Update Previous: Hardware, Software and Human Beings

Consider this. You’ve been gifted a new iPad 2 for Christmas last year. Just a couple of months later, Apple comes out with its new iPad model, with a better screen, a better camera and supposedly more oomph under the cover. Feel cheated?

You buy the first edition of a revolutionary car model from your favorite car manufacturer, only to realize in a few months time that the company has recalled all units for a faulty brake pedal wiring. None of the editions of that car model produced after that incident have this fault. What’s more, they even have more goodies packed in with a sleeker design. Feel left out?

That’s the thing with hardware. You buy something and you are stuck with it, for good or for worse. You can’t update hardware, you can just get a new one and forget about the old stuff.

Thankfully, that’s not the stuff with software, or else it would be a real shame if you’d have to throw away a beautifully working solution once there was a new version announced for the machine’s operating system, or the most used app on your Android or iOS phone, your bank’s web application, or your favorite online car racing game. There’s always the specter of compatibility with the existing system though, and its not always smooth sailing on that front.

How does this phenomenon affect us humans personally? It swings both ways, and therein lies the rub.

You break a bone in your hand, or have a heart surgery, and you ideally want the medical update to mend your body in such a way that it feels as if nothing was ever wrong. Just like in the case of hardware, that rarely happens. Scars remain, unless of course you go for some cosmetic surgery. Now consider that you have a splintered relationship with a friend or a family member. Life is strange, and after a few years you bump into this person at a shopping mall or at an airport lounge, get chatting and have a genuine chance to mend ways with him or her. Its up to you whether you want this update to work or not. Compatibility remains an issue, mental scars are tough to wipe off altogether, but you do have a chance to make them less relevant in the new scheme of things.

Some food for thought?

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On my own.. one year on.. and I believe that ‘I can go the distance’..

This post has been long overdue. So here goes!

There are a few times in life when you are forced to make a tough choice, either due to self-will or due to the circumstances around you, or both, in some cases. A year ago I took the decision to quit my day job as a full-time software developer in an IT firm and start out as a freelance consultant. This was the time when the IT industry had just broken the ‘recession’ waters and me branching out as an independent then was a bold move even by aggressive standards. So how has the journey been so far? A brief look-back at the sojourn.

Reasons

Its funny, but I still haven’t been able to pin my decision of quitting the full-time guaranteed-salary-plus-perks job on a particular reason. Maybe there were many reasons. I’ll try and be as less controversial, yet honest, as possible. I was sure of one thing – I did not want to live someone else’s life anymore. Plus, if I was good at the job that I was doing and people liked it, why couldn’t I work for myself? That made sense.

I still remember Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech, in which he urged everyone to look into the mirror every morning and to think this over –

“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

I knew the time had come to throw off the bowlines and sail out. There would also be relatively more freedom, I thought, of choosing the work which I wanted to do. I had also started lecturing to college students in a few technical subjects then (something which I loved) and often found it hard to juggle time for both tasks. I have always been a dreamer and there were many other aspects of life to explore, which called for passion and required free time. Being an independent would give me a little bit more time than I had then; or at least that’s what I thought. Did it really happen? Read on.

Challenges

‘Money’. But obvious isn’t it! When you are independent, whatever money you earn or loose, both in quantity and value, is directly related to your vision, efforts, will and luck. I knew achieving financial stability would not be an overnight task, but rather a long and steady process, and would depend on the opportunities I get, and more importantly – the ones I ‘convert’. Plus, I always wanted to be a man of quality and value, and that was one of the reasons why I quit my job in the first place because I was tired of mediocrity. So this aspect too had to be balanced with money-inflow.

Support

When you have ever supporting and equally adventurous yet practical parents, support is just round the corner! Some of my closest friends believed in me, and just that belief was probably good enough. It might sound too poetic, but I seriously believe that the good wishes of my family and close friends carried me through the initial phase. Among others, I’ll be forever indebted to Amruta, Bhakti and Dnyanprabha for knowing all and still ‘being there’ for me every single time. In general, this period helped me in separating the true friends (believers) from the superficial ones (non-believers). I drew inspiration from a few friends, like Aditya and Harshad, who have successfully tread on the freelancing path before. The support of Gokhale sir and Rama ma’am, two people I regard as my ‘friends-philosophers-guides’ too must be mentioned. Some incidences and resulting revelations were quite heart-breaking, but they too added to the experience of finding out the real people underneath the masks they wore.

