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Posted on: Friday, May 14, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Support Is Serious Business Deserving Your Time, Money And Attention

We are here for you Twenty-Four-Seven.

Today, lets dive into the depths of time and bring from days that have rolled behind, a classic tale of support done the Indian-way. Before you read any further and start sending me flame mails about the generalization of the word 'Indian' here, trust me, I know exceptions do exist.

I also know that generalizing anything by a country is just about the biggest stereotype of the software development world that you should avoid at all cost, but humor me. I have a point to make and the point is not to ridicule or insult Indians in any way. I happen to be an Indian and I am actually fairly proud to be one. But then, having said that, India as a country and Indians as a group are often totally capable of doing seriously shitty things.

So, as I was saying, lets dive into the depths of time and bring back from the days that have rolled behind, a classic tale of support done the Indian way.

In one of my last work trips somewhere between New York and Chicago, after making us wait inside the plane for about an hour because they lost the stair-case that was supposed to get us down, making me miss my connecting flight and making me quite literally run for the next flight United Airlines manages to put a cherry on the cake of surprises by loosing my luggage.

After a few frustrating experiences with the ground staff who tell me that the bags would show up a day later at my hotel, I decide to make a move, get to the hotel and get on with my life. Three days later, however, I find myself trying to look up my luggage using the baggage tag on the United website which tells me that my luggage cannot be located.

Then, smack out of nowhere, I find myself doing something that I have a love hate relationship with --- I am calling the Support Line. Now, as I already said, I have a love hate relationship with support lines. Love because support lines often tend to be sofa king (to be read really fast, repeatedly) funny that they give me food for thought and posts like this one. Hate because they are so funny, that after a while they stop being funny.

As far as the United support line is concerned this is how it goes. The system routes me through series of automated questions. Then after routing me through a hugely long automated process which also confirms that my luggage 'cannot be located' it lets me talk to a customer care executive. Seven minutes of wait follows after which someone answers the call.

Voice On The Support Line: Good Evening Sir, This is United Airlines. My name is Fred (I could have used the real name, but then Fred sounds so much more fun in this situation), How can I assist you today?

The voice is Indian. Clearly. Plainly. Indian. And the fact that this gentle-man uses an American name to identify himself, tells me exactly what to expect next.

Me: My luggage seems to have gone missing at the O'Hare airport. The ground staff told me that they would ship it to my hotel in about the day and It's been three days since then. I am just calling to find out if you guys know when I would be getting my baggage shipped to my hotel because I am leaving this place and moving on to a new location in the next couple of days.

Fred: I am sorry for the inconvenience sir but we are here to help you Twenty-Four-Seven.

Long silence. Awkward moment.

Me: Do you need my baggage tag number?

Fred: Yes sir. Can you please provide your baggage tag number?

I give out the number. Another long pause follows. After which he tells me that he is going to put me on hold and I sit there listening to music for about three minutes. Then the voice cracks back.

Fred: I am sorry for making you wait Sir. I am also sorry for the inconvenience sir but the system is showing that your luggage cannot be located at this time.

Me: I know that. I saw that on the website and heard that on the automated system and both of them said I should talk to a customer care executive.

Fred: Sure sir. We will have updated information on your baggage soon. I apologize for the inconvenience but we are here to help you twenty-four-seven. You can call us anytime.

Me: How soon would you have updated information on my luggage?

By now I am having a seriously hard time hearing anything other than, Fred is really sorry for the inconvenience caused and that he is here to help me twenty-four-seven. But then, I don't want him to be there twenty-four-seven. All I want is my baggage back. I don't give a rat's ass if they work for three hours a day or twenty four.

We do this insane dance for long time where he assures me that he is really sorry about the inconvenience caused, that he is going to get me a hundred dollar discount on my next flight and that I can call the support center anytime. He then reminds me for, I don't know how many'th time, that they are there twenty-four-by-seven and that I can call them anytime.

