Finding time


If there is one sentence I have heard the most as an excuse in my career, it would be “I didn’t have the time to get to it”. This would be totally fine if it came from someone who had to do multiple jobs to take care of their family, or something along similar lines. But no – I am talking about people with one job that pays reasonably well. They are truly sorry about it most of the time too – they wanted it done and perhaps even wanted to do more tasks than the one they are referring to at the moment. Corporate world is full of them – and I was one of them .

To add to their woes – since they can’t find time to do everything on their plate, then they start worrying that this is detrimental to their family life, their career progression and general sanity . All of which may be true too in many cases.

Heroics do get rewarded in the corporate world – some of these folks get promoted to senior roles and the time crunch becomes even more acute for them. Eventually some find the way out of this , and unfortunately several just burn out or at least hit their Peter principle limits.

I want to share some thoughts on how to find the time that appears so elusive

I work under two constraints – 1. Big and small decisions both tax the brain 2. Brain only has finite capacity to make quality decisions

Picking the right shoes to wear, deciding what to order at Starbucks, deciding who to promote in your team, deciding how to message bad news to your client – these are all decisions that we need to make, sometimes on the same day. And we need some reserve capacity to deal with the inevitable surprises ( like Starbucks is out of green tea , your favorite promotion candidate has taken another job at your competitor ) that need quick thinking.

So the way I approach this is to minimize new decisions I need to make. Have a process with default values for routine decision making (For me – If I have a standard simple order for Starbucks , and a go to pair of shoes ).

Next, I tier decisions into A,B,C .

A level problems – the ones that move he needle, and ones I am uniquely qualified to solve – needs high quality thinking . These are like deciding on the next promotion candidate, or what school to enroll your kid . That needs focus without distraction , and probably a lot of data collection when time permits. Thankfully this is the minority of all decisions you need to take . So all the surplus thinking/doing capacity you make by having good strategies on B and C can be used for A.

B level problems are ones you can take the help of someone else to decide, and your value add is in quality assurance . The solutions are not unique, and are minor variations of things we already know how to do. In my world, a routine proposal response doesn’t need my time to draft – that can be delegated to my team. My value add is in the review process and providing guard rails.

For this to work – What is a B decision for me must be an A decision for who I delegate to . If it’s a B problem for me , and it’s a B problem for the team I pass it on to – then it will just keep getting delegated till someone who looks at it as an A problem gets it. When this happens – the right question to ask and solve for is why I was the one to be asked to solve it in the first place.

Then there are the C decisions – low risk and low reward types. Here I run on autopilot as my default option. If the Starbucks line is long, I am happy to get a Diet Coke from a vending machine and move on. But if I can’t find anything at all – I am happy to move on with no beverage too. FYI emails that have no explicit request for you to act is a C problem. Ignore it (or glance at it ) and move on .

Know your available time so that you can optimize it . For me – that means I decide upfront all the personal activities I won’t compromise on like picking my kiddo from school when I am not traveling, sleeping 7-8 hours every day, tending to my garden on weekends , reading a book etc . Those are explicitly marked as blocked time on my calendar . So I know exactly how much time I have left to tackle the problems I know of . I also block some time every day for potential A level problems . If none seem to appear by previous night, I will release the block to do something else.

Convert as many A problems to B problems to give yourself even more capacity . It’s an A problem because you are uniquely qualified to solve it. Start involving your team in those decisions so that they know how to do it too and then you can make it a B problem for you and an A problem for them. When most of your erstwhile A problems become B problems, and your boss agrees that is the case – then you are ready for your next role!

In your quest to optimize your life and career, please don’t overlook what’s on your team’s plate. If you delegate more than they have skills and capacity for – you still have the same problem as before , but now instead of just your boss hating you – your team hates you too 🙂

Control what gets into your plate . Since in most cases we can’t choose who our bosses are – it’s not unusual to get a lot more work than we can reasonably do with quality. Over time – and it takes significant time and effort – you need to cultivate the ability to say NO to things you know clearly that you can’t add value to.

