Month: May 2011

New features added in Gmail

This morning as soon as I opened up an incoming mail in Gmail, I noticed a new feature which they unveiled. The feature is named People

New Feature in Gmail
People pane

When you open up the mail, on the right hand side, you’ll notice a pane, titled People, which will mention people who are in the To list of the mail AND also are in your contact list. Each such contact can be clicked upon to show recent activity for that user. When you click on any one user, the resulting pane in the same space, will display the last mails you send/received from that contact, along with options to send mail, call, chat and others.

The feature (algorithm working behind the scenes) also captures if something is being talked about some event, meeting, and neatly grabs the related details, and gives you the option then and there to add the event to your Google Calendar.

Nice neat additions Gmail. Keep up the good work.

Advertisements

Managers with Benefits

This summer a movie featuring Justin Timberlake and adorable Mila Kunis is going to hit the screen. The movie is titled Friends With Benefits.

I am not going to talk about the movie, even give you the plot. You can check all that on the IMDb link, embedded above. I referred the movie, just to let you guys know the inspiration for the title of this post.

In every parlance of life, you have some relationships which give you benefits. Sometimes, they come without you asking for them, at others you have to actually ask for it, but not fight for it. The same holds true in the official circuits, specifically for the scope of this post – IT industry.

Now, I do not want to use terms like bootlicking, buttering and all related jargons or better say slang to explore how some managers become managers with benefits. Let that remain aside, since we all know how they become what they become (actually are).

Sadly, the IT industry, again limiting my scope to the company I worked for and few others I closely know about, have skewed the concept of managers. Managers in these IT corporates are no longer managers, who are managing projects and resources – with the skill or extensive training for that field. All you need for getting to the post of manager – skills for socializing (well, this is sarcastic remark, if you’re intelligent, you know what I am pointing to), number of years (successful executions does not matter) and passing PMP examinations (which is the standard certification for managers worldwide).

The ingredients of becoming manager, might have given you the hint as to why the concept of manager is skewed. No longer you’re needed to show the skills of people management, grooming talent, showing negotiation skills  (now you need intimidation skills), charting a growth part for your subordinates and being proactive in tracking it periodically (not waiting for half-yearly and yearly goal-setting and appraisal cycles).

All a manager needs is play around with these terms, intimidate when it is needed (and in case of some talented people, its use if recommended often), obfuscate the HR process completely (refer the employee to vicious circle of HR to Reporting manager to Delivery Unit head when necessary).

Constructive criticism is a big No. Well, out of 100, only 10 will actually know this concept, and out of those only 5 will even have the courage to actually say it. And what happens to those lucky (or better say unlucky few)? In almost all cases, you get screwed, screwed by the system.

If your reporting manager was goofing around, playing around, abusing the system, showing complete disrespect for your tasks, positively giving negative vibes about the outcome of the task you’re working on, goes to such a distance to say on say 1  “your project is doomed, it will come to us again” and gives illogical analogies on top of it all to irk you, to make you think how and why he is where he is, and also to sympathetically think about “is something wrong with him?” – You gather courage (actually you think something is wrong and it needs to be brought back on track), you actually discuss this all through your super manager (manager’s manager). Your super manager tried to be friendly with you, says all rosy things, which actually encouraged you to bring this little something to his notice. What happens? Yeah, you get screwed! You’ll say, WTF, how, why? Well, the answer is simple, your manager is the manager with benefits. Not only your super manager, tells your manager, what you said about him, they also discuss to screw you better.

Now your petty manager (even thugs have some conscience) stoops to his lowest and starts doing little something for which he is actually spending time (and seriously wasting it) painstakingly like a little kid who will not tell you what was the homework yesterday, when you’re absent, all due to the reason that you told on him to the class teacher, coz he was peeing in the classroom (you’re concerned as his act is detrimental for rest of the mortals around him)

Well, enough said. Some things eventually die on their own course. What’s the better word – yeah Implosion!

Flickr Pro

Last night, I bought the pro membership for Flickr. Not that, I have a huge lot to be uploaded and the 300 mb limit was withholding me. I wanted to get this for quite some time now. I had my expectations too from the pro membership and in a way I was let down by some things. I am going to mention a few things which need improvement, to begin with.

