Level Up #7

A few soft wins... 🏆

Hi 👋,

Hemant here. This is the 7th story in the Level Up series. You can read the previous 6 stories here. I highly recommend checking them out to learn more about our hero, Sandeep.

A quick recap of the last story:

Amita was constantly being taunted by someone in another team. When she told this to her manager, Sandeep, he felt it was best to report to HR. But, this irked Amita. She didn’t want to let anyone else know… But eventually, she realized that Sandeep had done the right thing…

Sandeep learned not to make any assumptions about his co-workers.

Today, we’ll see Sandeep’s biggest worry come to life - that someone prominent on the team wants to leave.

You lose, you win

“Sandeep, in a few months, you will be writing feedback for all your direct reports,” Sri said while having coffee with Sandeep. “Appraisal cycle is coming. I want you to go through some reading material before you write feedback since this is one of the biggest challenges as a manager.” Sandeep nodded and moved on to talk about a stand-up comedian on YouTube.

Sandeep had worked with several managers in the past. He had never had to put additional effort to convince people around him to give him good ratings. Thanks to his work, which was top-notch at all times, the ratings were always good.

How hard could writing feedback for his reports be?


Sandeep had finally started feeling at ease as a manager. Surabhi had now established a good rapport with him. At the same time, Sandeep reached out to her with any of his immediate needs, like asking for support from another team in the bank, or getting her feedback on some of the architectural components.

Sri had been an excellent mentor for Sandeep, helping him wade through the deep dirt pits he pulled himself into from time to time.

With the baby also due in a few months, Sandeep’s life was getting all the more colourful. They had painted the house recently. It was now filled with cheerful photos of babies everywhere. The light wall colours were meant to maintain joyous energy in the apartment. The energy was transferred to Sandeep’s work as well. Every morning, as he walked into the office, he elevated the spirits of many people around him.


Sandeep was sitting on his desk, reviewing some proposed changes for some upcoming new features. They were technically complex, so he was making sure that the team reduced the complexities before they started writing code. He left several questions on the document, being extra critical this time. As a manager, this was one of his responsibilities – he was here to ask many questions.

Right then, he received a message.

“Sandeep, I need to talk to you about something...” Derek said in the message.

Whenever a message was ambiguous like this, Sandeep got a little scared. He had seen enough already to not treat these messages lightly.

“Yeah, tell me,” Sandeep responded.

“Can we meet? This will be easier in person.”

A chill went across Sandeep’s body. He didn’t feel good about this message. His eyes squinted and lines were now visible on his forehead. He typed some rubbish on the document open in front of him, before coming back to his senses.

He stood up, took a deep breath, and proceeded to Derek’s desk.

“Let’s go to the cafe?” Sandeep asked, smiling; concealing how scared he was.

“Um, actually, let's go to a room,” Derek replied. Sandeep’s smile faded away. They walked around the corridor only to find that most of the conference rooms were occupied. After peeping through several rooms, they found an empty one. Derek entered and asked Sandeep to sit down.

Sandeep sat down and looked into Derek’s eyes. Derek looked around the room for a second or two, before turning towards Sandeep.

“Okay, so...” Derek adjusted the height of his chair, “I’ve decided to quit, Sandeep. I think I have spent enough time at the bank, and I need to find something more challenging,” he said.

“Okay...” Sandeep paused. His face went blank for a few seconds, before replying, “Is there any possibility of you staying back, or have you made your mind?”

“This other job I found is just too good, man. So...”

“Got it. Look, Derek, I don’t want you to leave. You are critical to Neo’s on-time delivery. If you’re not with us, I don’t think we’ll be able to finish in time.”

“I understand, Sandeep, and I feel guilty for this, but I’m getting such a good offer that I can’t refuse.”

“Well, but can you let me know what we could do to convince you to stay?”

“Well... I’ve made up...”

“Anything, a salary hike, promotion, a more challenging job, let me know. I will discuss this directly with Surabhi. I can’t let you leave...” Sandeep’s voice cracked as he spoke.

“I don’t think you could match the offer. And I’ve made up my mind at this point,” Derek responded. “Just to be clear, Sandeep, I don’t have anything against you or the bank. I need to explore beyond what I’ve done so far.”

“Okay, look, we are looking to deliver Neo in about three months. Can you not stay back until then?”

“I’ve thought about it. In fact, I asked this new company if they were okay with it. They said they will revoke the offer if I don’t join sooner. They can’t wait for 3 months.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. Are you willing to think through this again? I think you should take a couple of hours to think more. Let’s meet later today. Let me know if I could help in any way.”


Sandeep had already stood up from his seat. “Sorry, I need to head to another meeting, but let’s meet in a couple of hours again,” he said and opened the door. He didn’t look behind.

