a 10-day job shadow at an employer’s location, and Verafin happened to be one of those employers. The issue was it was only open for computer science students. I thought, if I can get into this externship, I can definitely get an interview with them. So, I went to the office that was offering them and asked if there was any way I could sign up and luckily they had two vacant spots, and that was the last day to apply. The person at the office got me in and I thought, this is great, I’m gonna do the externship, and I’m gonna get a job.
I was placed with the Finance team. I did the work and I got to know the people. The first Friday of my externship, they were having an offsite meeting for team training, and so the team lead said, “you can just take the day off.” I thought maybe I could get placed with a different team instead, so I went to HR and HR said, “it doesn’t really matter, you can take the day off.” I said no again, because I was only there for a limited amount of time. I wanted to know more [about Verafin] and I was really interested.
The helpdesk was naturally the next option, but at the same time it’s a really intense place to start. Customers are calling you, and you need to have the kind of knowledge that you wouldn’t have at my stage. But because I had the experience from the service desk at MUN, where I’d already spoken with customers over the phone, I knew you could place customers on hold for a couple of minutes and look for answers or ask someone for help, even if I didn’t understand the technical terms.
So, I got placed with the helpdesk team that Friday and I think [the team lead] saw something in me. I mean, it was obvious that I was really interested in helpdesk, that was really clear. I think they also saw my potential. I had also openly expressed my interest in an interview, so on Thursday of the second week, I spoke with the Director of the Customer Success team, and they fully explained what the helpdesk team does, and asked if I liked it or not. They actually make sure that whoever comes through the doors likes what they’re doing, because being passionate about something is extremely important to Verafin. They wanted to know if I felt that it was not a good fit for me, and if so I needed to voice that to them right now. And I said no, I really like it, I like the fact that I can learn. I’m naturally someone like that. And then the externship ended. I was happy to at least know I was already in the HR system.
I think April 2017 is when I got called and I spoke with the VP of Customer Success for my interview. I think what really honestly got me through the door was having [the externship] and my TEDx talk. They asked about an experience that was very memorable to me that changed me as a person, and genuinely that was the three months of preparaing before the TEDx talk experience more than the talk itself. The way we kind of cut through ideas and refined them, that was genuinely the best part of that TEDx experience. They asked how many applicants TEDx typically got and what kind of candidates they took. I think that year, they had a hundred something applicants, they shortlisted and interviewed about 20, and then they selected six.
Yeah, so I think that really was my selling point. That’s basically how I got in at Verafin. The traditional applying for jobs online [method] really didn’t help me, and I’m not saying that that wouldn’t help someone else. But for me I didn’t even get one interview call applying online.
Just shooting out your resume randomly didn’t turn up anything.
In my mind I was good, I had a scholarship and really good work experiences. I had good volunteer experiences. I had solid references and I still didn’t know why it didn’t work out. I think part of me was also fully focused on the tech space and back then, it wasn’t like it is now. It was only Verafin.
What is the culture like at Verafin and what is your favourite part of working there?
The culture is really fun. Verafin is focused on managing change and that is an imperative skill, not just as an employee. I think it’s a general skill that, if mastered, you can do well in life. Change is inevitable, and that’s the biggest piece of Verafin’s culture for me. It’s just taught me so much about how to be effective when there’s so much change going on. That is the one piece that resonates with me a lot, but I’d also say that Verafin is very genuine.
I haven’t had any family here since I moved to NL alone in 2014 and when you don’t have your family with you, you don’t always have that feeling of someone having your back and that’s extremely anxiety-inducing for someone. When you go to Verafin, the people are so open about their life experiences, be it losses or illnesses that they faced, and those things really inspire me. Everyone around me has had some kind of a struggle, so I know that if I’m struggling too, I can make this work. That really keeps me going.
It’s definitely the people, they play a huge role. I’ve worked at [a bank], but it was so busy because you have customers coming in and out all the time, so we never had the chance to sit and talk about, “how’s your day going?” At Verafin, because they’re so flexible, I think employees can connect on a personal level, and that helps establish strong work relationships. I think trust is an integral part of a good working relationship as well. For example, I just moved houses and now I’m traveling and I just got into this role as a product manager for the interfaces team, and they are really supportive and help so much. For me, this has been a very difficult year, and I think I wouldn’t be where I am without the support of the people at Verafin. Everyone is different, but for me when I hear the word culture, it’s the ability to manage change and still be effective and also the space to form significant relationships with people genuinely.
This has been amazing, I’m so happy that I reached out to talk to you. What are you working on this week?
I’m actually off this week [laughs], but I’ll tell you what I worked on last week. Right now I am trying to get a list of all the data requirements that are essential for the [sales] agents to run. I’m just trying to gather the most recent data requirements to power [new] software releases.
Thank you so much for this chat Rukshana!
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Interested in working in roles in Product or Feedback Management like Rukshana’s? Check out job openings from current techNL members below:
Interested in joining the fun culture at Verafin? Check out their current job openings here.
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235 Water Street, Suite 600
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Copyright techNL 2021