At present, many companies are heavily investing in big data and AI. But, the question is, how effectively are they using data? In an exclusive interview with AIM, Intuit India Site Leader and Vice President of Product Development Saurabh Saxena shares fascinating insights into the world of data science and AI — while discussing facets of his learnings, experiences and leadership style.
Companies need to change their approach and look at data as a product. Saurabh emphasizes on an approach, known as data mesh, which favours pushing data ownership and responsibility to local domain teams. The teams will be stewards of data and support documentation for quality.
Intuit’s vision is to produce clean, interoperable and re-usable data through distributed data ownership. These connected data products create a network of our data ecosystem, enabling productivity gains for consumers and data engineers.
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Intuit was recently recognized as number one among the 50 best firms in India for data scientists to work for – 2022 as part of the fourth annual list released by AIM.
At Intuit, Saxena focuses on the company’s growth journey, in line with their strategy of becoming an AI-driven expert platform, delivering best-in-class results for each stakeholder group, including employees, customers, and shareholders, to measure success. He also leads product suites of QuickBooks (QB) Online Advanced, QB Desktop, QB Enterprise, point of sale, and Intuit market—aligned with business goals—positioning Intuit for long-term development.
Q: Can you tell us about your contributions and initiatives toward the company’s growth. What are your key takeaways from the experience?
Our engineering teams in Bengaluru drive end-to-end product development and management for Intuit’s high-value products – Lacerte, QuickBooks Desktop, TurboTax Desktop, Billing, Virtual Expert Platform, Developer Experience, etc. Leveraging the power of AI, ML and cloud, Intuit India has been creating new opportunities with products like QuickBooks Online-Advanced, targeted toward the global mid-market business segment.
Some takeaways we have observed are:
- While we were already working towards solving for small business growth through omnichannel commerce, the pandemic has only accelerated this journey to virtual/digital platforms.
- The power of a global collaborative platform mindset is about evolving from a mindset of just building products and features to building a set of capabilities and building blocks upon which the products and features are built, contributing to innovation at scale.
- The power of AI and data and its role in building stronger customer experiences. We believe our AI-driven expert platform will revolutionize experiences for customers and help people make the right financial decisions for themselves, their business, and their families. People across the world will be able to instantly access the skills, insights and expert advice they need, while at the same time, experts will gain access to new clients they wouldn’t reach otherwise.
- Open platform contribution through open source and inner source. Open source is an important part of Intuit’s engineering culture. We rely on open-source tools and give back to the community by actively participating and sharing our projects. Members of our engineering community have open sourced many projects, including tools to speed up UI design, enable web services testing, and power productivity at scale. The inner source is the use of open-source software development best practices and establishing an open source-like culture within organizations. Programmers share our work with a wide audience instead of just with a manager or team. We can contribute to a range of projects, not just those directly connected to our team. This open culture empowers us and promotes speed and innovation.
Q: What are some of the daily challenges you face as VP of product development? How do you approach them to ensure work goes smoothly as planned?
A: Given the current environment, the most important consideration is our continuous journey to transform the workplace, keeping factors such as cross-team collaboration and our energizing and inclusive culture at the forefront. So one of my priorities is to reiterate and effectively and safely operationalise our hybrid workforce/workplace strategy, which will enable us to – create a sense of connectedness and belonging; spark creativity and innovation; solve for speed, agility, and productivity, and help us attract and keep top, diverse talent without affecting the productivity of our teams.
Second, it would be to align and prioritize what’s most important to our teams. For example, we have a leadership playbook to enable our managers to lead with a clear vision, build a high-performing culture and drive winning results. A key part of this exercise would include allowing teams to take ownership of the outcomes, championing a culture of inclusion and innovation, encouraging teams to say no if something isn’t a priority, and creating a culture of autonomy to maintain a high say-do ratio.
Lastly, it would be to promote being nimble, having a growth mindset, and quickly adjusting to the customer needs and strategy changes. There are no failures in tech disruption, only learnings and experiments, so an important priority would be to enable teams to focus on the ‘Fail Fast and Learn Faster’ philosophy.
Q: How have your roles and responsibilities changed over time, especially during the pandemic?
A: If the pandemic has changed anything, it’s that I’ve only become more connected with my teams. It has also allowed me to learn the hybrid style of working and how to balance flexibility and productivity with the connectedness and innovation created through collaboration and in-person interactions, which is critical to our culture.
It has also allowed me to reflect on the importance of our employees’ well-being/wellness more than ever before. At Intuit, we understand just how important wellness is. We have expanded our ‘Wellbeing for Life Program‘ to support anything that falls under physical, emotional, or financial well-being and any expenses our employees may need to support their family’s needs. Our team also designed a simple, intuitive wellness playbook that brings together resources to create awareness and equip managers to support their own and their team’s balance and wellness.
Q: Can you shed light on the skills required to thrive in turbulent times and strategies implemented to bring tangible benefits for employees?
In a world where skills need to be constantly updated, Intuit seeks to solve challenging and meaningful customer problems, always evolving with new technologies, elegant and intuitive design and UI. We look for talent who have high learnability, a passion for deep customer understanding, innovation while being creative, and talent with an ability to work in fast-moving teams.
Some of the core skills are being curious, doing breakthrough innovations in constrained environments, and aiming for simplicity in our product and organizsation. Next, it’s about the mindset to operate boundary-less, with a lot of compassion, demonstrating the highest level of ownership and accountability. Finally, it’s about operating with high velocity and having the platform mindset to drive that.
Engineers, data scientists and product managers must have a solid, in-depth background in technical abilities like programming and a grasp of analytical tools; in terms of non-technical talents – business acumen, problem-solving ability, soft skills, and a will to create with speed determine success. At Intuit, we prioritize recruiting people with the appropriate skills and experience, but we also look for additional traits, such as a customer-centric and innovative mindset.
In addition to relevant skills, we also look at how potential talent aligns with our values to ensure we have people who are the right culture fit for us. Some of the significant roles where Intuit is seeing growth are software engineering, product design, product and program management, data science, risk analytics and business analytics roles. The complementary capabilities that will see growth include artificial intelligence/machine learning, data science, cloud, open-source and natural language understanding (NLU).
Intuit India has a team of over 1300+ people and is essentially a microcosm of Intuit, a global technology platform that helps its customers and small businesses overcome their most important financial challenges. The company serves over 100 million customers worldwide with TurboTax, QuickBooks, Mint, CreditKarma, and Mailchimp.
In FY21, Intuit had about 30 percent of women team members in technology roles globally, and now the company is looking to make it 35 per cent by FY23. “Diversity isn’t something we do—it’s who we are. Our commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) is foundational to our company. We are one strong step ahead in building an organization that represents the diverse world we live in and the customers we serve,” said Saxena.
Intuit has some world-class inclusive and employee-friendly policies, alongside networks and communities like Tech Women@Intuit, Intuit Women’s Network, and Pride community. For more than a decade, the company has been on the list of India’s Best Companies To Work for.Also, it has been recognised as a ‘Gold employer’ in the India workplace equality index (IWEI) 2021 for two times in a row.
Intuit plans to expand in India, leverage the large pool of skilled tech talent available in the country, and invest in growing core tech capabilities that will drive innovation for their global products and platforms. “We need great talent across levels to change the dynamic, reshape conversations and motivate the younger generation to join and excel in the tech world,” said Saxena.