2012 in review – []

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 32,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 7 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

leadership Management Opinion

Too Many Hops

Quite recently, I had been talking to a friend of mine, who was vying for a senior leadership position. After a couple of conversations with the recruiter, he was told he had taken too many hops, and hence the company was not considering him. I was thinking about this for a bit, and I thought I would share my thoughts.

I personally feel that, ‘rejecting’ based on this reason as the only reason seems pretty foolish and hasty. The least that one should do is to find out the reason for the hops, and how the hops happened.

Insecurity? Were the hops because of the candidate not feeling confident that he could do the job assigned to him? This might be a valid reason for rejecting, but then, we should also dig in into finding out how the fellow landed up that job in the first place. In the numerous interviews that I have taken, I have found that, one can easily figure this out, using some behavioural traits.

Performance. Were the hops because the candidate did not perform well? Did the interest levels dip soon after the candidate was hired? Again, think. Why was this not caught during the interview process? Again, performance measurement is subjective. It could be your perspective that he may have gotten the boot because of bad performance. But, this is a valid case of rejecting a candidate.

Burnt bridges. How did the candidate leave the previous companies? Were they amicable? Were they jumps with the management in full support? Were the jumps such that management tried ‘everything’ to retain him? Did he burn bridges? If the candidate had had personnel (not personal) issues because of which, he burnt bridges (fought with manager/team etc), then this is definitely something that should discourage you from hiring this person.

The fire brand. Is the candidate someone who has the fire burning in him to grow fast? Did he find that he has been increasing his net intellectual/management experience worth significantly by jumping from gig-to-gig once in a few years? If the candidate is someone like this, you can be sure that he would not have left the previous gigs in bad taste. He would have alternate plans, succession strategies, etc, that when he leaves, it does not leave a void. It is not necessarily a bad thing to hire this guy. Except, one should hire him recognizing that he is a fire brand, and craves growth. For a senior management position, this craving is a good thing. Stoked correctly, this fire brand can create miracles for a company.

To end, my opinion is that, too many recruiters make this mistake of judging a candidate by too-many-hops. Yes, I agree, there are some folks who have had too-many-hops because of ‘issues’, but you cannot generalize. In this current generation of companies, there are two kinds of people who race to the top – both the turtles and the hares. The turtles are the folks who have risen in the company (it took them 15 years in the same company to become the senior manager/director). The hares are the folks who gain experience and expertise in working through a variety of positions (these are the folks who have risen to a senior manager/director in 7-8 years). Think for a moment, and you can easily recall folks in both categories.


Science of Productivity

With the new Year round the corner, and more people making their regular new Year resolutions, this should help –


Round-off Error Comedy

It was 630AM on a cold wintry day. Well, until you experience anything else (perhaps like the cold wintry 4 deg Celsius days of Noida), even Chennai’s December mornings are cold and wintry. My dad had dropped me off at a decrepit rundown school on Venkat Narayana Road. This was the venue where I endured IIT Maths Coaching torture for 2 years, every weekend.

There was deathly silence. It was test day. One of those tests that left your brain sponge dry after the event. But there was entertainment close by always. There was this jolly chap named Krishna (name changed for obvious reasons). This fellow was attending the classes because his parents were forcing him to. Well, there were several of the guys in that category, but this guy unashamedly accepted it, spoke about it, and planned on how to get himself kicked out by the professor. Now you see, where the entertainment part rolls in.

The professor matched every appearance of how an eccentric IIT Coaching professor should be. Hair unkempt, loose fitting clothes, beard, and several such idiosyncrasies, that you come to expect out of folks in this learned profession.

Now, back to this fine Saturday morning. The professor sighed and wheezed up the stairs, with his question paper set. In his typical manner, he asked the rhetorical question of how prepared all of us were, and of course started the villainous exercise of distributing the papers.  After giving out the question papers, he again gave the toothy grin and asked if any of us had questions. I had one, but I dared not asked this one — why was the paper in Greek, instead of English. I saw very few English alphabets in it).

Our fine friend Krishna raised his hand high proudly, and asked – “Sir, if I score 49.5 on 50 in this paper, would you round the score up to 50?”

The class roared in laughter, but the dear professor was not amused.

