Monday, March 25, 2019

#Bookreview : The Reckoning: A Novel by John Grisham

Here's my recent review of John Grisham's "The Reckoning: A Novel"

Having read most of Grisham’s works, and having seen him give a lively talk to a hall-full of fans, I was ready for ‘The Reckoning’

The blurb explains that it is a “story of an unthinkable murder, the bizarre trial that followed it, and its profound and lasting effect on the people of Ford County.”

Set in the Nineteen forties cotton-picking South, Grisham throws in an ample dose of gentleman farmer’s family, blacks-vs-whites and the war. It is a story of Pete Banning, Clanton's favorite son, and war hero who kills the pastor of the local Methodist church and surrenders with a simple statement 'I have nothing to say.' And ‘why he did it’ is the mystery that Grisham keeps readers hooked on till the very end.

The first part of the book has a brief description of Pete Banning’s exploits and experiences during the war, but Grisham seems to relish taking us through the gory details of Guerrilla warfare. Even going past this to the end of the book, I was left scratching my head over the need for such detailed narrative on the topic of war.

The characters of Pete’s son, Joel is rather well developed and much of the narrative is through Joel’s eyes. The unpredictable end, however, is a satisfactory anti-climax that explains Pete Banning’s reason for ‘why he did it;’ and how it all backfired on him and on the Banning clan.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Q&A - Should Indian IT companies encourage working from home? What can be the challenges and how can they be overcome?

This was an interesting question that came to me from an online forum. Work From Home policies continue to evolve around the globe. Organizations and managers around the globe continue to look at adoption of work-from-home policies in other industry segments.

Like their global peers, Indian IT companies have been updating their business and work policies in the past couple of decades. Policies on Work-from-home continue to evolve though they are not the norm.

Managers understand that may need to accommodate the need of employees to work from home sometimes. While some Indian IT companies allow some employees to work from home, such policies are unlikely to become the norm. This is because, most companies have invested in office space and infrastructure and want employees to come in and work with their colleagues. The challenges of encouraging work from home en masse are obvious :

Primary challenges

Level of employees - Much of the Indian IT continues to be bottom-heavy. Junior employees and those fresh out of college need to be mentored hands-on and letting them work from home is neither practical nor efficient. And if most of such junior employees are going to work from office, can you expect their managers to be working from home?
Culture - Perhaps the greatest barrier to letting employees work from home is the reluctance from young employees. Many Indians, especially youngsters take pride in the companies they work for. Many want to get-ready and head to work and be able to tell their neighbors, aunts and uncles that they work for XYZ multinational at a “tech park.” This way they can justify buying a new bike or leasing a car !
  • The above two are not easy challenges to overcome, and might take time as younger employees mature with the industry
Other Challenges (that may be overcome)

Measuring productivity - IT Managers have been trained to MBWA and are comfortable managing employees they can walk up to. Some of them are used to “seeing” employees being productive (or taking frequent coffee breaks) and can engage with employees
  • Managers in some organizations and groups that allow work-from-home overcome their MBWA practice by adopting technologies like web/video conferencing and other tools.
Effort in identifying and delegating tasks that can be performed independently. Some tasks may not be easy to break up and may require frequent interactions with groups
  • Creatively break up tasks that can be delegated and performed remotely by skilled employees

Wider adoption of WFH in the Indian IT will depend on individual managers and their teams, and comes down to Ronald Regan’s famous adage - trust but verify

Sunday, January 27, 2019

NRI Career question: Is it tough to get a job in India after returning back from abroad with international work experience?

This was a recent question that came to me from an online forum. My response follows

Yes, I won’t sugarcoat it. It is certainly tough if you are job-hunting after returning from abroad with “international work experience.” I say this from my experience after returning back to India (link to another post).

Here’s why it may be “tough” to get a job after returning back, and what you could do

  • Sheer population in urban-India with lot more educated and experienced workers looking for better opportunities, and intense competition for high-end (high paying) positions.
  • You might over-value your “International work experience,” but recruiters don’t. A lot of Indians, especially in Info-tech sectors have such international experience and you will find it hard to stand out just on that account.
  • If you have spent an extended period abroad, you may not have a network of peers in the local market who can make introductions or give referrals to openings
  • Ageism - In the west, many professionals continue to be ‘hands on’ even as they gain experience in a field. This is true for hi-tech workers too. However, in India, hi-tech workers get ‘promoted’ to management positions early in their career and those skills are as valued in experienced professionals. If you happen to be a 40-something IT programmer, you will certainly find it hard to find an IT-programming job in India.
  • Lot of ‘returning NRIs’ move back as they are unable to accept changes back in India. Employers may be hesitant to hire such NRIs if they are not likely to stick around.

