Time travel

April 5, 2007

Time travel is the concept of moving backwards or forwards to different points in time, in a manner analogous to moving through space. Additionally, some interpretations of time travel suggest the possibility of travel between parallel realities or universes.

Origins of the concept 

There is no widespread agreement on what should qualify as the first time travel story, since a number of early stories feature elements suggestive of time travel but are nevertheless somewhat ambiguous. For example, Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733) by Samuel Madden is mainly a series of letters from English ambassadors in various countries to the British “Lord High Treasurer”, along with a few replies from the British foreign office, all purportedly written in 1997 and 1998 and describing the conditions of that era. However, the framing story is that these letters were actual documents given to the narrator by his guardian angel one night in 1728; for this reason, Paul Alkon suggests in his book Origins of Futuristic Fiction that “the first time-traveler in English literature is a guardian angel who returns with state documents from 1998 to the year 1728”, although the book does not explicitly show how the angel obtained these documents. Alkon later qualifies this by writing “It would be stretching our generosity to praise Madden for being the first to show a traveler arriving from the future”, but also says that Madden “deserves recognition as the first to toy with the rich idea of time-travel in the form of an artifact sent backwards from the future to be discovered in the present.”

In the science fiction anthology Far Boundaries (1951), the editor August Derleth identifies the short story “Missing One’s Coach: An Anachronism”, written for the Dublin Literary Magazine by an anonymous author in 1838, as a very early time travel story. In this story, the narrator is waiting under a tree to be picked up by a coach which will take him out of Newcastle, when he suddenly finds himself transported back over a thousand years, where he encounters the Venerable Bede in a monastery, and gives him somewhat ironic explanations of the developments of the coming centuries. It is never entirely clear whether these events actually occurred or were merely a dream—the narrator says that when he initially found a comfortable-looking spot in the roots of the tree, he sat down, “and as my sceptical reader will tell me, nodded and slept”, but then says that he is “resolved not to admit” this explanation. A number of dreamlike elements of the story may suggest otherwise to the reader, such as the fact that none of the members of the monastery seem to be able to see him at first, and the abrupt ending where Bede has been delayed talking to the narrator and so the other monks burst in thinking that some harm has come to him, and suddenly the narrator finds himself back under the tree in the present (August of 1837), with his coach having just passed his spot on the road, leaving him stranded in Newcastle for another night.

Charles Dickens’ 1843 book A Christmas Carol is considered by some[2] to be one of the first depictions of time travel, as the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is transported to Christmases past, present and yet to come. These might be considered mere visions rather than actual time travel, though, since Scrooge only viewed each time period passively, unable to interact with them.

A clearer example of time travel is found in the popular 1861 book Paris avant les hommes (Paris before Men), published posthumously by the French botanist and geologist Pierre Boitard. In this story the main character is transported into the prehistoric past by the magic of a “lame demon”, where he encounters such extinct animals as a Plesiosaur, as well as Boitard’s imagined version of an apelike human ancestor, and is able to actively interact with some of them. Another clear early example of time travel in fiction is the short story The Clock That Went BackwardPDF (35.7 KiB) by Edward Page Mitchell, which appeared in the New York Sun in 1881. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), in which the protagonist finds himself in the time of King Arthur after a fight in which he is hit with a sledge hammer, was another early time travel story which helped bring the concept to a wide audience, and was also one of the first stories to show history being changed by the time traveler’s actions.

The first time travel story to feature time travel by means of a time machine was Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau’s 1887 book El Anacronópete. This idea gained popularity with the H. G. Wells story The Time Machine, published in 1895 (preceded by a less influential story of time travel Wells wrote in 1888, titled The Chronic Argonauts), which also featured a time machine and which is often seen as an inspiration for all later science fiction stories featuring time travel.

Since that time, both science and fiction (see Time travel in fiction) have expanded on the concept of time travel, but whether it could be possible in reality is still an open question.

 Time travel in theory

Some theories, most notably special and general relativity, suggest that suitable geometries of spacetime, or specific types of motion in space, may allow time travel into the past and future if these geometries or motions are possible.[3] In technical papers physicists generally avoid the commonplace language of “moving” or “traveling” through time (‘movement’ normally refers only to a change in spatial position as the time coordinate is varied), and instead discuss the possibility of closed timelike curves, which are worldlines that form closed loops in spacetime, allowing objects to return to their own past. There are known to be solutions to the equations of general relativity that describe spacetimes which contain closed timelike curves, but the physical plausibility of these solutions is uncertain.

Physicists take for granted that if one were to move away from the Earth at relativistic velocities and return, more time would have passed on Earth than for the traveler, so in this sense it is accepted that relativity allows “travel into the future” (although according to relativity there is no single objective answer to how much time has ‘really’ passed between the departure and the return). On the other hand, many in the scientific community believe that backwards time travel is highly unlikely. Any theory which would allow time travel would require that issues of causality be resolved. What if one were to go back in time and kill one’s own grandfather? (see grandfather paradox) Additionally, Stephen Hawking once suggested that the absence of tourists from the future constitutes an argument against the existence of time travel—a variant of the Fermi paradox. Of course this would not show time travel is physically impossible, only that it is never in fact developed; and even if it is developed, Hawking notes elsewhere that time travel may only be possible in a region of spacetime that is warped in the right way, and that if we cannot create such a region until the future, then time travelers would not be able to travel back before that date, so ‘This picture would explain why we haven’t been over run by tourists from the future.'[4]

However, the theory of general relativity does suggest scientific grounds for thinking backwards time travel could be possible in certain unusual scenarios, although arguments from semiclassical gravity suggest that when quantum effects are incorporated into general relativity, these loopholes may be closed. These semiclassical arguments led Hawking to formulate the chronology protection conjecture, suggesting that the fundamental laws of nature prevent time travel, but physicists cannot come to a definite judgment on the issue without a theory of quantum gravity to join quantum mechanics and general relativity into a completely unified theory.

