Saturday, April 16, 2011

Humble Bits

I've started blogging here. I would probably keep on using this blog for personal writings.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Batman and Robin


Why do tech companies have delegators?

It’s weird, isn’t it? I wish I had a clue.batman and robin

First of all, who is a delegator? To understand it, one has to read this classical joke -

A pig and a chicken are walking down a road. The chicken looks at the pig and says, “Hey, why don’t we open a restaurant?” The pig looks back at the chicken and says, “Good idea, what do you want to call it?” The chicken thinks about it and says, “Why don’t we call it ‘Ham and Eggs’?” “I don’t think so,” says the pig, “I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.”

Get it? I’m sure you do.

Delegators are the kind of people whose only job is to be involved from the sidelines. They are not the ones who do design, development, testing or manage projects. Well, may be, sometimes they manage projects but all they do is just check the tasks from the list and report status off of it. I’ve been part of companies where even the task list was created by the developers themselves and all they did was ask whether it was done or not.

So, what the hell is my problem?

Well, my only problem is that I see an increasing trend in the software industry(especially India) to have delegators take prominent positions, big offices and sometimes be the drivers of the tech. strategy - All when they have little clue about how to really go about building good software. How can one really build a good strategy when they are divorced from software eco system? Why should they get quiet working conditions(read: offices) when they are not the ones getting actual work done? Why should engineers report to people who don’t have many technical bones in their body?

Tech companies where techies are not part of the core group. Huh! Yeah, beats me too.

But, I get it as well. They are generally the people who can be good with processes, can manage P&L, can drive resourcing and recruiting for large scale projects. Thus, a genuine need for software companies to recruit such kind of people. And, to be honest, one can’t run a successful tech business especially software services business without them. Thus, the right kind of people add tremendous value in running a good software organization.

But, why the hell have them be at the driver seat? Shouldn’t they be just guiding the experienced technologists about the patterns of financial success for running software business? I just wish tech companies had the “two in a box” approach – Technologists as the drivers and the business aides as their side kicks like Batman and Robin.

Yeah, we just like to wear better suits and drive fancy cars :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Saying Sorry

You screwed up.sorry

You are cognizant of it.

So, what’s the problem saying sorry? Simple, plain old fashioned Sorry.

“I’m really sorry that I screwed up. I will do my best to fix it.”

Some of the engineers, managers and business leaders I’ve come across hardly know this word.  They shy away from it. It’s either not there in their vernacular or it is a tongue twister for them.

Aah, I exaggerate. We know that’s not the case.

Actually, most of the people either genuinely don’t realize that they have screwed up or feel bit awkward saying that. They think they might look weak and vulnerable if they were to apologize or it could be that a honest admission of mistake would somehow cast a shadow on their superiority/path to success.

In almost negligible cases, some people are probably built not to ever accept their mistakes. They always have an excuse, someone or some situation to be blamed – somehow they can never make a mistake. Period. In my experience, there is a high correlation between these kind of individuals and them taking undue credit of someone else’s hard work/ideas. They would always make themselves look good no matter if someone else has done the hard work.

On the contrary, I believe it speaks volumes about the maturity and emotional fortitude of a person who is not afraid to admit the mistake and apologize. Saying sorry from the heart gives you another chance to rectify the mistake and helps re-build the trust. It just goes to show that you are cognizant that you let someone down, even inadvertently, but are ready to be given another chance to fix your mistake i.e. you are an objective person - well aware of capabilities, what is expected of you and how are you doing against those expectations?

My question to those who can’t say sorry is “how does one even grow if one doesn’t admit mistakes and is willing to learn from them?”

Photo By: ExtraLife

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What to expect in a startup?


I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with few startups through out my career and have seen this question surface in many a discussions with experienced engineers/managers in India who are passionate to build something ground up but are not sure what to expect.

This kind of question would never ever surface in States but the product development culture is still at nascent stages in India. The product scene has become hot only in the last few years with more India focus product companies entering the market and it is only going to get better from here. So, here are my 2 cents or 90 paisa, whatever your favorite currency is -

1. Expect to work around highly talented and passionate people. You would generally find most startups filled with extraordinary talented people expert in their fields and completely committed to realizing the dream. If they are not experts, they would definitely have the innate ability to work hard and get better every day. These are the kind of people who are great at what they do, want to do great work with other like minded people and are not there for paychecks. Well, they may be there for the big payouts :)

2. Agility. A startup is not a place of perfunctory processes and boring, good-for-nothing, mind-numbing, why-don’t-you-please-kill-me-now meetings. The idea is doing, not discussing about doing. Don’t even think about joining a startup if you are a kind of a person who loves to rope in everyone before doing anything or are in the habit of cross team collaboration. Also, to enable quick decision making, the organization would be extremely flat and one wouldn’t be 100 levels below in the organization hierarchy to the C level executives.

3. Work, Work, Work. It is a place where you would probably achieve what one would typically achieve in a week’s time in a big corporate setup. It is generally a far more productive workplace as there are lesser number of distractions like meetings. Also, more or less every startup has a Big Hairy Audacious Goal and one has to work smartly and diligently to realize it. I’m not trying to say that one would get buried under the work load but expect to work close to 10-12 hours a day, some days even more.  I’m sure there are startups out there which honor the work life balance but they are few and far between.

4. Fun. And, the point is? Okay, I contradict, so? I know I mentioned that it would be lot of hard work but there would be an intense amount of fun as well. The thing is that startups are more like tight knit groups or families thus the environment lend itself to doing fun things like having Friday evening beer fest, watching Avatar in 3D together, to having impromptu Rock concerts within the office. Contrary to the popular belief, these kind of activities help in creating long lasting bonds and building the team camaraderie, which is the bed rock of building great software and companies.

