IBM seems to have everything , but TIME


IBM is a good case study for balancing out everyone singing the “transformation is cool” tune . Transformation is utterly painful – almost directly proportional to the size of the company .

So IBM announced its Q1 results and no surprises there – HW business is not in good health , and software and services are not exactly stellar either .
But that is the top line story . Bottom line – or specifically EPS, is a different story . EPS continues to grow as IBM promised in its plan .

Several people commented today that The best days of IBM are behind them . I actually think the opposite is true . I think IBM will come back with a roar in couple of years .

Why do I think so ? For two reasons primarily

1. Look at their investments in last couple of years while their top line was shrinking . They formed the Watson group – and put their best leaders in charge of growing it . They bought Softlayer and are moving full speed to make it the base of their cloud strategy up and down the stack . They partnered well with growing technologies ( capitalized on Hana momentum from SAP on the hardware side – and yes they sold it off to Lenovo , supported MongoDB API in DB2, etc) . They haven’t let the slow down on top line from affecting their investments – that is how IBM works . They bet on the long term and don’t panic (at least in public). On top of that they continue to invest heavily in their research capabilities . iBM spends more money on research than many hot shot companies make in revenue .

2. They have a very deep leadership bench – and has the brand and money to attract more leaders if needed . This is by far the most important reason for me to believe IBM will come back with a roar . There aren’t a lot of leaders of the caliber of Ginni Rommety , Steve Mills etc. The people working for them are equally talented and it goes a few layers deep . And if that is not enough – they have plenty of cash and brand value to attract away most top leaders from other companies .

So what is it that IBM doesn’t have ?
They don’t have time on their side !

Investors are not always a patient bunch . On the bright side , people buy IBM for guaranteed dividends and long term appreciation . Come what may – I am sure IBM has enough capability to squeeze costs to make earnings promises be made good . But if the investment community doesn’t show patience – they might have to cut deeper than necessary to deliver and that helps no one .

As much as I care for IBM – I feel terrible every time they let go of people, since I have a lot of friends who work there . And in every round, some of them get affected . That makes it difficult for me to justify what looks like a good decision on economic front . That does not do IBM any long term good – a business is only as good as the people who work there, and not just the leaders . But that is the price to pay when IBM does not have time on its side .

For the sake of all my friends who still work there , and for my own sake as an ex-IBMer who cares for the company – I hope that IBM can buy some time to make its come back and not cut much more deep into its payroll to deliver on its commitments to the street .

We need “A teams” not “All A Players”


This is the greatest mistake that happens when we try building teams . We start out with the intention of hiring an “A team” – and pretty soon it magically transforms into a hunt for “A players” . It took me a long while to realize it’s not the same – and often hiring all A players into one team hardly makes any sense .

There are only two ways of building an A team that I know of .
1. If you have money and luck on your side – hire all A players you can to fill each role in the team.
2. OR, hire a few A players with strong leadership skills and fill the rest with B and if needed some C players . Then make it the Responsibility of A players to bring along the B and C players

Option 1 is a no brainer . A players love working with other A players – but there are only so many of that caliber. And you probably can’t hire them all.

Individuals can win a few matches with their sheer talent . But to win consistently and become championship material – it takes a team . Not just any team – but an A team .

My favorite example is the Indian cricket team that won the 1983 World Cup . There were two top talent players – Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. Rest were average or slightly above average players if you look at their life time stats . Yet – Kapil led that team to win the World Cup , defeating the best West Indies team ever in the finals . That is the nature of A teams .

The Australian side of Steve Waugh in 90s was probably close an A team built with all A players . And they kept winning for a very long time , except when that crop of players retired – the team could not make another A team of A players . Now they are taking an approach which is closer to building an A team with couple of A players and the rest with B players .

I have had the fortune of working in A teams where every one was a star player , and also in A teams where only some players could be described as stars . But in both cases – output was stellar . And my current thinking is that the viable model is to discourage people from trying to build an A team of solely A players .

However, an A team with A, B and C players needs some ducks to line up in a row before their execution ability gets into stellar territory. Here are my top 6 thoughts .

1. An A team needs strong leadership – ideally an A player who can take responsibility of bringing along and improving the non-A players to play at major league. It’s the acid test of motivational ability of a leader.

2. Hire one or more A players to keep the leader honest throughout the time the team works together . Most often, of the leader alone is an A player – their ideas will go unchallenged . That can only hurt in the long term . You always need people in the team who can challenge the leader when needed

3. Never allow the B and C players to recruit . If you do – then the chance of them hiring an A player is close to zero. The biggest long term risk is the standard of incoming players decreasing over time and the team moving from stellar to mediocre status.

