Friday, December 29, 2006

PanIIT Chronicles - Networking

Alumni meets are very interesting. One of the reasons why alumni meets are held is networking, an euphemism for making contacts to suit one's convenience. Strange things happen in the name of networking - visiting cards are exchanged like Christmas cards, strangers barge into a group of old batchmates and start speaking to them as if they were acquaintances for life ... it's all in the game, so nobody finds it rude...

So, what can people like me do there ? Other than talking to our own friends, that is ? An MD of a rather well-known (well-known in a particular niche, and I had heard about it first time in 2000) software/media company was interested in me, but I wasn't, so I somehow squirmed myself out of an "opportunity". Other than that, it was more of meeting old acquaintances in new settings - I met a girl from HSS Dept after a year. We did discuss a few issues of IIT system, and as a PG nominee or something, she said she'd take it up. Atleast, as an organizer my contacts were more than without - atleast the speakers in my sessions had to speak to me ! That was my version of networking.

At the end of it all, Sachin came up with an incredibly profound statement - networking is meaningless unless you can offer something meaningful to others. I know, I can still hear Mrs. Anita Sharan drilling it into our ears the essence of communication - "What's in it for me ?" and Prof. K.L. Batra explaining the selling approach as an F-A-B (features-advantages-benefits) with focus on "B". But, isn't it rather easy to forget it ?

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PanIIT Chronicles - Presidential problems

It was my first brush with VVIP security - and quite frankly, I hope it is my last. VVIPs are not worth the trouble they put me through.

On 23rd Dec, the PanIIT 2006 was to be inaugurated by the President, Dr. Abdul Kalam at 1pm. We were asked not to bring mobiles and be in the auditorium some 1 hour before. It was tough to be missing my mobile, I was organizing something, and being out of communication meant I was without information for over 10 hours. Anyway, as soon as I landed at the venue, I found that the security people were not allowing bags to be carried inside (though they permitted women to carry their purses ... strange). I did some quick thinking and I kept my bag in someone else's car - I took his business card, but only later did I realize that I didn't have a phone and hence couldn't recover it. There were no arrangements made to store the bags somewhere. Then, I went in and found I had to rush in and grab a seat - and that meant I had to miss lunch. Then, on top of it, the President came nearly 75 minutes late - ostensibly because of the Delhi fog.

So, there I was, sitting in the auditorium, having (technically) lost my bag, without my mobile on an empty stomach, so it wouldn't be out of place to say that I expected something special from the President for all that I had to go through. It didn't happen - in fact, his presentation for a big let-down. Within 10 minutes, I mentally switched off - like I do in almost all my classes in IIT. He was blabbering about nanotechnology and some world knowledge platform, and in the middle, shamelessly advocating his website. The slides had terrible design, that would have probably made me puke, had my stomach not been empty and my mind inert.

This wasn't my first encounter with his speech. While I was interning at IBM ExtremeBlue at ISL Pune, Kalam had attended IBM's big seminar at Bangalore, that was being telecast live to all IBM centres, including Pune. Anyway, there too he talked some crap about World Knowledge Platform and spent some ten minutes on the Brahmos cruise missile and India's nuclear and missile programmes. It was grossly inappropriate then, and it was grossly inappropriate now - though thankfully, he spent only a couple of minutes on Brahmos, and skipped the nuclear and missile topics entirely.

There was only one thought that he left behind - that IITs don't have any value add. You take the smartest people of the country, and whatever you do, they'd still be smart and then you claim IITs as great institutions. Quite interesting idea. Apart from that, Kalam's speech was pointless, redundant and waste of time. I think that he has a few canned slides about these, and where he goes, he just connects the topic to these favourites of his. He is not a good speaker, and when even the content is bad, things get inevitably screwed. This was in rather sharp contrast with Shashi Tharoor's out-of-the-world speech.

Thankfully, the security more or less melted away after he left. When I reached my hostel room late that night, I found that I had some 23 missed calls on my mobile... I still haven't gotten my bag back yet - though, I got in touch with that person, and he gave it to one of my juniors in SOM and I haven't been able to collect it back.

Talk about white elephants ...

