Saturday, October 27, 2007

MBA - reality bites

As a certified MBA, I get questions from friends and relatives (and their friends and relatives, zillion times removed) on whether they should do MBA or not. When I talk to them, I find a bit of star-struck wonder of the MBA degree, that within just 2 years (1 year in some b-schools) they can boss around people or within 5 years become dollar millionaries ... Sometimes it is worse, it is parents who say they want their son to get an MBA and what they should do about that. *shudder*

So, here are some facts about the MBA:
a) Admission to a b-school doesn't automatically mean you are an MBA. You have to slog for 2 long years, where you are subject to the eccentricities of sadistic profs and stupid courses. You thought you were finished with your exams when you graduated ? Wait till you get into a b-school. I used my scienfic calculator more in my 2 years of MBA than in 4 years of engineering and my grades were least since my kindergarter :(

b) B-schools teach you business, they don't teach you management. Thank God for that. There is a book called "Managers, not MBAs", where the author proposes for teaching management, but then he is just parroting the words of lazy HR people. Nobody can teach you management, not the least a professor who has never worked in industry - you have to learn it. You *can* learn business concepts on the job too, it is just that an MBA gives you a good excuse.

c) You will be cash-flow negative during your MBA. Obvious, but most people can't understand that. Instead of earning money and sitting in AC rooms (esp in software/high-tech sector), you'll now spend your 2 years in self-sponsored torture - with probably and hopefully non-AC hostel rooms, and awake at night, studying for a stupid case study for the next day. Even in government-subsidized IITs, the fees is atleast 50K per semester
There are educational loans available and you start repayment only 6 months after completion of your course, but that constrains the job offers you can pick up. Say bye-bye to the entrepreneurship or NGO you always want to get into.

d) It is nice to read all those placement figures, but they come with lots of conditionalities. First, if it is the median pay, it means half the class got less than that. What are the odds you'll be in the top half ? Second, if the students are clever about negotiating the pay package, the HR is also clever in offering things you'll probably never avail. After all, one of their KPIs is to reduce the salary they pay you. Then, there is the income tax ... assume that around 25-33% of your income goes in tax, but you shouldn't worry about that - after all, you are patriotic citizen of the country, aren't you ? The last thing, is of course, what you are going to do with so much money ? Other than a ego gratification to have outsmarted and out-negotiated the HR and also have got more than your friends, what is the point ?

e) The new job isn't going to be terribly different from your old job. You still have to manage bosses and you still have targets and deadlines. You may still have to work late nights. For instance, if you worked in an IT company because IT was in "scope" before and you want to do an MBA to shift jobs, you might be in for a disappointment. If you can't choose properly and you can't enjoy the work that you have chosen, then how are you sure you are right this time ?

I hope I have punctured your balloon ...

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Of Marriages and Rituals

In South Indian marriages, there is a hilarious ritual called Kashi Yatra, where the groom pretends to give up everything and go to Kashi, and the bride's brother is supposed to drag him back offering his sister. As the bride's (cousin) brother, I was "entrusted" in this task and I had to bring the groom back by holding an umbrella over the head. The people accompanying also brought shampoo, shoes, etc ostensibly to aid the groom in getting back to the bride in one fine piece.

Well, the only hitch is I don't know of any groom who'd personally go to Kashi, giving up all worldly things. And the second point to be noted here, is it is a matter of principle: that I (as in bride's brother) am too lazy to actually go all the way to Kashi to bring him back - why derail someone who apparently wants to progress spiritually ? :) More questions can be raised, is the groom supposed to travel all the way from Kashi to here having only rice, shampoo and new pair of shoes ... and no money ? Hmm, personally, I'd settle for a credit card. They say generations before when they conceived of such things (I wonder what they did *before* that ?) the plan was for the groom to walk all the way from Kashi, but now with trains, flights etc, they don't need to, but the rituals have remained the same. But, I suppose, generations before, people used shampoo and soap ... did they ? And oh, by the way, what about the brother's journey ? They forgot that detail, didn't they ?

In the recent past, I've attended enough marriages to observe hypocrisies evident in the practice. Nobody cares about the rituals, excepty old grannies who as self-crowned protectors of culture try to maintain the mysterious sampradaya - not that anyone understands them. The family of the bride is busy calculating the expense, and that of groom calculating the value of the gifts. The middle-aged busybodies (esp. the purse-carrying specimens of fancy-dressed female species) of both sides try to manage what MBAs call "operational logistics" - logistics of gift-giving, logistics of vaadyars/purohits/pandits, logistics of food and finally, logistics of guests. As far as I can see, for all their running around like headless chickens, this is their only productive contribution to the world - better busy with useless work than with gossip and comparing dresses. Oh yeah, I mean it - marriage is not for the bride and groom ... it is a fancy-dress competition for most of above-mentioned middle-aged busybodies ... they compare the quality and price of their clothes, and boast about the bargains they drove, exhibit lots of jewelry, which thankfully hides their buffoon-like well-powdered faces.

