Friday, April 12, 2024

Old soldiers don’t die, they just fade away

 The other day while cleaning an old shelf, my son came across a medallion and he asked me about it. “Oh, it’s your grandpa’s Raksha Medal from 1965,” I said.

“Did Krishnamoorthy thata actually fight the Chinese in that war?” He asked. “Was he issued a gun when he was in the Air Force?” he continued excitedly recalling scenes from the Bollywood movies.

Yes and no, I hummed and hawed.

I tried explaining that my dad was indeed posted at an Air Base that provided Air support to our troops facing the enemy. And for this service, he and other servicemen were awarded the Raksha Medal.

And then I went on to reflect on the real reason he was my hero and role model.

Born in Batalagundu, a small town in South India that might just have been the inspiration for RK Narayan’s Malgudi, he grew up in a rather large brahmin agrarian family. When he did exceptionally well at school, he was offered a scholarship to study at a college in a nearby district and a ticket out of the small town. While studying for his bachelors, a lecturer suggested that he join the Indian Air force that was recruiting English speaking graduates for its education instructor’s trade.

Shortly after training and donning his Seargent’s stripes, he was deployed to the Air Base at the border to prepare for the Chinese aggression. And this is how, as a young Seargent, he was awarded the Raksha Medal.

He wasn’t content to continue the life of an enlisted airman and set his sights higher - He would be commissioned as an officer before he married the love of his life, whom he had been wooing since his college days.

He failed the internal services selection board several times before he cracked the SSB to become a “Class A” Gazetted officer with the rank of a Pilot Officer – the first from his town. The month after his officer’s training he married my mother, but just as the couple was readying to enjoy matrimonial bliss, service beckoned.  All servicemen were requisitioned to the border, this time to prepare for the aggression from the neighbor to the west. By then, my mother who was pregnant with me, her first son had to return to Batalagundu where I was born.

Dad’s eventful service over the years took us to the far corners of the country – from Bagdogra near Darjeeling where my brother was born, to Jodhpur in Rajasthan where we enjoyed three years of the Rajput hospitality and a number of other memorable stops in between.

Dad would fondly remember his secondment to command a Liaison Unit (LU) – the intelligence wing of the Air Force – during that stint. This was one posting where we stayed in a suburb in town outside the sprawling Air-base, not in the regular quarters and most of my dad’s tenure was in his civvies, not his service uniform. Watching reruns of the sleuths corner the  enemy within and outside services in tele-serials like NCIS with him would always give me the goosebumps, when some episodes would mimic war stories from the LU days.

That experience in LU would follow him when he was posted in Bengaluru – as this was during the height of the Indian deployment of the Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka. That he was an officer of Tamil origin with an intelligence background didn’t go unnoticed by the military brass, and he was drafted for that endeavor.

After 35 years of eventful service, he decided to spend his sunset years in the retirement paradise, which is how Bangalore was known then. During his ‘retirement,’ he continued to consul eligible youth interested in joining the services and many enlisted servicemen aspiring to be promoted to commissioned officer would seek his guidance in tuning their efforts. A small-town boy who retired as a proud Squadron Leader was indeed a role model to aspire to.

That old soldier didn’t die, he merely faded away at the ‘ripe old’ age of 82, nearly six years ago.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Dusting off an old viewpoint "From organization man to free agent" - How long should you remain in your job?

I was reflecting on the question of tenure in IT jobs, especially since this seems to be the most common question in tech forums and chatboards.

A copy of my article published in IEEE journal over 20 years ago

From organization man to free agent

Wojciech Cellary brought out a key point in his column on “The Profession's Role in the Global Information Society” (Sept. 2003, pp. 124, 122–123): Computing professionals continually face exclusion from their work because digital technology advances so swiftly. Along with this risk, changes in the global information society have led to a shift in the computing professional's role from “organization man” to free agent. Renowned management guru Peter Drucker outlined this trend in “Managing Oneself” (Harvard Business Journal, March-April 1999, pp. 65–74). Drucker advises professionals, “… and we will have to stay mentally alert and engaged during a 50-year working life, which means knowing how and when to change the work we do.”

The Organization Man

The traditional concept of the computing profession originated just after World War II, when most Western nations enjoyed a long growth spell. To cater to the emerging needs of the postwar market, corporations built gigantic factories to manufacture products and serve consumer needs. To manage these operations, organizations also started automating their systems with computers. Spurred by this growth in manufacturing productivity, governments, financial institutions, and retailers began to automate their systems as well. During this period, William H. Whyte wrote his much acclaimed book, The Organization Man (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), and the term soon caught the fancy of an entire generation of working professionals. Whyte defines organization men as

… the ones of our middle class who have left home, spiritually as well as physically, to take the vows of organization life, and it is they who are the mind and soul of our great self-perpetuating institutions. In a system that makes such hazy terminology as “junior executive” psychologically necessary, they are of the staff as much as the line, and most are destined to live poised in a middle area that still awaits a satisfactory euphemism. But they are the dominant members of our society nonetheless….

