Sunday, June 28, 2009

The World Is Flat

Some professions are satisfying and some are not. What is it that differentiates a satisfying profession and dissatisfying profession? Simple. The end result. If you sweat out for for days together, you want to see the end result and the end result should make you happy, should inform you that what you did, the hours you sweat all those days were really worth it.

A doctor would like to see a patient walking out of the hospital free from pain with which he was writhing when he entered the hospital. A teacher would like to see his disciples doing well in life. A mechanic would like to see the problem in the vehicle solved. An editor would like his readers to enjoy the publication. A retired civil engineer would like to stand and admire his bridge after years of designing and construction. An architect would like to appreciate the beauty of the construction he just completed. A driver would like to deposit his passengers from station A to station B on time and safely. A chef needs to see the patrons enjoying his recipe.

In most professions, the end result is directly visible. Its almost physically visible, like the bridge, the taste of the food, the cured patient, the beauty of the building, the article in the newspaper, etc. Outputs of some professions are meta physical. Its not really there, yet its there.

The professions with meta physical end results can be generally classified as dissatisfying professions. Basically its because the end result is not seen, and if seen, is not enjoyed, or even if enjoyed, cannot be enjoyed as one’s own creation because there were so many participants involved.

Lets say, someone comes to you and charts out a problem. You think about the problem and provide a solution. The solution works, the customer is happy. This gives joy to you. The profession as such gives joy to you.

Lets say now, some group of people, say GOP, go to someone else, say SE1, and tell a problem. SE1 discusses pros and cons and whats in scope and whats out of scope with GOP. SE1 then breaks down the architecture into different modules and goes to groups of someone elses SE2, SE3, SE4 and assigns tasks to each sub group. Lets say you are a part of SE4 group and your task is this and that. You do this and that. A number of people in SE4 also do their parts, and the number of people in each of the sub groups do their parts and finally, its one whole nice part that integrates perfectly. SE1 reviews this final part with GOP and GOP likes it and starts using it and the work for GOP has become a little bit easier.

You, being a part of SE4, never saw GOP. Never saw GOP using the small module that you created. Never saw the GOP’s smiling faces as GOP’s trouble got solved. Never realized that GOP’s life became easier. You perhaps just got impersonal mail stating ‘Thanks for a wonderful job!’ that meant nothing to you. Somewhere, that happiness didn’t flow down to you, and you felt you just did what was asked of you and you are not even sure if its being used or not and to what it was worth. Worse, you are out of that project and put in some other project midway during project execution, and here you are doing something else.

This happens in many professions. Nothing can be done about it. That’s how the system works. That’s why there are so many people cribbing about their professions. Me, included.

I am in software engineering profession. The profession involving computers. I am just a guy in that SE4 or some such sub-sub-group who don’t end up seeing the folks using the end result which I created. Who didn’t see the trouble suffered by the users in the first place, nor did see the solution being implemented.

That’s why open source and freelancing is so popular in computers. If someone has a problem and poses a problem, there will be innumerous people wanting to help. Come to think of it, many a time, people have come to me asking for help in computers like writing a small program, designing an excel spreadsheet with multiple requirements. When I get down to it and give this final result to the person who asked, after working on it for hours together, I feel happy because someone wants to use it, someone is happy to use it, because I made someone’s life easier and happier. This gives me joy. This gives joy to the freelancer.

Technology has bridged the continents and made this world a smaller place. A person in India codes a software program that interacts with a hardware device written in China and the whole thing is integrated in America to be used in Australia. Who’s happy, who’s smiling, who’s trouble is solved, we will never get to know.

I have never read it but I guess this is what Thomas Friedman meant when he said ‘The World is Flat’: Putting a piece of electronic information in a digital file across the globe whose real result you will never see but assume that it has made life for someone a little bit easier.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The cc

I goofed up at office today…
I got a mail to fix it ASAP..
The mail had over 300 people in cc.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Law of Balances

There has been another demise in the family. My father’s cousin. In other words, my second cousin's dad. My second cousin was my batch mate in Engineering. Thats sounds ominous, isn't it?

I guess yearly there is roughly about 2-3 deaths in every large family. Generally, when you are kids, you tend to lose the great grandparents or grandparents. As you grow older, the age of the deceased nears your age. Then, there is the age when people of your own age start dying. And then when newborns are born in the family, its about time for you to depart. Its like a balance. That’s when you start thinking it can be you anytime.

So, as you grow older, people who grew along with you, such as your parents, your uncles, your aunts, your cousins, your spouse, your friends, start deserting you and there starts the panic, the “risk” of you being left alone in this world. All of the above loved ones are either people who were born before you or were born in your generation. And soon, its just a matter of time and turn. Its either your turn or someone else’s. So, there is always this chance of being left all alone in this world.

Hence, to keep the Law of Balances alive and going, you gotta have kids, and they gotta have kids, and you have thus created an environment wherein, even if the loved ones of your generation or of the past generation have passed by, there is another new wave of fresh loved ones, which you have created, who will still remain with you, in all probability till you die. That’s what, in project management verbiage, is called “risk mitigation”.

