Sunday, January 22, 2017

Jallikattu, Our failed politicians/administrators and over bearing judiciary

What has been happening these last few days in Tamil Nadu and by Tamilians spread around the country and the world is poignant in many ways, but has also left some of us giving a deeper thought than most of us who have done our bit by sending a tweet here or a forward there.

First things first, the protests on Marina beach in Chennai among many others, as i was discussing with my learned father in law and a very vocal, usually loud and agitated sister in law were and continue to be peaceful and look like the educated young have done it extremely responsibly. A lot of credit is due to everyone involved. Another important aspect is, fortunately the politicians while they have tried to get actively involved have not taken center stage yet.

I would leave the details to the experts on legal nuances of the matter in the courts, what i am intrigued by and deeply interested in is why does every thing have to go to the courts for a decision, especially when the matter concerns not 2 people or parties but an entire set of people who believe that Jallikattu is an integral part of their tradition and they all (well most) believe needs to continue. While there are arguments on if even outdated traditions need to continue, i am keeping away from that aspect here. When the time came people in the country have demonstrated that they can make amends and decide against traditions that don't make sense anymore and with education levels improving, exposure to cultures, people traveling around, things are bound to change.

Could our bureaucrats not have done enough by putting in place guidelines and rules for people to follow if safety, cruelty was the real issue here. Could our politicians not have acted in time with ordinances and whatever other mechanisms they have at their disposal and also if the bureaucrats failed, why did the political masters not take matters in their own hands?

More importantly when the courts across the country are reeling under unprecedented pressures of acting in time on millions of pending cases where in several cases peoples lives are at stake and justice clearly is delayed, if not denied, should the courts be spending their valuable time on all issues - Why couldn't the courts have dealt with this by forming a small work group to frame rules and leave the responsibility of running the sport/tradition to the people and the local administration.

There are far more bigger problems gripping us as a country, we all can focus on those to further the larger interests of the country and leave Jallikattu and other local traditions to where they the people in the local communities!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Star Trek, a computer that never got built and AI & ML

Growing up, Star Trek was my favorite TV show. The characters still come alive every time I think about the voyages of the Star Ship Enterprise and bring a twinkle in my eye! I remember a friend of mine actually managed to lead several of us kids into believing that we could build a similar computer that could “do things as per our wish”. Many months of collecting old boxes, buckets, waste material, iron roads, used circuit boards led to no outcome and we abandoned the effort on a summer afternoon after one of the parents found the kids surrounded by garbage and junk strewn all over the corner of our neighborhood.

Today a lot of what we saw in Star Trek is a reality, though I am still waiting for the day when I could just ask Scotty to beam me up – I know it’s only some years away when we could do interplanetary travel in no time.

Artificial Intelligence(AI) and Machine learning(ML) have led to a new phase where we have the ability to automate and let machines do tasks that earlier were done by humans. Cars can drive themselves based on the interactions they can have with objects around them, how to navigate a bump, what to do when another vehicle swirls into the lane etc. all the things that we as drivers have heck of a time managing and multi- tasking with, machines are today able to do it accurately where they can not only bring efficiency but also let humans focus on other important things – some of us still are debating what those other important things are going to be when this becomes mainstream!

AI and ML at its intersection, Infosys is doing this with earnest with our own platforms like IIP, Mana, IDP, IKP and others – things that required human intervention, human effort to do tasks are being taken over if not completely to a great extent by the platforms. Our partners have made significant investments in similar platforms – IBM’s Watson, Microsoft’s work on Azure Machine Learning etc. are in this space which is beginning to get quite crowded. These platforms are changing something fundamental – the way we deal with data, both by drawing insights as well as using those insights for decision making and taking actions based on the decisions, the whole nine yards, if you will. Dealing with data can pose several challenges given the complexity, variety and size of the data (Big Data would ring a bell!). The key is accessing all that data in the right manner, right format, at the right time, analyzing it to draw the right insights and doing this in a very short span of time. For example IBMs Watson can consume the equivalent of a million books per second, talk about the size of the data. The technical problems of ingesting data, working with it etc. are getting solved with innovative ways every single day and I am happy to share some of our teams have been part of some of the solutions here.

