On Satya Nadella

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Not a tech guy by any figment of imagination, but been reading a bit on Satya Nadella’s appointment and as to how damn good a one it is, at that.

  • He doesn’t seem to be the guy who simply “got lucky”.
  • He’s been a 2 decade old veteran with the company.
  • Well known among his ilk to be very very good at his work (both on the technical as well as the business side of it).
  • A family guy.
  • Ever inquisitive with a constant learn unlearn relearn process, amongst others.

So you will need everything in there (unless you are one of those Ambanis) to make it big. Forget what @TheJaggi has to say about it on First Post. Although there is some minor truth to it, he has no statistical proof to that either. But Nadella’s elevation is a milestone to look up to for every immigrant – who has come over hoping to make a meal out of his life. It was a conscious choice, one which got him his dream. Many many congratulations, sir.

A few interesting reads on the man:

  1. http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/01/31/269443258/8-things-worth-knowing-about-microsofts-new-ceo-satya-nadella
  2. http://world.time.com/2014/02/04/microsoft-ceo-satya-nadella-indian-americans/
  3. http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/press/2014/feb14/02-04mail2.aspx
  4. http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2014/02/microsoft-ceo-satya-nadella/
  5. http://techland.time.com/2014/02/04/satya-nadella/?iid=tl-404-mostpop1
  6. http://www.forbes.com/sites/netapp/2014/02/05/microsoft-ceo-satya-nadella/
  7. http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/personal/2014/02/04/just-who-is-microsofts-satya-nadella/5067221/

Picture credits: [Mashable]

Hello from the USA

Well, this is the longest since I haven’t written something here. 3 weeks shy of 9 months to conjure up a few lines has never been me. But somehow life had been taking centre stage in a variety of other ways and it just seems to be coming together now. Or so I think. In hindsight, the last eight and a half months have been quite telling of the crests and troughs that come upon us. Like a wave – which hits the shore and takes a part of the sediments with it, leaving behind a few other things which it will take back with it along due course. The last eight and a half months were fulfilling in the sense that this was a time when I ticked off a lot of squares – professionally and personally.

I worked for five months in Bangalore as a transport planner in a very well known organization. What was best was the fact that the tasks involved in finding interventions to common issues of urban mobility. Transport planning in the mega-cities of India has reached a saturation (with no certain end towards a sustainable solution) and the work to make mobility a better experience was thoroughly challenging. I met a lot of people who had the power to influence decision making in the country. Being a positive influence for change, like everyone, gives me a high too. Besides, work took me to the lives of few wonderful people – colleagues who had a lot of stories to share. I love story tellers. I would like to believe that I myself am one of that ilk too. Afternoon conversations with chai became a memorable affair, conversations were largely free flowing and there was no dearth of it. I was a happy witness to a friend overcoming her fears and anxiety about choosing a partner and getting married to her boyfriend. I somehow felt like I had a role there and it was brilliant.

And then USA happened. I already had applied for my doctoral degree in Transportation Engineering in the beginning of 2013 and I hit the North American shores in the month of August. If life in Florida over the past 4 months has to be summed up in one word, I’d say its interesting. I ended up switching research interests after some timely advice and I am still learning the nuances of Autonomous Vehicles (or more simply put, driverless cars like the Google car). PhD is a great leveller. You come in thinking of the wealth of experience that you have been witness to and it simply humbles you yet again. I guess this is what keeps you grounded and sane through the course of the study. Teaching is another element in that category. I am lucky to be appointed as an assistant instructor for an undergraduate course here, at USF. Tasks involve lecturing, grading and evaluating the students over the course of the semester. Not bad for someone who is just into the doctoral program. Teaching in US schools requires an attitude shift, especially if you are from Asia. It’s a nice change though and I am wholeheartedly embracing this.

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Learning to let go is something that has come up in my personal resume over the course of this year. When things are not going great, you understand and appreciate the fact that you are only in control of the one half of many things that you intend to be good at. So long as you are doing your bit about it, there’s only so much hope that you can pin on the conflicting elements that together make these things work. Essentially, I learned the important difference between being a bad loser and being a sore loser. I realize I am the former.