Initial phase

Financially, I started out with some savings from my job days. I had some lecture schedules then at C-DAC’s Sunbeam Institute of Information Technology as well as at the Fergusson College (both institutes here in Pune) to keep me busy. There weren’t any real software developments projects on the anvil, so I decided to make good use of the sabbatical when the lecture schedules ended in November.

From December through March, I voraciously read not just technical books to update my knowledge, but also non-technicals books and novels to help me grow as a complete person. I read the complete Harry Potter books collection from JK Rowling and Dan Brown’s collection of fiction novels (Digital Fortress, Deception Point, Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol) among others. Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged‘ and ‘The Fountainhead‘ provided me much needed answers to the questions I had about friendships, relationships, business and life in general. I read Scott Berkun’s ‘Confessions of a Public Speaker‘ to aid my public interaction as a classroom lecturer, and a few other business-oriented books like Randall Stross’ ‘Planet Google‘ and Phil Baker’s ‘From Concept to Consumer‘. Being a huge history buff, I sharpened my knowledge on ancient Indian, European and American history through articles on the internet, mostly on Wikipedia, and any good books which I could lay my hands on, mostly at the British Library. I could dedicate some time to photography, and also to reading more about aero-modelling and airplanes in general, an old passion of mine. Did all this help? Certainly did. You could easily draw parallels and analogies between the stories in these books and life in general, even the world of software development!

I think that at some point of time everyone needs to look at themselves closely and analyze their ideas, beliefs and actions. This period certainly gave me that reflection-time. It was absolutely priceless!

In April I received an unexpected call from the Fergusson College’s Computer Science department to conduct a few lectures on Software Design Patterns. Frankly, I had never thought of studying this topic in detail, and now to teach it to students meant a big challenge. But when you are swimming in the water already, you don’t fear getting more wet, do you? I took up the challenge. Preparing for the lectures gave me an opportunity to delve into the topic, and I must say it was really enjoyable. Incidentally, I could use the some of analogies learnt from the fictional novels that I had read, in the lecture sessions while explaining some technical concepts. I can safely say now that the students ‘liked’ them if not ‘loved’ them 🙂

Return to software development

Around late-April I got a call from an old client of dad’s to come and visit him for some software development work he had in mind. I had a positive meeting with him and after a few presentations and discussions with the company’s ‘think-tank’, bagged my first real big software development project contract. The presentations themselves were something, because it was the first time that I was dealing with people almost twice my age, having tons and tons of experience! I had worked on cost estimation for a software project during my job days, but this was a totally different kettle of fish, and there were some really hilarious episodes there when I had to quote and re-quote! As I found out a few weeks later, this was just the beginning of the learning process 🙂

I was tasked with developing a software solution for designing and estimating the true cost of Cranes, a commonly used machine in material-handling systems. It was engineering college days all over again for me, as I had to re-learn concepts from basic physics and the laws and fundamentals of mechanics. Then I had to translate that knowledge into software code, and create a lightweight, relatively easy-to-use, yet fool-proof software with lots of permutations and combinations possible in the input parameters. The entire experience spread over almost four months, was priceless. On the last day of development, the highly meticulous tech advisor whom I worked with, took me and a friend of mine for dinner and said that he was very happy with my work. Well, you can now add the ‘memorable’ tag too to the experience 🙂

I was a consultant in the organization, which meant that apart from me and a couple of IT guys who looked after the computer systems and networking in that place, everybody else was from a non-computer background. Over the course of the development I had at least 25 different people walking up to me and enquiring what “exactly” I was doing there 🙂 It was fun answering the queries in as simple (non-geeky) a way as possible!

One thing I’ve always done since childhood is to keep my eyes and ears open for any kind of knowledge or information that comes my way. Sitting there and coding and listening to the stuff going on around me, I subconsciously picked up so many things about the working of the departments in the organization, for example, Human Resource Development, Accounts, Order Processing, Mechanical Design, Electrical Design, Purchase, Sales, Marketing. For me, this was worth its weight in gold, because in this roller-coaster ride called ‘life’ you never know when you’ll require a particular piece of information!

I was lucky enough to make some wonderful friends during these four months; friends whom I can relate with, which is so rare. I can just hope that these friendships strengthen over time 🙂

So, how did I fare?

