Nature Striking Back ?

Dec 2004 : Tsunami (est 270,000 dead)
Aug 2005 : Unprecedented rainfall in many parts of India.
Sep 2005 : Hurricane Katrina
Sep 2005 : Hurricane Rita
Sep 2005 : Major Typhoon in China Sea
Oct 2005 : Earthquake in Kashmir ( 79,000 dead, expected to rise)
Oct 2005 : Hurricane Wilma
Oct 2005 : Bird Flu ( can become a pandemic)

Am I being paranoid or are we heading for disaster ?

Harmony with nature has been the central belief in Hinduism and Buddhism. When we are growing up , we are told that our Karma's reflect our current state, and the more bad karma we have in our previous life, the greater our suffering in the present. And looking by the way we have been progressing till now in trying to dominate nature and becoming more and more cruel in our dealings with others, it looks like we are in a bad karma state.

The problems can be answered with both scientific and karmic explanations. The scientists can talk about deforestation, global warming, etc for our current predicament. The karmics can state the selfishness and meanness increasing in the world the reason for the current state. I believe both go hand in hand. With people just worrying about their bank accounts - who cares about the rain forests vanishing ? What they forget is that for every action - there is an equal and opposite reaction. The earth is a contained ecosystem. You cannot escape from the effects in one part of the world if you are located somewhere else.

The earth is a self stabilizing system. It does not favor anyone except itself. Till we continue to work with it, adjusting with it - we are ok. But if we start changing only for ourselves -- well, the sleeping giant awakens.

The earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, etc are just earth's way of letting us know - hey, you don't mess around with me - I have my own laws which you are disobeying. But I don't think we are going to heed the warning. Everyone is still fighting ( hey , that earthquake happened in Kashmir, I am fighting a war in Iraq. They are not related!). Time to note the warning signs.

Indian Coders ... where art thou ?

Google recently had a summer of code competition, which basically was about students working with a few opensource projects to improve them. The working has finished and now Google has come out with a map of the locations of people who worked in the projects.

What interested me is this ... India has only 2 guys working on the code.

Now... this starts me thinking. IF India is being touted as the IT outsourcing hub, why is the contribution so low ?

One train of thought that I have is mostly people in India need to be told what to do. The societal pressures are so that we really don't end up think for ourselves. And I think a prime example of this is the summer of code. Most people in colleges will not do it cause they are not told to do it - rather they would have fun during the holidays. And this I think translates to the work also being done in India. There are too few development projects even in most big companies, and is also seen by the low numbers of startups.

Another train of thought is that nowdays most people have windows desktops, and the internet connection if available is for downloading mp3s and videos. Most people are proud of having these , even if they are pirated. In fact piracy has become the norm here - people whom I know have quite a lot of money still go out and get the pirated software ( most of them don't even realize they are pirating. They only know that they are getting something cheaper ). As a result, very few people use Linux.

But, in a college environment Linux will be available. In a college environment, peers will tell you about the 'summer of code'. I don't think that profs will have much idea of it as most seem to work in their own world. But this is distressing. People just don't seem to want to use their minds constructively.

Taking a look at the map furnished by Google, China has a much better contribution than India, and if this trent continues, India had better watch out, or we will see ofshoring going to China in such a big way , that India may lose out. India needs more geeks and nerds.

Great Hackers

Paul Graham has a great article on Great Hackers . Man I am impressed.

If you are one of the masses in the IT field , and love programming, but somehow find your job quite boring, this article is definitely for you.

Some quotes :

I know a handful of super-hackers, so I sat down and thought about what they have in common. Their defining quality is probably that they really love to program. Ordinary programmers write code to pay the bills.

What do hackers want? Like all craftsmen, hackers like good tools. In fact, that's an understatement. Good hackers find it unbearable to use bad tools. They'll simply refuse to work on projects with the wrong infrastructure.

After software, the most important tool to a hacker is probably his office. Big companies think the function of office space is to express rank. But hackers use their offices for more than that: they use their office as a place to think in. And if you're a technology company, their thoughts are your product. So making hackers work in a noisy, distracting environment is like having a paint factory where the air is full of soot.

But hackers can't watch themselves at work. So if you ask a great hacker how good he is, he's almost certain to reply, I don't know. He's not just being modest. He really doesn't know.

To do something well you have to love it. So to the extent you can preserve hacking as something you love, you're likely to do it well. Try to keep the sense of wonder you had about programming at age 14. If you're worried that your current job is rotting your brain, it probably is.

What is my religion ???

Disclaimer : This may be taken by a lot of people to be Blasphemy. If you are one of those fanatics - please don't read below this. You need to be rational and sane in mind to read the following.

Am I a hindu ?

Were Ram and Krishna gods ?

Did the Ramayana and Mahahbharata really happen ?

Am I religious ?

The last question was asked to me recently. How do I explain it ? Can I say that I believe in the Hindu religion ? But then what is the hindu religion ? Is it the worship of Idols ? Is it the chanting of mantras ? Is it the building of great temples and donating loads of money into these temples ? Is it following customs blindly ?

