Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Your dreams in a box?

Here’s a tech post that was waiting to happen. XBOX 360 released yesterday. I don’t know how much that appeals to most people, but the build up around it in Microsoft was big, especially among the gaming geeks that also pose as employees :-) There was constant talk around the coolness factor, the power of the new platform and the excitement for it. I don’t think it was too misplaced. A friend of mine went to the local Best Buy yesterday and reported that there were people waiting in line since Friday. That’s four days in advance!!

Such mania is beyond my understanding. But gaming dudes are serious about their priorities. There are people who spend endless hours of their lives locked up in their rooms in front of the PC or their TV playing games. They live and die by their virtual identities. I wonder if the boundary between the real and the virtual world blur for them beyond a point. The good thing is that the new Xbox has things to offer beyond just the gaming experience for the average user. That is important for people like me. The only games I like to play are sport-oriented (I have a Cricket 2005 that I am passionate about) or strategy games (Warcraft). First person games like Halo give me nausea in about five minutes.

However, if I could combine my occasional gaming ability with some other function, the Xbox would serve me well. Which is what the new version allows. It serves as a great one stop shop for my music, movies, pictures. To list a few (quoting the website of course), here are some of the major Media features of XBox 360:
• Create picture slideshows, add music, and share with your friends and family.
• Connect to your digital camera and display your latest pictures on your TV.
• Access the classics in the photo collection stored on your Windows XP-based PC.
• Display the pictures saved on CDs.
• Play DVDs in progressive-scan and use the Xbox 360 controller to navigate the onscreen DVD menus.
• Receive game invites or chat with friends even when you’re watching a movie, listening to music, or viewing pictures.
• Combine Xbox 360 with Windows XP Media Center Edition for more digital entertainment options. For eg. I can record or pause live TV. Watch movies On-demand and more.
• Listen to music while you game and create your own custom soundtracks.
• DJ your next party—create custom playlists, and set the mood with interactive visualizers. • Rip songs from your original CDs to your Xbox 360 hard drive for easy access to your favorite music
• Stream music to your Xbox 360 from your MP3 player or Windows XP-based PC.

And there’s the coolness factor. The design is really slick and well thought out. It has an “hourglass” figure. Wonder if their was any psychological research involved in arriving at that :-) The last one was pretty boxy and not that attractive. Oh well, this almost became a pitch for the product, but I think this one deserves some space. I intend to get one for myself sometime next year, as long as I don’t have to wait four days in a line to get it :-)

I haven’t done much justice to the numerous features of this magic box. Find out for yourself. Here, ogle. http://www.xbox.com/en-US/hardware/explorexbox360.htm

Monday, November 21, 2005

Ri-post-e

I didn’t realize that the issue would turn out into an all out deep-rooted defense of the IT industry in India when I wrote about it. Which is good. I wanted opinions from back home and I got some. The only way to do justice to the amount of emotion and effort that the responders put into their comments would be to summarize them once more. So, here goes.

Sushil
(One of my best friends who is working in an IT company in India. I have edited his response for brevity… yup, it was much longer than this :-))

I agree that the attitude issues that u have talked about is there. Ibelieve, it is there everywhere. Moreover, America is a dream realized for very few in this country. So it is obvious that people are envious or jealous about it. Moreover, people do carry attitude when they come from USA. Talk about their fake accent, their behavior, their attitude as if they know a lot is always there.

About the work culture. It depends on your boss how he judges you andyour attitude. Ok Let me tell you, I never reach b4 my boss reached andnever left after my boss left in my 6 yrs of career. I always followedthe work centric approach. But what you mentioned is not false. Yes!This attitude prevails in the industry and I believe it will take timefor us to change this and it is changing. The problem here is that mostof the sr. Mgmt is very old and they have been groomed like that foryears and so they expect the same. But let me tell you, there arecompanies where late sitting is strictly no no. About your friends' wife who works in infosys. I am sure it is a project problem I believe. Not everyone in the project have to work late and neither everyone in infy. Also parth, if u know, even you guys stay up late to complete the work. So how is it different than infy.