Tampa has led me to a newer set of wonderful people and life has merely become an optimization struggle – every time something happens to you, you go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate. Like a never ending SWOT analysis. Somebody told me I was too complicated and wound about, with my thoughts. I told them that they were too plain for my liking.

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PS: Hopefully, I have seen the last of prolonged inactivity here. Wishing you all a merry Christmas and a very happy & prosperous new year 2014.

A little something on what I am working currently (well, broadly..)

[Photo credits: self]

On the minority Indian – excerpts from Rome and Riyadh

I like to travel. By now, this is stale news. I don’t do museums and basilica’s so much as I do not relate so much to them. I try the food and being a foodie, there never needs to be a second invitation as far as that is concerned. Even for someone of my build, I take pleasure in walking around a new city instead of relying heavily on public transit. Ofcourse the temptation of using the public transit is very high thanks to the kind of work I do, but always remains minimal enough to make a judgement on the prevailing transport system and the (in)adequacies of the same. As much as walking around a new city is the best way to explore it, observing the immigrant communities and their ways of life in a new city, give a fair indication of how things work there. My short stints in Rome and later in Riyadh (on transit) were eye opening in that respect.

First things first, Rome could well be the next best thing to heaven. The city has a charm regardless of most of the ruins that make it up as of now. It is certainly a traveller’s delight in every respect – The Vatican, history, arts and culture, piazza’s and the ruins, the food, the gelati – all in all, a brilliant package of the old and new. Being the administrative powerhouse of Italy, Rome has tried its best to preserve the heritage that once made a civilization thrive along the city – outwards into Eastern Europe all the way into the Middle East and North Africa, which is a heart-warming sight. And ofcourse, Indians are aplenty in Rome. 5 minutes by foot and you inevitably bump into one. They are everywhere – on the subway (both the corridors and the trains), the sidewalks, running little shops, kebab places and ofcourse, traditional Indian places spread judiciously across the city.

Disturbingly though, many of these minority Indians are on the sidewalks selling one thing or the other, in every nook and cranny of the city – ranging from imitation goods to fancy items along the sidewalk. You might wonder why just Indians. Well, its not just them – there are Pakistani’s, Bangaldeshi’s, Sri Lankan’s as well – all in unison and in the effort of making a living. I wonder how they survive solely on these. Not having any bit of a steady income and considering how expensive the city of Rome is, it doesn’t make their predicament any bit easier. I might not have been surprised seeing this trend in Lisbon or Sofia, two of the cheapest and most affordable European capitals of the modern day. But fact remains that the sidewalks and the subway corridors in Lisbon are infested by the blacks – probably due to the close proximity to Africa and also due to the relation with the former colonies. Certainly the stance of the Vatican to safeguard the interests of those who come seeking protection also should be playing a role in this mass exodus. But seeing the economic climate of Italy and most of Europe, it is just about alarming.

I infact happened to meet a Malayali guy (they are just about everywhere!! ) who works as part of the nursing staff in one of the hospitals in Rome. He was telling me how difficult life had become, over the past 2 years. He started working at EUR 9/ hour, but was soon forced to cut down his wages to EUR 6/ hour in order to keep his job because there were many takers for the same position, even at this rate. And this decline, at a time when the inflation has kept taking the upside trend is surely not meant to help. The only way he manages to keep the boat from sinking (in his own words) is to work night shifts since they pay you more. Those have impacts on the long term as well. But everyone has a story at home to quote in their defense of such punishing schedules. The average minority Indian’s story goes on similar lines – whether he is in Europe, Asia or America.

Riyadh was pretty much similar as well, if not worse. I did not get to explore the city like Rome as I was on transit, but the time spent at the airport and on the flight to Chennai was good enough to gauge the situation. The boarding gate clearly resembling the open flood gates for prisoners who were out on parole. Many of those bore relieved looks, some were sporting wry half smiles, others were clearly trying to hide signs of fatigue (I was initially wondering all the whys ans the hows and later realized) from what most likely were punishing schedules again. It all got worse when the B777 I was in, had its cabins so full that the flight attendants had forced some of the hand baggage to be kept on the under belly because that was only half full, apparently.  For people who were going home after 2-3 years, this was supposed to be very unusual. Most often what we see are the big suitcases laden with goodies, stacked up one over the other in a taxi, home bound. Movies, ofcourse. But then, the reality of it was such.

