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The Muse

March 31, 2006

The Joy of Words

Do me a favor, and read the following lines from Emily Dickinson....

The heart asks pleasure first,
And then, excuse from pain;
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering, And then, to go to sleep;
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.

What do these lines tell you? Don't just read them, read them, feel them.

Now tell me how your thought processes differed from the the interpretation of Lilia Melani, a professor of English Literature at Brooklyn College, CUNY here. This is the beauty of the arts. This is how we develop the ability to think beyond our limits, how we stretch our imagination and how we learn to innovate.

March 30, 2006

Labor Issues and India

In keeping with my recent thoughts on India, here's another one on a critical issue we are likely to face in the near future - labor.

India is supposed to the labor capital of the world. Indeed, much of the brouhaha about India has revolved around its seemingly unlimited supply of human capital - its high tech engineering graduates, who are proficient in english language skills. Well, I'm here to tell you that while we might have a lot of people, we're reaching a plateau and things are going to level off pretty quickly. The balances and checks of supply-demand processes will ensure that there is some level of stability in terms of hiring needs and graduates available, but India is floundering in terms of the classic quality vs. quantity paradigm.

McKinsey did an analysis of the Indian labor pool and came up with the amazing statistic that India will face a labor shortage as early as 2007 in some areas [previous post here].

A quote from the McKinsey article: [free subscription required]

"Yet rather surprisingly for a country with one of the world's largest labor pools, they (Indian managers) see the high cost and low availability of talent as the single greatest constraint on their companies—a problem that worries them much more than it does their counterparts around the world..."

Another quote from Kiran Karnik, president of the National Association of Software and Service Companies [NASSCOM]:

"The root cause is certainly the adequate number of people with the right skill sets. In my estimate, only a third of the pool has the right skills to be absorbed into the industry right away."

There have been all sorts of studies on this issue, some interesting ones from the NY Times here and from BusinessWeek here.

This argument seems to appear a bit ridiculous when you think back to your engineering days [hyper-competitive colleges, populated classrooms, mile long queues in admission offices]. There are also a huge number of colleges that are opening shop - seemingly by the hour. India produces 2.5 million college graduates and 350,000 engineers a year! It almost seems as if every Indian who passes high school has the option of becoming a professional if he/she wishes. How can we possibly have labor shortages with these kinds of demand for technology and professional colleges? Even our society has a tendency to push us towards these occupations and careers.

While all this appears to be a good thing in terms of equality of opportunity and all that, think a little deeper and you will see the problem. Half these colleges don't have quality instructors. Most of the time students who graduate come back to teach because they couldn't find a better job. Seriously, I can't imagine someone graduating from - oh I don't know, let's say a college near Madurai - with the ambition in life to actually teach there.

Besides the quality of teaching, we are not using accurate methods to gauge the suitability of students who we admit in colleges [entrance exams are a joke]. Once the right people are in place, we need to determine the necessary aptitude and attitude skills that are being demanded by corporate India and provide education that is aligned with these requirements.

NASSCOM is calling for a deregulation of India's education industry. This kind of makes sense, as our education system needs to become leaner and meaner if we are to be able to provide talent in accordance with the demand. This could be reflected in several different ways, not the least of which would be bringing in much needed multidisciplinary facets to engineering as it exists today. There is scope to bring in research based activities, much like educational models in the US. Faculty members need to be provided with policies [and facilities] that will allow them to work closely with the industry [consulting, training and so on].

Another offshoot of this has been the efforts being undertaken by the industry itself. In yet another illustrative example of India overcoming issues despite the government, companies are starting to fill the skills gap by starting training initiatives on their own. There has been a spurt in training and certification trends, HR processes are getting increasing attention, and performance improvement is now a buzz word. Perhaps those of you reading this in India are even recognizing these trends in your workplace. I predict that the next few years will see a huge push towards trends like corporate learning/training, instructional design and eLearning, all of which will help companies put raw engineers through focussed and intensive training sessions that will fill performance and skills gaps.

If you are one of those people with skills that are readily applicable in certain areas, India is the place to be. Wages are skyrocketing, and with this labor shortage there is a huge demand for true talent. Have you read about the market for pilots? I would be hardpressed to name an industry where salaries or headcount have actually gone down.

