Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Truth About Engineering

Young kids studying engineering like to blame engineering college or university for numerous things -

- lack of infrastructure
- syllabus is too old
- teachers and guides do not know anything
- I am better off doing something on my own than attending classes. That is what Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did.

But engineering teaches you one main thing - how you approach solving a problem. Your approach to solving a problem helps you regardless of how old the technology is. Great engineers solve problem by understanding the concept and the root of the problem. They understand all the tools and resources  they have with them to solve that problem. They do this before they  apply any solution to the problem.

When I ask candidates about their favorite movie during interview, 90% of the candidates (from computer science background) answer that 3 Idiots is their favorite movie. They add a good description to this answer as to why they like this movie.

In my opinion, in 3 Idiots, Rancho solves the problem in the movie climax because
- his basic concepts  are clear (about physics, suction, etc.)
- he knows the tools that he has (a vaccum cleaner and batteries)
- he understood the problem (he knew how much pressure was required)
- he had the right resources to gain knowledge (asking Pia about delivering a child)

He didn't solve the problem because he had a state-of-the-art lighting backup and other tools at his disposal. Even if he had all those tools, he couldn't have become a life-saver in the end without the help of  Pia who provided her the right information at his disposal.

If I have to provide an analogy to this in programming, any good software engineer can program using Notepad without ever needing Eclipse, Netbeans or Visual Studio. Also, a good software engineer needs the right resources like Language documentation, Books, examples with him to understand the solution before even applying it. What is important here is that the person understands the solution before applying the solution to the problem.

This problem solving approach is the reason that many engineering students are able to crack the CAT and join IIMs. I am not sure whether they eventually become good  MBA students, but that is a different topic altogether.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Problem Of Too Many Managers!

Problem 1:

The problem in India is that everyone wants to be a manager. We have 10 managers  to manage a team of 4 technical people. Even technical people who love what they do are forced to think that they "will" have to do MBA and become manager. I am stressing 'will' because they don't look at it as a choice but are compelled to do MBA. People believe that by doing MBA they will have a better career growth (read more salary). But after doing MBA and becoming a manager, they will manage the same group of people having the same technical skills that was present in them before.

For example, when  I interview young candidates in their mid twenties and ask them their 5 year or 10 year plan, everyone says that they want to become a Project Manager. Doesn't matter if they really have the aptitude for that or whether they even know what is involved in being a project manager. Not a single software developer in this age group has told me that they would love to do software coding at the age of 35-40.

If everyone will become a manager, then who will implement, design and innovate?

Problem 2:

We have people working in HR who do not know what kind of skill sets is required in the company to get the job done. There are HR managers and recruiters who hire technical people for the company but they have no clue what goes on to make that work order. The same group of people also are involved in performance appraisals!

For a HR manager, if you have 2 year experience in Java, you are equivalent to all the other people in the world who have 2 years experience in Java. It doesn't matter what kind of work you have done in those two years. This makes IT software consultancy a commodity rather than a team of experts working to solve a someone's problem. Please note that I am not doubting whether the person is good at the role of HR. Surely that person might be good in human relations.

Similarly, someone working in the Sales department of an IT consultancy firm might not have written a single piece of code his/her entire life. This person might be a great sales guy and having a penchant for attracting people, but  you also need to have the domain knowledge to understand the customer's needs.


I think the solution for both these problems is that technical people should be part of HR, Sales, Finance and handle teams in these areas. For this, they should do MBA to learn the finer concepts in that role. The first thing to do is to understand your aptitude, and then accordingly choose the MBA stream that can further enhance your aptitude. Your aptitude could be that you are good at interacting with people, or you are good with numbers or you are simply good in engineering. After doing MBA, you can put your technical skills and aptitude to good use and make a difference in the organisation. But please do not do MBA just to enhance your package.

If we do not address these 2 problems, we are in danger of making a Manager itself as a commodity (third problem).We will have too many HR managers, too many Sales Managers and too many Project Managers who have no differentiating factor among themselves.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Return of East India Company

I was excited today as my new table was delivered at my place. I was used to tables being delivered in full form (on 4 legs) with great difficulty through the three feet wide doors. But today the table was delivered in parts. The first package had the legs, the second had the table top, the third package contained the material for drawers. Then the 'carpenter' opened all the boxes and started joining the pieces like a child playing with a kit.

In between this excitement, it was sad to see that the carpenter didn't actually make the table from scratch but was only assembling the pieces. The table was made somewhere in a factory in China. All  he had to do was just fit the pieces together. I was surprised to see such engineering/craftsmanship from China.

Just like the table, the furniture market is full of products supplied from China. I am wondering whether India can locally compete with that in terms of delivery time, quality and price. Probably we can compete in terms of quality. But it is faster to get goods delivered from China than getting it made locally in India. That is how someone can explain Globalization to a layperson. And that is the beginning of the end of one more local industry in India. 

It reminded me of the 17th Century when East India Company came to India and everyone was excited to see new products in the market bought from distant lands. And soon that led to closure of many industries like handicrafts. And the rest is history. What we need to learn from our mistakes is that we should grow our local competencies. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Way We Perceive Life

I read this article in Times of India few days back when it made me think how people perceive life. People are very much familiar with the concept of ‘Rat Race’. Since the time I have finished my graduation and started working, I have felt the race around me. It was almost like people were pushing you into it. It started with campus placements where everyone was interested in the salary package that their friends were offered. No one was interested in the role that they were offered. Everyone assumed that it will be ‘software engineer’ role. In my current company I take lot of interviews and none of the candidates ask me what their role is. Everyone is interested in the package.  

Comparing yourself with others doesn’t stop at salary package. People compare themselves with their peers, friends, cousins and even family members on numerous factors – car, property, gadgets and much more. We call these things status symbol and these material objects give a meaning to our life. They feed our ego. We feel that we have accomplished something and achieved more than our parents might have in their whole life.

 I am not against material things, but I believe that God doesn’t give man what he wants, he gives him what he needs. We should strive to have everything that is important in our life – like having a home to live, clothes to wear, nice food to eat. But because of the Rat Race, the definition of what is important has changed and people feel that having these objects is important and they work extra hard just to buy these things.

So there are one sect of people who look at life like a race. They want to play the race and win. If they win, they are happy, if they don’t win they are sad. If someone else goes ahead of them they are sad. I think most of us perceive life in this way since childhood.

Other way of looking at life is like a stage. It means that we all have a part or role to play in this life. We do not look at life as a race, but as a stage where everyone is playing their part. People come on stage, play their part and leave. The lead actor has a major part and the supporting actor might have a lesser one. Of course, this would mean that the lead actor might get more remuneration than the supporting actor. But in this case, there is no competition between the actors. Everyone is not trying to out-do each other as they would have in the race. Everyone knows what part they are playing in life and are happy about it. They are happy in their role and in their work. Getting remuneration for what you enjoy doing is just a bonus, like icing on cake.

Hence I suggest that before we start comparing ourselves with others, see what role they are playing and compare that with the role that you are playing. Most of the times you will be happy with your role and will accept the rewards that come with it.  

Finally, I would like to end this with a favourite quote I had heard long time ago. It goes like this - “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat”. And that I think makes all the difference in the way we perceive life.