Monday, December 29, 2014

Thoughts on Employer switching

With the attrition season in full swing, I often hear people having more than one employment offers.  They are many a times very competing, and the decision is difficult.  Various factors come into play beyond the obvious ones (salary, designation, role etc.), like commute distance from home, brand value of the employer, the clientele etc.  In a few cases, even these factors are very closely comparable, making the choice all the more perplexing.

One factor, which I feel trumps a lot of minor ones and one which is often ignored by many, is the history of the employer in terms of the kind of treatment it metes out to its employees, especially during rough times.  This is perhaps, in my opinion, more important than most of the other factors.  Imagine, you join a company that offers good compensation, has good policies on paper and has a good overall brand value, but the core of it is rotten due to bureaucratic crap flowing down from top.  You would steadily burn out and probably leave the company disgruntled.  Money, brand etc. won't matter.  Such corporations slowly rot from inward out like a cancerous tumor and fall hard.  Investors and board members wonder what went wrong, only to reach incorrect conclusions.  the past is a witness to such events.

To quote a few examples; I know of a company that during the 2009-10 recession treated its employees like a herd of cattle.  It posted on the main entrance gate the list of the employees they had laid off .  The security guards were to check the names of the employees in the list and send back those whose names were listed. They didn't get an HR round or even a consolidating email.

 Laying people off is a business necessity sometimes, and I am not expressing an opinion about it.  The manner in which the lay offs were conducted was downright despicable.  People who had joined just a week back were let gone, and that too in an insulting manner.  Think twice before joining such a company.

In another case, an employee high up the hierarchy of a prominent e-Commerce giant, was fired because he raised some important ethical questions about the company's fraudulent financial policies.  Again, a big NO-NO.  People argue that it's just business, but remember that if a company can cheat its clients, it can deceive you as an employee with the least of ethical introspection.

One employer even asked its Managers to artificially create a vitriolic and hateful culture in the teams to make employees resign to save some severance money.  Hideous in my opinion.  There was another company which mandated its employees to sign a bond of 3 years before joining, and it wasn't a company into manufacturing or labor, but a technology one.  The same company made its employees sign a non-compete cause, wherein the people who resigned were barred from joining a pre-decided set of companies till after 1 year of employment termination.  Preposterous!


The best way to gauge this is going through online reviews extensively, sometimes even talking to incumbent employees in the firm, or reading news about the employer's past.  Company culture is very critical to its and your success.  There are many ways of making money for companies, but those firms who think about long term success think of its employees and associates and partners, not resources to be plundered. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

The ultimate speed limit - Light, and why is it so

The movie Interstellar reinvigorated my childhood curiosity about the natural world.  Questions and wonder overwhelmed me.  My favorite subject during school and college was Physics.  I still love it and regularly read the new findings.  Interstellar got me thinking on many of the phenomena we don't observe; like what makes certain materials transparent and others opaque.  Why is the speed of light limited to ~3,00,000 km/s, what does empty space exactly consist of etc. etc.  A lot of thoughts came rushing.

I picked up a random one, why does light have a speed limit, what is the constraining factor?  I tried reading online and asked questions in science forums (like StackExchange).  Upon reading multiple sources, the response left me in awe.  Something amazing happened when stuff travelled through space.
A short answer to the question is:  The speed limit is not that of light, but the medium in which it is travelling.  This implies that ~3,00,000 km/s is the speed limit of the vacuum through which light travels. 

Long answer; all I thought I new about space and vacuum was inadequate.  To explain, let me draw an analogy with a compute memory hard disk.  Those of us in Computer Science would know that there is nothing like empty memory.  When we buy a hard disk of 1 terabyte space, the memory is not actually empty.  It has some junk data that is de-referenced.  Or in other words, when we delete a file from our computer, it is de-referenced from the objects in the system.  No memory location can point to the deleted area, but the data still resides there (Even after it is deleted from Recycle Bin, in Windows' parlance).  This is a security concern, as anybody with a physical access to the hard disk can extract the data.  Anti-Virus companies came up with a solution of shredding the memory.  This process basically overwrites the memory location with junk data, so the deleted data is lost permanently.  The important point here is that memory has to contain something if it has to exist, or there is nothing like empty memory.

This logic applies to vacuum as well.  Nothing can be empty in the universe.  Even space which seems empty  is a plasma of annihilating particles.  And this plasma has certain properties, one of which is the maximum speed of any form of energy travelling through it (remember, matter is a form of condensed energy).  This is what limits the speed of light.

Let me draw another analogy; let's say you are travelling from Pune to Mumbai, an average distance of 150 km.  You are travelling at a speed of 600 km/hr.  Assuming there's no traffic, you should reach your destination in 15 min.  But there are toll booths in between, which limit your minimum time.  If there are total 3 toll booths and each take up 5 minutes, then at any speed you won't be able to reach your destination before 15 min.  Similarly, there are electromagnetic doorways in vacuum space, which restrict the speed of any form of energy travelling through it.  Even though I can travel at infinite speed between these doorways, I will have to wait at the next door way until it opens.  I got goose bumps even typing this.


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What this means that in a parallel universe, there might exist such pockets where space and time geometry is such that it allows faster than light travel, without worm holes.  Scientists are exploring such possibilities.

This is a very naive explanation to a very complex phenomenon.  But that's the challenge, if I can't explain something in simple terms that a layman does not understand then it means that I myself do not understand the concept clearly.  It's wonderful exploring how complex the mundane phenomena around us are. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Hypocritical Me - Hypercritical Me

A collection of thoughts I feel are hypocritical about us, but they might be hypercritical.  You, the reader, are the judge.  Without further ado, here it goes...

