Jatil Damania, AVP Cloud Consulting, Cognizant

Jatil Damania leads Cognizant’s Cloud Consulting Practice, focusing on helping organizations support their people to get the best from technology. Over his career, Jatil has built and run teams with the goal of bringing software to the market faster. He drives this through three core pillars – a focus on the end customer, the use of modern engineering practices and building high performing teams. He drives a customer-centered approach to make employees enjoy their work and attain high performance. His recent focus has included achieving value from multi-cloud adoption and evolving platform engineering to drive the delivery of Generative AI solutions.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Jatil shared his professional trajectory, the best piece of advice he has ever received, the secret sauce behind his success, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Jatil. Tell us about your career path and areas of expertise.

I graduated from Imperial College with a Physics degree and spent my first 2 years playing with Ultra-high-vacuum technology which gave me experience and insight into research and operating on a factory floor. From there, I stepped into Consulting by joining a small start-up called Qedis.  This was where my consulting foundations were set – I was part of a team that grew from 25 to 200 and part of an acquisition by North Highland.  Through these 10 years, I played many roles across the organization, including helping with people initiatives and marketing, which set the foundation of my people-centered approach.  Through consulting, I was able to create a focus on helping organizations build IT strategies and implement innovative technology programs. This provided me with the core skills for an IT program perspective.

From North Highland, I went into product management, building a cloud platform on Kubernetes – leveraging the bleeding edge tech. We were early adopters of Gitlab actions, CICD tech, we helped found Kops, and were able to file 4 patents in the process.

Then I moved to Contino – where we again grew the team from 15 to 100 in the US, and to 350 globally. Here we were focused on helping organizations modernize the engineering practices and focused on how to drive the most value from tech. Working with talented Engineers and tech Leaders, we were able to make impactful differences to the organization’s use of tech, increase job satisfaction and retention, and improve time to deliver projects. I was also able to lead key internal initiatives including onboarding, company days, training our engineers to help them understand how to drive change within the organization.

Throughout my career, I have also been able to focus on personal growth through courses and external qualifications. This has ranged from DevOps Enterprise Summits, Data & AI short courses with MIT & Imperial.

All of my experiences have provided me with an expertise in technology, insights into creating high-performing teams, and underscored the significance of emphasizing foundational aspects within teams and platforms to achieve real changes in organizational dynamics.

What do you love the most about your current role?

There are three main reasons I enjoy my role. Firstly, our team is awesome – we have so many talented people in our group, and we are continually pushing each other to drive new ideas and ways of working to help our people and our projects/clients to succeed.

Secondly, the projects we are working on make a positive for the individuals and companies we are working with, whether that be helping to unblock something that slows them down or helping them improve how they work to drive more enjoyment and bring better outcomes.

Thirdly, there is tremendous opportunity to impact at a higher level. The impact of Cognizant across the ecosystem, and the ability make an impact across a wider footprint.

As a people focused digital leader, what approaches do you use to create a culture of experimentation and innovation within your team?

Empowerment – I focus on what can be done to empower the team, but that doesn’t mean leaving them to their own devices. Building a team that is there to “hone” their ideas is key. We do this through team collaboration, both peer-to-peer and with managers. I also do my best to be available to lend an ear or give an opinion.

Trust – alongside empowerment comes trust. One of my mentors told me: “Assume Positive Intent.” Everyone is trying to do what they believe is right. Often people need more guidance or direction to get them to do what you are looking for.

Communication – finding the right way and the right time to communicate key messages is always a challenge. I have focused on the approach of communicating what you can, as early as you can. Being open and honest helps build the 2-way trust, and when you communicate ‘half the story’, the team has faith that you will fill the blanks as soon as you know it too. They then start doing the same back, and this helps to identify problems that may be simmering early.

Fail-fast – it is common phrase, but with the above-mentioned items, I encourage the team to experiment and realize quickly when their ideas are not working so they can pivot.

What are the most pressing issues in the field that might keep you up at night?

