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