Monday, March 14, 2011

Generalist Vs Specialists- Where should the balance be?

Last week, I was car pooling with one of my colleague who works in a different department- We were generally chatting about life, work et al and he wanted to get some counseling from me on management [I don’t know how come; he suddenly assumed that I can do career counseling for him :-))]. For the sake of simplicity, let us call this person as Mr. Techie [MT in short]- MT has around 8 years of experience in the Oracle platform and he wanted to get in to management. I asked MT a simple ‘WHY’- whether he did not like Oracle or Larry Elisson or he just got bored with it. Interestingly, MT replied that liked/loved Oracle but he felt that he is not progressing well in his career and he feels that by getting in to management, this perception can go away and he can see more GROWTH. When I probed him deeper on what he means by NOT progressing well in career, he candidly told me that he gets irritated when managers GROW even though the bulk of the work is done by him or people of his ilk. So in totality, MT decided that it was worthwhile to drop his Oracle expertise or a technical career and pursue a career in management- He also wanted to check on part-time or full-time MBA degree as he felt that this will determine his success in management [There are certain management institutes which sell this very well]. He was kind-off mesmerized on the MBA thing – I strongly felt that someone would have told him that MBA is a pre-requisite for pursuing a career in management.

If I abstract this at a higher level, it boils down to your decisions on your “path”. Why do you need a management career when you are good in technical area? Why do people flock for MBA’s when they really don’t know what is in store for management? I agree with Scott Adams again on producing more “pointy haired” bosses! Why cannot we specialize in the area where we are and not get distracted? There are certain folks who have a natural flair in management and they do well irrespective of an MBA. These are tough questions and I can understand that it is tough to go on a path with considerable self-assurance! But I also feel it is an area of improvement/challenge for IT service firms to get technical folks to do technical things for eternity. Outside of India, I have seen project managers who have 20 years of experience just doing project management or program management; I have also seen Technical folks doing coding/technical tasks for 25 years! They feel assured and secure in pursuing their line of expertise- The firm also gives them the scope to do that. Why is it not possible to do it here? The obvious reason for this is the exponential GROWTH of the industry and this has set the expectations for everyone to move up and up[irrespective of the fact whether they are capable or not- This is more relevant in management]? The key challenges from the firm side are to create a degree of security/assurance and keep the technical folks motivated in the same area/space for a longer period of time? The challenges from a individual perspective is to stay focused on the ‘path’ which is difficult with the level of distractions today [cannot imagine a dumb management boss who is more successful than the particular individual who is smart in his core area]!

Coming back to Mr.Techie, I asked some pointed questions to him, viz.,
• What are your goals?
• Are you loving doing your work in Oracle platform?
• How do you know that you will love your work in management?
• Are you ok if you fail in management?
• Are you ok to move in to a generalist role from a specialist role- That’s a big sacrifice in my mind!
• Who told you that you need MBA to get in to management?- This is another common myth!
• Why don’t you do a trial and error role in management before doing your MBA?

Mr.Techie obviously felt as if he was shaken and stirred by these questions- He got the message and figured where I was coming from! Smart boy! I specifically told him not to give any answers right away and asked him to ruminate over these set of questions before looking at part-time MBA as an option. Maybe he would have cursed himself on having car pooled with me! I guess the same is true in many sectors or many industries. Do I need to be in Sales or do I need to be in marketing? Do I need to do the lathe work in the workshop or do I need to open a new lathe shop? Do I need to do day-trading for someone or do I need to do it myself? Should I be in corporate banking or should I be in investment banking? These are definitely worthwhile pondering questions but it has to be associated with multiple ancillary questions before a decision is made.

Just making a decision and then blaming it on others or generating self-sympathy will not work! The other good idea is to do less analysis and move along the path that life takes you and enjoy what you have got rather than aiming for something and losing your sleep.