When I started out as an independent a year ago, I had promised myself that I’ll evaluate my position every six months, both professionally and financially. This means that I’ve been through a couple of such self-evaluations. I’ll tell you what I concluded after these evaluations. I realized that success is much more than just 2 + 2 = 4. Professionally, it was great that I got a chance to work upon a different kind of assignment. It gave me a lot of satisfaction. Financially, I hadn’t expected to get a break this big in my first year as an independent consultant. So money-wise, that was sort of a relief. Obviously there is always room for improvement, and one could argue that I could have earned more if I had actively sought projects, but again as I said, the sabbatical at the start of the year was a blessing in disguise. Experience-wise, I feel I’ve grown by three years in just this one year! I put in my best efforts and I’m quite happy with the results. At the end of the day, that’s what counts the most.

The college lectures have continued to give me as much satisfaction as the software development work. I hope I can dedicate good amounts of time to both areas in the future too. In general, this year has provided me with far more free, yet valuable time than before. Its enabled me not just to recharge my mind, but also to pursue other hobbies and broaden perspectives.

The future

I realize that this is just the start. There’s a long journey ahead and you never know what life might throw at you. They say that personal and professional lives should be kept separate. I don’t believe that. I feel that each one aids the other, and likewise each one affects the other. You’ve got to be alert. You have to be audacious enough to plan, and adaptable enough to change those plans to suit the situations.

I will end this post with one of my favorite songs. Its from the 1997 Disney animation movie ‘Hercules‘, and it gives a near perfect picture of my thoughts at this moment 🙂

“I have often dreamed
Of a far off place
Where a hero’s welcome
Would be waiting for me,
Where the crowds will cheer
When they see my face,
And a voice keeps saying
This is where I’m meant to be..

I’ll be there someday
I can go the distance,
I will find my way
If I can be strong,
I know every mile
Will be worth my while,
When I go the distance
I’ll be right where I belong..

Down an unknown road
To embrace my fate,
Though the road may wander
It will lead me to you,
And a thousand years
Would be worth the wait,
It may take a lifetime
But somehow I’ll see it through..

And I won’t look back
I can go the distance,
And I’ll stay on track
No I won’t accept defeat,
It’s an uphill slope
But I won’t loose hope
Till I go the distance
And my journey is complete..

But to look beyond the glory is the hardest part,
For a hero’s strength is measured by his heart..

Like a shooting star
I will go the distance,
I will search the world
I will face its harms,
I don’t care how far
I can go the distance,
Till I find my hero’s welcome
Waiting in your arms..

I will search the world,
I will face its harms,
Till I find my hero’s welcome
Waiting in your arms..”

86,400 seconds to turn it all around

A few months ago a friend shared this Kris Allen song with me, and it quickly became one my all time favorites. Its rare when a song has such meaningful lyrics combined with some great music, especially the Guitar notes, and even rarer when you can connect with it instantly because it endorses your life’s philosophy and just sounds sweeter the longer you listen to it.

More about the song and the artist (an ex-American Idol), here.

“Sometimes we fall down and can’t get back up,
We’re hiding behind skin that’s too tough,
How come we dont say “I love you” enough,
Till its to late, its not too late.

Our hearts are hungry for a food that won’t come,
And we could make a feast from these crumbs,
And we’re all staring down the barrel of a gun,
So if your life flashed before you,
What would you wish you would’ve done?

Yeah we gotta start..

Lookin’ at the hands of the time we’ve been given here,
This is all we got and we gotta start pickin’ it,
Every second counts on a clock that’s tickin’,
Gotta live like we’re dying.

We only got
86,400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away,
We gotta tell ’em that we love ’em
While we got the chance to say,
Gotta live like we’re dying.

If your plane fell out of the skies,
Who would you call with your last goodbyes?
Should be so careful who we left out of our lives,
When we long for absolution
There’ll be no one on the line.

Yeah we gotta start..

Lookin’ at the hands of the time we’ve been given here,
This is all we got and we gotta start pickin’ it,
Every second counts on a clock thats tickin’,
Gotta live like we’re dying.

We only got
86,400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away,
We gotta tell ’em that we love ’em
While we got the chance to say,
Gotta live like we’re dying.

Like were dying.. oh.. like were dying..

We only got
86,400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away,
We gotta tell ’em that we love ’em
While we got the chance to say,
Gotta live like we’re dying.

You never know a good thing till its gone,
You never see a crash till its head on,
Why we think we’re right when we’re dead wrong,
You never know a good thing till its gone.

Yeah we gotta start..

Lookin’ at the hands of the time we’ve been given here,
This is all we got and we gotta start pickin’ it,
Every second counts on a clock thats tickin’
Gotta live like we’re dying.

We only got
86,400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away,
We gotta tell ’em that we love ’em,
While we got the chance to say,
Gotta live like we’re dying.