Three days later the baggage arrives at my hotel and United conveniently just forgets the promise of the hundred dollar discount on my next flight. I receive no emails, as Fred had promised, no discount coupons. Nothing.

It's like the episode never happened.

We Cannot Help You Unless You Pay More.

Life moves on. I get back to work and this incident of Fred and his Indian support center being online twenty-four-by-seven for me is long forgotten. Till the time I see another example of support done in a slightly different way.

Recently, one of my posts hits the top five post related to programming on Reddit and I get a throng of people visiting this website. The new unique-visitor-count hits almost about fifty-one-users-a-minute, with old users continuing to read and click links on this blog.

This is when the website starts crumbling down under the load of heavy unexpected traffic. After about five hours of non-stop-traffic growing at an uncontrolled rate people start complaining about getting service unavailable errors. I decide to call the support line of my service provider.

Now, before I describe how the call goes, here is a little bit of history of how these guys transformed their support department. These are guys who were once notoriously famous for bad customer support and then one fine day, magic happened. They changed.

They were now, suddenly, providing support that started positively surprising me and the rest of their customers in all the right ways. No-one could really figure out what they had done but something had changed for better.

There were no solid announcements per-say but I suddenly started getting great responses in my support emails and my problems were getting resolved at the blink of an eye. I never had to call them so far, but with this issue it was better to call, than to email and wait for a response.

So, as I was saying, I decide to call up the customer support.

With literally two choices on the automated system, one that asks what I am calling for and other that asks me to press a number to talk to a customer support executive, in less than three minutes I am talking to a real human being,  who by the way, helps me locate the customer ID that he needs and then tells me, that I am facing service-unavailable issue on my website, without me having to describe the issue in detail to him.

Then he wants to know if this traffic was expected. He puts me on hold for less than a minute and comes back informing me that even though I am just using one percent of my bandwidth I have crossed my concurrent connection limit and that I would have to pay a little bit more to fix this issue. He then adds confidently that without upgrading the plan there is nothing he can do to fix the issue. Unless I chose to pay more, he cannot help me.

He is direct. Confident. Focused on my problem and is providing me the one single solution he has with a choice: take it or leave it.

I take it.

He initiates the payment right away and the service unavailable issue is sort-of-gone in less than about half hour.

While I should been utterly annoyed with my service provider and the fact that they never documented the number of concurrent connections my site was allowed to have anywhere, I actually end up liking the way the guy at the support handled the situation.

He is not nice to me, he is not sorry for the inconvenience cause, he makes me pay more.

But then, he understands my problem and fixes it while my dear Fred at United, who is there for me twenty-four-by-seven does not get shit done.

And The Point Of This Long Tirade Is...

That support is an art which requires people who know what they are doing. That hiring random Indian students, paying them their pocket money and giving them a bunch of carefully scripted cue-cards or a stupid set of Frequently Asked Questions does not equal good support.

Sometimes, we really do not give a shit if you are there twenty-four-by-seven.

All we give a shit about is our problem and how quickly you can help us fix it.

So the next time you think of publishing your support email, see if you can get the best of your folks in that mailing list and allow them to answer support emails if they want to. The next time you think of building a support department, see to it that you hire the guys who are just as good as your developers or the rest of your organization.

Support is not something you outsource and forget.

Because if you do, people will eventually just stop calling.

And then, they just might move on to companies who understand their problems and do not hire a bunch of random college students to tell you how sorry they are about the inconvenience caused.

Support, is serious business. Give it the time, money and attention it deserves.

I wish you good luck.

posted on Friday, May 14, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, May 9, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Entrepreneurship Tip: Trying Not To Play Safe Even When It Comes To Pricing.

David Heinemeier Hansson in his talk at Startup School describes the typical product cycle and the day dream of making billions and getting bought over by venture capitalist that most young and budding entrepreneurs have using a simple slide:

During the presentation, David's point is focused on a single topic. One way to make money is to hope for a lot of magic in step two and expect that a venture capitalist or a Google will buy you out. David describes the other, more practical, sane and logical way using a simple slide:

If you have not clicked the link to the video yet, you should.