Time travel to the past in physics 

Time travel to the past is theoretically allowed using the following methods:

  • Traveling faster than the speed of light
  • The use of cosmic strings and black holes
  • Wormholes and Alcubierre ‘warp’ drive

The equivalence of time travel and faster-than-light travel:

If one were able to move information or matter from one point to another faster than light, then according to special relativity, there would be some inertial frame of reference in which the signal or object was moving backwards in time. This is a consequence of the relativity of simultaneity in special relativity, which says that in some cases different reference frames will disagree on whether two events at different locations happened “at the same time” or not, and they can also disagree on the order of the two events (technically, these disagreements occur when spacetime interval between the events is ‘space-like’, meaning that neither event lies in the future light cone of the other).[7] If one of the two events represents the sending of a signal from one location and the second event represents the reception of the same signal at another location, then as long as the signal is moving at the speed of light or slower, the mathematics of simultaneity ensures that all reference frames agree that the transmission-event happened before the reception-event.[7] However, in the case of a hypothetical signal moving faster than light, there would always be some frames in which the signal was received before it was sent, so that the signal could be said to have moved backwards in time. And since one of the two fundamental postulates of special relativity says that the laws of physics should work the same way in every inertial frame, then if it is possible for signals to move backwards in time in any one frame, it must be possible in all frames. This means that if observer A sends a signal to observer B which moves FTL (faster than light) in A’s frame but backwards in time in B’s frame, and then B sends a reply which moves FTL in B’s frame but backwards in time in A’s frame, it could work out that A receives the reply before sending the original signal, a clear violation of causality in every frame. An illustration of such a scenario using spacetime diagrams can be found here.

It should be noted that according to relativity it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate a slower-than-light object to faster-than-light speeds, and although relativity does not forbid the theoretical possibility of tachyons which move faster than light at all times, when analyzed using quantum field theory it seems that it would not actually be possible to use them to transmit information faster than light, and there is no evidence for their existence.

Special spacetime geometries:
The general theory of relativity extends the special theory to cover gravity, illustrating it in terms of curvature in spacetime caused by mass-energy and the flow of momentum. General relativity describes the universe under a system of field equations, and there exist solutions to these equations that permit what are called “closed time-like curves,” and hence time travel into the past.[3]The first of these was proposed by Kurt Gödel, a solution known as the Gödel metric, but his (and many others’) example requires the universe to have physical characteristics that it does not appear to have. Whether general relativity forbids closed time-like curves for all realistic conditions is unknown.

Using wormholes :  

Wormholes are a type of warped spacetime which are also permitted by the Einstein field equations of general relativity, although it would be impossible to travel through a wormhole unless it was what is known as a traversable wormhole.

A proposed time-travel machine using a traversable wormhole would (hypothetically) work something like this. One end of the wormhole is accelerated to nearly the speed of light, perhaps with an advanced spaceship, and then brought back to the point of origin. Due to time dilation, the accelerated end of the wormhole has now aged less than the stationary end, as seen by an external observer; however, time connects differently through the wormhole than outside it, so that synchronized clocks at either end of the wormhole will always remain synchronized as seen by an observer passing through the wormhole, no matter how the two ends move around. This means that an observer entering the accelerated end would exit the stationary end when the stationary end was the same age that the accelerated end had been at the moment before entry; for example, if prior to entering the wormhole the observer noted that a clock at the accelerated end read a date of 2005 while a clock at the stationary end read 2010, then the observer would exit the stationary end when its clock also read 2005, a trip backwards in time as seen by other observers outside. One significant limitation of such a time machine is that it is only possible to go as far back in time as the initial creation of the machine;[9] in essence, it is more of a path through time than it is a device that itself moves through time, and it would not allow the technology itself to be moved backwards in time. This could provide an alternative explanation for Hawking’s observation: a time machine will be built someday, but has not yet been built, so the tourists from the future cannot reach this far back in time.

According to current theories on the nature of wormholes, construction of a traversable wormhole would require the existence of a substance known as “exotic matter” with negative energy. Many physicists believe this may actually be possible due to the Casimir effect in quantum physics.[10] Although early calculations suggested a very large amount of negative energy would be required, later calculations showed that the amount of negative energy can be made arbitrarily small.[11]

In 1993, Matt Visser argued that the two mouths of a wormhole with such an induced clock difference could not be brought together without inducing quantum field and gravitational effects that would either make the wormhole collapse or the two mouths repel each other.[12] Because of this, the two mouths could not be brought close enough for causality violation to take place. However, in a 1997 paper, Visser hypothesized that a complex “Roman ring” (named after Tom Roman) configuration of an N number of wormholes arranged in a symmetric polygon could still act as a time machine, although he concludes that this is more likely a flaw in classical quantum gravity theory rather than proof that causality violation is possible.[13]

Brand Factory

April 5, 2007

Brand Factory is the name of an outlet that sells brands at a discount. When I first heard this, I was skeptical. But when I visited the place, I realized that it is not ordinary brands that they are talking about, they brands are reputed brands. Only a few days ago I realized that it was floated by the Future group – the same group that runs Big Bazaar, e-zone.

bf2.jpg

The USP of the place is that it sells brands cheaper; if you are looking for dirt cheap prices, forget it. But every brand is offered at a decent discount. I read in a piece a few days ago that their business model works on sourcing surpluses from various companies – which is a smart move.

