In 2005, as I was leaving a company, I was asked to pen down what may be the problems. I wrote the following letter to the then Director who had asked me for feedback. Names have been abbreviated. I have no idea how much this helped or did not help in the company, but I see similar issues in almost all companies. Its kind of weird how these issues exist time and time again.

Hi Mxx,

These are my thoughts based on what I perceive in EP and also in FSS. Most of it is my opinion (mostly as an outsider - as there are things about which I would not even know by now!)

First the EP groups as such.

The EP project is quite big. In fact , my previous company was almost half its size - to put things in perspective! To think about things for EP, I just thought what I would be doing if I had to ever lead such a big group.

So, in my opinion I would say the project has to be run as a company within the company - with a different set of rules than other projects. Things which apply to a group of 10-20 people cannot be extrapolated to something as big as 200 people. Its like the difference between driving a maruti 800 and a F1 car!

So there should be a full time support staff. This means that the following roles would have people dedicated 100% to EP ( if something like this exists, then I am not aware of it ) :
- HR ( 1 person from HR only for EP - who takes care of new recruits, inductions, change of group from other groups).
- Admin ( 1 person for the admin needs , and seating arrangements ).
- IT ( 1 or 2 people who look after the computer installations, licensing, new computer setup, virus etc)

The above information should be available easily - probably as part of induction or an intranet.

The other issues I see are two folds :
1. Communication , and,
2. Duplication.

1. Communication:
There is a big communication gap even within teams. Take the instance of DSP. Its a big team ( 20+ people) and they are spread around on 3 floors. It took me 2+ weeks to meet everyone. And then almost a month to find out where the people are. Anything that needs to be circulated in the team has to be either through email ( Lotus Notes is *not* a good email client - opensource stuff like Thunderbird are much better ) or through team meetings.

Team meetings cannot be called every other day, so any communication has to wait till the week day when most teams have their meetings. Emails get lost as there is a quota limit, and also cause there is no filtering/tagging mechanism in LN. Now when free email like gmail is 2.5GB and with a huge number of features it is ridiculous for a company like FSS to still cling on to some archaic tool and space limits. Quite a lot of work can be done faster if people of the same team sit together. It will be easy for managers to get updates, for developers to find answer to queries - and also leads to team building.

So, I would suggest an immediate seating plan to go in place to get people of the same team together. Another helpful tool would be a big whiteboard for each team - which can be used by the team to discuss something, or for keeping the approaching dates up for easy reference (whatever a team wants). Having boards in rooms does not help - you cannot keep things up there indefinitely.

Another communication problem is what came out with the IRMA guidelines. No one was paying any attention cause it is not easily available. All these guidelines are either being sent through email , or being put into the EP file server ( where the hierarchy is not easy to see). Such things since being project wide would make more sense to be in one place and easily accessible. The best option here I see is having an intranet for EP. Guidelines/ howtos / rampup / software list / lab lists / etc can easily go here as webpages - which allow people to see the situation from anywhere.

Another disconnect I felt was that there is no ramp up plans in place. When I joined ( and I guess K is also going through the same kind of problems) there was no ramp up given. Even though we are experienced guys , we cannot work without inputs. And this is leading to an extra long rampup time. I suggest that ramp up plans be put in place which should be in 2 parts 1) A generic rampup on the tech, and about the DDF working. 2) Role specific ramp-up (tech lead/ architect/ management level). These things have not been thought of and there are no such things in place now - which leads to neglecting the rampup cause everyone is so busy - which leads to people working less efficiently - and hence people become more busy ... etc.

Another thing missing is the visibility of the roles of upper management to the developers. A person recently promoted was given a card from A.J. , and asked me later who was AJ cause he had no idea why the congrats came from him. I suggest that the intranet also have a profiles section for the people in charge so people who don't know will still be able to find out.

There also seems to be no process in place for induction of a new person in the team. Cubicle space, workstation procurement , setting up of software - no plan exists for this. I had to sit without a comp for 3 days, and the comp was only operational after 1 week ! I was thinking this was slow - but with new people joining the group i see that the wait time is more than 1 week ! Time wastage.

2. Duplication
Duplication of activities I feel is a critical time killer. Almost everything has to be done 2 times.

Take the case of effort updation. It has to be updated in MPP on a task basis *and* in Timesheets on a totally different basis. EP ( and FSS probably ) needs a convergence of these things. The Time sheet application is very old - and people only fill it in cause salaries are tied to it. I find it utterly unbelievable that a tech company is tech starved. How else could it be that in a time of AJAX and upcoming W3C specs employees are still forced to use a browser ( netscape 4.5 ) from yesteryear. I have also found instances of places in A where a pop up comes that you *have* to use IE for accessing certain things. Bad design ! People should be developing to the specs not the application.

