Saturday, August 31, 2019

Career Stories Panel Discussion: Reflection on a few Core Career Principles-2

Sharing more perspectives on the core career principles taking the sequence from my previous blog forward:

3. Embrace Intrapreneurship:
Despite all the attention that entrepreneurs gets, it is arguably not possible for all of us to become one. There could be myriad of reasons for this but many of us consciously find our calling in working for the organizations. If an entrepreneur creates a vision, it's the employees who make it a reality. So this choice is absolutely fine and legitimate.
Being an employee doesn't mean that you cannot exercise the traits that make an entrepreneur. In my career journey, I discovered that one can embrace those traits anytime at work and create a dent in the universe surrounding your organization. Simply put, Intrapreneurship is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization.

I am reminded for a story that I had narrated in one of my previous blogs:

I was 4-5 months into my first job when i received this email from Country Head (that was broadcasted to all the employees) sharing an opportunity to work on a side-project. The stated project was for Punjab Government tourism sector in which they needed help in building touch screen interface for their upcoming website. The idea behind this project was to provide touch-screen kiosks to the tourists at various prime places. To set the context, i am talking about the time in early 2000s when touch-screens weren't as consumerized as they are now.

I was clueless about the technology expertise needed to build this system so I gave this opportunity a pass and went on with my 'normal' projects. 3-4 months later, I again received an broadcasted email from Country Head, this time announcing the success of the project and thanking the team that was involved in executing the project. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that one of the team members being acknowledged was a peer of mine who had joined almost the same time as I had.

I was surprised because he was also in his first-time job and my assessment suggested that he skill levels were almost similar to mine! Curious to know the details, i approached him and asked him whether he knew about the technologies before signing up for this project. He answered 'No'. I then asked him then how did he sign-up for the project ? He simply said that he was curious to know more about the technology and how such projects are managed and simply offered himself to the project thinking that he will learn the skills along the way.

This was the moment when i felt my brain shift a little for the first time in my professional life. I had simply let go of an opportunity because I thought overly of my weaknesses. My friend had grabbed the opportunity because he chose to think of his strength (curiosity, risk-taking). Something snapped within me with this episode and it made me more open to risk-taking and strengths focused.

This incident, to me, exposed one of the key traits of Intrapreneurship, i.e. to take initiative even when the details are hazy. Don't wait for all the details to accumulate before showing leadership. 

4. Adopt Situational Awareness like MS Dhoni:
MS Dhoni, the former captain of India cricket team and arguably India's most successful captain ever, is known for various commendable virtues. One such virtue that I am a big fan of is his match
MS Dhoni: Legendary awareness levels
awareness. In countless matches, he was simply able to out-think the opposition simply because he was more present in the match. Be it his wicketkeeping or making a move as a captain, he managed to simply stay ahead in the game due to his extraordinary levels of awareness.

Why am I telling a story about MS Dhoni here ? Yes, you guessed it right. Situational awareness is as important in the organization's context as it is in sports.

Gap opportunities often surface unannounced and people are able to take notice of these gaps are the ones who are most aware of context and the situations. Attending exec meetings is one way, other ways to be situationally aware is to dedicate time on your calendar to decipher what is happening in your organization, and in the industry. It helps to be intentional about listening and suspend judgement when hearing the problems. What i have experienced is that having a pen and paper improves listening. The mere act of writing something down tends to open our minds to opportunities that may otherwise seem out of reach.

Stay tuned for more updates on this series in the upcoming blogs.

Image source:

Monday, August 26, 2019

Career Stories Panel Discussion: Reflection on a few Core Career Principles-1

In the Career Stories Panel Discussion at my organization last week, I was asked this question:
"a couple of weeks back you mentioned about some core career principles that have worked for you"
I thought it would be apt to articulate some of the principles I shared. Before I delve into the principles, it bears stating explicitly these principles are mostly a work of recollection based on the key phases/events of my career. Of course, I do have a  benefit of hindsight in sharing these but I do sincerely hope these helps you in navigating your career.  I will try and answer this in multi-part blogs. Below is the part-1 on this subject.