—- Fast forward to one week later —-

Same scene as above. Same tension, if not more, since the professor typically gives out the graded scripts fairly quickly. And true to this name, the professor did wheeze up the stairs, with the..graded..answer..scripts.

He came and smiled his toothy smile as usual. He was searching for someone. Why ? Who was he searching for?

And he said – “Where is Krishna ? Ah ! There he is.”

He sighed and said with a wicked smile – “You have gotten 0.5/50. Should I put it as zero or round it up to 1?”

The class roared in laughter. And then was silenced quite quickly thereafter, when we got our papers. Krishna got kicked out after the first year. He was on top of the world. Some of us continued on to the second year. A few of us got into the IITs. No, not me. You kidding? But hey, those were the years.

Management Opinion software startup technology

LinkedIn Endorsements

It has been a while since LinkedIn rolled out its endorsement feature, and I hate it. Don’t get me wrong. I love LinkedIn, and a big fan of the service. It is one of the best professional networking sites.

My biggest cribs about the endorsement feature are:

  1. There are some people in my professional network whom I barely know. These guys are still important to me, and are present in my network for networking purposes. Example – several head-hunters and HR professionals. I do not want them endorsing my technical skills. I don’t mean disrespect to these people, but it dilutes the endorsement. I would rather have such an endorsement from (say) my manager (or ex-managers).
  2. The skill set basket is still very weak. As a computer science professional, I do not want to be endorsed for stuff like algorithms and data structures. These are fundamentals. I would rather be endorsed for something like C/C++ programming, or Program Management, or Building Teams, Technical Management.
  3. And do not force me by saying, “Mr. Foo has endorsed you, do you want to endorse him?”. I do not like being emotionally blackmailed. Some times, I do not want to return the favour. Especially when the favour was not asked for.

Perhaps, the above three points of feedback have been given to LinkedIn already, perhaps a thousand times, but the endorsement circus continues on.

As a Technical manager, and a computer science professional, I hate just talking about problems. Wherever I can, I give a couple of suggestions/fixes. My suggestions to fixing this ‘mess-up’ are:

LinkedIn, be the great professional service that you are. Retract the feature. There is nothing wrong in retracting. It only shows your commitment to customers.

  1. I do understand this is highly unlikely. If I can take the liberty of guessing the underlying power of endorsements, it is for the savvy recruiter to hunt for people with required skill sets (aka the skill sets that people have endorsed the candidate for). It also gives a nice indirect reference check.
  2.  Ask me, if I want to accept endorsements from your network. Give an option (in the header menu) to locate someone in my network and propose an endorsement. (Of course, as in (2), this endorsement would need to be ‘accepted’ by the recipient.) This would make the endorsement feature very similar to the ‘recommendation’ feature. In fact, it would give the lazy professional networker a lazy option to recommend someone.
  3. Create ‘proximity’ levels within my professional network – much like the ‘circles’ in the google+ network. And give me control on who goes into which level, and which levels I can accept endorsements from.

The one thing that you would notice common in all of my three suggestions are that, make the act of endorsing user-cognizant/user-initiated. This way, I have control over my endorsements, much like my recommendations.

software startup technology

Instagram Outrage

Today’s xkcd strip mirrors my feelings exactly about the recent Instagram outrage. Well, to be honest with you, I had some initial outrage too initially (though I do not really use the product), but just a little bit of thought changed my mind.

For people who do not know about Instagram and the recent outrage (first, please come out of the rock that you are hiding under – the world did not end!), let me summarize the issue and my two cents.

Instagram is a free iOS app/service which lets you take photographs using your iOS devices, apply some cool filters, and then stores these pictures for you. Filters are image processing effects – such as sephia, b/w, and more fancy ones — that you apply on your otherwise dull monotonous pictures of your flowers and feet, to make them pretty),It also, as is mandatory for any app these days, lets you share these pictures using twitter, facebook, and other social networking sites.

More recently they got acquired by facebook. These guys have not been making money for a while now. I guess Zuck was probably miffed and asked the Instagram team to ‘start thinking about $$’. Last week, these guys changed their terms and conditions, that starts to make them thinking about $$. They had some ambiguous terms which people misinterpreted as ‘Instagram will use your pictures in advertising, without having to tell you’. I am not quite sure about the legalese, but this caused quite a bit of bad PR. Instagram responded very quickly that they would change their T&C etc.