A few things that have worked well for me here

1. Give my boss clear visibility on what my team is capable of . So some jobs that come to you , can go to your team instead without the boss thinking you are delegating mindlessly

2. Do an extraordinary job of A level problems so that you accumulate goodwill that can be used for when you say NO

3. Have absolute mastery over routine blocking and tackling so that it does not appear that you are spending a lot of non value adding time . Use delegation , automation, default values etc to your advantage

4. When unforeseen priority comes up – give a quick heads up to the boss on what you are reprioritizing. This gives a chance for the boss to rearrange it for you and have clear expectations on the trade off.

What do you do with all the extra capacity you hopefully created ?

1. Spend it on making more A problems converted to B problems and eventually C problems

2. Sleep more . Take your significant other out for something fun . Go for a walk with your puppy . Meet people . Unplug from the digital world. Give your brain a break

3. Learn something new . Teach something you know

4. When you are ready – and only then, take on the next A level problem new into your plate !

Parting shot

Even with all the best strategies and intentions, not every day and week will feel the same about having time. So you need to be ready for the unknowns life throws at you. But if 80% of the time you have a structure to solve the problems – you hopefully have enough capacity left in your brain to tackle the 20% that comes from left field .

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Reflections


I woke up early on Saturday – and sat with a cup of coffee in our backyard, and saw this beautiful reflection. Of course I had to take a photo 🙂

Friday was an incredibly busy day. I had to wake up at 4AM EST in NY to catch a flight home. I hadn’t slept much the night before due to some logistics issues getting back from US Open to my hotel . And I had some work to finish in the plane – so couldn’t sleep there either. US Open itself of course was great (thanks IBM for the great seats)  – and I won’t forget how authoritatively Serena Williams won the semifinal.

By the time my work day finished – it was already 7PM. I spent rest of my evening catching up on photos, videos and stories from the German Shepherd “world championship” that just kicked off in Germany . I have been meaning to go to that dog show for a decade now and haven’t found the time – which of course is a lousy excuse 🙂

So there I was – sitting with both my feet in water – watching the lovely reflection, and clicking photos. Outside vacation time, I don’t generally find myself reflecting all that much.

My big goal in life when I got out of college was to be able to live in a house that had a pool. There I lucked out – living in AZ, having a pool is not a luxury like it was in India when I grew up. My daughter , our dogs, and I enjoyed being in the pool a lot over the years. The last two years however – none of us had really jumped in often . Kiddo and the dogs were all in the house sleeping – so I left the coffee and the phone on the patio table and jumped right in and swam a few laps . Loved it – and my mood improved a few orders of magnitude 🙂

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I have a dear friend who owns an amazing collection of guitars, and he tells me that most weekends he watches the guitars in their fancy cases while listening to Clapton. He does not get around to playing himself. We live in a golf course community, and yet I have hit the greens at best twice in two years. We both make fun of each other every time we catchup – but neither of us have gotten better at doing what we promise each other. But there is always tomorrow to take care of that, right ? 🙂

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Which of course led me to think about what else I wanted to achieve in life . Next goal I had was traveling frequently in planes and staying in good hotels and eating at great restaurants . Thanks to becoming a consultant, I have done millions of miles of air travel and thousands of nights at hotels around the world. The truth is that I stopped enjoying it a while ago – at some point I just learned to do it on autopilot and learned to not let it get on my nerves too much. A lot of people I know want to travel when they retire – I want to travel as little as possible. All the miles I have will come handy to fly to watch cricket matches and dog shows 🙂

Two things always worry me about retirement . 1. My dad was pretty miserable after retirement – his work was a big part of his identity, and stopping one day was not a pleasant experience for him . I don’t think he is over it even today, and I have a strong feeling it will be worse for me when it is my turn 2. Like everyone else  I know, I too worry whether I can ever afford to retire in purely financial terms.

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After I got out of the pool and had a shower – I sat down with another cup of coffee to refresh all the “assets and liabilities” to see if I can ever retire. I found that I am still nowhere close to being able to retire despite the magic of compounding  – but it strangely gave me great pleasure to know exactly why that is, in quantitative terms. And it forced me to take some decisions on personal finance that I had put on the tail end of my to-do list . I could not help but smile – I have told my clients a million times that they will have a whole new perspective on their business if they clean up their data and looked at the total picture it shows. I think I need to hire a consultant too . On second thoughts – there is a high chance that it was the excess coffee that helped bring the clarity more than the data 🙂

I like to solve big hairy problems on the work front as much as the next person – but I have also come to realize that solving a lot of small problems along the way gets me closer to the big goals than taking one giant swing once in a while. This year, I put that principle to use in losing some weight. No more crash diets etc – I took it slow with small weekly goals. And 8 months into the year, I have lost about 25 lbs. At this rate, I might even get to shape and manage to handle a German shepherd in competition again 🙂

Enough with reflections. Time to get another coffee and drive to home depot. My little vegetable garden needs some work.