Machine learning has the ability to let machines learn without being explicitly programed! While the obvious use cases of Machine Learning are known and plenty, the fact that this can help us create smarter applications is what excites me the most. Google leverages Machine Learning to improve its search results and is used extensively as part of its search algorithms. A lot of these advances are driven by the work in the Open Source world, communities are creating new and innovative frameworks and products to solve some of the complex problems in this space. It is also coming at a fraction of a cost today, for example a slice of some of the best computing capabilities could now be easily affordable to even an amateur developer and therefore further democratizes the whole process of development where anyone with an idea can add on to what is already being done by others.

What is interesting is to see how all this continues to change the way we work in our day to day lives. What would a typical team member’s or manager’s work day look like when some of these advances are available to every one of us as basic productivity tools in our work space. Do we even need to come to office to access these. Do we need to be driven to the office by humans. Do we need to write programs any more. Do we just explain the problem in simple English to our digital assistant (Siri, Cortana …though my own experience with Cortana tells me that it thinks of me as someone deeply interested in negative, crime related news stories and in the early days used to spam me with those and only those…) and by the time we are back from the lunch break, it has already solved the problem for us or done the task that we gave. These and many more possibilities lay in front of us today, the more we dive into the future, the better it looks to me! 

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

This teachers day the 10 lessons from teachers and mentors...

While gyaan (Knowledge) is not the most revered word amongst many today since it largely has a connotation of a boring lecture, unwanted sermon to the reluctant. This teachers day, I spent time thinking about my “Teachers and Mentors” and what I learned from them. The list is long as there are many who have helped shape my thinking and approach to things on not only how I work but to some extent also how I live. All this has happened through the knowledge (gyaan) that was absorbed directly or indirectly and therefore the importance of gyaan cannot be underestimated. While a lot of learnings have come from individuals and institutions there are also learnings from things like sports that demonstrated the unfailing characteristics of how a team is always above the individual and the ability to be down but not out.

Here are some of the things that I have learned from my teachers and mentors over the years:-

1.       Right Values as a foundation
o   Values form the building blocks and provide for a sound foundation to build up on and there for are far more important for sustained success than anything else. In fact longevity in a career and an organization can be built on top of a foundation of shared values that match well for both the individual as well as the organization. Organizations like Infosys have been built on this very foundation.
2.       Think Big, Experiment and create a vision for others to follow
o   Seldom have incremental things enthralled people to put their all into it. The important aspect is to see that there is enough directional validation and move rapidly to create an aspirational view of the future. People like to see the big picture and then follow through to achieve it. While course corrections happen along the way as you feverishly and passionately experiment, it’s important that there is a vision created for everyone to see right up front and there is tangible movement towards the end goal consistently.
3.       Challenge the limits
o   Hindsight is 20/20 or so goes the saying. There are enough tales of regret where people have failed to live up to their potential and capabilities and many a times it was just the reluctance to try their best, try harder, challenge themselves and give it their best shot. Success and failure may be out of our control but putting our best effort and constantly challenging ourselves to do the best is definitely in the individuals hands and can never come in the way or be allowed to be put under a question mark.
4.       Do it and learn it for ever
o   This was one of my earliest lessons, whatever I read and heard, it was always insisted that we try things out on our own. In the manufacturing world, it meant standing in front of a machine that had cylinders with temperatures in excess of 120 degrees and in our world it means for some of us zero distance to code, clients etc. The best way to learn something is to get in to it and do it, if something does not kill, it may be worth trying after all!
5.       Invest in good people even when constrained
o   Our biggest asset is our people and I never have had doubts about this another early learning. The most important investment therefore is on people – good people. It also means having fast and effective processes to identify, nurture and invest on the right talent by challenging them to push themselves towards the shared aspirations and goals.
6.       Be the change
o   Quite often what we expect from our teams is not what we ourselves commit and follow, this could be simple operational things like being on time, submitting reports, timesheets to more tactical and strategic things like picking up a new focus area that is business relevant each cycle. It’s important to not only talk but also walk the talk ourselves before we expect others to follow.
7.       Build strong networks
o   In the knowledge economy investments are made and deals are done based on references and the network that you are in, it can’t be more compelling in our times. It’s important to have the right connect and this does not remain restricted to leadership roles anymore, today an architect or a developer would benefit equally from the network as much as anyone else in the leadership roles.
8.       Have no room for negativity
o   Negative thoughts and the impact they create can be devastating to the individuals personal health, wellbeing and overall growth. It also saps a lot of energy from everyone around. It’s therefore important to have a positive frame of mind irrespective of the situation and also ensure that you have good number of positive people around. Try and stay away from skeptics, gossip mongers and negative folks as much as possible, it can be one of the best things you can do to yourselves.
9.       Create a culture of improvement
o   Each year (every couple of quarters if possible) try and pick up an area for improvement either on the personal front or on the professional front. I have personally benefited from this over the past few years, I have been able to improve my work life (became an early riser), my communication (especially presentation skills), writing ability and several others. It’s important to invest in our own selves and continue the process of learning through simple and effective goals for improvement.
10.   Compassion for social causes and helping others
o   Our bond to the roots and the society around us is what keeps us grounded and it’s important that as we grow in our careers and as humans we do our bit for the society. It need not always be through donating money, while that is the easiest for most of us to do and there is no harm if we want to start that way, but stay focused on causes that matter and contribute in any small way that you can through your expertise, effort as a volunteer, donations etc.