Oh yeah, I'm cynical and I stereotype.

I'm evolving a hypothesis to all this. The bride and groom would get married anyway, even without anybody's help or interference. Rituals were just for formal sanctification of the "deal" - I really don't see any religious aspect here. I mean, when everybody in the neighbourhood community belonged to the same caste and religion, maybe such an assumption made sense. Now, it really doesn't. But, the essence of the entire ceremony is more subtle - it brings together the families of the bride and groom, 'coz in India atleast, marriage is also the coming together of the families of the bride and groom. It is a social occasion, not a religious one. Perhaps, in that light, the torture is worth it, perhaps it is not. Depends upon you.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Critique of Indian IT Act 2006

So, the Government is considering a revision to IT Act 2000 with amendments called ITAA 2006, and has reportedly put it in the public domain for discussion. For whatever it is worth, I've a few points but since most hits on this blog are from losers searching for "GE IMLP Salary", I'm not optimistic :(

Anyway, I got interested when I came across some news articles in EconomicTimes and Techtree. With an article provacatively titled "False web identity may land you in prison", there was scarcely a chance that I wouldn't read and comment on it. As a "concerned citizen" that I pretend I am, I got really irritated, and thoughts of "Big Brother" started floating in my head.

But, a cursory glance at the actual text of the Act paints a different picture.
The section in question is Section 66A, which reads
Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc. (Introduced vide ITAA 2006)
Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,-

a) any content that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

b) any content which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or illwill, persistently makes use of such computer resource or a communication device,

shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years and with fine.

And, surprise surprise, a communication device includes a cell phone too !

The probable intent of the clause seems to be an explicit criminalization of misrepresentation, esp. related to email/id spoofing, 419 scams, phishing or (esp in India) Orkut-related crimes.

Does it criminalize false information in creating web-ids ? Don't think so, since the intent is to protect privacy and not to cause any offence. But, it would certainly be a pain in the posterior, because these days bad web policies mean you have to register (along with your cell phone number, credit card number) to do anything on the internet, including view NewYork Times web page. Why the hell should NYTimes require registration (even if free) to access their site ? And why the hell should every web form force me to enter a surname, given that I don't have one ?? Forcing people to enter private data where it is not required should be considered a crime ...

At the same time, if the Act had a clear stand on protection of privacy and legitimized farting on web-pages where the intent is not to cause criminal offence, it would be a good deal.

At this rate, we will put BugMeNot out of business. Anyone listening ?

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

that's the way it's always been done

Why don't people know why they do things ? Why don't (most) people know why we follow rituals ? Why don't we ask ?

The answer flashed when my Patni colleague today reminded me of an old anecdote (a favorite internet forward) on origin of corporate policy. Incidentally, I'd not understood either this or Dilbert till I went to Patni :(

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, all of the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm!

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys has ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been done around here.

And that, my friends, is how company policy begins.


:)

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Insights of work

Strange but true. After my jump from Patni, I observed a couple of interesting things:

a) I can get paid well, but I'll feel dirty if I feel I'm not doing justice to my salary. It is as if I'm robbing the company. But, over and above that, it is the feeling I'm able to contribute a lot more, why are you keeping me down ? People at Patni never understood that ...

b) I get more frustrated by lack of work than by its excess. I don't mind working 12 hours a day (like I'm doing now) but I'll get frustrated if I've to approach someone for everything I need to do or most websites are blocked in the name of corporate policy ... In a big company, competitors need not pull it down, a big corporate always tries to commit suicide. Competitors give the focus to rescue itself :)

c) The best feeling I get and what makes me feel that I'm in the right job is to lie down at night feeling exhausted but content ... that I haven't wasted my day.

d) The best job is meaningful. Towards the final days at Patni, the only thing that motivated me was the feeling that I'm generating employment to the software engineers, who'd otherwise not be employed. Otherwise, I couldn't get up in the morning.

e) I don't want to go into top management so early - what will I do there ? It is a frustrating and boring job. The real challenging and interesting work is at the ground level.

f) What makes a better career ? The motivation to get out of the inertia of comfort zone. That is what makes you get out of a vertical and move horizontally. I pity people who become project managers - they've no idea about what is actually being done, they've to put up with bullshit from below, they've to put up with stupid people above ... technical architecting is a better profile anyday.

Or am I mad ?

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