Overall, the place is teeming with staff – and the space utilization is high, but if you want brands are you are ok with a slightly claustrophic place, it is the place to be while scouting for discounts.

Interestingly just to the left of the Brand Factory building, the billboard that you (don’t) see is for Megamart, Arvinds discount brand. To me, as a consumer, Brand factory is not the best place (not yet) for mens clothing, but for womens clothing, it has a winner (and you know what happens if you have the women coming to shop – the men have to follow).

The footfalls (the guard here has a footfall counter – two – presumably men and women- in his hand) in this place considering it is new, is quite amazing. There are more people here than either of Shoppers stop or any of the other bigger outlets in Bangalore. And the place of its launch Marathahalli is the Uttar Kashi for all discount shoppers in Bangalore. Smart choice. Someone has done their homework very well.

at 7:32 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Labels: brands, retail

Another lesson here

We all know by now, how to write about India, but heres an advanced course.

First, the name, of the hero of your piece. Preferably the first name should be a Rahul, Vijay or Simran type name. It is preferable that the second is a tough to pronounce one.

Make a necessity a virtue. Repeat as necessary.

The growing American interest in Indian education reflects a confluence of trends. It comes as American universities are trying to expand their global reach in general, and discovering India’s economic rise in particular. It also reflects the need for India to close its gaping demand for higher education.

Well, lets not kid ourselves, they are not altruistic. It is a huge market and it is “foreign students” who pay fees in the US, so it is important that, like our search for oil, they search resources who will pay for their courses.

Add salt to taste.

India’s public universities are often woefully underfinanced and strike-prone.

Indians are already voting with their feet: the commission estimates that 160,000 Indians are studying abroad, spending an estimated $4 billion a year. (Nobody goes abroad because of strikes and because universities are underfinanced – they go for a thousand other reasons.)

Bring out your servility hat.

The applicants on the recent evening in Chennai were eager to please the gatekeepers from Pittsburgh. They addressed them politely with a series of “yes, sirs.” Asked what they could contribute to Carnegie Mellon, some of them became flummoxed.

For every Carnegie Mellon or Columbia there are other dubious colleges from all over the world taking advantage of the lax regulations. Currently, any Tom, Dick, Harry or ponytail can get a tie up with any single room kitchen university from anywhere and depending on his or her marketing skills, get students. After all, in India, getting students is not the toughest part.

Outsource to India or Die

April 5, 2007

Outsource to India or Die! – myth or reality?

The brutal truth revealed in the article “Outsource to India or Die” in the Economic Times has created yet another controversy. It is no myth that outsourcing to India is redefining survival strategies for most companies across the globe – read on to know why.

Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Cisco, Yahoo, Amazon, Google, GE, Reuters, HP, Dell Oracle and many more Fortune 500 companies find outsourcing to India works! Here are seven powerful reasons why you cannot ignore outsourcing to India.
Why Outsource to India?

Outsource to India for technological agility, quality, flexibility, cost control, time-to-market and competitive advantage.

1. India is a talent-rich country: Outsource IT talent

2. India exports software to 95 countries around the world: Outsource expertise in global methodologies

3. India enjoys the confidence of global corporations: Outsource high quality brain-power
82% of the US companies ranked India as their first choice for software outsourcing
Bill Clinton applauds India’s brainpower: says Indian-Americans run more than 750 companies in America’s Silicon Valley. “You liberated your markets and now you have one of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world,” said President Clinton.
Bill Gates says India is an IT superpower: strikes strategic alliances with Wipro and Infosys to develop applications on the .Net platform
Jack Welch opens $130 million Technology Center in Bangalore, GE’s largest R&D center outside the US: celebrates 10 years of GE Medical Systems in India

4. India Offers Multiple Advantages:
Outsource to stay competitive. Leading companies worldwide realize that to maintain stay ahead, they need to reduce costs, provide the best quality, use the latest high-tech skills, and be reliable and innovative
Outsource to a mature industry with world-class systems, systems and quality
Of the 23 software companies in the world that have achieved the prestigious SEI-CMM Level 5, 15 of them are Indian. India will soon have the highest number of ISO-9000 software companies in the world, according to Nasscom.

5. India has state-of-the-art technologies for total solutions: Outsource turnkey projects

Offshore assignments have moved up the value chain – from data entry to large and complex turnkey projects of 200 to 300 person years.

Applications include:
E-Commerce
Business Process Re-engineering
System Migration
Maintaining Legacy Systems
System Integration
CBI Application

“India, US sign deals worth US $6 billion”

“India bid to boost to bilateral economic ties, with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in the US, India and the US have signed five commercial deals worth US $6 billion for projects in power, e-commerce and banking sectors.”

6. IT is a major thrust area for the Government of India:
IT is one of the Government of India’s top five priorities.
The National IT Task Force submitted its 108 point Action Plan to promote IT in the country. The Government of India has approved the plan and is in the process of implementing it.
A separate Ministry of Information Technology was set up to expedite swift approval and implementation of IT projects and to streamline the regulatory process.
Information Technology Act 2000: The Information Technology Bill that was passed in the Indian Parliament in May 2000, has now been notified as the IT Act 2000. The IT Bill brings E-commerce within the purview of law and accords stringent punishments to “cyber criminals”. With this, India joins a select band of 12 nations that have cyber laws.