Like were dying.. oh.. like were dying..

We only got
86,400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away,
We gotta tell ’em that we love ’em
While we got the chance to say,

Gotta live like we’re dying.”

Calling out..

These are two songs I absolutely love. Music-wise and lyrics-wise they are gems in their own right. I must have seen and listened to them many times over the years, on TV, on the computer, or on the iPod, but as I listened to them yesterday I couldn’t help but sense a connection between the feelings and emotions in both of them…. calling out to the ‘one’.

Both these songs are generations apart, and have been used to portray relatively different scenarios in the respective films, the 1969 classic ‘Khamoshi‘ (IMDb link) and the 1998 movie ‘Dil Se..‘ (IMDb link), one of my favorites.

Why I felt the connection only yesterday, or has anyone else felt it up till now, I do not know. I have always believed that as you go about in life having different experiences, from different people, and at different places, you tend to find new meanings to the world and the media around you and sort of re-evaluate your feelings about the articles you’ve read before, the songs you’ve listened to earlier, the movies you’ve seen in the years gone by, or the words of advise given by a friend or a family-member. Perhaps due to certain happenings in my life in the past few months, I could sense that connection yesterday.

“तुम पुकार लो, तुम्हारा इंतज़ार है, तुम पुकार लो,

ख्वाब चुन रही है रात बेक़रार है,

तुम्हारा इंतज़ार है, तुम पुकार लो.

होंठ पे लिए हुए दिल की बात हम,

जागते रहेंगे और कितनी रात हम,

मुक्तसर सी बात है, तुमसे प्यार है,

तुम्हारा इंतज़ार है, तुम पुकार लो.

दिल बहल तो जायेगा इस ख़याल से,

हाल मिल गया तुम्हारा अपने हाल से,

रात ये क़रार की, बेक़रार है,

तुम्हारा इंतज़ार है, तुम पुकार लो.”

“हो पाखी पाखी परदेसी, पाखी पाखी परदेसी,

पाखी पाखी परदेसी, पाखी पाखी परदेसी,

ऐ अजनबी तू भी कभी आवाज दे कहीं से,

ऐ अजनबी तू भी कभी आवाज दे कहीं से,

मैं यहाँ टुकडो में जी रहा हूँ,

मैं यहाँ टुकडो में जी रहा हूँ,

तू कहीं टुकडो में जी रही है,

ऐ अजनबी तू भी कभी आवाज दे कहीं से,

ऐ अजनबी तू भी कभी आवाज दे कहीं से.

रोज रोज रेशम सी हवा आते जाते कहती है बता,

रेशम सी हवा कहती है बता,

वो जो दूध-धुली मासूम कली,

वो है कहाँ कहाँ है,

वो रौशनी कहाँ है,

वो जानसी कहा है,

मैं अधूरा तू अधूरी जी रहे है,

ऐ अजनबी तू भी कभी आवाज दे कहीं से,

ऐ अजनबी तू भी कभी आवाज दे कहीं से.

तू तो नहीं है लेकिन तेरी मुस्कुराहटें है,

चेहरा नहीं है पर तेरी आहटें है,

तू है कहाँ कहाँ है,

तेरा निशां कहाँ है,

मेरा जहाँ कहाँ है,

मैं अधूरा तू अधूरी जी रहे है,

ऐ अजनबी तू भी कभी आवाज दे कहीं से,

ऐ अजनबी तू भी कभी आवाज दे कहीं से.”

A birthday and a death, put into perspective

Candle

Yesterday was the birthday of a friend of mine from my old college days. I hadn’t been able to keep in touch with him for some time now, so as I woke up in the morning I promised myself that I will dial his number in the afternoon to wish him and also catch up on his updates. With this feeling I entered office and started settling down into the day’s tasks.

About half-an-hour later, one person from the group that has been hired to mop the floors and keep them clean (house-keeping staff) came up to the Human Resource (HR) guys who sit in the cubicle behind mine, and asked for a leave from work. After being prompted for the reason, he said that he just got the news from his native place that his son had met with a fatal accident (he had drowned), and so needed to go visit. The calmness with which he said this really startled me. The HR guys said that he could take off immediately and that they would inform his contractor later.

It felt strange. I’ve been seeing this person for about 3 months now, working day in and day out, and have never thought that he too could have a family life. He comes across as a genuine sort of guy who could never shout at anyone and who would always take the first step back in any argument. Its almost like he is used to being ignored by the busy people running all around him. He was distressed, but surprisingly his face showed little emotion.

