December 27, 2021

Immortal Fireflies

Losing a best friend leaves you with only memories. Of their birthdays that you have memorized. Of all the good days you spent with them. Of all the firsts in life you shared with them. Of all the new people you met and became friends with. Of all the little things that happened since that they couldn't be a part of, events and occasions that you wish you could have shared with them. Memories you try to recall as they fade away with every passing birthday.

Like an immortal firefly, those memories continue to flash and shine over time. The say time heals and that everyone deals with grief in their own way. I have no idea why I'm posting this, but when I heard this song recently, it reminded me of Vijay who would have turned 37 today. Happy Birthday my friend, your memories will continue to live on through all the people whose lives you touched.



August 28, 2021

Milestones

 Today, August 28th of 2021 marks 15 years into my professional career. In the summer of 2006, a lot of things happened in my life. I was about to graduate from my Bachelors in Computer Science and had started interviewing for "on-campus" interviews organized by my college. Looking at old emails now, I had landed a job offer in a company by then and was slated to join in the fall of 2006.

At that age, I was just learning how to be an adult when life taught me about its twists and turns having to unexpectedly deal with grief with the loss of my mom. While we coped as a family, the start date of my new job got delayed due to the company rescheduling it for recent college grads to the end of the year. 

It is at this time that I decided to apply to what was then one of the most massive off-campus recruitment drives in India. 

Infosys hiring 25,000 people news article from "The Hindu" - May 2006



After an aptitude test at a local high school and an in-person interview with a diverse panel of senior leadership, I was selected as one of those thousands of young recent college grads who chased the Software Engineering dream.

Now, 15 years later I look back and reminisce at those times. The experience of being in Mysore along with thousands of other young Engineers building relationships, learning new technologies, working in a team and starting their professional careers is still very vivid in my memory. Although my memory fails me in recalling the names of many of my peers and incidents that happened in my short 2.5 year stint in Infosys, some friendships still remain and I'm so happy to have met them. I took up blogging again and joined an amazing bunch of amateur bloggers in InfyBlogs. I went back on stage to sing during an event in front of a couple of thousand people. I also learnt that living away from home is hard for a person who had not been away from family. And so many more little things like that when progressing from being a young adult to a "grown up" adult.

So here's to everyone who has gone through a long journey in their professional lives. You go through ups and downs. You get to meet amazing people. You hit unexpected issues in something you work on. You stumble through days. You feel the high of meeting your goals. Sometimes you exceed expectations. You get a raise. You get yelled at for not being the best version of you. You get promoted. Your demo is a hit. You mess up your explanation in a critical meeting and everything went south. You learn to take the hits and move on. You love what you do. You live for another day to go through all of this again :-) 


February 03, 2014

Scrum and Anarchy - The path ahead for Enterprise Agile


Disclaimer: This article reflects my personal opinion, experiences and reading about how Scrum works in enterprises versus how it should work. These may not be the views of my organization and I have written this in my capacity as a "developer of the world".

After recently completing my Scrum training, a lot of thoughts have been floating in my mind about agile in general. There is overhaul required when enterprise teams are introduced to Scrum as Ken Schwaber described best "Scrum is now more mainstream than radical."

Let me start with where I come from. I started my career at an IT services behemoth in India. My employee number was in the low 60,000s. Within a few months of the outsourcing boom at its peak in 2006, the company suddenly grew to 110,000. With so many recent college grads and easy money to be made, the waterfall approach seemed great for mentoring new kids. The business model was mostly throwing a bunch of recent college grads who have gone through a crash course training into a team based on "domains" like Insurance, Healthcare, Banking and Manufacturing. Planning involved setting a tight deadline and apply as much pressure as possible to deliver within the deadline regardless of quality or whether requirements fully are met. There's always the on-site guy (poor soul) who will spend sleepless nights attending your conference calls and wake up early before you leave work so he can chat. This role had even more pressure of meeting the customer face to face and firefighting deployments that need to go on time. One of the main life lessons for me was to respect to people who knew better than me AND those knew who no better. Regardless, the experience taught me a lot about team structure, working towards deadlines and the general chain of command that is strictly enforced within the work culture in India (that I knew of).

Fast forward to 2014 and I have been working on a Scrum team for a couple of years. The passion to build, develop and create software has only grown. Everyday, I wake up with a sense of "What can I do today?","Oh boy, that feature I'm working on is going to be challenging AND fun!" and "I just want to do this everyday of my life". Building a product was revelatory in the Scrum world, where the focus was on customer relationship through the power of the product. It is the most fun I have had since playing with my brother's ZX spectrum. Or the time when I assembled my own PC. Or the time that I spent on learning Android development only to abandon it for another day.

In the waterfall world, customer relationship is mainly built by a sales team who sell snake-oil under-promising features and a development team over-working to delivering half-baked features with a boat load of documentation that will take a sane person two minutes to throw into the trash. The waterfall model promotes the establishment. You have structures, hierarchies, documenting everything (yes, even copyright banners into code that would anyway get stripped out when compiled) like a legally binding contract, following style guides that are 80 pages long and my favorite: slapping other people's wrist during code review for naming their variables in non-standard way. None of this has anything to with increasing value for a customer. A lot of the sweating and fretting is over non-standard process followed than actually delivering working software. I understand accountability is a must, but why not keep the whole team accountable? Live as a team and die as a team is a concept alien to most enterprises.