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Why doesn’t anyone act on your ideas?


One of the top reasons people get frustrated at work – and sometimes leave their current role – is that they have bright ideas on what their company should do, and yet no one in their leadership does anything about it. I have been on several sides of this problem over my career – I have been deeply frustrated myself with my ideas getting rejected, I have left good roles because of it, I have been the manager who did not act on good recommendations, I have been the manager of managers who did not act on recommendations, and I have watched people my team leave frustrated , and many more.

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Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

It is tiring , both physically and mentally, when this happens , it and leaves a lot of people bitter for long periods of time . I also know a few folks who took bitter feelings from their work to their graves. I don’t have a perfect solution to this – but I can offer a framework that might be of some use to think through the problem and reach your own conclusion.

  • It may not be such an original idea after all

While we, who had the idea that we took up the chain, have every reason to think our idea is original, it may not be the first time the bosses have heard it. And if it is an idea they have heard for a long time – they probably will tune out really quick and not even bother to tell you why they think it won’t work. If you don’t have a relationship with the decision makers – or don’t have a mentor who can fill you in on why your idea was dismissed – you are bound to go through some frustration.

  • In the long term, every one is dead

While every leader likes to talk about the long term, very few have the luxury to make every move with long term interests in mind. Any idea that potentially negatively impacts near future , even though it has long term merit – has a high chance of getting shot down. Other than the very top execs, usually no leader stays in their job for several years to see through long term ideas. So to save their compensation, reduce stress or whatever – they favor short term gains. Its not your fault – but you should know what motivates your boss to make a decision.  I have often had success taking multiple ideas together to my bosses as a portfolio to show there are ways to mitigate short term issues while still investing for the future.

  • What is a priority today for your boss may be different from what you think it is

You may be stunned to see your boss quickly turn down your no brainer idea of improving profit by 20%. You might not have known that she already had a line of sight to get 20% or more profit (that obviously you dit=d not know), and was just trying to see how she can increase revenue too . If you knew – you may have changed your pitch, but you did not. Ideally she should have told you – but in her defense, she also only has the same number of hours in a day as you do.

  • How is your track record on execution ?

For every ten people with bright ideas, there is usually only one person who is capable of flawless execution. When you take an idea to the boss, and you don’t say who should run with this idea (perhaps thinking its not your place to say so) – the default assumption (usually because most decisions unfortunately get made with limited thinking time)  is that you meant to run with this yourself or the boss should run with it. If your own track record on execution is limited, and the boss cannot think of who can make it work – the chances are that your idea won’t move forward.

  • Timing is everything

If you think your idea has all the merit in the world, you may still not get anywhere with it if your timing is bad. This is often the last hurdle, and the hardest. In many cases, you will need to do your homework extensively – and even then it could be that the boss is irritated with something else and you need some luck on your side. One time not very long ago, I was about to walk into a CIO’s office to make the final presentation on a large project . As I was sitting in the sofa in the waiting room outside his office, his EA (who used to support a friend of mine for a long time) whispered to me that he had just heard that the CIO’s son had run into a utility pole on the street with a new car , and the dad was pretty upset. As I walked into the office a couple of minutes later, I offered to reschedule the meeting to the following week which he quickly and gratefully accepted. And we won the project. I have lost several deals in my career where I don’t quite know exactly why I lost. But it did teach me to do my homework better – and it has helped.

  • The decision makers are not always qualified to make the decision

This should only be considered after you have ruled out all the things you potentially could do differently, and not as the default assumption.to begin with!