"Management" I don't what u mean exactly. But at some point You have toget into people management if u have to move up the ladder. A techie guys doesn't understand the business. It is a different perspective alltogether. But if u mean that people who don't dream to be "CXX" and want to remain techie than they can. But if the person moves to some product company he is again at a higherposition.

Moreover parth, remember one thing america is made up of immigrants soobviously no one is going to have the attitude issue that you aretalking and moreover it has a capitalist economy. This I believe are the main differences between india and USA.

Look parth, All the things that u have written are excuses for notcoming back. People attitude problems are there everywhere and I stillface it more. The percentage of it may be more in India than in US butit is there.

PARTH_SPEAK: I don’t believe you can count these as excuses for not coming back. The whole idea that the discussion veered in this direction is that I intend to come back. When I stay back to work, it is never because I am asked to. There have been days where I have worked from home, or left early. The flexi-time culture is rampant here. The services industry gets its work culture from India, having born and developed over there. The product companies import their culture along with their plush offices. Or so I have heard. Thanks a ton for your detailed and passionate response.

Avinash
Again, one of my closest friends and a PhD student at Texas A&M University

I think parth, I had pointed out a website to u in this regard. I don't know if u read it.http://atcweb.atc.tcs.co.in/~sagar/scit.htmlOf course this dude, M. Vidyasagar, is a well-known academic andreturned to India after a good career in the US and Canada and that tooas a Director of a DRDO lab. So even tho it might seem that hisperspective is different, what he has to say is remarkably similar towhat sush said. It all boils down to being practical vs. emotional.Staying in US is practical. All said and done, less population = lesscompetition. Better quality of life (QoL). More material comforts. Being in India means being close to family, not having the feeling of being a foreigner all the time. Plus for me at least, being the emotional patriot that I am, Vidyasagar's point that u can make max contributions to India only by being there does have some appeal. So I think going to India is a decision which depends on whether u are willing to make the required, financial, QoL, health (ya this is an issue too. I find that my general health in the US is much better than it ever was in India) etc sacrifices to be in ur country.

The issue of children is something completely different. I personallyfeel that while geographical location and 'surroundings' is a factor inthe upbringing of children, it cannot be the deciding or important onethat it's made out to be. The most imp factor is the parents themselves. After all, it's stupid to think that 'American Culture' is 'bad'. There are enough kids in India who go bad. 'Indian Culture' does nothing to help them. There are enough kids in India who lose their virginity before 16. And lets face it.... more Indian kids today are 'more American than the Americans'. And there are enough kids in America who grow up to be good kids who do their parents proud. I am not trying to defend US culture (or lack thereof). My point is that US or India, how kids turn out is decided by how much time and effort their parents invest in their upbringing. I do agree that in India, being surrounded by grandps and uncles and aunts and neighbors does take some of the pressure off parents. But it doesn't absolve them of all responsibility.

I am unwilling to blame some abstract concept like 'US Culture'. As far as I am concerned, it's a trade-off. If I wish to live in the US and enjoy the benefits it gives me, then I should be prepared to pay the price of extra efforts that I have to put in terms of parenting. My personal feeling is I like what Vidyasagar did. Now that I have come to the US, I wud like to use this opportunity to advance my career and knowledge and go back to India to assume a position of responsibility where I can contribute significantly. There are good and bad things everywhere. I wud like to imbibe the good things in this country and go back to serve my own.

PARTH_SPEAK: This is one comment that is completely off-topic but worth reading nonetheless. The man makes sense on most occasions, and I can always banter him in the future for his use of “wud” and “ur” so extensively in the e-mail :-)

Tarun
My fellow blogger and friend and the self-proclaimed target audience of this post He had a lot to say :-) See this: http://25worldcountry.blogspot.com/2005/11/laut-sakte-ho-somewhat.html

PARTH_SPEAK: Thanks for bringing the cohesion back into the post. You validated my point about pretense. Not everyone will be as brazen and outspoken as you at the work place. So, it is possible that when CoderDude can’t impress the fact upon his managers that he wants to go home at 6, he WILL work till 9. Perhaps he works till 9 because the four cubicles next to him are also occupied with CodeDudes. The manager perhaps notices the one CoderDude who left at 6, and has something to say for it. I know that most product companies have branches open all over the place (well, Hyderabad and Bangalore to be precise). After all the arguments I heard about services versus product industry, the latter seems the lesser evil. Alas, these aren’t in my dear Bombay.