Although I am a still learning life in the agile world, the Scrum framework is possibly quasi-anarchy for the establishment. The establishment being "the enterprise". When someone has spent a very long career (we're talking 15-20+ years of following a set process like an automaton) doing mundane things while focusing less on the actual innovation, feature or customer feedback, you find yourself trying to tweak the process. One of the gems I've heard in an enterprise is "Process is more important than people" or "If a guy gets hit by a bus, I want all his work documented before hand, just in case". This mindset of settling to document pages and pages just for the heck of it when that time can be spent on learning a new stack or open source library, adopting new products, automating mundane tasks is something every enterprise is stuck with. Yes, you may have someone hit by a bus. That could happen even if he left a hardcover book detailing every hour of his work. Dealing with such situations is why you get a team to be "agile" not only in name but in pairing with each other to focus on a common goal and truly be cross-functional. The focus should be on learning each others work than one person typing away their (sometimes skewed) understanding of how things work. For the establishment, agile is anarchy. It disrupts everything that they have believed to be true. It is like telling a 5 year old Santa Claus doesn't exist.

Process and tools are necessary to help on-boarding new teams but the focus should be on individuals and interactions. As a Scrum team gets to know each other, should they decide a particular process is a waste of their time, they should be given the confidence and full-authority to throw it out the door. Processes as such should not impede you from interacting with your team or customers/stakeholders. I once had a friend telling me how one of the new team members who has never worked in a Scrum team went missing from his desk. For many hours a day, multiple times it appeared he just wasn't with his team. However, he followed the process of logging time, ensuring he attended standups and had something to say on what he was up to. An outsider analyzing his work using a tool or someone who attends the standup (a topic that has potential for exploring), they would not really find a difference between this person and someone else who is genuinely working towards achieving the sprint goal. Being a team player is more than ensuring your bottom is covered. Needless to say, this was identified and dealt with.

Scrum is being adopted by enterprises that are gung-ho about responding to change. The feeling that "Oh, I can keep changing requirements mid-way, the Scrum team will handle it" or "Adding work to the sprint backlog is good because the team is finishing things fast anyway" is the start of the slow march to a Scrum project's grave. This is a place where process creep is bound to come in. "Is the CR documented? I can only start working on it AFTER I get the document" or "I think that is bad customer data, the user is doing it wrong, they should not enter it that way" or "I don't think I'll spend any time on it unless the user confirms they followed the help manual" are some of the warning signs. Even though there maybe a clear steps-to-reproduce from the customer, you will hear things like "I don't know that feature, I would wait until X comes back from vacation in 2 weeks", "The customer is not really pushy, we can let the defect sit in the product until the next release" and so on (for more such quotes, check out Adam Weisbart's Agile Anti-Patterns). The delight of quick-turnaround response in delivering software is the same as the relief you get when a customer care representative talks to you in 1 minute even though the machine told you the average wait time is 30 minutes. Making sure the user will actually use the feature you are building and having customer feedback on regular demos bode well.

That brings us to the resourcing and staffing of a team. An enterprise generally does it on the skill-set of people who know the work or may have Subject Matter Expertise (SME) than people who are efficient at almost everything they do. In addition to Scrum teams that need to be cross-functional, a multiple-role AND cross-functional team is one I have seen have much success. A developer must learn to test too when and if it comes to it. A tester should know how to write automation scripts and always have their eyes and ears trained to be like users. A good product owner will learn how to sketch out interfaces to a designer. Building a Scrum team requires patience. There will be failure. There will be complacency. In an enterprise, you are mostly taking what is called the "fat, dumb and happy" crowd and throwing them into a fire to be "agile, smart and learning". Happiness is something that will come out the product you build or the service you deliver. It will not come from the mundane 9-to-5ness that is attached with an enterprise and the security that you will get good enough rating this year to fly under the radar. Performance reviews are a whole another animal. Don't be Milton Waddams (although I love that guy).

I had the good fortune of hearing someone say "Hey, how do I check in code using this tool? I don't want to get in trouble if code doesn't make it to the QA handoff deadline" and "The sprint burndown will look bad if I can't finish this task, so I'll just mark it as complete and work overtime". One of these was followed by a document written up over many days after review where a 5 step process for managing source code is written up. The scope for learning is killed and a repeatable process where "Thou process is less holier than mine" is built. This death by committee approach is very prevalent in an enterprise. Investing in talent or individual development will earn you workforce morale that will only benefit the organization. Forget scaling Scrum, review teams and committees are probably bigger impediments to an agile team than team members with less experience. "Waterfall within Scrum" or "Deadlines in a Sprint" is like saying "Get your scuba suits ready, this desert has lots of sand". To not fall short of more cliches, it is like taking a knife to a gun fight.

In case this "anarchy" doesn't play in to the "organization wide" practices, so be it. You might want to stick to following what works best for your organization's culture. Are they delivering quality features? Good. Are they building stuff with business value? Even better. Are they being honest in obtaining feedback and identifying areas to improve as a team? Excellent. Working software needs focus on problem solving and a "Git 'er done" attitude than somebody who spent an hour on referring to two 200 page manuals (one written in 2012 and one that is fairly newer), sending multiple emails to the original author to find out if he should use * or - as a comment border since the standards were changed.

