A Joyful Experience

...from Hooghly to Hyderabad and beyond.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Eureka!

I got it! I’m very happy tonight. Why? Because my program worked. And also maybe because I’m a bit different from most of the people around me. Rather, I should say that I’m certainly more than a bit odd in the eyes of my friends and colleagues.

How else can I explain the joy that I get from computer programming, which is better known among professionals as coding? I spend hours staring at endless lines of code on my monitor. And this is not because I am required to do it by my profession. I have been enjoying coding since my school days. I would set myself tough problems (which, in retrospect, I now find to be quite easy actually) and would solve them by programming. Of course, at that time BASIC was the only language I knew, and I was blissfully unaware of any such things as coding standards and good programming practices. Then I met C and C++ in class XI. It was a love at first sight, and till date, I haven’t found another language that I could love more.

While my friends would spend their time playing games with their computer, I would happily spend hours coding, maybe designing my own games. This trend continued even during the four years of engineering. My friends had always told me that I was barmy, but they completely gave up on me after I told them on 1st January 2003 that I had spent the previous night debugging my code. Sorry, did I say 1st? I actually told them on 2nd January, because I was the only person who turned up at the college on New Year’s Day. I enjoyed the day immensely at the lab, checking and rechecking my code, though I must admit that I played a little bit of Road rash too.

So you can imagine my shock when on joining my first job in a software company, I was told that I wouldn’t need to do any programming. “Come on man! You are very lucky to get into Siebel at the very beginning of your career”, said my PM. On being told that I wanted to do coding, his reaction was, “Where will coding take you? Siebel configuration is the happening thing right now! Who would want to write lines and lines of code?” For those who don’t know, the idea is that I’ll click and drag and drop and put a check mark here or type a value there…and presto! The computer will generate the code. And to be honest, it does a pretty good job of it, too. A few of my clicks here and there causes the poor thing to write maybe a few hundred lines of code. And because it does it so fast, it can mess up more things in a second than I could unmess in a year. I love programming because I have the power to change small things and affect the output. Here, the computer changes what it thinks best. My friends envy me. They say their work is killing them. They hate coding from the bottom of their heart, and they are being forced to do it. I am lucky to have escaped coding. That is the irony called life.

So here I am…coding at my home. I don’t get time for programming during the week, so I try designing programs here on my home PC. And it’s such a program that worked a little while ago. That’s why I’m so happy. Maybe I’m odd. Maybe the others are right. Maybe I’m moving in the opposite direction. But I’m sure there are other people like me too. People for whom programming is life. People who write long programs to make tools like Siebel. People who are making themselves dispensable by writing programs that can write programs.

This post is dedicated to them.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Click-Click!

What does that heading mean? For many people in the world today, that is the name of the excercise that they indulge in most frequently. You guessed it right. Those two words signify the double-clicking of a mouse. But if you are looking for a post on the IT industry or some related stuff, look elsewhere. I'm definitely not staying up late to discuss the very thing that am forced to discuss throughout the day. Even as I type this, my right hand index finger is sore from double clicking. So no more mice here... I'll discuss here the more traditional kind of clicking.

It's photography, my new hobby.

My father is as good a photographer as an amateur photographer can be. He bought his Pentax SLR camera just before my birth. He has studied thick books on the subject, and done his practicals on me. The result, as can be imagined, is that I have numerous photos of my childhood. As I grew up, I developed interest towards it as well. However, I did not have a good camera that would allow me to put my imagination on film.

Until the time came when there was no need for film any longer.

I bought a digital camera on a recent trip to Mumbai. It was a long cherished dream. I have been clicking away ever since. I click my mouse during the weekdays, and my camera during the weekends. I had no idea that I'd be loving it so much. And since there is no film cost involved, and I can see the results instantly, I can experiment as much as I want. Even after a long day at office, I often spend some time on the roof photographing the night sky or the city lights. I find it quite refreshing.