For me that is not my religion. How can I believe in a religion which is so selfish that by giving more money I can get more favours from the god ? If he is god - why would he be needing all the gold and silver that people donate ?? How can I believe in a religion which says we are to worship idols and then forget the people living around us ? How can I believe in a religion where people go and make deals with god ? How can I believe in a religion when it segregates people based on caste. How can we claim a river ( Ganga) to be holy and yet dump all the filth from our homes and factories into it ? We claim to call it mother ( ganga ma) and yet don't do anything about throwing filth into it . How can I believe in a religion which makes all sorts of allowances for a few and treats the rest like dirt ?

NO. This is not my religion.

But I am still a hindu - in a way.

How can that be ? you ask. Its simple , hinduism is an amorphous amalgamation of religions. Yes, I did write religions - in plural. It allows me to pick and choose what and how I believe.

Hinduism is not a religion in the conventional form as is Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism etc. The obvious distinction is that it was not spearheaded by one person or prophet. It also does not have a time frame when it was concieved. So then what is Hinduism ?

Its a way of life. It does not say what is and what is not. It does not tell you what to do or what not to do. Priests have tried to make the essense of Hinduism more palatable by spinning stories about the different gods, of different fantastic epics. While people say that the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata are actual events, I disagree. There are too many inconsistencies in it - like the Bible. At one time I used to think how improbable the Bible is. Now I put the other 2 epics also in the same frame.

And the people who profess to follow Hinduism ... well what can I say about them ??

The cow is considered holy by hindus - but it is left to roam the roads of big cities at the mercy of the automobiles. You can see them on the roads of all big cities like Delhi and Bangalore, and people are just apathetic about them. I believe that the cow was revered by the people as it is one animal of which you can use all the parts - like it still does for the Masai tribe in Africa. It gives milk. It can be harnessed to plow the fields. Its hide can be used for clothing and other things. And it provides meat.

Meat ?? Doesn't hinduism say that it is forbidden to eat meat ? Nope. Hinduism does not say that. Its the priests who do. There is enough evidence in older literature that says that brahmins used to be meat eaters. Its only after the advent of Buddhism that vegeterainism caught on in India. Ever wondered to what used to happen to the animals who were slaughtered for the bali in the religious yagyas ? No doubt they all ended up in the fat bellies of the brahmins.

Is idol worship Hinduism ?? If so, then we are going against the Bhagwat Geeta. But since Bhagwat Geeta is essentially what every Hindu connects with - we cannot go against it. So... do we still have to idol worship ? And what if the interpretation of the Geeta is also wrong ? Ever heard of the book "The Geeta as it Was"?

Hinduism does not tell you what all you should be doing - that is done by the priests so that they have control over you and your coffers. Its up to you whether you wake up from this maya jaal . But it takes guts. Can you ?

Awake ! Look around you and realize that religion is not about idolizing. Its not about killing other people in the name of religion. Its not about looking down on others who don't follow your blind faith. Its about waking up to your surroundings. Its about not blindly following what someone says.

But people still follow blindly. I think its more of a matter of having such a fear of the unknown that they will do anything so that they get salvation - a concept which I don't think exists. If you believe in Hinduism - then why don't you do what the Geeta says and realize that this is all a mirage - a maya jaal ?

Some links :
Why I am not a Hindu
Oh you Hindu. Awake !

Books:
The Prince of Ayodhya
- A book where Ram is given a new treatment. I kind of like the book - it is much like books from Robert Jordan , or even something like playing Warcraft.

God Talk




What Should I Do With My Life?

The real meaning of success -- and how to find it (From: Issue 66 | January 2003, Page 69 By: Po Bronson)

It's time to define the new era. Our faith has been shaken. We've lost confidence in our leaders and in our institutions. Our beliefs have been tested. We've discredited the notion that the Internet would change everything (and the stock market would buy us an exit strategy from the grind). Our expectations have been dashed. We've abandoned the idea that work should be a 24-hour-a-day rush and that careers should be a wild adventure. Yet we're still holding on.

We're seduced by the idea that picking up the pieces and simply tweaking the formula will get the party started again. In spite of our best thinking and most searing experience, our ideas about growth and success are mired in a boom-bust mentality. Just as LBOs gave way to IPOs, the market is primed for the next engine of wealth creation. Just as we traded in the pinstripes and monster bonuses of the Wall Street era for T-shirts and a piece of the action during the startup revolution, we're waiting to latch on to the new trappings of success. (I understand the inclination. I've surfed from one boom to the next for most of my working life -- from my early days as a bond trader to my most recent career as a writer tracking the migration of my generation from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.)

There's a way out. Instead of focusing on what's next, let's get back to what's first. The previous era of business was defined by the question, Where's the opportunity? I'm convinced that business success in the future starts with the question, What should I do with my life? Yes, that's right. The most obvious and universal question on our plates as human beings is the most urgent and pragmatic approach to sustainable success in our organizations. People don't succeed by migrating to a "hot" industry (one word: dotcom) or by adopting a particular career-guiding mantra (remember "horizontal careers"?). They thrive by focusing on the question of who they really are -- and connecting that to work that they truly love (and, in so doing, unleashing a productive and creative power that they never imagined). Companies don't grow because they represent a particular sector or adopt the latest management approach. They win because they engage the hearts and minds of individuals who are dedicated to answering that life question.