Note that Whyte wrote his book during an age when men constituted the bulk of the white-collar workforce, and I will not attempt to be politically correct by using the term organization people here.

To thrive in a rapidly changing world, computing professionals must become free agents.

For nearly half a century after the book appeared, the organization man typified the professional. In most parts of the world, huge corporations—private, public, and government-owned—employed hundreds of thousands of organization men. That era also saw the rise of the computing professional, personified by legions of IBM employees clad in white shirt and tie. Endless movies idolized devoted company men in gray flannel suits and the stable life they enjoyed. Most white-collar professionals across the world sought and could aspire to this American Dream of a good education that led to a good job, a house in the suburbs, and a wife and kids. During this age the public regarded corporations with reverence and deference, a topic analyzed by authors like Fred Harmon and Garry Jacobs, who note in their book The Vital Difference (Amacom, 1985) that “Ma Bell [AT&T] became the ultimate symbol of a benevolent corporation working in and for the public interest.”

Death of the Organization Man

The corporate world experienced a radical transformation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when cost cutting, downsizing, and rightsizing became the new mantra. Corporations across the globe transformed from benevolent entities to profit centers driven by the interests of their stockholders.

This left the concept of the organization man dying if not completely dead. The most visible cornerstone of the organization man's existence—life-time employment—eroded as well. Globalization of business and management practices also meant the globalization of cost cutting, downsizing, and layoffs. Significantly, even Japanese companies—leading proponents of lifetime employment until recently—have revisited their ideals in light of their economy's decade-long downturn. In India, the wave of privatization sweeping through public companies has led to many so-called voluntary retirements. Asian and European companies have followed in their American counterparts' footsteps and now use layoffs as a regular cost-cutting measure.

Individuals have thus begun to realize that even if they wanted to, they could not entrust their career to a single company: Corporations themselves are regularly evolving, transforming, acquiring other businesses or being acquired by them, and sometimes going bankrupt. Professionals are experiencing what Intel cofounder Andy Grove calls a strategic inflexion point (Only The Paranoid Survive, Time Warner, 1999), with the traditional notions of work and career giving way to a new model in which individuals are expected to take responsibility for their own career moves.

Transition to Free Agent

Faced with this new reality, computing professionals have made a fundamental shift in how they view their careers. Traditional organizational hierarchies are giving way to project- and performance-oriented groups and structures, ushering in the era of gold-collar workers. These free agents are highly skilled professionals who owe a greater allegiance to their profession than to the organizations for which they work.

Daniel Pink first extended the term free agent—borrowed from professional sports—to corporate professionals in his book Free Agent Nation (Warner Books, 2002). Pink sees the emergence of moonlighting as one way professionals can hedge their bets in a changing world:

Diversification—that is, an independent worker spreading her risks across a portfolio of projects, clients, skills and customers is the best hedging strategy…. In the Organization Man era, moonlighting was a big no-no, the very name implied that you were doing something illicit concealing your behavior under the cover of darkness. No more. Today, anybody who holds a job and isn't looking for a side gig—or crafting a business plan, writing a screenplay, or setting up shop on eBay—is out of touch. Moonlighting is a way to diversify your human capital investments—and hedge against the risk of your company collapsing or your job disappearing. In some sense, we're all moonlighters, because in every sense, we're all risk managers.

Becoming Free Agents

Table 1 shows how careers in IT consulting have evolved from lifelong single-employer jobs to a free-agent model. Y2K, the Internet, and the dotcom boom brought a whole legion of professionals from varied backgrounds into the computing field. Some joined traditional companies' IT departments, but many decided to explore careers in consulting. The industry also saw the appearance of a whole array of consulting companies, ranging from small shops with a handful of consultants to large system integrators like IBM and EDS.

Table 1. Organization man versus free agent.
Table 1.- Organization man versus free agent.

The industry afforded a gamut of vocational choices, from short-term projects spanning a few weeks to longterm maintenance projects lasting a few years. Along the way, computing professionals also realized that the industry was becoming increasingly market driven. Thus, getting certified in vendor technologies, being associated with professional bodies—including the IEEE and ACM—and building expertise in current skills gave them more leverage than being associated with a blue-chip employer.

Individual computing professionals have also shown their market savvy by selling themselves as experts in Cobol, ERP, Java,.NET, the Web, and other technologies the market demands, sometimes juggling multiple hats at once. The career trajectory of many computing professionals has begun to resemble that of free agents who take on a series of projects or assignments that help them market their skills to the highest bidder.

