Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Caste and the Work-Life Balance

Q: Where could India be if there were no castes?
It is generally assumed that India would be much better off without castes. The caste system takes a lot of blame for bringing India to “where it is” — whatever that means.
I am not too convinced.
Humans are social beings. They naturally form tribes consisting of “people like themselves.” Entry into these tribes has many criteria — birth, profession, belief in a type of God, and so on. Such tribes are not unique to Hinduism or India. The various Churches are also an example of such a tribe. People differ in their opinions and form groups based on their viewpoint and interpretation. Differing opinions from the agreed viewpoint of the group are discouraged and can result in ostracism in extreme cases.
One or the other way, humans will form tribes of their own based on various factors. The caste system originated from the profession people followed. The Varna system consisted of:
  • the intellectual or scholarly class of Brahmins,
  • the warrior or protector class of Kshatriyas,
  • the business or merchant class of Vaishyas, and
  • the service or labour class of Shudras.
The caste system is considered a corrupted version of the Varna system where birth replaced ability. Nepotism set in.
But it brings an interesting perspective to what we think of our own lives today. We are looking for work-life balance, whatever that means. But if in the olden days, people had their identities created on the basis of their work or role in society, it meant their work was their life. There was no such thing as work-life balance. Their work was their life and identity.
Today, young Indians are still identifying themselves socially from castes i.e. the jobs their ancestors did. But there is a disconnect somewhere because the present generation is doing things totally unrelated to their “ancestral caste” and also refusing to accept a new, modern day “caste” based on what they're doing today. The pride that people show or feel in their castes today is baseless. The caste is just something that their forefathers did! What does it mean to most of us today if we're working in software, or medicine, or teaching, or law, or totally different businesses than the traditional ones?!
It is ironic and tragic that today we’re struggling to strike a work-life balance, when our ancestors were so proud of and connected to what they did that they BASED THEIR ENTIRE IDENTITY around their work! OUR WORK SEEMS TO HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH OUR LIFE and many of us are mostly waiting for weekends to connect to their “life”!
It's something to really think about, and spend some non-trivial amount of time on self-introspection!
So, tribes are the very fundamental and instinctual part of what makes us human. Call them tribes, or castes, or by any other name. Humans. Will. Form. Groups.
However, work and careers chosen today with care, with passion, with pride, will eliminate the concept of work-life balance problem like it did many many years ago for our ancestors. Then India will be back on track to its former glory.
This post came about as a Quora answer. I put in some thoughts that have been on my mind for quite some time there, so should become a blog post as always! ;-)

~ KalpaK

Sunday, January 14, 2018

संघर्षाची कौशल्य with conscience!

कृष्णा करता दुष्कर्मी किंवा इतररित्या अतिरेकी पात्रांबरोबर लढणे आणि त्यांना मारणे शक्य होते?
रामा करता?
गणपति करता?
इतर देवांकरता?

उत्तर 'हो' आहे ना?

याचा अर्थ, जे काही शस्त्रप्रयोग पुराणकथेतील "व्हिलन" करत होते, तेच किंवा त्यापेक्षा अधिक परिणामी शस्त्रप्रयोग पुराणकथेतील "हिरो" करू शकत होते.

म्हणजे आजच्या काळात, संघर्षाची साधने - आयुधं - पैसा, संघटन-कौशल्य, चुणचुणीतपणा, स्पष्टवक्तेपणा, तंत्रज्ञानाची खरी आणि सखोल समज, कायद्याची समज, कल्पकता, आणि इतर कौशल्य, ही आहेत. आणि ती साधने जर कोणी विवेकशून्यपणे वापरत असेल, तर तीच आयुधं निपुणतेने वापरायला शिकणे आणि विवेकासहित वापरून संघर्ष करणे हे आपले कर्तव्य नाही का? की "आम्ही त्यातले नाही! तसंच वागलं तर माझ्यात आणि त्याच्यात काय फरक राहिला?" असे म्हणून मैदान सोडून पळण्याचीच शिकवण घेऊन बसलोय आपण? जर अर्जुन म्हणाला असता (म्हणालाच होता ना!) कि "नाही नाही, मी शस्त्र हातात घेणार नाही!" आणि तसं खरंच करून बसला असता तर काय झालं असतं?