I personally like to draw boundaries as personal routine is super important to me. However, the things that I think are super-hot right now:

Impact of AI – this will be changing how technology is leveraged in the next 3-5 years. From chat-enabled interfaces, through autonomous functions, the impact across IT will be vast.  We are already seeing organizations vying for 30-40% efficiencies by leveraging these technologies.

If this is not done right, with the right controls, governance, and security, this could be a very risky endeavor for organizations.

What does the future look like in the cloud computing space, i.e., what are the kind of developments you’ll be looking for?

The cloud will continue to be a strong enabler for the advancements we will see in industry and the economy. There are many things I find exciting.

Firstly – The proliferation of autonomous infrastructure will drive productivity and efficiency across the board.  It will allow IoT powered devices to be more accurate, allow reliability issues to be a thing of the past, and allow people to focus on activities that really make a difference to people and their customers.

Secondly – I am keen to see how we drive green initiatives.  Data Center power consumption will exponentially increase over the next 5 years. In the US, it’s expected that the power consumption of data centers will go from 2.5% to 7.5% of total power consumption (BCG on Energy).  Driving and incentivizing good behaviors around cloud provisioning, scaling and usage will go a long way to driving energy efficiency. Also, adopting modern infrastructure and driving innovation in power efficient technologies will be important.

Thirdly – I think that bridging into poly-cloud is important as organizations understand where AWS, GCP & Azure have its advantages over datacenters. Being able to traverse those boundaries with ease will help organizations maintain efficiencies and allow them to be use-case or outcome driven.

Lastly – Modernizing large enterprises takes genuine innovation, and cloud will have the ability to accelerate this by bringing more industry aligned solutions to the table.  Be this through compliance, customer focus or otherwise, the easier it is for organizations to adopt cloud for the use case, the easier it is to achieve adoption.  But – and a big but – is that you need to keep it intuitive to the user.

In your academic or work career, were there any mentors who have helped you grow along the way? What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

I am lucky to have many mentors across my career. From my early mentors at Qedis/North Highland, to more recently at Cognizant, having someone to help you think through challenges is invaluable.  This is tremendously important and why I drove initiatives like Thinqshift training at Contino.  One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to “see it from the other person’s perspective.”  Putting yourself in other people’s shoes helps you build true empathy and understanding for why someone may be reacting in a certain way, which helps take the emotion out of a situation.

You were recently recognized amongst the 2024 Leaders in Technology among other recognitions. Our readers would love to know the secret sauce behind your success.

Well, I was honored that Cognizant were kind enough to put me forward for the award, and I would love to thank my leadership, especially Michael Valocchi for that. I don’t think I have a secret sauce – I’ve been lucky to be part of some amazing teams that have helped me grow, learn, and push the technology agenda in large enterprises. These teams have driven me to continue my learning curve – and helped me stay on the bleeding edge of technology. This has allowed me to bring true thought leadership to our clients and products. Additionally, my people orientated approach has helped me not just focus on getting the tech in, but making sure it’s making a difference to the people that are using it.

If you could have a one-hour meeting with someone famous who is alive, who would it be and why?

I would love to get 1 hour with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I believe there is so much to be gained by understanding the universe and the world we live in – it would be inspirational to listen to those ideas and drive a deeper understanding to help me solve problems at a larger scale and grow personally.

What are your passions outside of work?

I have 2 young daughters that are a large part of my life (and they often zoom-bomb my meetings!).  Besides family, I love to travel, I love languages and I enjoy my sports.  I am also always looking for opportunities to give back to the community!

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

My goal in the next 5 years is to be leading an organization that has a deep-rooted culture in people and technology, that is driving change that will be helping the next generation benefit from the advancements that are happening. I haven’t nailed down exactly the industry – but it’s likely to be in my engineering roots!

What advice would you give to aspiring professionals from the tech industry?

Don’t be afraid to learn new technology and concepts.  Once you get the basics, learning the incremental concepts is not hard, so don’t be turned off by what may seem like an insurmountable task.

Also – find what makes you tick… once you understand your inner motivations, that will help you hone your focus, and drive you towards a career that is actually rewarding for you.

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