Friday, March 22, 2013

With million dollar advances, are Indian English writers finally coming of age?

Wall Street Journal’s blog had an interesting post about an Indian author, Amish Tripathi, being paid a million dollar advance by publisher Westland for his upcoming book series. It is a fascinating story since most writers, even in the west, can only dream of making some money on their published works. Generally, only celebrities and politicians seem to get million dollars advance for their books!

I grew up in India reading Indian English classics like RK Narayan’s portrayal of the quintessential south Indian town of Malgudi, Kushwant Singh’s essays on post-independence era including Train to Pakistan, Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, Ruskin Bond’s portrayal of life in Indian hill stations, and Mulk Raj Anand's  classic, two leaves and a bud.

On recent visits to India, I caught up with Chetan Bhagat’s novels which are a rage among the tech-and-BPO generation-Y because of his humorous portrayal of contemporary India. And speaking of contemporary India, Vikas Swaroop’s Q & A really hit a home run, magnified by the oscar winning hype of its movie version Slumdog Millionaire.

The Indian diaspora has its fair share of prolific writers. Salman Rushdie found himself at the center of a controversy with his Satanic Verses though I am glad he was able to move past that. And then we have Aravind Adiga who got noticed after his debut novel, The White Tiger, won the 2008 Man Booker Prize. I have been trying to catch up with some of the writings of Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri

My guess is that with a million-dollar advance, Amish Tripathi is setting the bar really high for Indian writers. And for reader like you and me, we sure live in interesting times!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Please. please, please Endorse my Linkedin profile

Just a few weeks ago, when I would go to linkedin seeking updates on what my colleagues/peers and others were up to, I would be pleasantly surprised to see notifications on job change, announcement about something cool and such.

Of late, about 80 to 90%% of the notification are about “XYC’s skills and expertise were endorsed by: ABC”  Maybe it is it just me getting a bit irked; but my linkedin login page seems to be buzzing with announcements of all my connections endorsing each other. It is starting to get annoying!

What exactly is an endorsement? The dictionary defines Endorse as

a : to approve openly ; especially : to express support or approval of publicly and definitely
b : to recommend (as a product or service) usually for financial compensation
Sure, being endorsed by a colleague was probably a cool idea to begin with. S/he should know a bit about my skills and expertise and an endorsement values and recognizes it. David Breger in his blog introduced endorsements a few months ago as “a new feature that makes it easier to recognize them for their skills and expertise.” And since then it has moved from being cool to annoying to meaningless… all in a span of months! Mashable oped echoes the thought “The idea was that rather than go through the trouble of actually writing a Recommendation, you could merely check off a box. Think of it as a Facebook "Like" for business skills.”

Now, it almost feels like a Linkedin ploy to make us really really lazy! An annoying popup displays every time one visits a colleague/connections’s profile

The popup is designed to evoke sympathy; like please, please, please endorse xyz! Most of us, end up feeling guilty and click on “endorse” before moving on. And like I said earlier, the value of such sympathy click is meaningless!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Is living with less for us?

The essay in New York Times this past weekend - Living with less. A Lot Less - makes for a fascinating read. The writer, Graham Hill, got an internet windfall before turning thirty  only to give it up to pursue travel and a minimalistic life.

Many of us who have spent time in offshoring IT services can also relate to Graham’s thinking.  I too have been reflecting on the topic over the years. Not surprising given how my wife and I have relocated and lived and traveled across geographies.

Back in 2003, I had an apartment full of furniture, curios and odds and ends, accumulated over five years in Colorado. When I decided to experience the “offshoring boom,” I decided to move to Bangalore, which meant I had to sell my cars, discard or give away to goodwill much of my “worldly possessions.”  I didn’t consider shipping the bulk of my furniture or household items. All this was done in a span of weeks.