5. Donning Multiple Personas. Everyone in the startup play multiple roles. A software engineer in a startup would generally play the role of an analyst, manager, designer and a tester. These are traditionally played by different people in big organizations but a startup would generally demand all of this be rolled into one. You would be asked to own up the requirements, understand them clearly, work with the UX designer, point out flaws in the design, unit test your code completely(please, shoot for 100% code coverage, will you?). On the other side, if you are joining as a top level employee expect to do HR, hiring, legal, operations, run the coffee machine, be slave to the engineers. The point I’m making is that you would have to own  your domain area completely and run it like you were running your own company in that space.

6. A big fat payout i.e. stock options. Stock Options, Check. Big fat payout, ahem, may be not. The fact of the matter is they won’t be worth that much if you are not one of the early employees or joining at the top level. All the startups sell the options hard but the fact of the matter is the options are loaded towards founding employees and top level executives. Moreover, only 1 out of 10 startups are ever successful thus what are the chances that you would end up making boat load of money at exit? Thus, make sure you get paid adequately to help realize the dream, work with like minded people and enjoy the ride.

7. Frugality. I’m not sure if it is true for every startup but for the majority that I know. As they generally have to stretch their financial runway or build good cash base, you would find most of them spend money where it is really needed. Thus, the most pragmatic startups won’t have swanky offices, jaw dropping Infosys like campus, ten different kind of coffee blends, yoga sessions, massage therapy etc. Not to say we are stingy, I’m just saying we would spend where it is absolutely important like hiring the best talent in the market.

Startup Photo By: William

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Hiring People

He walked.

I sold our startup’s value proposition honestly but unfortunately it didn’t work. He agreed and was excited at first at first but I guess got scared away by my honest admission of risks involved in joining a startup. I guess I sold the risks far more than the merits. But, what was I really supposed to do?

It is tough to hire smart talented people for startups and keep them motivated but the situation becomes far more involved when one is hiring from one’s own network. How do you bring in an engineer whom you have worked with for years without telling them the risks in detail? Isn’t it imperative that they know both the sides and take an informed decision? How does one really show the bright side while sharing these kind of risks in detail?

I failed.

I wish I knew the answers. I wish I knew the magical words so that everyone was ready to take a chance to build what we aspire. I wish I had read Tarun Upadhyay’s advise. On the other hand, I also wish if everyone could see that huge success or colossal failure is just a game of probability and the actual fun is really in building a company itself. I’m not trying to evangelize that reward is in taking a risk itself but sometimes one has to take chances, unleash the adventurer and see if the rainbow actually exists on the other side.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I followed my own advice

I was trying to find myself at work when I read First, Break all the rules and blogged about it. I took the questionnaire and found out that it was time for me to move on as well. So, I did.

I’ve been through a roller coaster ride since then. To be honest, more lows than highs but I don’t regret taking that decision. I joined a past colleague of mine to build an education and family events based web platform, only to disband it after few quarters. We got the rude awakening when we realized there was hardly any money in the bank, business model was not good-enough, we weren’t nimble enough and we lacked good strategic vision. I learned a lot in the process about product development, fund raising, running a startup and how not to do things. I just wish had learned more of how to do things as success is a great teacher but I would do with failure as a teacher right now.

Since then, I’ve been a solopreneur. Well, more like an accidental solopreneur. I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t design it to be that way, it was a mere serendipity.  I just wish I could claim that I always wanted to start a company and worked towards my vision but the reality is that it just happened. I started my own software services company with focus on designing and building products using Microsoft technologies. It was a natural choice for me as I was involved in building software products for good number of years at GlobalLogic. The experience at GlobalLogic taught me how to bring business ideas to life in a pragmatic and an agile way. I just thought of leveraging that experience in trying to collaborate with as many version 1.0 companies as possible. Thus, Quovantis was incubated.

Life has been good since then. There is not that much revenue, hardly any profits to speak of but the road ahead looks bright and sunny. I’ve been getting tremendous amount of support and help from past colleagues and friends. I consciously want Quovantis to be a small company and help other small and mid size companies to build better software.  I’m not sure if I would succeed in realizing my vision but I’m  we’re working hard towards it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Should you move on?

In the current economic gloom, it's probably preposterous to even broach the subject of leaving a job  but I was wondering if there was a methodical system to decide if the time had come to switch jobs.

All of us have an inbuilt compass that decides whether the time has come to look for opportunities outside the realm of the current company. It could be for various reasons - lack of role definition, lack of challenging opportunities, unsatisfactory work conditions/compensation or a manager that we just don't get along with etc.

Apart from the "gut system", is there an objective way to decide to look outside? It turns out there is. One can figure out the answer if was one was to earnestly answer the below 12 questions -

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do  I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress?
  12. At work, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?

I wish I had come up with these questions but I just happen to stumble upon them while reading "First, break all the rules" by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.

The questionnaire is put in such an articulate and simple manner that it helps you bring out the truth out of the closet regarding whether you belong in a specific place, are in a position to contribute and grow professionally. You immediately know the path you have to take if the answers are predominantly towards "Disagree" or "Strongly Disagree". By the way, they suggest that all the questions should be answered on the scale of "Strongly Disagree", "Disagree", "Neutral", "Agree" and "Strongly Agree".

To digress a little, the book was about the fact that individuals leave managers and not organizations. I'm sure you can clearly see that all the areas in the questionnaire can be directly addressed by an individual's manager thus I'm not surprised about their findings. After reading the book, I'm thoroughly convinced that individuals leave because of their managers. I hate to admit but I've had some smart individuals leave when they were reporting to me and now I can clearly see their reasons. I could pass the buck on to the organizational operative context but at the end of day I didn't do enough to realize their potential.

I hope this questionnaire helps everyone who have started to feel iffy about their current position but don't know what should they really do.