1. Learning ability vs Learning agility:
When i started my career, I was told by my early managers, team leads that your growth in IT industry is directly proportional to your ability to quick learn and grasp new concepts. I recall we used to get measured on how quickly were we able to learning a new technology, or a work item and deliver on the results. This was the 'Learning ability era'.

Though I used the word 'era' to describe 'Learning ability', by no means I mean that it is not needed in the current era. What I really mean is that 'Learning ability' is more a tables stakes skill (i.e. minimum that is needed) and not a differentiator anymore.

My Sketchnote on the 'Timeless skills for the new world'

Leveraging what I learned from Ravi Venkatesan (former CEO of Microsoft) and from my previous blog, the measure of Learning agility is:

If a person is thrown into a situation that they have never seen or experienced, how quickly can they figure out what it takes to succeed. 

Learning agility is a muscle, the more you practice, the stronger it becomes.
People who have learning agility
1. tends to be intensely curious about everything,
2. they tend to like to read,
3. they tend to like new challenges,
4. they don’t like predictable things,
4. they like ambiguous situations.
No matter what you know today, in 2 or 3 years it is going to be obsolete. The ability to forget and relearn new things goes a long way.
Each time you take a risk and put yourself out of the comfort zone, learning happens. That's how this muscle called learning agility develops. Repeatedly throw yourself in a completely new situation. This is one of those horizontal skills that you can see that will never be obsolete.

As we enter the world that's dynamic, where future seems hazy and uncertain, it's the extent of Learning agility that will help us survive and thrive.

2. Which is a better measure of Experience- Years or the Extent of Learning ?
One of the things that amuses me is the unthoughtful use of time as a measure of experience in our industry. We have often seen the job descriptions that says-
"Must Have 6+ years of experience in Object Oriented Programming"
or individuals stating theie experience as:
"I have 10+ years in Program Management"

The moot question that I am convinced of answer to is that the passage of time in one's career does not always equate to the extent of wisdom gained. I think it was in Robin Sharma's books or one of his writings where I remember to have read:
"Some people spend the same year 75 times and call it a life"

The career-equivalent version of this quote could be "Some people spend the same year 30 times and call it a career".

The thought here is that experience comes from variety, it comes from experimentation, it comes from making mistakes, it comes from courage to try something new. Experience does not come from hanging on to status quo (which many of us are guilty of), not willing to try unchartered paths.

Wasn't it Mark Twain who had said: 'Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement.'

I was reading Chandramouli Venkatesan's book- Catalyst, where has argued:
Experience is an output, Time is the input. When we equate Experience in years, what we are essentially saying is "Output=Input", which is incorrect.

Experience is always about maximizing what you can learn within a given time (it is not equal to time). Experience is about how much better can you possibly get in the time available with you.

Next time, try not to equate your experience in years. It is a short-sighted view. Try and equate your experience in what memorable body of work have you created, try to articulate it in terms of how effectively you learned from your mistakes.

Stay tuned for more career principles nuggets in the upcoming blogs.

Focus on Functional skills alone vs Focus on Functional + Timeless skills:

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Three Reasons Why I Write

Why do you write ?
This was one of the questions put forward by the moderator during the career stories panel discussion recently.

To be honest, I didn't anticipate this question being asked. I did respond to it then but felt like I should elaborate on it by means of this blog. My reasons to write have evolved over the years. This blog has been in existence for more than 10 years now. I recall that when I started I was doing my bit towards sharing the experience I was gaining. At that time, it was focused mostly for sharing perspectives on software engineering. As I grew in my thinking, so did the list of topics I wrote about.

I have to be honest in sharing that I didn't stop during this time to ponder 'Why do i really write ?'. Though the frequency of my blogs remained inconsistent, I did develop a sort of internal clock which periodically nudged me to consider writing. These internal nudges greatly contributed to the continuity of these blogs and my other writing endeavors over the years.

