Take a moment to think back on your first job. You were just out of school, starting to find your footing in the wide world of work and wages. There was your first boss, your band of coworkers, and of course, the work itself.
For some, a first job just serves as a placeholder, a chance to earn some money while you make plans for your future career.
But for others, a first job is also the first step of a larger journey. It provides you with challenges and opportunities to demonstrate your skills and even develop new ones.
Our guest has achieved a great deal in his chosen field, and it seems that every step of his career has provided crucial experience, all leading to his current position as Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft.
But when we talked with Srivatsan Balakrishnan last week, we specifically asked him to look back at his first job after graduation: Lead Software Analyst and Point-of-Contact for the APAC region for Bally Technologies.
Balakrishnan shared stories from his days working with Bally and also pointed to specific skills and experiences that have directly influenced his subsequent work with other companies, such as Motorola Solutions, Gate 39 Media, and of course Microsoft, where he’s currently part of the cognitive services group working on Cloud and AI technologies.
His implementation of a new and improved search system in Dynamics 365 led to a 100% improvement in clickthrough rate.
His extensive industry experience has also led to Balakrishnan being asked to judge multiple awards programs, including the European Search Awards and the MENA (Middle-East and North Africa) Stevie Awards.
Balakrishnan’s scholarly article “Simple Sophisticated Object Cache Service Using Azure Redis” was published by DZone, which boasts more than one million monthly readers.
But first came Bally. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Bally is literally one of the biggest names in gaming, both here in the US and abroad. Bally Manufacturing, AKA Bally Entertainment, started out by manufacturing slot machines and pinball tables. Pinball enthusiasts in particular are no doubt familiar with the brand’s legacy in the gaming space.
Bally Technologies is the arm of the company that focuses on building software applications for casinos.
Signing on as the Lead Software Analyst for the APAC (Asia-Pacific) region gave Balakrishnan the chance to cut his teeth on a demanding role. Before we move forward, let’s talk about what the role looked like in action.
Shaking hands and solving problems
To start with, we should mention that software analysts, in general, need to be able to balance technical considerations and the needs of the end user. While programming is a largely technical job, software analysts need to be in touch with the customer. Analysts can even serve as a kind of liaison between the customers and the development team.
Customer interactions were definitely a critical component of Balakrishnan’s work with Bally.
“I actually got to travel to Macau multiple times to visit with customers, and the main goal was to provision our new systems and also to address and solve any issues that the customer might be having. So, it was very much a customer-centric role, and I loved that part of it.”
These were usually extended visits, which gave Balakrishnan plenty of time to understand the customers’ needs in depth.
“I spent thirty days with customers onsite, overseeing products, performance, bug fixes, and any enhancements that we wanted to realize.”
As for what this software actually looks like and the services it provides, Balakrishnan described the applications this way:
“These applications are Windows-based multi-feature applications that track players, accounts, and slot games’ earnings and winnings, as well as casino-wide application settings. These applications are deployed across hundreds or thousands of systems and servers, based on the size and needs of each casino.”
Not only are these complex applications, but they also need to be capable of providing exactly what a particular casino needs.
Balakrishnan admits that there were aspects of the company’s processes that he felt could have been improved, but the overall emphasis on problem-solving was right up his alley.
As you may expect, being the point of contact for customers also meant that customers would give Balakrishnan feedback that he could then take back to Bally. And in keeping with his affinity for problem-solving, he actually managed to solve major customer complaints while he was with the company.
“Most of the feedback was about performance and scaling. Thankfully, I was able to address these concerns about three or four months before I left the company.”
Understanding needs and expectations
On the topic of how this aspect of the job has continued to influence Balakrishnan’s work, he feels strongly that development teams absolutely need to have a thorough understanding of customer needs and expectations, not just an educated guess of what customers want.
Especially for software that’s already been launched, dev teams can’t just let the software stay as-is. Whether it’s in support of an update or an entirely new version, customers should remain the focus.
“We need to be customer focused. At the end of the day, our technology and our products are widely adopted and used by customers. We need to know how the customer will use the product and the impact it has on their day-to-day productivity. We can achieve better design by conducting regular follow-ups with customers, actively addressing their concerns, and building features that are aligned with customers’ expectations.”
Software development is inherently complex, and time-consuming, especially when it comes to enterprise software like Bally’s. In other words, there are times when it can be hard to see the forest through the trees. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the technical details, and this is just one reason why skilled software analysts like Balakrishnan are so important to successful development. They maintain that connection with the customer, and they also have an accurate conception of what’s possible and what isn’t.
Setting the foundations
Working with Bally Technologies was quite the first job for Balakrishnan, and it seems to have set a standard of success and efficiency that he maintains to this day.
But how does Balakrishnan feel about his work with Bally today, and how did it influence the rest of his career?
According to Balakrishnan, the Bally role led to renewed interest in cloud technologies.
“That was around the time when cloud computing was on the rise, and my experiences with Bally got me thinking about how the cloud could support scalability for an ever-growing casino customer base. This is when I really started developing in-depth knowledge of distributed systems.”
Balakrishnan is still directly involved with cloud technology at Microsoft, an industry leader in cloud computing, and it all started here.
In a broader sense,
“I still remember something that the COO of Bally at the time shared with us: to be successful in your career, you need both integrity and ethics. Without these, you don’t stand a chance. I found it inspiring at the time, and since then, in all my different roles, it’s been proven correct again and again.”
The final thought we’d like to share is for any of our readers out there who are just starting their careers. You might not think the job you have right now is a good fit. Maybe the work doesn’t speak to you or you don’t quite click with the company culture.
But there are always opportunities, in any job, to develop the skills you want to focus on throughout your career. If you take your work seriously, no matter what it is, you’ll be investing in your own success.