Ultimately, all we have are people, technologies are just tools. India needs to focus on leveraging this human capital by providing its technology workers of tomorrow with the necessary knowledge today. I would be interested in hearing how you think we can improve our professional colleges - what features would have made your education more relevant and effective in terms of the work you are doing today?

March 28, 2006

Tag Four

Tagger: Raz

Name 10 of life's simple pleasures that you like the most and then pick 10 people to do the same (optional). Try to be original and creative and no to use the things someone else has already used.

Well, I've already talked about family, books and music in previous tags, so I'll try to answer this one a little differently. The following might not all be simple in the literal sense of the word, but they are simple pleasures in a lot of other ways. So, here goes...

10. The feeling I get when I enter a restroom after holding back the need to pee for over twenty minutes.

9. Serendipitously finding songs I can relate to.
[Aside from a few favorites, I don't remember or follow bands, artists or music directors. So its awesome when I suddenly hear a song then go searching for its artists and finally get it.]

8. Discussions on the global economy, business trends and other big-picture issues with knowledgeable people.
[I just go huh...ah....ok....yeah...ah-huh...right....and feel smart :)]

7. Going shopping with someone [ok, anyone] and getting done sooner that I expected.

6. Getting to understand statistics, or just finally understand some convoluted concept.
[Really, not to sound too geeky, but I'm fascinated when my bulb goes on]

5. Seeing a girl walking down the road, and getting a smile and a nod.
[You can get a smile, or a nod, but its damn hard to get both :)]

4. Eating in a pricey hotel or a coffee shop with people I know pretty well.
[Bit snobby I guess, and the food usually sucks or is too little. But I like the ambience in such places]

3. Eating in a roadside dhabha or kaiyendhi bhavan with people I know really well.
[You can only go to such places with people who you are in sync with, and you can be totally messy with how you eat, and the food is awesome!]

2. Go to places where nature is at its most powerful, and be spellbound.
[Yosemite, certain villages, some areas near my hometown and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to name a few places where I have experienced this recently.]

1. The feeling I get when I am about to step out of the arrival lounge at an airport, and have my parents, brothers and family waiting on the other side.
[Yes, this is not a simple pleasure...but for people away from home, it just cannot be valued. Just seeing them lights me up.]

Tag Two

Tagger: Mindcurry

Grab the book nearest to you, turn on page 18 and find line 4.
"Both of you make me sick". She started to wrap her terribly de la Renta scarflike thing about her, preparatory to rising. The Deer Leap by Martha Grimes.

Stretch your left arm out as far as you can.
I hit the half open door that opens into this room.

What is the last thing you watched on TV?
The final scene of a movie called "Cellular". Had some great sounding background music, that's why I ran over to see it.

Without looking, guess what time it is?

Now look at the clock, what is the actual time?
Wooho, its 23:54. How clever am I huh?

With the exception of the computer, what can you hear?
Random dialogues from the movie "Crash" (Yeah its movie night at my place). Also listening to random music, with my iTunes on shuffle mode. Currently playing Kaisa Lagta Hai from Baaghi.

When did you last step outside? What were you doing?
Earlier in the day. Took out the trash.

Before you started this survey, what did you look at?
Some cartoons on India forwarded by my friend Jack.

What are you wearing?
Black Side Striped Old Navy Track Pants and a black T-shirt from a company called Crazy Horse (I'm getting dizzy trying to peer at the back of my neck to read the tag).

Did you dream last night?
Nope. Slept like a log.

When did you last laugh?
A few minutes ago when I read an email from my friend. He was congratulating another friend who is on his way to becoming a Daddy with this quote "Advance wishes for your son to come and p** in your mouth". Yes, we guys have very eclectic ways of saying "Congratulations! I am sooo happy for you and your definitely better half".

What is on the walls of the room you are in?
My roomate's upside down Tennis racquet (its been untouched by human hand for the past 14 months), some wires running to who knows where.

Seen anything weird lately?
My Apple powerbook crashed. How's that for weird huh?

What do you think of this quiz?
Its getting popular. Is there some way people can make money off this tagging business?

What is the last film you saw?
Random sequences from Dum Dum Dum, Alaipayuthe and Kaakha Kaakha. Also portions of Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Red Eye.

If you became a multimillionaire overnight, what would you buy?
Naah, the very possibility of being able to buy basically anything I want would keep me happy and content.

Tell me something about you that I dunno.
I finished my 12 years of schooling in 8 different schools.