My co-passenger was someone who hailed from Tindivanam dist, south of Chennai. He did not know his date of birth (even the passport acknowledged that), in his 50s and going home after 7 years. 7 years!!! I don’t even know how that feels. Misery got compounded when I was asked to fill his immigration form (he only knew Tamil). He was a very warm person, so I obviously obliged. I filled 22 more of these forms during the course of the flight. The lure to make a quick buck was taking many people out of the country. Most of the people back home in India are unawares of the kinds of jobs these guys are doing. They won’t be, so long as there is some trickling in of the funds and its a natural thing. But where they really building up stone castles or just as far as those with sand?? It looked more the latter to me.

Master Degree, check!

Successful defense of the Master Degree Dissertation (Thesis Report) happened last week. Although it got a bit debated on the nuances, still made for a grand stand finish. There is a huge sigh of relief right now. and its a good feeling. But then, you are not so much into relishing the relief that apprehension starts once again. Thoughts of the next step grab the attention of the voices from within. And that ofcourse doesn’t get any help or a move – on when you have a lot of people showing a whole lot of concern (untimely, unnecessary and often with ill motives) on what is going to be the next step. Anyways, some things that I think I have learnt deserve to be penned down here.

  • Everyone has his/her way of working through the research work. No hard and fast rules, some slow starters, some lift off and then subside. All the same towards the end. 
  • Spoon feeding never made you a good academic or researcher. Being constantly told what to do is not something anyone should be proud even if that comes in the way of “guidance”. Your work, your rules.
  • Extensive literature review always helps in building a strong case. A lean literature review is always like a sand castle. Just a matter of today or tomorrow.
  • Know your capabilities well and only then commit to anything on the abstract. Big words such as micro-simulation, econometric modelling etc should be backed up by your abilities (unless you pride in being a quick learner and get it done).
  • Confusion is always a good thing to have. Being confused tells me you have been thinking.
  • You have to fail once or twice to win. You have never won it hands down, unless you have failed and then won over your failure.
  • Be on time and stick to your limits. Your superiors may not agree to listen to this, but you do your bit. A 20 minute presentation can be of 19 minutes, but not 21 minutes. Again, these rules may not hold for your superior, but never mind.
  • Lastly, have a life while you are at the thick of things as well. Occasional breaks during the midweek, football weekends (if you are me, ofcourse), time spent with people whose company you enjoy should never be compromised over work. After all, there is more to life and more often than not, all these may not matter in 20 years if you are alone and depressed.

Next on the agenda is to complete the official formalities, take a break from everything, go on a holiday (Rome for me) and then back home to be with family. And then go on a holiday again for some much needed peace and calm, sort your life and get back on the grind.

The Tendulkar Opus

y day today started by waking up very late and was soon engrossed by the mob violence at India Gate and the Super Sunday that followed that when I heard Sachin had retired from ODIs, I was starting to take it in a much more easier way than I had thought, I would.

Maybe it was the fact that there were more disturbing events happening in the country, maybe it was his indifferent form and the constant calls of retirement (including mine) to avoid what happened to Kapil Dev – somehow it all seemed way too easy to be believable.

And after sundown, I was sitting down calmly, reading through the dozens of eulogies that have already cropped up on the master and I realize, I am not going to see him bleed blue any more. Not even once more, for the series against Pakistan. I am sure many of my friends had booked their tickets in the intention of seeing the master and they would all be gutted by now. We have just seen the last of Sachin Tendulkar in a Team India blue jersey. No, it doesn’t sink in so easily.