Finally, an area that a lot of enterprises look at is to tweak existing processes to be "agile". I hope I'm not too harsh and I apologize to be the one to break it to you, the tweaking will be indefinite unless there is a change in mindset. A self-organizing team that has fully authority to police themselves and build great software will take more than "tweaking processes" and "enforcing rules". The tap on the shoulder to remind the team of the rules (until they are on track) is what a good ScrumMaster should do. Remember, Scrum does not have a project manager. As the establishment, if you half-adopt Scrum, it is bound to fail in a sense that you are not getting the best of what Scrum has to offer.

In conclusion, I leave you with this quote by Ken Schwaber that every enterprise should think of:
Scrum is like chess. You either play it as its rules state, or you don’t. Scrum and chess do not fail or succeed. They are either played, or not. Those who play both games and keep practicing may become very good at playing the games. In the case of chess, they may become Grand Masters. In the case of Scrum, they may become outstanding development organizations, cherished by their customers, loved by their users, and feared by their competitors.
P.S: If you found this article offensive, you might not be my target audience.

August 31, 2013

How my data usage plans went up in smoke


TL;DR: I recently upgraded to Samsung Galaxy S4 on AT&T with a 200 MB data limit. Today, my phone used 173 MB of data in 10 minutes while reading a Business Insider article using the Hacker News Android app.

The mopey upgrader
In my many years of owning gadgets, I have always been fond of keeping my devices as long as they work and basically run them to the ground until they stopped working. That personal trait has kept me happy and has been one of my financial pillars for saving money. The only times where I thought of upgrading or going for that new phone is that awkward feeling when you see friends or colleagues go show them off every other year - their new, latest and greatest device that is a big hit. That shiny 14MP camera that dazzles in all types of light. That great game that could run on their new computer as well as a console that just won't work at all on mine.

This time it happened to be my phone. My good ol' Samsung Galaxy SII Skyrocket was the first smartphone I owned. I had bought it exactly at the time AT&T ended unlimited data i.e. I did not have a plan to get grandfathered into. Regardless, I signed up for a $15 / month data usage plan on 4G LTE. The Skyrocket was humming along for the first year. After the first year, it still worked great, but the battery life was quite bad. I was on the TouchWiz version and did tinker around with rooting the phone. However, I decided to go back to TouchWiz because my usage was confined to the stock apps.

After the ICS OTA update, I ended up going for one of those Anker battery replacements since the phone was barely holding charge for 9 hours- a normal work day's usage of 30 minutes or 1 hour talk time, 3-4 hours of browsing Reddit and HN, 20 odd messages exchanged on Whatsapp, Google Location / GPS turned off and the rest being idle with 4G LTE turned on. As luck would have it, the battery change did not solve the problem of the battery running out of charge by the time I got home from work. The phone was holding about 15hrs of charge with pretty much the same usage as before.

The joy of upgrading your phone!
I wouldn't say I was waiting for this day with a lot of excitement. Everytime I get into a new contract, I get apprehensive and think twice. However, with the release of Jelly Bean and the hype around Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, I started doing my research on upgrading and decided "Only two years, it'll go away in no time - just like when I got my SII".

It has been only a couple of months since I got my new Samsung Galaxy S4. Like any kid with a new toy, I have been playing around with the phone ever since I bought it. The camera was amazing, the OTA updates were a lot more configurable and settings in general were much more detailed than in the SII. The battery, oh wow, it would just work. I have gone more than 24hrs without recharging my phone with my usage pretty much the same. That is quite awesome compared to the recharge every 12hrs towards the end of my tryst with the SII.

Usage planning: a feature made for me
I have always been a stickler for planning. Almost all of my life, I have made plans and try to keep up. Course correction when unexpected things happen or tweaking plans as I go help in understanding how to keep myself out of a situation where I'm in deep trouble. Without being organized, I'm pretty much a wreck. I use Mint for my monthly budgets and credit card due reminders and keep track of my debt; Google Calendar - to remind me to submit my weekly timecard, to pay rent on time and so on. Having seen what being disorganized can lead to both financially and personally, these services and apps help ensuring I stay out of trouble.

Which is precisely why I loved the Data Usage setting in the Galaxy S4. Here, I could set my data limit and keep track of my data usage. In my 25 odd months of the SII, I only exceeded my 200MB / month plan a couple of times. Both of them involved heavily using the Navigation app on road trips. With the change of phones, I didn't expect that to change a lot. I would keep paying the same $15 a month, I had thought. WRONG! 

My apps

I have a select set that just about fills up three screens:



Most of my time is spent on Reddit is fun, Hacker News Android, Twitter, Cricinfo, YouTube, Mint and Whatsapp. Once in awhile I tend to use Fuelio, doubleTwist, Vine and Google Drive. All my other apps are on a need to use basis.

First month: Hmmm, is it just AT&T or is the Galaxy S4 using up data a LOT!
In my first month of owning the Galaxy S4, I was shocked that I hit my data limit with 10 days left to go on my billing cycle (cycle ended August 26th). Imagine, you change phones and the very first month you run up an overage on data while you were able to plan and maintain staying within the limit for the two years preceding that. I was heartbroken. How am I to stop reading the news during my walk or when out for lunch! For 10 whole days! The alternative was to (gulp!) pay the extra $15 for another 200 MB just for days. Nope! I think this will be a good test to see if I can be without using data and be only on WiFi.

However, I was curious. Which apps ate up my data? Did I really use all that in just 20 days? I went into the data usage and checked for the culprit.