David explains the idea of pricing your product or charging for your online service using simple, direct and wise advice for young and budding entrepreneurs. He explains:  

The really cool thing about all of this is that you don't need to be a fu@#king genius to make it work. Its not rocket surgery. It really is a simple three step idea.

You have a great application. You ask money for it. If people like it, they will pay and you profit.

But here is a kicker. Just because you slap a price on something does not mean you will have a successful business

37Signals has their own offering of free products for the end consumer but the focus of this video, is on their paid versions and how they make money online. As someone who has observed a truck load of software products getting priced, if there is one thing that I have learnt about pricing it is that pricing is just like any other phase of building great software.

Like any other aspect of software development, when it comes to pricing your product, you will fail too. The earlier and more often you fail the better off you are, as long as you do not keep making the same mistakes all over again.

Should you give out your product for free and seek additional business models to make money? Should you use free as a means to keep in touch with potential customers and convert them to paid customers over time? Is free your way to wipe your competition out of market? Are your products too highly priced? Are they priced too low?

You will never find out until you go out there and experiment with pricing. Lose a few customers because you are too highly priced. Get a few customers at a very low price. Give parts of your application for free. Explore other models of making money by giving your entire product out for free.

The beauty of online products and services is that you are always free to come back and fix your mistakes. Long story short, making mistakes is much better than procrastination and analysis paralysis.

Seriously, you really don't have to be a fu@#king genius to make it work.

Now go out there, make a few real product pricing mistakes and then learn from them.

I wish you good luck.

posted on Sunday, May 9, 2010 9:07:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Saturday, May 8, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

TEDxCalcutta 2010 - Announcement 3.

At TEDxCalcutta, we have been working hard on getting the videos edited and getting them live as quickly as possible. Today we have gone ahead and released the absolutely interesting and inspiring talk by Ashoke Viswanathan.

This talk is online and can be viewed from the TEDxCalcutta website.

I really like this talk primarily because it touches the intricacies of creative fields and nudges young minds to move away from safety. Something I have been a very old proponent of.

Join Ashoke Viswanathan as he takes you through anecdotes or stories, then connects the dots gently nudging you to take chances, try innovative ways of doing things and look beyond your profession into other areas of life.

Why is television truly the idiot box? Why aren't more people in the movie making industry taking chances to build something genuinely innovative and inspiring? Why are you in trouble if you happen to be a part of a creative field? 

This and much more in a very interesting eighteen minute TEDxCalcutta talk by Ashok Viswanathan.

Now go watch the video online.

Stay tuned for more videos, news and announcements on TEDxCalcutta.

posted on Saturday, May 8, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, May 7, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Programmer Tip: Work Less, Stay Focused And Say No To Random Meaningless Slogging.

Have you ever seen folks who admire other folks for their work, their focus and their commitment and wonder why they don't have any of it?

Have you ever seen companies who like to give examples of other companies that are hugely effective and wonder why they themselves are not as effective?

Have you ever seen vice-presidents, directors, managers and team leads talk about how some team in a different company that they knew built an amazing service in three weeks and how their team takes too much time or is never able to get anything done?

Word of advice:

Whenever you see the discussion of this sort, the person who starts a discussion is probably the reason you, your team or your organization is ineffective.

No, I don't mean that the person who starts this conversation is necessarily a bad human being, stupid, evil or any of that.

Maybe he is just a nice manager, trying to get his team to do more and make them as effective as the 'other team' he has seen somewhere else. Maybe he is getting bogged down by other nice managers above him who are trying to get the team to do more and make them as effective as the 'other team' they saw somewhere else. Maybe he is just getting bogged down by a nasty client.

But then, having said that, the fact remains that he is in-fact making the team ineffective.