Like many of you, my early influencers include my teachers and professors, cousins and friends who through their talk and actions inspired me to not only challenge myself but also be at it in spite of failures. Once I joined the work force, the early influences came from managers who had tremendous knowledge of their craft and specialization but were always willing to share voluntarily and that made a lot of difference. Today the learnings come from all round 360 degrees, our managers and leaders continue to influence, at the same time there are new people that bring something strong and credible to the table that influences one and the takeaways are powerful enough to ignore at your own peril. Last but not the least, not to forget some of our family members who aren’t behind in what they teach us every single day.

Who do you think are the key influencers in your life and how have they influenced you? Do drop a note and I will be happy to discuss with you.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Failures, Problem Solving and an honest effort!

While we often talk about successes and failures, I started to think if and when I have experienced a real feeling of failure! It was difficult to get any remembrance of such a feeling!


Before you jump with your guns aimed at me, believe me I have gone thru more than my share of problems in both personal and professional life (e.g. trying to improve my communication, picking up a new methodology etc.).


The only reason why in spite of having several failures and some mega ones at times, this feeling of failure does not come in is because of some key aspects that are ingrained in several of us. The attribute of problem solving and the ability to put an honest effort on everything that we are involved in!


Fixing things, finding solutions rather than focusing on the obstacles is an important element of problem solving. An analytical mind that is so crucial for the  role of a software engineer irrespective of the function that we contribute in, plays a part too.


For me the approach to problem solving was best summed by none other than Albert Einstein, when he said “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it”. There cannot be a better way to summarize the importance of understanding the problem and then going on to solve it.


There are various strategies for problem solving, one or more are used amongst a list of several like abstraction, analogy, hypothesis testing, root cause, divide and conquer etc. The key here is to have an aptitude for structured thinking and an approach that allows one to attack the problem in different ways.


The second is well and truly a personal trait that many of us are able to demonstrate when we are focused on or are passionate about something that we want to achieve. The challenge is to be able to repeat this in a consistent manner on many more things that one is working on and the results become dramatically different. This is also driven by the environment, the culture in which one finds oneself either at work or in their personal sphere.


An environment where there is all round excellence, there are a vast majority of colleagues who are putting in an honest effort, the ability to seek support and keep at it is much more. A high performance work ethic revolves around this peer buddy mechanism to bring the right level of application from each individual and therefore better all round results.


Where this honest effort becomes crucial is when things don’t go right, when the outcomes take longer than expected, when the results are not in line with the expectations. It helps reinforce the thought process that one needs to keep trying different problem solving strategies and the outcomes will begin to appear favorable. It allows the person the benefit of not getting bogged down easily and therefore letting one to ask oneself if they are continuing to put in their best effort each day. The peer buddy mechanism then plays its part perfectly well here. The feeling that one is putting their best effort each day is extremely empowering, it provides a great deal of confidence and further enhances chances of success.


So there goes, focus on the problems at hand, understand the problem, apply one or more of the strategies for problem solving and see to it that you are putting in your best effort, each day, consistently!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Great Customer Service...

While reading this wonderful story again about how Sainsbury changed the name of their bread from Tiger bread to Giraffe bread based on feedback apparently from a 3.5 year young customer, it occurred to me, we as a team do several things that go on to define how we treat our internal and external customers and partners. <more about the Sainsbury story here>.


There are many such stories about organizations like Ritz Carlton and other small, medium and large enterprises going that extra mile to make the customers feel special. In majority of the cases, one could almost see a pattern of no real investments or $ spent but just a little amount of situational awareness, quick decision making, acknowledging the problems and doing what it takes to solve the problem on part of the people involved.


