In 2017, after my third year of engineering I interned at this amazing company called SocialCops. The company later transformed into Atlan (where I currently work at the time of writing this). SocialCops in its time worked on amazing social impact projects, from figuring out where should we open cooking gas distribution centers so every poor household gets clean cooking gas, to helping states plan their budgets. The same company, with its amazing team ended up building India’s national data platform, DISHA.
I found myself fortunate enough to get an opportunity to contribute a little to the company and the impact that group of 20-somethings made. I loved the experience, the company, the mission so much that I opted-out of campus placements at my college, and ended up joining them full-time right after I graduated.
Of all things I loved about the company and the culture, I loved that the people were heavy users of Quip. It was our company-wide wiki, anyone could edit. We always defaulted to writing things down. You need to build a new feature? Write a spec. You need to discuss something? Write a doc. You are calling a meeting? Make sure there are notes.
Now, Quip has this really interesting feature, where they show you a feed of all the documents that have been updated in the folders you have access to (everybody had access to almost everything).
So, you could log in to Quip any time of the day, and see this live feed of knowledge being created and updated in real time. People documenting the features they have been working on, the meetings that have been happening. Everything. In Real time.
My routine was to open Quip with my evening tea, read about all the new docs that have popped up, drop my unsolicited suggestions, or just lurk.
I was a college kid, an intern, and I had never witnessed something like this. It’s like, there is everything all the smart people around me are thinking about, and working on, and I have this amazing window to their collective minds. I was like a kid in a candy store.
While I was interning, there was a person at the company who was a generalist as far as I knew, although I never understood what exactly did she do there. She was at a point tasked with improving the knowledge management at the company. She talked to people in every team (even the interns) to build up this huge hierarchy of knowledge. Organize the information chaos a huge hall full of knowledge workers generate every day, ranging from feature specs, marketing campaigns, analysis, minutes of meetings etc.
The system she came up with, and announced to the team during one of our infamous Friday demos was amazing. It made the Quip experience even better. Suddenly things were discoverable, much more structured, and the core of the idea still survived.
Since then, I’ve become convinced that one thing every startup should focus on is building these systems. This is one of the most critical of jobs at a startup. If you’re a company that has more than 20 employees, it generates knowledge at a pace you can never possibly keep up with and organize. You need a full-time knowledge manager, whose only job is to make sure the one thing every employee in your company uses, depends on, and contributes to becomes a core asset for your company.
Knowledge management is something I’m very passionate about. I spend a lot of time thinking about the problem, like I’m so biased about it that 80% of the issues I discover at Olvy I attribute it to not writing things down.
There was another reality to this I learned about when I visited family for the weekend. A concerned relative, one who worked at an MNC, from his own experience suggesting, “If you want to keep your job, make sure there are some locks only you have keys to” (sounds better in Hindi).
He meant, make sure you know something about your job that others don’t so it’s not easy to replace you.
I laughed right there to his face, almost ridiculing him.