Oh! Maps. Yes, I remember upgrading Maps when Navigation and Maps sort of got merged I think. I used it heavily when I drove down on Highway 1, en route to Big Sur stopping by at Monterey, Carmel and a couple of places along Highway 1. It made sense.

I had no idea what Google Services truly was. Maybe I forgot to set the Google Play store updates to not use Mobile Data. It could have been a background update when my phone was sitting in my pocket. But Android OS and Remove apps? Can removing apps take up data? Hmmmm.

Reddit is fun and Facebook usage seem legit. The other entries that I didn't capture in the screenshot seemed to make sense given that I could remember using them on the road.

Second month: 1. Setup Data Limit 2. Usage curfew 3. Stick to plan 4. Stay in budget!
It has just been 5 days since my last billing cycle ended. At the end of my last cycle, I set my mobile data limit to 200 MB (set to 190 MB now) and disabled mobile data the whole of last week. I do not remember browsing anything other than when I was on WiFi. I would have probably opened up Hacker News Android a couple of times.

Earlier this morning, I woke up at 6AM. That is a rare early start for me on a Saturday morning. I'm the kind of guy who ends up sleeping in on Saturdays even if I went to bed early Friday. Since I was up early, the next step was to get something accomplished. I know, my car is full of bird poop! Let me head to Dirt Busters and get in line along with the Soccer moms and seniors who always seem to be the ones patiently waiting at that place. 

45 minutes for the wash you say! I was tempted to ask for the WiFi password and get caught up on the latest on Reddit and HN. It is a little socially awkward for me to go back and ask the attendant for the WiFi password (I went out to the waiting area after paying for the wash). But hey, I've hardly used my data this month. One small fix of turning on the Mobile Data is not going to hurt my plan, right! WRONG!

15 minutes into my wait at my car wash, my eyes rolled at the sight of my phone. All that careful planning, adding a curfew on my data usage per day and keeping my hands clean off an overage on this bill - all of them are now up in smoke.

Damn you Business Insider! Or Hacker News Android! Or Galaxy S4! And AT&T!
After a few minutes of flipping through the Reddit front page, I opened up Hacker News Android. The top articles were pretty interesting. The article (don't click this link on a phone with data usage!) that caught my eye was about how the largest homeless camp is in Silicon Valley from this post.

I started to read it. Halfway through, my phone started freaking out about data limit reached. My warning had set in. Mobile Data got disabled until the time I enabled it again. My jaw dropped. What the... how can reading one article end up eating all that data? Surely, this is a mistake? 

I sat there at the car wash dissecting the possible things that could have happened. I know the data usage charts are to be taken with a grain of salt, but burning through ~190MB in 15 minutes? This led to digging deeper for answers.

Here's the usage over the last five days since my billing cycle for September kicked in:


That seems about right. I have only accessed a few apps during lunch time over the last week. Maybe Hacker News Android is downloading something in the background? Well, the breakdown is suspicious. What could possibly be taking up 50% of the data used in the background for this app?

That narrowed it down to something I used this morning to lead to my data limit breach. 

Let me check August 31st alone (Today):


Holy! But but.. maybe its not this app and the data is misleading. I did browse Reddit a lot for the first 5 minutes and read quite a lot of posts on /r/cringepics, /r/onetruegod and /r/ImGoingToHellForThis. All of posts are imgur links. I probably did use up 16 MB there. 

Or.. maybe it was the ONE article I read? The foreground statistic says it all:




Could it be that the article from Business Insider about the homeless in Silicon Valley contained so many photos that got downloaded, leading to my data being usurped? Seems plausible. But 173 MB? Hah, not a chance.  I did not refresh the page or get into the article again, so 173 MB for one page load seemed too much. 

I decided to fire up Chome developer tools to get to the bottom of this. Besides, I bet Business Insider might have a mobile site along with optimized images for mobile devices. NOPE!



15.7 MB transferred after DOM has finished loading for one page load. Whoa! I also noticed a continuous ping to a Chartbeat.net requesting something every 30 seconds or so. This is the URL for those interested.

15.7 MB for an article that was a photo feature seems possible. I think I can let this one slide. But the 173 MB overall used by Hacker News Android?

Conclusion: WTF?
At this point, I'm lost for ideas on what really happened. Maybe AT&T is ripping off people who own 4G LTE phones. Maybe Samsung Galaxy S4 has a something hidden somewhere in the phone that guzzles data. Maybe Hacker News Android is terribly inefficient when it manages data. Maybe whoever maintains the Business Insider website needs to make their CMS mobile-friendly. Or.. maybe the lochness monster has found its way into my phone and is using the above companies as proxy for more money. Multiples of tree fiddy. I don't know!

Here's what I do know: I won't be using my mobile data for the next 20 days. I can't afford to rack up my phone bill every month while my I try to pay off credit card debt, students loans AND save up for a possible down payment on a house. It will need to be WiFi only for some time. Also, I'm going to back to pre-loading Maps direction instructions when I need to go to some place I do not know the route to. Those were a life-saver when I was a student.

Alas, I remember simpler times when having a phone meant only tracking your minutes. Tracking data usage seems to be a whole other ball game.




March 15, 2013

Moved from Posterous

All good things must come to an end. I managed to reclaim my old blogspot url by moving my other adolescence / rap blog over to madrastales.blogspot.com. That was a different side of me, one that I elaborate in my final post on that blog.