Ok, now my opinions/reactions.

My first disappointment was that, “how could a company in the social networking space – which is super focussed on consumers – do such a faux paus as to have an ambiguous T&C in the first place?”. The new era of apps and social networking is so much consumer faced that, consumer is not just God, but probably more than that. They have made and broken companies.

On later hindsight, I am realizing two things:

In this era of social networking and ecommerce companies, the companies that do survive are the companies who fail fast, and recover fast. The fact that Instagram responded shows promise. They HAD to take some risks to do some internal stuff to start making money. And to survive they had better make money. Having been a part of an ecommerce company for about a year, I can vouch for the fail fast-recover fast method. It is the only thing that works.

Secondly, why are consumers suddenly so worried about T&Cs. Had anyone ever read the T&C when they signed up for Instagram? GMail? Or for that matter, any online service?

Next->Next->Continue->PageDown->PageDown->Finish->Congrats, you are done.

All my sign-ins have been like the above. The whole bad PR is because of another new phenomenon – Large Herds. The Herd mentality has been studied for quite a while now, and it is typical human behavior. But with the advent of large scale social networking, the herd sizes are magnified, several fold. So if TechCrunch says something, or John Gruber says something, or if @AtulChitnis retweets something, it becomes h.u.g.e.

So in conclusion, what happened to Instagram is not something alarming at all. This is what is going to be the future of QA. This is how product testing is going to happen. What used to happen within a enterprise software company when a Priority-Zero (P0) customer bug came in, just happened in a social networking company. Do not get alarmed, and get back to your work. If you have faith in that company (as in, you have an account with them), they will fix the bug. If not, this will ensure a new start-up founds itself with that limitation removed and an easy move-your-data-easily-to-me process.


Hypocrisy – Modified Value Systems

As fancy as the title sounds, I am going to be writing about something that is super simple, and about something a lot of us have actually seen in our real lives (in recent times).

We were in deep discussion about an on-going project – me and one of my team members. The door was partially closed. She swiftly peeped in and barked – “which way to Mr. T’s office?”. I was initially taken aback. For a second, we had been wrenched out of a train of thought, and that too by someone who we did not know, and who had just asked a question in a rather rude tone. After a moment of uncomfortable silence (for us), I said, “Down the hallway and to the left”. She barked a quick thanks and left as swiftly as she had appeared.

I have a couple of observations here. Brand me as judgemental if you want to, but I make these observations here on my public blog, only because, this is becoming more common in recent times.

1. The ‘bark’ and the tone, resounded with the attitude – “I am a visitor from the US office, and I demand attention.” I do not subscribe to this attitude. Sorry. Would you use the same intonation when you are in the US office. “Please, could you tell me which way I should go to Mr. T’s office. I would very much appreciate that.” Ha ! Then why the change in attitude, when you visit here. And oh, did I mention that, less than a decade ago, you were the same as me – ‘desi office worker in the India office’.

2. Would you barge into a someones office like you did today, in the US office? I very much doubt that. You would then be branded as the ‘rude Indian lady’. So what makes you think, we do not brand you that.

I wonder why people get this chip on the shoulder when they relocate to the US (or for that matter, any foreign shore). Why is there such a dramatic transformation in attitude and behavioral aspects when you visit your ‘motherland’ versus your other home? Would you be OK if come and hug you or give you a high-five, or scream your name down the hallway, when I visit the US office next time?

This has always been the case, except this is being noticed more these days, and I will tell you why. There are people like me, and several others, who have been on both sides of the ocean. I studied for 5 years in the US, and have made several (I still do) business visits to the US office. There are several folks in this office, who have worked there for several years and have decided to move back to the proverbial ‘desh’. We have seen both sides of the equation, and unfortunately see through the hypocrisy immediately.

So dear lady from the US office, I really wish you understand, we are all professional co-workers and share the same professional and personal ethics. Now,  if you will excuse me, I need to reschedule the meeting you just interrupted, and pick up the threads and restart from where we left off.

misc travel

Value of travel

Fantastic TEDx talk from Rick Steves. I have heard a lot about Rick Steve’s Europe Tour books. This talk just was fantastic.