Engineering an Odyssey: How Transit passes introduced me to Operations

Just before my science examination in grade 10, my father got some shocking news.
“Transit pass” is a crucial part of his raw-material supply business. He supplies sand, stones, and boulders to construction companies. To transport these raw materials, you need a transit pass.

It’s basically a paper saying “The government has certified you to transport this raw material”

The state government suddenly shifted all its working from offline to online mode.

This was a huge deal for my father. Coming from a rural background and building himself up from there, he’s a master at many things, but technology isn’t one of them.

That’s where I came in. I decided to help him.

I learned everything about running that transit pass business and handled it for three years. I generated transit-passes for transporters and kept all records in Excel.

It sparked yet another idea in my head -

“What if father used Excel to manage his finances?”

I convinced him to give me a chance and proved to him that I’m better at record-keeping than his current system.

That marked the start of me working with my father.

Pre-Engineering days

In India, engineering is a huge deal. Just about everyone is on their way to become an engineer. Why? We don’t know. It just is, India is the largest “Supplier of Engineers” to the world.

I was on the same path. I was enrolled in a coaching institute that prepares you for India’s toughest exams, IITJEE. (You have a better chance of surviving falling from a seven-storey building, than cracking this examination.)

I was in 11th grade, and on top of school and coaching, I decided to manage my father’s business. These all areas were pretty unrelated. My engineering studies had no use balancing accounts sheets and creating profit-and-loss statements.

I had to learn all this all by myself. I spent days with a person from the government, figuring out how to deal with the government regarding minerals, raw materials and transportation. I learned as much as I could.

I was afraid that I might do something wrong and my father would have to pay for it. This made me learn even more about what’s legal and what’s not, in a field entirely new to me.

I learned practical tasks more than theoretical. It was me going on-site with my father on weekends, talking to his clients and learning how the construction industry works. Figuring out what rates my father’s competitors are charging, and how my father is coming up with strategies to outperform everyone else in the local market. Watching closely how a business works gave me a deep insight that I’m doubtful any other resource would’ve given me.

How my roles shifted

While my work with him started with me working on that transit pass, it soon shifted to other areas.

My father saw potential in me and saw that I can manage multiple things at once, so he started putting more responsibility on my shoulders.

I managed his finances, scheduled and reminded him of important meetings, created contracts and invoices, kept track of what problems employees are facing, and decided what problems needed the attention of my father.

I was basically his “right hand man”

Looking back

Being the administrative assistant means getting exposed to almost everything new. None of this was taught in school and I had to learn everything from the ground up.

This is exactly what made me so quick to learn and adapt.

Sure things were annoying sometimes. I got to know that “work-contracts” are eight-page long boring documents written in a third-person language which made no sense to me at first. But with time, I realised the importance of contracts. This helped me in many ways. I went on learning graphic design, and on a call with my first logo-design client, I made a work-contract that was so professional, my client was shocked to see it come from an 18-year-old.

To be honest though, my passions lie outside of construction. Product Design and the startup world are far more interesting for me. But still I’m grateful for having worked in the field. It gave me real world experience. It taught me how things happen in an actual company. It taught me things that the classroom could never have taught.

Now that I’m learning more about different types of businesses, from small scale startups to unicorns, I’m contrasting the difference between what we were doing right and what we can improve.

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Waris Hussain

I'm a User Experience Designer, a curious soul always keen to learn as much as possible. Here to share what I've learnt and get better at life.