Thursday, November 7, 2013

Movie quiz at the office

Here's a Dropbox link to a movie quiz I conducted at the office the other day. Meant for the faint-hearted, not the expert quizzers out there.

And here are the answers. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Speak Up!

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the following statement in performance reviews: “He is a great engineer. Keeps quiet and does his job.” Most managers nod after hearing this, acknowledge the engineer and discuss a totally different person for promotion. I’ve also lost count of the number of engineers who get frustrated at not getting promoted after being told they are doing a great job.

Why does this happen so often, especially in the Indian software industry? Here are a couple of reasons why I, as a manager, tend to pass over the quiet folks when looking for a senior engineer who can excel as a leader.

First, I expect the senior engineer to be able to influence her peers and business leaders, especially across geographies. I work in India, in the software product development space, where the ability to be crisp and clear in describing your point of view is extremely important. The engineer could be talking to architects, product managers or heads of business units, who may not have a lot of time to spend in detailed discussions. If the engineer is a quiet recluse who finds it difficult to open up and speak in a broad setting, I will not have the confidence that she can influence business and technology direction for the product she is working on. On the other hand, a person who is articulate and can convey her point in a few sentences would be far more effective.

Second, I also expect the engineer to mentor and motivate other engineers. I’d like him to set an example, be a person other engineers can look up to and learn from. I’d like him to help nurture ten other engineers like him, which would raise the team’s overall performance. I would need to see evidence that the engineer can act as an energy amplifier, before deciding to promote him. Here again, a quiet person who does his job well may not be the best possible candidate.

I do realize this topic could be controversial, especially in India where we have been taught to be quiet in schools, and often rapped on the knuckles if we speak up. However, the more we speak up, the more confident we get, the more influential we become. Changing the world is then just a step away.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How to get to heaven and what to do there (Part 4)

You spend a good part of the next morning applying suntan lotion, as you discover you've turned a very dark shade of brown overnight. Of course, it would have helped to do this before your trip to the sunny, snow covered hills of Sonamarg, but you go ahead and apply it anyway. Better late than never, as you always say.

You spend the day dutifully visiting the Mughal gardens in Srinagar, as you've been instructed to by friends. You ooh and ah at the first garden, Shalimar, privately thinking that Lalbagh was better. The second, Nishat, does have its charm, though. Tulip, the third garden is surprisingly enough, all about tulips. You find red tulips, yellow tulips, orange, pink and a few other shades you never believed existed. You find that you've covered only a tenth of the park, but by then you have seen enough tulips to last you a lifetime.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

How to get to heaven and what to do there (Part 3)

Alright, let's get down to business. You are here for the snow. You've heard stories about it, you've seen it in hundreds of movies, you've always dreamt of throwing snowballs at everyone, especially at the Bangalore drivers who cut in from the left.

You hire a cab to Sonamarg, it's a ninety minute drive from Srinagar. The family starts cheering when you spot the first blob of snow on the road. It's a brownish-white muddy mess, but you stop and take a dozen pictures. Your driver points at you and laughs helplessly.

The terrain changes quickly. You see more of white, less of brown. You arrive at the foot of a snow covered hill. There are tents, small houses and hundreds of Kashmiri guides all around. 

You get out of the car and try to go with the least intimidating bunch. You do need to rent snow boots anyway. You are not sure if you need a guide though, you try walking up. You cover thirty feet and stop, legs aching, gasping for breath. 

The guides come by again, they tell you that they can take you up the hill on their sleds, they can show you parts of Sonamarg that you wouldn't be able to see on your own. The lead guide is all of seventeen years old. He says he will need to wait five hours till he gets his turn again. It's a token based system, apparently. You agree, he and his friends start pulling you and your family uphill. It's not the proudest moment of your life. 

Then again, it's probably one of the most spectacular. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How to get to heaven and what to do there (Part 2)

The army is everywhere. In the airport, next to the baggage carousel, next to the terminal gate, the men's room, the exit, the pre-paid taxi stand. You see a soldier with a gun every fifty metres on the road. The cops are heavily armed too. They conduct frequent checks on vehicles, ask drivers for their papers. You don't think it's a move to make money on the side, though. The checks are quick, a glance at the license and registration appear to be enough. The driver takes it in his stride, he is clearly used to it.

You reach the hotel, the one right next to Nigeen Lake, which showed up prominently on Trip Advisor. It looks old school, with heavy carpeting and Mughal knick-knacks. It was probably someone's house, you remark as your bags are taken inside. You wander around the place a bit, checking out the lawn and the lake right in front. Impressive. Beautiful. Especially the free wifi.