If you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt or politics, what would you do?
Remove all this visa business. Dude, its all one world. Let people come and go as they please.

Do you like to dance?
Like? Hell yeah! Can I? Hell no! I can move either the top half of my body or the bottom half. Both do not move well together.

George Bush.
Who dat? Oh...you mean Dubya? Hmm...
"Mr. President, what is your take on Roe vs. Wade?"
(Wide stare. Smirk. Frantic search for Karl Rove. Slow head nodding. Then..."heh heh heh, well I don't care what people do, but as long as they get out of New Orleans and the evil water, I am fine.")

Imagine your first child is a girl, what do you call her?
Three way tie between between Meghna, Krithika or Nisha.

Imagine your first child is a boy, what do you call him?
Bhujaprasad Alexis Kamal. Mera bharat mahaan, and what better way to show it? And we can call him BAK Baby too! [PS. Girls always have the sweet sounding sexy names. We guys are done for, so why bother?]

Would you ever consider living abroad?
Standard response would be: Whaaat? No, never.
But since I'm honest, sure. Why not? Doesn't matter where I live, I'm home all the time. Besides, everything is just a plane ride away anyway.

What do you want GOD to say to you when you reach the pearly gates?
Well! You took your time allright.

Tag Three

Tagger: Ponnarasi

What kinda power(s) would you choose, if you could undergo bad-ass mutations? You can mention a maximum of 3 powers you'd like. And try to be imaginative....

Ok, this is a weird tag, but makes me think a little. So here goes...

  1. Be able to see five minutes into the future. Too much information would be too much to handle. A little insight might be fun.
  2. Run like The Flash. Super fast. Always wanted to do that, no one can come near me, its as good as flying and I can run away from anything.
  3. Telekinesis

The Knack...

A forward from one of my non-engineer friends [opens an audio file, everything's clean]

Little Dilbert

This is all Maya

5 people who top your shit list..... and why:

1. Anyone who wishes any sort of harm to a child. [Please follow instructions under 5 preferable modes of suicide below]
2. Any guy who resorts to violence against women. Be a man.
3. People who keep saying how hard they work and how busy they are. Everyone is busy. Shut up.
4. People who feel a need to keep giving unwanted advice. Did someone ask you?
5. People who didn't work for anything but still flaunt their "inherited" money. You don't deserve it if you did not earn it.

Close brushes with death/danger:

1. I was playing frisbee in the river down south while on vacation with my two cousins in 1994. One guy got pulled into a tricky whorl, I gave him my hand and off we went. Both of us were almost out of it when we were pulled out and were lying on the riverbank when the rumor spread that we were goners. I can only imagine what went through my folks and family's minds. The next time I opened my eyes I was surrounded by everyone I've known in my life! Saved by a kind soul who I still haven't met...my family has banned anyone from visiting the river since that day.
2. My family on my Amma's side has this tradition of serving food to an old age home in Chennai every year to mark my uncle's death anniversary. I was in Varanasi that year (early 90's I think) and since we couldn't go to Chennai, my parents and I went to pray at a famous temple in Mirzapur. On the way back, I was in the front seat of our jeep when the tire below me came off and rolled merrily away in front of us. The jeep dragged on its axle for quite a distance before stopping, and we did not topple over. Guess someone was looking over us...
3. Other than those two, I'm not too fond of flying so that's a close brush everytime for me. I also spent two years in Delhi getting on and off the now defunct Red Line buses. Guess I'm living on the edge allright!

5 Preferable modes of suicide, in descending order:

Naah, I think suicide is a cop out. Unless its spurned by some sort of physiological imbalance, [or if you're from my shit list above] I cannot empathize with anyone wanting to kill themselves. You suicide bombers can kiss my ass.

However, if I were giving someone any suggestions, then here goes:

1. Donate your kidneys, eyes, lungs, heart, brain, balls (if possible), and anything that can be transplanted including your face and hair. Death will embrace you.
2. Participate in some high-risk mega important medical research, make sure you sign off your power of attorney to me before though.
3. Become a hitman and take out some well known and universally acclaimed jackasses. Use a headshot always. If people get close to you, shoot yourself. Remember to use a headshot
4. Take a huge bank loan, donate it all to charity and then take your pick of the three choices above.
5. See option 4.