I also want to connect Malcolm Gladwell’s book called ‘Outliers’ where he brings in the concept of 10000 hours of work [,9171,1858880-2,00.html ] - If you have done more than 10000 hours of work in a particular area, then you can actually call yourself as an expert or be successful in that area. It is not about the talent but about the 'work' that you put in that particular area. Being in the middle looks cool, but you should not do more analysis- Just enjoy the ride and stay committed!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Accidental Billionaires- The Founding of Facebook by Ben Mezrich

I was recommended this book by my neighbor, Kaushal and it proved to be awesome! Thanks Kaushal!
Ben Mezrich has created a fast paced documentary book that is unique in style of writing and pace; he calls it as the tale of sex, money, genius and betrayal! What a combination? I guess most of the greed in business world has some flavor of this mix in varying percentages. It will be good to create an algorithm of this based on historic research of start-ups and enterprises; we will know the exact percentages. This book is a smart chronological collection of interviews, secondary research who were involved with Mark Zuckerberg in some way or the other; this is packaged in a great story! For non-digital natives, Mark Zuckerberg is the founder of Facebook, the world’s most popular social networking site, youngest billionaire and the youngest TIME person of the year, 2010 [,28804,2036683_2037183_2037185-1,00.html]. This book talks about his journey from Harvard dorm room, the vision of social networking, the concept of Facebook, the whole viral way in which it took off and finally the ruthless focus and agility that Mark brought to FB!
I finished it in one shot and it was a sort of déjà vu for me for multiple reasons- It is an ‘interesting’ book [stealing from Mark’s words] which was made in a movie called “the social network’.
The plot and the characters are very simple- Mark’s classmates in Harvard are Eduardo Saverin, Winklevoss brothers and Divya Narendra. Plus there is this legendary Sean Parker [of Napster and Plaxo fame] who acquaints Mark and influences his move from Harvard to Silicon Valley. Mark joins Harvard and he is socially awkward; the irony is hard to miss- From being a socially awkward kid, he moves on to create the biggest social network of the century and is the TIME person of the year to have 500 million users in Facebook!! Behind every great fortune, there lies a great crime- In this case; it was a prank for Mark and he went on to create the revolution. Basically Mark got rejected by a girl and he went on hacking the entire Harvard directory [all pictures] and created a website called ‘face mash’. Face Mash concept was simple- People could vote the hottest girls in the campus and maybe some of the girls faces would be put next to farm animals so that people can vote which one is attractive. Within 72 hours, the whole voting of girls became viral and facemash had logged 22K votes- This created a huge sensation within Harvard and Mark was featured in the Harvard Crimson primarily for even suggesting the fact that he wanted to compare girls with farm animals and of course for hacking all the pictures from the Harvard database illegally. The Harvard ad-board gave a warning and probation to Mark on this incident- The face mash was the trigger for FB and ‘Looking for, Relationship Status, Interested In’ was the genius for FB and the heart of any college experience or college life. A computer program could actually get you a date and get you laid!!
Simultaneously, the Winkelwoss brothers and Divya had been working on an idea called Harvard Connect later renamed as ConnectU- They wanted to finalize the last bit of programming and wanted Mark’s help to finish that. Mark listened to them fully and procrastinated them for 8 weeks and created Facebook -launched it using Eduardo Saverin’s seed money for servers. There are infinite numbers of designs for a chair but that does not mean anyone making a chair is stealing from someone else- That was Mark’s argument against Winklevoss twins law suit on stealing their idea of ConnectU.
Along the way, this book also gives a sneak peak on Harvard clubs, the history, tradition around it- The whole campus life is interesting and the unpredictable mind of Mark. He used the Harvard Connect idea; he used Saverin’s seed money, used Sean Parker’s contact to get the initial VC money all along when he was GROWING up from 21 years!! The focus and ruthlessness of Mark comes in the angle where he chopped off Eduardo, Sean Parker in a clinical manner. Mark’s behavior was best illustrated by his business card- ‘I’m CEO-Bitch’
PS: Winklevoss brothers won the lawsuit and they settled at USD 65 Mn. Eduardo has an impending lawsuit and his name as a cofounder of FB is reinstated

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Super Sad True Love Story- Gary Shteyngart

Interesting title and an interesting author and an interesting canvas- I was intrigued by its title, read its review at Amazon and picked it up instantly. The author of this book is Gary Shteyngart-His other popular works are Absurdistan and The Russian Debutante’s handbook.