Not everyone that sits in the fancy office may be qualified to take a decision on your idea. Some managers have not kept up with the latest advances in their fields. Some may not have skills to analyze a business case presented to them. Some may be too insecure to let you take credit for a good idea. And yet – strangely to you perhaps – they may still have the skills to be very good at their job. This may be because their own leadership have not done a good job at developing them. This may be because they never prioritized up-skilling periodically. It could be due to a lot of reasons – but irrespective of the cause, it happens a lot. This is a hard challenge to over come for the people who want to present ideas to them. I usually start with offering an education session to give them some background on what is new, what is the opportunity in the market etc – and then give them some time to assimilate that before I pitch the idea. Another strategy that has worked for me is to offer to go with them up the chain to make the case, so that they can defer to me for finer details of the case. And when I have extreme conviction in my idea – and after I fail convincing the immediate decision makers, I go to their managers. Its not an easy decision to make – and I try hard to not do it till I have exhausted every other option. I have paid the price for jumping hierarchy multiple times in my career – but I only do this with my eyes open and not irrationally.

Dealing with the frustration

Whatever you do, I hope you don’t try to take it out on your family, your dog or your friends. I have seen that happen too many times – and it is terrible.

First thing to realize is that it is not the end of the world in most cases. I have often been advised by my mentors to ignore/forget and move on. If you can take that advice – its perhaps the best case and you should do it.  Unfortunately for me , I cannot forget that easily. So I brood for some time, and then start vigorously analyzing what happened.

Most often I figure this is something I could have done better – usually along the lines of developing better relationships, improving my skills, etc. If I cannot make this determination myself – I run it by my mentors and explain my analysis to them. They often can help clarify my thinking very quickly since they are not emotionally attached to this as much as I am. Some times (only after some time passes, and only if I know I have a trusted relationship with them) – I take it back to the people who rejected the idea to make requests on helping me understand why they took the decision they took.

Some parting thoughts

  1. For my own ideas, I put them through a lot more scrutiny and preparation before pitching it to people who need to act. Generally I have more success than I have had in the past by choosing to chase fewer ideas with higher conviction.
  2. When my team comes to me with their ideas, if I don’t think it is worth implementing – I now take a lot more time to explain why I think it does not have the merit they thought it had. And I have become a bit better at getting more input from experts to evaluate an idea since I know my limitations .
  3. While I have always known that developing a network is super important, the appreciation for that has obviously improved over time. You need to know more people than you think you will ever need, have depth in those relationships, and you need to pay it forward all the time without taking a transactional view of the world
  4. You need a plan B. If you have terrific conviction in your idea and it is not going anywhere – you cannot give up. But you will live with frustration if you don’t have good choices to fall back on. In an extreme case – do you know enough people in your network and have enough skills to find another place to see your idea thrive? . Having the network, skills etc improves your confidence and that helps you see more of your ideas thrive !

AI in Cancer care and managing the great expectations around it


I woke up on Saturday morning and read this WSJ article IBM has a Watson Dilemma . As always when such articles get published, this was followed by a lot of criticism on twitter, linkedin etc – and I read most of them. And today morning, I saw this article on IBM blog site from Dr John Kelly titled Watson Health : Setting the record state .

I am very hesitant about expressing my personal opinion

Especially when my employer is the one being criticized. I am not an impartial party here at all – I am an executive at IBM ( Not a very senior one by any stretch – there are a couple of levels between me and the CEO) , I hold IBM stock , I am not a company spokes person, and till recently I managed a business of which Watson and Watson Health consulting services were a part of. Also, Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about my opinions on IBM Watson after an analyst wrote an article that I thought I should weigh in, in a personal capacity.

On the other hand, AI is a topic I have great interest and some expertise in (Again, I am not a hands on ML developer or anything like that today – though that might potentially be one option in future given my passion).

I lost my dear Aunt Geetha to cancer a few years ago – she was a second mom to me. I was at the hospital with her when she fought the deadly disease for her last few days (I was on vacation in Trivandrum) , and I spoke with several folks at the hospital whose dear ones were going through the same battle. So anything that helps fight cancer is a topic I have a deep interest in, and one where I will happily donate my time and money.

So for what little it is worth, here is my take and I am just going to address two specific issues

Is Marketing Hype the big culprit ?

