Moong over Microchips: How an Indian IT professional quit his job at IBM to become a farmer

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Moong over Microchips: How an Indian IT professional quit his job at IBM to become a farmer
I hate Mondays. I think I hate every day that entails work. And I am pretty darn certain a lot of people will agree. So what it is that is still keeping us chained to our desks for the better part of our waking hours?
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Our answers could range from rent to EMI to grand plans for world domination. It’s all about “the mortgage”, as Aaron Eckhart said in the movie Thank You For Smoking. But let’s admit it - we would all rather be somewhere else. Out farming perhaps?

Venkat Iyer was working with IBM in Mumbai as a project manager for software implementation. As he says - “IT fascinated me”. But all of that changed when Iyer decided to take a step back and look at his life. And he just wanted to do one thing - simplify it. So, he decided to quit and become a farmer.

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The number of farmers in India has been falling over time. Census data from 2016 show that there were 7.7 million lesser farmers then, compared to 2001. Yet, Iyer decided it’s a better bet.

Baffled? Yeah, we were as well, but we were insanely intrigued at the same time. And of course, we wanted to ask Iyer - “HOW did you arrive at this decision?” while secretly hoping that he has one fail-proof formula for it all.

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Fifteen years in IT, that's no short span. What made you decide that you had enough? Was it a feeling that had been accumulating over the years or was there something that made you finally take the call?

I was working for IBM for over seven years as a project manager and was thinking of a change in my career. I applied in many places and got offers too. The only issue was that they all wanted a project manager. I started wondering what would change in a new job. Probably they would pay me more, the office would be different and my colleagues would change. But my work would still remain the same - that of a project manager.

Around this time my wife Meena who was researching for a book on organic cotton would return from her trips to the villages to meet farmers and talk about the lives they led. It fascinated me to no end and I kept probing her for more information. I kept thinking about her stories and one day I asked her what would happen if we started farming and living a better life. She was very positive and said that if 65% of our country could be farmers then why not us. That was when we decided that I would quit IT and embark on a new journey in our lives.

What was the one thing that kept you in IT for 15 years?

Ever since I went to college to study IT, I was fascinated by it. I started my career as a programmer coding in COBOL and Dbase. I loved the way one had to be logical and think of simple solutions to complex problems. From being a programmer for several years, I moved to consultancy in IBM. It was fun having your own team and implementing software for various clients mostly in the Pharma industry. I can say that I still love IT but chose to be a farmer because I wished to change my life to a simpler one. It was not a career change but a change in my lifestyle.

Moong over Microchips: How an Indian IT professional quit his job at IBM to become a farmer

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What was the hardest thing to adjust with once you had left your job?

Once I quit my job, the hardest thing to adjust was the fact that I did not have to go to an office. I did not have to rush to beat the traffic, or match my tie to the shirt I was going to wear. After the first few weeks I got adjusted to a new life where things moved at a slow pace and I had lots of time to do what I wanted to.

Did anything that you learned in the 15 years at work help with work on the farm?

Yes, my project management skills are in use at all times at the farm. Planning, scheduling, resource allocation, time management, risk mitigation plans, documentation and financial analysis are all something that I follow at the farm even today. Sadly, I do not have much use for my software coding skills but the logical thinking helps me a lot at the farm.

It must have been difficult being a farmer and dealing with issues that did not involve emails or boardrooms, what was the toughest challenge?

There may not be any emails or boardrooms at the farm, but you have the daily challenge of unpredictable weather, dealing with unexpected events like no power for a fortnight, snakes in the house, a cobra to boot and the initial cluelessness. Farming does not come with manuals or F1 keys to assist you. One has to learn by experimenting and arriving at the best possible mix of seeds, timelines and water...all this takes time and just when you think you have mastered something - there could be no rain, or too much of it to skew things. And your entire crop has failed!

What was the one thing that convinced you that you were indeed on the right path of choosing moong over the microchips?

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When I got my first crop of moong, around 300 kilos, that too without adding any chemicals or fertilisers, I was sure that my journey from microchips to moong would be fruitful. After that the next year we got a bumper crop of groundnuts that convinced us that we were on the right path.

All of us sitting in our offices have a very stunted view on life and its simple pleasures. Of course, our understanding of daily needs and pleasures come from a different space and are influenced by what we see around us. How does one recalibrate? How does one 'go back to the roots'?

The responses I have got from people after they read my book showed that many desire to go back to their roots, they are thinking of their abandoned villages, of farming, of their parents who toiled in the field. But the question is how does one make it possible and is it at all feasible?

Moong over Microchips: How an Indian IT professional quit his job at IBM to become a farmer

When I first discussed my move with my colleagues in IBM, there was not a single person who said that it was a stupid idea. When questioned on why they did not think of it when it was such a great idea, the response was varied. Some had a huge EMI to repay, some had health issues in the family and some were worried about their children’s education.

There is no single formula to go back to one’s roots – after all what does it mean for each person? What worked for me is unique and what works for someone else will be exactly that - unique. And there are so many compelling factors – to stay in the city, the culture such as it is, intellectual stimulation for some, and to work and earn. It is a question of livelihoods mainly.
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Moong over Microchips: How an Indian IT professional quit his job at IBM to become a farmer

But then again, not everyone wants to 'go back to the roots' – why would you recommend it?

Absolutely not – I am saying no such thing – the book is about my choices and experiences. The decision is for each one to make. I can’t make a recommendation at all. To each his or her own. I have people coming to the farm and then sitting in their car with loud blaring music. They just could not handle the open air and silence at the farm.

What's the biggest thing that has changed about you over this time? And what is the one thing you miss about working in IT?

I can’t see much change in myself – though I am more adapted to living here now. I don’t miss the city much or crave its attractions. I don’t really miss working in IT at all.
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