1. Stats Page Landing: First of all, please remove those gifs, someone encounters when first trying to access the stats page. The page needs redesign for sure. GIFs are like faux pas

2. Stats Page: Okay, stats page needs an overhaul. The current set of statistics are not actually that good. We need more views, drill downs – something like geographical locations would be a great addition. Also, graphical views, like pie charts will look a lot better when used to show the percentage split. Just look at how beautiful the stats are on Google Analytics. If you want to overlook that, just look at but.ly stats page! Flickr must be having algorithms, infrastructure to present such stats, it just needs to implement it.

3. Basic Photo Editing: At least pro members, should have access to basic photo editing tricks. At least, an ability to add text, watermarking?

Currently the pro account holders have only two benefits as I see it – Unlimited uploads and ad free pages. Well, I was never annoyed by ads on Flickr, as they are not eating up much space on the pages to actually annoy you. Unlimited uploads is the only thing you pay for.

Flickr, please do something on some of these things!

~ A fan, a user and now a pro customer

The Other Side of IT (as in Frustration)

When I look back, I recall that my first aim was to be an Air Force Fighter pilot. I was somehow very much hooked on to fighter planes and air force. That was way back in third grade. See, I had an aim long long back. My younger brother wanted to be in navy. Later as I was growing up, and IT was catching up with us, I started thinking of being a software engineer.

I was hell inquisitive from my early days and I knew about Microsoft when I was in 9th grade. I used to daydream about passing from IIT and then working for Microsoft. Another thing which almost sealed my fate that I was going to study Computer Science and Engineering, was when my mausi got married to a software engineer who was stationed in London and was going to States after marriage. Now, what bigger fantasy can a school going guy back in 1996/97 have about future job. And that’s how it was sealed.

A long time back I asked my dad, why he chose civil engineering during his engineering, when he could have got computers and electronics. He told me about his childhood days, when he used to see the engineers constructing roads and bridges near the village and that was how he fascinated himself as a civil engineer. More than that, there was no one actually to guide him, since he came from an agrarian family background. So, that is how he got his inspiration or aim for life.

Well, I never made it to the IITs and neither to Microsoft (at least so far). And anyways, I would prefer Google now (this time I am not daydreaming). By the way, I did try to get in Air Force after my 12th, passed NDA written (a lot of us do) and then was rejected at SSB. That was my first and last attempt at that. Skip all that happened in between and in my grad college, eventually I was a CSE graduate.

It will be 5 years on 19th June in IT industry and sadly, yes sadly the same company I joined as fresher. Seeing the title, you know I am going to talk about the frustration I have endured and keep on enduring in IT (at least with the services companies, I guess).

Many of us, who are outside IT will think that frustration is normal in any job when it becomes mundane and (yes please take a note of it) if you’re ambitious enough. Nevertheless, the story of frustration starts in first week (or second week), when the day of drafting comes. Drafting is the day when you are assigned a track – as in Databases, Java, Dot Net, Testing, C/C++. These stand at the basic categories as far as I know about IT industry. Figments of frustration starts in a lot of us that day. You were an expert at Java at college but you’re put in Database. Someone loved databases and was put on Java, Dot Net guy gets testing.  Are you getting a picture now? It hits you in the face on day 1. Remember always that this post has a pre-requisite – you have to be ambitious! I have seen people who have whatsoever no concerns about anything. And by saying that, I am not entering a debate of what is a cakewalk and what is a tightrope walk. I am talking about the ebbing of frustration.

You crib about it, discuss it with HR, with friends, trying to find some jack which you can use, but not everyone is lucky enough. The question I raise here is, is it ok for companies to randomly draft freshers in different trades? Why can’t they use a better interview process which can be used later for filtration? Why the IT companies can complain about the lack of adequate talent at graduate level, but show no concern in devising a process for bringing things to a better order? Is it asking for too much to spend some time and resources on restructuring the entire selection process?