त्यामुळे, "आम्ही तसं करत नाही!" हे म्हणण्यापेक्षा "आम्ही तेच आमच्यारितीने, विवेकबुद्धीसह करून दाखवू शकतो!" यात जो गौरव असेल तर तो मिळवण्यात खरा आनंद आहे, आणि यश आहे.

अर्थात, हे वागणे 'जशास तसे' नक्कीच नाही!!

प्रोफेसर डम्बलडोरबद्दल 'हॅरी पॉटर' मध्ये म्हटले आहे:
McGonagall: But you're different. Everyone knows you're the only one You-Know- oh, all right, Voldemort, was frightened of.
Dumbledore: You flatter me. Voldemort had powers I will never have.
McGonagall: Only because you're too - well - noble to use them.

It is not just about Competence... but also about Character! And vice versa!
Both are necessary. One without the other is quite useless!

Edit: Mark Manson has written a nice article on this topic. The last part of this article emphasizes 'being an ethical asshole.' WHY BEING AN ASSHOLE CAN BE A VALUABLE LIFE SKILL.

So, anywhere in your personal or professional lives, if you are unwilling to indulge in some seemingly-dubious "situation" because of your "always being on high moral ground" stand, you're playing a losing game. Higher moral ground is just as important as competence! You need to learn to counter the dubious skills with other skills, and use them as needed! Competence With Character is necessary! Focus on both!

Train your conscience to be louder, by listening to it.

Positive aggression, conviction in the goals and values to select the means used to achieve those goals, determination, and nobility in behaviour are amazing skills to have!

~ KalpaK

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Money and Nature - The give and the take of It

This image is doing the rounds on WhatsApp.

I do not claim copyright for any image in this post
And like usual, some discussions on the unfairness of the corporate world (You are needed only as long as your work is needed by the company. Once the need is over, no matter how good or bad you are, you will be hear a goodbye, oh-this-world-is-a-mess, this-rat-race-is-so-frustrating), and such discussions have opened up on a few of my WhatsApp groups.

And as usual, I find this extremely interesting food for thought.

So... here is a blog post for it! :-)

So first thoughts come from Ayn Rand. In Francisco d'Anconia's speech from Atlas Shrugged you have this:
So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?"
I will leave the rest of speech and it's compelling viewpoints to the eager reader. May you follow the above link and read Atlas Shrugged some time.

Here I'm extending the view on this topic to another direction.
Money is a tool of exchange. There's no doubt about this.
Now, is it an illusion? No. It is a creation of the human mind. Money is an abstraction created by the human mind. An abstraction is not an illusion. See this article for more.

An abstraction is an expression of a concept or an idea. An illusion is a false belief in an idea or its effectiveness.

In money, mankind has created and evolved a tool to "measure" effort or creativity and tried to give "value" to these uniquely human attributes.

A Sachin Tendulkar or a Roger Federer or a Tom Cruise or a Christopher Nolan gives consistent value and commands huge amounts of money for it. An Albert Einstein gives value in that the whole of humanity benefits from a new viewpoint, and he earns the respect of generations of thinkers and scientists. An engineer commands value by giving tools that solve some problem for his customer. Same is the case for any professional. Competency, consistency, trust in giving value brings in more value and thus more money, and other tangible and intangible benefits.

And success is always only about this: how can you give value to others?
If you can imagine it, articulate it, do it, and repeat it for someone, you can create value for someone.
It is as simple and as difficult as that.

Okay. So now that being established, what is the human mind that envisioned a concept of exchange of value? The human brain certainly is a product of nature. About the mind, there are good videos by people like Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and other thinkers and explorers who will take us on an interesting, worthy, and life-long journey of exploring the depths of the human mind. They will stress on the fact that the brain is not the mind. But I digress. The human mind is certainly "natural" so far as this blog post is concerned.