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Friday, December 22, 2006

The other side of the story

For all that journalists somewhat convincingly claim to represent the fair and objective view, it takes only a news aggregator to understand the stark truth. I started reading Google News when it first debuted quite a long time ago, and I've been a fan of it ever since. What Google News proves time and again, is that journalistic bias does exist and it reflects in each and every word that is written or uttered. There is nothing like a dis-interested view to cut through commercial or governmental propaganda.

So, I started reading the newspapers almost religiously. For online editions of the newspaper, since the news remains much the same and is often stale, I read the editorials, op-ed, opinion, letters to editor sections, because that is where the meat is, so to speak. My news appetite hasn't waned - just consider the following list:
a) Rediff - for grabbing the headlines
b) Indianexpress - For frequently exposing the other side of the story. The editorials and columns are phenomenal
c) Washington Post - For an American perspective
d) Times Online - For a British perspective
e) Dawn - For a Pakistani perspective
f) Outlook magazine - For an in-depth insight into the burning issue of the day - with a perspective you didn't even know that it existed. Awesome.
g) Haaretz - For an Israeli perspective
h) New York Times - Another American perspective
g) Slashdot - Its motto is "News for nerds, stuff that matters" - says everything. Top-site for technology news.
h) Google News - for everything else. Sometimes, I visit news.google.com instead of news.google.co.in, just to check whether Google is hiding something, just because it thinks I like the Indian news.

I do sometimes visit other competing online news editions, but I do get a bit pissed off usually:
a) The Hindu - Crappy site interface, fantastic analysis of news, but biased towards left/communists.
b) Indiatimes/Times of India - Crappy site. Tabloid. Annoying flash ads. Enuff said
c) Digg - supposedly competitor of Slashdot. First page takes a long time to load. Low signal to noise ratio - lots of stories, most are trivial. But sometimes you get a few gems. Frustrating.

A few general observations:
a) There is a definite journalistic bias - Indian Express is more progressive than the reactionary Hindu, but both take a stand. Times of India sits on the fence, has no opinions on anything other than the personal life of Bollywood stars.

b) In Pakistan, Dawn is more progressive that Daily Times.

c) In general, Israel is obsessed with the Palestine issue. Almost every article is regarding the IDF or the PLA mess or the incompetence of Israeli leadership. It is as though they are in a siege. I don't know who is suffering more - Israelis or Palestinians. I really feel sorry for them - this is no way for a society to exist.

d) In general, Pakistan is obsessed with India (and nowadays more with Afghanistan). I enjoy a small game - as soon as I load their editorial or opinion page, I search for the word - "india", and in nine times out of ten, it will be there - either as a criticism, or seen as a model for economic progress. And frighteningly, even letters of readers reflect this - we Indians are regarded as war-mongers, untrustworthy people, losers, cowards (esp. if a military person or a former foreign secretary is posting). It is so childish.
Left to myself, I think it is time Pakistan grows this insecurity and India-centric view, and gets a little more self-confidence and maturity.

e) Free registrations to the website are useless and often suck. New York Times is the biggest culprit - Bug Me Not is my friend while visiting such brain-damaged sites. I've heard there is a Firefox extension for directly getting the login from Bug Me Not, I'm yet to check it out.

f) I don't know who in their right mind can use the e-paper facility that the online news editions so sickeningly promote. It really sucks.

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One child tragedy

It is something that I had read in text-books when I was in high-school. It is something I've constant read about in newspapers. I felt at that time that it was a fantastic idea that we in India couldn't implement due to lack of political will. But, I had not known about the social consequences.

Yeah, I'm talking about China's one-child norm. A Washington Post article set me thinking. As I ponder more and more, I start thinking about the horror that it must be wreaking on the basic social fabric of a country.

Imagine being born in a family without siblings to fight and share, without having uncles or aunts, and hence no cousins, being spoilt by parents and grand-parents because you are the only one ... Imagine the plight of the aged, when their only child is so busy with career that (s)he neglects the parents ... What a family ! What a society !

