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Posted on: Friday, March 11, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Readers Hideout - Part 1.

It's that thing that I said we were working on.

The side project that I have mentioned in a couple of my older posts.

Its a small little corner on the internet. A tiny little hideout for readers & book lovers and we have called it the "readers hideout".

It helps you stumble into and discover new books, but more than that, it's supposed to help you stumble into and discover other interesting readers. That and it uses facebook to start tiny meaningful conversations of the books you are reading.

You can login with your facebook account so you don't need to create an account.

If you read books, I expect to see you there.

If you don't read books.... well, why exactly don't you read books? You should.

We are in private beta but if you login with your facebook credentials, we will get your account active on the system as quickly as we possibly can and let you know once it's active.

I look forward to seeing you at readers-hideout. Here is the link - http://www.readershideout.com.

That is all I have for today.

(I genuinely believe that truly meaningful discussions and conversations can be had over books. I expect to continue working on this side project for life and share my experiences and stuff we learn as continue to move along.)

posted on Friday, March 11, 2011 6:13:15 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [2]
Posted on: Friday, March 4, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Most Creative Endeavors Tend To Be Lonely Ones.

Most Creative endeavors are insane. They are also unreasonable and lonely endeavors.

Most people who start out on them stop when they discover that are toiling alone on an effort no one else is interested in. They hear the "we are not interested" loud and clear.

And then they quit. The reason? Because they want to stay connected.

If you want to understand our innate desire to  keep connected, try watching a movie, eating in a restaurant, going out on a vacation or going on a log run without having any other human being accompany you.

Uncomfortable?

That right there is the fear of being alone.

This fear is one of the major reasons why you are afraid of silence (even when it is productive) and why you love noise.

This same fear stops you from going on movies that you really want to watch but none of your friends want to, or eat at places where your friends do not want to eat, or go on adventurous vacations where your family cannot go with you.

The same fear of being alone, stops you from implementing brand new ideas and working on those ideas, month after month, even if no one uses your application or reads your blog.

Understanding this fear is the first step towards conquering it.

Changing your lifestyle to stop worrying about others is the next step.

What do you want to do this weekend? Go running? Play a sport? Go on a long walk? Catch a very different kind of a movie or drama?

Everyone around you seems busy, tired, too lazy to get out of the home or just not interested in that activity?

Why not do it anyway?

And the same holds true for the applications that you always wanted to build.

posted on Friday, March 4, 2011 7:33:39 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Thursday, March 3, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Showing Up On Tough Days - Part 1

Most artists (even aspiring ones) have more bad days than good ones. Between the two days when your system is rolled live and when your blog post tops reddit there are going to be a whole lot of days which are going to be awfully silent.

On some of these days, you are going to have fights with friends, breakups, failures, depressing thoughts, self loathing, doubts about what you are doing, doubts about your life, physical sickness, invitations to parties you do not want to attend but end up attending, meetings, chores and hours when you find it practically impossible to focus on what you truly love doing.

All artists (programmers, painters, writers, singers....) go through these days.

Most kickass artists even admit going through these days openly.

The big difference, between artist who builds stuff and a whiner who whines is that on these days an artist starts working on what he loves doing to come out of the depressing thoughts. A whiner uses these days as an excuse to stop working on something that he loves working on and crawls into depressing thoughts.

An artist opens the IDE even on a bad day. A whiner closes his open IDE as soon as he encounters a bad day.

True artists show up. Even if its just for an hour every day.

True artists know that if they worry about the bad days, the silent days, the depressing days or the shitty days, they are never going to be able to ship, because there are just too many of these days.

Bedsides, everyone has bad days.

Stop using these days as an excuse to surrender control to your lizard brain.

We are calling your bluff.

Now come out of that hibernation get back to doing what you love doing and start shipping.

I dare you.

posted on Thursday, March 3, 2011 12:38:56 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Juggling Eight Managers And Their Egos - Part 1.

After being hired as a visual basic programmer, the early part of my career, for a year or so, involved doing multiple odd jobs besides programming . Ranging from managing servers, installing updates, configuring exchange server, working on database administration and last, but not the least formatting documents.

What this meant was that this was my training time for playing a one man army if the need existed in my future projects.

What this also meant was that on any given time I was reporting to and working with more than half a dozen project managers and their egos. Everyone had a high priority work item for me. Everyone was offended if their high priority work item wasn't addressed before the other manager's high priority work item.