Software Technology Parks of India offer world-class infrastructure and various incentives and concessions to encourage foreign investment and promote software development in India eg 100% Foreign equity is permitted and approved under the Automatic Route delegated powers to The Director STPI, tax holiday until 2010, etc.

7. India has a stable government and is one of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies:
Fifty years of democracy
Indian service sector contributes a massive 51 per cent to India’s GDP. Within this category, the most promising is computer software export, which grew at an amazing rate of 40-50 per cent every year during the 1990s.
Excellent investment potential: India ranked third in Asia, just after Japan and China, in terms of investment potential for the next 10-year period in a study by the Export-Import bank of Japan.
Privatization of the infrastructure sector
A convergent network is being created by the intertwining of the ISP, Telecom, VSAT, Cellular and networking sectors. India’s large business houses and Public Sector Units are working towards creating greater bandwidth availability.

A myth called the Indian programmer

April 5, 2007

They are the poster boys of matrimonial classifieds. They are paid handsomely, perceived to be intelligent and travel abroad frequently. Single-handedly, they brought purpose to the otherwise sleepy city of Bangalore.

Indian software engineers are today the face of a third-world rebellion. But what exactly do they do? That’s a disturbing question. Last week, during the annual fair of the software industry’s apex body Nasscom, no one uttered a word about India’s programmers.

The event, which brought together software professionals from around the world, used up all its 29 sessions to discuss prospects to improve the performance of software companies. Panels chose to debate extensively on subjects like managing innovation, business growth and multiple geographies.

But there was nothing on programmers, who you would imagine are the driving force behind the success of the Indian software companies. Perhaps you imagined wrong. “It is an explosive truth that local software companies won’t accept.

Most software professionals in India are not programmers, they are mere coders,” says a senior executive from a global consultancy firm, who has helped Nasscom in researching its industry reports.

In industry parlance, coders are akin to smart assembly line workers as opposed to programmers who are plant engineers. Programmers are the brains, the glorious visionaries who create things. Large software programmes that often run into billions of lines are designed and developed by a handful of programmers.

Coders follow instructions to write, evaluate and test small components of the large program. As a computer science student in IIT Mumbai puts it if programming requires a post graduate level of knowledge of complex algorithms and programming methods, coding requires only high school knowledge of the subject.

Coding is also the grime job. It is repetitive and monotonous. Coders know that. They feel stuck in their jobs. They have fallen into the trap of the software hype and now realise that though their status is glorified in the society, intellectually they are stranded.

Companies do not offer them stock options anymore and their salaries are not growing at the spectacular rates at which they did a few years ago.

“There is nothing new to learn from the job I am doing in Pune. I could have done it with some training even after passing high school,” says a 25-year-old who joined Infosys after finishing his engineering course in Nagpur.

A Microsoft analyst says, “Like our manufacturing industry, the Indian software industry is largely a process driven one. That should speak for the fact that we still don’t have a domestic software product like Yahoo or Google to use in our daily lives.”

IIT graduates have consciously shunned India’s best known companies like Infosys and TCS, though they offered very attractive salaries. Last year, from IIT Powai, the top three Indian IT companies got just 10 students out of the 574 who passed out.

The best computer science students prefer to join companies like Google and Trilogy. Krishna Prasad from the College of Engineering, Guindy, Chennai, who did not bite Infosys’ offer, says, “The entrance test to join TCS is a joke compared to the one in Trilogy. That speaks of what the Indian firms are looking for.”

A senior TCS executive, who requested anonymity, admitted that the perception of coders is changing even within the company. It is a gloomy outlook. He believes it has a lot to do with business dynamics.

The executive, a programmer for two decades, says that in the late ’70s and early ’80s, software drew a motley set of professionals from all kinds of fields.

In the mid-’90s, as onsite projects increased dramatically, software companies started picking all the engineers they could as the US authorities granted visas only to graduates who had four years of education after high school.

“After Y2K, as American companies discovered India’s cheap software professionals, the demand for engineers shot up,” the executive says. Most of these engineers were coders. They were almost identical workers who sat long hours to write line after line of codes, or test a fraction of a programme.

They did not complain because their pay and perks were good. Now, the demand for coding has diminished, and there is a churning.

Over the years, due to the improved communication networks and increased reliability of Indian firms, projects that required a worker to be at a client’s site, say in America, are dwindling in number. And with it the need for engineers who have four years of education after high school.

Graduates from non-professional courses, companies know, can do the engineer’s job equally well. Also, over the years, as Indian companies have already coded for many common applications like banking, insurance and accounting, they have created libraries of code which they reuse.

Top software companies have now started recruiting science graduates who will be trained alongside engineers and deployed in the same projects. The CEO of India’s largest software company TCS, S Ramadorai, had earlier explained, “The core programming still requires technical skills.

But, there are other jobs we found that can be done by graduates.” NIIT’s Arvind Thakur says, “We have always maintained that it is the aptitude and not qualifications that is vital for programming. In fact, there are cases where graduate programmers have done better than the ones from the engineering stream.”

Software engineers, are increasingly getting dejected. Sachin Rao, one of the coders stuck in the routine of a job that does not excite him anymore, has been toying with the idea of moving out of Infosys but cannot find a different kind of “break”, given his coding experience.