So, the mind that created money is certainly natural. So, the 'creator' of money is natural. The source that thought up this concept that exchange should be fair, is natural.

Now, let us look at how nature herself deals with exchange.

Let's take the example of a bird. A bird would eat a fruit of a tree, and maybe spread the seeds of the tree "in return". So there is some mutual benefit, although it isn't intended. Well, you could argue that it is by design... Sure, but I don't want to debate that. The point is that this exchange is certainly not 1:1. If a bird eats a fruit from a tree, it doesn't always give back to that tree by spreading its seeds, or by becoming fertilizer for that specific tree after the bird dies - most likely other tree(s) would benefit from our bird. Other trees would benefit from other birds. Similarly, a tiger doesn't give back or compensate something of value to a deer or rabbit, in return for its life. Insects that take nectar do pollinate the flowers but not always of the same type of plant. Nature has a complex food chain, which is basically a mechanism of exchange of energy. Nature does have its cycle, but it is not a 1:1 exchange.

As another proverb goes...

I do not claim copyright for any image in this post
However, the exchange was not between the same entities! The fish that got ate did not later eat the ants.

Here is the crucial difference, and hence the seeming unnaturalness of money! Money is almost always exchange of value between the same and exact giver and taker. The entities could be people, organisations, whatever. But the one who gets, gives to the giver. Nature does not exchange between the same entities. There is a cycle, but the taker is not a giver right away. A taker takes from one, but gives to another. The giver gets from a third...

Speaking of unnaturalness, humans take great efforts to do things unnaturally. It is natural to shit in your pants. It is natural to not brush your teeth. It is natural to not grow your food and cook it before eating.
Humanity's greatest ability is to go for the unnatural.
So, to bring the original topic into perspective, how could we have a lesser stressful exchange medium. How could my friends who seem insecure about money be reassured?

Money seems to pinch us in many uncomfortable ways. Those of us who "get" things, and read "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" often say that the perspective about money needs to be changed. So, what would be an alternate and more 'holistic' medium of creating and exchanging value?

So, bringing back Nature into the picture, how would a more "natural" transaction between humans look like?

Think, I say to myself... Think. Main idea as we saw above is that such a transaction cannot be 1:1.

Which means... a person gives to someone, but does not expect anything back from the same guy. If he gets something from that guy, great! If not, yeah, well, there will be someone else who'll give.

Oh my Krishna! Sounds familiar?

I do not claim copyright for any image in this post
Yo, my dear people who read this blog! It has been staring at us right in the face all this time!

So, the vision for exchange of value will evolve. "Money" will evolve.

We will work out a better way for this. We will have a better means of exchange... at least at how we look at exchange. The Hawala transaction of value is actually close to how Nature exchanges energy. But will it eventually be formalized into the mainstream economy? Time will tell. It is certainly closer to how Nature works. You will get your due, just the time and manner is not fixed. Oh wait! Now does this sound familiar? Yes! The spiritual principle of Karma - where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). You will get your dues.

When you
think of exchange, of giving in return for getting... and not balance it all the time, nature will kick in. It has to! It is natural law.

There's no doubt that the concept of exchange is fully Natural. There cannot be only taking. There cannot be only giving.

© Kalpak Nikumbh

Sunday, October 8, 2017

What's smarter?