And since MPP access is not to the developers, the managers need to indicate the tasklines using something else. So, for the managers its mpp for management meetings and xls or scraps of paper for developer meetings.

Another place of duplication is the passwords. I have 4 FSS passwords ( desktop login, email, timesheet, ESS ) and a few more from Nokia ( PI access, Webmail, webpronto). No convergence at all. Why can't i automatically have the same login/password at least on a FSS level if not on a client level ? It not an impossible task - WIPRO is a good example of it. Everything is authenticated based on the Active Directory password. It just takes some will to change the existing system. But most people have gotten so used to it that they are not willing to change :(

Another issue of duplication is the document updates - have to be done in both DOORs and in PI.

An underlying thread that I find in all the duplication that I theorize is that initially some tool was being used - which was found lacking in some aspect. So, people started looking for a new tool, and *added* that. I think that is a typical knee jerk reaction. What should have been done for any new tool is to see how it can replace some other tool - and only if there is an efficiency benefit (not just a feature benefit) it should be taken up.

I don't know if something can be done for the above issues - people are so busy that they don't have time to think. But whatever happens, don't add something if it is not replacing something first.

I think that the work is still holding up because you have some very very hardworking people. They put in the extra efforts and keep pulling things together - but there is a limit to that too.

You have also asked me for inputs on team members and FSS in general.

Team members in EP
- Very hard working people. But not many bright people. People know how to work hard, but not smart ( typical managerial dribble - but I think you will know what I mean).

- People don't know the upper management or their roles. Mxx is known as the big guy, but not many people ( specially the juniors) know your role. Ditto for V, S, A.J..

I don't know if it will be politically correct for making comments on people specifically, but since this is going to be confidential, I have a few observations :

- Recently promoted people : People have been promoted to higher tech/managerial roles. I think that they are not really ready for it - and have been promoted as a way to keep people in the company. They need grooming. Especially the managers. The senior management needs to keep a constant grooming going on. Also, the promotions seem to have gone into a few people's head and they think greatly of themselves. It becomes difficult to work with these people as they are unhelpfull - and wanted to be treated extra nice ( maybe its my problem as I cannot sweet talk much).

- I think P needs to be assertive. Most of the meetings turn out to be quite a fish market cause things are not kept on track. And assertiveness does not mean being assertive on deadlines. I think P is trying to pacify everyone - but the problem is not everyone gets pacified. Here I would like to state that since I don't know many of the reasons for the decisions, maybe I am perceiving something which is not there.

- Another comment that I have often heard is that the management bends over backwards to keep the N people happy.

- N people complain that they are kept in the dark. Its not about sharing of plans etc - what they say is that they are not told the actual reality, and it is being masked under a smile and "everything is going fine" - while they being here know that things are not ok. I think that the main problem comes from the fact that we still treat the N people as not part of the team , and only as an irritant. If they are treated as part of the team then only will we be more open to them. Currently I am seeing an erosion in trust.

- No overall Architect : When there is contention between the teams , there is no one who has overall knowledge. R comes pretty close to it - but he is too overloaded.

- Which brings me to the overloading of R. I think something should be done to make other people take up ownership - as R has the habit of taking everything upon himself.

General FSS
The general impression is that FSS is not a fun place to work in. Also it is not the best paymaster ( this is from a non-newbie perceptive - freshers are just glad that they get a job anywhere). I will not talk about salaries - you know more about it than me :-)

The fun factor is missing from the work spaces. Its not about having an annual gala event where people blow up money. Its about peer comparisons. Nothing seems to be happening here which people can identify with as a sense of achievement. Also the impression about N projects is the huge "process" that is being followed - and people from non-N projects don't want to move in , or have sympathetic comments for those who are.

Even if something like EP gets done on time - and that is taken as an achievement ( as it will inevitably be ), most people will just chit-chat over chai/coffee that management had pushed everyone tooo much for the completion, and the project was a very lousy place to work in. Catch 22. Image drop.

With a negative image - you will never get smart people in.

Processes . Hmm... Everyone has a personal grouse against processes it seems. I think its because people don't know what they are for. My way of thinking is that processes are important cause they facilitate things. But here I feel that processes are done for process sake. And almost too often it is tied with the actual implementation.

