Susheel is a software engineer turned lawyer turned software engineer.
Sush: Look, I loved law school but I just fucking hated being a lawyer.
Let’s rewind a little here. I’ve known Susheel for a few years through a mutual friend, and he got me a job at the company where he works now (I’ve since resigned). I always thought it was interesting when he told me that after getting a masters degree in computer science and working for a few years as a software developer, he went on to law school, practiced for less than a year, and then resumed his former life as a software developer. So I wanted to know more about all that.
Me: So given that you have two engineering degrees and have quite a bit of experience, you were obviously pretty committed to a software career, where did the law school thing come from?
Sush: It had always been in the back of my mind since I was a kid. I’d always get in fights with my mom and her response was always, “you could be a lawyer.”
Actually, I’m pretty familiar with arguing with Susheel. We’ve had it out a number of times (on Facebook) about the quality of some of the recent outings of the Star Wars franchise. If he weren’t already a lawyer, I’d definitely agree with his mom. Also, all his Star Wars opinions are wrong. Moving on…
Me: So was there a trigger or some event in your life that set you towards law school?
Sush: So before law school, I worked at Limewire, which was one of those peer to peer internet companies that were mostly known for, yes, helping people download music illegally. But it was an amazing technology. It was a kind of a pure expression of what the internet was supposed to do, which is essentially, ‘how do you get a byte of information from one corner of the internet to another in the fastest, most efficient way possible?’ Underneath everything that happened with the music industry, the technology underneath was a breakthrough. I mean, it was such a breakthrough that it entirely upended an industry on top of it. It’s kind of cool that I worked on something that actually went before the Supreme Court [Limewire didn’t go before the Supreme Court but a similar company/technology did]. But ultimately the company was crushed. Copyright law is too old and never took into account that the marginal cost of a copy could be zero.
Susheel and I debated for a little about the economics of pricing and what is fair for the artists. It was clear that, for Susheel, what mattered a lot was not so much the change in the music industry but that the actual technology gained a sort of relegated status as being a backdoor tool for content pirates. The irony isn’t lost on him that he sort of laments what it became in spite of it starting as a piracy tool. But he also believes that had the technology played out, it would have been a legitimate and major technology for handling how delivering content and communication over the internet. He blames outdated legal thinking for hindering what he believes would have been a technological revolution. His tone had a bit of a defeated sound, and he talks about it as if it just happened yesterday.
Sush: I’m not just pissed because it was something I worked my ass off on but it’s that I worked my ass off on something that should have been a complete breakthrough. So yeah, in that entire process, I became completely fascinated with copyright law, and I wanted to make sure that kind of bullshit never happened again. So I applied, went to Berkeley law, and focused on copyright protection. Then, I worked at a law firm, passed the bar, and practiced for ten months.
Susheel explained all his grievances about being a lawyer from the mindless hours of ensuring paperwork was filed exactly correctly, spending hours sifting through endless material, and mostly the unending formalities.
Sush: You know how many contracts I had to write for deals that were already made? I spent so much time doing bullshit filler after all the actual work was done. I realized that while I loved the structure of thinking about law, I completely missed the pace and freedom of working on technology.
It’s kind of by luck that Susheel found himself back as an engineer. As a lawyer, one of his clients offered him a job to bring Susheel as an in-house lawyer. As the company was an early stage startup, they needed software help as well, so he did double duty, writing code and writing contracts. Eventually, his company was bought, and the acquirer didn’t need a lawyer, so he just stayed on as a full-time engineer.
Me: How different is software development and doing law stuff?
Sush: Actually, law is the code for our lives.
Me: Woah, what? You just blew my mind. Is that a phrase you keep in your pocket ready to dish out at the right time? I feel like this about to get biblical.
Sush: Well, I didn’t actually coin that phrase, but I do kind of believe it. But I mean yeah, it’s different. Here’s the thing about being a lawyer, you have to be negative all the time. Being a lawyer is mostly about telling other people what they mostly can’t do. I didn’t find it inspiring in a way that building some new technology can be.
Me: I can see that. So are you enjoying what you do now?
Sush: Eh. It’s ok. I feel like the tech industry is a lot of just bullshit apps and doing a lot of silly shit now. It’s hard to get excited about it. I kind of thought I would relive the Limewire experience again, but that doesn’t really feel like it’s happened. Ultimately, that might just be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Me: Oh, that’s kind of a… bummer?
Sush: Well, the reality is I have two kids now, and that’s where I spend a lot of my time anyway. I am thinking about offering legal consulting to startups that are doing really cool shit, though. That might be a direction I’d go in.
Me: Would you ever consider being a lawyer again?
Sush: Oh, fuck no.
Me: Would you recommend law school? It sounds like you can go and not be a lawyer.
Sush: Actually, 100%. Everyone should go to law school. Well obviously, that’s kind of insane but I actually do think every college program should incorporate some aspects of law school into it.
Me: What do you mean?
Sush: It’s actually a great liberal arts education. You spend your time reading a shit ton of different cases, ideas, philosophies, etc. I think the most important thing you have to do in law school is spend time arguing an opposing position. When you spend that much time arguing for things you don’t believe, you get a really strong sense of how to see things from different viewpoints. It’s a great way to build empathy and understand the importance of nuance. And honestly, this election cycle is reminding how important all that is.
Me: Super interesting, I hadn’t thought about it like that. So I just wanted to wrap up by saying that The Force Awakens was actually pretty decent.
Sush: OH FU…
Me: That’s our time, thanks!