It was multitasking at it's height. I was juggling five tasks and five egos simultaneously on any given day. Missing a task was acceptable, missing to attend to or honor a manager's ego was not. I remember for example, forgetting to place a comma in the right place while updating the content on the content management server and having that issue bite me back in the form of a nasty email from one of my managers. This manager of mine went the extra mile at embarrassing me by copying multiple people in the team.

I suspect the issue had more to do with me not paying enough attention to that manager's commands than it had to do with me missing out the comma. I had spent more time fixing a server that had gone down than I had updating the content in the Content Management Server. Something that this manager had probably taken a note of and then taken care of by writing this email.

The height of it was me getting called into the office of another one of my managers. This gentleman was offended because I had filed just two hours a day of my work time to his project and the rest of the time had been filed to other projects. After my desperately trying to explain to this gentleman that all the work had been done in the two hours that I filed, I was ordered to immediately redo all my time sheets and file eight hours a day to his project. By the end of the month, I was filling timesheets which basically said that I was working twenty four hours a day. Nobody cared.

Multiple clients were billed for my work, each seeing just the hours that I filed to their projects. No one, neither the HR, nor the management noticed anything peculiar about someone working twenty four hours a day. Or maybe they did and I started receiving pats on my back for being a hard working employee. Working for twelve to sixteen hours and filing twenty four was my first realization that the number of hours you put in your work means nothing. Your effectiveness means everything.

I've talked about this topic before. Scott Berkun touches this topic while talking about managers who are never around. He explains:

Everyone in the tech-sector goes through a phase early in their career where they're proud of their hours. At software and consulting companies everywhere, circles of 20 something friends debate, over drinks each night, who's put in crazier hours – "I worked 70 hours last week", "70? I worked 70 hours in 3 days." "3 days? I worked 70 hours this morning, before breakfast." And on it goes.

It's a kind of dumb male pride in size of things, rather than quality or, god forbid, actual happiness. To work 70 hours is a statement of work, not of progress. For every idiot working 70 hours there's a smarter, wiser man who's doing the same amount of work in 50 because he's paying more attention to results than the clock. I'd rather be, and rather hire, that man.

Sadly enough, years ago, for me this realization did not come from watching this super efficient man that Scott talks about or learning from him, but from working with managers who deeply believed in measuring efficiency by looking at your timesheets and seeing how many hours you spent on their projects. More hours, it was believed, was better than less. Back in those times, for me, working smart and doing work which could be filed as, and billed as, twenty four hours of work, in twelve was not a just philosophical thought. It was practical necessity more than anything else. There were two reasons for this.

The first was that after a few months of putting in twelve to sixteen hours a day I had started burning out.

The second was a much more real and practical reason. I was in college back then, and my graduation exams had started nearing. To make things worse, I had also taken up a few vendor certifications which had to be completed. Spending twelve to sixteen hours a day at work meant that I would be able to do none of these items nicely. I had to figure out a way to get enough time to study.

The realization that I could work twelve to sixteen hours a day and file timesheets which showed twenty four hours of work and have these timesheets get approved was a profound one. I had found a hole in the system. A rather scary hole but one that would be used and exploited to its limits. The realization meant that excelling in this organization was all about:

  1. Working smart.
  2. Pretending that you were working really hard.

Automated word macros that format a huge part of the documents were setup. Automated scripts were set up for odd jobs that I had been assigned to do. Every single work item that was repeatable had been taken and scripted to a level where my manual intervention would be minimum. Very soon I was working for four to six hours a day and filing timesheets for twenty four. A good 50% of this four to six hours went in juggling with people's egos. The rest of it was real work. For the other hours I would sit quietly at my desk, a book or a PDF open and I would study. Most people passing by assumed I was working really hard.

The creepiest twist to the tale of events came when I took a study leave for my final graduation exams. By this time everyone believed that the tasks I was doing were worth about twelve to sixteen man hours a day and so they went ahead and assigned another person on the project.  While I was on a leave two rather strange incidents happened.

The first was that the person who had been assigned to the project had complained that he was overworked and that he was not being able to finish his daily assignments. He ran into a lot of arguments in turn building up some friction between all of these project managers, which was fun to watch when I came back.

The second strange incident was a call I received from one of my managers, "Hey, thanks for working from home while you are on leave, but you know, we are assigning someone else to this project and you do not have to work from home when you are on a leave", he had said.

What had happened, I assumed was that one of those scripts that was supposed to have automated some of my work had kicked in, completed the job and had sent out an email that the task had been completed from my email account. For a few days, I contemplated telling him about the scripts to improve the overall efficiency of the team but then, that would have shattered my image as a hard worker who was putting in sixteen hours a day and was also working from home. So I decided to stay put, shut up and just shut down the script scheduler till the time my study leave was over, letting the substitute bitch about how overworked he was and allowing him to continue doing most of these tasks manually.