Chances are, that this gentle-man who started the discussion in the first place, is making the team ineffective by pushing them and making them work harder. I have personally witnessed managers taking great pride in discovering the fact that their teams are staying late to get things done. David Heinemeier Hansson from 37Signals has excellent advice regarding the topic of staying focused and getting things done, when he is asked a question at a conference

Question: I am in front of my computer ten to fourteen hours a day. I am supposed to be writing code. But I find that, I spend a lot of time getting distracted, surfing the web, trying to keep up with rails. Did you have any similar problems? What advice can you give to developers to keep on track and what motivated you to crank down and crank out a product?

Answer: I think the problem is you are trying to work fourteen hours a day. Who the hell gets anything productive done for fourteen hours a day? Try working five hours a day.

If you only have five hours a day to spend on something, you'd focus your time a lot better.

We've just gone down to four day work weeks. We are trying to work just eight hours a day. The amount of productive time I get out of that... two hours... three hours? I think people are just not willing to accept the fact that you can't, in a creative endeavor as programming, work for fourteen hours a day. It's ridiculous!

If you could just get three great hours in per day, you would get a ton more done.

To be honest, as a developer, I have been guilty of this too. If you are managing me, all you have to do is tell me that the sky is falling and we 'really-really-really' need something by this weekend and chances are you will find me rip off my shirt, move to my super-hero uniform and jump right out of window flying in my funny super-man underpants.

We as programmers, even the best of us, are sometimes just as guilty as our managers, when it comes to nurturing the belief that if you are pressured to close fifteen non-critical bugs by merely announcing to you that they are critical and that they have to be done today, you will actually end up staying all night and closing every single one of those bugs the very same day.

The next time the sky is falling try working less for a change. Get in just about three to five hours of focused work a day and keep opening the IDE every single day. Next time when you get an email in the middle of the night make your own judgment call on if the issue is really critical or if it can wait till tomorrow. If it can wait till tomorrow, logout.

Work less, stay focused and if you find yourself moving into a constant firefighting mode for fifteen hours a day and you cannot get shit done, learn how to say no, logout and get some sleep. The same applies for your team if you happen to be leading one.

Maybe you, your manager and your organization is trying too hard.

Slow down.

Chances are that you will be much more creative, much more innovative and much more productive.

I wish you good luck.

posted on Friday, May 7, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [8]
Posted on: Sunday, May 2, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Blogging Tip: The Stories That Surround You And Adding Them To Your Blog.

A small project in a tiny little nook of your organization fails but the universe continues to function exactly as is. A close friend has a bad breakup but decides to move on with his life. A cockroach loses its home and decides to move into your hotel room. You have not been able to do any real concentrated work for days. On the face of it, these are utterly insignificant events of your life that no-one gives a rats ass about.

Ok wait... maybe you care. Maybe your mom does. Maybe your friends, colleagues or acquaintances do. But that's about it - you tell yourself.

Then when you sit in front of the monitor thinking of what to write about, you see nothing but insane white electrons staring back at you. You feel like those days when you were asked to answer a question you were totally clueless about.

All you hear is silence.

The sound of crickets chirping deep inside your head.

You whine.

You just missed fifteen things that you could have written about in the last seven days. 

You just missed fifteen new perspectives.

You just missed out on fifteen new conversation any one of which could have brought purpose or meaning to your life and your universe.

And did you realize what the problem was?

As much as you might have heard me telling you that one of the biggest problems about writing on the internet that young and budding blogger often forget, is that no-one cares about you, your blog or your product, to be honest that is not the biggest of the problems keeping you away from blogging consistently and achieving ultimate success in one easy step.

The real problem here is hugely different. The real problem here, just in case you have not yet realized it, is that you, yourself don't care enough about any of these events, experiences and moments that are shaping your life,  even right now as you read this.