Extempore
A fellow blogger, who works in the IT industry in Bombay

I disagree almost entirely because I work in the IT industry and in Bombay. Granted that there aren't as many places in Bby to work as there are in Hyderabad or Blore, but the work situation in India has changed. It is a better place to work now.

I once said on your blog that ppl at my workplace are unhappy but it is because I work in the IT services industry as a tech writer - MS, by the way, is one of our biggest clients - We are working on the Yukon series right now, having finished with Whidbey a while ago.

The biggest source of frustration for us is unreasonable client demands and our PMs who dont contest anything. Pls dont misunderstand - I am not trying to pick a fight about MS - only trying to make the point that the services industry anywhere - IT or advertising - comes with that huge handicap... of being captive to your client's demands.

From everything I hear, even start-ups here are doing really well and are good places to work at. A friend of mine, on confirmation, got a hike from 27 to 35k, never comes in on weekends and works everyday from 10 to about 7 in the evening. Good life, I'd say, esp in Hyd which is cheaper than Bby. I could go on Parth, but I will stop here. :-)I do hope that I have not given offence in anyway and I am quite sorry if indeed, I have

PARTHP_SPEAK: There is no offense taken whatsoever. In fact, I want to thank you for your comments. This isn’t the first I have heard people complain about Microsoft J It is good to see a point of view in defense of the services industry. I didn’t imagine it that way, but thought of it as a stop and go working experience. The depth of the tech industry in Bombay is good, but doesn’t have the presence of product companies that I was looking at. Thanks once again for your comments, and best of luck with your commute (even if it is to SEEPZ, it can’t be easy) J

Niranjan
Fellow blogger and SPCEite

I'd add that the answer to whether to return back to india is in part based on practicality as you have described, and is part emotional (for want of a better word). I'd been to a talk some months back, where the speaker (a distinguished CEO of a start-up) made a snide remark about how indian students take up most grad positions, and then return home only to marry and come back to the US to work again. And the audience thought it was funny! I've since wondered why I'm still in the US, but then again there is the practical aspect that's aptly expressed in this post.

PARTHP_SPEAK: Indeed amazing that an audience would take it lightly. Perhaps, this is indicative of our mentality here. We work hardest, question little and bask in our little successes.

Graffiti Speak
Haven't seen her on my blog, but boy has she made up with a long long comment :-)

Hi there, let me help to disperse some of your misconceptions and fears you have expressed herein.
I am an IT professional, a senior business analyst in a Telco.

I was in the US on H1 for more than 4 years and I moved back to India owing to personal reasons in 2002. Initially I had lots of apprehension, and infact I had quite some disappointments after I came and I thought that I have done a mistake but things started to make sense in the long run. And I must confess that I have no regrets now… Few changes here and there are required…but overall you are happier here than in the land of lust.

I fell sick the first month I came down because I took a sip of tap water in a restaurant and got viral fever. That was a bad start alright but I learnt a lesson not to take anything but mineral water. Like you mentioned, being in the US while giving you an advantage over your career, it has lots of downside as well.

Attitude issues are there everywhere but in India it could be more apparent and prevalent because India Inc. is just getting professional. We ought to just shrug off these and really give these things time to heal themselves. Work Culture is again getting better by everyday but yes if you are in a service industry chances are at critical times you would be called in to put extra efforts but again you can ask for a comp off when there is less pressure which any sensible project manager would grant. I have personally liked the challenges of a service driven company as opposed to the laid-back work environment of a product driven one. We have both here in all major metros including Mumbai and there is really no need to worry.