The story revolves around multiple themes but it is predominantly a combination of satire and love story set up in future- Gary spins a satire on the future of our world by taking what is happening currently (capitalism, US dominance, US functional literacy/illiteracy, social networking, gadgets, live-streaming, manual books etc) and elaborating it to a future dystopian state. In that mix, he has cleverly interspersed a love story in an unique manner. I had a feeling that some parts of this book were auto-biographical but cannot validate that with Gary!

We can call this book in whatever genre as I am unable to slot it - That’s what makes it more curious and fun to read! I can call this as a futuristic book, as a romantic book in a different age or a simple satire that extends the current trends in a bizarre manner! The whole story revolves around Lenny Abrahmov and Eunice Park who are the chief protoganists. Lenny, aged 39 works in ‘Post Human Services’ that sells immortality to High Net Worth Individuals and Eunice, aged 24 is a Korean immigrant in the US who has graduated with a major in ‘Images’ and minor in ‘Assertiveness’. Lenny falls for Eunice’s youth and tries everything to ensure that he gets her love. Eunice at the same time, quite aware of Lenny’s age takes him for purely transactional reasons- basically to get a space in his apartment in NY city. Gary has also portrayed a different picture of America in the future where there is an impending war at Venezuela, ARA (American Restorative Authority) taking control and the Chinese Yuan taking over the dollar. Saudi Arabia, Norway and China are the potential takers of America [!]- This was well emphasized in the beginning of the book when Lenny, an American citizen enters US and is being questioned by the Otter!

The whole story is narrated between Lenny’s dairies and Eunice’s IM or social emails to her set of people- So it is almost all the events unfolding from the lens of Lenny and Eunice with two extremes of communication. Lenny on the normal manual diary manner and Eunice on the social networking platform. This style was different and I loved it! Lenny speaks through his dairies which are philosophical or auto-biographical- His point based methodology on life is dreadful and funny; For instance, his Point 3 on ‘loving Eunice’ ,Point 1 on ‘working hard’ for his boss, Joshie and Point 5 on ‘being nice to parents’ bring back the nerd mentality and lack of social maturity in which the world is heading at! Some of the abbreviations used by Eunice in regular conversations are again hilarious viz., TIMATOV (Think I am about to openly vomit), JK (just kidding), TMS (temp motion sickness). There is a clear tinge of immigrant mentality strewn across both Lenny and Eunice character- The part where both of them meet their parents are written very well. The way different cultures especially in a different country collides are clearly seen.

There is also this device called, “apparat” that streams real time data about everything right from credit rating, ranking, worthiness, social interactions with others, likeability etc. This apparat has got a “Rate Me Plus” feature which can rate on multiple parameters on a real-time basis [***-ability 700/800, personality 800/800, */*/* preference 1/3/2]. I was really scared to enter in the dystopian world of Gary but at the time could not resist the fact that there are certain aspects aligning in that manner if you look at the current trends. Personality score depends on how ‘extro’ the person is- and the apparat streams images, multimedia thingy on your childhood, runs on the stuff that the person has downloaded and comes with a score. This is going to be reality for sure- I am sure Mark Zuckerberg must be thinking of it already and we will be using it in the near future!