In interest of brevity and not going too far back in the past, let me delve into a couple of reasons which prompts me to write these days:

1. Writing helps to disconnect from the routine:
There are challenges every day. There are situations every day that tends to pull us down, cause us stress, gives us a moment of jov, achievement and exhilaration. I have a long held belief that we are all playing a zero-sum game when it comes to our careers. At the end of 30-35 years of our careers, we would have unfairly gotten rewarded despite putting in less efforts. On the contrary, we would have unfairly gotten less credit despite putting in quality efforts. It eventually evens out, leading me to call it a zero sum game but the contrasting situations does give us a lot of residual stress to deal with every day. Any hobby, any interest really acts as a distraction that we need to disconnect from the real world. I have had many hobbies, do try to actively add one every year but writing has to be one of the long standing hobby. When i write, i get immersed in the subject for the time keys gets tapped or when pen scribbles on the paper. The more time fingers get to touch the keyboard or the pen, the more it helps to maintain distance from the real-world. Writing has that magical power to teleport us to a different world and that helps add equanimity to the life.

2. Writing as a means to review and reflect:
I was recently reading this book- "Get Better at Getting Better: by Chandramouli Venkatesan. I resonated a lot with this book because of many reasons, one of which was that it put forth the point

that hard-work alone doesn't lead to success, it is a combination of hard-work (effort) and the extent to which you are willing to get better. And one of the techniques it suggests for us to get better is "Review and Reflection". I will come to this technique in a bit but before that I feel it is important to comment that this operates on the premise that you can improve yourself at your area of work much like sportspeople improves themselves i.e. deliberately, during the game, and during the practice.

"Review and Reflection" technique is really about being deliberate to answer these 2 questions periodically (possibly every hour):
1. What could have i done to get better outcomes in last one hour ? (Review question)
2. Why didn't I get the better outcome in the first place itself ? (Reflection question)

In effect, writing helps making this process of improvement much more effective. Scribbing down your answers to the review question and then tothe reflection question really helps to make the process more delibrate, leading to better results. To think over it, it's not a rocket-science. Improving self is just a matter of habit and writing is a tool that helps us achieve that.

3. Writing helps maintain balance between creation and consumption:
I learned about the notion of consumption and creation from Tanmay Vora's blog- Consume less, Create more.
In our busy lives compounded by the role internet, mobile phones and social media plays, we are always in the consumption mode. For an average human being, a good amount of our time is spent in scrolling up and down the contents in our favorite sites and apps. Add to that the content
consumption via emails, slack, documents, we have really become consumption machines. To get the sanity back in our lives, we often need to free time to go off the consumption treadmill.

Why do i feel that mindless consumption isn't desirable ? Let me explain with an analogy. What happens if we eat or drink more than what our body can handle ? We would either throw it off or after a while the extra consumption shows up as a fat in our body. Unfortunate, our mind doesn't have any visible mechanism to show the ill-effects of over consumption of contents. The effects probably surfaces as unclear, muddled thought-process or may be lack of sleep.

The moot point here is that we should endeavor to balance consumption with creation. Writing helps maintain this balance. It helps process the consumed content and gives you creative license to jot down the processed contents in your own ways. To me, this is the biggest reason I write these days. The time i am writing is the time i am away from actively consuming the contents and this is the time that adds balance to my life.

Images source:

Friday, August 23, 2019

Learning from failure is one thing, but how do I handle myself when i am experiencing failure ?

"Learning from failure is one thing, but how do I handle myself when i am experiencing failure ?"
This was one of the questions put forward by one of the curious participants at the career stories panel discussion yesterday. I believe it is a very practical question as we are all used to doing retrospectives and extracting learnings from a failure event but often tend to ignore the aspect of handling ourselves when the failure is happening.

Just providing a couple of perspectives (including the one i shared during the session + result of some additional thinking I did on the topic).

#1. Build a defense mechanism against the effects of failure:
Failure will happen when we try something new. This is almost as certain as sunset happening after sunrise. There's absolutely no debate here.