I am not a marketer by trade, though I appreciate high quality professional marketing. When I am in a sales role, I prefer a soft selling approach – and that might be because I am an engineer first and foremost. So, I totally get it when IBM Marketing gets accused of going overboard by someone on social media. I have also been in this industry long enough to know that without massive awareness created by marketing, no young technology gets the air cover it needs to mature. I personally know of no client who has made an enterprise purchase only because they saw awesome vendor marketing. Marketing opens doors no doubt – but clients subject their purchasing decisions to an array or dimensions ( proof of concepts, risk management, analyst reports , references etc)  before someone signs a check.

What I readily agree is that marketing does contribute to setting big expectations for new technologies. And big expectations are good – as long as everyone gets the nuances that go with it. When it comes to finding good solutions for deadly diseases cancer, I doubt it helps to not have bold goals. I always encourage folks to ask good questions – and proceed with eyes open.

Is it bad that Watson agrees with doctors most of the time ?

To state the obvious, it would be terrible if Watson and doctors disagreed all the time. But is it bad if they agreed most of the time ? The WSJ article implies that since human doctors agree with Watson most of the time, they stop using it or at least limit its use.

There are commercial use cases that follow the same pattern as cancer diagnostics. For example, Watson can ingest training manuals of several machines and can have a Q&A with a mechanic or a customer who is faced with a live problem. An experienced mechanic usually agrees with Watson most of the time, and probably does not see much value. But think about the less experienced mechanic, or a customer who is not technical. The solution is of high value to them. The ideal situation is that the experienced mechanic continues to train Watson (via agreeing and correcting when wrong) and Watson helps several lesser experienced mechanics and customers from what it has learned. That is the incentive to have the experienced mechanic continue to use Watson.

Sitting outside the room where my Aunt was struggling with her fight, one thing was abundantly clear to me. In USA, we have several oncologists and specialist hospitals that are the envy of the world. That is not universally true. Even in the hospital I was at with my aunt in India, there were plenty of oncologists – but nowhere close the number that is needed to cover the sheer number of patients. They have very little time to keep up with the latest in cancer care – or to even spend enough time with one of their patients. They deal with patients who flock there (and several of them thankfully don’t have cancer and was sent there because of poor diagnosis where they initially went to ), and even if that process can be streamlined – they can save more lives.

Now think of all the hospitals in a country with a billion people – and several of the people not diagnosed or treated just because of poor access to specialists !

I also vividly remember the line in front of the radiologist’s office there in India – one very tired lady trying her best to read images and make notes while highly stressed out patients and their relatives started shouting around her. I felt terrible for the doctor and the people around her.  With advances in computer vision, this scenario can be improved exponentially.

It it bad that Watson cannot figure out great solutions for rare cases ?

Ideally, I would love for AI to help us solve cases where humans have very limited options. I don’t think tech will solve this in near term. But that is not to say there is nothing tech can do today. It still can find useful information more quickly for a doctor than they can find manually, and WSJ article does talk about that.

There are several obstacles to getting AI to work as we need it to – and getting data organized for Ai to learn from is one big one. Even in areas where we have been at it for decades – like loading legacy data into a new ERP system, it takes a lot of effort . You can only imagine the additional complexity included in getting data in the form that an AI model needs to learn from. It is not an insurmountable problem, and newer approaches keep coming up and at some point it will become mainstream, and easy to estimate the effort.

That is where I see the true potential of AI , including Watson ! It helps take expertise from people and institutions that have it and move it places where no such thing exists. And if we can save one more life, or reduce the pain for one more patient, or reduce the grief of one more family who will lose a dear one- I think it is totally worthwhile. I sure hope we don’t give up on this journey !

The High Potentials


Ask any room full of corporate types “Please raise your hands if you think you are above average”, and I will bet you a venti coffee that more than half the hands will go up. I have also asked and have been asked this question myself. As soon as we raise hands, we also realize that we don’t really know what the average is and neither can we rationalize how most people raised their hands. The next thought is “I see that Joe raised his hand too and he is absolutely below average – so there are some people here who think too high of themselves”. Generally – the point is well made every time this exercise plays out – but the collective “we” still think pretty high of ourselves 🙂 . I think this is a good thing and even when misplaced , this element of confidence is what drives us all forward .