Lenny and Eunice conversations are really funny- How they respect their families? The old carrot and stick method of parenting? The aspect of Lenny liking ‘physical’ books (I use the term physical here) in a world where your social group thinks that you are ‘nerd’ if you read physical books. Lenny likes to read ‘physical’ books and his rendering/reading of Tolstoy is made fun by Eunice to her friend, Precious Pony. It is not just the fact about Lenny reading the books but the SMELL of the books that irritate the next generation! I don’t know what can Tuna-brain and nerd face, Lenny do to avoid the smell! The conversations between Eunice and her friend Grillbitch a.k.a Precious Pony are page turners- It typically happens in the Global Teens account (facebook in future!)! The way Eunice starts loving Lenny and her ambiguities with Lenny start coming out clearly in her conversations- The satire is visibly coming out there! Fashion Trends are moving in a different direction in the future; (Onionskin jeans)- I don’t want to give a sneak peek here as it will spoil the party when you read the book.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book even though I did not like the ending that much- It could have been better! I loved Gary’s style of writing! Folks who are in social media and are closely following the trends will love this book and the satire!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

MEE-ROI (Meeting ROI)

One of my “tangential” ideas- I hope I can patent this. If anyone has directions on how to patent an idea, please it to me over email. Okay here is the idea for the product!

In the IT services industry, there is a term called, “Global Delivery Model” which is basically doing the IT services in delivery locations which are cost optimal (leveraging the labor arbitrage) and giving a seamless support services for the customer in a 24x7 model. This is also called, “follow the sun” approach. So in a global delivery model, IT service firms will have teams located at multiple locations across the globe servicing the customer. In this context, communication and collaboration are of paramount importance. So how do we communicate? There is a conference bridge number and there is a calendar- We send the invite based on everyone’s convenient time, join the call, discuss things (it can be anything related to customer services or the firm), jot down MOM (minutes of the meeting) and associate action items with respective owners. Every day, millions of conference calls happen across the globe between customers, vendors and suppliers.

Given this backdrop, here comes my idea- It is actually a product. I have named it as MEEROI in short for Meeting-ROI. This product features are as follows:
• Speech to Text conversion
• Jot down Action items and owners
• Automated email to the group based on the bridge id or passcode
• Calculate the number of people who have joined the call based on the beep and their names
• Populate their base compensation rate by the hour and calculate the burn rate in $$ for that particular meeting/conference call
• Finally give the figure for the “$$” value of the meetings/conference calls

Of course this is the tangible part and there are intangible aspects for a conference call for a meeting. Purists will argue that this will defy the purpose of a meeting or a conference call. That is beyond the scope of this product on how and where to use it. I think, it is important to understand how much we “spend” on meetings. I am not advocating actions or decisions based on this data- I am just talking purely from a base-lining perspective as today we spend insane amount of time on “meetings”.

This product can also capture “value added” time and “non value added” time based on how we define value and an associated cost. The cool thing is the fact that we know before-hand how much we are going to burn and that’s a great part!

The target market for this product to begin with would be the IT services firm which engage in servicing off-shoring and outsourcing work. Over time, it can be combined with big telecommunication majors as one of the freebie. This product is also good for all firms that are looking at cutting costs on just meetings!

I don’t know whether this product exists today but this idea occurred to me and I am blogging it. If it does not exist, this blog post is my copy right!  If it does exist, please ignore this post.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Running and Chasing your Goals!

There is an inherent philosophy in RUNNING and lot of people have written books around it [ quite notable is the one written by Haruki Murakami which is more of a memoir and the title of the book is, “what I talk about when I talk about RUNNING”]. Somerset Maugham has told that in every shave, there is a philosophy and so does Haruki Murakami, who says that there is a philosophy in doing mundane activity in a diligent manner. (On a side note, Haruki Murakami sold his own jazz bar lock, stock and barrel and took to serious writing; to keep himself fit, he took to active running- He is author of several books that have been translated in to 42 languages and he has participated in almost all of the international marathons across the world )

I don’t have the courage or the diligence to write a book on “running” but I certainly wanted to write a blogpost on this for a while- So here it is! In my usual style, I love, “connecting the dots” and “associating” things- My association right now for this blog post will be on “running” and “chasing our goals” in life, career choices/decisions!!

