Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Ageism in corporate world : It’s a Goldilocks paradox

 Those of us who have been in the IT sector for any number of years have probably observed the Goldilocks paradox at work. According to the popular fairy tale, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” little Goldilocks tries the three bowls of porridge and sets aside the big bow as it is ‘too hot,’ the second as ‘too cold’ and eats the porridge from the third bowl that it thinks is ‘just right.’

Tech recruiters and hiring managers are like little Goldilocks, wanting their candidates neither too young, nor too old, just the right age. The media and analysts have been focused on the high turnover in IT sector, but a closer look shows how this Goldilocks paradox is playing out – the demand is highest for those with at least a few years’ experience in a specific technology, gradually tapering off for more experienced candidates who are likely to be higher paid, hitting a glass ceiling at the top.

One of the reasons for this is the cost to company (CTC) that candidates expect. Indian IT has evolved an archaic “Years of experience and salary” formula that recruiters seem to use, with an equally obtuse number of two-hundred thousand rupees for every year of experience. By this formula, a candidate with 10 years’ experience will be expected to draw two million in annual package, while the one with 7 years can expect only 1.4 million. Negotiating an exception can be a contentious and long-drawn affair.

Ageism at the bottom of the pyramid

Recruiters and their filtering software are quick to reject graduates with little or no experience, creating a vicious cycle – young techies unable to obtain relevant experience without the first job, while most entry level jobs require experience. A viral twitter post from Sebastián Ramírez (@tiangolo), the creator of FastAPI succinctly highlights this paradox

“I saw a job post the other day. It required 4+ years of experience in FastAPI. I couldn’t apply as I only have 1.5+ years of experience since I created that thing.”

The glass ceiling at the top

At the other end, the glass-ceiling for experienced (read older) tech workers is also equally pronounced. Most recruiters are unwilling to evaluate candidates with 15 or more years’ experience creating an implicit bias against older workers. Social forums like Quora, Reddit or even LinkedIn groups frequently debate the question over such ageism with a common theme: when is a person ‘too old’ to be hired at a tech company? Are folks in their forties or fifties considered ‘too old to hire’?

Having explored a job-change while in my forties after relocating back to India a few years ago, I am probably well-qualified to answer this question. My job-search was unique in another way – unlike many of my peers out to showcase their credentials in managing ‘large,’ teams, I was essentially selling my skills as an individual contributor, albeit one who could help organizations navigate a breath of technologies.

It took me a few months of serious networking, contacting hiring managers and recruiters before I began getting calls for interviews. The feedback was simple: my peers were all “IT Director” level folks who could showcase their project or team management skills; so, I had to emphasize my business partnering skills and the knowledge of a breadth of technical skills.

The way forward – get over the conscious bias

The IT industry is maturing, especially in India, where there are over 5 million people in the IT–BPM sector. The average age of professionals has steadily been increasing over the years. By some accounts the average Indian techie is between 27 and 30 years old, which also happens to be the sweet spot where the industry is seeing a hiring frenzy.

It is time for hiring managers and recruiters to set aside their blinders and look beyond the Goldilocks paradox. Doing so will not only ease the pressure on hiring; but casting a wider net for talent will also drive a more inclusive and diverse work environment.

Originally published in  Express Computers 

Monday, January 3, 2022

What do Parag Agrawal, Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai have in common? They were Enterprise Architects before they became CEOs

  The announcement about Indian born tech executive Parag Agrawal taking charge as the CEO of Twitter generated a considerable buzz, with the media and digerati examining various aspects of his background. Agrawal’s Indian heritage got considerable media attention, and so did his stellar academic pedigree.

Agrawal joins the list of Indian-born CEOs at global tech giants like Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai whose ascent to the top is in large part attributable to their experience gained in architecting their enterprise’s transformation. In a sense they were Enterprise Architects with a strong business acumen who took on larger business leadership roles.

I’ve been practicing the art and craft of Enterprise Architecture (EA) for over a decade and see a distinct pattern at these tech companies that have nurtured tech talent into executive roles. EA is a conceptual blueprint that defines the structure and operation of an organization. A well-defined EA blueprint should determine how an organization can effectively achieve its current and future objectives aligned with its corporate strategy.

Case in point: Architecting the enterprise strategy

Sundar Pichai joined Google in 2004, where he led the product management and innovation efforts for a suite of Google’s client software products, including Google Chrome and Chrome OS and Google Drive. As Google’s Product Chief, he went on to oversee the development of other applications such as Gmail and Google Maps. After leading a series of highly visible transformations, Pichai was selected to become the CEO of Google, and its parent company Alphabet.