So, more the kids, more the happy environment, more the likelihood of being with loved and dear ones, more the likelihood of offsetting the sadness that’s caused due to the demise of folks of your generation. Its like padding yourself up with as many layers of generation as possible so that the hands of loneliness and sadness do not touch you till its your time to depart.

At the end of one’s life, its rare to find, beside the deathbed, one’s close friend or one’s relative (who’s born before one). Most likely it will be one’s own child.

We cannot all be Benjamin Buttons, right?

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I have noticed that there are three things in US that must go hand in hand: Car + Cell Phone + AAA Membership. Even if one of them is not present, life is tough. So, when I landed in US on May 1st, I ensured that I got my cell phone on 4th and AAA membership on 5th. When I finally got car on 9th, I had all three.

Since I got the car in Pittsburgh, I had to drive all the way to Boston and that’s 500 odd miles. So, I wouldn’t blame the car when, for the first time in my life, on May 10th 2009 at about 3.30 pm, I got a flat tire on the expressway, when I was just 50 miles from my destination. 50 or 500, it doesn’t matter. Stranded is stranded.

So I took my cell phone, called up AAA and told them my problem and where I was. In 15 minutes, I had a AAA guy with me and in 5 minutes he fixed my car. He replaced my tire with a temporary usable tire that I had. That was where his task ended, right? Wrong. He went beyond that. He asked me how long I had to go, advised me that it was not safe to travel that distance in the temp tire, told me where to find the nearest tire shop and asked me to get myself a new one. I thanked him profusely and made my way to the nearest tire shop that the AAA guy told me to.

The Firestone shop was open on Sunday till 5 pm and it was 4.15 pm. I dreaded them saying it was too late. But when I went there, the guy at the counter was all inviting. He looked at the tire that had gone flat, checked first whether he could fix it, instead of making me buy a new tire. He realized that he couldn’t fix it and a new tire had to be bought. As with most cars here in US, if one tire is replaced, all tires need to be replaced. So he checked if other tires need to be replaced too and informed one of them was new but two others had to be replaced too. However, he said, I can consult my mechanic and get new ones whenever I want and not necessarily with him nor that day.

Then he gave me three options for the new tire that I had to buy and gave honest opinion for each one of them. He didn’t recommend the costliest as most mean people do. Finally I choose the one in between costliest and cheapest and I had my car all set and I was back to business at 5 pm.

Between 3.30 and 5 pm on a Sunday, I realized how professional the two guys were: the AAA and the Firestone mechanic. As long as I dealt with them, I knew I was in safe hands. I had the confidence that I was not being cheated. That’s what humanity is about. Its about trust and being fair to one another.

PS: Recently, I read two more instances of such professionalism. One was in Germany when my friend lost his digicam. He had to head back to India and he even came back to India, but upon enquiring with the Lost and Found department, he was able to get back his digicam even after 30 days after he came back to India. The article was written in Kannada and its not a blog and hence I cannot link it. The other one is here. This one’s really inspiring. And very touching.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Breaking the head. Then and Now.

It was rough seas last week at office. Came home late almost all days of the week and clocked more than 60 hours. It is no big deal back in offshore but at client site, it is very pronounced. Especially because the office is deserted at 5 pm and you are all alone breaking your head. The lights are sensor operated and if there is no human movement in the room or the hallway, it will automatically switch off. So if you are sitting continuously at your desk for quite an amount of time, the lights too desert you and you are too occupied – or is it too lazy?! - to stand up and walk around to get the lights back on.

My thoughts compared this life to the life a decade ago when I was in college. Then too I was breaking my head in the computer lab, but I wasn’t alone. There was the whole batch breaking their heads in a brightly lit lab during day time and it was time limited. Either we got the program right or we didn’t in the stipulated time. It was all over either way in 3 hours. So you are liberated and you are either happy or sad in 3 hours, once the exam is over. You move on.

But that isn’t the case here. We have a task and its got to be solved or resolved as soon as possible. Sooner the better. But it is not time bound. Its result bound. So you have to be at it till it’s solved. Day in and day out. If it isn’t solved today, you go home thinking about it and breaking your head at house too. And you dread going to office the next day because it’s the same nasty thing to meddle about. And there are people above you asking how it’s going and checking if there are any results.

And then there are groups that are waiting for you to resolve so that they can continue from where you have left off. It’s like a relay game. You need to reach a point in the track where you can pass the stick - or whatever they call that thing you carry in your hand in the relay game - to the other member of the team who will then start running. So if you don’t reach that point sooner, the other members in the team are left idle and people ought not to be left idle in office, especially when they are being paid to work, right?!

So, then. That’s an example of how life gets complicated in a decade.


Friday, June 05, 2009

Can you beat that?!

Although I am not a teetotaler, today was the first time in my life that I went to a liquor store to buy alcohol for myself. In 29 years of my life. Can you non-teetotalers beat that?!!