I always had a fascination for zoom, and I was quite disappointed when I was unable to get the camera I wanted as it had 8x optical and 7x digital zoom. In that respect, this one was a compromise with only 3x optical and 2x digital zoom. But the Pictures that it delivered soon made me fall in love with it. And I discovered that macro photography was much more interesting than zoom photography while photographing some flowers in our garden last week. Since then I've been shooting frogs and mosquitoes and little wild flowers, apart from aeroplanes and buildings and the Moon. I even shot a few small videos.

All said and done, there's something that I don't like about Digital photography. It is more like hunting with a stengun. You go on clicking when you get the subject in front of you... and one of those pictures is bound to come out nicely. In tricky light conditions, one can experiment with the aperture and shutter speed, and compare the results. Only the best photograph needs to be kept while the others can be deleted. While this delivers good end results, it no doubt takes away some of the thrill and skill that makes photography the art that it is. And who can forget the suspense and eager expectation with which we awaited the developed prints after some function in the house, or some trip? Digital photography also takes away the thrill of fighting over the new prints, or the joy of arranging them in albums. But some things must go with time, I guess!

I don't want to miss this opportunity to show off, so I'm ending this post with a couple of my recently taken photographs, one macro and one zoom.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My Brother's Birthday

Today is my brother's birthday. It used to be a memorable event every year in our house. When he was alive, that is.

Some of you who know me must already be wondering where this brother came from suddenly... I mean everybody knows I only have a younger sister. But they don't know everything. There was a person who used to call me Brother long before my sister was born.

He was my grandfather. I was his brother.

He was a teacher of Mathematics in Kanailal Bidya Mandir in Chandannagar, a suburban town near Kolkata. The previous statement is, however, a gross understatement of his mathematical prowess. He was a person whose mother tongue was mathematics. He used to say, "A person whose hobby and profession are the same is the luckiest person in the world." He was such a man. Whenever other mathematics teachers in the town couldn't solve a problem, they used to tell the students, "Take this to Ranajit babu. If he can't solve it, it must be wrong!"

But if you thought he only solved sums, you couldn't be more wrong. He introduced me to the world of mathematical puzzles and brain teasers. Today, the world is crazy about SU-DO-KU. He used to create and solve similar puzzles in my childhood. He made magical mind-reading cards, riddle rhymes with people's names, Spirograph designs, horoscopes... of course, he added his special touch to all this with his mathematical mind. Here's a sample from his riddles involving people's names:

My first is in Japan, not in China;
My second is in lion, not in hyena;
My third is in play, not in game;
Do you now know my name?
(Answer at the end of this post)

Apart from the knowledge of mathematics, physics and chemistry, he had an amazing knowledge of Indian mythology. He knew many Bengali and Sanskrit verses by heart, and had the best handwriting that I have ever seen... something similar to the heading at the top of this blog, but better. He also had a fantastic sense of humour.

Coming back to the birthday, it used to be a memorable day in our house. My grandfather used to teach a lot of students in our home after his retirement. In those days, we were not aware of the fact that 14th February was Valentine's Day. But his students used to fill the house with cards and flowers the next day. And everybody had a feast at their Sir's house. In the evening, many old students used to gather, and we would have some sort of a party. Maybe one of the students would sing some songs, someone else would recite a few poems. It used to go on so late that sometimes my grandfather himself became irritated because his bedtime was delayed. He was strictly an "Early to bed, early to rise" man... his "early" meant 10:00pm and 4:00am for "bed" and "rise" respectively. He would go for a walk along the river every morning.

After he passed away, my grandmother used to stay alone in the house (which my grandfather had fondly named Abhilash: The Wish) , as my parents and we lived in Allahabad. She felt lonely on 15th February every year, so the old students would come to give her company. My uncle would drop in probably in the morning to put a garland on my grandfather's portrait, and again in the evening to spend some time with grandma. We would call from Allahabad. That's the most we could do, with our schools and my father's office preventing us from coming home.