I don’t think anyone questions the idea that some amongst us have more potential than others – we just don’t agree easily by how much. We don’t (usually) hold a grudge against the ones who are unquestionably smarter than us – we generally admire them. However if we think they only have a marginal edge over us – there is a good chance that we don’t agree to treat them as a “high potential”.

At various points in my career across multiple companies , I have been tagged as a “Hi Po” . I have identified and groomed a bunch of HiPos myself . And I have listened to hundreds of colleagues tell me “there is no way that person is a HiPo” . And I have also fallen from grace as a HiPo from time to time – in cases where I agreed and in other cases where I disagreed with the assessment . My perspective has evolved on this topic along the way, and probably will change some more.

To begin with – I think organizations should rethink whether they have a logical way of identifying HiPos . This is one area where it’s a big mistake to lower the bar – even if that happens unconsciously. The obvious immediate risk is that you risk the business by giving critical role to someone not ready for it . Perhaps the greater risk is that other deserving candidates lose faith in the system and choose to put in less than their best , or worse – to jump ship !

Some critical questions could be raised on the people who make the decision and their process.

1. Are the people making the HiPo determination qualified to do so ? How were they selected ? Are they in tune with the market and what the future needs ?

2. How do they validate their decision ? Is the process audited from time to time and changes made ? Has bias crept in ? What happens when it is clear that a mistake has been made ? Is there an appeals process ?

3. Are candidates chosen because their peer group is pretty weak ? How do we know if they truly have high potential compared to the market ?

Sometimes it’s made pretty public on who are the high potentials in the team – and at other times it’s kept somewhat of a secret. Either way , over a period of time – everyone will come to know who these people are by looking at what assignments and promotions they get . In a transparent system – there is a good chance that others strive hard to be a HiPo . In an opaque system – there will just be a lot of frustration and corporate gossip. I have often felt that the reasons for lower transparency are in a large part because managers don’t want to deal with a large number of employees asking them why they were overlooked .

What if you think you truly have higher potential than the organization credits you with ? Everyone goes through this a few times in their career. Most of the time we attribute it to bad luck and try again and usually things even out for us over time. However , occasionally there is the case where you think you are repeatedly overlooked and less qualified people keep moving ahead of the pack.

Most of the time there is no sinister motive from managers and it is just a game of chance that didn’t do you any favors this time. But the true test of whether your organization is undervaluing you is to test yourself in open market.

A classic case in my industry is people who get stuck at a senior manager or an associate partner level and can’t seem to make it to partner level . They also see some others fly through the ranks and make partner at a relatively young age. It’s a tough pill to swallow. I think the partnership appointment process is a fair process in all the firms I know. I also know that a small percentage of people end up not getting through it for no fault of theirs. For such folks – my advice has always been “Go apply at another firm and see if they will hire you as a partner”. If you are a partner at one firm , there is a good chance you can make a lateral shift as partner elsewhere . But it’s an order of magnitude harder to do that if you are not yet at partner level . But it does happen from time to time – and unless you try , you won’t know if you were truly overlooked where you are or if you still have work to do . And the “still have work to do” might not be as big as you might think – usually it’s something as simple as signing up for a public speaking class. Or it might need you to build a better network – which is usually easier where you already work , compared to trying it in a new employer.

There is also the part of being more self aware. We need to realize that some people are smarter than us and deserve more success than we do. What we should not accept is any systemic bias – like “it’s because I am a woman or Indian or because I chose to raise a family ” . Those need to be fought !

This was all about what could go wrong in choosing or being chosen as a HiPo . But what about the great case of being chosen as a HiPo ?

I can say with no hesitation that being selected is generally the easier part. The really hard part is to continue to stay as a HiPo and realize that potential ! It takes very little effort to derail

To begin with, you are in a hard spot – knowing your management rooting for you and having high expectations , while some of your overlooked peers may play passive aggressive with you and team.

Staying grounded and humble is the best strategy . You also need to develop thicker skin – it can get lonely for a little bit while you find your feet . Your tone of communication will be put to test – it’s very easy to be interpreted by others as condescending or patronizing . And you have to resist the temptation of staying YES to everything – you are a HiPo , not a superhero!