TEDxCalcutta speaker and a movie director Ashoke Vishwanathan first introduced me to a rather philosophical concept of movie making which also applies to blogging. During his talk, he explained the concept of the hyper-real in movie making:

This is what we call the hyper-real.

If you walk into a rock concert, where say Madonna is singing. Because the auditorium is so big you require giant television screens and on those giant television screens you will see images of Madonna.

Now when you attend the rock concert, are you watching Madonna singing or are you watching yourself watching Madonna singing. You are actually watching yourself watching Madonna.

While most folks scratched their heads at this remark, what Ashoke was really talking about was your ability to step out and watch yourself participating in your own stories. Do you even have the perspective to notice that the stories are happening all around you? Do you have the ability to step out, watch, learn and then tell these stories to the world? Do you even care about these stories?

Do you just see a cockroach getting squatted, or do you see a tale or errors unwind itself with you playing the central role? Do you genuinely and truly think that a train trip can change your outlook on life?  Do you genuinely believe that programming is art, science and passion all rolled into one and that depressed programmers should be smacked out of the profession and asked to join a different profession? Do you have an enemy?

Do 'you' truly and deeply care about anything?

Do you even have strong opinions on anything?

Do you believe that the life that you live, the work that you do or the experiences that you have are informative, funny or remarkable enough that you feel the urge to move your buttocks off that couch and share them with others around the globe? If you don't care, don't you think, asking your audience to give a shit, is asking for too much?

If you do care enough, you won't have a difficult time finding a topic for your next post, because that is the only thing lying between you and the next meaningful conversation you are going to start.

I look forward to reading it and as usual, here is wishing you good luck.

posted on Sunday, May 2, 2010 8:36:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, April 30, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Leadership Tip: When Your Alpha Geek Quits Wait It Out And Observe What Happens.

Multiplitaxion Inc, had multiple offices around the world. When the news of a particular office-head in a different city resigning came in, I shrugged. My life was not even touched by the news and I could not have cared less.

When the news of a new office head getting hired within a month of the older one leaving came in I shrugged again. I couldn't have cared less again.

When the tales of the new branch-head who for the purposes of this post, we shall refer to as Fred, taking charge started coming in I wanted to shrug again and get on with my life, but then, these tales were, for lack of a better word, spicy and interesting. So I didn't shrug.

To be honest, I mostly behaved like like a young college going teenage girl, who finds pleasure in the hottest gossip in town. With my ears pressed hard on the source that was brining us the hottest news about this new branch head of one of our branches, we had found a source of free entertainment. Our ears were wide open for every new tit-bit of information about this new branch-head and what he did today.

Its called learning what not to do in management by watching other people f@#ckup. This new branch-head of a small office based in a small town had a small problem. From the very day he joined office, he realized that there were things that he had to change and he went all out to make these changes.

New rules were formed. New policies came into existence over night. We felt sorry for the folks working in this particular office and at the same time had hilarious laughs when we first heard the rule that you were not supposed to listen to songs, even on headphones, inside office because that was considered using of company time for your own personal use.

The guy was making a new rule or policy every couple of weeks. He truly believed that he was shaping an office into discipline and order both of which he believed had been neglected by the older branch-head.

From these series of dramatic episodes in one of our branch offices, we learnt as much as a fresh management book would have taught us. But then, of all the things that this set of dramatic episodes taught us, one of the most important things I personally learnt was something that most folks learn when they have their first breakup during their teens.

Now, if you have had a bad breakup in your life you probably know this already. If you had a breakup that was so bad that you actually had to seek advice from a close friend or a shrink, this is probably the advice they gave you too, but I am going to give it you again.

Ready for the super-breakup-tip? Huh? Huh? Huh?

Wait. It. Out.

That's right. The times following your breakup are usually very risky for getting into another friendship or relationship. That's the time when you usually end up picking the worst of partners. Which is why when you have a bad breakup, anyone with a sensible mind will tell you to stop looking for someone and to wait it out. Be single for a couple of years. Live life. Focus on your hobbies. Do things you always wanted to do. Have fun. Don't rush into another relationship.