5 Guilty pleasures:

1. Reading police procedurals or psychological thrillers. I cannot stop till I finish a book, no matter what I have to do tomorrow.
2. Listening to Enya or Enigma with the lights out at night (recent one)
3. Sleeping. Anytime, anywhere, anyplace....Zzzzzzzzzzzz.
4. Yaaawn!...whaa?..oh..yeah...hmmm...Freezing people out for long periods of time. Its mean, but I do this a lot even when I know its wrong.
5. Clothes. No, no, not like that. I’m so attached that I can never throw anything away. Everytime I go to India I get shouted at for wearing jeans that are torn or shirts that are old.

5 things you never want to forget:

1. When I saw my twin brothers for the first time.
2. A deepest, darkest day last year when I lost my uncle. I was there, and I never want to forget how my family rose and came together.
3. The day I got my first job during my final year of college. I called up my Dad and said Hey Dad, congratulations. Your son just got a job. That’s become a tradition ever since.
4. Annual vacations at my hometown with all my aunts and uncles. Everyone is complaining about something, the sound is tremendous, and people are running all over the place. Yet there is peace and happiness. Everytime.
5. My friends.

5 things you wish to forget:

1. The fact that I could not be with my Aachi when she passed away.
2. The way I broke off with my first girlfriend.
3. My confidence when I got two job offers and an admit into a business school in Chennai as I was graduating with my undergrad. I thought I was invincible. Now I know...
4. The fact that my collegemates are starting to pop out kids...[why God whyyyyyyyyyy?]
5. My favorite fiction books. Then I can read them all over again.

5 really exotic dishes you have tried:

I’m not really much of a sampler. I’m comfortable with Italian stuff, but thats’ it. Here goes anyway

1. I had a babaghanoush peeta with Tzatziki sauce the other day. Still don’t know what was in it.
2. Some weird looking beans thingy at an Asian restaurant. The person with me loved it, she even ordered it twice. I thought it tasted like uncooked potato.
3. A creamy brussel sprouts dish at the Bangalore Oberoi. My manager told me it was exotic for India, so there you go.
4. Kerala meals while on tour in Hyderabad. That’s right, in Hyderabad. I choked on the rice, so stopped right there and had a malai chai.
5. Coconut «burphees» made from some special ghee and milk artifact. My Chitti owns a couple of shops in TN, so she had this made for me when I was there a few months back. One of the few sweets I like.

5 crushes/loves in your life... in chronological order (even initials or nicknames wud do. Oh, no ID attempts or requests pleez):

Honestly, I haven’t had serious crushes. I’ve «sighted» people, and like some a lot, but no crushes in the sense of the word.

1. My benchmate from standard 2 till 4 when I was in London. We fought when I went to the 5th standard.
2. My classmate in Kanpur, class 8. She was a terrific singer and very unassuming.
3. My first girlfriend. No comments.
4. My second girlfriend. Still no comments.
5. My second girlfriend’s sworn enemy (yup, that was fun)

Strangest dream you ever had:

I’m standing up, and falling into a dark well. I never reach the bottom. Strangely enough, its a feel happy kinda dream. Weird, huh?

5 most valued personal possessions:

1. The greatest gift I ever got from my parents – my twin brothers.
2. My grandma’s pic, and the letters I get from my grandpa.
3. My family. Guess I’m pretty much the odd man out to actually love his family. Nothing but love till now.
4. My Swatch Watch.
5. A cross I have that was blessed by the Pope - got it when my Dad was working in London, and we were touring the Vatican in late 1988.

5 favorite superheroes..... and why:

1. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Oh brother. Was I a fan or what. I have tapes somewhere of all the cartoons. Even practiced the transition words «By the poooower of Grayskull...» and the intro words « I am Adam, Prince of Eternia...». I was totally fascinated by the hero’s double life, his friends (Oracle, Man-at-Arms, Sorceress) and by his nemesis Skeletor, with Evil Lynn, Beastman etc. Ok, I’m going out and trying to rent it from somewhere!
2. Spidey bhaai. Love the way he is continuously tortured by his relationship with MJ.
3. Cyclops of the X-Men. Although Wolverine gets all the attention, I’m struck by how cool Cyclops appears (in the comics, not the movie).
4. All Indians who are suffering from poverty but still find a way to send their kids to school. Lead the way!
5. He is known as Captain, Puratchi Kazhaigar and as Gaabtun. Yes, ladies and gentleman, who else than our very own action man Vijayakanth. What's not to like? Some sample videos here and here.