But the most important – and perhaps the most gratifying part – is to help others in their journey to be HiPos . As you get bigger roles that are a stretch – your success depends on building a motivating your team. The ones that blossom as HiPos are typically those that quickly realized they need more HiPos around them to hit it out of the park . And you need to be ver comfortable with the chance that one of your protégés might end up as your senior somewhere along the way .

India continues to amaze me in both its digital and analog flavors


Earlier this month, I took a few weeks vacation in India. Usually I visit India every year – some times multiple times a year. But this time I was there after two years and I had a few good surprises. I locked away my laptop before I left – which is perhaps the best decision I made in the last month !

Immigration at Chennai airport on way in, and Trivandrum airport on my way out were both a breeze. No more paper forms – everything is digital. I don’t know for sure if they upgraded baggage handling, but every time I was in a plane the bags came out super quick. Airports have great WiFi connections too . I was especially impressed with the Chennai airport – very clean , lot of shopping and eating choices as well . I might have over dosed on filter coffee the two days I spent in Chennai 🙂

We celebrated my dad’s 70th birthday while we were there. Since my sister and I both live here, we did have some worries on organizing a large party remotely. We had no reason to worry – we could do everything online from here and the hotel took care of everything at the highest standards. I remember how much we had to run around just ten years ago when we had his 60th birthday party.

My favorite mode of transportation within the city is the three wheeler auto rickshaw . It’s also a big thrill for my daughter 🙂 . This time however I found uber to be fairly mainstream and not much more expensive than the autorickshaw . Availability is still spotty , but it still was a very convenient and economical option . I was also surprised at how well google maps work there – even though a lot of roads are unmarked or terribly marked with conflicting names and multiple house numbers and all that .

It was a lot of fun taking an early morning walk through my old neighborhood . Especially nostalgic to visit the house I grew up in and see the tile of a German Shepherd that my parents gifted me for axing some test in middle school 🙂

Clean as ever and most of the historic buildings seem to be well preserved. Traffic seemed to be about ten times what it used to be in my childhood , but TRIVANDRUM is still thankfully sleepy compared to the big metros .

I spent a half day at the SCMS college delivering the keynote on AI at their international web services computing seminar. It was a great event and the next day I saw wide coverage in the prominent newspapers. Unfortunately what was attributed to me in some of the reporting had no relationship to what I actually said. Oh well 🙂

It was also a lot of fun to show my Alma Mater to my wife and daughter . My Grandfather , my father and I all attended the University of Kerala .

The food (especially fish and crab) was amazing as always – except for one incident of food poisoning that ruined a couple of days for me . And it happened at my favorite childhood fast food place . I don’t think I will ever eat there again. On the bright side, this time I ate more of mom’s cooking than restaurant food . So – No complaints !

One thing I am very careful when returning to India is the water I drink . This time I didn’t stick to bottled water – mostly because I liberally patronized the fresh juice vendors in every corner. Nothing beats the taste of fresh squeezed juice – with Musambi being my all time favorite. And it costs less than $1 !

Thanks to a lot of family events, I couldn’t catch up with several childhood friends this time – except four . And I am so grateful that I could hang out with them briefly, catching up , eating and singing

Thanks to these conversations – I have a new found appreciation of how the demonetization efforts of central government screwed over the small business owners in Kerala . It seems to have brought down consumer spending to an all time low and some people had to close down for good. I also learnt how terribly GST has been rolled out – a process disaster and a technical disaster to go with it.

Then there were the temple visits – including my firm favorite Sree Padmanabha Temple which is an architecture master piece, and thanks to recent discovery of treasures – it is also the richest religious institution in the world

It’s traditional practice to break coconuts in front of the Ganapathy temple and I did so . And in the process I aggravated a shoulder injury that I thought had gone away . A doctor visit , X-rays and 3 days of physiotherapy later – I am on the mend thankfully . I was quite impressed with the Ananthapuri hospital – very clean , and efficient and mostly digitized workflows. For the standard of care I received – it’s as good , if not better than what I would get back in US . And all of this cost me about $30. Several friends pointed out that this is still expensive for majority of Indians – but I think India is headed the right way on healthcare front if what I saw is mainstream experience .