This is not a new idea. But it may be the most powerfully pressing one ever to be disrespected by the corporate world. There are far too many smart, educated, talented people operating at quarter speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing far too little to the productive engine of modern civilization. There are far too many people who look like they have their act together but have yet to make an impact. You know who you are. It comes down to a simple gut check: You either love what you do or you don't. Period.

Those who are lit by that passion are the object of envy among their peers and the subject of intense curiosity. They are the source of good ideas. They make the extra effort. They demonstrate the commitment. They are the ones who, day by day, will rescue this drifting ship. And they will be rewarded. With money, sure, and responsibility, undoubtedly. But with something even better too: the kind of satisfaction that comes with knowing your place in the world. We are sitting on a huge potential boom in productivity -- if we could just get the square pegs out of the round holes.

Of course, addressing the question, What should I do with my life? isn't just a productivity issue: It's a moral imperative. It's how we hold ourselves accountable to the opportunity we're given. Most of us are blessed with the ultimate privilege: We get to be true to our individual nature. Our economy is so vast that we don't have to grind it out forever at jobs we hate. For the most part, we get to choose. That choice isn't about a career search so much as an identity quest. Asking The Question aspires to end the conflict between who you are and what you do. There is nothing more brave than filtering out the chatter that tells you to be someone you're not. There is nothing more genuine than breaking away from the chorus to learn the sound of your own voice. Asking The Question is nothing short of an act of courage: It requires a level of commitment and clarity that is almost foreign to our working lives.

During the past two years, I have listened to the life stories of more than 900 people who have dared to be honest with themselves. Of those, I chose 70 to spend considerable time with in order to learn how they did it. Complete strangers opened their lives and their homes to me. I slept on their couches. We went running together. They cried in my arms. We traded secrets. I met their families. I went to one's wedding. I witnessed many critical turning points.

These are ordinary people. People of all ages, classes, and professions -- from a catfish farmer in Mississippi to a toxic-waste inspector in the oil fields of Texas, from a police officer in East Los Angeles to a long-haul trucker in Pennsylvania, from a financier in Hong Kong to a minister at a church on the Oregon coast. These people don't have any resources or character traits that give them an edge in pursuing their dream. Some have succeeded; many have not. Only two have what accountants call "financial independence." Only two are so smart that they would succeed at anything they chose (though having more choices makes answering The Question that much harder). Only one, to me, is saintly. They're just people who faced up to it, armed with only their weaknesses, equipped with only their fears.

What I learned from them was far more powerful than what I had expected or assumed. The first assumption to get busted was the notion that certain jobs are inherently cool and that others are uncool. That was a big shift for me. Throughout the 1990s, my basic philosophy was this: Work=Boring, but Work+Speed+Risk=Cool. Speed and risk transformed the experience into something so stimulating, so exciting, so intense, that we began to believe that those qualities defined "good work." Now, betrayed by the reality of economic uncertainty and global instability, we're casting about for what really matters when it comes to work.

On my journey, I met people in bureaucratic organizations and bland industries who were absolutely committed to their work. That commitment sustained them through slow stretches and setbacks. They never watched the clock, never dreaded Mondays, never worried about the years passing by. They didn't wonder where they belonged in life. They were phenomenally productive and confident in their value. In places unusual and unexpected, they had found their calling, and those callings were as idiosyncratic as each individual.

And this is where the second big insight came in: Your calling isn't something you inherently "know," some kind of destiny. Far from it. Almost all of the people I interviewed found their calling after great difficulty. They had made mistakes before getting it right. For instance, the catfish farmer used to be an investment banker, the truck driver had been an entertainment lawyer, a chef had been an academic, and the police officer was a Harvard MBA. Everyone discovered latent talents that weren't in their skill sets at age 25.

Most of us don't get epiphanies. We only get a whisper -- a faint urge. That's it. That's the call. It's up to you to do the work of discovery, to connect it to an answer. Of course, there's never a single right answer. At some point, it feels right enough that you choose, and the energy formerly spent casting about is now devoted to making your choice fruitful.

This lesson in late, hard-fought discovery is good news. What it means is that today's confused can be tomorrow's dedicated. The current difficult climate serves as a form of reckoning. The tougher the times, the more clarity you gain about the difference between what really matters and what you only pretend to care about. The funny thing is that most people have good instincts about where they belong but make poor choices and waste productive years on the wrong work. Why we do this cuts to the heart of the question, What should I do with my life? These wrong turns hinge on a small number of basic assumptions that have ruled our working lives, career choices, and ambitions for the better part of two decades. I found hardly any consistencies in how the people I interviewed discovered what they love to do -- the human soul resists taxonomy -- except when it came to four misconceptions (about money, smarts, place, and attitude) that have calcified into hobbling fears. These are stumbling blocks that we need to uproot before we can find our way to where we really belong.


MONEY Doesn't Fund Dreams

Shouldn't I make money first -- to fund my dream? The notion that there's an order to your working life is an almost classic assumption: Pay your dues, and then tend to your dream. I expected to find numerous examples of the truth of this path. But I didn't find any.