If you're wondering at the title, please don't. Everything here is the truth. I was referring to the fact that I was tagged by Maya. Ok, one tag down one to go.

March 25, 2006

Innovation and India

Its almost an accepted fact that socio-cultural pressures in India force us to tend towards professions like engineering and management as a career option. Our position in the world economy, our unique problems, our politics and our people all contribute to this trend, and it is no wonder then, that India is the preferred outsourcing destination of the world with its abundant supply of engineers and management professionals.

I feel that we engineers tend to grow up with this inherent attitude that makes us believe we are more significant than those from another profession [exception: doctors, MBA's and lawyers]. Our society, family and friends do little to rid us of this fallacy - everyone is busy proclaiming the achievements of his or her son/daughter in terms of college admissions, campus interviews and salaries. This extends right through to marriage proposals and beyond. Engineers look for engineers, doctors look for doctors and pity the person who does not have one of these high profile degrees.

Recently, I've kind of become really interested in the Arts. Besides my pathetic attempts at poetry, I've started to read about English literature and the work of some prominent poets. I've also started perusing some resources that deal with such issues. I even spent a pleasant two hours analyzing essays from students to a verse written by Emily Dickinson! I also read with fascination about how Lawrence Summers, the Harvard president, resigned due to power conflicts with the Arts faculty in Harvard. My exact thoughts were "...woah...wait a minute...he resigned due to pressure from the Arts guys...? " I went back to school and college and tried to think of the weight that arts faculties carried when compared to the math and science folks. I think in most of the cases, we science students had more say then them!

Why am I talking about all this? If you're an engineer you're probably ready to close the window by now....and that's exactly my point. What do we actually know about the Arts? Critical thinking, presentation, persistence, creativity and discipline are some of the many qualities that the Arts teach us. And India is hardly paying any attention. How many innovations have come out of India? Compare those with the number of clients whose back-end processes we manage. We are too concerned with managing others work, and need to start thinking about creating our own work. With the world becoming flatter, the onus is on humans to do the one thing that is still unique to humans - innovate. And this is integrally tied in to the Arts and Humanities.

Thomas Friedman had an excellent article on this in Friday's Times. Read it if you can. Some people he quoted from a recent Nasscom conference in Mumbai:

"..we need to encourage more incubation of ideas...make innovation a national initiative..."
- Azim Premji, Wipro

"..we have a creative problem in this country..."
-Nirmala Sankaran, HeyMath

"..more people will get PhD's in Sanskrit in the US than in India...and Sanskrit is the root of our culture..."
-Jerry Rao, MphasiS

Its not a lost cause yet, we engineers can also innovate, but only when we do not take the Arts for granted. We need to open our minds, educate ourselves and look at how and where we can learn from them. We're so used to certain mental models of thinking that we cannot break the mould...and that is the key to innovation. The next killer application, the next product, the next technology, the next invention - they will all arrive and transform how we live. Who creates it, and how quickly it gets created are two questions that are key, and these issues will decide the order of the world economy for generations to come. Creating, sustaining and supporting initiatives for the Arts and Humanities is a critical step that India, and Indians, need to take to have a realistic chance of overcoming this challenge.

What do you say?

You're Beautiful

Music is one of the true pleasures in life. I was pretty busy today even though it was a Saturday. In between some work, I stepped out for some coffee and went to a nearby Borders. With the sun streaming down, I was walking down this quiet road, and I had one of those damn...life's good moments when this song came on my iPod - you know what I'm talking about right? Things just fit.

My life is brilliant.
My love is pure.
I saw an angel.
Of that I'm sure.
She smiled at me on the subway.
She was with another man.
But I won't lose no sleep on that,
'Cause I've got a plan.

You're beautiful. You're beautiful.
You're beautiful, it's true.
I saw your face in a crowded place,
And I don't know what to do,
'Cause I'll never be with you.

Yeah, she caught my eye,
As we walked on by.
She could see from my face that I was,
Flying high,
And I don't think that I'll see her again,
But we shared a moment that will last till the end.

You're beautiful. You're beautiful.
You're beautiful, it's true.
I saw your face in a crowded place,
And I don't know what to do,
'Cause I'll never be with you.

You're beautiful. You're beautiful.
You're beautiful, it's true.
There must be an angel with a smile on her face,
When she thought up that I should be with you.
But it's time to face the truth,
I will never be with you.

