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Goodbye tech hello adventure
By Sharada Balasubramanian

A computer engineering degree from the prestigious PESIT College in Bangalore, a plum job in one of the leading IT companies in India, and a lucrative long term career was all laid out for Jyothi Shyamsunder.  But Jyothi walked away from the security of India’s booming IT-ITES industry to pursue a career she had always dreamt of - working with an outdoor adventure company. 

Today, Jyothi is the South head of the adventure company Youreka, the largest company in India to advocate adventure based learning programs for children, part of i-discoveri led by alumni of Harvard University, Insead, IIM's and XLRI. Let us hear about her journey from a techie to working with children.

Techgoss (TG): To begin with, tell me about your educational background.
Jyothi Shyamsunder (JS): I did my schooling from Carmel High School, Basaveshwarnagar, Pre-University from KLE and my Bachelors in Engineering (Computer Science) from PESIT, Bangalore.

TG: Where did you start your career and how long have you been in a techie job?
JS: Not knowing what I really wanted to do I followed the herd and chose engineering. I started my Information Technology (IT) career at Mahindra Satyam and continued the job for almost 5 years.

TG: When you had a great career going with your engineering background, what made you shift gears to the profession you were passionate about?
JS: Working in a cubicle from 9am to 6pm (desk job) without my heart in it was always a nightmare for me. So, though I stayed in IT for a long time my soul was always restless to get out and travel, go outdoors and impart education to children and make a difference in their lives in my own little way.

With the restlessness growing within me, I called it ‘quits’ with IT last year and decided to take the road less traveled. I mentally decided to quit in April 2009 and actually quit in June 2009

TG: Were you passionate about nature education and adventure before?
JS: Yes, I have always been passionate about nature and adventure but developed a passion for nature as a form of education in the last few years. And Youreka gave me the opportunity to combine all and thereby giving me the best of both worlds. I recommend reading ‘Last Child in the Woods’ by Richard Louv to get more insight into ‘why children need to get out and engage with nature’.

TG: Did you have concrete plans on what you would do after you quit your job? What did you do?
JS: Though I knew my career had to be in the outdoors along with children I wasn’t sure about how I could combine both. After I quit my IT job, I spent a lot of time in the jungles, doing wildlife projects to know more about nature. I developed a love for photography (a hobby). I also traveled alone to various parts of India to do some soul-searching since I believe that nothing teaches like ‘travel and nature’. 

TG: Did you have any inhibitions?
JS: Yes there were, but all I knew was I had to muster the courage/strength to hang in there and not give-up.

TG: How did your family react to your decision? How did you grapple with the change?
JS: My family thought I was ‘crazy’ as they wondered who would pay me for conducting outdoor programs for children. But I guess now they are coming to terms with it as they are realizing that I work for a noble cause.

I had to navigate through rough waters where I had to handle all kinds of forces against me. I am grateful that I have been blessed with great friends who stood by me through this journey.

TG: How was the period between quitting the job and getting to work on your passion? What happened in the midst? What were you going through mentally?
JS: The period was ‘rough’. Not only did I face challenges from the world outside of me but I had to strengthen myself. There were fears, doubts but I had to tell myself ‘I can’ and trust my abilities.

Having said that, I must also admit that I saw a significant change in myself, as an individual during this period. The belief that ‘spirituality and philosophy is required in life to an extent’ made me stronger and gave the just needed faith to accomplish my dreams.

TG: How long did it take for you to actually discover what you wanted to do and find such an opportunity?
JS: It took about 7 months for to discover what I wanted to. In March 2010, my friend told me about the opportunity to work as a ‘Program Leader’ for Youreka Summer camps. I grabbed this golden chance, for my heart said ‘this is it’.

TG: How did you motivate yourself?
JS: I should thank you for this question because I want people to realize that ‘when you think you have reached the end of the rope all you need to do is tie a knot and hang in there’. The reason I say this is because most of us give up just when success would be around the corner.

I had no choice but to tell my self that ‘I can’ and have faith in my abilities. I’m believer of ‘when God pushes you to the edge of the cliff he will do either of the two things – he will catch you when you fall or teach you to fly’.

And of course my buddies were always there by my side to pull me up when I was down.

TG: With a steady job and a regular income, how did you manage money flow during your break and discovery period? What did you feel were the advantages and disadvantages of leaving the job?
JS: I have to confess it was tough but I had to manage because I knew I would not go back to something I would not enjoy. Not just for a reason that I would get a fat paycheck at the end of every month. I did manage with whatever savings I had and finally realized it was not all that bad either.

There is money as an IT professional, but for a passion-driven person like me money has always been secondary. Doing what my heart wants is the only thing that really mattered. I would say the advantages of doing what you love doing overshadows the monetary aspect of being in the IT industry. Do what you are passionate about and money will follow.

TG: South head of a leading adventure company. How does it feel?
JS: It is humbling experience. The faith instilled by a few important people in my life has really taken me to where I am today. I not only believe that talent is important but we need world-class leaders to recognize such talent and give it an opportunity.

TG: How do you feel having coming this far, following your heart? What has been your experience? Can you share some memorable experiences?
JS: As I take a deep breath, it feels great to have made the journey with my heart and I am sure I will only feel that way going forward.

There are many experiences which come to my mind, but I would like to share one incident which moved me. During Youreka Summer Camps, one kid was finding it arduous to perform a stunt on stilts for a talent show and was on the verge of giving up. From a corner as I watched him, then went up to him and said ‘sweetheart just close your eyes and tell yourself that you can do it and trust your abilities’. After a while he came running to me, hugged and said ‘Jo, you were right. I said ‘I can’ and trusted myself and now I can do the stunt for 8 seconds’.

The other experience I am reminded of is the travel I did after summer camps, just before I joined Youreka as Business Head for South India. I stayed in the Himalayan villages and spent a week in Spiti (near Leh-Ladakh). This experience made me realize that ‘to lead a happy and simple life one does not need a lot of money’ and this brought about a shift in my consciousness. I am now leading a very simple and happy life by staying away from luxury as much as possible. This is one of the best decisions of my life.

TG: Where do you see yourself in the future? What are your plans?
JS: I see myself being a part of the Youreka family and taking the company to an all new level.

I am also looking forward to doing certifications/trainings in outdoors and of course, how can I not mention my dream of climbing the Everest in this one life I have. 
I am also writing a book on my travel, people who have influenced my life and my life experiences.

I would end saying, ‘dream and fight for them because if not you then who?’

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