You settle in for your first full fledged Kashmiri meal, served right at your table. The rotis are soft, the sauces delicious and the mutton well cooked. You get ready for a nap, you are on vacation after all. Your wife has different ideas, though. You are steered to the front desk, where you ask for a Shikara,  one that you can hire for a four hour ride through the Nigeen and Dal lakes, through the canals and backwaters of Srinagar.

The Shikara shows up promptly, the boatman mentions an hourly rate of Rs 600. You negotiate at length and finally beat him down to Rs 650. The kids get bundled in, you and your wife settle down on the comfortable bed inside the boat. The boatman, Shafiq Mohammed, gently eases the Shikara towards Nigeen lake and beyond.

The ride is lovely. You miss Bangalore traffic of course, especially the honking and the autos cutting in from the left, but then there are similarities. You have the occasional boat sliding along towards you, trying to sell you Kashmiri ware. Paper mache products, nuts and shawls are available. You politely decline, as you've been instructed to by friends. You do feel a pinch of sadness, though. This is their only livelihood. Tourism is the biggest industry in Kashmir. Perhaps the only one.

The Dal lake comes up ahead. You stop at a shop in the middle of the lake, have your first taste of Kashmiri Kehwa. It's very sweet, but warm and pleasant too. It's a mix of tea, saffron, almonds and a bunch of other stuff that's good for you. You raise a toast to Shammi Kapoor and hum to yourself, as your boat snakes into the sunset.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

How to get to heaven and what to do there (Part 1)

First, put your kids to bed at 8pm or earlier, as the flight's at 6 in the morning. Spend a sleepless night tossing, turning and hoping you wake up at 3. Wake up at 2:30 instead and stare at your wife, who didn't sleep anyway.

Give the cab driver directions to your house, poke the kids awake, do the regular, last minute mad scramble to pack and lock up, bundle up everyone in the cab and sleep till you reach Bangalore airport. Get on the Mumbai flight as it's cheaper, though you'll need to spend over three hours at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport, which is not really different from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Bus Terminal.

You've probably seen better bus bus terminals, in fact.

Wait for the boarding call for your flight to Srinagar. Plan extra time for the extra round of baggage checking just before you board. Secretly get irritated but act virtuous and nod your head saying it makes you feel safer. Control your excitement in the flight, which is fairly easy to do given that it's a two and a half hour ride and you have all sixteen members of the Joshi family for company. The eldest Joshi is busy doing a Sudoku and munching on a paneer roll, the youngest is bawling for one of the mothers Joshi, in harmony with Baby Joshi Two screaming for his dad to play Angry Birds with him and Baby Joshi Three laughing after tripping the stewardess for the second time.

You proudly look at your four year old, happy that he's quiet. Quietly puking into the barf bag, but quiet nevertheless. Your wife smiles at you, holding your son on her left hand and stroking your sleeping daughter's hair with her right. You smile back, stretch, munch on your chips and get back to your book.

Kashmir shows up quite soon, though. It takes your breath away.

You wait till the plane lands, you can't wait to get on the ground. You, your family, the sixteen Joshis and the rest of the passengers rush past the crew and set your feet on the ground. There are smiles all round. You walk towards the terminal, at peace. 

You have arrived at heaven.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Call me maybe

Travelers from India to the US frequently struggle with getting an inexpensive phone connection that works. I have tried various options over the years:
  • Rented a prepaid phone from India which gets activated in the US: too expensive, no data plan.
  • Used my India phone in the US: wound up with a phone bill higher than the cost of my smartphone.
  • Used Google voice linked to my hotel phone: helpful only if you work out of the hotel all day, which sort of defeats the purpose of traveling to the US on work.
Thanks to a colleague at work, I think I have now stumbled upon an option that works best. Your mileage may vary, of course. This is what you do:
First, purchase a GoPhone from AT&T. There are two ways of doing this - one is to find a local AT&T store and purchase a SIM (or microsim if you prefer), or walk into any general store and pick up a $20 Samsung GoPhone (I tried Walgreens as it was the closest). You might also want to buy a $50 recharge card from the store while you are at it - will save you another trip.
I removed the SIM from the GoPhone and put it into my trusty Android phone. Followed instructions at the website and activated the number. Used the $50 recharge card and bought the monthly unlimited plan. Used the APN settings from this post,  restarted my phone and I was all set! I didn't get 3G, but EDGE is good enough for email, twitter and the occasional gchat with friends and family while on the road. The rate plan expires after a month, but the account should be active for another quarter and the phone number for another five months, which should help the next time I travel. Fingers crossed.