What I mean is that supposing a project is to be undertaken. The Process( CMMi etc) talks about the things which need to be done. As a CMMi Lev 5 company all the projects need to comply with this. But what happens is that the implementation ( use MPP, don't use html , etc) is taken as the process. This has lead to processes which are not really useful. If the process talks about finding defect density and tracking it, it does not specify that you can only use one tool - which is the case here. So, if something more efficient comes by , it wont be taken up. Similarly for IT processes. It should specify support for the IT infrastructure, not just which softwares to support. If a requirement comes for a new software, the IT should be able to support it , not say that the policy is not to support. There is a lot of negativism here.

Most people perceive quality as something which has to be done - not something which is a control mechanism. If a defect density is supposed to be 4 per ksloc, people get confused and think that they have to get that magical figure. Quality is not a much understood topic. Also, I am not too sure how much data was/is being fudged to get good quality figures. People fear RCA.

Other issues that I have personally ( this is totally an individual thing) is slow network access, blocked sites, blocked messenger services, no CD rom drives. Basically gives the feel that the company does not trust any of the employees. Seems strange that a company which talks about end to end communications is blocking communications inside it (it is probably a huges hangover).

Well, the mail turned out to be more that I had thought I would write. Its a mind dump.


Recovering from Black Screens in Linux

Windows gives you BSOD ( Blue Screen of Death)

It seems Linux gives you Black Screens. It is not crashing, but sometimes, you end up landing in such a state that all you get is a black screen and there is not much you can do about it.

Recently I got into such a situation. This is related to the NVIDIA drivers for Linux, but maybe you got it for some other situation.

In my case, I was fiddling around with the graphics card setting. The MIS GL62 laptop has lousy battery life - hardly lasts 2 hours. So, I was trying to figure out how to reduce the battery drain when not doing something graphics intensive. There is a mode in Nvidia called Prime which allows you to switch between Nvidia and Intel graphics, and I changed that to Intel - and viola ... the problem. 

The problem:
The problem is that sometimes the graphics drivers mess up badly that there is no display. The ctrl+tab+1 trick does not work - you do not end up getting the terminal to fix it.

So, what can you do in this case ? There is not fallback ! Or is there.

This requires a bit of jugglery. I will list out what I did in my case - you may need to do something different in Step 3.

Step 1: Get the boot menu 

Now, my laptop has only Linux in it. So, unlike my deskstop where I dual-boot I do not get a grub prompt for choosing which OS I want to boot into. As such , it just directly starts the Linux boot process and hangs up.

So, to get the Boot menu, you need to press the ESC key or Shift . I do not know exactly which ones, so I mashed both the keys.

Step 2: Get into recovery root shell.

Now, that you have the menu, use the down arrow to get to recovery option. Click that and you get another set of actions - go to the root .

Step 3: Fix the problem ( or make an attempt at it) 

Ok. Easier said than done. I tried a variety of stuff but ultimately I had to remove the Nvidia driver to get the X server to work. You need to remove all settings for which you use the purge option for apt ( debian systems ) to remove the driver. e.g. In my case:

sudo apt-get purge nvidia*

Now, reboot and the X server will pick up the default configuration, using the inbuilt drivers which support the Intel graphics chipset and boot you into the windows manager.

Once you can boot in, you can now reinstall the graphics drivers and continue your work.

Phew ! 

[Linux] Printer is Paused

Today got a weird problem with my HP printer. It would say that the Printer is paused.

After searching a bit found out that this is because the printer driver (cups) gets paused due to any printer error. In my case it was due to the paper jam.

The solution is quite simple.

1. Go to http://localhost:631/

This will open the cups maintenance page. If a password is asked, give your login password which has root rights.


2. Click on printers tab.  You will see your printer listed and in paused state.

 3. Click on the printer and go to the dropdown for 'Maintenance' and click on 'resume'.

4. You will see the following kind of screen and when you click on printer again, you will see that status has changed from 'paused' to 'idle'.

Linux in Windows 10

In my brief stint in Microsoft, I worked on a project that was called Services For Linux. It was a project to get the posix commands working on the command line.

I was pretty excited as I had been a long time user of Linux already, and thought it was quite rad to have this thing in linux iteself. I had already been using cygwin shells before in other companies. However, the excitement turned sour quite early on due to the attitude within the company. If there was a bug, it was mostly marked as 'as per design', and any argument that this is not how it works on linux was met with 'We are Microsoft. We do it our way'.