The answer can be Yes or No. Some of you will feel that since the usual hirings are in large numbers (volume can be more suited here), a process for preference cannot be implemented. But, has someone really tried anything on that lines? A few companies have.  Many, I think don’t care ( I maybe wrong here though, and would like to see the points in comments)

Then, once you’re assimilated in the system, you start questioning things, finding problems with the processes, getting irked with what everyone else feels so comfortable. As for me, meetings used to make me irritable and still they have their charm. It’s not that I don’t like any meeting. I totally like the meeting in the current project. Brisk, to-the-point and end of the meeting. I used to be irritated when people started buttering managers by asking about their kids, about their vacation and blah blah blah. If a project status meeting or team meeting needs you and the team to waste more than 30 minutes at any time in the steady phase, it simply means everyone just loves to waste time and that frustrates me. A lot of times, the manager wasted 30 minutes telling that “we should keep meeting udner 30 minutes”. Well, you moron, if you would have resisted from saying that again and again, at least we would have saved 30 minutes!

Third, when you know that there is a price to pay for being very good. I learned it very hard way. As per written policies, you can change your project after 18 months. Nevertheless, that’s like the metaphor for white elephant. You wish that they would release you at that. If you were planning to talk to HR, better you save your efforts and most importantly time. Since you are performing well, your manager will not let you go. They will cite innumerable things, which make your stay with the team and project essential for company’s future and growth. They will show you everything which you would know then and there, that they have not an iota of truth in that, subject to application of reason by yourself. The same project will frustrate you, at times drive you crazy and you’ll start looking out for options.

So far, so good?

You will show the talent for a lot of things, but it all depends on the managers and their bosses on what they want to see. They might not want you to give what you want and still show you that they know what’s best for you! You will be shown how exciting your mundane job is. You will be given examples of what others could not but you have achieved (as if you achievements are alimony and not due to your talent, hard work, brilliance).

Wrapping it up with the biggest frustration which I faced. The superiors you’re working with in your team are good for nothing but they are there since they are good friends with the managers. Getting me, what I mean by Good Friends? I am not touching or referencing politics as that’s virtually everywhere. What I am pointing at it, when incapable and incompetent people are sitting above you and giving you directions. When a person is manager – managing a project, multiple projects and entire business unit – not due to his actual managerial skills but due to the reason that he has number of years with him. It does not matter whether he has any people skills or not, it does not matter whether he has technical skills or not.

In the end, it’s a pitiful job, at least what I felt. If you have potential and you know it in you, don’t stay back in the service industry as a developer or better say doing operations support

Disclaimer: The experiences here are my own with the service industry in IT sector. I can only guess that the scene is a lot better in product companies. You might be in service industry and you had a totally different experience. Depends on the outlook, depends on what you want, depends on interest and somewhat capability.

Swechha

After thinking, discussing, deliberating for almost two years over the fact that I should somehow contribute to the society by joining some NGO, I took the first step today and visited the Malviya Nagar office of Swechha. I and 6 of my colleagues were hosted there by Amrita Anand, who has been associated with Sweccha for more than an year now. I and the 4 of us were grouped for this sessions by Abhinandan, who had participated in the recent Flash Mob for Please Mend the Gap, which is an initiative for promoting gender equality in public space.

Amrita took us through the history of Swechha, the different programs it runs, the partnerships and related things in quite detail. We signed up a one pager form for one of their intiatives, Pagdandi, a volunteer based program to supplement education in children from marginalized society (resettlement and slum colonies).

Amrita then asked us to join for an evening session, where the children from nearby Jagdamba camp, were going to be told about “Right to Information” and then was to be play-acted. This was to be followed by a Karate class by one of the volunteers. We reached the park and there were around 40-50 kids and 5 volunteers. We were told that some of the kids have gone back to their villages so the number was expected to be around 50.

The Children were first told about Right to Information What it is, how and where to use it, why is it needed. They were then split in small groups of 5 each and all volunteers were assigned a group. Some of the groups were more than 5 too. The volunteers were asked to think of situations where the children could use the RTI, and then the same had to enacted. We sat with the kids and then thought of situations, roles and then practiced. After that, they were supposed to enact their acts before all groups, but time did not permit every group to do so. I reckon that they are supposed to perform at a festival next week (as far as I remember).

The Karate class followed that, and we witnessed that too. Half way in that, we left.