But what happens when we encounter a failure ? Failures tend to demoralize us, put us on the backfoot, make us lose self-belief a bit, shakes our self-confidence and possibly impacts our credibility. Most of these after-effects of failure happen when we allow it is effect the core of what makes us, our personality, our thinking process. And when we allow failure to cross that limit, it can have a damaging effect on our convictions and confidence.

The idea behind building a defense mechanism is to protect our core from the effects of the failure. How do we do that ?

Here is a story i shared during the session (inferring from my previous learning):

During a recent Test cricket series with Australia, Pakistan's Shahid Afridi was faced with barrage of lightning fast bouncer deliveries in an over from Mitchell Johnson. One after the other, he was faced with balls that just whizz past his head, ears, nose etc. and he was all clueless about what was happening. After few such balls, in an unusual gesture, he took off his helmet and just laughed out loudly with mouth wide open (without worrying about millions who were seeing him) to calm his nerves. The lesser mortals who have succumbed to pressure but here was a rather unorthodox action to deal with adversities. What better way than to just laugh off the problems and face what coming next.

Afridi's defense mechanism was laughing the worry (caused by failure) off. 
What is your mechanism ?

Like human beings, defense mechanisms aren't one-size-fits all things. What may work for Afridi may not work for you ? In the panel talk, my fellow panelist shared that he likes to mediate to bring the equanimity needed to deal with failure. I draw strength from my experiences from my running a marathon (covered a bit more in the next point).

#2. Change the frame of reference:
Rather than me keying in words to explain this point, let me share this tweet from Vala Afshar, that I always keep handy. The message in it is profound and the way it is expressed nothing but touching.

We are so consumed with our own worlds that the problems that we face tend to be the tougher than what anybody else might be facing. Just changing the frame of reference to world around us is enough to make us realize that we are among the privileged few and many people would anyday be willing to trade their problem with ours.

I had recently started reading Meb Keflezighi's book "26 Marathons What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running and Life from My Marathon Career.

In this book, Meb narrates the learnings from each of his 26 professional marathons. His first one was New York City marathon in 2002. In this event, he came 9th with the timing of 2:12:35. Given that he
was a professional runner who had just migrated to full marathon from shorter distances, he was mighty upset with his performance and with the mistakes he made. He had almost made up his mind to not participate in any of future full marathons. He was heart-broken with this result, which he perceived as a failure.A couple of weeks after his first marathon, he went to his native country Eritrea (in Africa) where he grew up. He observed how hard the daily life was for most people there. Struggles to get water from wells miles away, searching for wood to build fires for cooking and much more. He goes on to say- 

"It's not that I'd forgotten these things from my childhood. But seeing them so soon after running my first marathon in one of the world's greatest cities was striking. People in Eritrea live like this, day in and day out, just to survive, I told myself. I thought about what I'd experienced in my marathon. That was a temporary discomfort, I realized, not permanent pain. Also, I told myself, I had a choice- nobody put a gun on my head and said, "You have to run a marathon or finish it." The people I saw in Eritrea had no choice in how they spent their days. So yes, I'd been miserable for maybe 40 minutes in my debut marathon, but I had no room to complain."
Post this, he won a silver medal in 2004 Olympics in the marathon, won the 2009 New York City Marathon and the 2014 Boston Marathon confirming his place as the legends of the sport. But the moot point is, he got the timely wisdom to change the frame of reference with which he was seeing his failure and that helped him deal with the failure.

What are your tactics of dealing with the failure ? Please share in comments, would love to hear them.

Image source:

What I learned from my fellow panelists at the "Career Stories Panel Discussion" ?

It's an honour when you are invited to be among the panel on sharing your career stories. I recently got to experience this feeling when i was a part of such panel in my organization.

Career stories panel discussion
The panel comprised of an diverse mix of people in terms of experience, functions, gender and career paths. Apart from me, the panel members were
Krishna Priya (Sr Cloud Ops Engineer), Subramanian Krishnan (Principal Software Engineer), Gagandeep Kaur (Senior Customer Success Manager), Komal Bharadwaj (Principal Product Manager), Neeraj Sharma (Services Relationship Manager)

I went into the panel with two goals in mind:

1. To share whatever I could, to the best of my ability.
2. To learn from the fellow panelists everything I could, to the best of my ability.