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella rose to the top after he successfully pivoted the company to the cloud era. Nadella is credited with bringing Microsoft’s database, Windows Server and developer tools to its Azure cloud, which has become the mainstay for public cloud adoption at global companies. Under Nadella, the revenue from Cloud Services grew from $16.6 billion when he took over in 2011 to over $20.3 billion before he was elevated to be the CEO of the Redmond tech giant. The transformation and the business insights Nadella gained help Microsoft stay relevant as the world was moving toward the cloud.

A similar pattern can be observed at Twitter where Parag Agrawal is credited with leveraging is his strengths in data and analytics to influence engineers. During the 10-year stint at the social media giant, Agrawal built strong relationships across the organization and lead the re-architecture of the technical infrastructure that had been cobbled together to keep pace with Twitter’s stratospheric growth. His background in transforming the core architecture, coupled with relationships built across business positioned Agrawal to take on the top-job after the founder-CEO Jack Dorsey called it quits.

Distinct pattern

The pattern here seems distinct at tech companies where product-engineering and fast paced solution development drives the business. The business is closely interwoven with software development, and those with an ability to comprehend the complexity while also scanning the external landscape seem to excel.

In the online forums and Q&A sites where I am active, technologists muse about the career path towards Enterprise Architecture and beyond. While many techies and EAs spend their careers shaping strategies for business units, a few in technology companies are taking on broader roles shaping the course of their enterprise.

Originally published in  Express Computers 

Friday, December 17, 2021

What can Income Tax payers in India expect ? - Musings of a ‘Silver Certificate’ taxpayer

 Indian salary-earners, especially those paying highest per cent of income in taxes have very little voice and aren’t expected to ask for much in return for their tax rupees.  Most western countries where I have been a taxpayer for the past couple of decades had complex structures of direct (individual Income) and indirect (sales and service) tax structures, but for this writeup I want to focus on individual income-tax. 

In western societies, the concept of “tax dollars at work” and “accountable to taxpayers” is taken rather seriously with governance visible and accessible starting at the lowest levels of government – be it local schools, roads or public health service. While high net-worth taxpayers aren’t provided special accommodation, those paying higher taxes do seem to have a greater voice. For example, in the US, school districts with residents paying higher property tax are better governed, with facilities commensurate with their budgets that are clearly visible and accountable to local taxpayers who engage in administering school boards.

The accountability at the top of the administration, like a senator or congressman (equivalent of our MPs and MLAs) is equally transparent and visible. Years ago, when I had a question on my pending naturalization application, I shot an email to the local senator, whose aide called me within a few days to say they had initiated a “congressional inquiry” with the concerned government department. The aide called me back after a couple of weeks to confirm that my issue was indeed resolved. These instances of “taxpayer’s dollars at work” are routine and expected. Now, imagine you sending an email to your local MP or MLA about an issue, and expecting a response.

Fast forward to “Digital India” where I now find myself after relocating to be around for aging parents. After moving back, I took up a global role with a multinational. For my contribution to the economy, the Income Tax department has been awarding me with a “Silver Certificate of Appreciation” for the past couple of years. For those curious, the Government of India, in its infinite wisdom, issues those paying an annual tax of Rs 1-10 lakh a bronze certificate, and to those pay between Rs 10-50 lakh a silver-certificate; and those paying taxes between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 1 crore a “gold” one. 

I scratch my head wondering about government services “silver” taxpayers like me can expect in return for the lakhs I pay in IT, property-tax, and GST. Our son, like millions of other kids, goes to a private school with no government aid. I don’t expect to patronize the overstretched public health system, thanks to my medical insurance and corporate health-package. This leaves the basic public services that government is expected to provide.

For instance, after the street in front of my home was dug up for months for some public drain-work, I sent several tweets, emails and calls to the local counselor’s office that went unanswered as to be expected. Only an impending local election miraculously speeded up the work.

And then there is a matter of a long pending issue with a land registration that my father had been struggling with. After returning to India, I took over the matter and filed a Writ Petition in Karnataka’s High Court. It has been nearly two years since that judgement and the casefile has been stuck in the desk of some Babu in the state’s revenue department. Several RTI requests have gone into a black hole. Leave alone the equivalent of a congressional inquiry, I probably must bribe someone-known-to-someone in the Revenue Department to even get an appointment to meet a local official, or to know the status of the pending file.

As a salaried taxpayer, I cannot avoid or evade lakhs in direct-tax payments to government coffers. In the land of Mahatma Gandhi, I guess the government officials expect taxpayers like me to consider direct tax payments to be yet another “selfless action, as a source of strength.” But quoting Gandhi again, “It is humanly impossible to be selfless. As a matter of fact, human beings are inherently selfish.” And that’s perhaps why my expectations of expedient government service are not unreasonable.

Originally published in The Hindu Businessline 

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Sunday morning drive to Hesaraghatta Lake

This weekend, we decided to drive down to Hesaraghatta Lake, which is a nice place for a weekend getaway. We left home around 10 am and reached the Lake by 11 after a detour around the scenic Hesaraghatta Main Road that connects Jalahalli to Hesaraghatta. The road is well maintained and is lined with small farms and plots of agricultural land, and is not very busy. 

