Friday, December 15, 2017

We all live in a "Pyaara Punjab"!

Satshriakal Paaji!


No offense meant and I assume none taken, if there was one place that I would have loved to spend more time it would be the beautiful state of Punjab in India. The people are marvelous, hardworking, playful, spiritual, love their tikka and the Patiala pegs and are always there for each other. That’s what I always found from my interactions and more importantly friends and colleagues who have belonged to this awesome place have always proven to be true friends.


Little did the very briefly misled rant from Punjab realize then that what they set out to do through violent means could barely get them close to the objective, whereas what Punjab has achieved without firing even one bullet or injuring one other person is truly remarkable. They have taken over the entire country with their culture, food and music. If you go to parts of UK, Canada, Australia it’s possible the effects are as profound in pockets as in India. Let me stay with India here!


The cultural aspects – dressing, food and music have to a large extent been “Punjabified” across the country. Today you find almost every girl, lady wearing the Punjabi suit (Salwar, Kameez) across the states. What is remarkable is that these have become the norm even in the southern states now and probably the most sold dress items across the country. Weddings across the country seem to have also followed this trend over the years where a Salwar, Kameez and Sherwani would be the norm.


Look at the food habits across the states how these staples of the Punjabi diet sarso da saag, myriad paneer dishes, parathas etc. have taken over the cuisines. You find dhabas on the road sides even way down south in rural Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, though the versions of Punjabi food they serve could be questionable but they have found these to be hot sellers, better than other items in terms of pricing and profitability. Same is the case with restaurants, recently in the interiors of Maharashtra at several places we were refused the humble Maharashtrian Chapatti’s but were instead, in each place enthusiastically offered Tandoori roti’s - again a gift of Punjab to the rest of India.


This transformation on food is far closer to me than any other. When my Tamil Brahmin, Trichy born better half who had never entered the kitchen for the first 24 years of her life, now rattles one Paneer dish after another, Chole and Parathas and more for us, I almost have tears of joy in my eyes- what a change! All of these are Punjabi dishes that she cooks with fervor and I must say that most come out very well! Punjab has influenced her food habits and converted her from a curd rice eating someone to one who has begun to relish much more than just the plain idly and dosa.


Music is such an integral part of our culture and here too I feel the Punjabi music and rap artists have literally taken over music in Bollywood at least. Whether every song must have the same key words of Zindadi, Dil, Pyaar, Kudi, Pataka, Nachde, Phira, Akhiyan and a few more is beyond my brief. But every movie has a Punjabi song whether the characters are from Punjab or not. Again the influence that Punjabi music has had on the Indian music scene in spite of its rustic yet lovable tunes and simple yet meaningful lyrics is remarkable.


So do you too believe we all now live in a “Pyaara Punjab”? Send me a note and we will do the discussion on “Bhangda” and more together J

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Feel Significant

By Naresh Choudhary, Camera Ayyappa BV

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!