Alumni Spotlight

5 Years Later: Was SV Academy Worth It for Akhil?

Written By Jess Feldman

Edited By Liz Eggleston

Last updated on June 22, 2023

Akhil Cherukupally was on the path to be a doctor when he realized he had a change of heart. Risking losing his family’s respect and financial support, he set out to find a career he was proud of and passionate about. When Akhil discovered tech sales, he took the leap to learn a new trade with SV Academy. Five years after graduating from SV Academy, Akhil is heading up a sales team at Google! We caught up with Akhil to find out whether SV Academy was worth it.

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What inspired you to start a career in tech sales five years ago?

I went to school thinking I would be a doctor, but between my sophomore and junior year I interned at an orthopedic hospital and quickly realized it wasn’t what I was passionate about. The job felt robotic and intense. When I told my parents (who were supporting me at the time) that I didn’t want to take this path anymore, they gave me an ultimatum: continue pursuing medicine supported by them or stop and be on my own. 

I took out student loans and worked two jobs to pursue a degree in political science, but the 2016 presidential election went against everything I’d learned. I wasn’t ready to immerse myself in that world, which made me feel lost. The internships and extracurricular activities that I was doing up until that time pointed me towards a path in public service. A friend told me that my people skills would support me in a career in sales, which I was not initially interested in and had a negative connotation with. She assured me that her sister was interning at SV Academy and that I should take a look at it. 

What was it like to enroll at SV Academy?

I was part of the first cohort at SV Academy. As an applicant it was a big risk since I had no proof of the success of the program. However, in my last round of interviews I met with Raheem, the CEO and Founder of SVA, who alleviated any of my doubts. He assured me that, “SVA will be a success if you're successful. My success rides on you. I will do everything in my power to make sure that you are successful, you land a great job, and that you can tell that story back to your family and feel proud.” His commitment to the mission was what sold me on SVA. 

When I enrolled, I had no idea what tech sales was or what a business development representative does day-to-day. I thought tech was full of just engineers — I didn't know that there were nontechnical people in tech! The only real world job experience I had was working at a call center and being a valet. I didn’t have family to go back to, I wasn’t getting callbacks for jobs I was applying for, and SV Academy became my only hope since they guaranteed a job in San Francisco if I completed their 12-week program. I had no one to guide me, so it was monumental to me to have SV Academy’s personalized program teaching me the skills needed to pass interviews. 

What did you learn in the SV Academy tech sales bootcamp? 

  1. Be an empathetic listener. I perceived sales as skill in persuasion, but SVA taught me that a good salesperson is someone who listens: someone who can put themselves in the shoes of a buyer, understand their pain points and their whole day, and then be able to carry a conversation based on that perspective. 
  2. Selling is about solving a problem. It’s not about showing the value, benefits, or features of a product, until you have first identified the problem, which you get to through asking questions. Use questions to determine if the sale will solve their problem. 

While we definitely learned the nomenclature of sales (how to use LinkedIn, email automation, phone calls, and pipelines), what really resounded were those overarching principles, techniques, and philosophies of sales that SVA’s methodology represented.

What is the community like at SV Academy?

Since it was brand new when I enrolled, the community at that time was the instructors, mentors, and guest teachers who were sales leaders from different tech companies that had impressive backgrounds. It was a small community, but it was tight knit and there was a lot of support. 

Now it's jaw dropping how expansive, immense, and supportive the SVA community is! Since 2017, there have been ~70 cohorts with over a thousand alumni who have joined from different backgrounds and types of companies. There are network groups within the community, like Women in Tech and South Asians in Sales

There's also a whole community of people that started their SVA journey in sales and have transitioned to finance, marketing, and other non-technical roles within business. Attending SVA is an introduction to the tech world in business development and sales, but once you have a foot in the door and establish yourself as a great candidate, your career navigation options are endless! I started in sales and now I’m in sales strategy alliances!

SV Academy pairs each student with a mentor — who was your mentor? 