Entrance to Hesaraghatta lake walkway

The entrance to Hesaraghatta lake area has ample parking for cars and vehicles

Hesaraghatta Lake lookout and walkway

There is a well paved walkway and lookout around the south side of Hesaraghatta lake.

A view of a farm and coconut grove adjacent to the lake

Durgamba Devi Temple on the bank of Hesaraghatta Lake

Hesaraghatta Lake is approachable by road from Bengaluru at a distance of 26.5 km to the north-west of the City. It is a manmade reservoir located 18 km to the north-west of Bengaluru. The lake was created in the year 1894 across the Arkavathy River to meet the drinking water needs of the city. Sir K. Seshadri Iyer, the then Dewan of erstwhile Mysore state and the then Chief Engineer of Mysuru, M. C. Hutchins, planned to build the scheme called the "Chamarajendra Water Works" to store a three-years' water supply to the city.

Reports and articles about Lakes around Bangalore

  • WETLANDS: TREASURE OF BANGALORE [IIsC - ABUSED, POLLUTED, ENCROACHED & VANISHING] - The current investigation focused on 105 lakes (water bodies) in Bangalore. Among these one season monitoring was done in 25 lakes as these lakes were covered with macrophytes – water hyacinth throughout the year. The study reveals that about 98% lakes have been encroached and about 90% lakes are affected due to the sustained inflow of untreated sewage and industrial effluents. 
  • Declare Hesarghatta as a conservation reserve: environmental activists to CM - Environmentalists have pointed out that the Hesaraghatta lakebed area and grasslands in the surrounding catchment area are an important reservoir of biodiversity and a refuge for endangered wildlife species like the lesser florican and leopard, yet remain outside the protected area network and face severe threats to its biodiversity.
  • No amount of rain can put life in Arkavathi river - The Arkavathi river originates on the Nandi hills and joins the Cauvery river at Sangama. However, there is no water flowing in Arkavathi till Thippagondanahalli (T G Halli) reservoir.  
  • Hesaraghatta Lake to be rejuvenated; to store water from Yettinahole project - Although it now wears a parched look, Hesaraghatta Lake could soon be brimming with fresh water. Bengaluru development minister KJ George on Wednesday said that the government was planning on reviving the water body in order to ensure that it can store water that will be pumped into it from the Yettinahole River diversion project. 
  • Construction work banned around Hesaraghatta Lake - Nelamangala Planning Authority warns against investing in real estate within 1km radius from the banks of Arkavati and Kumudvati rivers. Activists say notice is an eye-wash.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Movie Review - ‘The Mauritanian’

Very few movies make you pause and reflect on life and value of our contemporary times. ‘The Mauritanian,’ which I watched last night is one such film. #TheMauritanian, the movie starring Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, & Benedict Cumberbatch is streaming on Amazon Prime, and definitely a drama-in-real-life worth watching. 

The movie and the New York Times (NYT) article from this morning makes one reflect on contemporary American values, especially as it pertains to globalization. As the NYT article succinctly summarizes, “twenty years after the attacks, the United States is still grappling with the consequences of brutal interrogations carried out in the name of national security.” (NYT: The Legacy of America’s Post-9/11 Turn to Torture)

Movie: The Mauritanian - Amazon Prime

As an Indian American, who went through the arduous path to acquire an American citizenship, I cherish the values of the American system – life, liberty and pursuit of happiness – along with the quintessentially Indian and Asian values I grew up with. Like most Americans, I watched with horror as the twin towers were brought down by aircraft commandeered by terrorists over two decades ago. 

I also rejoiced as the American military went on the offensive to extract justice half-way across the world, and the bad-guys were captured. However, I continued to scratch my head as many of the detainees were shipped to Guantánamo Bay. While not a legal expert, I continued to read up on the extra-judicial process, and the way some detainees were waterboarded and tortured to extract a confession. 

A few sections from the NYT article

  • Mr. Slahi was a clever, curious son in a Bedouin family of 12 children who became the first in his family to study abroad. While working toward an engineering degree in Germany in the 1990s, he traveled to Afghanistan to train in the anti-Communist jihad at a time when the United States endorsed it.  
  • There were the guards who menaced him with attack dogs and beat him so badly they broke his ribs. The troops who shackled him, blasted him with heavy metal music and strobe lights or drenched him in ice water to deny him sleep for months on end. The mind-numbing isolation in a darkened cell without his Quran. The female guards who exposed themselves and touched him sexually in an effort to undermine his adherence to Islam. 
  • “If you don’t admit to it, we are going to kidnap your mother, rape her,” the interrogator said, by Mr. Slahi’s account. “I remember telling them: ‘This is unfair. This is not fair,’” Mr. Slahi recalled. The interrogator, he said, responded: “I’m not looking for justice. I’m looking to stop planes from hitting buildings in my country.” 
  • The United States has long since stopped employing the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used in what studies have concluded was a fruitless or counterproductive effort to extract lifesaving information from detainees in secret C.I.A. prisons and at Guantánamo Bay.