Haruki Murakami says that a serious runner ought to cover 6 miles a week, 6 days a week- This amounts to around 36 miles a week or 156 miles a month which is apparently his standard for serious running. I definitely don’t fit in the category of a “serious runner” today but certainly will be able to do it someday as I am aspiring for a marathon sometime. It is definitely there in my “bucket list” to cover atleast 10-15 world marathons in my life time and my inspiration is Haruki Murakami quite naturally!

I have been running for around a year for at least 45 minutes to 60 minutes on alternate days - Going by the standard for serious runners which is around 156 miles a month; any normal kid will tell that I am nowhere near serious running. I will reach this golden standard someday.

Coming to the central theme of this blogpost, when you run in a treadmill say for 1 hour or more, you get these mind-related breaks at 10 mins, 20 mins, 30 mins and at 45 mins respectively. It can vary from individuals to individuals but I do get these mind-breaks at every variation.

What I mean by mind-breaks are the following:
  • Stop the treadmill and walk…
  • Decrease the speed?
  • This music sucks and why don’t we have separate musicians for runners!!
  • Why are you taking this pain?
  • What do I need to do in work differently?
  • Void thoughts- Blank vaccum state
  • I need to change my shoes- Nike air is not that great!
  • I can spend this time in something meaningful?
  • This is really boring as running does not make you cool?
  • Depending on the day, some other “weird” thoughts comeby which I cannot categorize here but definitely valid ones! :-)

These mind-breaks take a cyclical route every 10 mins, 20 mins, 30 mins and 45 mins- The urge to stop the treadmill is very serious and most of the times, I stop around 48-50 minutes. There have been somedays where I have pushed beyond 1 hour.

As anyone who has ran, the key to running is the synchronization between lung, heart, mind and your legs- This synchronization can be broken very easily by mind-breaks. Mind plays a major role in running and after 45 minutes, you tend to become a sort of “robot” where you will have the pain; but still you can go on and on without much of hassles. You will be sort of robotized and You will be in the “zone” during that time and your mind will be in a sort of blank state but you got to keep at it to close it. I think this is where I draw the parallel between “chasing your goals”- Most of the times, we tend to chase like how we tend to run. Before we reach the “zone” state in running, we give up and the same state more or less applies to our goals as well. I am not generalizing this for everything but most of the time, this is similar. The goals then fizzle out because reaching 90% of your goals is actually easy; it’s the last 10% that will kill you. For finishing the last 10%, you have to be in the “zone” state. The urge to stop or break away before reaching the “zone” is tremendous. You can actually correlate this to some goal that you had in mind and have actually completed to your satisfaction [you don’t need to be a runner to visualize the parallel]. Do you agree?

There have been numerous occasions where I have been pushed by my mind to stop after 1 hour of continual running [even after reaching the zone]. I feel the same is applicable for all of our goals; big or small. We reach to around 90% of our goals but have been pushed by mind either to abort it or sort of half-close it and call it as full closure. This does not give you the full satisfaction as you know internally that you have not achieved it to the fullest satisfaction. The joy of completing a goal to your satisfaction is awesome and this feeling will never keep your goals open-ended. Similarly, I am sure the joy of completing a marathon or a half marathon is a great feeling or even a run for fixed amount of time (based on your capability)- And it’s like talking with your mind and taking control of it.

I have always found that we complete 90% of a goal that has been set by ourselves and then in the last 10%, we give up. This is exactly the scenario in running which is amply evident than any other sport because in running, you set the goals for yourself. You are never in competition in running- The competition is yourself! The same is applicable for your goals!

Think about it?

Disclaimer PS: If a serious runner reads my blog, s/he will sure have different perspective. This is a perspective of a rookie runner who is aspiring for serious running!