If the next time, someone tells me that China is a role-model because they can get their decisions implemented (like their Three-Gorges dam), then they are callous about the ones with no voice. It is humanly impossible for a single person at the top to be so all-knowing that he can foresee all the consequences and then decide. For instance, I don't know the truth about the Narmada Dam, but all I can say is that the controversy itself proves that we are a functioning democracy and while we are definitely the most chaotic, anarchist society full of "Argumentative Indians" (as Amartya Sen puts it), we still have something called a society - that is no mean achievement. If that is the cost of prosperity and wealth, I'd prefer such an India though backward, against a prosperous China.

Score 1 for democracy.

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Universe conspires again ...

In my previous post, I had written about the conspiracy of the universe in getting me into TechMahindra. It turned out that it didn't stop there (okay, this is like stretching the metaphor a bit too far, but let me see how far I can go ;-).

As soon as I got placed in TechM, I told myself that I'm out of the placement process someone offers me something I couldn't positively refuse. I had registered for Patni long before the pre-processes actually started, but once I got placed, I lost all interest in it. Patni's GD was at 8:10 am the following morning, and since I was skipping it anyway (and I detest GDs), I wasn't really interested in turning up. I had slept very late, and so I woke up at around 8 am, didn't shave, skipped bath and breakfast, and still groggy from sleep, I somehow walked all the way to SOM.

After sometime, someone handling the process told me to go to Patni, though I had skipped the GD ! I didn't want to go, but they told me to try it, and if I didn't like it, I could always reject it.

Now, I remembered from their PPT that Patni had some profile in products, and since my interest was in software products, I would ask for it. So, I went in with a sceptical mind, and I told the lady who was interviewing me the same thing. It turned out that she was from their PES (product engg services) and she was more than happy to oblige me. She was so impressed that she started trying to convince me regarding why Patni was the best fit for me. The interview went on for some 30 mins and she also offered the icing on the cake - posting in Bangalore. I told her even more frankly that now I'm was getting more interested in what they wanted to offer. Finally, they made an offer. The compensation was same as that of TechM's but less variable component + all the monetary and non-monetary benefits of staying at home.

As per our placement rules, I can have a maximum of two accepted offers, and I've got till mid-Jan to finally choose which of the accepted offers I'm going to finally select. Therefore, if I accepted Patni, I'd be out of the process. And in the immediate context, I had exactly 20 mins to decide whether or not to accept the offer. In the end, I felt if I wanted to pursue my dream of getting into product management, then this was the best starting point - high learning + low risk. So, I took the offer and dropped out of the process.

Now, I have TechM and Patni, and one hell of a decision to make, something I wanted to avoid. I'm thinking of speaking to people who are working there, and arrive at an "informed decision", but what the heck, I'd probably go for Patni regardless.

Thus continues my placement saga.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

The universe conspires ...

A quote attributed to RW Emerson says "“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” Maybe Emerson missed out a few more scenarios - alteast one that can be attributed to me over the past 28 hours can be "If you don't want to make a decision, the universe itself conspires to give you the best".

To be fair, I wanted GE IMLP ... badly. I ensured that none of the other companies interfered with this. As I mentioned in my previous post, I didn't want a choice, and by that I meant I want IMLP only and nothing else. And then the universe started conspiring ... and all sorts of accidents started happening.

In the meantime, TechMahindra was slotted along with GE. And I didn't evince any interest in it. I didn't even write down their profile/package anything when they presented their PPT. And when call for applications came, I told the placecom that I was NOT interested.

Now, the GE pre-process was at 7 pm, and something made me leave my hostel at 6:15 pm. Since it would be foolish to wear blazer, tie, trousers and all and then ride on a dusted, creaky 2nd-hand bicycle, I started walking towards the department. Then Vineet offered me a drop to SOM.

In the department, people were searching frantically for me. Apparently there was some screwup by the placecom, and it turned out that I was to take the TechM interview. I didn't want to "bunk" it or under-perform, so I just walked in and took it as it went. At the end of the interview, I knew, even though it was a pre-process only, horror of horrors, I had cracked it, and even worse, I wanted it.

Then GE pre-process happened, with a group activity. I'm not sure how they evaluated a person in a team, but I was doubtful. Overnight, I prayed that my choice on the next day be easy, and it turned out to be just that.