Q: Are people who betray, lie, and cheat considered to be smarter than average, as these acts require careful planning and execution over a period of time?
Let's get a few things out of the way.
Honesty is usually the best policy. If people are offended by honesty or truth or facts, it is a BIG indication of their values.
Intelligent people know what to lie about, and what to be honest about. Intelligence is awareness of consequences. So, what to be honest about, is a decision to be made.
"You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." ~ Abraham Lincoln
Now coming to the question: lying, cheating requires careful planning and execution over a period of time. Well… making anything requires careful planning and execution… from making a clay pot to the most sophisticated engine or processor or software.
The only difference is: whether there's presence or absence of fear and insecurity.
In general, if you aren't paranoid about discovery of what you've been doing, i.e. you aren't paranoid about keeping privacy about your actions, you don't have to worry about betrayal, lying or cheating. This is goddamn difficult.
People are so taken up by “getting credit” for their ideas and work, they get entangled into secrecy and privacy. These situations are fertile grounds for betrayal. Alright, not always. Sometimes people would want to put out an idea, but would not want it traced back to them! Accountability is indeed a problem for some. Again... shows the values of the person. But we digress.
Back to the topic: Transparency is what a betrayer, liar, and cheat is most afraid of.
The simplest way to deal with any hint of lies, gossip, cheating is to make things transparent. It scares the shit out of people.
And do not underestimate the intelligence required to do this. Usually, people who lie, cheat, betray, are not doing it for some malevolent reasons, they are hiding things to save their own skin, because they'll be embarrassed about the truth. And it will require your entire gamut of skills: kindness, patience, empathy, compassion, encouragement, straightforwardness, and more to deal with that situation.
It takes a holistic level of intelligence to handle things so that things get done without betrayal, lies, and cheating. It's massively complex ― far beyond the scale of intelligence required in cheating, conniving, and such ― to get things done with strong values.
So from that perspective, getting things done by lying, cheating, and betrayal is the easy way out… certainly not the smart way out.
Who wants to do the messy work of defining values, spending time to think “what could be a better way than this?”, dealing with conflicting aspirations of people, and so on. All this needs so much work… and intelligence!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Be Interested

What problems did you solve today?

Who thanked you for a favour today?

Who got something from you better than they expected?

Who enjoyed an interesting discussion with you? Where you lost track of time! Where they said "We should do this again!" today?

Has it been too many days since such a thing happened to you? Better get up and create such events. Study, practice, get better... so that you are able to contribute better. By definition, having such words expressed by someone means you are doing something remarkable. Someone remarked, right? You rock, dude! You go, girl!!

So, now you know what needs to be done... forever... as long as you are alive. Tirelessly. You've found the purpose of life. There's nothing more than this. Really. Just go and bring stuff - software, algorithms, art, blogs, paintings, stories, user manuals, songs, novels, give voice to someone's work so it isn't lost, think of better rules, better ways of doing something, insights for others to get better - anything, just bring something of value out into the world. Just anything.
"The pursuit of purpose, in my experience, is found only in individuals who are overly self-centered. Sometimes I joke that the search for purpose in life is God's punishment for those who care more about themselves than about others. Seek out others. Try to help them. It doesn't have to be a lot of people, just a few will do. Listen to them. Interact. Take their thoughts and concerns seriously. Be part of a larger community. It's remarkable how the deep philosophical and bothersome "search for meaning in life" fades and itself becomes meaningless when you do this." 
~ Richard Muller, physicist, author of 'Now - The Physics of Time'
The whole argument about “following your passion” is sufficiently vague to put people into an inferiority complex about themselves - if they hint or admit that they are not following their passion.

Developing the discipline to be skillful enough by hard work, consistency, grit, persistence is 'passion'. Passion is an outcome! The Follow Your Passion mindset reverses this fact… it says that you will work hard, be consistent, show grit and persistence, and not give up in face of setbacks and adversity if you are passionate. Bullshit. Passion is not the cause!

People who claim they are passionate about something from a young age actually forget something very important: that they were encouraged, disciplined, coaxed, bribed or even shamed for not being sincere enough, to be good at something consistently by teachers or parents or someone who took responsibility. These people made sure that the young person did it… and kept doing it… and got better at it. And now these people say, "I am passionate about XYZ. I do not know anything else I would have done in my life!"

That is how the world works - be interested in it. It works both ways! You will not learn effectively if you aren't interested. And then how can you do something well if you aren't interested in using what you have learnt?

