“Earn your title!”—Forcing my team to start again

Nishchay Shah

Chief Technology Officer and Head, Emerging Products

November 18, 2020

The CACTUS Way #4: Speak up and listen actively; differences enrich us.


I can say this with confidence: In 2014, I was the least popular manager at CACTUS.

I joined CACTUS in 2014 as head of the technology department. Back then, we were a small team of 10 engineers, pretty much a start-up. As I started working with and getting to know each team member, I came to the conclusion that they did not have the right skills for the job.

My mandate was to scale up CACTUS’s capabilities in technology. CACTUS was gunning for a foothold in the technology landscape, and we had to build our competencies quickly. I didn’t see that happening—not with this team, at least. The scope of their solutions was limited. They were fixing bugs daily and showed a tendency to resort to standard protocol instead of demonstrating out-of-the-box problem solving with an eye on long-term solutions.

As I spent more time with the team, it became clear that the issue had little to do with attitude. They were a talented bunch, but they had no motivation for upskilling. Skills can be built easily, but building a culture of learning is far more challenging.

I love engineering and tech solutioning. It’s an obsession. I would be happy to spend all my time doing this and keep getting better at it. I doubt I would ever want to give up coding even as I take on the senior-most role in tech. This is how I have built my skills by myself.

I realized that some team members had been assigned managerial roles too early in their career; as a result, they no longer rolled up their sleeves and got down to brass tacks. They failed to explore new code, new technologies, new standards, and new ways of looking at things. They had stopped learning and growing because they didn’t explore solutions themselves.

This wasn’t right, I thought. This wasn’t the way to grow a business. This is not how a technology team should function.

A few months later, I called everyone in for a team meeting and dropped the bomb. I stripped them of their titles. “From today, each one of you is just an engineer,” I announced. I told them they had to start from scratch, as junior engineers, and work their way up the ladder. They had to learn, experiment, and think beyond their limitations. They had to prove that they deserved their titles.

Not surprisingly, the reaction was unfavorable. They complained that the decision was unfair.

I stuck to my guns. I knew what I was doing. Deep down, I felt they also knew I was right. I knew they weren’t satisfied with who they were. I was confident they would take up this challenge. They wanted to be better, and here was the opportunity.

Today, Technology is a large team of 200+ product developers, engineers, project managers, and R&D specialists. But everyone from the original ragtag team of 10 is still with us today, with all of them playing much larger and more critical roles, overseeing different functions. I have immense trust in them and full faith in their capabilities, and it gives me great pride to see them push their teams to do more, do better, and grow each day.


This writeup is part of a series called The CACTUS Way Leader Stories. The CACTUS Way is what we collectively call our 8 guiding principles. We asked the senior cadre at CACTUS to share personal experiences where they practiced or identified with these guiding principles. These stories of struggle and reinvention, despair and hope, conflict and collaboration, and self-doubt and self-discovery make for an interesting read.

Learn more about The CACTUS Way here:

By Nishchay Shah


Chief Technology Officer and Head, Emerging Products

Nishchay oversees technology and innovation across products and brands at CACTUS. Experienced in handling tech-budgeting, outsourcing, and global tech recruitment, Nishchay manages a large department with over 250 experts working in product management, software development, UX, DevOps, Digital innovation, and Machine Learning. He focuses on creating, translating, and mobilizing big-picture visions downstream. Nishchay has over 15 years of experience in software development and technology and strives to stay on the bleeding edge of innovation. He has worked in the US for over a decade, and has handled diverse teams in the US, Belarus, Bulgaria, India, and the UK. Having successfully led both B2C and B2B product teams in the past, Nishchay has a thorough understanding of the end-to-end product and technology life cycles. He has a master’s degree from the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut, specializing in Computer Networks and Database Systems.

Connect with CACTUS

Contact us for all media inquiries

Contact Us