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.

Click to Enlarge

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.