He sums up his plight by vaguely recollecting a story in which thousands of caterpillars keep climbing a wall, the height of which they don’t know. They clamber over each other, fall, start again, but keep climbing. They don’t know that they can eventually fly.

Rao cannot remember how the story ends but feels the coders of India today are like the caterpillars who plod their way through while there are more spectacular ways of reaching the various destinations of life..

Is H-1B Work a Bad Business Deal..

April 5, 2007

H1-B visas, which allow foreign workers with special hard-to-find skills to work in the United States, have been a political hot potato for years. Conventional wisdom has it that technology workers hate them because it’s easy for companies to find foreign workers with “hard-to-find skills,” workers who will do the same job that U.S. workers do for less money. Technology employers love them, allegedly, for that same reason.

But now documents leaked to WashTech, a Seattle-based organization of technology workers, suggest that both convictions are wrong: H-1B workers are not cheap, and the big winner in many H-1B deals is neither the Indian worker nor the U.S. company; it’s the outsourcing company.

The documents, which date from 2001, describe the pricing structure of contracts between Microsoft and two large Indian outsourcers, Infosys and Satyam. The hourly rate for a software architect, which WashTech claims is the same for both outsourcers, is $90, or more than $187,000 a year. The hourly rate for a senior software programmer is $72, or $149,000 a year, and the hourly rate for a software developer is $60, or $124,000 a year. According to the document, overtime pay for work done beyond 40 hours a week, was to be 1.5 times the regular hourly rate. At that rate, just two hours of overtime a week would push the price of a software architect over $200,000 a year—not exactly a bargain for Microsoft, or for Microsoft stockholders.

For a worker accustomed to Indian wages, however, a salary like that would be a king’s ransom. But it’s not. Because in reality, few, if any, H1-B workers ever earn $200,000 a year.

How much do they earn? Ronil Hira, an assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, told The New York Times this week that the salaries paid by Indian outsourcers to their workers in the United States top out at about $40,000 a year. That would put the markup for labor contracted to companies like Satyam and Infosys at about 300 percent. It sounds outlandishly high, but it jibes with the markup reported by an unnamed labor arbitrageur who told a WashTech writer that he routinely marks up the price of Indian software programmers by 250 percent or more.

Tell me again: Why are U.S companies doing this? Is it true H1-B workers really possess skills that can’t be found in U.S. workers? Or are the wages paid to H1-B workers, even with the outrageous markup, even with the political heat, worth every penny?

Tell us what you think.

It’s hard being the boss, too!

April 4, 2007

‘How bad is your boss’ asks Shyamal Majumdar, writing in Business Standard

From his piece, I learn there is a ‘bad boss’ contest running on http://www.workingamerica.org and it seems there is no shortage of horror stories on the subject.

There seem to be a huge number of bosses out there who either take all the credit for themselves, or who think you have no life outside work, or who give out too many tasks with impossible and constantly changing deadlines. There are stories about bosses who are pathological liars, or control freaks, or someone who has the IQ of an eraser. The boss also seems to be having the spine of a jellyfish — someone who would never stand up for you.

Shyamal observes that some of these comments are obviously exaggerated, it’s a fact that there are enough bosses who can make your life into a Dilbert strip.
Which is why I guess the ‘Hari Sadu’ ad by job site naukri.com brings a smile on most people’s faces.

Though no organised surveys have been done on this issue, an informal study in India a few years ago found that almost 75 per cent of the employees surveyed identified their boss as a lousy manager.

Well, here’s the view from the boss side of the fence. It is neither easy or fun being one. The most difficult lesson I learnt when I set up my own company was how hard it is to go from being an employee to an employer.

But you don’t have to go the entrepreneurship route to go through this painful transition. Two, three, max four years into your job you’ll find yourself having to supervise people working under you.

Suddenly it’s not enough to do your own work well – you have to be responsible for their work as well. Many times, it seems, it would be far quicker to do the job yourself. But that’s not the answer.

Mistakes are made. You can’t yell, yet you have to let the person know something went wrong. Or well, you can yell– but then you’d be a bad boss. It seems perfectly unfair – someone else screws up and you have to broach the subject with patience and understanding instead of venting your own anger and frustration.

Being a boss – a good one – requires a great deal of emotional energy. As you rise higher and higher, you just need more and more of it. Remember the old aying ‘lonely at the top’, even in the flattest of organization structures.

There is an ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ pecking order, Upto a point – even as someone’s boss – you are an ‘Us’. At some point your designation, salary and role put you in the bracket of ‘Them’.

Now people are noticing what you wear, how you conduct yourself, gossiping about something you said or did. This is all natural – you were doing it not long ago. But.. it takes some getting used to! And some people just never do.

Organisational issues
As Shyamal notes, part of the ‘bad boss’ problem lies in faulty executive promotion policies. For example, a company promoted its engineers to managerial positions for the wrong reasons, that is, technical competence rather than managerial proficiency…

He goes on to give the example of Microsoft, which has created a separate status scale for its software engineers. The basic idea being that managers gain promotion as they take on more people and greater responsibility, and software engineers gain in status and pay as they demonstrate brilliance.

Well, this should be emulated in just about every profession (the most brilliant writers often make lousy editors because, saddled with admin and production burdens they cease to write – and lose the very passion that brough them into their jobs!)

But, we also need to develop leadership capabilities in people as they rise up the ladder. It’s tempting to believe leaders are born not made but poor behaviour and attitude can be corrected. Not always, but since bad bosses affect everything from individual performance to overall morale – one has to try!