So, what do you do?

  • Focus your job search at organizations where you think your specific skills and experience are going to be in demand 
  • Revive your network. Use social-media tools like LinkedIn to re-connect with old friends and peers and seek their help in getting you referrals and opportunities
  • Don’t downplay your “international experience” but show how this, along with your current skills can help prospective employers 
  • If you plan a long-term tenure in India, you should demonstrate such commitment to prospective employers.

You may also check out an earlier blog of mine - Is LinkedIn a useful platform for Job hunting ?

Saturday, January 26, 2019

What’s it like to give up your Indian citizenship and accept American citizenship?

[This was a question that came to me via an online forum.]

For many of us who have lived overseas for extended periods of time, a western passport is a practical tool to have. Traveling back to India every so often is made easy by having an OCI.

Take my example: The decision for me wasn’t hard. I naturalized as an American in 2012, after which I had to have my Indian passport cancelled and applied for an OCI. This was a very practical decision since I lived in the US and worked for a European multinational. I was expected to make frequent business trips from the US to the European HQ. As Indian Passport holder (even with a US Green Card) I was required to apply and renew a Schengen visa. A US passport allows a visa-free travel.

There are few professions like Government service, holding a Political office or military where nationalism and patriotism are kind of a “Bona fide occupational qualifications” For the rest of us in professional services or business, nationalistic sentiments take a back seat to one’s family and friends, and life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

One way of looking at Naturalization and giving up a birth-citizenship to acquire another one is similar to the “Flag of convenience - Wikipedia.”

So, how does it feel?

Does my heart flutter every time I hear Lata Mangeshkar’s “A mere watan ke logo” or Mahendra Kapoor’s “mere desh ki dharti…” Sure it does every time!

Do I feel a sense of pride standing up for “star spangled banner” or when I hear “America the Beautiful.” You Bet !

Monday, December 24, 2018

Tech Forecasts: what is the next big thing in 2019?

It is the time of the year when consultants and analysts take stock of the technology trends and prognosticate over emerging technologies. There are many variances to the forecasts and the number of trends predicted, ranging from “top 5” to “top 20” and in-between*. The predictions are around flavors of digital tools and technologies - AI/ML, big-data, SMAC, analytics, Big Data and a few BHAGS like autonomous vehicles and commercial space travel.

Having spent the past couple of decades in the vibrant global tech world, I continue to study and reflect on these forecasts. When read collectively, they are a barometer of where the business investments are headed, especially since the major trends seem to converge on a few common themes. It is also obvious that most analysts glance at the short-term rear-view to ‘predict’ what they see bubbling to the top.

Corporate Digitization playing catchup with Consumer Tech

In the past few years most of the promising emerging technologies were adopted by consumers before finding their way into the corporate world. The earlier generation of iPhones set the bar high for smartphones and consumer adoption eventually leading to BYOD in enterprises. Similarly, consumers began to experience ubiquitous access to WiFi and corporate IT began to follow suite. Machine Learning enabled Chatbots and digital assistants are re-defining consumer User Interfaces using voice and Natural Language to interact with systems.

Many of these technologies are being designed into application platforms and products, enabling corporate users. It is likely that in 2019, we will encounter “2.0” of many of the trends that have already been firming up this year. Let me illustrate with a couple of technology trends that are common in analyst reports

  • Blockchain – Even with the wild swing in the market for Bitcoins this year, tech watchers continued to keep the focus squarely on the underlying cryptographic techniques. Blockchain adoption has moved beyond pilot to production in several industry verticals. Adopting Blockchain techniques to enable trust and traceability between corporate entities will transform some segments of the industry; but it is primarily an underlying technology plumbing to enable Enterprise Architectures, and will be transparent to most users. This is because even the most innovative techniques in data and integration are primarily about enabling secure data transfer. 
  • Robotics and Automation – I spent the good part of this year strategizing and operationalizing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) for a Fortune-500 company. These Intelligent Automation techniques continue to make inroads without waiting for organizations to transform their business processes. The reason for this is rather straightforward: even as we move into 2019, there are too many gaps in legacy platforms and processes, that are either too expensive to transform or replace. This is the sweet spot that where adoption of intelligent Automation will continue to make inroads.
  • Machine Learning and Cognitive Computing – Chatbots and intelligent assistants are appearing in a variety of internal and external facing corporate scenarios. However, these are just a small subset of use-cases. Most software vendors are beginning to embed AI and ML techniques into their technology platforms that include supply-chain and planning, recruitment, talent sourcing, big data and analytics, financial data processing and within ERP and CRM systems among others. Such adoption of AI and ML, while transparent to corporate business and technology teams are transforming usability of systems and productivity of users. 