“Boss” culture is very much here and your fears are justified. But it need not be a rule of thumb to go or come to office based on your manager’s timings. As long as you deliver quality things at the right times and show your presence as much as possible without chitchatting with colleagues for long hours, it should be ok. And of course while not working you can even play games or solve crosswords even with your manager…to lighten the spirit. This trick has worked for me…

Exposure wise, India gives you a lot as in US we tend to focus on mastering one particular thing, which is not the case here as you are expected to be a jack-of-all-trades as there are variety of clients. If you are not one, you become one automatically once you are in such a demanding environment. There are training requests that you can give to your PM during appraisal sessions and if it is genuine, then they are always heeded.
When I came down, this stark truth (of knowing many things) hit me hard but eventually I found myself easily adapting to the demands of the job. This is actually a great plus when it comes to Indian work environment.
Like I said before, India Inc. is just getting professional, so while changes are happening, the change is slow and steady. So patience would be the key for people who want to come back. This is particularly applicable for climbing up the ladder here. Also, you need to preferably have a Godfather to give you the necessary push…at least in not-so- professional companies who still have this bossism. If you don’t know to butter people, then you might as well be contented with your post and pay and get out of all the politics.

There is an automatic pressure to come up in designation as you age in a company but it is not again mandatory. In my office I still see programmers who are in their 40’s something that is not uncommon in the US of A. However, the most key thing being in India is the job security and citizenship status that is seen as a luxury for all foreign returned people because we know the reality we had in the US. There is constant fear or job loss unless you have a green card or citizenship with which you can be at least safe until you get another one. Here there is no one to kick you out…you are a king …literally! If you have a decent monthly income, and a stable job, then nothing like that! You get anything and everything. The labor is cheap, so you get the luxury of having a chauffer, cook, maid(s), caretaker, etc. which if done in the US, would eat up all you earn…
Finally, Mumbai has lots of major IT companies concentrated in SEEPZ and Navi Mumbai where you have this Millenium Business Park…

The conditions are most conducive right now for all NRIs so much that many foreigners are coming to India seeking secure and better paying jobs. The downside I could say being in India is facing bribery and red-tapism in day to day lives along with pollution. Again you can find ways to bypass these things as you mature here. But all said, it is upto you to make up your mind. Good Luck…but hey don’t think too much to comeback to your motherland. It is she who made us what we are and it is time we show our gratitude to her.

PARTH_SPEAK: Thanks for the detailed response. It is indeed good to hear from people like you who have seen both sides of the coin. I didn’t mean that people take my comments about leaving after the manager too literally. Point being that pretense to work should not overshadow actual work done. Job security is a must. I agree. But job satisfaction is equally important. Mumbai may have a bunch of IT companies (I worked in MBT for a year at Chandivali) but the product companies lie outside the realm. Thanks for your copious comments. They were enlightening.

PARTH_SUMMARY

I don’t think my point came across too forcefully. I am not trying to establish that India is a bad place to work in and that US is heaven. I mentioned that a lot of this is hearsay. Nice to know that people are kind enough to dispel some such ideas. At some level, the responses tended to be over-defensive. Relax guys, I am on your side :-) Several people mentioned the emotional benefits as an offset. I agree with that 100%. Never overlooked that. But the whole point of this post was exclusively to discuss what work life looks like in India. The negativities I mentioned can’t be so important that they are make or break the decision to go back. Sorry for the EXTREMELY long post here, but I felt that everyone’s responses deserved a good space.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Kya Ab Laut Chalen?

NRI's spend a substantial amount of their adult lives outside India reminiscing about India. As a NRI blogger, nostalgia is a genre almost at the tip of my keyboard fingertips. I mean, you are either going to India, coming back from India, and if all else fails, missing it. I thought it would be a good reality check to go back and see how many posts I have written about my beloved country, India, the best city in the world, Mumbai and the centre of the universe, Andheri. Oh, never mind. I am not skimming through a hundred plus entries to determine that which I already know. Several posts. It is easiest to romanticize about my favorite beaches and the idyllic life of Surat and the wonder years in school and college. In my post http://parthp.blogspot.com/2005/08/n5-theorem.html I touched upon the common trajectory that an average graduate student goes through in his initial period in the United States of America. That was a rant, a complaint, a question and a conclusion at the same time.