So, I am quite surprised and excited to see that Microsoft partnered with Canonical to get this in Windows10. So, far the demo seems to show it as an actual full fledged bash shell, instead of the lame implementation the SFU team was working on.

As usual, expect quite a big backlash from the online Linux community towards Canonical.

More details at :

The New Exciting Microsoft

Usually the name of Microsoft does not excite people in the same vein as Google or Apple.

However, all that is changing.

The recent events all point towards a positive direction ( marring the privacy issues). The shift started with the Windows 10 release, and is picking up with the Windows Hardware event.

A hardware event from Microsoft - that was something unexpected.

Well, Microsoft has dabbled into hardware before. The very forgettable Zune that Microsoft tried to beat the iPod with - but with Apple already moving towards the iPhone, the Zune was a disaster. Microsoft then tried again with the Surface - unfortunately that too did not do so well when compared to the iPads or even with Android based tablets.

However, the latest 6th October event is going to change that.

Now, there is a lot of stuff written about the surface pro and the surface book etc. However, in this blog post I am going to concentrate only on the phones.

Why ?

Because these phones double up as full fledged PC experience. Yup - plug in the laptop using the adapter - and BAM! You can run full screen apps on the monitor. Just watch the video below.

So, what does that mean ?

Well, it means that you can actually leave your laptop behind. All you need is the phone. For business users, who are mostly just using emails or working on a few documents, this is all you need. Have a dock at home and in office, plug in and you are all set. Microsoft is calling this continuum.

I am becoming a believer.

Apple Pencil

Last week the Apple Event '15 happened. As usual, a plethora of information was released from Apple - a lot of which was already known as Apple seems to have become a leaky bucket post Steve Jobs. But the one that sticks out to me is the Apple Pencil. A few years back, I was very bullish about the camera in the iPhone4s , and now I think this new thing is quite good.

But, the customary rewind first

Well, apparently, Apple thinks it does now :D

The difference though is huge between 2007 stylus and the current stylus. For one, at that time, if you used a Palm or an O2 device, you just had to use a stylus to do anything. Using your fingers rarely got anything done, unless you could tap on it with your fingernail.

Fast forward to today. The iPad pro still uses finger multi touch for its interface. However, Apple has added the pencil for activities that use a lot of detailing. Watch the demo below.

I do a little bit of sketching. And I find using the finger very cumbersome. I tried it on the iPad and also on my Nexus. So, then I got a pen which allows you to sketch. That too is cumbersome cause it has a very broad tip, something like this.

This still does not give me the control that i can get with a pencil or a pen's tip.

That's where I think that the Apple pencil is going to shine. With its thinner tip, and also the ability to sense the angle to broaden the stroke (instead of going to an archaic menu to change the stroke width), is a pure win in my view.

And I think it is going to decimate the competition. In this niche area, the company that has a monopoly as of now is Wacom. Their products are expensive and not so great, but till now, there was not much competing products. I think they are going to die just like Blackberry.

To do a comparison, I checked out Wacom's line of tablets which has a display. The one that closely matches the iPad Pro ( thats the only iPad model as of now that will be able to work with the pencil) , is the Cintiq 13HD .  At the time of the writing, Wacom's online store is offline, so I can't get the price from there, but a quick google search throws up that they start at $999.

$999 for Cintiq 13 HD vs $898 for the iPad Pro and Pencil

And the iPad can also do the other things that an iPad does ( email, browsing, games), while with the Cintiq you are stuck with just sketching.

I rest my case. Bye bye Wacom.

Email TRAI for Net Neutrality in India

You may have heard about net neutrality in the social media, or on news channels in the last few days. It is basically about unconditional access to the internet. Would you like to have to pay packs for accessing whatsapp or facebook over and above the data plan you pay ?

Telco companies think you should. TRAI has put out a consultation paper soliciting responses. Unfortunately, as with most govt papers, it is difficult to understand the questions and provide responses which are pertinent.

That's where the internet is working to save the internet. The folks over at savetheinternet have provided canned responses. All that I ask you to do is to to the website, copy the response in your email, and mail to TRAI ( email id given on the website). That's as simple as it can get.

I also urge you to read the answers to the questions as that will make more clear what is going on and what the save the internet is all about. If you have better knowledge of net-neutrality, I also urge you to edit the responses as you see fit.

#SaveTheInternet #NetNeutrality