The session had the live audience in the room and the audience attending live via a webinar. In the end, it proved out to be quite an engaging session.

How did i know it was an engaging one ?
Firstly, while being at the panel, i didn't have the visibility around the online audience but I rarely saw any of the live audience leave the room for around 1.5 hours the session was on. Being a part of many trainings and meetings, I do know this doesn't happen often.
Secondly, I judged the engagement by the questions that came-up at the end of this session.

By means of this blog, I want to touch upon what I learned from my fellow panelists and here are some of the learnings as I experienced it:

1. Beat the comfort zone: All the panelists had moved roles or technology domains quite actively during their career spans. It doesn't need to be proved but does bears repeating that "Growth comes to those who are willing to move out of their comfort zones."
Further reading recommendation:The book Be Obsessed or Be Average

2. Lean towards giving back: Most people in the panel had indulged themselves in giving back to their respective teams, organizations in their own ways. There were examples specific to giving training sessions, enabling team members towards greater goals, mentoring the junior teams or managers creating opportunity for team members. Mostly these were selfless acts without expecting anything in return. To me, the following two quotes sums up why we should default towards giving back:
“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”- Samuel Johnson
“The more I help out, the more successful I become. But I measure success in what it has done for the people around me. That is the real accolade.” - Adam Grant
Further reading recommendation: Would highly recommend the following book for anyone interesting in getting better at Giving Back: Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

3. Embrace Non-Linearity: One pattern that emerged clearly from the panelists was that most of the people had embraced non-linearity in their careers. They tended to follow the path that wasn't common, moved around horizontally, changed functions, changed domains. Despite being at the varying level of experience, all were battle-hardened after embracing the disruption that comes with not sticking with the conventional path.
Further reading recommendation: My conversation with Chris Fleck, VP and Technical Fellow at Citrix on this topic

4. Build networks: I learned from the panel that the networks are built by either helping people out (sharing your expertise) or asking for help. When we talk about business, keeping the numbers/goals/objectives aside for a moment, businesses are really about people relationships. What keeps the organizations moving forward is the constant give and take and sense of reciprocity among the people.
Further reading recommendation: A while back, I read this New York Times article about the toughest cycling event "Tour de France". Key learning:
Teamwork becomes more effective if there is an unsaid reciprocity in the relationship among team members. It is key to note that the sense of reciprocity should come out of respect for each other and not as an obligation. If it is the latter, then it may ruin the relationship.
5. Be the CEO of your career: All the panel members seem to agree on the fact that the only way to grow in your career is to take charge. What is meant by taking charge ? Taking care of the acts like reaching out to manager, making your work visible, actively husling, creating opportunities, being aware of organizational gaps, taking initiatives that add real value, taking care of your own motivation etc.
Further reading recommendations:
a. Learnings from Ravi Venkatesan, Former CEO of Microsoft India:
b. Learnings from Sudhakar Ramakrishna: Former Exec at Citrix:

6. Have a start-up mindset: The phrases like beginner's mindset, start-up mindset, tweaking your mindset appeared repeatedly during the panel discussion. Human beings are not born experts, our default state is that of a beginner. We cover the journey of being an expert from beginner by flexing our learning muscles, building skills and working hard. A fundamental aspect to taking up new roles, changing domains is how good a beginner can we be. And to master it requires us to shun any pretenses about our past skills and be open to learning from all available sources including books, people and networks.
Further reading recommendations:

Overall, it was a fulfilling experience being a part of this panel. This blog is my attempt to express my gratitude towards all the panel members, who taught be a lot in the 1.5 hours i spent with them. Also extending my thanks to Sreepriya Jayaprakash, who designed, did a lot of diligence in preparing and eventually hosting the session to perfection.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Is It Possible to Stay Ahead of Technology Shifts?

