Meet Vasan Subramanian – CTO Accel Partners, India – the man with an everlasting itch to build tech products

Meet Vasan Subramanian – CTO Accel Partners, India – the man with an everlasting itch to build tech products 800 400 C-Suite Network

In this week’s Techie Tuesdays, we speak to CTO of Accel Partners, India, Vasan Subramanian. In a career spanning three decades, Vasan has built technology products at startups and large companies. In his current role, he advises portfolio companies on technology, and helps evaluate tech startups and in due-diligence.

If you have a certain image of how a CTO of one of the largest and most successful investment funds in India should be, Vasan Subramanian is probably nothing like it.

Vasan graduated from IIT Madras in 1987, and later from IIM Bangalore, since the beginning has pursued his love for building technology products.

In this week’s Techie Tuesdays, YourStory speaks to Vasan to know more about his tryst with technology over the last three decades.

Vasan-Subramanian Accel partners Techie Tuesdays

Childhood across India

Childhood With Mom_ Elder Brother and Younger Sis
Vasan in his childhood With mother, elder brother and younger sister

Vasan was born in Chennai and studied across the country at Madurai, Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi, Tiruvanthapuram, Srinagar, and Hyderabad given his father’s job with the postal department.

Vasan was not really inclined to put in much effort in studies, though he scored well. His interest, however, was in volley ball and he was a part of school team.

An early memory, he says, was of trying to solve the Rubik’s cube in his vacations before 12th class. With everybody trying to solve the Rubik’s cube, Vasan took on the challenge and solved it in five days. In those five days, however, he did nothing else. He even taught the solution to his mother later.

The ‘Jedi’ at IIT Madras

Vasan ranked 85 in IIT JEE, and chose IIT Madras. However, he has one regret to date. “In those days, Computer Science (engineering) at IIT Madras used to close at ~AIR 100, so I was confident that I’ll get that. I gave IIT Kanpur (CS) as first choice and IIT Madras CS second. Even after my father insisted that I should put IIT Bombay CS as third choice, I didn’t do it because I was confident of getting second option.”

He got his third option, which was IIT Madras Electrical (Electronics) Engineering.

At IIT Madras, Vasan was among the youngest in his batch. Labeled ‘Juvenile Delinquent’ by seniors, shortened to Jedi, which became his ‘identity’ in the days to come.

IIM Volleyball Champs
Vasan with IIM Volleyball Champs team

While volleyball and theatre held his interest, Vasan also gravitated towards software development. This led him to take up extra courses in programming (Data Structures algorithms, Artificial Intelligence), which were offered to M. Tech. students, and he also learnt programming language Pascal.

Vasan also spent time fixing keyboards for a senior and helped build a connector, chip and the entire circuitry to synthesise sound. So involved Vasan was in the project, that he couldn’t complete his own project, which was printing a vernacular font.

It (a dot matrix printer) didn’t have the ASCII codes of characters in its memory for Indian fonts. So, you got to develop that, feed in intermediate driver programme. We didn’t have Unicode those days. So, there was mapping of certain character set which was fed into intermediate driver programme. This converted to graphic map of the equivalent. The challenge was that the characters in Indian fonts are of variable lengths. Those days we had dot matrix printer with nine (8+1) pins. So, we had to use the bottom pin more often than not (two swipes) to have one character printed.

Vasan applied to universities abroad to study computer science, but couldn’t get through because his grades were low and he had to entirely depend on scholarships.

Joining TVS Electronics, Vasan thought he would work on both software and hardware, but later realised he was in the testing department, not R&D. He worked on automating the testing of PCB (Printed Circuit Boards), and with an interest in C language and Assembly programming, Vasan sought work on a project.

Vasan with TVSE team
Vasan with TVSE team

Circuit diagrams and PCBs are not correlated in terms of location of elements, and there’s no index giving the location of resistors, capacitors and other elements of PCB. To solve this, Vasan took the image produced by the autocad of PCB, converted it to bitmap and wrote TSR (Terminate and stay resistant programme).

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Resign -> admission -> drop out -> back to the job

Vasan resigned from TVS Electronics at the end of his first year to study Computer Science at IIT Madras, and within a week was bored. Seniors at TVS Electonics asked him to return and he did. Only a couple of years later, Vasan realised he wouldn’t get a computer science this way. He then wrote CAT and joined IIM-Bangalore in 1991. “IIM was not expensive those days. I remember going into college with Rs 50,000 in my bank and coming out with Rs 20,000.”

Vasan receiving 'Best All Rounder of the batch' medal at the IIM Graduation
Vasan receiving ‘Best All Rounder of the batch’ medal at the IIM Graduation

Life @ Wipro

Vasan’s strategy for a pure software job worked, and he joined Wipro after IIM. He joined as project lead and worked on a project to build an MRP engine (for ERP solution) called Insta MRP which was a part of InstaPlan. He designed most of it and coded a part of it.

Vasan later worked on a project for Ventura Inc – a company that makes a desktop publisher, and finding it interesting, relocated to Canada. Ventura filed for bankruptcy within four months, and was acquired by Corel.

Back in India, Vasan worked on telecom billing product Teleprodigy. It was one of the few products initiated by Wipro, and saw reasonable success. As a part of Teleprodigy, Vasan and his team wrote the backend for Airtel for billing dial up internet connections.

Vasan with Wipro team
Vasan with Wipro team

Vasan was the architect of the product and his team used Java in front end and Oracle in the backend. It…