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This was supposed to be a colossal event. There was supposed to be a statement saying that the Pakistan series would be his last and wherever he went, cricket fans were supposed to get one final chance, one final glimpse of the little master in action. Cricketing greats would have flown in to see him, one last time from across the world. “The Don” himself, would have risen from his grave and grabbed the nearest TV screen. One last time. Even the BCCI were supposed to make money out of this event as well – raising ticket prices and asking for tax exemptions for the Pakistan series. Because in India, people would give their own life to see the man take the field. Only in India would the railways stop to see him get his 100 and then continue their journey. Only in India would life come to a standstill and would keep the citizens stand in front of a little TV screen in bated breath, gaping, their mouths wide open, in anticipation of a Tendulkar special. Only in India would then people carry on with their lives, shutting off their TV screens in anguish when he got out (despite 9 more wickets remaining), because he has always been the synonym of hope for them. He had that golden chance to arrest a billion hearts, all over, once again, one last time.

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Instead, there were no such grandstand finishes, no standing ovations, no commemorative speeches or felicitations – just a small press conference where everything was revealed to a shell shocked cricketing fraternity. In his own words –

“I have decided to retire from the One Day format of the game. I feel blessed to have fulfilled the dream of being part of a World Cup winning Indian team. The preparatory process to defend the World Cup in 2015 should begin early and in right earnest. I would like to wish the team all the very best for the future. I am eternally grateful to all my well wishers for their unconditional support and love over the years.”

I am sure many of the cricket fans in the country have given up on the game today. Many believe that One-day cricket will always be synonymous with him and it would be almost impossible to see Team India without Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. I do not agree to the last statement personally, although I am still of the opinion that my passion to the game has surely gone down a few notches today. It started being on the decline when Gilly (Adam Gilchrist) hung up his boots. That was followed by dada (Sourav Ganguly). Warney (Shane Warne) and the Prince (Brian Lara) had already decided enough was enough 2 years ago and they had moved out. Murali (Muttaiah Muralitharan) followed up soon and then recently did Jammy (Rahul Dravid) and Punter (Ricky Ponting). I grew up watching them. I adored the game for what it is today, watching them and keeping them as my cricketing role models. Who could possibly impact me more than any of them? MS Dhoni? Alastair Cook? Dale Steyn? Though all these names have been remarkable in their own right, none like those mentioned apriory.

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Like most successful business models from across the world, the journey of Sachin Tendulkar – from being one among the 1000s playing the game to being the epitome of perfection in the game hasn’t been anything like bread-and-butter. Its been a constant re-invention process – identifying the chinks in the armour and doing away with them by bringing on newer innovations. All successful people and businesses have constantly been involved in a learn-unlearn-relearn process and he has not been left behind there as well. Another important word I would like to emphasize is customization. In cricketing terms, acclimatizing to the alien conditions and managing to give out the most desired results. There is no continent where he hasn’t scored a century, no opposition against whom he doesn’t have a world record. And thus, seeing his exploits in his domain, people in India call him GOD. For it is felt that only god could be the epitome of such colossal awesomeness.

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What I and most of India would miss the most with this retirement would be the ability of a man to single handedly influence the decisions of a billion strong cricket – obsessed audience. To lift the spirits up with one glorious cover drive or the trademark straight-past-the-bowler drive. To electrify any cricket stadium and television screen with the traditional Tendulkar style, bat-in-one-hand-helmet-in-the-other reverence to his father and god (his usual pose once he reaches a landmark). To shut up a sledging bowler and make him regret for sledging the master – not by sledging back at him but by dispatching the next ball out of the stadium.  To have that re-assuring presence of a man, short in stature, yet with a massive heart, whose presence in the middle has a calming influence on most number of people alike. India breathes well, when Sachin is playing well.

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The day is not far when we shall forever lose him to retirement. The day is not far when he will, through another press conference decide to tell the world by way of his soft spoken demeanour that enough is enough and he feels the need to leave the stage forever. My only wish is that he decides to take it upon himself to bow out rather than giving the onus onto the selection committee and the captain to decide on his fate. Champions like him and all those names mentioned above have taken it upon themselves to decide their fate and it would be a shame, if it happened otherwise.

Ask me who was the best cricketer to have ever graced the planet was and I will point you to this man. Ask me where you want to keep a cricketing yardstick for defining greatness, and I will mention this man’s name, show you his records and tell you to wake me up when somebody breaches them. Because for me, there is Tendulkar…then there is daylight…and then there is the rest.