These series of events taught me two very important lessons:

  1. Recognize results people produce (quality of work, art, happiness, the culture they create, innovation) not the brute force effort without any returns that idiots put in their work. Any idiot can pretend that he is working really hard. It takes a kickass team to be effective and produce working software. 
  2. Don't try to squeeze out every minute of someone's free time. If someone is working smart and getting more work done in less time, don't make it your responsibility and your sole mission in life to keep the guy busy with more work. Efficient guys, find out work for themselves and they get down to doing it, even if you are not after them. Get out of their way and Leave them alone.

Do these two long enough and what you start seeing is sheer magic. People develop trust in you. They start sharing their ways of working smart, their shortcuts, their innovation and their approaches with the rest of the team and the organization in turn making everyone more efficient. Once the tables are turned and male egos revolve around how efficiently you can do your work, the man hour discussion pretty much moves out of the picture. That is when you start building a culture that revolves around sound time management, innovative working techniques, efficiency and results.

If you can't build that culture, most of your organizational efficiency is in isolated corners of your office corridors and you probably don't know anything about it.

What is rather ironic is that my first lessons of time management and efficiency came from an environment that was designed to screw any engineer working in that environment and turn that engineer into an automaton executing programmed directions for sixteen hours a day.

But then, you learn most of your management lessons in the strangest of circumstances and by hacking the weirdest of work environments.

posted on Tuesday, March 1, 2011 3:21:14 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, February 25, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Your Culture And Art - Part 1.

Most organizations have ways of keeping their employees motivated.

Most organizational motivation looks like this.

If you cannot drop your carrots and your sticks, we won't drink your cool aid.

If your inspiration is backed by an "Or Else", a written rule, a CYA document or a silent subtle threat, it's not inspiration.

The "Or Else" triggers the lizard brain to finish tasks but it won't result in getting people to ship art.

The results are likely to be mediocre and boring.

If you want to build and ship genuine art, take away the "Or Else" part.

What you have left is a remarkable culture with a tribe of motivated artists.

posted on Friday, February 25, 2011 3:50:17 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Getting Comfortable With Silence.

Birds chirping in the trees told the early men everything was fine.

Back then, silence was usually a sign of trouble. A fear signal for your brain.

Even today. Silence scares the crap out of us. Most people get uncomfortable with any period of silence. You walk up to your colleague's desk. Crack jokes. Pick up the phone and call your friends. Get on twitter. Respond to facebook comments. Your birds are singing and you feel safe.

What you forget however, is that today, silence is often hugely productive.

I am not saying that cracking jokes with colleagues, calling a couple of friends, tweeting or spending time on facebook are a bad thing to do. But if you are doing them just because you are scared of productive silence that surrounds you, then all you are doing is generating noise. For yourself and rest of the world.

You are breaking the silence that was making (or could have made) you productive. There is nothing safe about that. In fact, in the long run, that is exactly what you should be truly afraid of.

True, silence is scary. But if you genuinely want to hear the birds sing in the long run, learn to embrace silence and make the most out of it.

posted on Thursday, February 24, 2011 3:14:54 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Pretending To Be Different.

You want to build an interesting product. Start by building an interesting personality.

You want to build a different sort of an organization. Start by living a different lifestyle.

You want the smartest of minds and mavens to help you market your product for free. Start by listening to them. Stop using funny words like "social media", "web 2.0", viral marketing and most importantly, stop insulting their intelligence.

Random buzz words, power point slides and paid advertising won't come to your rescue when you are dealing with smart people.

When we use your product, or read what you write we can see through you, your effort on the product, your mind, your life, your character and your personality.

The real question is, can "you" see us seeing that or do you think we are idiots?

Most businesses, product managers, marketers,  PR guys and social media experts think its the later.

The others, are successful.

posted on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 9:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, February 20, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

What Will Others Think About You And Your Organization.

What will others think about how you look if you do not dress formally for that occasion?

What will others think if you answer those support calls yourself?

What will others think about your organization if it does not have a formal corporate website?

What will others think about your product if it doesn't even have a name?

Fortunately others do not have the time to think about any of that.

Others, are way too busy thinking about.... what the other others will think about them.

What that means is you can stop caring about others and be yourself.

posted on Sunday, February 20, 2011 6:49:06 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [1]