The cycle– of accumulating , choosing, buying , stuffing- only to give away to goodwill, friends repeated when we relocated to Toronto a couple of years later. The six months we spent in Switzerland was truly minimalistic to an extreme – we managed to live in a tiny furnished apartment in the heart of Basel by the Rhine.  The stint was intended to be short-term and a furnished apartment was much more preferable to buying and discarding furniture. What also swayed my thinking was the warning by the estate agent: it is especially hard and expensive to discard used household stuff and furniture in Switzerland, which forces a culture of reuse.

During my consulting days I would frequently travel on short term engagements spanning weeks, sometimes joined by my better half. During such travel to Anytown, USA, I had an opportunity to experience luxury end of extended stay hotels. The concept is interesting: one gets a furnished studio or one bedroom suite, complete with a bed and kitchen and basic utensils. The perks of living in this model include a clean room with a made bed one can come back to. Hot breakfast with the dinner and drinks in evenings is a big plus.

One could argue a home in much more than just furnished rooms;  it is an aboard with where one accumulates memories. Rightfully so, which brings us to a million dollar question: Why do most Americans prefer to stay 2000+ square foot homes with acres of land? Per the article, the average size of a new American home housing 2.6 people is 2,480 square feet! Of course, one can go on about the environmental impact of this lifestyle: larger houses need larger yards which mean larger subdivisions in suburbs, that require automobiles to commute to and from; requiring higher reliance on energy and gasoline. Graham Hill concludes his essay describing how he tries to lead a satisfying minimalist life as “the guy who started, I sleep better knowing I’m not using more resources than I need. I have less — and enjoy more.”

Amen to that…. But there again miles to go before rest of us chasing the “American dream” -house in a leafy neighborhood in suburbs and a consumerist, hoarding lifestyle – follow suite!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Yahoo’s work-from-home policy: My two cents

Marissa Mayer, the charismatic CEO of Yahoo seems to be stirring up a hornet's nest with the recent “work from home” policy at Yahoo (Yahoo Says New Policy Is Meant to Raise Morale). Media and bloggers have not only been speculating on the move by tech giant but also the wider implications.

The big question managers and technologists are asking: If a tech giant based in Silicon Valley can reverse course on telecommuting, will it ever be a prevalent policy in corporate America?

Telecommuting policies in corporate world really took off in America few years ago when the cost of gasoline spiked above $4 a gallon. Rather than raise salaries to compensate for rising cost of commuting, companies began experimenting with variances of the policies, allowing telecommute once a week, limited telecommute to employees on a need basis, and in some cases adopting “honor system:” expecting employees to be judicious while availing the privilege.

Of course, in consulting world, telecommuting is much more prevalent. In my days of EA consulting, I would periodically travel to client locations for engagements. Many of the statement of work (contracts) would call out billing for 40 hours a week. Though I was a consultant, I was salaried /exempt employee with no paid overtime. Work done outside client billing hours for my employer (e.g pre sales proposal work) would get me brownie points from my boss and peers, nothing more. The biggest perk in that job was the fact that I could telecommute from home between engagements and go in to the local office of my employer only for administrative work or some internal meetings.

I now live in the East Coast, US and routinely take early morning meetings from my home office to accommodate colleagues in Basel, Switzerland, and vendor/partner folks based offshore in India. No big deal. I sometimes come in late to work or leave early in the evenings not to “compensate” for time but to balance out personal chores, or run errands which I might have done during the time when I take my morning calls. This is not unique to my job or role.

Do I benefit from face-to-face meetings and whiteboarding? Sure! Do hallway and water cooler conversations with colleagues enrich my job experience? Absolutely! Would I be constrained by a policy that dictated that all my work had to be done in the office?

I guess we all recognize that working efficiently is not just about doing the “40 hours” in the office, but delivering on expected goals and targets. With many, if not most IT professionals increasingly working in globalized teams spanning time zones, attending meetings during “non business hours” is more a norm than exception. Policies that eliminate or regulate telecommuting and work-from home may end up being counterproductive.

  • Yahoo Says New Policy Is Meant to Raise Morale - NY Times
  • Yahoo’s perplexing work-from-home ban - Washington Post
  • Why Won't Yahoo! Let Employees Work From Home? - BusinessWeek