Since Posterous is now dead, I'm moving back to the place I started blogging back in 2004. I had a harrowing time going and autoposting all my old posts. I've lost all the comments and timestamps and permalinks. I'm disappointed, but it is what you do. Pick up the pieces and move on.

The URL may be my own domain, but the underlying blogspot address has not changed. I hope one day Google doesn't shutter blogger just like it did Reader recently.

That would make me a sad panda.

Thoughts on Freedom

As the US marks this day each year, this time it feels a little different. Growing up, I never knew much about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the Indian school system I was brought up in, I do not recall reading or learning much about him. If I did, it was probably in my English class for his 'I have a dream' speech. It was my first introduction to what rhetoric meant.

As time has gone by, my worldview has shaped little things like 'thoughts' and 'feelings' about a vast array of topics. One of them is equality. Living in the United States of America for a little more than 4 years now, one of the great experiences has been the very fact that I am in the land of the free.

One of the leaders responsible for enhacing the meaning of that phrase is Dr. King. In 2013, "the land of the free" might not seem quite right to describe the state of affairs. However, it begs to question what equality means in this day and age. Is it just how you are treated by others due to "the color of your skin"? Or is it "by the content of your character"? Being a technologist, one of my greatest worries has been how freedom is being stifled in the information age. 

Information that impacts governments. Information that unearths scandals. Information flows as free as a river and causes as much havoc to the psyche of rulers as a tsunami does to the psyche of a nation. The fact that liberators of information have found the odds stacked against them by a justice system overreaching is evident in the cases of Messrs. AssangeManning, Swartz and Dotcom.

Although Mr. Dotcom figures in my list of liberators, he did end up running to the bank with his endeavors, a monetary motive compared to being a true liberator of information to the former gentlemen. The underlying fact is that Mr. Dotcom did revolutionize the way in which information is shared, when the likes of Dropbox, Skydrive and Google Drive were non-existent.

Each of them had their reasons to go ahead with their methods of "beating the system". Their methods may have been extreme, but their intentions seem noble and what is needed for this spy drone age. When you can get governments across the world to spy and arrest a person of interest to you, or authorize drone bombing of a town just because one militant is holed out, you know that the cause for freedom continues to reverberate even in the 'land of the free'.

In light of their struggles, it reminds me of some of the words Dr. King shared.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

“The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality.”

While the civil rights movement of the 60s eclipses what we see going on today, it does lay bare that Dr. King's efforts helped the cause of ensuring a just society where race less a factor for discrimintation than your actions or your behavior. But is America today the promised land he would have dreamt of? If the actions of a brave few who do what they believe is right, end up being hounded by the very system that once endorsed segregation, I would like to think that the focus of equality has shifted from skin color to equal ill-treatment of what the system considers as nuisances.

Reading through his quotes gave me an eerie feeling of what Mr. Assange, Pvt. Manning and Mr. Swartz and Mr. Dotcom had done. When you stand up for what you beleive in, you end up paying a price for your actions.

When you blow the whistle on what you think is wrong, you become oppressed and locked up indefintely without trial. When you share information that few want to supress, but you believe the world should see, you are surrounded and bullied into hiding in a building on the hope that you might one day get asylum to a country that may or may not grant you safe harbor. When you circumvent the system to sharing public funded academic articles that have been locked up, you are labeled a 'felon' and driven to taking your own life. When you choose radical ways to share information that cause the safe-keepers of that information to seethe in anger, you get raided and shut down in the middle of the night without any proper warrant or reasoning.

As the world turns its scorn on bullying, I would like to think there is some light at the end of the tunnel. While Dr. King fought for people to be judged by the content of their character, the people of America have twice chosen a man by his character. They may have elected the previous 43 presidents that way too, but the 44th defied all odds against the conventional wisdom that had come to be the new status quo.

Legacies are built by actions for the goodwill of people. Legends defy all odds and persevere when no one gives them hope. History will judge the actions and decisions we make. As much as we would like to say that 'I wrote my own script' or 'I choose my own destiny', in the end the world will only remember you for what you stood for and the impact of your actions.

Reiging in freedom for the many while stifling the voice of the few will decide how much freedom continues to endure. Invading a country and ringing in freedom for a nation while tormenting whistleblowers in your own does not augur well for legacy building. Great leaders are cherished for brining in a new age of thinking and forming the narrative by changing the way people think.

As President Obama takes office on Janaury 21st of 2013, a day dedicated to the great Martin Luther King Jr., let us hope that freedom is given a chance to be equal again. 

The inevitability of life coming a full circle

I might come across as crazy, depressed, needing help, out of my mind or a combination of the above in this post, but continue reading until the end before judging me. This is the first post in a series of deep thoughts or my flavor of philosophy.

I was watching the Olympics ceremony headlines the other day and I noticed Muhammed Ali lighting the torch on behalf of Team USA. It was a sad sight to the see the greatest of all time with the dreadful disease that has become a fixture of his post-retirement life. Seeing him with high spirits was a good sign though.

I remember the song that DJ Steve Porter created as a tribute for Team USA that features some of his most powerful words. 

It is an amazing tribute to the man who never gave up. His poetry and character speaks volumes about his world view and philosophy. Too bad I never grew up around the time he was still active in boxing. Being a 90's child, Mike Tyson was the biggest star I witnessed go from pauper to great success back to being pauper. Ali will be remembered for generations to come.