Toxic subordinates
Shyamal notes that behavioural studies have found that bad bosses believe in the following:

The average person dislikes work and will avoid it he/she can;

Therefore, most people must be forced with the threat of punishment to work towards organisational objectives;

The average person prefers to be directed; to avoid responsibility; is relatively unambitious, and wants security, above all else.

In Hindi there is a saying – taali donon haathon se bajti hai. As a boss I would have to say there are also a number of ‘bad’ employees who believe in the following:

My current job is not good enough for me. (But I’m still working here till I get something better!)

My boss is always out to get me (My performance is never the issue)

I am super talented so I am entitled to ___________

Fill in the blank with anything from ‘disregard the boss’ instructions’ to ‘come 2 hours later to work than everyone else’

Jack Welch write about ‘boss haters’ in his book ‘Winning’. These are the people who are cynical about authority and ‘constantly exude low-level negativity towards “the system”… their bosses feel it and return the favour.”

‘Winning’ is replete with advice for people at all rungs of the corporate ladder. For people just starting their careers, a very important tip from Welch:

“I would describe the wy woek-life balance as an old fashioned chit system. People with great performance accumulate chits, which can be traded with flexibility. The more chits you have, the greater your opportunity to work where and how you want.”

In short, no one is ‘entitled’ to anything – you have to earn the trust and respect of your boss, just as he/ she has to earn yours. Far too many young people joining the workforce today aren’t really recognizing this fundamental principle.

Also, if you keep hopping from job to job – because today the environment allows that – you never really accumulate enough of those chits.

The generation gap
A rare article with some insight in ET noted:

Growing up in post-liberalisation India, amid a buoyant economy, with the India story only getting brighter… India’s Generation …have seen few failures and fewer hardships. Disillusionment sets in fast, and the patience threshold is low.

The article quotes the example of a management trainee who came to meet K Ramkumar, HR head of ICICI Bank.

Sir, my boss spoke to me in a language which even my father would not use. I felt very bad. Nobody has ever spoken to me like that. I have always done well in my life,” he said. He wanted to quit. His boss had told him, “You are no good. You have to work hard.”

Tolerance is in short supply today – and a ‘bad’ boss and a tough one are often mistaken. A bad boss is one who – besides being a taskmaster – is one who diminishes you, does not add value to you.

A tough boss is one who may stretch you to the limit. But there is learning and growth in working with that person as well. And of course if you are really lucky – you find a mentor – a boss who actively works to bring out the best in you.

Subroto Bagchi, CEO Mindtree, once wrote a tribute to all the bosses he’d worked with who made him what he is today. If someone were to do a ‘great boss’ contest – they just might be surprised.

IT Industry – An Entry Level Perspective

April 4, 2007

Mostly as an entry level graduate, although quite opposite to our belief, we are no less than an illiterate about IT industry’s dynamics and usually do not know much about how things practically work on the ground level. Believe it or not it remains a mystery even after a good amount of experience & this fact is realized only after through some real-time work.

It is quite natural for an average student therefore to fall trap to many misconceptions that are developed being through several unstructured and amateur talks during college days with exposure to only the creamy-layered-talks either by the senior batches or corporate(s) presenting a seminar, talk etc. I sometimes wonder isn’t it reasonably important enough to develop the right knowledge about an industry which almost any branch student eventually planning to serve whole of his/ her own life?

Somebody very correctly said, “IT and cricket are the only brands in India”. Besides their mass acceptance, I believe both involve quite a huge amount of money, tremendously high energy levels, early exposure to International standards and global attention etc. Given that the Indian sub-continent is actually thehotspot for IT related activities today and the future of generation-next software products, therefore, the demand for talented, skillful and great programmers is ought to increase like never before.

In Parallel as the success of Indian services giants is getting phenomenal, the demand for analysts, testers, developers, QAs, leaders & managers is bound to multiply on the same hand. Thus, one thing is very much for sure that getting a job after college sooner or later shouldn’t be big deal. It wouldn’t be wrong if I say that today it is actually difficult for you not to be able to find a job (with just a basic degree diligently completed in hand, a fair amount of smartness & communication skills).

As mentioned above, we have two broad category of companies, one Services Giants (often termed as software factories) like Infy, Accenture, Wipro, Satyam, TCS, CTS, HCL etc, second all core product based companies (but sometimes they too operate in services segment as well) like riya, ziva, opera, trilogy, adobe, soliton, informatica etc. After whatever experience I have I believe none of the category is a stain to once career quite opposite to what many of the geeks around say usually, its just a matter of preference about the kinda company you want to work for or which model suits your ambition(al) temperament.

I usually find concerned about the people who are a part of services giants owing to the fact that it takes very less time for a majority of them to find frustration with this model. Once we are a part of this software factory, it is very natural for everyone of us to go through some sort of mental turbulences for the simple fact that you are a lost ‘one’ among the several thousands trying to justify your uniqueness, trying to evaluate your achievements, trying to find a niche for your individual self or just trying to seek better prospects at any given point of time.

I believe this is where we need to be little clear & conscious about our expectations from ourselves & our ambitions coz overly rated expectations/ ambitions often lead to depressions in such a case. Doesn’t matter how big a stud or reputation you enjoyed during college days, everyone is treated similar here.