You know what? Now, as it turns out, if you happen to run an organization, this rule also applies to you. When the best of your organization leaves, you usually see the Human Resource department swimming through resumes and getting back to work so that they can hire you what they call - quality resources - to replace the ones who are leaving. All I have is two words, which describe this exercise rather appropriately:

Bad Management.

That's right. Looking for 'quality resources' when the best folks in your team start leaving is just about the stupidest thing that you can do. It's like looking for the best girl you can find when your girl friend breaks up with you. Newsflash. It doesn't need a rocket scientist to tell you that you are going to make some really stupid mistakes.

Yet, this is exactly the mistake Multiplitaxion Inc made when they went out looking for a new branch-head and hired Fred.

What Multiplitaxion Inc, should have done, was simple. They should have 'waited it out'. They should have seen to see if someone in house steps up to take the responsibility. Waited to see if the office really needed a so-called-head to run it properly. They should have waited to see if the smart team that they had hand picked after countless rounds of interviews would step-up and take the responsibility.

And then if they really needed a 'branch-head' they should have sat tight and waited till they found the right person. Instead, they decided to replace the old branch-head with Fred as quickly as  they could and triggered a series of dramatic episodes which were no better than confusing painful relationships that folks often get into after a breakup.

As for Fred, he practically f@#cked up the entire branch in the short one year during which he headed it and then ended up getting fired.

Now, years later, every time I get a couple of resignations on my team and people come up to me all worked up and worried, asking me what we are going to do, asking me what our 'hiring strategy' is going to be or how we are going to replace the 'quality resources' that just left us, I smile.

Then I tell them that I don't like the idea of getting into a relationship immediately after a breakup and I tell them that we are just going to wait-it-out for a couple of months and see what happens.

Maybe someone from the team will step up. Maybe, we will realize that the person leaving wasn't all that critical after all. Maybe we will not need a replacement. Maybe we will. But then we have time on our side and its better to wait it out and make a calm decision rather than rushing to make a stupid hiring mistake that you end up regretting for months.

The next time the best programmer in your team or your alpha-geek resigns and others walk up to you asking you what your hiring strategy is going to be, go ahead, ask them if they ever had a breakup and what was the advice their friends, family or shrink gave them after the breakup?

Wait. It. Out.

Observe what happens.

Things have a strange way of working themselves out.

I wish you good luck.

posted on Friday, April 30, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Saturday, April 24, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Getting The Nerd Within You To Care About Fitness For A Healthier Mind - Part 1.

As far as most minds are concerned, the very words 'computer programmer', 'geek' or 'nerd' usually does not tend to conjure up an image of the most physically fit human beings that walk this planet. As a computer programmer myself, I have never really paid active attention to my health, exercise routine or a healthy life style. Old acquaintances back at school often referred to me as 'bill gates'. Well, what they meant was, this bill gates:

Honestly, being called out for being skinny every once in a while or the element of physical appearance somehow never seemed important enough to move to a stringent exercising regiment and then sticking to it. I hardly ever thought that I would be consistently or actively thinking about health leave aside, exercising and writing a series of blog post on it.

Things That Move A Nerd And Getting Him To Give A F@#CK.

During my life, a decent number of well-wishers have asked me to pay more attention to health and exercise. 'Its good for your body', 'its good for your mind' and 'it will make you feel good' are some of the most common reasons that have been sited.

What most folks forget however, is that when you are selling a life-changing idea that needs solid commitment to a geek, selling him physical appearance, the idea of 'feeling good'  or the concept of well-being is not going to do it. The geek as it turns out, does not care enough for that stuff. At-least, he wont admit that he does, even if he cares about these things. He likes his dark cave and his interactions with his compiler.

He just won't buy your 'it will make you look and feel good' argument.