So what do the technology forecasts mean to us?

The year-end is certainly the time to reflect on changes personal and professional, but technology trends and innovations do not follow any calendar; especially not the Gregorian calendar.

  • ‘Technology innovation’ is really a continuum of change that we need to be embracing 
  • Depending on the nature of your role in an organization and its business, there are some technologies that will influence you and your business more than others will. 
  • Your businesses’ appetite for change will dictate the pace of adoption in your organization
A link to a small sampling of tech forecasts - Gartner Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2019 || Deloitte's 2019 Technology Industry Outlook || ZDNet What’s next for 2019? IoT trends and predictions || Inc. 31 Tech Predictions for 2019 || Looking in a rear-view - Top 10 technology trends to watch in 2018

Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, or Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation or share your favorite 'trend to watch' | Reposted from my LinkedIn Blog

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Career question: Is LinkedIn a useful platform for Job hunting ?

I don’t agree with the premise of the question that LinkedIn is for ‘sales people’. I am not a salesman, and I am quite active on digital platforms like Quora and Linkedin, and use the latter to network professionally.
Here is my little story.
A little more than a year ago, I moved back to India to be around for my aging parents (ref: What were your experiences moving back to India after getting US citizenship? What are the best ways to make this move?).
I applied for an FMLA from my (then) employer and decided to job-search in Bengaluru where I was going to be based. As an Indian American, most of my old professional network in India had scattered in the years since I had migrated.
I was clear about the kind of role I was looking for. I was looking for a non-sales role in technology management, Enterprise Architecture or solution design. LinkedIn stood out as an ideal platform to network and to revive my old network. A few ways I began leveraging the platform
  • I activated Linkedin Premium . It is money well spent, and allows candidates to get more analytics about advertised jobs, and to reach out to recruiters and others
  • Began actively contributing to the forums on Linkedin - Liking and Commenting on interesting articles, responding to queries and posts in groups that I was interested in.
  • I increased the frequency of my Likedin Pulse (blog) posts on a variety of topics
  • Continued to apply for interesting roles being advertised in job section
In a matter of weeks, LinkedIn analytics indicated that my profile was beginning to stand out among peers.
  • Many in my network began ‘looking’ at updates on my profile and reached out with a ‘hi, how are things’
  • I began to receive queries from head-hunters
  • I began to receive responses to my job application and had some good interviews and discussions with hiring managers
Yes, I got a couple of interesting job offers and finally took up my current role.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

EA Q&A : Who are the potential stakeholders in an Enterprise Architecture program?

Here are a couple of recent questions that came to me from an online forum -

Question 1> Who are the potential stakeholders in an Enterprise Architecture program? 

 My response follows

The potential stakeholders in an Enterprise Architecture (EA) program may include:
  • The Sponsor of EA program - The business, functional or technology sponsor of the EA program will be a key stakeholder
  • The Sponsor’s direct reports - Those people will generally be engaged directly or indirectly in EA reviews
  • The Sponsor’s reporting managers/executives - The sponsor will engage his/her reporting executives in the EA program
  • IS and Technology stakeholders - The CIO/CTO may engage key people from their team for the EA program
  • Functional stakeholders - The term ‘functional’ or ‘Business’ is generally broad and may include operational leadership and functional leaders who drive strategic initiatives across the organization
  • Functional and operational team members - Do not underestimate the tacit knowledge that can exist in pockets across the enterprise. EA’s may have to engage with a wide spectrum of subject matter experts (SMEs) from across the organization
This is not an inclusive list, but just intended to guide you to explore the list of stakeholders.
After you identify your stakeholders, you will need a Responsibility assignment matrix (RACI) to ensure you engage and communicate with stakeholders.


Question 2> What kind of personal/technical skills are required for an information architect (IA)? I major in information science and planning classes for next semester.

 My response follows

There are many ways of looking at Information Architecture (IA).
  • In many organizations, Information gets granular when you engage with specific business, functional or technology Domains. Each will have a specific vocabulary, taxonomy and other business dimensions that you will have to gain expertise in. For example, an IA for a Finance domain may be different from that in Legal or Commercial areas.
  • The TOGAF Standard, Phase C: Information Systems Architectures - Under IS Architecture, TOGAF takes into account Data and Application Architecture.
As you plan to major in information science, you could broaden your knowledge by taking some courses in functional domain areas.