So, now you might ask, "When do the people to whom I give my time, attention, interest, give something to me back?"
Answer: In their own time. Those who know you are giving them value, will find ways to give you what you value. Sometimes, it comes back through other ways - like opportunities. And those who cannot bear your giving, who in their minds know they are a 'sink' in your life, will grow more and more insecure. There will come a time when it stops working out. Resources run out... patience runs out. There is a difference between a giver who knows how to receive, and a taker who only is a drain on your time and resources. 

Then such questions about 'purpose', 'meaning of life', 'finding your passion' become worthless.

Oh... this does not apply to bills! Pay your bills on time, and ask for your bills to be paid in time. I do not imply that you blindly trust someone.

Go on.
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." ~ Alan Kay, computer scientist
~ Kalpak

Thursday, July 6, 2017

'Dangal' Lessons

Here are some things anyone should be aware of on their way to Success, whatever that means for themselves.

Kudos to the Dangal movie team to really put forth an example of different challenges all through the movie...
  • To fulfill your dreams — to see them become reality — you may have to live out your entire life, and probably also that of your successors.
    • The whole movie is about this...
  • And every moment of your life and theirs needs dedication towards the dreams.
    • The whole movie is about this...
  • Except you and maybe a rare few others, everyone else is, intentionally or otherwise, working towards making sure you do not achieve your dream.
    • Examples: the butcher, the neighbours, the cousin, the 'dangal' organizers, the coach.
  • Losing focus is the easiest thing to do when you have reached halfway to your goals. You'll find others who are there, seemingly with you, but they may not share your dream.
    • The other wrestlers.
  • You will not get an opportunity to showcase your abilities until there's something in it for someone else. Do not expect people to support and hand over opportunities to you just because you're passionate about something.
    • The girls get their first opportunity for fighting in the 'pit' against the boys because the organizer guesses a "girl vs. boy" wrestling match would be a big crowd-puller... NOT because he wants the "encourage the girls".
  • Only those who swim against the current know how strong the current is.
    • Again, the whole movie is interspersed with examples - being teased over haircuts, facing ridicule...
  • And the final and most important lesson: Watching a movie about someone swimming against the current is not the same as swimming against the current.
    • While the movie is entertaining of course, real struggles nowhere feel like being in a movie. Real struggles test our patience, test our will, test our abilities, to the absolute limit... and beyond!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Thinking Through - II

Copyright: KGSS (Google search)

Something related to an old post reared its head up again.

I talked about this topic a little differently earlier in my blog post, Thinking Through.

Some chat at work, daily stand-up meetings and elsewhere brought us to the subject of 'estimations'. A much-maligned term, it is a usual subject of debate, unmet expectations and some heart-burn. In the usual SCRUM scenario, questions like -
  • How valid are the estimates we put out in the SPM?
  • When is a good time to revise the estimates?
  • Why are estimates usually less than actuals? What if estimates were more than actual?
... and such others, usually are the epicenters of debate. After all, one person's 'estimate' is another person's 'commitment'.

And this leads to questions like the following:
  • Why do we estimate?
  • Why is this a skill?
  • If estimation is a skill, how do we claim competence in it?
Before I chew on the above, a general idea put up its interesting hand up in my mind. Yeah, and I stumbled upon it while browsing, after a chat I had with a retired Civil Engineer.

Lawyers cannot practice law without a Certificate of Practice (Sanad).
Civil Engineers cannot practice without a Certificate of Practice.
Doctors cannot set up a clinic without a Practicing Certificate.

Software is already driving cars, running machines. Who qualifies the capabilities of software engineers? Unless you want to certify a product as Safe (SIL Certification or other such Safety-Critical certifications), who should care about the makers following software development best practices?

The Institution of Engineers is the largest multidisciplinary Professional Body of Engineers. It was conferred with The Royal Charter, on 13 August 1935, which mandates as follows: “to grant certificate of competency whether under any Act of the Government of India or Local Governments regulating the conduct and qualifications of Engineers or other wise howsoever”.