While randomly youtubing for Ali speeches and biographies, I saw something that deeply affected me. Which brings me to the topic of this post. The video in question is when a kid asked Ali what he would do post-retirement. His answer made me squirm in my seat. An hour later, I was still thinking about how powerful his thought was. 



A couple of days later, I was thinking what I was going to do about the rest of my life. The fear of leading a non-descript life in some corner of the earth is something that haunts me. I'm 27 years old. I probably have another 40 years if I am healthy. The problem is, I am not. Being morbidly obese for quite a large part of my life, I know I'm not immortal. Having lost loved ones doesn't make the situation much easier. However, being the cheery person I am and doing things I love doing keeps me focussed on moving up in life.

Ali's message keeps flashing in the back of my mind. What if I counted how much time I had left? What would I do with the rest of my life if I knew that? 

Assume I might be alive until 80. 

52 years more. 

18980 days more.

455520 hours more.

Assume I sleep 6 hours a day, which is the average. My usual timing is 4-5hrs on weekdays and 8-9hrs on weekends.

6/24 = 0.25 days out of 1 day lost in sleep.

0.25 * 365 = 91.25 days of the year lost in sleep.

91.25 * 52 = 4745 days of next 52 years lost in sleep.

4745 days is 13 years. Shave off 13 from 52 and I have 39 years to live life.

Eating, watching TV or spending time online is going to be a constant for the rest of my life. Assume I spend 4 hours a day doing all that.

4/24 = 0.16 days out of 1 days lost for personal development.

0.16 * 365 = 58.4 days in a year lost for personal development.

58.4 * 52 = 3036.8 days of next 52 years lost in personal development.

3036.8 days is around 8 years and 4 months. Shave off 8 years and 4 months from 39 and I have 30 years and 8 months to live life.

I generally watch movies atleast once a month or in spurts when I get time. Assume I watch one 2h 30m Indian movie a week and two 2h Hollywood movie a month.

2h30m * 4 = 10 hours a month lost in watching movies.

2h * 2 = 4 hours a month lost in watching movies.

14 hours * 12 = 168 hours a year lost in watching movies.

168 * 52 = 8736 hours of next 52 years lost in watching movies.

8736/24 = 364 days of next 52 years. Or 1 year lost in watching movies.

Shave off another year and I have 29 years and 8 months to live life.

I work 8 hours a day and will probably work till age 60. So, 32 years more of 9-5 work.

8/24 = 0.33 days out of 1 day lost in a desk job.

0.33 * 5 days = 1.65 days of a week lost in a desk job.

1.65 days * 52 weeks = 85.8 days a year lost in a desk job.

85.8 * 32 years = 3003 days of next 32 years lost in a desk job.

3003 days is 8 years and approximately 2 months. Shave that off from 29 years and 8 months and I get 21 years and 6 months.

All my analsyis above assumes I will never fall sick in all this. Assume before 60, I fall sick 0.5 days a month on average. Assume after 60, I fall sick 2 days a month on average.

Age 60 - 80

2 * 12 months = 24 days a year lost being sick. 

24 * 20 years = 480 days over 20 years lost being sick.

Age 28 - 60

0.5 * 12 months = 6 days a year lost being sick. 

6 * 32 years = 192 days over 32 years lost being sick.

That is a total of 672 days being sick. It translates to 1 year and 10 months of being sick. Shave off 1 year and 10 months from 21 years and 6 months. I have 19 years and 8 months of being hale and healthy.

I have a 2 week vacation every year. Since the activity of being on vacation involves a part of the 8 hours work I calculated and a part of the eating sleepin calculation, I'm being a bit liberal with 2 weeks a year for the next 52 years. Perhaps, I'll drop it down to a week of vacation that might be more reasonable.

1 week * 52 years = 52 weeks on vacation.

1 year on vacation. Shave that off from the tally and I have 18 years and 8 months left to live life.

Vacations remind me of travelling. You know, going to the grocery store, driving to fill gas, going to a mechanic, visiting furniture shops, spend time looking for a house to buy, drive down to meet family in a nearby city and so on. How do we quantify that? Trying to measure something that cannot be neglected and at the same time cannot be quantified accurately is tough. I'm going to assume I spend 3 days a month doing all of the above.

3 days * 12 months = 36 days a year spent travelling.

36 days * 52 years = 1872 days spent travelling.

That is approximately 5 years and 2 months spent travelling. Shave off from my tally and I have 13 years and 6 months.

13.5 years to make something out of myself. All the math above is based on approximation with huge assumptions. Assuming I might live until 80 is the biggest one. Not counting sleep, eating and such out of the vacation, sick time and travelling is another approximation. Overall, it might not be the best way to do math, but it is very interesting.

13.5 years of trying to live life. To be remembered in history, you are supposed to acheive fame before the end of your career. Nobody remembers someone who was famous solely after death, that they didn't hear about when they were alive. Building respect, reputation, fortune and fame is probably what every man (and woman) dreams of. Is it too big a dream to achieve? Is it something that a simple man like me cannot aspire for? Are there boundaries to what you can dream of and the aspirations you may have? No. The realists and cynics might laugh at that statement. Cynics are probably the reason many do not achieve the feat of being remembered in history. Or cynical historians who love to spin.

