A Conversation With Sugam Anand

GoFood’s Product Design Manager explains how he marries his love for Design with his background in engineering.

A Conversation With Sugam Anand

By Pamela Chan

Sugam Anand had perhaps the most unconventional entrance to the world of design: critiquing his university event’s logo. “I wrote under their Facebook post, ‘This design sucks,’ he cheekily recalls. Subsequently, his university held a competition to design a new logo after his comment gained traction, and as the story goes, Sugam’s submission won first place.

Though it was this instance that kickstarted his pursuit in the field, in retrospect, Sugam can identify various artistic seeds that were already planted in his childhood—from sketching the Pokemons he saw on Cartoon Network to creating scrapbooks of automobile clippings he found in magazines. “Looking back, I had already understood and appreciated visual design at a young age,” he states.

Despite this propensity, Sugam followed the conventional engineering path that most of his schoolmates were on. He moved from his hometown of Agra to New Delhi to attend the Galgotias College of Engineering & Technology, obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science Engineering.

But his interest in visual design never left, manifesting through his preference for creating front-end over back-end code. “I never liked algorithms or writing server-side code, but rather HTML and CSS,” he explains, “I liked fixing how things looked on the website itself.” Eventually joining Galgotias College’s events committee and leading their design team (the work of which he initially critiqued), Sugam married his interest in design with his engineering expertise.

When Design is In Your Cards

As he wasn’t aware of the then-nascent field of UX design after graduation, Sugam decided to put his engineering degree to use as a software engineer at Accenture. As fate would have it, a company by the name of MAQ Software called him one day at work and offered him a UX designer role.

He notes, “The only thing I knew about UX designers was that they design websites. I didn’t enjoy what I was doing at the time, though, so I thought ‘Why not give this a try?’.”

Sugam spent close to three years at MAQ Software as their first designer. Shaping the product experience for clients, working with engineers and managers, and assembling a team of designers from scratch, this experience solidified Sugam’s resolve in pursuing a career in design. Given his background in engineering, he went back to school to learn more about foundational aspects of design and its processes, eventually earning a Master’s degree in Interaction & Product Design from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.

During his master’s program, Sugam spent three months as an intern at Microsoft where he worked on their Kaizala messaging application. “This internship exposed me to how design processes work at a mature company. But, because of this scale, I didn’t feel like I had full control over what I was doing and was driving change merely because I had to,” he admits.

As the internship neared its end, Sugam came across Gojek for the first time at his campus’ recruitment drive. “As I was researching Gojek, I realized there’s a whole world of on-demand services that existed within Asia that I never knew about and excited me,” he remembers.

After his experience working at a global MNC, he adds,

“I wanted to collaborate with cross-functional teams and see my work valued, and I knew I could get this at Gojek.”

Along for the Gojek Ride

Sugam joined Gojek in 2018 as an Interaction Designer, then rose the ranks in the Product Design division. As GoFood’s Product Design Manager today, he leads the team of Product Designers who work on the end-to-end discovery and booking experience on the GoFood consumer app. “We are the team that’s accountable for the GoFood user experience,” he explains, “We work with cross-functional teams like Product Management, Business, and Research in designing solutions to user pain points as well as crafting new product experiences that our Engineering team then brings to life.”

A project he remembers with particular pride was rebuilding GoFood’s Search and Recommendations feature in 2019. This year-long project enhanced the app’s search experience which was limited to basic keyword matching at the time. With close to half a million merchant-partners on the platform, this presented a significant challenge to give users the most relevant search results.

Sugam details three reasons why this project was memorable:

  1. A design-led initiative — “Our Design team was given the freedom to completely rethink the product, and everyone looked to us for direction in what was plausible to build. At other companies, you may start with the technology and move forward, but we started with what we wanted to build then mapped it back to what technologies we needed to do so.”
  2. A small team with a big impact — “I learned how to manage risk and redesign with such a small team that would be rolled out to millions of users in the region. We relied on our learnings from data analysis and experimentation which the Search team gave us the chance to run.”
  3. A highly-collaborative effort — As Search & Recommendation is fundamentally an engineering and data science-driven feature, Sugam was exposed to areas beyond just design. “I had no clue how a machine learning model worked, but through this project, I developed a strong relationship with the Data Science team who built the machine learning models we use. Now, I’m confident in speaking to a data scientist about this. This is the beauty of Gojek — where each function’s skill set is valued, and where you unintentionally learn so much beyond just design.”

This environment of cross-functional learning is what Sugam believes sets Gojek apart:

“Gojek is like 10 companies in one; not only are you given opportunities within your product, but ones across products as well. I’ve always had the choice to work on things that interest me here. We have designers from different streams working together on the same projects. There are tremendous opportunities and flexibility in terms of what you can do at Gojek.”

Because of this emphasis on cultivating professional and personal interests, Sugam ends with the most outstanding characteristic amongst GoTroops: “This is a whole team working together to build something rather than subgroups of people doing their jobs to earn money. You don’t have to push people to work here because they already enjoy what they do.”

To any designers looking to be a part of our GoTroop squad, Sugam’s story is but the tip of the iceberg of what you can achieve here.

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