As Sandeep walked out, he was thinking how times had changed - he had saved Derek a few days ago from potentially losing his job, to today where Derek was quitting for no good reason.


As planned, Derek met with Sandeep two hours later. They were in the same room as earlier.

Before Derek could say anything to him, Sandeep started speaking, “Derek, I spoke to Surabhi about your case. We are ready to offer an 8% hike. The added benefits of knowing what you’re working on, maintaining a good work-life balance and all the perks you get don't need mentioning again. May I ask, what is this company you’re exploring?”

“Yeah, there’s a well-funded startup that’s offering me a CTO role. They are expanding their team to about fifty engineers, and need someone to lead them,” he said.

“Oh, okay. That sounds like a great opportunity. And are you thinking of quitting the guitar classes?” Derek had lines on his forehead.

“No, on the contrary, the team has agreed to let me continue my classes.” He said.

“Great! But would you have the time? Say whatever you want, it is still a startup. At a startup, it is all about survival. Here, you have a better work-life harmony. So...”

“You have a point, but...”

“I'll tell you only one thing and then leave it up to you. Think not only about the money and the title but about your entire life – your daily routine, your working hours, etc. If you think you can sustain it for years to come, then I can’t stop you, but otherwise, please think this through. And I am not saying this because I want you to stay. Just advising you as a friend, that’s all…” Sandeep stopped.

He let Derek think in peace.

“Well...” Derek went back to thinking.

Sandeep didn’t say a word.

“Can I take some more time?”

“Sure. Do let me know by the end of the day, if possible, so I can adjust accordingly.” Sandeep said.

Derek nodded. He stood up and left the room. Sandeep stayed behind, tapping keys on his laptop. A few minutes later, he walked to Bavesh’s desk. Bavesh was one of Derek’s close friends, so Sandeep thought he could learn about Derek’s true motivations for leaving from Bavesh.

He didn’t state that Derek wanted to leave but still tried to get a sense of Derek’s mood these days. But the conversation, as expected, was not fruitful. Bavesh was the tersest fellow Sandeep knew. Extracting any information from him was challenging.

As he was about to turn around, he had a call from Surabhi.

“What now?” Sandeep said, not realizing that he had already picked up the call. Surabhi heard him but didn’t react. She wanted to talk to the leadership team urgently.

The leadership team met in the cafeteria. Surabhi brought over a plate full of biscuits and chips and placed them on the table in front of the team.

“I have a request,” Surabhi said. “The government launched some new features to the UPI architecture. I think we should grab the opportunity and be a leader in the adoption of these features. This, actually, would also be a great tactic to grow the number of users on Neo. What do you think, Sri?”

“Definitely exciting improvements. And I agree that this would help with the adoption of Neo. But...”

“What, but?” Surabhi stopped her.

“Well, we have a packed schedule ahead of us. We are still on track to launch the first version. We don’t want to delay it with new features that we don’t have a good idea about. This could mess our plans big time. I think we could get started on these right after we launch our first version.”

“Yeah, but the benefits of doing this right now are too big to let go. If we have to capture market share, let’s be market leaders.”

There was silence around the table.

“Sandeep, what do you think?”

“I don’t think this is possible. There isn’t enough knowledge of how to integrate the new features, how banks could incorporate these, and so on. My suggestion would be to ask someone to investigate these fully and tell us about the possibilities. I’m sure we can begin working on these features right after we launch Neo. But not before then,” Sandeep was firm.

Sri, who was wavering for a little bit, was impressed.

“But Sandeep, think about it. This, I think, will help us a lot in the long run.”

“In that case, I think we should cut some things down from our original plan. Let’s discuss what we can cut off...” Sandeep responded.

Sri interrupted him - “Naah, we already have a very bare-bones banking app. All the features we’re building are crucial for our banking operations,”

Surabhi nodded and pressed her lips together.

“Okay,” she said, “let me know if we can find a way. Otherwise, let’s carry on with our work,” she said and left. She was clearly not happy.

Sandeep, on the other hand, felt positive about himself. He had learned the art of saying no.

But the bigger problem he was facing right now was Derek. If Derek left, the team would be scrambling to get the current work out on time. So he walked towards Derek’s desk, but Derek was walking right towards him.

“I think I’ll stay here,” Derek said and smiled. “You’re right. The balance would be hard to find. I think I was lured by the whole CTO thing, but now I realize that the responsibility might be too much for me to take right now.”

“That’s great news!” Sandeep said and continued moving. His trick had worked. Today's day was going into his journal as the day when Sandeep had won one battle after the other.

Sandeep seems to be winning one battle after the other, but what happens when a calamity outside of his control comes knocking?

Let’s find out in the next story.

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Thanks for reading :)