An interesting perspective to Technology

I have been working for the past decade or so, and almost always in the Technology department, in fact, I have headed this department in at least 3 different companies yet. In all these organizations, I hand picked and built the entire team from scratch, was involved in mentoring and training them as well. Yes, I am a technology geek and I am loving it!

Being a geek means having strong opinions about those things … when it comes to technology, yes I like to have a perspective about it from different view points. Notice the difference between opinion and perspective … the earlier has to do something with ego and may not be an open framework of mind to work with, the later is a bit more open and helps you broaden your views. This is one such post … my view about technology has been broadened … when I came to read Srinivas V.’s blog about Technology: A Citizenship Perspective. It’s an interesting perspective to technology, here’s an excerpt –

Technology enables us at three levels.

At the first, surface level, technology is a tool, a convenience, a method of doing things faster, with less effort, more accurately, etc. Using technology as a tool, we can achieve tremendous savings in terms of human effort and removal of drudgery.

At the second, deeper level, technology transforms into an enabler of scale and multiplied capacity to serve. Using technology as a scale enabler we can provide access to millions, provide anywhere-anytime support, etc.

At the third, deepest level, technology becomes an engine for human and social transformation. Technology then transforms man’s possibilities, man’s power to contribute, man’s ability to significantly change the equation between him and traditional systems of delivery and control.

Ahh … it can be a mindful to go through the entire bit, the original post is even lengthier (and I would advise that you read through it atleast a couple of times before you decide to comment!).

So, we all know that an ipod is essentially an mp3 player. It helps us to listen to music that we want to listen to. This would be technology as a tool. If we get stuck here, then we would end up harping about processes, methodologies and functionality.

If we go to the next level, then this same functionality which was being done for 1-2 people now needs to be done for a 1000. It should scale. If we are at this problem … then you are handling scalability. We would end up talking about uptime, users, requests per unit time and so forth. This is a numbers game, how many more can I handle – that’s the question that you would end up asking your system.

The third level that’s being discussed changes the way we normally do things. Apple changed the way we listen to music, Google changed the way we use email, Facebook is pretty much dictating what we do online in our idle time. Technology that changes you.

To be honest, my initial response was to disagree with this, however think about it. When people work on a technology … the approach they are taking decides which level the technology will go to. If they build it to work, it will be a tool. If they build it to scale, it will be a scalable tool. If they build it to change lives, it will be a transformative tool. Most of the awesome products that we know, were created with the change in mind. Not functionality, not scalability … but change. And change they did.

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Co-operation in Capitalism

If I have ever met you in person (or if you have frequented this blog for some time now) then you would know that I often extoll the virtues of the selfishness citing Ms. Rand and her essays on Capitalism.

In fact I at one time have had a heart to heart conversation with the founder of an organization whose heart is based on contribution and co-operation, stating that the philosophy behind Capitalism is different from a contribution oriented nature. It’s a muddle anyways, in fact the more you think about it, the harder it gets to really identify between the dark and light. There are ample examples where co-operation has been utilized for filling the coffers of different capitalists.

As a point to prove his case, this founder asked me to read a book … the Evolution of Co-operation. If you think game theory is fun, then you should definitely read this book! It’s highly recommended. I did read through the book, but I think it has taken me a bit long to fully understand it … just around 2 years or so!

Today, as I was reading a blog article on a news article based on that very book, a blog article by CFA Institute, I realized what the founder meant to say. That Co-operation can exist within a capitalistic system. The problem with most systems (and this is possibly the places which Ms. Rand glosses over) is that they have a tendency to go corrupt, to go weak. Socialism and Communism suffer from it and this was faced by Ayn Rand all through out her life.

But the solution to that problem is not Capitalism (as suggested by Ms. Rand), a corrupt Capitalistic system is worse if not the same as a corrupt Communist system.

However, that’s not the point of this post, the point is simple. That competition can occur only if there are implicit co-operative signals within the market. Signals such as agglomeration wherein competitors flock together at the same place such as an expo, exhibition or a khau galli to sell their goods.

Another personal lesson learnt – ideals are just that … ideal. In real life, you have to deal with corrupted ideals.

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GoI and Careers

When talking with some colleagues at work, I realized that they are working on a supposedly ambitious project – to categorize all the possible jobs and opportunities for people in India. It struck me that this has already been done by the U.S. Labor department; and very well executed at that. In fact that site is often cited as the basis for a lot of research that goes into the space of work and careers.

This got me thinking, if Uncle Sam can do such an awesome job of documenting all the career spaces, then why can’t Mother India do the same? A few googles and some clicks saw me come to the Directorate General of Employment & Training, Ministry of Labour & Employment, Govt. of India website. It’s in a mess … I know. A usability nightmare and it takes someone with grit and determination to make sense out of the plethora of content strewn on the website. I was suddenly appreciating content rich sites in a whole new light.

I did not start this post with the intention of bashing the government’s websites, so I will not. I urge you to go through some of the sites that I have linked in the post if you are in the IES industry. The Central Institute for Research and Training in Employment Service (CIRTES), is one such initiative that needs to be commended. It’s not in the same structure and format as the U.S. Labor department, however it’s a start. The Government of Maharashtra also has a website for employment which is a similar model to Naukri, do check Rojgarwahini out.