Coming to the bigger question. What do you do when you know your time in this earth is limited? It is an aspect of life that has kept puzzling me. What about patients with terminal illness? Stories of sorrow and courage are both possible. Even though they do not know how much time they have left, how can someone prepare to say goodbye? A lot of love and care is what I tend to think. If only everyone in this world appealed to their inner angels to think that way. Maybe that is what the eventuality of death brings to you. It transforms cynics to believers. It makes quitters into never giving up. A fight to stay alive. A fight not meet god too soon, not yet.

That Ali response pretty much throws a challenge to you. What will you do to make peace with god? Ali will be remembered, but how will history judge me? It is not a simple feeling to be brushed off as "Oh, he's so insecure!". For arm-chair philosophers and thinkers like me, these are probably the deeper questions that you cannot answer citing a proof or a set of examples. 

I guess in the end, you live life for what it is. Someone will probably remember me for the rest of their life. My legacy will live through until they rest their eyes. Unless I change the course of history by influencing it by my actions, my story and the knowledge of having known me will be limited to my social circle. That is something to live for. Touching the lives of those around you, helping in every possible way you can and contributing to society in your own quiet way.

You live life to see and take part in great moments. You cherish them forever with your loved ones.

You live life to acheive what you can to the best of your efforts.

You live life to see the happiest moment of your life when you get married or when you have a child.

You live life to provide food, shelter and any other tangible property to your family.

You life life for learning about other's legacies and you celebrate the legacies of those whom history will eventually forget.

You live life to eternally search for peace of mind.

You live life for that eventuality that one day, you will only be remembered by others.

The inevitability of life coming a full circle: something that started at a time you do not remember and ended at a time when you do not get to see what happens after it ends. 

 

 

Time flies

It is 2012 and boy does time fly. Over the years, I have experienced this jinx with writing. I get this urge to write posts, and then a lull. These 'lulls' are due to sheer laziness than anything else. If there ever was a scientific study on what prompts man to focus on one thing for a while and then swiItch attention to something else, I would like to volunteer.

So here we are, in twenty-twelve (or two thousand and twelve for the puritans). Life is ploughing on in its own freakish ways. I am working as an engineer in the education sector. Education Technology industry to be more precise.

Here's hoping we all circle back and meet even after the mayan calendar ends.

Preparing for a job interview these days

Lets face it. The times are getting better for IT job seekers out there. Anyone who keeps visiting Dice or Indeed will notice the pleathora of jobs on offer. As the market starts looking up, preparing for these interviews can be a pain for anyone who is already working. These are things you cannot discuss openly in your current workplace, even if you are underemployed right now. For students who work part-time, scheduling interviews can be a nightmare. Between classes and their work, the time to prepare for an interview (let alone attend one) can be extremely hard to find.