4. Don’t drink the “culture fit” koolaid in big gulps . It is important that people get along – but end of the day, fun needs to be balanced with output. And output needs specific skills and experience . This is a grey area at best – and a true test of a good leader is the ability to find the right compromise.

5. Stretch, but don’t break . A players typically can stretch a lot in the assignments they take on. Don’t let that make you try to stretch the B and C players too in similar fashion . Everyone has a breaking point – and the sooner the leader and team realizes everyone’s breaking point , the better the chance of great execution. In most cases , B and C players and can stretch the same as A players over time – as long as it is done in small increments .

6. Rotate players when they are successful . Let new players come in with new ideas . Let your A players go to other teams and expand their horizons . Share the wealth of talent – that is how it multiplies and scales .

Education is the key for unity in diversity in India


It is parliament election season in India now . The country is so vast and infrastructure hasn’t caught up yet – so elections have to be held over several weeks in a phased manner . Whichever way I look at it – a coalition government is bound to rule India for the next term . And that usually is only slightly better than no government . And a country so diverse as India – with 1000s of languages and tens of states and countless religious beliefs – good solid governance is a must have to ensure continuous progress. It’s not a trivial challenge – to say the least .

There are three strong political groupings – one led by Congress , one by BJP and a third by the new AAP .

Congress led United democratic front – which in reality is neither united nor democratic – ruled for the last two terms . They barely got to govern with their structural issues . Regional parties held the government to random throughout the term. And given Manmohan Singh was just a figure head – whom the party could not find a safe seat to get elected, and hence had to get him in through the back door via Rajyasabha – his ministers seem to have had no intentions to take his lead . One of the greatest presidents we had – Dr Kalam – wasn’t even given a second term . And now they are projecting Rahul Gandhi as the PM candidate . If Congress can’t find a leader outside the Gandhi family in all these years , how exactly are they going to watch out for the common man ?

It’s not as if Gandhi family is the only one looking for politics as a family business venture . Veteran leaders like Chidambaram , Jaswant Singh and many others found no moral issues in asking for seats for their kin . The country has a billion plus people – why does this keep happening across all political parties ?

There is BJP – and they have some very strong leaders . The big issue with them is that despite almost a guaranteed secular rule if they come to power – like their last term – they find it necessary to stir up a Religious agenda to get votes . That regressive nature is not fit for a secular republic that the constitution envisions . India needs economic development – which happens with unity of purpose, not with communal tensions . BJP tends to keep church and state separate when they govern – but not when they are running for offices. It’s pretty sad that this is the best way for them to come to power .

And finally there is the AAP . I was elated and disillusioned back to back with AAP . Corruption is a very serious issue in India and Arvind Kejriwal took a great step in rooting that issue . Unfortunately – they lack political maturity and ended up as a one trick pony . Running away from office in 49 days meant that they couldn’t take the heat of actual execution . Talk is cheap – and now they have to deal with the stigma of being a party that ran away . Real life governance is not binary – you cannot govern with the attitude that you will do only one thing . Fighting corruption is fantastic – but the state needed more and AAP didn’t stay to deliver . However , I am positive that in 5 to 10 years , AAP will be a very viable party to form a good government . And in the process, they will force other parties to reform and get closer to their citizens

In my mind – the reason for this mess is mostly a lack of education. We always get leaders that we deserve . The politicians who are after our votes would rather have a large uneducated and poor vote bank – which can be swayed by simple and mostly false promises . If I can’t find three square meals a day – I will vote for the guy who offers me free or subsidized food . If I am an oppressed factory worker who has no skills to find another job – the communist ideology might be too attractive for me to see other options . If I can’t read – I probably won’t realize that Rahul Gandhi is not the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi . If I didn’t have access to a variety of TV channels and newspapers – I might not realize that not all Muslims are terrorists and that many Muslims have served India at highest offices . If I don’t go to school – I might never hear about gender equality .

And for that – education is key. Education improves life across multiple dimensions – and gives us options . And it teaches us how to evaluate options . It allows us to have different beliefs but unites us as a country . It makes us Indians first and followers of a religion second . Education is what India needs – in abundance . It takes a lot of political maturity for a political party to push education at grassroots level across the country – as opposed to pontificating in an election manifesto.
The onus is on those of us who had the good fortune to get education to help our fellow citizens who were less fortunate . Part of that responsibility is in choosing wisely the people we want to represent us in government . Let’s choose wisely every step of the way for this election and every single one coming after it .