As a unit our vision clearly articulates the importance of being a "respected partner", while a good deal of this respect comes through demonstration of clear thought process, knowledge and content on the relevant topics and the ability to apply these in the context of the business problems, a large part of it is also about how we deal with our customers (internal as well as external).


Sound customer service largely emanates from the most important enabler at an individual level and that is empowerment. The more empowered we feel the more we can do as individuals for our customers. The decision making is faster, the decisions are made with the customer at the core of it, the alignment of goals/objectives is then well and truly complete and comprehensive.


In our roles, each one of us has contributions to make from the perspective of how our customers feel about the interactions they have with us. Our contributions can range from being able to direct our teams to taking specific actions on the ground, all intended to make our customers feel delighted and see value in several ways like:-

1.       Being proactive to make the customer feel we are as eager as them to get them the solution

2.       Making efforts to understand the problem at hand, get the big picture and evolve the value dimension

3.       Being aware of the timelines to get to the solution, since it will impact the customer or their business

4.       Reaching out to our network for solutions, believe me we seldom encounter "new" problems!

5.       Ensuring relevance of the solution, reviews and quick feedback are a good way to see things are on track

6.       Involving ourselves in taking the solution forward…Practice, don't just preach!



There are more ways that each one of us practice every single working day. I am sure the most important stakeholder – our customer, does not get those vow moments just like that. There is a great deal of hard work, meticulous planning and individual effort that goes into making it happen. While we continue to enhance our processes, tools and techniques, people need an equal amount of attention as a key to creating these vow moments, not as a one off but an ongoing behavior. The culture then is an outcome of repeated successes and definite processes that are part of the work ethic and peoples habits.


I am certain you have your own customer service stories, several of these would rank and rate amongst the best in the world. Do respond with those details and post the stories that can go on to inspire us all!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Is there too much technology right now?

While I frequently write and speak about technology and the manner in which it has helped improve things in several aspects of our lives, there are things that I feel also could be tagged as negatives arising out of either a wrong or an unwise adoption of it.

While communication technology and devices, including smart phones have created near unlimited options for us to stay connected, collaborate and keep ourselves and others up to date on the latest, these could also mean some forms of distractions when one is really required to focus hard on the task at hand.

Do you ever feel the urge to often check for new incoming mails on your email? Do you often get “ping’ed” by colleagues on the messenger or communicator while you are in the middle of something important? Do you often feel it necessary to respond to these chat requests even though you are in another call?

The distractions can be of several kind and could have a clear impact on work especially those days and times when you are trying to close on something important. It could lead to meetings being ineffective, where while someone is making important points, few attendees are busy checking their Blackberry’s and iPhones for the latest new arrivals on their mail or even tweeting the most recent updates to one and all!

In this context one small piece of news caught my attention few days back, where a restaurant in LA is giving 5% discount on the bill for those who agree to keep their phones and digital devices away at the door[Los Angeles Times].

Something for us to give a thought at the workplace too, are there too many of these distractions creeping in to hold people from having meaningful conversations, bringing in the right amount of attention and focus?

Friday, July 06, 2012

The NEXT Quality professional

The NEXT Quality professional

I wrote on “Traits of the Newage Software Quality Professional” for an ASQ blog back in 2007. I had touched upon several aspects that were crucial elements in the evolution of the Quality role in Software. I felt it was necessary to revisit this since much water has flown under the bridge since 2007. Technology has changed for good as predicted by many, businesses are thinking on different paradigms, the world is a different place altogether and changing rapidly, business models are being re aligned, economies are under pressure for a while now and no one knows exactly when we might be back amidst the good old days.

The role of the Quality professional and the expectations from the role too have undergone significant changes and while we lead in some of these aspects there are other areas that we need to speed up on.

The NEXT Quality professional, as I would like to call one would have to demonstrate an apt understanding of Business, People, Processes, Technology & Management. While specialization would always cater to specifics the normal Quality professional would be required to demonstrate skills and competencies in the 5 categories mentioned above.

Business must necessarily drive the process and therefore I put this as the first category on the list just to emphasize the importance of the role business has to play in the entire process game. Here are the skills and competencies that the NEXT Quality professional would be required to demonstrate today, to stay in the hunt.