My mentor was Jovi Ignatius, an Account Representative at Salesforce at the time, who SVA specifically picked for me. I enjoyed talking to Jovi because he was South Asian like me and understood the mental and social stigmas people from our community face when it comes to pursuing a nontraditional career path. It was enlightening and comforting to have a mentor that understood what I was going through. Seeing his career success gave me the confidence that I could be successful, too. Plus, there's only so much you can learn from course-based instruction versus “learning through osmosis” from peers and mentors. Those conversations with my mentor covered nuances not included in the curriculum. We’re still connected today — SV Academy’s mentor match is excellent.  

How many hours a week did you put into the program?

Between my jobs I was able to commit to 10 hours a week, but to be successful 15-20 hours a week is ideal. 

What kinds of projects did you work on at SV Academy?

There was classroom work consisting of in-class meetings and separate coursework of video modules. We submitted video pitches, showed that we could do email automation, and how we would prospect and find the right target personas. 

What kind of career support did you receive?

There was a whole career services curriculum that included how to write a resume, make a LinkedIn profile, and write an email. There was also a four-week section during the 12 weeks where we had a live internship with a tech company where we would make cold calls, emails, and try to get meetings.

What was your first role after you graduated from SV Academy? 

My first tech sales job was for nine months as a business development representative (BDR) at Evident.io, a cloud security startup, which was acquired by Palo Alto Networks. It was a scary time during the acquisition because they eliminated nine of our 14 team members, but I was one of the lucky ones to make it through! 

Has your job title changed since you started at Palo Alto Networks in 2018? 

Within six months I was promoted to Inside Account Representative. After a couple years, I became an Account Representative for several territories within Palo Alto. I enjoyed it, but I had been at Palo Alto Networks for so long and I wanted to go back to a startup for the experience. I became an Account Executive at a startup in San Francisco with lots of success, but four months later, my old coworker from Palo Alto reached out sharing a new role he wanted me to apply for. I applied, and now I have a team of four reporting to me, managing all North America Google sales strategy and alliances!

What kinds of responsibilities do you have now overseeing Google Public Cloud Alliance, GTM, and Engagement?

There are different purchase routes to market for Palo Alto Networks as a software service and as a cybersecurity deliverable and now companies want to purchase through cloud service providers like AWS and Microsoft Azure. GCP being the third-ranked CSP was a brand new route to market and not too many people were purchasing through them. 

My role is to devise sales plays, marketing campaigns, and joint offerings or solutions with Google sellers to position for and enable both Google and Palo Alto sellers the benefits of not just a commercial value for customers to purchase through Google Marketplace, but also architectural and technical value. It's ideating — coming up with better “together stories” between Palo Alto and Google and how we can convey that better, through identifying different markets, verticals, and where products exist that would pair well. Then I train both Palo Alto and Google sellers to identify these so we can contribute to more revenue for the company.

At this point in your tech sales career, was SV Academy worth it for you?

Absolutely. I wouldn't be where I'm at without SV Academy. It’s obviously worth the career trajectory and net worth — I was able to pay off all my loans and buy a house and car — but that’s not all. SVA was worth it for me on an emotional and familial level, too. I’m welcome back home, my dad respects me — it did so much for me in that regard. It proved that I can be successful and that a path I love exists. That to me is worth way more than the accolades and financial stability. I’ve also benefited so much from the network I made through SVA. I wouldn't be where I am without them. 

For incoming students, what is your advice on making the most of the SV Academy program?

  • You’ll get out what you put in, so put in as much time and effort as you can. 
  • Remember that people are joining the program to figure out what they want to do in life; some are becoming adults for the first time and some are transitioning careers. 
  • It will be challenging, but don’t ride the highs too high and don't get too low with the lows.
  • Staying even keel in this world is all mindset. I tended to freak out whenever I experienced a challenge or downfall, thinking I failed, but that’s the nature of this work! 

Find out more and read SV Academy reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with SV Academy.

About The Author

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps.

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