When Ambalika graduated from Columbia with a degree in economics, she was all set to start her career in finance with a job at Morgan Stanley. But when the 2008 financial crisis hit just a year later, she knew it was time to switch industries. With her passion for client-facing work, Ambalika had no trouble breaking into tech. She’s worked in customer success for both startups and large companies, including Salesforce, Turvo, and Oyo. Now she’s a Senior Solutions Consultant at Google, where she helps clients navigate payment processing.
Morgan Stanley was a great training boot camp for what I had to do in tech. I'm not saying that the transition from finance was easy, but a lot of the work was very similar. Customer success is a pretty specific skill set—not everybody loves being yelled at by clients. And if you want to learn how to get yelled at, try talking to hedge funds in 2008. When I made my pivot, I couldn’t believe how nice my clients were compared to what I was used to.
Another thing that was very similar from trading to software was the environment. I worked at startups at the beginning of my career, and they’re very intense and dynamic. Trading was very similar. Things were constantly evolving, people were getting laid off. You had to learn how to handle change.
Whatever the industry, there are few key components to succeeding in client-facing roles. The first is if you enjoy talking and engaging with people. The second is having a thick skin. In Customer Success, you’ll often be presenting other people's decisions. You're not the Product Manager and you're not the engineer, so you don’t have the power to make the changes people want. It can be a hard position. So the third piece of the puzzle is empathy. Do you understand what the client needs? How can you help them use your product?
I lost my job during the 2008 crisis and it was very hard, but the number one most important thing with career transition is networking.
Even if your skills are really transferable, if you don't have the right names on your resume, pivoting can be very difficult. However, knowing the right people can help bridge the gap considerably, because they can tell the story for you. Expanding your network is hard when you're moving to a new industry, but my first recommendation is to focus on that.
The second thing is, even if you have the right skills, it's very important to speak the local language. You don't need to be a Java programming expert. But you need to know what’s going on currently in the industry or company you want to break into.
The third thing is grit. At first, I felt like I was pounding my head against the wall. But eventually I got there. Persistence is important, especially at a transitional period in your career. There is no perfect moment to pivot—you just have to stick with it.
In a SAS startup, most of your time is spent on customer-facing meetings, calls, and emails. You have to spend time maintaining those relationships. These companies are highly iterative, meaning they’re releasing new features every month, sometimes every week. Startups move fast and inevitably something will break on the customer side, so you have to spend that time on engagement and customer management. In addition to that, you’ll spend some time working with product management.
If you want to make it, you have to show some kind of interest and aptitude for the work. In my experience, startups are way more open to people from other industries and other areas because they are trying to grow fast. They get to know you on a deeper level. So spend some time learning about the company, and learning about the founders. If an interviewee brings up something the interviewer wrote, they're always impressed. Everyone's flattered that you look into them.
There are three main things. One is empathy. For me, empathy is a very deep aspect of my personality. It’s easy for me to have empathy for the customer, empathy for the product engineering folks—it’s a big part of my personality. The other one is math. Being a math person helped with the technical aspect of my work even though I don’t have a deep coding or technical background. The third thing is life experience. I’ve been laid off, I’ve been yelled at by customers, and I have a thick skin and don’t take complaints too personally.
1. Client facing ability
2. Technical aptitude or interest
3. A thick skin
Don’t go into Customer Success if …
You take feedback on a product personally. You’re going to get a lot of fe