March 19, 2006


I was reading a book the other day and cross referenced into some verses by Emily Dickinson, the poet. That got me reading a whole bunch of stuff on love, fear, death, pain and so on. God, those guys were in deep [more on some favorites later]. So, in the same vein - as an idealist, and someone who is still unattached and free of the encumbrances of practicality - here are my thoughts on what perfect love should be like [I hope to show this to her someday and say something romantic or fall down laughing or maybe show this to a friend and get a sympathetic pat on the back]

I want to respect you first, and love you second. I want to talk with you about everything. I want you to tell me when I go wrong. I want to look forward to seeing you every night. I want to worry when you go out and are late coming back. I want to share your interests and support you in your pursuits. I want you to come home and tell me how your day went. I want to laugh about the silly things that you encountered. I want to help you overcome problems that you face. I want to see your face light up when I say that I love you. I want to feel afraid as to whether I will be able to keep your face lit up like that for the rest of my life. I want to be with you when something happens that makes you shed tears. I want to watch a movie with you and laugh. I want to go through old photo albums and recall those memories with you. I want you to wake me up in the middle of the night and tell me that you love me. I want to talk with a girl in front of you and see you get jealous. I want to see you talk with a guy and feel like kicking his ass. I want to get scolded when I do something stupid and insensitive. I want to have fights with you. I want to make up each of those fights. I want to keep interrupting you when you are doing something and get scolded at for it. I want to be able to surprise you and make your eyes sparkle. I want to feel an ache in my heart when you are not with me. I want to hold hands with you and take a walk in the evening. I want to have breakfast with you every morning before we both go out and face the day. I want us to live a life that will help someone less fortunate than us. I want you to hold my hand all through. I want to be alone, think of you, and smile. I want to wake up next to you, and watch you sleep.

March 17, 2006

J-Mac in da house!

There are a lot of things to dislike about the US. Current politics, arrogance, George W, Iraq, immigration, George W, oil, Dick Cheney, George W (you get the idea). But there are some things that are still unique to this country, and when such things happen, its all good.

Last week there has been an uproar over the actions of Jason McElwain. He is a high school student from Greece Athena High School. He was such a fan of basketball, that even though he was not on the team, he attended every single practice and every single game of his school's team. He would be the water boy, do errands and basically just shout and encourage his team mates at each and every game.

So, he was given an opportunity to suit up for the final regular season game. I think there were around five minutes left or something like that. In the next 240 seconds, he shot 6 consecutive 3 pointers and tied a school record. By the time the clock wound down, there was mayhem everywhere and his team mates, fans, staff, opposing teammates, everyone ran into the court and hoisted him on their shoulders.Just seeing the video gives you goosebumps.That's when Jason McElwain became J-Mac.

You see, J-Mac, is autistic. He started speaking only when he was 5 years old. And the grainy 2 minute video clip that was shot by a schoolmate Marcus Luciano became the clip that held the nation enthralled. Any and all newspapers, internet news magazines and TV networks have aired the clip. ESPN picked up the story and CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox, MTV - you name it, they have aired it. J-Mac met George W, he has appeared on Good Morning America and his folks said that they have received calls from studios ranging from the Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. to independent documentary filmmakers. Magic Johnson called to congratulate him and he is scheduled to appear on Oprah and Ellen.

As someone who has friends with this disorder, I cannot be happier. J-Mac has single handedly created so much awareness for autism and its social impact. J-Mac, his coach Jim Johnson, and his teammates are celebrities and heroes now, and this too shall pass. But there is no doubt that his feat will linger in memory for some time to come.

J-Mac says "I'm not really that different. I don't really care about this autistic situation, really. It's just the way I am. The advice I'd give to autistic people is just keep working, just keep dreaming, you'll get your chance and you'll do it."

And folks, this excitement, this spontaneity, this kind of fame and feel good media frenzy, it is something that still happens only in the United States. Rock on!

March 14, 2006

The Art of Communication

Of all the skills that professionals must posses, I've come to realize that a key attribute is communication. It does not matter how smart or how strong your technical skills are, they are no match for being able to communicate at the highest level. Indeed, with globalization and the rapid rise of Asia in world politics, communication is more important than ever. Yet engineers are really not taught anything about this. I'm sure everyone of you might be able to think of a few people you have met along the way who are simply brilliant in having the ability to talk. And you must have also met a few really intelligent people who were the darling of your teachers, but did not achieve the level of success you might expect them to.