What the geek needs is a challenge or a problem that he can connect to. A problem that is worth fixing. A problem that is engaging and consuming as a software program. Something that he can connect to. Consider this thought process from John Walker:

I'm an engineer by training, a computer programmer by avocation, and an businessman through lack of alternatives. From grade school in the 1950's until 1988 I was fat--anywhere from 30 to 80 pounds overweight. This is a diet book by somebody who spent most of his life fat. The absurdity of my situation finally struck home in 1987.

"Look," I said to myself, "you founded one of the five biggest software companies in the world, Autodesk. You wrote large pieces of AutoCAD, the world standard for computer aided design. You've made in excess of fifty million dollars without dropping dead, going crazy, or winding up in jail. You've succeeded at some pretty difficult things, and you can't control your flipping weight?''

Through all the years of struggling with my weight, the fad diets, the tedious and depressing history most fat people share, I had never, even once, approached controlling my weight the way I'd work on any other problem: a malfunctioning circuit, a buggy program, an ineffective department in my company.

Michael Lopp in his article on The Nerd Handbook describes one of the examples that can really move a nerd to address fitness. He explains:

Make it a project. You might’ve noticed your nerd’s strange relation to food. Does he eat fast? Like really fast? You should know what’s going on here. Food is thrown into the irrelevant bucket because it’s getting in the way of the content. Exercise, too. Thing is, you want your nerd to eat healthily so that he’s here in another thirty years, so how do you change this behavior? You make diet and exercise the project.

For me, exercise became the project ten years ago after a horrible break-up. When the project was no longer the Ex, I dove into exercise every single day of the week.

There were charts tracking my workouts, there were graphs tracking my weight, and there was the exercise. Every single day for two years until the day I passed out in a McDonald’s post-workout after not eating for a day.

Ok, so time for a new project. Yeah, nerds also have moderation issues. That’s another essay.

Significant nerd behavioral change is only going to happen if your nerd engages in the project heart and soul, otherwise it’s just another thought for the irrelevant bucket.

For someone like me, the idea of being called fat or the idea of a break-up is not compelling enough to get my ass off the couch and start running, but if you can appeal to my brain and convince me with objective and scientific facts which tell me that getting up and walking five miles a day will help me write better code, you have my attention.

With me the idea of exercise every day started rather recently with a realization that the ADHD that I often joked about having and never even bothered to get tested or formally diagnosed, was starting to impact my life and was preventing me from working on things that I always wanted to work on.

The open source timesheet entry system that I started, my announcement of working on a book and my announcement of starting to write technical posts were just some examples of incomplete ideas that have not yet seen the day of light purely because I could not generate enough focus or attention that these activities deserved. To be honest, there are a zillion more ideas that float in parallel and create a turmoil in my head.

After a while these things get painful to deal with.

This was clearly a problem needing a solution. It was time to do some serious geek-type-research using the same information tools that I use when I sit down to research a new topic when I am going to blog about it. One thing that kept coming back in all the research that I read about and all the material that I came across was that cardio-exercises have concrete and scientific benefits at improving your attention span.  

Strangely enough, it was these scientific researches I read about (which I might do another blog post to talk about) that I could connect to the most. And then, one fine morning, on my way to office, I got off the bus a couple of miles before office and walked. The nerd in me had voluntarily and seriously started giving a f@#ck about this workout thing.

In the end things are fairly simple. As programmers we tend to build some fairly complicated systems and work on some fairly interesting problems. We are often in a war on multiple fronts, where chances of losing are way higher than chances of winning.

But we adapt, improvise, and work.


If you can build complex software that works reliably in a production environment and not police or panic even when the sky is falling, figuring out a fitness regiment that meets your need, clears your head, helps you focus and keeps you mentally fit, should not be all that hard, if only you can get the nerd within you to give a f@#ck.