1.  "Sir"
This one was funny to some extent.  It struck me hard and had me go meta for a few hours.  At the US consulate in Mumbai, there was a lady carrying an umbrella.  The watchmen there were checking for any prohibited items.  She promptly and uber-politely asked one of them "Where do we keep these umbrellas.....Sir?  (there was a pause).  What hit me was her use of the word "Sir".  How many times in her life would she have addressed a watchman with that title?  I have seen people being rude to others whom they deem inferior in some way or the other, or with whom they don't have a favor to ask.  I remember an instance where a lady at my work was shouting at a watchman for some petty thing.  She was in a fit of rage, almost with a frothing mouth.  What if the same lady were at the US consulate, would she behave the same way?  It's funny how people suit situations to their advantage.  How we choose to be polite or rude based on what's in it for us!  Hypocritical or Hypercritical? 

2.  "If it fits, I sits"
There's an old fable where a man is searching for something at night under a lamp post.  A passer by asks him what he is looking for, which turns out to be the former's home keys.
In essence, a man is searching for his lost keys under light while he lost them somewhere else in a dark place. He does so because he thinks that's where he will find it, because that's where he can see!.  The moral of this fable is that people tend to try and fit the problem domain within their own limited knowledge domain.  This always fails.  For example, when someone tells you he or she is homosexual, your first reaction might be "She is mentally unstable, or may be she's odd.  She is a bad person etc..".  Science says otherwise.
Or when we try and apply the same solution everywhere.  Managers are especially guilty of this.  The point is we try to fit the world in our very myopic vision.
A nation needs both Right winged and Left winged ideologies, Capitalism is not a perfect system, non-violence does not work every time and neither does violence, rich people are not always evil and poor people are not always victims etc. etc.
Hypocritical or Hypercritical?

3.  "You are not stuck in traffic, you are the traffic"
A very profound statement in my opinion.  We all honk and rage when we feel stuck in traffic, cursing and swearing.  We forget the fact that we are not stuck in traffic, we are the traffic.  This statement is a metaphor to the human tendency to feel self-pity and self-victimization.  One always thinks he or she is entitled to something special, or that he or she is going through the worst struggle in the world.  This is perhaps the cause of a lot of unjustified misery we see around.  Stephen Fry famously mentioned of a self-help book which would just have one line, "Stop feeling sorry for yourself, and you will be fine". It's especially amazing because Stephen Fry is a diagnosed manic depressive.

4.  "Guilty till proven innocent"
The media is especially guilty of this.  The sordid manner in which any suspect of a crime is treated is pathetic.  At an individual level, we all are guilty of judging others at a blink of an eye.  We expect others to treat ourselves fairly and objectively, but we do not spare a moment in creating a negative figure of someone we have barely met.  A human being is a sum of characteristics, and a single one of those does not define him or her.  A smoker is not always a bad guy and contrariwise.  One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.  We see injustice around and turn a blind eye, thinking it's never going to happen to us.  This makes me recall the famous quote by Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

Hypocritical me or Hypercritical me?

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Wolf of the Wall Street - A lesson in persuation

The movie made me loathe the Wall Street and the brokers.  The brokers are a sink hole who suck up money like leeches and produce nothing useful.  The characters concede that their only job is to move the money from their clients' pockets to theirs.  They don't give a flying f**k (this word has been used 506 times in the movie, breaking all previous records) about their clients or their money, they won't let their clients en-cash profits, because as long as the clients remain invested, the money is 'fugazi'.  It's as if the Martin Scorsese want you to hate the Wall Street brokers.  But the one thing I loved about the movie was the persuasion skills of the characters.  How a bunch of high school dropouts (selling weed) with next to none skills in negotiation and persuasion are trained to convince the millionaires into ponzi schemes.  The millionaires, who have climbed their way up by the virtues of their intelligence and sound judgement.  It's easy to fool a schmuck, but these sleazy guys did it to the wealthiest 1% Americans.  What made their fraudulent words so appealing?

My favorite scene in the movie is the one with the discussion between Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey.  The scene uses obscene words and all (of course), but it's a lesson in conveying a message.  The cavalier way in which Matthew delivers his 'sermons' on survival on the Wall Street is fantastic, almost a religious experience.  It is a lesson in induction for employers, managers and leaders.

While dealing with the clients: the tone, the body language (even on phone), the pitch and the choice of words reach the hearts and souls of the clients.  Of course, those skills are used by the protagonist (irony?) to cheat, but the same could be used by us, the developers and creators, to put forth our ideas assertively.  Developers, I have seen, hate convincing something that is so glaringly obvious to them. Sometimes this holds us back.  The pointy haired bosses make us do things we hate, but we still do it, sometimes due to the lack of the trait I am talking about here.  Sometimes to prove a point, it's necessary to gold plate the proposal, like it's done several times in the movie.  It's sometimes necessary to really believe in the lie you are telling.  Sometimes, it's not a lie if  you believe in it.  I am not asking you to be a compulsive liar or a fraud; that will only spell your doom.  I am asking you to understand the fact that it's OK to be sleazy sometimes to prevent a wrong or to make a wrong right.  That of course is not a direct message of the movie, but it's an inferred one.

Go ahead, fellow creatives, don't let that management mambo-jumbo overwhelm you.  Create your own style of persuasion.  Go grab the wind and rule the world!