My grandma passed away last June. Currently our Abhilash is locked. There's no gathering of students in the evening there today. Even my uncle passed away last September, so no garland on my grandfather's portrait. No feast. No cultural programmes. No call from Allahabad in the night. In fact there's no number to call at. 033-26802677 is disconnected, silenced forever. I am here in Hyderabad, spending the evening in office remembering my grandfather's birthday by posting here in this blog.

That's the only thing I could do to remember my brother on this day.

(Answer to the riddle is Joy, my pet name.)

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

FYI

Ever since I wrote down the title of this post sometime in the morning, I have been trying to squeeze out some time from my busy post-lunch schedule to follow it up. But I have reached EOD and I'm still struggling to complete it. My PM wanted me to update him sometime about my progress. So I had to sync up with him and provide him some inputs. Then I had to face an unexpected T-Con interview from an onsite guy. Seemingly my PM wants to introduce me as a fallback replacement for someone in a project who is getting transferred. So he introduced me to the onsite manager, who will carry it forward on the client side. He also tagged me with some guys here who will be giving me inputs on the project.

One of the screws on my spectacles was loose for quite some time. It gave away in the lunch break today, and the left side glass fell down and split in two. But life is impossible for me without glasses... especially with so many pretty girls around to ogle at. So I fixed it up promptly and made it wearable. Im wearing my glasses with a crack down the middle of my left eye since then.

Then one of the members of our team left today to pursue better opportinities outside our company. We gathered in the cafetaria to give him a warm farewell, and after a brief inaudible speech from him, we shared the cake, samosas and soft drinks in a fashion which reminded me of a movie I saw on the National Geographic Channel last week. This movie showed a pack of vultures devouring a deer carcass. For a few minutes only the backs of the vultures were visible amidst a lot of confusion, then it all cleared up showing a pile of bones!

For a change, I also had some deliverables to hand over to the client. I had to redesign some GUI components and upload them to the onsite support team for the client's approval during the POC meeting tomorrow. In the meantime, I added a photo to my profile in this blog, and also created a cool banner which I was unable to attach to the top of this page. So the look remains the same for now.

It's almost half past eight now. My friend Chirantan helped me to procure three tickets for Rang De Basanti tomorrow. So hopefully I can leave for the day a lot earlier than this tomorrow. As regards my new project, the client is adamant on interviewing me, so I better get prepared to be grilled properly. I have to brush up all my domain knowledge, both technical as well as business unit related. Only then I can hope to meet the expectation of my interviewer and convince him that I am suitable for his business requirement. I hope I will get through and become billable. Future prspects are promising. I'm about to get my brain out of the drain it seems. I will not do any value addition to my knowledge, but frankly speaking I should not have any issues as long as I get my salary. So readers, wish me all the best!

[Update: As you can see, that banner and several more are working now.]

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Monday, February 06, 2006

India's answer to Brain Drain

During my school days, Brain Drain used to be one of the most popular topics in debates. It also found a place in most of the essay books available in the market. Everybody seemed to be very concerned about the way our best students were leaving for foreign lands to pursue better opportunities. I remember that most people around me seemed to be of the opinion that leaving one's motherland permanently after growing up using her resources was a heinous crime and we should look down upon the NRIs. On looking back now, I'm sure many of these people would sing a different tune had they got the chance to go abroad... but that's a different story.

Then over the last decade India became an IT superpower. The much coveted American and European jobs started being outsourced to India. Many multinational companies opened their own development centres in India too. Probably that is why these days the term brain drain is heard a lot less... the jobs worth draining for are coming right up to the brains. People are getting nice salaries sitting right here in India. So as far as India is concerned, brain drain was a nightmare that is over, right?

Wrong.

Let us analyze the situation a bit more closely. There were two kinds of people who left for the US after their studies. One, who wanted to earn lots and lots of money; and two, who wanted to do challenging work in an intensely satisfying work environment. Retaining the first group was never difficult: give them money and they will stay anywhere you want. The second group was more problematic, though. This group actually contained some of the best brains in the country. To retain them here, challenging jobs with good work environment would have to be providd. However, even this group started staying back in India when the American companies started on their outsourcing spree. Now students of technical courses had Indian companies like TCS, Infosys, Wipro, Satyam etc. looking for them. As the competition in the market increased, so did the salaries. So the students were now getting well-paid jobs sitting in their colleges, and they were doing the work that their dream companies had outsourced.