What on earth does VP of Global Channel at MongoDB mean ?


Ever since I announced I got a job at MongoDB , the question that I got the most has been “what does a VP of global channels do ?”

I grew up as a technologist – not as a business development / channel person. And apart from engineering , I have been a successful sales guy too in later stages of my life . That is the primary reason why I get the question – why did I take a job running channels .

This is how I explained my vision to my friends and family .

Let’s ignore software business and think of a manufacturer of home plumbing supplies . The company’s goal is to revolutionize how modern houses do their plumbing . For this to happen – the important thing is that adoption of the new way of plumbing goes viral – and enough money gets made to keep the business running and growing .

If the goal was to become a high margin company in the shortest time – the idea would have been to sell the minimum possible with the highest prices for product and services . That is not what this company wants to do in our example – it is exactly the opposite . Here the course will be to get as many customers to use the product as possible – irrespective of how much each pays . It is an important distinction – the goal is to radically modernize how people do plumbing .

There are two types of people who generally buy the products – home owners and contractors . One way or other – it’s the home owner who eventually picks up the tab . So it goes without saying that the company must convince home owners to use their product . You cannot take focus away from home owner ever . No one is more important a stake holder to make your goal a reality .

But this is rarely sufficient . If the sales person sold the product – who is going to do the installation of the plumbing ? Who would connect old plumbing to the modern plumbing ? When the bathroom plumbing changes – it usually happens along with redesigning the flooring , faucets, showers etc . Who does that ?

So it is imperative that all the plumbers and bathroom remodelers and general contractors need to be trained in using the new way to plumb . That usually needs them to be convinced this is a better way of doing plumbing , and that home owners will give them business if they have the skills and experience .

To begin with – how many sales people can be hired to go after each home owner ? At some point you want the supplies store to stock your product . Sales person can make a sale and send the home owner to a store to pick up the stuff .

There are other things like bathroom vanities and showers that will need to work with the new way of plumbing . Initially, it might be enough to hire a contractor to connect disparate things by hand with a connector . But some home owners might expect pre-fitted shower heads and vanities that are DIY friendly . So someone needs to convince those manufacturers to work with you to put your way of plumbing into their products for the benefit of your mutual customers.

As the business grows – you want new products to come up that are specifically built for your way of plumbing . You want a large number of people to work with your plumbing to create even more sophisticated solutions for the home owner – to the point that people take it for granted that if they are plumbing , they are using your product as the default . That is when the world of plumbing has been revolutionized .

As people make optimized widgets for your way of plumbing, you might need a one stop shop to help them and your customers – like your own marketplace.

In this entire process – the idea is to help the customer have a better quality of life enabled by your plumbing. You want to reach a state where your plumbing is behind everything in the home – to the extend that no one thinks twice about its presence . You can’t get there by yourself – the plumbers , the general contractors , the retailers , the manufacturers of vanities and shower heads and many others need to work together with a unity of purpose (improving the quality of life of customer) to get there .

And as more and more people work with the product – there will be more things that come up that needs the company to tweak its products and services . The old plumbing companies and you might learn a trick or two from each other – it’s a big world with a place for everyone , especially if everyone plays together and talks to each other .

That is the principle and spirit of channels – and it applies just about the same to software as it applies to plumbing supplies or soaps or cars. No one company can revolutionize the world by itself – but by working in a trusted relationship with several good partners, we can get there together and make some happy and excited and loyal customers .

That is the journey I am embarking on at MongoDB – to help and build and nurture an ecosystem around an amazing product to revolutionize how the world builds applications. I know it will be quite a ride – and I am very sure I will get to work with a lot of people who read this to reach that goal .

Now, Let’s go make our customers successful – and let’s do it TOGETHER !

Higher standards , double standards and no standards in leaders


So the CEO of Mozilla resigned – and I saw the news on twitter last night when I came back to my hotel room . And the question that came to mind was – should CEOs and other leaders be held to a higher standard ? Do double standards apply to some ? And are there any lines that can be drawn on what is appropriate and what is not ?

I am a HUGE fan of equality . And I have many friends in the LGBT community . I know what pain prop 8 caused those of them in California – and hence when I first saw this news on twitter , my instinct was that it is a good thing that he is no longer the CEO.

And then I thought of politicians with extra marital affairs that became public – including a past president . Some of them left public life , some – like Clinton – didn’t . Well, Clinton apologized – but he didn’t resign from office . And years later , it seems his other good deeds compensated for his bad deeds and he is touted as a great leader .