Sure, I found tons of rich guys who were now giving a lot away to charity or who had bought an island. I found plenty of people who had found something meaningful and original to do after making their money. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the garden-variety fantasy: Put your calling in a lockbox, go out and make a ton of money, and then come back to the lockbox to pick up your calling where you left it.

It turns out that having the financial independence to walk away rarely triggers people to do just that. The reality is, making money is such hard work that it changes you. It takes twice as long as anyone plans for. It requires more sacrifices than anyone expects. You become so emotionally invested in that world -- and psychologically adapted to it -- that you don't really want to ditch it.

I met many people who had left the money behind. But having "enough" didn't trigger the change. It had to get personal: Something had to happen such as divorce, the death of a parent, or the recognition that the long hours were hurting one's children. (One man, Don Linn, left investment banking after he came home from a business trip and his two-year-old son didn't recognize him. )

The ruling assumption is that money is the shortest route to freedom. Absurdly, that strategy is cast as the "practical approach." But in truth, the opposite is true. The shortest route to the good life involves building the confidence that you can live happily within your means (whatever the means provided by the choices that are truly acceptable to you turn out to be). It's scary to imagine living on less. But embracing your dreams is surprisingly liberating. Instilled with a sense of purpose, your spending habits naturally reorganize, because you discover that you need less.

This is an extremely threatening conclusion. It suggests that the vast majority of us aren't just putting our dreams on ice -- we're killing them. Joe Olchefske almost lost his forever. Joe started out in life with an interest in government. In the early 1980s, he made what seemed like a minor compromise: When he graduated from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he went into public finance. He wouldn't work in government, he'd work with government.

Joe went on to run Piper Jaffray in Seattle. By the mid-1990s, he realized that one little compromise had defined his life. "I didn't want to be a high-priced midwife," he said. "I wanted to be a mother. It was never my deal. It was my clients' deal. They were taking the risk. They were building hospitals and bridges and freeways, not me. I envied them for that."

One night, riding up the elevator of his apartment building, Joe met newly hired Seattle schools superintendent John Stanford. Soon after, Stanford offered Olchefske a job as his CFO -- and partner in turning the troubled school system around. Olchefske accepted. Stanford rallied the city around school reform and earned the nickname Prophet of Hope. Meanwhile, Olchefske slashed millions from the budget and bloodlessly fired principals, never allowing his passions to interfere with his decisions. People called him Prophet of Doom.

Then Stanford died suddenly of leukemia. It was one of the great crises in the city's history. Who could fill this void? Certainly not the green-eyeshade CFO. But Stanford's death transformed Olchefske. It broke him open, and he discovered in himself a new ability to connect with people emotionally, not just rationally. As the new superintendent, he draws on that gift more than on his private-sector skills. He puts up with a lot of bureaucrap, but he says that avoiding crap shouldn't be the objective in finding the right work. The right question is, How can I find something that moves my heart, so that the inevitable crap storm is bearable?


SMARTS Can't Answer The Question

If the lockbox fantasy is a universal and eternal stumbling block when it comes to answering The Question, the idea that smarts and intensity are the essential building blocks of success and satisfaction is a product of the past decade. A set of twin misconceptions took root during the celebration of risk and speed that was the 90s startup revolution. The first is the idea that a smart, motivated individual with a great idea can accomplish anything. The corollary is that work should be fun, a thrill ride full of constant challenge and change.

Those assumptions are getting people into trouble. So what if your destiny doesn't stalk you like a lion? Can you think your way to the answer? That's what Lori Gottlieb thought. She considered her years as a rising television executive in Hollywood to be a big mistake. She became successful but felt like a fraud. So she quit and gave herself three years to analyze which profession would engage her brain the most. She literally attacked the question. She dug out her diaries from childhood. She took classes in photography and figure drawing. She interviewed others who had left Hollywood. She broke down every job by skill set and laid that over a grid of her innate talents. She filled out every exercise in What Color Is Your Parachute?

Eventually, she arrived at the following logic: Her big brain loved puzzles. Who solves puzzles? Doctors solve health puzzles. Therefore, become a doctor. She enrolled in premed classes at Pepperdine. Her med-school applications were so persuasive that every school wanted her. And then -- can you see where this is headed? -- Lori dropped out of Stanford Medical School after only two and a half months. Why? She realized that she didn't like hanging around sick people all day.

The point is, being smarter doesn't make answering The Question easier. Using the brain to solve this problem usually only leads to answers that make the brain happy and jobs that provide what I call "brain candy." Intense mental stimulation. But it's just that: candy. A synthetic substitute for other types of gratification that can be ultimately more rewarding and enduring. As the cop in East L.A. said of his years in management at Rockwell, "It was like cheap wood that burns too fast."

I struggled with this myself, but not until I had listened to hundreds of others did the pattern make itself shockingly clear. What am I good at? is the wrong starting point. People who attempt to deduce an answer usually end up mistaking intensity for passion. To the heart, they are vastly different. Intensity comes across as a pale busyness, while passion is meaningful and fulfilling. A simple test: Is your choice something that will stimulate you for a year or something that you can be passionate about for 10 years?