When I say depression I’m serious, which would start its course without any sign or gesture. There have been extremely shocking incidents with people, therefore, it is extremely important to learn to be stable right from the beginning of your career and set short term goals with an eye on the long term ones.

Few inevitable views to be kept parallel in your mind are:

1. Open Mind

Open mind probably matters the most in the long term success. Honestly seek from yourself about how clear an idea do you have about making things happen on your own! Are you indecisive about anything you want to work upon? Are you drifting away with only the heard talks so far? Do you think with some experience and understanding you can better find a niche for yourself? Or are you not able to find the way out to do something that you want to work upon for any reason?

In any such scenarios accepting the work you get to work upon with an open mind and deriving out the benefits out of it (rather than being pigheaded about it) is the best thing you can do to yourself. Its practically also not possible for a million software engineers to get what they exactly want (if in case they do), therefore, carving out your way to do what you actually want to do is another approach to it; but this indeed needs a good amount of focus and efforts both on learning technical stuff as well as developing a fairly good amount of business intellect.

Explore as much as possible in parallel, there will definitely be a day when you will be free to make a choice in your work for yourself but wait for little experience. It always pays!

2. Money

Every star/cricketer works for it, why shouldn’t you? Obviously we can’t forget this fundamental motivating factor, No way! Believe it or not Money is the only thing and also it is nothing; both on the same hand.

Comparison with the colleague’s salary is again an inevitable thought process and I have seen people comparing even while working in Microsoft in their initial years (I was actually no less than surprised) getting as good as three times the salary compared to an average graduate’s salary in services giants. I can’t defend that it shouldn’t affect you but believe me it just does the harm only and nothing constructive.

If at any point of time you feel that you are getting lesser money compared to anyone for that matter, evaluate whether do you have the feeling of achievement in your work? If yes, let him earn, if no, make sure you strive for the achievement first, money will definitely follow in both the cases. Its’ just a matter of time, someone earns little early-someone little later; focus on achievements is something extremely crucial.

3. Ownership

Don’t be surprised to see even 80% of your friends right after a year coming fed up with the company they work for or may be the IT industry overall coz they didn’t do anything good so far, didn’t learn anything constructive or rather forgot whatever they knew/ learnt during college days over this year. And are in no good position to even apply through to other companies or when they apply, rejection is the only result. Therefore, it’s again very important to understand that you can’t expect your organization to help you grow always! Taking command of your career with patience is one thing to be learnt along with the job with utmost priority.

4. College Books

Aren’t cricketers involved in regular state level games? Aren’t they under regular practice of very basic lessons like holding a catch? If you got 3 jobs in campus and started working in no time, it’s no guarantee of a happy career. All you need is just three more months to realize that you aren’t doing something that you ought to, which might demand restructuring yourself with a lot of fundamental knowledge back again.

Take these words, there’s no harm in going back to college books back again! studying chapter by chapter and practicing the examples, which you probably never looked at during the lab examinations as well. Do not let this harm your ego; it is these fundamental problems that carry most of the basics.

5. Is IT industry for you?

I don’t say quit your job if it is not for you but always strive in parallel for what pleases you the most. You might be earning a corpulent salary with a free bank account or two, enjoying cross country travels, overwhelmed with the attention at workplace or the global infrastructure at your toes but in long term it might not make a meaningful difference for your personal self, coz you are not the only one, look around, you’ll find several thousands like you or probably you wanted something else always but just kept flowing where the work took you to. Sense of achievement comes only with something that pleases you the most. I have started to believe that not everyone is for IT or may be IT is not for everyone.

To-do List

Let’s talk about few steps you can take on your own to ease out problems you might encounter in a few more days to go.

1. Evaluate your Programming Quotient (PQ)

Do you prefer pointers over arrays to refer to memory addresses?

Can you write 200 lines of fresh code in C or double the size using C++ at a single stretch?

Can you analyze a given problem and apply a suitable data structure to come up with a working and efficient algorithm?

Evaluate several such questions, quantify your PQ and if you find a score of more than 5, target the companies that can use your programming talent and avoid being the part of software factories (Services giants). Working with a funded startup or a group in a stealth mode shouldn’t be a bad idea either.

2. Reading/ Writing Blogging

Reading doesn’t mean for Cosmopolitan or India Today but something relevant to the industry, am sure you do not need anything more than an internet connection. I recommend BBC portal, Del.icio.us, scribd, digg etc. as I use them more often than any others but there are several many others as well.

Write your own articles. Blogs are probably the fresh(est), universally accepted and superb means of marketing yourself with a complete control in your own hands. You can be a tarzan overnight if you can bring a unique voice out of your blog. Widely used services today are Blogger, wordpress, livejournal, typepad etc.

3. Networking

Find yourself a part of good technical communities; associate yourself with people better than you, networking is as important as not networking today. Attend technical talks, workshops, seminars, conferences etc. They certainly provide you with the breadth in knowledge, that’s the only way to to maintain yourselves into the learning mode. LinkedIn is one professional networking site I found better than any others. Personally for me the primary mode is still blogging and commenting over other’s work.

There are quite a few communities like Barcamps, Wikicamps, Mobile Monday, Bangpypers, Pechakucha etc.

4. Mentor

Every geek/nerd has his own style and unique methodology, there’s indeed nothing wrong in it but believe it or not, it’s quite a common scenario today that you will be regarded as a software engineer or even as senior software engineer but you will not write even a single line of code throughout your career. I’ve realized this only after joining the industry and that software jobs are not only programming and coding but much more than that. There are all whole numbers that fit into the industry besides only the 0 & 1 bit.