In the morning, the shortlists were out, and as I had feared, I was not in GE shortlist, but shortlisted for TechM. I thought I worked well in team, but (trying not to sound like sour grapes) it appears GE were looking at alpha-male pretenders. I guess it is their loss. But if this is their work culture, then maybe I'm better off not being there. By this time, I was getting more and more impressed by TechM. I attended the TechM interview in a daze, cracked a mostly technical interview, and when they made an offer, I just accepted it.

I didn't bother to negotiate, even though the salary that they are offering is considerably less than what I was getting when I quit Netscaler - I think negotiating for the salary is a cheap thing and so far (including my previous job), I've never demanded a pay hike. If I don't like something and they don't recognize it, I'll just move out. Netscaler gave me a fantastic job but a lousy career - so I quit. TechM is giving me a good career and a good pay, so I took it. And now, I'm so impressed by this that I'm not appearing for any other company in the process.

If the universe itself conspires to place me somewhere, I can't crib. I just give in.

Update (7th Jan 2007)
I'm getting lots of hits on google search for IMLP salary. If you want to join GE IMLP because of salary, then I'm not going to help you out. OTOH, it won't matter how much IMLP offers someone else, it is just that are you happy with the offer you have ?

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Career choices

SJMSOM's placement are going to start very soon - the PPTs have more or less ended, slotting is over, and we are all set to go. But, for a few minor details ... like knowing what I want :(

Contrasted to the way I approached my placements post engineering, there has been a remarkable difference in the objectives. Some of the critical things that people look for (in no particular order) are: profile, location, salary, post-induction training, career growth path and of course, exit options.

To me the first three options (profile, location, salary) are the key - I think profile subsumes career growth and exit options. And it has become clear that I need to compromise on location for profile.

I'm still not sure what I want, and what I want to do. To me, this is the first job - the job that is going to define my career for the next 15-20 years. So, if I'm going to do something, then it better be what I'm going to enjoy. And that means I may have to compromise on location as well as the starting salary.

Of course, there are companies that offer a profile that I instinctively recognize as "this is tailor-made just for me". It may not be the best job in the campus salary-wise or location-wise, but it is the best for me. The only difficulty is that either they are so niche that only I'm interested or so common that more than half the class is interested.

What if I make the wrong choice ? Can I live with it ? Sometimes I wish we didn't have choices ... I still remember the words from the 1st Harry Potter novel - Given a choice we choose what is the worst thing for us. I similarly wish I won't have to choose a job - I just get compelled into one.

One final word about b-school rankings: b-schools usually preen themselves on senseless and utterly brain-dead factors such as salary, brands of companies visiting campus, number of offers per person and how many hours it took to close the placement process. None of them speak the truth because that a lot of people change their jobs within the first year - they were not satisfied with their choice. A better statistic to rate a placement process is to find the difference between the job that a candidate aspires for and the job he gets. Everything else is an approximation.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Tragedy called HR

Ironically, for a guy who scored DD (translation: bottom of class) in HR, I'm very much interested in HR. Or funnily enough, possibly my pathetic score actually proved my interest in HR :) In XAT 2004-05, I had even applied for PM&IR in XLRI - that I didn't get through is a different story. Anyway, I got to be thankful that I didn't get through. It was a good thing that I didn't.

In my HR course, I read all about how HR is a "strategic" (a frequent MBA-speak) function and not a staff job. How HR is going to change the company's fortunes, blah blah.

In this placement season, the true colour of HR is being seen. When companies come for PPT (Pre-Placement Talks), usually the good work is done by the domain experts or the VPs or CEOs as the case may be. The accompanying HRs simply sit like dolls and (if you are lucky) sometimes, look pretty. They have absolutely no use above this. Most of the time, they can't answer anything about the company or placement details other than the compensation and the salary breakup. What an utter waste of time.

Perhaps it is time to do away with them. One way is to take IBM's wonderful system of people managers to the next level. Have an administration division for "pen pushing" and put the people management responsibility into line managers. More of the system seen in the militaries.

In any case, it is time to recognize HR as another MBA jargon and limit our expectations from them. Because, irrespective of whatever they teach in b-schools, HR in the current form is useless.

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