If rewind a lot more in history – there is Adolf Hitler who ruled over Germany . He was a vegetarian and was faithful to his wife . He loved his dog dearly . But he also did extremely bad things and the fact that he didn’t have extra marital affairs nor his vegetarian diet was used by anyone to cut him some slack in history . And that is the way it should be – there is no justification .

Nehru, India’s first PM, had a public romantic relationship with Edwina Mountbatten even before Independence . That didn’t stop him from being elected back to back till he died .

The point here is – we have historically judged leaders on the impact of their “day job” – not on other things they did or said . In the grand scheme of things – Clinton, Hitler and Nehru all had more powerful jobs than the CEO of Mozilla . This is why I am wondering if there are double standards in how we evaluate leaders .

America is a republic – and citizens have rights guaranteed by constitution . Whether I agree with him or not – and I don’t – He is free to have his own opinions and beliefs . He doesn’t need to conform to anyone else’s belief system . Even if he is in an absolute minority – he can stay true to his beliefs as a citizen of USA . So this is where I wonder maybe there are no standards to be applied – if someone like a CEO doesn’t conform to popular sentiment, then maybe all bets are off these days , and his constitutional rights don’t give him much of a benefit . I feel kind of uncomfortable with that line of thinking – everyone is a minority in some way , and that is the reason why rights are guaranteed in the first place . But legal rights don’t mean society holds the same opinion .

Could he have protected his company’s equality culture while personally being opposed to gay marriage ? I don’t know – there wasn’t enough time to find out given he had the job only for 11 days . But going by the examples of Nehru and Clinton – those guys didn’t try to make rules legitimizing adultery, despite their own weaknesses on that front . So maybe Eich could have pulled it off – or maybe he could not have .

Increasingly , we tend to not have lines drawn in sand . World just seems to have a lot more grey areas with every passing day . I usually have a strong opinion on these things – but this time I am just pretty thoroughly confused .

First impressions about MongoDB


After spending two days at MongoDB – I am pretty happily convinced that my instincts about both the company and the product were not off base . It’s just very different from what I am used to .

Although I was hired to run the global channels organization here , I am an engineer first (and I am not very good at reading manuals) . So the first thing I did (even before I started my first day in office ) was to instal and write a hello world .

I Kid you not – installation of MongoDB was the fastest thing I have ever seen in my SW experience . I signed up online and hit download and clicked install – and it did . If anything trumped my excitement of installing the software – that was when I saw the list of drivers available . There is a driver for every popular programming environment including C , which is my first preference coding language . Not having to learn a new language to try MongoDB – that made me believe “Bring Your Own Language” is indeed a reality . In essence – it took next to no time to instal and code a small program . Forget databases – I have never been productive this fast on any software in my life . It will be an understatement to say I am excited .

Then there is the onboarding – in less than an hour , I filled the paperwork for government stuff, insurance etc and got all the systems I need access to .

This week, I am going through a five day bootcamp with colleagues from all over the world . It’s both informative and fun – and it’s abundantly clear the company has good quality control in its hiring process . And the content delivered in the bootcamp is not a pile of PowerPoint – it is on whiteboard . For someone like me who hates PPT with a passion, this is close to nirvana.

It’s a startup in every sense . People use skateboards and ping pong tables all the time – and what is best, I can’t find any trace of a corporate hierarchy . The CEO, CTO and head of sales are as approachable as the developers and sales people . I am used to seeing people with those titles walking along typically with an entourage – and I haven’t seen it here yet . I am totally counting on it staying that way :)

I love our social media policy – which is to remain peaceful and not get into mudslinging even if competitors try to sling mud on us . The team is as competitive if not more competitive than any I know of . But they like to compete directly in front of customers – not in shadow matches in social media . I went back some time in twitter to see and I think this has held true from the sample I checked .

As an aside , this was in fact the reason behind my April Fool’s joke today on twitter and Facebook that I took over as VP of Social Media in MongoDB. It was a reasonably successful prank given the number of congratulations I got :) (My original idea was to say I am now VP of facilities management – but started having doubts if anyone will believe to begin with)

What about customers ? I was thrilled to see a nearly unending list of customer stories with many big names that I recognize readily . I am looking forward to talking to them directly to make sure I get some first hand feedback too . There are many examples of volume, variety and velocity being handled well by MongoDB , enabling customers and partners to build apps that give them BIG VALUE.