The main problem is that we keep viewing India through this prism of emotional imbalance. Its all about family and society and festivals to be celebrated and costs of living and the little comforts. We want to go back to India with the expectation that the fourteen days that we spend on an average with our families are a good enough snapshot of the remaining 351 days that we would have had in case we were resident Indians.

A week back a few enlightened souls, my office mates and friends gathered together for a post-dinner munching of good ice-cream. After the initial pleasantries and comments on the housing market, new deals and a few etcetras, the conversation veered to the all-too-common returning to India. Surprisingly though, we managed to focus on a very practical discussion on why it may be difficult to go back and work there. I am listing out the salient points. Feel free to share your thoughts. Most of this is speculation since I haven’t spoken to a lot of people who have made this switch back. These are questions to which I’d love to have accurate answers.

Attitude issues
My wife worked for a couple of years in India and then came here for her Masters. Subsequently, she got an internship with the evil monopolistic company everyone loves to hate. In the interim, she went back to India and met up with her former managers. When she mentioned where she got her internship, the reaction was drastic. The comments were sarcastic and the tone changed. The whole attitude was one of “she used to work here before, and now she is flying high because of being in the US”. This may be an over-reaction, but how far fetched is it from a common reality? This is precisely what I fear. Is the Indian mentality beyond such pettiness? Another colleague of mine had interviewed with Infosys and TCS in India after having done his Masters here. He narrated how they gave him a hard time in the interviews, aiming to prove a point and boss over him.

Work Culture
A colleague’s wife works for Infosys in India. When he narrated her stories to us, I was made to think hard. They have to work weekends even though they are off, to the extent that she had to notify if she was taking a Saturday off. There is a lot of emphasis on the balance of work and life out here which may perhaps not exist in India. That actually surprised me. I worked for a year in India and we had fixed timings (in fact, we had buses we would catch at fixed times to get to Andheri station from Chandivali). That however, was almost, 6 years ago. Perhaps the reality today is different

I am the Boss of you
Indian work culture is steeped in hierarchy. Apparently IT is no different. You have to get to work before your manager gets there and leave after he does. Again, hearsay for me. But I can believe that some of it may be true. The importance on pretense may be too much.

Services versus Product industry
To me, this is the single most important factor. I work for the largest software company in the world. I work on delivering a product that millions of people use. To me, that is a terrific experience to have. There is continuity, there are familiar processes, familiar stages (Software Development Life Cycle, if you remember your Software Engineering class). The impact I as a single employee can have is tremendous. The services industry is a different ball game altogether. You keep getting shifted from project to project, have to sit on the bench when you aren’t on one, and be too mobile for you own good. There is another issue. in the services industry, the emphasis is on knowing as much of new technology as possible. Everything from SAP to SOAP. The more you know, the better. Out here, even though we develop the technology, we are isolated from knowing a million technologies. I even wonder if I’d get hired back if I go back today.

Management the only way up?
We have the concept of an individual contributor here. You can spend several years in the company growing in your role of your choice. Not everyone is good at managing, especially the uber-geeks we have in-house. The good thing is, you don’t have to be an manager if you don’t want to. You can make progress in life otherwise too. In India, the concept of growth is to do a few projects, and become a lead. At least this is what I gathered.

No IT in Mumbai?
A more localized issue, but it impacts me. I have lived in Mumbai as long as I was in India and frankly, it would be difficult for me to imagine living elsewhere. Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad: perhaps. Gurgaon: maybe. Chennai: I don’t think so. Jhumri-Talaiyya: Anyday! I find it amazing that I settled in Seattle without any qualms and find moving around in my home country a big issue. Unfortunately, the big product development companies aren’t in Mumbai.

Wow. That was a long post. I have to put a disclaimer that working in an American company in America has its own set of issues, which doesn’t make it better than the Indian counterparts. The points above have been based on some personal experiences and a lot of conversations with people. So, of course, it may not be all “factual”. Again, feel free to share/discuss your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Downpour

Let the odd drop bounce off your shoulder,
As I watch one leap off mine.
Wince a little as the spray hits us,
Walk with me under this pleasant confine.