As much as I enjoyed the visit, in a few days I started missing my fur kids Hobo and Ollie. And then I met my aunt’s adorable Pomeranian puppy Roxie – and I was in my happy place again 🙂

The last two days were spent at the beach with extended family from all over the globe for a reunion – and with monsoon in full swing. In my own very biased view – I think KERALA has the best beaches on the planet . Super clean , easily accessible, surrounded by greenery and relatively inexpensive to have a good time .

The reentry to work was rather abrupt – I landed on a Monday evening. I was up at 5AM answering calls from my boss and that afternoon had to fly to NY to meet my client . I woke up there in midtown with a craving for filter coffee the next morning . All I need was to take a ten minute walk to Saravana Bhavan on Lexington Ave to get my Indian Hangover taken care of . And that evening I checked out an Indo-Chinese place on the same street for dinner . It was almost like I was transported back to India !

The world is truly flat 🙂

Now I am back to what I do every time I come back from India – debating with myself whether I can retire there at least part time in future .

Buying GitHub – A very smart move by Microsoft !


I have been wanting to write this from the time I saw the first tweet on the topic few days ago. Lets just say life got in the way . Also, as always – this is just my personal point of view and not that of my employer.

For what its worth – the visual I had in my mind when I saw this news was of Satya Nadella typing “git init” on a black command line interface 🙂

As with all such news – the first two questions that came up were 1. Is it worth 7.5B dollars? and 2. Why Microsoft ?

$7.5B is a big amount to pay for any company, especially one that only generates $300M or so. So clearly MS was not buying this for revenue – or at least not just for revenue alone.

The most obvious reason is that this is a good way to get 28 million developers attracted to  Azure. It needs to be done with finesse as it will be a disaster if developers feel bad about it and leave in large numbers. Success of a platform is a function of the quality and quantity of developers building stuff on it. Given Satya has pivoted MS to be a cloud company, this is a very smart way to get access to several million developers in one shot.

Software development always was a social activity . When I started as a developer, Clearcase and Visual Sourcesafe were the primary options for repos. And between whiteboard and emails we used to resolve “contentious” issues. Github formalized the “dysfunctional family” nature of development teams to a sustainable method. Passive aggressive nature is now easier to demonstrate via pull requests than ” reply all” email threads 🙂 . I think GitHub also reminds us every day that software development is a journey, not a destination. Nothing ever is finished 🙂 . And special kudos for doing all this without spamming us with ads !

Its not a beginner’s tool kit – I still am afraid to do merges and I have been a developer a long time. But – despite its quirks, without GitHub I doubt software development ( definitely the open source side ) would not have made the kind of progress in the last decade.

Microsoft being a software powerhouse – and especially since they have found religion on open source – I generally think GitHub will only improve in functionality. And maybe even less scary to use for less experienced developers. And MS is very active on GitHub themselves – and most of us useVS Code and Typescript routinely. Their own products have also moved in many cases to opensource from .Net . No one will question the credentials in opensource for Friedman, the new CEO from MS for GitHub either. One of the first things he said was that investment in Atom will continue in parallel with VS Code, and that there won’t be ads in public repos – clearly showing empathy for developers who passionately love their tools.  So there is no shortage of authenticity and consequently MS can expect to get some respect from the dev community. I generally don’t expect to see mass defection of developers elsewhere.

There is one more aspect on the acquisition that interest me. MS had recently bought Linkedin. As someone who hires a lot of people every year – especially technical talent – I can’t help but admire the strategy from that perspective. When I hire an engineer, I check their linkedin profile, and I check GitHub to see their code. I can’t wait to see what integration will happen between the two.

Having the functionality of GitHub provides MS with a lot of product possibilities – from the obvious idea of integrating with their existing toolkit, but also perhaps using the same idea of collaborative development to non code scenarios. MS potentially can also give some turbo charge to GitHub Market place. I am very curious and will be watching the space closely.

With all the goodness comes plenty of headaches too. Facebook was cool till the Russia thing came up and questions started getting asked on what FB is actually responsible for. GitHub has 85 million repos. What will a big company like MS be held responsible for what gets developed there ? What about free and competitive software that potentially hurts MS revenue or worse perhaps invade someone’s privacy and security ? What about some country insisting on censoring ? Its a lot of headache if things go wrong – so I hope their business case tells them its net goodness despite the potential for problems.

So all in all – I think this was a very good move by MS.