This test is tougher than it seems on paper. In the past decade, the work world has become a battleground for the struggle between the boring and the stimulating. The emphasis on intensity has seeped into our value system. We still cling to the idea that work should not only be challenging and meaningful -- but also invigorating and entertaining. But really, work should be like life: sometimes fun, sometimes moving, often frustrating, and defined by meaningful events. Those who have found their place don't talk about how exciting and challenging and stimulating their work is. Their language invokes a different troika: meaningful, significant, fulfilling. And they rarely ever talk about work without weaving in their personal history.


PLACE Defines You

Every industry has a culture. And every culture is driven by a value system. In Hollywood, where praise is given too easily and thus has been devalued, the only honest metric is box-office receipts. So box-office receipts are all-important. In Washington, DC, some very powerful politicians are paid middling salaries, so power and money are not equal. Power is measured by the size of your staff and by how many people you can influence. In police work, you learn to be suspicious of ordinary people driving cars and walking down the street.

One of the most common mistakes is not recognizing how these value systems will shape you. People think that they can insulate themselves, that they're different. They're not. The relevant question in looking at a job is not What will I do? but Who will I become? What belief system will you adopt, and what will take on heightened importance in your life? Because once you're rooted in a particular system -- whether it's medicine, New York City, Microsoft, or a startup -- it's often agonizingly difficult to unravel yourself from its values, practices, and rewards. Your money is good anywhere, but respect and status are only a local currency. They get heavily discounted when taken elsewhere. If you're successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and opportunity can lock you in forever.

Don Linn, the investment banker who took over the catfish farm in Mississippi, learned this lesson the hard way. After years as a star at PaineWebber and First Boston, he dropped out when he could no longer bring himself to push deals on his clients that he knew wouldn't work. His life change smacked of foolish originality: 5.5 million catfish on 1,500 water acres. His first day, he had to clip the wings of a flock of geese. Covered in goose shit and blood, he wondered what he had gotten himself into. But he figured it out and grew his business into a $16 million operation with five side businesses. More important, the work reset his moral compass. In farming, success doesn't come at another farmer's expense. You learn to cooperate, sharing processing plants, feed mills, and pesticide-flying services.

Like Don, you'll be a lot happier if you aren't fighting the value system around you. Find one that enforces a set of beliefs that you can really get behind. There's a powerful transformative effect when you surround yourself with like-minded people. Peer pressure is a great thing when it helps you accomplish your goals instead of distracting you from them.

Carl Kurlander wrote the movie St. Elmo's Fire when he was 24. For years afterward, he lived in Beverly Hills. He wanted to move back to Pittsburgh, where he grew up, to write books, but he was always stopped by the doubt, Would it really make any difference to write from Pittsburgh instead of from Beverly Hills? His books went unwritten. Last year, when a looming Hollywood writers' strike coincided with a job opening in the creative-writing department at Pitt, he finally summoned the courage to move. He says that being in academia is like "bathing in altruism." Under its influence, he wrote his first book, a biography of the comic Louie Anderson.


ATTITUDE Is the Biggest Obstacle

Environment matters, but in the end, when it comes to tackling the question, What should I do with my life? it really is all in your head. The first psychological stumbling block that keeps people from finding themselves is that they feel guilty for simply taking the quest seriously. They think that it's a self-indulgent privilege of the educated upper class. Working-class people manage to be happy without trying to "find themselves," or so the myth goes.

But I found that just about anybody can find this question important. It's not just for free agents, knowledge workers, and serial entrepreneurs. I met many working-class people who found this question essential. They might have fewer choices, but they still care. Take Bart Handford. He went from working the graveyard shift at a Kimberley-Clark baby-wipes plant in Arkansas to running the Department of Agriculture's rural-development program. He didn't do this by just pulling up his bootstraps. His breakthrough came when his car was hit by a train, and he spent six months in bed exploring The Question.

Probably the most debilitating obstacle to taking on The Question is the fear that making a choice is a one-way ride, that starting down a path means closing a door forever.

"Keeping your doors open" is a trap. It's an excuse to stay uninvolved. I call the people who have the hardest time closing doors Phi Beta Slackers. They hop between esteemed grad schools, fat corporate gigs, and prestigious fellowships, looking as if they have their act together but still feeling like observers, feeling as if they haven't come close to living up to their potential.

Leela de Souza almost got lost in that trap. At age 15, Leela knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up: a dancer. She pursued that dream, supplementing her meager dancer's pay with work as a runway model. But she soon began to feel that she had left her intellect behind. So, in her early twenties, with several good years left on her legs, she took the SATs and applied to college. She paid for a $100,000 education at the University of Chicago with the money that she had earned from modeling and during the next seven years made a series of seemingly smart decisions: a year in Spain, Harvard Business School, McKinsey & Co., a White House Fellowship, high-tech PR. But she never got any closer to making a real choice.

Like most Phi Beta Slackers, she was cursed with tremendous ability and infinite choices. Figuring out what to do with her life was constantly on her mind. But then she figured something else out: Her need to look brilliant was what was keeping her from truly answering The Question. When she let go of that, she was able to shift gears from asking "What do I do next?" to making strides toward answering "To what can I devote my life?"