The thought stayed with me for most of the day, well after he had left and we got back to our daily activities. Later as I picked up the phone to call and wish my friend for his birthday, I couldn’t help connect the two events. On a day when he would be celebrating the occasion of his birth, some person somewhere would be mourning a death. Come to think of it, on a planet where the human population is fast approaching 7 billion, this pattern will be followed every single day. Contrasts do not come starker than this.

Perhaps, this is an indication of how we should value our lives, while we have the chance to do so.

Understanding, valuation and that rare acceptance

I’ve been living through sort of a ‘contemplation phase’ in the last few weeks, and was trying to evaluate some seemingly basic notions about life in general. The idea of understanding a person / thing, valuing its existence and appreciating it in an honest fashion was one of them. Incidentally, I was also reading Ayn Rand‘s epic novel Atlas Shrugged in that period and came across the following passage, and it seemed to throw the answer at me.

For the uninitiated, here some background behind the scene in question and the characters involved in it. This conversation takes place between Richard Halley, a renowned music composer, and Dagny Taggart, a railroad industry heiress and the main protagonist who listens only to Halley’s creations and loves them because she can connect with them instantly.

“Miss Taggart, how many people are there to whom my work means as much as it does to you?”

“Not many,” she answered simply, neither as boast nor flattery, but as an impersonal tribute to the exacting values involved.

“That is the payment I demand. Not many can afford it. I don’t mean your enjoyment, I don’t mean your emotion. Emotions be damned! I mean your understanding and the fact that your enjoyment was of the same nature as mine, that it came from the same source: from your intelligence, from the conscious judgment of a mind able to judge my work by the standard of the same values that went to write it. I mean, not the fact that you felt, but that you felt what I wished you to feel, not the fact that you admire my work, but that you admire it for the things I wished to be admired.” He chuckled.

“There’s only one passion in most artists more violent than their desire for admiration: their fear of identifying the nature of such admiration as they do receive. But it’s a fear I’ve never shared. I do not fool myself about my work or the response I seek—I value both too highly.

I do not care to be admired causelessly, emotionally, intuitively, instinctively, or blindly. I do not care for blindness in any form, I have too much to show, or for deafness, I have too much to say. I do not care to be admired by anyone’s heart, only by someone’s head. And when I find a customer with that invaluable capacity, then my performance is a mutual trade to mutual profit. An artist is a trader, Miss Taggart, the hardest and most exacting of all traders. Now do you understand me?”

The author couldn’t have put it more emphatically. Its the sort of understanding and acceptance of one’s values in the way they are intended to be accepted that’s so rare in this world. We jump on to the ‘judgment bandwagon’ at the drop of a hat without fully understanding the true feelings behind someone’s actions, or knowing the real effort that went into creating something. At times, we do not even attempt to find out the right parameters or rise to the required level before voicing our opinions on someone or something. We then say that we ‘value’ that person or thing. Do we really mean it?

Its a notion which can be observed in almost every ‘mutual’ relationship – between two good friends, between a husband and his wife, between parents and their children, between a hardworking  professional and the seniors at his workplace, between a sports player and his coach, between the students and their teacher – and yet it is one of the most underrated and misunderstood of all human values. We tend to take things for granted when it comes to valuing someone, and succeed in nothing but harming the relationship. We surrender our ‘thinking-cap’ too soon, give in to prejudices and blind faiths, and fail to understand the importance of people, events and special creations. We let our heart rule our brain in what we say or do or like, but miss the truly important things which are hidden in plain view!

You can clearly see this phenomenon in practice while observing an audience appreciating an artist after a good performance. Many people go up to congratulate him, but only a very few say something which brings an honest smile to his face. He knows then that only these few persons have grasped the true spirit of his performance, and this gives him more satisfaction than any amount of money that he would receive for his efforts. Similarly, when a young child gives an honest performance, it is only when you realize and understand his / her maturity level that a true valuation comes forth.

This passage has definitely uncomplicated and strengthened my convictions and beliefs towards the values of understanding, appreciation, valuation and acceptance of an idea or an individual.

Some Observations About Relationships On & Off Twitter (via Compulsivewriter’s Weblog)

I joined Twitter on 14th September 2008. I didn’t really think much of it. I randomly saw these messages from people. I stayed away. ‘Razzdino is now following you on twitter’ Suddenly, amongst those unknown people I was following, there was a face I knew. I started having twitter conversations and sort of started liking the platform. Soon enough, I found a few interesting people to follow. I took my time to get to know the platform, which is how … Read More

via Compulsivewriter’s Weblog