All in all, my view that the Government of India is not doing anything to sort out Labour problems of the country has been shattered. It feels good to be wrong :-)

Good going India!!

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The Difference

I do not consider myself as a blind person.

He said this as a matter of fact.

I have seen the U.S. Open, I have seen the Wimbledon, I like to see movies … I do not know why people think that a blind person will not enjoy all these things.

The operative word is see, he uses it the same way as I do. I am talking about Ashish Goyal, who recently won the National Award for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities 2010. He was awarded by the President of India on 3rd December.

Today, Illumine had invited him for a session and all of us got to interact with him. Hearing his story, and how down to earth the guy was touching … heck, if I had graduated from Wharton (with honors) and working in one of the sought after companies, I would’ve preened. Oh, did I forget to mention that he has lost his eyesight due to a degenerative disorder?

Yes, he lost his vision at the age of 22. But Ashish went on ahead to get into NMIMS, get a job with ING Vyasa and then get an admit into Wharton. He incidentally was invited for this session by the same professor who used to hold guest lectures for him as a visiting faculty in NMIMS.

Ashish was even witty enough to share with us some of his funny moments at Wharton. As the session was concluding, some words he said got stuck in my mind -

Sometimes it takes only a small difference from our end to make a big difference for someone.

I do not want to take the credit away from Ashish (I would have shat my pants had I been in his shoes … I almost had lost my eyesight in one eye about three years back and I had been shit scared). What he has done is really commendable. I am sure that the visiting faculty might not even have thought of this when he recommended to Ashish that he give overseas MBA a try, yet that act of providing advice and hope made such a big difference.

How many of us do such small acts of kindness without looking at the outcome?

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1984 to 2010

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We are in the process of formalizing our IT and Electronic Access Policies. In this process, often the team drafting the initial proposal finds it pretty easy to switch to the Orwellian mode of 1984, wherein Big Brother is always watching.

Although the intent of these people often stems from the fact that they desire to protect both the system and it’s users, but that sometimes requires that extra bit of control. However, it becomes extremely difficult to tell the need for control from genuine to paranoia.

Further, due to some unforeseen events happening in the recent past, these rules are doubly strict ensuring that the past mistakes of a few have to be borne by the entire team. Only to ensure that something that happens out of the blue should not happen again (and rightly so!).

The problem at hand is how to ensure that people are enabled to work and co-create with each other, but are still protected from any malicious ill will that might exist outside (and even within the system). How can Big Brother start co-operating instead of watching?

One clear method is to assume that all people are good and need to be enabled. The other is to work closely with them step-by-step and layout a simplified process and get the end-user buy-in on each of the steps. Till that happens, Big Brother will continue to exist … we are watching you!

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Technology and Faith

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It’s times like these when supporting a good cause gives you fulfillment. When you make a difference by adding to the cause … not monetarily, not through force but through faith.

A friend recently made the leap of faith from Windows to Ubuntu, you can read her first hand review here. It does include the slight apprehension, the initial teething problems … but the story also has elements which make it a good technology script … the need, the learning curve and the triumph!! Here’s an excerpt -

It’s been a month since I first grappled with the overly sensitive mouse pointer on my brand new OS. Having solved that and many other problems (whether by exploring the functionalities, or plain screaming murder at Prasad and Ankit – our IT-literate friends), I seem to have adjusted surprisingly well to it. Phantoms of Linux have turned out to be bigger than Linux itself. Its fast. Its intelligent (use it and you’ll see what I mean by that). It has multiple workspaces. Which means you can chat and browse on another workspace without those irritating colleagues, who have the habit of peering into your screen and shaking their judgmental heads, ever finding out! So far, so good!

The point I am trying to make is that often people will sit on the fence when their knowledge about a technical product is low, the goal then is not to push the product, but to give as much information as possible but wait for the user to make the leap of faith.

I see this happen at work almost every day … we call it creative faith. The technology involved may not be related to computers, but it can be as abstruse if not more. So, the next time you are involved in selling a complex solution, try some faith instead.

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Criticism

I often contribute to the team blog of the company where I work. It is fulfilling, where else can you blog at work :-)

In the past two days however, the team blog … specifically my posts have come in the spotlight. By a critic … the comments are coming from a different perspective, maybe by someone who has engaged with the philosophy and found it either too abstract or too disillusioned.

The outcome being that there is criticism about the ideology and some more criticism about the author. Personally speaking none of my blogs have ever attracted much traffic, so I never had to face much applause or critique other than my immediate circle of friends. Critique from an unidentified source, adds that element of mystery and even a little bit of surprise (Ohh!! Someone does read my stuff!).

What I have not picked up over the 4-5 years of passively active blogging I have done is … how to handle criticism. A post I recently found is pretty good and maybe it will help other bloggers as well, so sharing it here.

Appended –

Pallavi commented that the critique might just be a different perspective or a different opinion. The final choice of taking that is always upto us. I looked back at the comments I was getting, and have decided to take the new perspective and try something new on the team blog. Will update once I get the results.

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