Asking "What Should I Do With My Life?" is the modern, secular version of the great timeless questions about our identity. Asking The Question aspires to end the conflict between who you are and what you do. Answering The Question is the way to protect yourself from being lathed into someone you're not. What is freedom for if not the chance to define for yourself who you are?

I have spent the better part of the past two years in the company of people who have dared to confront where they belong. They didn't always find an ultimate answer, but taking the question seriously helped get them closer. We are all writing the story of our own life. It's not a story of conquest. It's a story of discovery. Through trial and error, we learn what gifts we have to offer the world and are pushed to greater recognition about what we really need. The Big Bold Leap turns out to be only the first step.


Sidebar: One Size Does Not Fit All

Two different answers to one ultimate question

Organization Man

Of the 900 people who I talked to, only one has had the same employer for his entire adult life. His name is Russell Carpenter, he's 35, and he's an aerospace engineer at NASA Goddard. We can all learn from him. Russell began working at NASA during college. In exchange for his summers, they paid for his tuition and, later, financed his PhD. Russell is a GS-14, stuck to government pay scales. The money is okay, but it's never the reason to stay. He's building a guidance system for the newest type of satellite.

The halls and offices at NASA are quiet. These engineers are content with slowly pushing toward a solution. Which I took as Extractable Lesson number one: time frame. At NASA, Russell has found an intermediate time frame where he can accomplish the high-minded objectives that his division is charged with, but he's not under absurd pressure to do it all in 90 days.

Aerospace engineers are obsessed with redundancy and backup systems. Russell knows that metals give, that gears slip, and that motors overheat, and he plans for that in his designs. Not everything has to go right in order for it to work. And that way of thinking shows up in every aspect of his life, including how he achieves his ambitions. Which I took as Extractable Lesson number two: His backup plans do not lead to different destinations, such as "If I don't get into business school, I'll be a schoolteacher." His backup plans lead to the same destination, and if he has to arrive late by a back road, that's fine.

Later, Russell and I went to a baseball game, which clued me in to Extractable Lesson number three: Russell doesn't let himself get burned out. He doesn't think it's a big deal that he's only had one employer. His method is his secret, but it's no secret.

"So what do you do?" For five years, Marcela Widrig had a dream job that compensated her well, let her live in Barcelona, and paid for her frequent travel throughout Southern Europe. She sold modems for a big modem manufacturer. Modems were her means to her ends: money, travel, human connection.

When her company moved her to San Francisco, she suffered culture shock. The Internet was destroying everything that she loved about sales. The new ethos was speed. Get the deal done in a day! Don't even fly -- email makes it so easy! The human contact was gone.

The worst part was constantly being asked The Inevitable Cocktail-Party Question: "What do you do?" Marcela had been away long enough to have forgotten about this disgusting American custom. She found it degrading and reductive and mercenary. I too used to think that The Inevitable Cocktail-Party Question was a scourge on our society. But I'm starting to see that it is really about freedom to choose. A status system has evolved that values being unique and true even more than it values being financially successful.

In other words, if you don't like The Inevitable Cocktail-Party Question, maybe it's partly because you don't like your answer.

Marcela no longer liked her answer. She endured migraines and insomnia. After flying all the way to Hong Kong for a meeting that didn't even last one hour, she vowed, "I cannot sell one more modem." But she didn't quit for two more years. On her vacations, she flew to Switzerland to train in a school for deep-tissue massage. It was her way to move toward genuine human contact. The day she returned from one of her Switzerland trips, the modem company went under, and she was forced into her new life.

It took her about a year to drop the business-suit persona and truly embrace her new profession. The Inevitable Cocktail-Party Question no longer bothers her. "I do body work," she says. "I love what I do, and I think that comes across."


Po Bronson is the author of three best-selling books. This article is adapted from his new book, What Should I Do with My Life? The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question (Random House, January 2003).

Looking for a new Phone

I use the Nokia 5100 phone currently, but got spoilt after using the Treo600 ( I was developing on it for a client). Now, I find the 5100 highly inadequate. However, the current crop of phones don't really come up to the mark. Can you suggest something ?

My requirements :
  • PIM functionality
  • Easy to type ( I do a lot of SMS and also will need it to enter the data).
  • FM Radio ( the treo600 does not have it , so I can't buy it).
  • Easy fit into the pocket ( I ride on my motorcycle quite a lot. Need something which can fit easily into a jeans pocket).
Can you recommend something?

Earthquake !

An earthquake hit Gurgaon today morning. I was having my morning cuppa when i felt a slight shaking sensation. Since i was having a terrible headache I thought - hey - maybe its just me. But then I looked at the coffee and it was shaking a bit - like the scene from Jurrasic Park - that's when I realized that it was a bhookamp . I have been in earthquakes before - and this felt kind of like a mild one.

The TV channels immidiately went on the 'Breaking News' mode and showed Congress leaders rushing out of meetings to the open grounds ... seemed kind of funny - which turned boring as every channel was showing the same shots again and again - some of which seemed quite contrived ( Sensationalism sells right ?).