By communication, I do not mean the ability to speak in English. Its the ability to think fast, think logically and convey those thoughts in effective terminologies. Its about creating impressions and having the confidence to talk what you think. As someone who has been involved with management for the better part of the last two years, I have already had so many experiences that reinforce this issue. I have met with so many managers who have stressed the need to be articulate and confident. The really successfully ones have the ability to communicate in different levels - talk a certain way to the management, a different way to the workers, a different way to peers, a different way to clients and so on.

Hand in hand with communication, is the ability to market yourself. When you meet someone [a manager, a supervisor, a client, an interviewer] you need to be able to sell yourself to them. This is not bullshitting them, this is being able to differentiate yourself through how you speak. Whatever your profession is, you can bet that there are thousands of others with the exact qualifications that you have. So how do you increase your value? Simple - increase the value of you as a person by increasing intangible issues like communication and marketing skills. Most of the time, senior management does not want to hear theories and tech jargon in meetings. You need to develop the art of hiding the science and providing the implications. It is not a mistake that some of the most successfully people in business are excellent communicators and marketing gurus. Every success story involves a person who is an excellent communicator who also happens to be an engineer, physicist, management expert etc.

Indeed, the way you communicate and frame thoughts and questions has the ability to change people's perceptions. One of the most cited papers in Economics is "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," by Daniel Kahneman, of Princeton and Amos Tversky of Stanford.

"The authors argued that the ways in which alternatives are framed, not simply their relative value, heavily influence the decisions people make. This was a seminal paper in behavioral economics; its rigorous equations pierced a core assumption of the standard model that the actual value of alternatives was all that mattered, not the mode of their presentation."

More in this fascinating piece in Harvard Magazine.

One of the most effective ways to build communication skills is to travel. When you meet new people, and interact with new cultures, it opens up a whole new way of thinking and talking within you. So, when you plan your next career goal, be sure to include provisions that will require you to improve your communication and marketing skills. It will be worth it.

March 05, 2006

Random thoughts...

Well, here I am. Back from a self induced haitus.This one kind of branched out from a trip to India, sustained itself on the return to madness here and then kept rolling due to the most potent of all vices - sheer laziness.

So, India is now a player huh? One of the big boys. Well, while I am sure it feels good to the 300 million middle class, and even better to the 2 million Indians in the US, I'm not so sure how the 800 million poor feel. Admitted that India is rising, but we need to sustain this growth. And growth is not just in terms of urban malls, cars and six lane highways, but growth in terms of improving the standard of living of the poor and increasing the quality of life for the millions who are still in need of the basic necessities of life. As long as we don't get swept off our feet by all this attention, things do look good.

What can WE do to help the real Indian, who is still not sure where his next meal is coming from. What can one do to help the child, who doesn't know if he will ever go to school? What can we do to help the woman who has to travel kilometers under the hot sun to gather dirty water for her family?

For starters, we can all talk about it. Really, who the (bleep) cares what film Trisha is acting in next? Where are our priorities? How many of us run to movie portals as soon as we hook up to the internet? Let's find and visit websites and resources that discuss issues such as rural poverty, child education, columns on India's problems and so on. I agree it is not realistic to think in terms of huge goals like the eradication of poverty or the achievement of full fledged literacy. Those are issues that need attention and focus on a larger scale. But what we tend to conveniently forget is that the beginnings of all great things are small occurences, that are started by people like you and me. Find a charity or an organization that resonates with your beliefs and thoughts. Follow them, understand them, study what they do. Spread the word about them to your friends. And finally, when you feel strong enough, go volunteer with them. Trust me, if you help feed a kid for one day, you will have made a difference.

Moving on to lighter issues - while I was in India, I had a great time catching up with most of the gang in Bangalore. We safely saw off 2005, and also made sure that everyone reached home safely from Club Cabana, but that's another post. Seriously, this club scene in Bangalore is something else. Somehow frenching seems out of place in Bangalore - maybe its just me. I'll have pics up soon.

I also had some fascinating discussions with some industry people in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi. I met with them to discuss my thesis, and ended up having some real illuminating discussions regarding attitudes of technology professionals in the West and in South Asia. More on that later.

Just touching base folks, I'll be around.