The one I especially liked was a project that MetLife did on MongoDB . After spending 2 years and several million dollars trying to get a 360 degree view of their millions of customers – they were not successful . And then they did that in just three months with MongoDB – consolidating information stored in 70 or so policy management system . It’s pretty clear that the ability to handle schemas dynamically is key in making such a solution – I can’t imagine trying to design a classic relational database solution to combine the 70 systems . If you don’t believe me – just look at your automobile and life insurance policies side by side and decide how much is in common . There is a good chance that you will not even have policy numbers across the two that look alike – let alone the attributes for each policy . Today with the 360 degree view – a MetLife call center agent knows almost everything there is to know about a customer . Isn’t that transformational ?

Many friends have asked since I announced I am moving to MongoDB if MongoDB is competitive with Hadoop . I learned today that it is not the case and the two are quite complimentary . In fact there is a Hadoop connector from MongoDB that is capable of MapReduce functionality to be triggered in Hadoop side and it lets the results be written back to MongoDB. You can use MongoDB as the online transactional engine and Hadoop as an analytical engine side by side . That is pretty neat .

I haven’t figured out a whole lot about the ops side of devops – but if I understood the roadmap correctly , the 2.6 version being released shortly will make the ops functionality pretty sophisticated and it gets even more better in future releases . More on that as I learn more about the product.

Sorry for the rather long post – I got a little carried away with all my excitement :)

THANKYOU !


Those who know me well know how much I care for my dogs . For all intents and purposes – Boss, Hobo and Ollie are treated as our kids by my wife and I .

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And today morning all three of them disappeared – on my watch !

My dogs have a tendency to lock me out of the house . They did that today too – while I was in the backyard , Ollie knocked the latch from inside . So I went around to the front of the house and my wife let me in. In the process, I forgot to latch the gate from the yard to the street .

My wife left for her work, and my daughter went to school – and the dogs and I were in the house by ourselves. Then came the handyman to help me with some odd jobs . To let him in – I left the dogs in the backyard. About five minutes later – I went back to get them in, and they had disappeared . All three of them had gone some place – and left no trace.

In sheer panic, the handyman and I started driving around the neighborhood but we couldn’t find them. My wife came home to help me search but no result . I sent her back to office and started systematic scanning of every route we have walked the dogs before – but no luck.

I posted on twitter and Facebook that my dogs are missing – and my friends amplified it quite a bit . I also got a ton of great advice on how to find them. I ran back home and printed flyers to put up on every place I could tape one on in the neighborhood.

I advertised in Craigslist and also reported the incident to the county animal control . A volunteer of an online forum in Facebook for list pets in AZ helped me put an announcement in their page. Still no dice . I came back home dejected fearing the worst and thoroughly angry at myself .

Few minutes later , my pal Mani Sreenivasan pinged me to say he saw an online ad saying a dog was found in my zip code . I checked out the link and was shocked (in a good way) to see Ollie’s photo. He looked like he was having a good time too. I called the number on the ad – and a guy picked up immediately . And after checking details – he confirmed he has all three of the dogs

Apparently he was walking back from the bus stop seeing off his fourth grader daughter when he saw my three guys roaming the street . He took them home and let them play in his backyard and pool with his two Goldens . Apparently from 9 AM to 5 PM – while I was within an inch of having a heart attack , my three fur kids were having “the best Friday ever” playing non stop with new friends :)

My daughter and I went to pick up the dogs and after thanking Rich and his family as much as we could – we got the guys home. All three are tired , and Hobo seems sore from all the hard playing he must have done today. But everyone is happy now and tucked in. It will take a lot longer for me to calm down – and even longer for me to forgive myself for not being careful with the gate when I let them out

It is amazing how much social media – or in general, internet – helped me in getting my boys back. Google, Facebook, Fidofinder.com and twitter came together to connect many different people to eventually trace my guys . The irony is that the guy who found my dogs lived about 3 minutes away from our house and his kid and mine go to the same school .

There is only one villain in this story – that is me . But there are two Heros – my buddy Mani, who checked online a thousand times tirelessly till he got the link to the advertisement , and Rich and family who found and took great care of my fur kids all day. They are not just Heros – they are angels in human form. They have my eternal gratitude.

And a huge thanks to my many friends on Facebook and twitter who helped me by spreading the word, keeping me focused and finally celebrated with me when we found the guys . Many of them are physically thousands of miles away from AZ – some stayed awake through midnight to give me support. I can’t thank them all enough.

All is well that ends well – and thankfully, it did end well this time. But I will be a lot more careful in future – I don’t have it in me to face this nightmare a second time .

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