But recently, another problem has raised its ugly head in this seemingly perfect scenario. Over the last couple of years, thanks to the improving US economy, Indian software companies have expected more and more work. So much so that they are now biting off more than they can chew. They have been recruiting like anything in anticipation of projects which often didn't turn up, and so their recruits are now filling the bench or freepool (according to the term preferred by their respective companies). But they can't stop recruiting lest the better brains were recruited by their competitors.

I prefer to call this Brain Hoarding. In principle it is no different from the hoarding of some essential commodity... say rice. I may buy and hoard rice in my house in anticipation of a famine. But what if that famine doesn't come? I'll be preventing the proper utilization of that rice. The scenario in Indian software companies is very similar at the moment. Each company is vying with its competitors to take more and more brains on board. All the larger companies maintain this army of backups, or shadows, or bench/ free pool people. But what about the proper uitilization of those brains. What about their dreams and aspirations? True, a person gets his full salary on the bench, but it's about the only thing he gets. He gains no experience, acquires no skills to speak of, and most importantly, suffers a tremendous setback in terms of confidence and self esteem. Most of these companies make their employees sign a bond during appointment which prevents them from leaving the company without paying a hefty amount.

Wasn't brain drain better than this? At least the brains of the young generation of our country were being utilized, even if for another country. To quote a cliche: Brain drain is better than brains in the drain. According to me, brain drain is actually preferable to our young generation wasting their time and talent "on the bench". So it's not a nightmare but a dream, and one which many of us hope isn't over yet...

I was discussing this idea with my friend Shree the other day and comparing this trend of over-recruiting with hoarding. A statement that he made in jest would be a fitting line to end this post, and would also emphasize the danger of "brain hoarding" as a solution to brain drain.

He said, "If left unutilized, sooner or later the hoarded rice will rot."

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

I did it at last!!!

It all started when I had an unusually bad day at work and I described it in detail in a mail sent to a group of my college friends. Most people ignored it, of course, but not Rohit. His reply was prompt: "This ain't your blog Sugata. By the looks of it, you need one desperately!"
That sent me thinking... I used to like English a lot during my school days (that's one of the reasons behind people thinking I'm crazy)... I even managed to get a prize or two in creative writing, even though that was only due to the lack of worthy competitors. Writing lengthy English compositions used to be truly a joyful experience for me. But I had lost touch with all that in college. Wouldn't it be nice if I could start a blog and get back to writing?
But therein lay the big problem. I'm not only crazy, I'm terribly lazy as well. The effort to be put in creating the blog frightened me so much that I made excuse after excuse and kept putting it off. Finally I decided I'd start it once my PC arrives from Kolkata. But that PC did not arrive... Why? That is a story long enough to be put in a post of its own. Then I kept on storming my brain for a good name for the blog, and decided that I wouldn't create it unless I was absolutely satisfied with the name. This name came to me one night when I was half asleep, and I haven't been able to think up a better one since then.
To cut a long story short, my flatmate has gone to Bangalore for the weekend, and I've finally created this blog using his PC. It's good that I did, because I was running out of excuses for not doing it, especially since I spend 8 to 10 hours everyday seated in front of a computer with Internet connection. The main motivation for my finally doing it was my friend Aurindam, who told me to read his newly created blog a little while ago. I wanted to comment on his blog, but found that only bloggers could comment there. That did it!
So what do we see? At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps (at least our half of the world), I will awake to a new existence... that of a blogger. The writer within me is being reborn, like a phoenix, from the ashes of the engineering college guy who forgot how to write. Now I will...
Guess I'm feeling too sleepy to continue this any longer. I've already written a lot of nonsense. It's better to stop now, or I'll scare away any readers who might have chanced upon my blog with my very first post!

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