I can’t simulate the situations though but can only recommend finding an experienced persona, whom you can trust and believe. Silently bring them to advice you more often than you need. It’s vital. Am sure you’ll better understand practically.

5. Ideal Company

I have been asked several times by the budding engineers from my campus about what should be the idea company to work for?

This question probably doesn’t make any sense. First find out your own Knowledge Quotient (KQ) and then probably ask, which company is suitable to my KQ e.g. if you have not coded even a single algorithm during your college days and aspire to jump right into MS, Google or Yahoo kinda companies as a programmer, am sure the association wouldn’t work out for long, whereas you might do extremely good in a company like Infosys. Therefore, answer is essentially in your own knowledge, all you need is to make little research about it.

It is rather important to understand the level of technology would you be comfortable with, given in your work! how good you feel not doing technical work or rather how bad you feel being out of technology than being stubborn about working on a specified technology platform only, or to work only with a few chosen companies or being adamant about having your own ASAP. Try avoiding such immature thoughts, they most of the times lead to disaster.

Therefore, there is no ideal company to work for, not Microsoft, not Yahoo and not even Google, any organization with which you can establish a loyal relationship is probably good to work for. Focus to strengthen your knowledge base should be the primary objective always and indeed an ideal gesture.

Lastly: Even if you do not like programming or coding, a software job can get you into a comfortable career without having you to code at all, that’s another big truth.

Embedded systems in action: Pictures from Mars

April 2, 2007

Since attaining working orbit last November, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been mapping the Martian surface with high-resolution and infrared imaging sensors.mars

These images promise to provide a better understanding of Mars, including its past or present ability to support any form of life. Image collection is all part of the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) developed by Ball Aerospace Technologies Corporation. Managed by the ThreadX RTOS from Express Logic, HiRISE application software controls the acquisition of images across a six-kilometer swath of 20,000 pixels at a time while the spacecraft sweeps over the surface of Mars. While traveling at a speed of 3,200 meters per second, image data is continuously collected using an algorithm to match ground velocity and maintain surface alignment to ensure that image swaths can be reassembled back on Earth. You can click the thumbnail to the left for a higher resolution photo or go to the NASA MRO website for a full gallery of images.

Semiconductor industry in india

April 2, 2007

Intel 80486DX2 die in its packaging

The kind of work that gets off-loaded to most of the Indian semiconductor companies, especially the ones that are subsidiaries of US and European majors. Barring a few, lot of groups in companies end up executing some of the more mundane tasks that an engineer sitting in the US would rather avoid. Even for the few groups that actually end up doing some cutting edge chip designs, most of the important decisions are taken elsewhere. In other words, Indian subsidiaries are still considered as an engineering off-shore center. This is not all bad although we want these subsidiaries to be key decision makers if we want to move up the value chain. You often encounter engineering leaders in Bangalore or Noida looking up to their US counterparts for the final decisions. For example, if a company wants to invest in a CAD tool, someone sitting in US typically tells Indian engineering teams what they ought to use, no questions asked. Most of the architecture definitions happen elsewhere with less participation from Indian engineers. Also, lot of these companies only work on derivative designs which require incremental design and verification and usually considered low-risk. Perhaps the outsourcing backlash back home in the US/Europe prevents big companies from going full steam in India. I’ve also personally interacted with several NRIs living in the US and working in the low-to-middle level management who provide enough bad-press about India and its engineering talent. For an exec who knows little else about India, why would he or she want to invest in India on hearing such stories?

Indian subsidiaries of semiconductor start-ups on the other hand seem to be calling shots from here already. Lot of high-end engineering work happens in India. This also raises a rather curious point. Are these small and medium sized start-ups then looking up to India only because they cannot afford a high-paid architect or designer in the US? That is a serious concern in the long term because if companies are going to come to India for cost rather than quality, all this hype about growth in India will be short-lived, with the salaries already sky-rocketing. Another, more optimistic way to think about it is that most of these startups are founded by Indian expats in the US and its only logical for them to believe in the Indian talent and story. Only time will tell probably.

Case for Semiconductor Product Companies

April 2, 2007

semiconductor labIndia is expected to consume electronic equipment worth $363 billion by 2015 from $28.2 billion in 2005, pushing the total market for semiconductors to a whopping $36.3 billion by 2015.

According to semiconductor market research reports by India Semiconductor Association (ISA) and Frost & Sullivan, the semiconductor-driven industry is expected to create over 3.5 million jobs by 2015.

Although all these numbers sound good to hear, it will be nice to see the bulk of these 3.5 million jobs to be in direct product development than services. In order for India to move up the semiconductor value chain, we need to focus on innovation as opposed to servicing. Ironically, one strong factor that is in favor of product development is the India’s population.

We have a billion people and if we could create products that can target these people, we wouldn’t need to be “helping” US or Japan in creating world-class products that are eventually targeting Americans and Japanese consumers. The point is that we won’t have to depend on forces outside of our borders when we have a huge indigenous market.

Unfortunately, most of the indigenous semiconductor companies are service oriented. Take a Wipro or a Sasken or a Mindtree for example. All of these companies are working for other US biggies. Perhaps this makes more business sense in the shorter term.

There is probably a handful of India-based VLSI companies doing products for the local market. The usual complaint is that the market is still in the US or Japan. We need to create amarket in India – just as Apple does so often in the US and the rest of the world. I am sure our Wipros can take on the biggies of the world!