On meeting for the first time, Mustafa Slatewalla gives the impression of being a person with a highly analytical mind where logic, facts (data), and rationality reign supreme. This is only natural given that as the Director of Engineering for Locus’ TrackIQ product, he has been professionally solving complex IT and business problems for decades.
It all started when as a studious youth from the suburbs of Mumbai, he channeled his zeal for Engineering in the telecom industry by studying Engineering from Mumbai University, and graduating as a silver medalist. He then landed his first job during a campus placement with the telecom company Lucent, and has never looked back since then.
Mustafa entered the telecom market at a time when network architectures were undergoing a huge overhaul and new technologies in network management were emerging. He was in the thick of it all for more than a decade, providing solutions in network, network management, and element management systems. He then spent most of the next decade in e-commerce before subsequently joining the Locus team.
“What attracts me to Locus is the domain in which it is placed. I loved the way founders have put Locus on a trajectory where it can solve many everyday problems and also increase its presence across the globe,” he says. And for Mustafa, being a part of this journey with some incredibly talented people is what excites him the most.
A holistic approach to leadership
A common misconception about more analytically-minded people is that nothing interests them beyond cold, hard logic. Some might even think that such people see human beings as machines that only need to be optimized for a company to grow!
With Mustafa, nothing is further from the truth as he is a keen observer of human behavior and cognizant of the multiple motives that drive them. For him, motivating team members to give it their hundred percent is as important and challenging as scaling a product and improving its quality.
This is why he places equal importance on both the aptitude and the attitude of potential candidates. Apart from testing their skills, he places a strong emphasis on how they work in a team, how they handle pressure, and the extent to which they show initiative.
Explaining the fine balancing act, he says, “Any company is made of all kinds of people. Many are really committed, good in the system, and show a level of integrity. Others might not. To stay on top of such people, you can end up setting up more and more processes. And while doing that, you could end up penalizing those that are working very well in the first place.”
Secrets to success: Integrity and ownership
Mustafa believes that approaching the various tasks and commitments inside and out of the workplace with a sense of ownership and integrity will ensure that things fall into place. He gives an example.
When it comes to integrity, he remembers many instances in his career when he had pressure from product and executive management to make decisions for short-term gains. “But if you stick to your convictions and try to work around a solution, then the real value as a Quality Manager or an Engineering Director comes in,” he says. In his one-year stint at Locus so far, he is happy to note that a TrackIQ update that enables rider-planning separation, which was pending for three quarters, got recently completed after he took up the role.
Mustafa credits the inculcation of these two values to this family and his community at large. This is why as a hobby, he tries to give back by sharing his expertise whenever his community arranges activities that have IT-related components to them.
Learning is leisure and vice versa
It is never ‘all work and no play’ for Mustafa. His particular interests and mindsets mean he loves to observe the plot of films and enjoys thrillers closely. He is a big fan of the Harry Potter series. The brilliance and perseverance of the characters, and the fact that he enjoys watching the popular film series multiple times.
His interests in human behavior and motivation are manifest in his passion for history, ranging from the Ottoman Empire to World War II U-boat tactics. A family man at heart, Mustafa cherishes spending quality time with his family.
He is also aware that people always follow by example. And to bring out the best from his team at work and his family, Mustafa considers meditation an essential tool as it helps him stay motivated, focused, and composed to do his best amid his many pressures and responsibilities.
Capitalize on the beginner’s mindset at the early stages of a career
When asked about what would be ideal for engineers new to the field, he suggested that freshers stay on top of trends that are defining the trajectories of industries, such as Artificial Intelligence, by gaining as much exposure as possible.
He also suggested that it is ideal for them to join companies where the individual can learn and contribute the most as opposed to getting too comfortable at the onset. According to him, smaller companies stretch limits with steep learning curves and build important soft skills such as handling pressure and navigating practical problems that they may have not experienced in college.
Overall, they should take advantage of the flexibility that comes with the early phase of their career.