In an interview after becoming Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella admitted that the company made a big mistake, "If anything, one big mistake we made in our past was to think of the PC (personal computer) as the hub for everything for all time to come. And today, of course, the high volume device is the six-inch phone. I acknowledge that."
This is quite an admission from the CEO of a company that during its heyday led the technology trends. It also raises the question: Is it possible for companies to always stay ahead of technological shifts?
John Chambers, the former CEO of Cisco, when discussing his experience, he said that one of the key things he attributes his success to is staying ahead of technology shifts.
Chambers says that if the shift was seen early enough, they developed the technology in-house. If not, then they looked to acquire other companies. The last way, which Chambers referred to as spin-in, was when group of engineers and developers were assembled to work on a specific project and operate outside of the company, replicating a start-up environment.
However, it is not always possible to predict shifts in technology. In his book Nimble: How Intelligences Can Create Agile Companies and Wise Leaders, Baba Prasad argues that instead of
engaging in the futile exercise of making predictions, companies and individuals should develop capabilities that will allow them to deal with the changes when they occur. He cites the case of Nokia, who failed to make the shift from Symbian OS to a more viable alternative in order to compete with iPhones in 2007.
In the book The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, the authors narrate a story about Steve Jobs' ability to stay ahead of trends, "No one knew how to go small better than Steve Jobs. He was famously as proud of the products he didn't pursue as he was of the transformative products Apple created. In the two years after his return in 1999, he took the company from 350 products to ten. That's 340 nos, not counting anything else during that period.”
In a way, Jobs was ready and willing to cannibalize something that was working for the sake of something better that he saw coming. This is something that Nokia seemed to have understood too late and that was eventually one of the factors behind its downfall.
Staying ahead of technology shifts is definitely one of the key challenges that organizations face, and it is also one of the hardest things to predict and act on. 
Google's Eric Schmidt famously commented, "But more important, someone, somewhere in a garage is gunning for us. I know, because not long ago we were in that garage. Change comes from where you least expect it...The next Google won’t do what Google does, just as Google didn’t do what AOL did. Inventions are always dynamic and the resulting upheavals should make us confident that the future won’t be static."
Do you agree?

Article source: Previously published at- (authored by me)

Monday, August 19, 2019

What Steve Smith teaches us about handling trivial tasks at work

Though it got over just a month or so back, Cricket World cup 2019 seem like such a distant memory. Ashes series between England and Australia is grabbing all the attention these days.

Going beyond the results, which often makes up for headlines, there are these seemingly small moments that make sport interesting, and memorable.

Once such moment is captured in the video that i share here.

What Steve Smith is seen here do is making a trivial job of leaving the ball interesting. For those that have followed this sport, the act of leaving the ball helps a player to set his eyes in, but is also considered one of the boring aspect of the game. 

There's nothing really to comment about, to be excited about by seeing the batsman leaving the ball. Not till Steve Smith came up with distinct ways to leave the ball and added a bit of spice to this aspect of the game. 

What can us professionals learn from this act of Steve Smith ?

No matter how cutting edge our job may be, there are certain elements that doesn't excite us or something that we find boring. Let me give a few instances from my career:

- One of the projects that i was involved in, at a crucial release stage, required an engineer to do the installation of the product almost countless times (more than 100) in different platform to debug an issue. To put it in other words, she needing to setup OS (5-6 supported), setup browser (again 5-6 versions), install the third party products, install the application under test and wait for the error. Though this was a monotonous job but was important to ensure a seamless customer experience. 
- Sending a weekly report when nothing significant has happened can be considered as boring and needless when it still serves important status needs of the recipients. 
- For a manager, meeting his team regularly may be a routine affair and if not done may lead him to be quite out of sync. 

And many more.

Steve Smith's way of approaching the monotonous tasks teaches us to elevate our desire to drive improvements in the tasks that are monotonous but does add value to eventual outcomes.

Is it one of those things that are easier said than done or Is there a method that can be followed to achieve the same ?

I would be sharing some perspectives on this in the upcoming blog. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts, I would love to hear in the comments section.