Business drives the process…

·         There is a great deal of difficulty CxO’s have with the dwindling understanding of folks down the line on matters of business. It’s crucial to understand the objectives of the organization you are part of – a B2C organization would have a different model than a B2B organization, but nevertheless its objectives need to be understood by the Quality professional. The NEXT Quality professional will not only understand the objectives of the organization well but also articulate initiatives to strengthen these and impact these objectives in a positive manner. For example, if growth is a priority for your organization you need to focus on highlighting value paradigms, differentiators to your sales teams more actively than remaining hidden in the backroom focusing on purely on operations.

·         Even more important is to understand the business of one of your organization’s most important stakeholders – Your customer! Understanding of the clients business would ensure the NEXT Quality professional is able to guide and provide consultation to the project/account teams with a clear view of client relevance.

·         With a clear understanding of the Domain and Operations, the NEXT Quality professional would be in a position to carry out improvements in existing processes thereby improving organization efficiency and effectiveness. Suffice to say some of these initiatives could be transformational and would need sponsorship from the CxO level leadership.
People First…Always

·         A large part of the NEXT Quality professionals work would involve interacting with people across levels in the hierarchy and horizontal roles that cut across functions and groups. The extent of collaboration required would be of the highest order and a clear focus on people as a Quality strategy is a must. Collaboration would largely be a means to achieve greater connect with clients, sales and delivery teams, enabler functions, vendors etc. to ensure sustained client value assurance. People connect would ensure the NEXT Quality professional is able to manage Diverse, multicultural and geographically distributed teams as a matter of routine.

·         A related aspect of people connect is the ability to listen, gather inputs, analyze feedback and plough it back into the processes. The NEXT Quality professional would be in a position to slice and dice information associated with inputs, strengthen listening mechanisms with various stakeholders and use it as a competitive advantage.
Processes, Models & Frameworks are the building blocks…

·         A sound foundation of standards, frameworks and models is crucial to have an understanding of the inner workings of specific and generic practices that are an essential starting point. This understanding ensures the NEXT Quality professional is able to use the know how to adequately tailor and customize processes to deliver the desired value.

·         The NEXT Quality professional would not only focus on the theoretical aspects of process definitions as process groups are often involved in, but would need to usher in a more practical perspective with the right blend of process steps automated with the right tools. The understanding of best of breed tools would enable the NEXT Quality professional to bring in true innovations in the process steps.
Technology at the core…

·         Technology today is at the center of several innovations and as an industry we are both involved in creating some of these innovations as well as leveraging few others for our competitive advantage. The NEXT Quality professional would not only have adequate understanding of the technology but would also be able to leverage it to enhance the effectiveness of various initiatives and programs for larger organization success.

·         The NEXT Quality professional would use Technology as an Enabler for driving key decisions and building new process innovations that are centered on the technology core. Tools and Technology then would work as glue for the methodology to unleash its impact across a wider base including employees, clients, vendors etc.
Management – Self as well as for others…

·         Management is a core skill for a Quality professional. The NEXT Quality professional would not only utilize this skill to the fullest extent but would specialize in certain dimensions that are going to play a vital role in the larger organization success. The NEXT Quality professional would be a Change Agent exemplar! Someone who has the ability to conceptualize, plan, organize and orchestrate large scale improvements across accounts/projects/businesses. These would encompass initiatives that cut across domain, technology, process and people.

·         A significant dimension of Leadership is the ability to not only do things for you but also help others do things for themselves. This sort of enabling people in the near environment would mean the NEXT Quality professional has to involve in large scale trainings and development sessions that would influence not only the way people work but also the way people think about concepts, processes and paradigms.

·         Knowledge being the foundation for the success of the NEXT Quality professional, Knowledge management would play a vital role in terms of determining new capabilities, faster better and cheaper ways to enhance these capabilities and also scale up the ability to do this in a repeatable manner across large number of people distributed across the globe.
The question to ask today is - Are you the NEXT quality professional that every organization is seeking to induct?

If yes, you have a wonderful future ahead of you and it’s filled with opportunities of extreme learning, experiences in value creation and tasks that enrich yourself as an individual. If no, you still have time, it’s never too late to prepare for the future. Remember, if you can’t invent the future, you could at least prepare for what someone else is going to invent. Think Apple, they did not invent the type face fonts, mouse, user interface, portable music player, PC etc. they just used existing innovations better than others.

Let us brace ourselves for the journey ahead to be the NEXT Quality professional!

©Naresh Choudhary