Much of what is depicted in the NYT article seems to be summarized from Mr. Slahi’s book and also depicted in the movie.  

As NYT article summarizes, on one level, Mr. Slahi’s is a hopeful story. A story of human grit and resilience. One man’s effort to maintain sanity while undergoing tremendous torture and being imprisoned for over 15 years for something he didn’t do. “I wholeheartedly forgive everyone who wronged me during my detention,” he said in a YouTube message to the world soon after his release. “I forgive, because forgiveness is my inexhaustible resource.”

The book and movie are certainly worth checking out.

IMDB - The Mauritanian (2021) - Mohamedou Ould Slahi fights for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the U.S. Government for years.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who underwent brutal interrogations while he was held at Guantánamo Bay, is a free man in Mauritania after nearly 15 years as a detainee.Credit...Btihal Remli for The New York Times


Friday, September 3, 2021

American Dirt (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel - #BookReview

With lockdowns and the pandemic slowing down life and travel as we knew it, I have been bing-listening to Audio Books during the past year. I generally listen to top-ranked non-fictional novels and most stories are transient in my mind. However, a few stories, linger in one's mind long after the book is finished. 

Jeanine Cummins's American Dirt is one such novel - and not surprisingly it has received a lot of acclaim including 51,000 reviews on Amazon! 

 Here is my review from Amazon

I came across American Dirt while searching for my next audio book and was captivated in the first few minutes. Midway through the saga, I googled the book and realized it was a bestseller with critical reviews. I decided to tuck aside that piece of information and continued the journey with the protagonist Lydia, her son Luca and their migrant cohorts as they make the treacherous journey "El Norte."

The story begins with Lydia and her eight-year-old son Luca witnessing the brutal murder of 16 of their family members while the pair have a miraculous escape. That sets in motion Lydia’s determination to escape to the US ("El Norte") with her son. We then join Lydia and Luca in their perilous journey on foot and top of goods train as they try to escape the wide net cast by a cartel boss.

The saga, set in a short span of a few weeks, has a bit of everything – philosophy in the form of Lydia’s oft repeated mantra “try not to think,” suspense, crime, drug lords, cartels and drama. It also tries to give us a glimpse into the sordid state of affairs when a drug-cartel takes over a placid Mexican town. With a few characters who join Lydia and Luca in their journey, the author attempts to highlight why some migrants risk their lives to try to cross the border "El Norte."

Bottomline: Follow Lydia’s advice; “try not to think” of the reviews and just enjoy a good read.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Reflecting on wealth creation in the era of Offshoring IT Services

Topic of money dollars and fortune never get boring. Even after one thinks he has read every possible angle to a story of wealth creation there is another angle or review that knocks ones socks off.

As a shareholder, I was reviewing the invitation for the 40th Annual General Meeting of Infosys Limited this weekend, and “section 7” caught my attention (link to the report). This section highlights the aggregate shareholding of the promoters and promoter group. 

The list in "section 7" includes the famous founders, their spouses and progeny, each holding hundreds of thousands of shares of Infosys. The company’s shares have been hitting record highs and is trending at about ₹1,450 (As of June 2021). At the bottom of the list at #19 is the lowest of the promoter group who owns about 2737,538 shares worth about ₹ 397 crore (about $56.7 million).

To their credit, Infosys’ founders seem to be living by the original corporate motto “Powered by Intellect, Driven by Values.” The founders, while making immense wealth for themselves have shared their fortune with employees who signed on early. And some of us who joined later in the game didn’t do too badly either. As a former employee who spent a decade with the company in the 2000s, I fondly look back on the small fortune in ESOPs vested in stock that is accruing in my nest egg.  

A brief history of time: Wealth creation beyond Offshoring IT Services

Infosys, along with its peers TCS and Wipro defined and scaled up the business model around Offshoring IT Services. Outsourcing IT work by multinationals to lower cost nations like India really took off after 2000. Consequently, the valuation of these and other service companies skyrocketed, making the founders uber rich.

Q&A in Tech forums and social media routinely feature young techies who ask about pursuing top-dollar jobs, and a few aspire to be entrepreneurs. While software product companies in 2021 attract top talent by offering USD equivalent salaries in India for talented techies, the real wealth is still concentrated at the top of the pyramid. 

Billion-dollar valuation and millions in personal wealth is the stuff urban myth is made of. A quick review of “India’s richest tech billionaires in 2020” shows this was true for the IT services boom in 2000s, as it is for the digital waves that have followed.