Engineering Disciplines in which Certification of Professional Engineers awarded presently are:
Civil Engineering
Electrical Engineering
Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering
Chemical Engineering
Mining Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Marine Engineering
Environment Engineering

Wonder why is Software Engineering missing here?

Basic Requirements for certification as Professional Engineers:
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering or equivalent recognized by Statutory Authority or Government of India;
  • Experience of 7 years in engineering practice;
  • Professional experience of 2 years in a responsible position of significant engineering activity;
  • Membership of recognized professional engineering institution/association;
  • Maintained continued professional development since graduation at a satisfactory level;
  • At least three sponsors, who are either Fellows of IEI/Fellows of any other recognized professional engineering institutions, must support any application for PE.
  • Passed the Assessment Examination as prescribed.
So, it is obvious that a certain level of skill in learning, using and applying technology, sharing knowledge so others can learn from your experience is critical to our careers, to the work we put out into the world, and our reputations as professional and skilled craftsmen.

Since the Great Democratization of the Software Industry maybe 30 years ago, we are seeing much more young people taking up Engineering, and it is a challenge to skill people at the necessary levels of competence.

SCRUM or Agile development is a very good way of dealing with this situation. Waterfall model of development is good for skilled people, already having a significant body of experience in their technology and domain, to predict things to be done for a project well in advance, before starting work. For today's teams, where most of the members are young, domain knowledge isn't a given, there are multi-disciplinary skill-sets, it is imperative to build things as you go. A curious mind, asking questions and learning quickly and adapting the learning to the situation is a valuable mind!

Of course, how long should things continue such (in the SCRUM way) is another topic altogether. Old-timers are right in their frustration when someone leaving the team carries away the knowledge, and things have to start all over again. "It was better when people didn't switch jobs so often!" or "We know this takes this long, why reinvent the wheel?"

There are valid reasons to work longer in places. Within 2-3 years, a person just has got a good hand of the product he is working on, he has started understanding the domain, he can now start giving back with this knowledge. Moving to another job at this stage only means you always are in 'learner mode'. A stable, reliable product cannot be built by halfhearted individuals, always sitting on the fence. Only a person who works longer, can understand the critical code-base of the product, and make intelligent decisions about the changes in the product. Then is it a surprise, that the core development teams in any product company are invariably highly paid?

Another common example I like to talk about is this. Civil engineers don't build a bridge, pass an increasing amount of trucks over it, wait for it to break and say, "Hah! Let's make it stronger than before!" There are well understood principles of construction, materials are researched, and then accepted for use.

Software Industry still is in it's nascent stage, and the demand for skilled people is exploding. Technology, and software, is taking up its place not just in items of convenience, but replacing some decision-making. How this software is written is becoming more and more critical. Just as engineers have accountability for designing bridges that sustain storms, earthquakes, software engineers have more and more accountability in designing reliable systems. A professional mindset starts with thinking about problems, evaluating solutions, anticipating user scenarios, and developing skills that match and exceed the problem state.

SCRUM forces us to break down problems in manageable chunks, predict things for shorter durations, and practice and tune the 'thinking ahead' mindset. To develop this, how you read, how much of it do you understand, how do you use it and practice it, becomes important. Scott Young also put out a variant of the same thought recently in his post: How Much Do You Really Understand?

While there is certainly merit in doing things, making mistakes and learning from them, I am quite sure that spending some time thinking of things before-hand can help in avoiding some of the mistakes that you would eventually end up making. I am reminded of Thomas Edison's famous quote: "I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work. "Well, the other genius, Nikola Tesla - who argued against Thomas Edison in the famous War of the Currents - had this to say about him, "If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search... I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor."

Engineering was always about disciplined thinking, disciplined action, regular learning. 

Engineers who understand what is built, how it is built and why it is built that way are those who carry the ability of bringing dreams and visions to life! And in that, it becomes a noble profession!

Caste and the Work-Life Balance

Q: Where could India be if there were no castes? It is generally assumed that India would be much better off without castes. The caste s...