But now the situation is clearing up a bit. The magnitude of this quake was 7.6 ( quite high ) on the Richter scale , and was epicentered in Pakistan.

CNN reports on it here .

The following image ( from bbc site ) shows the epicenter of the quake and the area of max damage .



North india is on a shifting plate ... the same which has created the mighty Himalayas - and as such more prone to earthquakes than the southern part of India. I don't think that this quake will create as great a loss as the Latur earthquake a few years back - as it did not last long. But the question that rises in my mind is this - with the umpteen number of high rises being made in and around Delhi - how many of those are built with earthquakes in mind ? Will these buildings and residential apartments survive a longer earthquake ?

Update : 19th Oct 05
National Geographic has an article on why the quake happened. Quote from the website :
Seismologists cannot say for certain whether the October 8 earthquake increased stress on nearby faults, making another major earthquake more likely.

Lotus Notes Sucks

Caution : This is a rant

In my new company, the company policy is to use Lotus Notes for email ( R5 ). You cannot use a different client. You cannot pop the email - you can just use Lotus Notes. That's it.

Initially, I used to think that Lotus Notes was cool. In fact, I think that this is one of the few email clients that I have not used ( My list includes Outlook, Evolution (the best one by far), Thunderbird, Netscape, PINE, elm, mail, mailx, Outlook express, kmail, Open Office email). If you ask me ... Lotus Notes goes well below the list. On the scale of 1 - 10 , I would rate LN as 1 ( as that's the lowest I can go). Evolution would be 10, followed by Thunderbird/Netscape and Outlook.

I feel that processes are to streamline things. We standardize on software first and foremost so that the productivity increases - but I get the feeling that most companies are going in for processes and standardization not as a means for making things more efficient but more as a means for getting certifications.

Whenever I bring out the gripe about LN I am told I will get used to it. Funny, in all these years, its only now that I am getting to hear about getting used to something. Maybe something wrong with me ??

That's the thought I had, so I decided to check out the internet for other people who also use Lotus notes and see if someone finds themselves in the same boat - and here is what I got :
http://lotusnotessucks.4t.com/
http://www.computergripes.com/LotusNotes.html

Boy .. do I agree with them all ! :-D Maybe I am sane after all !

But till the time I will probably have to grit my teeth and try to do the best I can do with this piece of software.

When to leave the first tech job

Slashdot has a link to an article on this.

Having shifted a few jobs myself, I do have some experience to talk on this subject :-). But I will not bore you with all the details. I will just take a few points out of the article.

Cubicles

I think Dilbert has made cubicles the nemesis of all Tech people. Well, they are good and not so good. IF you have the people of your group sitting together - they are great. The whole team will be together and I find that your work satisfaction and efficiency increases. So, I guess its more a problem of having the teams together rather than the cubicles which is the probelm.

The problem comes in when you start differentiating the cubicles. When you have different sized cubicle for different people. That leads to a feeling of being excluded even when you are part of the same team.

Management

The management problems cited in the post are the most prevalent ones. Unfortunately, I still have not come across to a solution to the problem. I think its a case of the wrong people in the wrong job.

Take for instance how the carrer grows in Indian companies.

Traditionally , most jobs in India have been associated with your growth in the different parts of the company. I think it is because of the 'babu' culture that is there in India. During the British rule , the Indians were given jobs as clerks and had to grow up the ladder. That has had a fallout in the post-independence era also. The Civil services is one such example - where people join at the lowest rung and hope to reach the highest rung by the time they retire.

That now translates to the IT industry also. The path that people see for growth is of joining as a low level tech person, growing up to a tech lead, a team lead and then from that point onwards to a Manager .... and so on. However, in the Civil Services (CS) people generally take up more and more responsibility as they progress onwards. In the Tech field - the change is just drastic.

So, we have people ( and I think I should include myself here) who have been working as nerds and geeks who suddenly are confronted with the task of Managing a team - which roughly translates to "Get the work done by THE date" - and have no idea of how to do it. So, we become the Dilbert Managers. :(

Recently the technical line has started to come into play in Indian companies - where tech people do what they do best - work on tech. But, still, the way to riches is through the management route ... and that's what translates to your social status also.

There's only one thing a person can do in this case - Dilbert to the rescue !!! ( PS. bought another of the Dilbert books to help me over this tide! )

Awakening

Anagha has a nice post titled Awakening. Its kinda long, so read when you have time on your hands :-)

Gurgaon : Another Pune ??

1 month in this place, and I keep thinking more and more that Gurgaon and Pune are more similar than people care to think of. Having just moved from one city to the other , I can't help but think on the similarities.

Big brother is there


Both Gurgaon and Pune are expanding at the rate they are today due to the presense of the MegaMetro cities ( Delhi and Mumbai respectively) I would say.