How you get the nerd within you to give a fu#@k however is a whole new problem that you are going to have to deal with yourself. For me, it was ADHD and the fear of not being able to work on things that I always wanted to work on. For you, it could be something totally different. Whatever it is, the sooner you can convince the nerd within you to get his ass off the couch and run a few miles consistently day after day, the better off you are.

I wish you good luck.

posted on Saturday, April 24, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, April 23, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Leadership Tip: Avoiding Constant Cross Examinations Within Your Organization.

Fred is an asshole. Having said that, when talking about Fred, the people who report to him are hugely reluctant and scared at using that word to describe him.

During my consulting days at a client, who for the purposes of this post we shall refer to as Multiplitaxion Inc, the people who work with Fred seem constantly stressed out and unhappy.

Then in a conversation with one of the testers in Fred's team I stumble upon the reason why Fred is commonly perceived as an asshole by everyone who works with him. I am told that Fred "uses his logic to classify everything that he sees in black or white".

Using your logic and seeing things in either black or white, is usually your first step towards prickdom. It is your first introduction to the problem of other minds and nudges you to believe that everyone you are talking to is either a lying scumbag or a mindless zombie.

Consider for example, a tight situation in your project.

A situation where the sky is falling.

Your team are really trying hard to get a the data transformation feature rolled out to a client as quickly as you can.

You walk up to your manager to tell him that the data transformation service is going to take about three weeks to build.

He looks at you like you just dropped a dead rat on his table.

You cringe.

What follows is a 'logical' argument where he uses pressure and intimidation along with simple logic to question you why you think parsing a simple file is going to take three weeks.

You know why it will take three weeks to build but suddenly you find it difficult to explain the reasons articulately. Your throat dries up a little. There is strange awkwardness in the moment created by the intimidating look he is giving you. You fumble something to the effect that the file is not a structured CSV file to which he responds that we have formatted non-structured files in the past rather quickly. You respond that this one is complex. He questions you why.

Very soon, before you know it, you are playing the cat and mouse game where he is the cat and you are the mouse. It feels like you are defending yourself rather than having a real pragmatic discussion on timelines. It feels like you are being cornered. You know deep down inside that the file is complex but you suddenly start finding it really hard to explain why it needs your time and attention.

What your manager is busy doing, is finding out if you are are lying scumbag or it is genuinely going to take three weeks. As far as he is concerned, these are the only two possibilities that can exist. Things are either black or they are white. Not to mention of course, that he is starting with the assumption that things are black and that you are in fact a lying scumbag, unless you prove to him otherwise.

The reality of things however, lies somewhere in the middle. Chances are that the file parser will take about two weeks to write and about a couple of days to test. Chances are that if you are done early you will also ship early. Chances are that you are not lying, just keeping a couple of days because you know that shit happens when you least expect it to happen.

Things are neither black nor white. They are a totally different color and any other color to your manager means black. He has already stern investigation, cross examination and deposition all rolled into one.

You have proved yourself in multiple projects and multiple assignments. You have demonstrated your work ethics more than once. You stand there answering questions, wondering why your integrity, skill or gut-feeling is being doubted. And then, suddenly you hear a voice in your head whisper - F@#k him. He wants it in one week. Give it to him in one week.

This is when you start building a truck load of crap that causes companies to move in infinite loop of failure. This is when you know for sure that your manager is an asshole. You spread the word every time the topic comes up. Then there are others who have had similar experiences with him too. The story spreads within the corridors of your organization and a brand new asshole is born in your organization.

If you are working with a bunch of developers, learn how to shut the fu@#k up and listen to their problems, specially when the best of your team come up to you and tell you they need more time. Stop what ever you are doing and listen when they come up to you for any help whatsoever.

There is nothing wrong with a healthy discussion, but don't act like an asshole. Don't classify things as black or white and don't start by assuming that people who come up to you are lying scumbags till the time they pass your elaborate cross examination and prove their innocence. Don't interrogate your team members like criminals.

Put simply, don't be a black and white jerk.

I wish you good luck.

posted on Friday, April 23, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]