What I observed during all this is – the string sense of determination you need to be part of such activities. Believe me, children can be very very tough to manage. You can’t a group of 40-50 odd kids to listen to you, to maintain decorum. Never, period. I noticed that the volunteers (who have been part of this from long) had a lot of determination and cool. It’s not that I felt loosing my cool, but I felt loosing my determination in keeping the kids at one place, in asking to sit, in trying to have their attention and a lot more. At a time, I felt that I don’t have that much determination to be able to conduct such workshops/activities. May be all of the current volunteers started like me, but I don’t know that as of this moment.

Another interesting thing and a really good thing, was seeing how much determined Amrita was towards this cause and her job. She was speaking back at the office how she and others at her office are going to try to go to each household in Jagdamba camp, and check that they are accounting for all children there. When we were going to the park, where the activities were supposed to take place, I noticed that at two instances she stopped the car, when she spotted some kids, whom she knew, and where from the camp. Now that is what is called honest determination towards your duty. Not boasting her in any ways, but seriously hats off Amrita for the great work you’re doing. Keep it up! I’ll try to help in any possible way I can.

An initiative worth mentioning

I am quite a frequent customer at Costa’s Coffee, esp of the store in the Great India place, Noida. Some time back, I noticed that they have hired some employees who cannot speak (as in speech impaired). I personally appreciated the initiative and gesture of people at Costa’s India after seeing that. I thought at that moment, that I should write about it so that more and more people know about this.

There must be many such organizations in India who promote and facilitate employment for physically challenged people, but this was the first case I ever witnessed in India. This means a lot to the people who took pains to override the physical limitations and trained themselves to try to be at par with everyone else. We must have read or heard about such facilitation, watched movies and then appreciated and/or where touched by specific instances, but little gets done in the real world to promote employment for speech and hearing impaired people in the regular sector.

Last Saturday, I was with Sharad at Costa’s again and decided to talk to one of the store managers. We were sipping our iced coffee and keeping a watchful eye at the proceedings in the store. I noticed the two employees leaving the store, who had served me before and who were speech impaired. After some time, when the store was a lil easy on customer inflow, I raised my hand for the manager. When he came, he was for sure waiting for me to complain about something. It was evident from his watchful face and his denial to my offer of pulling a chair and sitting down. I told him that we are regular customers and we noted that they have employed some speech impaired (and probably hearing impaired) people. He came at ease and answered in affirmative.

Ankur: So, tell me about this initiative, is it specific to this particular location or is it all-stores wide?

Naresh: This has been launched by our franchise, which operates all Costa’s locations.

Ankur: That is Devyani International, right?

Naresh: Yes!

Ankur: So, how did this start?

Naresh: Not sure, maybe someone pressed the franchise to employ them

Ankur: No, it cannot be like that. I think may be someone in the management, felt a need for getting involved in such an initiative by promoting and facilitating employment for speech and hearing impaired people.

Naresh: Yes, may be something like that happened.

Ankur: So, is there any number specified for every store?

Naresh: Yes, every store has to have at least 2 employees

Ankur: I just saw them leaving the store. Was it the end for their shift?

Naresh: No, they have went to another location of ours, which is in Spice Mall, Sec 25

Ankur: Oh ok!

Naresh: We have been trained in basics of sign language so we can communicate easily with them

Ankur: Has it been any difficult for you or others?

Naresh: No, we have had no issues. And they are very good workers. One of them, Mohit, is very good at his work. It’s good that they got a chance to work here. These jobs do not demand someone who can speak. We can get our work done without speaking. Maybe in sales, they cannot be of value, but here they sure can do what is needed out of their job

Ankur: Yes, I agree with you.

Ankur: So, is there any other location around here where you have other such workers?

Naresh: Yes, we have a store in Green Park, Delhi. That store has all employees who are speech impaired. The store manager there is Devashish, who knows sign language, and he is the one who trained us in that.

Ankur: That’s good.

After this conversation, I thanked him and he left. Sharad wanted to leave for Green Park to check out that store. I was being lazy and decided against that.

I really hope that more and more companies/store owners come forward and open avenues for employment, where ever possible, for physically challenged people.