Pune's growth started off as a retreat for the people of Mumbai. Filmstars and otherbig shots found Pune near enough and having a pleasurable climate for their weekend retreats. Add to it the cultural history, and Pune became a weekend trip to chill out. Even nowdays, the Page3 articles in Pune Times mostly talk about which movie superstar has come from Mumbai for a quiet weekend in the city. The proximity of Mumbai also means the proximity of an International Airport which makes access to the IT world of the West easy. With the making of the Mumbai-Pune expressway ( where, btw , bikes are not allowed) - the time taken to travel between the two cities has almost halved. Mumbai being on a peninsula really does not have much space to grow. The growth is mostly vertical with older buildings being pulled down to make way for skyscrappers. As such, people looking for a cheaper place to live in ( and a better climate) look at Pune - and started to push on to Pune. Pune also has quite a lot of universities - which makes it easier to access the young pool of fresh graduates.

Gurgaon, has a similar situation. Though Noida is also adjacent to Delhi, the close proximity of the airport from Gurgaon makes it a more appealing option for IT companies to set up shop there. Nokia, Flextronics, Alcatel to name a few, have made huge offices here. Delhi, being the capital of the country has a constant influx of people , and is now spilling over its boundaries into places like Gurgaon and Noida.

Infrastructure Woes

Both Gurgaon and Pune are suffering from Infrastructure woes. The government it seems is too slow to move with the fast pace of growth of these cities ( you can also add Bangalore to this list, but I am not going to talk about Bangalore as of now).

Lets take one thing at a time here.

Roads
Pune roads are almost gone by now. The recent rains there has quickly dispatched the roads. I will not entirely blame the rains though. The roads are just not being made properly. I was amazed when I came to Pune to see the road repairs being undertaken - the guys were just putting in the tar and stones, and there was no roller to flatten it. 2 days later, and the pothole was again there - that was before the rainy season. Now, its a matter of finding a piece of road in the potholes.

Gurgaon is a little better - as it does not rain here that much. However, 2 weeks of rains has suddenly left this gaon with a lot of bad roads. It rained equally in Delhi also - just 6kms to the boundary from here - but the roads there are still as smooth as ever. If this place was to have rains like Pune - god save the people !!

Transportation
Both places have almost non-existant transportation. Bus service is really bad. Gurgaon has a link with delhi with the DTC buses though - but the commutation within Gurgaon is tough for anyone coming from outside. Thankfully, being the nomad that I am , I rode up here on my bike - or else it would be really tough for me to go around. Distances in Gurgaon are huge as compared to Pune though. In Pune, my office was 13kms from my office - which most people thought too far away. Here, most people travel an average of 20kms 1 way. Weekends jaunts to Delhi for me is almost 60kms round trip. Thank god for my bike !!

Gurgaon is more dusty than Pune. I am a biker - and it is easily figureable when you keep getting mouthfulls of dust whenever you go out. Delhi though hardly has loose dust anywhere.

Electricity
Pune is slightly better in this department - as it has scheduled load shedding. Gurgaon seems to have a love and hate relationship with electricity. Most of the places here have powerbackup - without which you would probably fry in the summer months.

If you take away the change in weather , and the local lingo ( Hindi in Gurgaon , Marathi in Pune), the places are similar. Like a colleage of mine said about Gurgaon - take away the malls from Gurgaon and it is just a Gaon !

Why the Rant ?
Why am I writing all this ? Because people have the concept that Gurgaon has developed a lot - with all the pics about the Malls etc. Well, this a heads up for those people - guys, its not what it seems. I came thinking this place will be better in terms of infrastructure at least to Pune - but now, I find its almost similar.

Update : 10th Oct '05

I seem to be getting on the nerves of friends from pune as they seem to think that I only have negative points about their hometown, and that my posts are anti-pune. I just want to point out that I am not being anti-pune or pro-pune or anything. I am just stating the negative points which exists. There are many ways that Pune is much better than Gurgaon, but those points were not my crieteria of comparison - because I feel that they don't really relate to the choice of workplace - at least for me. Here are a few points :

  • Rich Culture and history : Pune has quite a long legacy of history, and many events shaping modern India have had roots in Pune. From the adventurous life of Shivaji to the Freedom struggles of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The Yerwada jail is also a historic monument as Bapuji has been jailed there for quite some time. The surrounding hills of Pune house the crumbling remains of Forts of yester years.
  • Better Weather : Pune's weather is better than that of Gurgaon anyday. Gurgaon/Delhi have extreme weather pattern. Scorching summers with temeratures reaching 48 deg C to freezing winters with night temperatures dropping to almost 0 deg C. The monsoon also is a hit and miss affair here. Pune on the other hand is more temperate, and you can possible spend the entire year without wearing a sweater ( unless you are like me wanting to go for a ride at 2 AM in winters ;-) )
  • Education heaven : Pune is known as the Oxford of the East - due to the large number of colleges and Universities. However, sadly, none of the Univs occupy the top spot in Engineering or Management fields.
  • Women safety : Pune scores way above Delhi/Gurgaon/NCR when it comes to the safety of the fairer sex. Pune and Bangalore are that way really good for females. Gurgaon and Delhi make me feel sick with the way the women are treated here. A single woman going alone after 9PM in Delhi is just asking for trouble . But in Pune/Bangalore I was pleasantly surprised to find that kind of behaviour to be absent.

If you see the above points - they don't really come into my equations when I am looking at a job. Some points do come when I am looking at living in a place - most notably the weather. But if weather was my only criteria of find a job, I would be based in Bangalore.

:-)