I am one the lucky ones to be getting a bunch of calls for jobs. I believe the best way to prepare is to actually spend time preparing for it. Consider it like an exam. Your chances of failure increase if you decide to wing it. Unless you are among the 1% of this world's geniuses, you will need to prepare. I've tried winging it before. It sucks. I've come out of a phone interview looking like an idiot. I've finished personal interviews which went from bad to lousy. Not all of them were my fault, but I could have spent time researching more about what I was getting into.
If you are interested in some tips, read on. If you know it all, I wish you the best.
  1. READ THE JOB DESCRIPTION!:  There's a reason companies spend time and money writing up these documents and posting them in all the corners of the internet. If you do mass applications for jobs, you will join the other 70% of generic candidates with flashy resumes and awesome cover letters. However, the same thing would be visible for all the jobs you have applied for in the company. For different postions. Take a deep breath and look at yourself. Did you just apply using the same resume and cover letter for different jobs? It is like trying the same thing looking for different result.
  2. RESEARCH THE POSTION: Google, Bing your way to endless hours of meaningful information about the jobs postion. What does it involve? Across different companies, what kind of skills are they looking for? Indeed is a good place to start. Consider them as a Google for job postings. Linkedin provides some amazing data on the company and the jobs they are offering right now. Also, create your profile on LinkedIn and start networking among your peers or old contacts. There must be someone from your past or present who knows someone who knows somebody who is hiring. Get the word out.
  3. PREPARE FOR QUESTIONS: Some of the websites I found useful were Glassdoor and Career Cup. Now, before you cringe about preparing from brain dumps, these websites aren't necessarily brain dumps. I think brain dumps basically drain you of your ability to think analytically. These websites have tons of personal experiences of people who have taken interviews. They surely contain most of the positions you might be applying for. Spend a solid 2-3 hours researching on the most common questions. If you cannot answer them on the fly, think about your past experiences and formulate a plan to tackle the same question.
  4. KEEP QUIET ABOUT SALARY UNTIL AFTER THE OFFER: The first person to bring up the salary requirements loses. Before even an interview happens, if you end up blurting an expected salary, you've lost the job. Every employer looks for a way to filter out candidates. Don't give them a reason based on your hesitant decisons. You do no know how much you are really needed in the job you are applying for. The company could be planning an interview for the best candiate (most suitable atleast). Or, you could have somebody testing the waters to see the kind of talent out there. There could also be someone who is desperate to hire. As desperate as you are for a good pay, do not bring this up until they bring it up. The best answer in my personal view is 'a competetive offer based on current industry trends' or something along that lines. If you put an amount, say $X, how do you really know the company was not going to offer you $1.5X? Don't try to sell yourself short. Prove your worth in the interview, and I'm sure most companies will be willing to negotiate. Look at Glassdoor or Salary.com for help.
  5. RESUMES: This topic is one of the most researched and beaten dead horses out there. There are around 1 million ways to write your resumes. I'll tell you how I do it. I created 5 different ones depending on the job profiles I'm most interested in working in the future. Something that drives me, a passion in terms of technology or management skills I possess. Then, I created 1 page, 2 page and 3 page (upto 2 pages will do in most cases) versions of a couple of postions which I believe I have the best shot of getting. Some of my resume versions are like 'Wishlist' items. It would be great to get that job, but the research on those profiles right now shows I don't have the work experience to get a real shot at it.
  6. WORK EXPERIENCE: This is crucial to most companies who hire for full-time jobs. If you are not able to explain what you put on your resume, you can see your chances dissappear. Your past experiences, the way you handled pressure, your technical know-how and anything to do with your past which you can apply to the job you are interviewing for will be asked in the interview. If not in-depth, there will be atleast some gauging of your knowledge. Do not bloat your resume, at the same time make sure you do not leave out important projects or places you have worked before.
  7. REFERENCES: If you know someone at a company, it is possibly the best way to get hired. However, before you drop names make sure you get their permission. Also, make sure they have a good reputation. You do not want to be referred by a slacker and make that work against you. Like my previous post says, being judgemental can be very easy. If you have a fair idea of a person's apporachability, you can roll the dice on this one. Another way of definining 'references' in this context is people who can vouch for you. Make sure you indicate you can provide references on request.
  8. GROOMING: Get some good sleep the night before. Groom yourself. Suit up! Interviews are career changing events. Your seriousness can be displayed in very simple terms. You take care of yourself and present yourself well, you must be trustworthy to ensure you take your job seriously. There is also the emerging Google fueled university culture where it doesn't really matter if you suit up or not. I'll leave that to you. You could take chances going in jeans and tees, or you could go looking good in a suit. I personally take a lot of pleasure in dressing up well for occasions. Interviews are great occasions to dust that suit, and take off all the lint from your formal clothes. If you don't have formal wear, get some! If you believe you will go only in jeans and tees, atleast consider wearing a shirt. You may get to wear whatever you want once you get the job, but respect the occasion and wear something formal.
  9. BEING CONFIDENT: Always keep your head up. There will be situations where you will be pressed hard to see when you crack. It is always better to sound confident, not cocky. Also, never openly admit your negatives or situations where you admit defeat. Convert them into learning experiences. You can always say, although the project or situation did not go as intended, the learning from it was life changing. Read up some behavioural questions on how employers try to ask you the tough questions.
  10. PUNCTUALITY: If you are having a face-to-face interview, go 15 mins ahead. You can wait until your interviewer is ready. If you are doing phone interviews, keep a bottle of water next to you. Not all phone interviews go as per schedule in terms of the length of the interview. From my experiences, phone interviews allow you to use your laptop to search for some questions. Be careful not be heard typing stuff as they speak. It could make or break an interview. Answer to the point and do not bore the interviewer with bullshit. These people interview hundreds of people a year. They can disect your b.s from your real answers.
I hope that provides a primer for all job seekers who are trying to field interview calls. One last thought before I finish up. Never give up your pursuit for a job. Keep applying to as many as you can, as best as you can and something down the road will click. Luck is a very abstract thought. Being at the right place at the right time is luck. However, not making an attempt will only make you wail in self-pity of how bad the economy is, or how bad the jobs are out there. Distinguish yourself from the rest of the crowd, and you will see the sea of options in front of you.
As for me, I continue to be upbeat about my ability to land a job. If not in the US, I plan to shift back to India and try my hand there. In this global economy, it does not matter where you work. All you need is the skills, the temperament and the opportunity to do some wonderful things to the organization you work for.
All the best! Make it happen!

Being Judgemental

There are some things I can not change. Back when the Internet was in its infancy, I was a going to high school. Being the impatient young fella I was, there are parts of my previous blogging career I want to forget. I'm starting afresh. From scratch. And step by step, I'm planning to be a born-again blogger with a little help from Posterous.

It is very easy to judge people based on what they write or say. We live in a world where changing your mind about something leads to being labelled as 'fickle','flip-flopper' or 'contradictory'. This world is turning into a tiny place with a long trail of your online history left to be archived. As time goes, I think we will move towards a society where people do not judge others solely from one incident or article. Recent history of cyber bullying makes me think it could take a while.

As move into a more interconnected world, what with smartphones, tablets and the internet taking over your microwave oven, it is going to be hard to cover your tracks of online goof-ups. Armchair critics from all around the world who happen to chance upon your article get to pass judgements on your opinions or anything you say that happens to be politically or socially awkward. Now, in a perfect world, online anonimity is something that should be your birth right. However, hiding behind proxies (there is a chance you can get tracked even if you do)  to achieve anonimity is something I won't advice. 

Moving forward, I think everyone will start watching what they say online. There is already a large online overlap between your social networks and work network. The social aspect is creeping into all your networks online: twitter, facebook, blog, reddit, linkedin. Expressing yourself on any of these sites without trying to self-filter the opinion will only lead to infamy which might last very long. The interwebs is turning judgemental, with an attention span that is growing shorter as I write this. 

So, here's to a new begining. A fresh begining.

A blog the 16 year old me would have mocked.

A blog the 26 year old me thinks is necessary.

A blog the 60 year old me can continue to write on.