Black is the color that covers us so,
A well-lit dream under a dark shroud.
A pleasant accident as your shoulder brushes me,
A smiling afternoon under a dark cloud.

Friday, November 04, 2005

A Tale In The Twist

They stood with a mild distance separating them. Parallel to each other. Yin and Yang, if they would have been of the opposite sex. Yang and Yang suited better. Or “Yanger”, as the punster among the two would remind his older friend on every instance. The philistines swarmed around them holding their wine glasses, and smug demeanors. Soft classical music wafted through the speakers. The older man seemed oblivious of everything. He was two feet from the painting, eyes fixed in unwavering attention. He had been looking forward to this exhibition for months now.

“Piece of art”, he mumbled. “Of course it is”, came the retort. The older man didn’t flinch at the rudeness or the impatience of his younger companion. He was lost in the sight his eyes beheld, completely absorbed in its folds. He continued talking, not moving his eyes from the girl in front of him. It was the most melancholic face he had ever seen. “Have you seen such beauty in someone’s eyes before?”. His flair for the dramatic was well-known. His companion ignored the comment. Get on it with it, he said impatiently. He wasn’t in the mood for paintings today. Six months of planning had gone into this. There could be no mistake, no slip-up. He was hoping the others in the room would do their part. There was no let-up in the conversation though. “I would give anything to have her”. “That’s what we are here for”, came the reply. Moments passed and the time ticked to 11.57 pm. The older companion stiffed up a bit. He could sense a body closing in on him. This is it, he thought. This is the time. Everything has been timed to the ‘T’. Every detail covered, every avenue explored. This would be sweet success. His face broke into a smile.

They stood with a mild distance separating them. Parallel to each other. Backs facing in opposite direction. The younger man stared at the painting. The old man took a step forward and held the hand of the beautiful girl. Six months ago, at about the same time of the day, he had popped the question. She had said yes. She took up the job. His secretary, his trusted aide. She reached into her purse and handed him the keys he had asked for. “Thanks. Have you seen this masterpiece?”, he asked. “No, sir”, she confessed. He stepped aside to let her have a view of the painting. “It is perfect. Titled, The Mirage. It is about the surprises life throws us. See the boy in the painting below the balcony. He has come back bloodied from battle to his lady love. She was sitting in the balcony gazing in the far horizon at nothing in particular. Her dream, her deepest wish has materialized and is a few feet away from her. But she doesn’t know or care. She can look through him but not believe him to be true. He can’t believe it at first. Don’t miss the bafflement in his body language. Moments later came the realization. He was dead.” A dramatic pause later, he added, “A picture does say a thousand words, doesn’t it?”

The effect was eerie. She took a step back instinctively. The setting discomforted her. She had her doubts about her boss in the first place. There were red flags all around that she had discounted. He was in a line of descendents of counts who were mysterious outcasts, and he had inherited those traits. He would disappear by late afternoon and would appear tired and groggy the next morning. But the pay was good and she needed the job, so she ignored the signs. Today however was unusual. He had called her to his private art gallery in the night to give him keys to his office. He said he had lost them. It seemed like a big mistake now. And then, the person next to her boss turned. The last thing she remembered were bloodshot eyes and a pair of fangs and the rest of the people in the room gathering around her. And then, sweet haunting pain.


P.S> The toughest part of creative writing is the creativity. To be precise, how many ways can you avoid retelling a tale? I started off writing this piece and had about 15 different plots in mind, all of which were clich├ęd. So I kept writing it till each turn would be unexpected. You could start to think of the story being one of two men at odds, or art thieves, or love, or a lot of other things. Those did cross my mind. One plot was to have the two as father and son and the woman in question being the mother who thinks the son is dead and gets a surprise. You see the point. There are a million twists in the tale. The tough part is to write a tale for each twist that is worth reading. The end goal was to have something unexpected at each turn. Let me know if you enjoyed it.