The computing professional may be taking a page from a trend already established by other professionals in vocations such as law, medicine, finance, and academia. Lawyers and financial analysts have long known that their real allegiance is to the profession rather than to individual organizations or companies where they work. Being a corporate attorney or a corporate financial analyst is perceived to be less glamorous and financially rewarding than working for a high-profile partnership or, better still, founding one's own firm. Academicians and professors have refined moonlighting into an art—consulting for large corporations, helping their clients understand and incorporate the latest academic and research ideas, and raking in huge fees—even while continuing their day job of teaching and spearheading university research.

By building and maintaining a brand and attracting a steady stream of clients, free-agent professionals can thrive by following the models established by those in the following fields: 

  • lawyers and legal professionals; 
  • chartered accountants and financial professionals;
  • doctors and medical specialists; 

  • Management consultants;

  • architects, builders, masons, and craftsmen;

  • artists, performers, singers, and musicians;

  • freelance writers and columnists;

  • athletes and sports stars; and

  • academicians and professors who moonlight as consultants.

Computing professionals now realize that they need to take active charge of the direction in which their careers are headed. Whether they view a career as a series of assignments or as a mix of traditional jobs and moonlighting, all computing professionals must actively take control of their career. Today's companies value people based on what they bring to the project, assignment, or work task rather than how many years these professionals have spent at one job. Quoting Drucker again:

The challenges of managing oneself may seem obvious, if not elementary. And the answers may seem self-evident to the point of appearing naive. But managing oneself requires new and unprecedented things from the individual, and especially from the knowledge worker. In effect, managing oneself demands that each knowledge worker think and behave like a chief executive officer…. Every existing society, even the most individualistic one, takes two things for granted, if only subconsciously: that organizations outlive workers, and that most people stay put…. But today the opposite is true. Knowledge workers outlive organizations, and they are mobile. The need to manage oneself is therefore creating a revolution in human affairs.

Academia pays close attention to these industry trends. Engineering schools and universities, especially in the West, have begun introducing technologists to entrepreneurship and business fundamentals. Further, the students graduating into the field of computing are beginning to realize that courses in entrepreneurship will play an essential role in helping them manage their lives and careers.

As professionals in a workforce with evolving expectations of the employer-employee relationship, most of us will need to acquire and apply entrepreneurial and business management skills to manage our careers. Our career trajectories will thus depend on constant marketing and networking rather than climbing the ladder of a predefined career track.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Should Indian immigrants, H1 and F1 visa holder sit in the sidelines while watching the US election drama unfold?

If you have any connection to America – as a US citizen, immigrant,  an H1 worker or a foreign student or an Indian American expat like my, you cannot escape the politics and upcoming presidential elections.

As I get ready to request my absentee ballot via post for the US Federal elections, for myself and my wife, I am also reflecting on a constituency that is watching the elections from sidelines since the elections could impact their lives and careers. I know, since I jumped through the H1 B and immigration hoops for years before eventually becoming a naturalized citizen.

Nearly a million Indians live and work in the US on H1 B visas and another half-million Indian students are studying in schools and universities across America. Most Indian students move to American universities in the hopes of eventually finding an employer who will sponsor their H1 Visa. In the meantime millions of H1B visa holders are looking at decades long wait for a green card that will let them live and work in America permanently.

None of us has a crystal ball on the outcome of the elections or what the new administration will usher, but the position of the frontrunners are clear – Both President Biden and former president Trump are trying to sound tough and vocal on immigration.

Make no mistake, US immigration reform is a complex legislation that President and congress – Senators and Congressmen have to agree on. But in the meantime, the president also has executive powers to take decisions. Take the example of the issue of work-permits for spouses of H1 Visa holders.  

So what should Indians do while watching the US election drama unfold? While non-citizen immigrants don’t have a vote, they certainly have the clout.

Lean on your Indian American friends, colleagues and community to influence folks who do have a vote

Stand up and voice your opinion as future citizen and voters – after all you are legal immigrants on an eventual path to citizenship

Voice your opinion with your corporate lobbyists – tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple and other silicon valley giants have strong lobbying groups. Voice our concerns there to have it heard by American lawmakers

Highlight the economic prowess as taxpayers in America and influence your lawmakers “back home”

Indian leaders are signing off on Billions of dollars in American imports. In 2022, India's imports from the United States were worth over $47 billion.  Arms, Drones and Satellite technologies. Billions of dollars in Aircraft purchases from Boeing,

While non-citizen immigrants don’t have a vote, they certainly have the clout. Make your voice count.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Case Study on promise and perils of AI: Imran Khan gives AI generated ‘Victory Speech’ from Jail

 Not a day goes by without a headline grabbing story about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its innovative application. Not surprisingly, I was fascinated to “see” the “AI version” of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s victory speech posted on Youtube after his party won an unprecedented election. What was remarkable was the innovative use of technology that led to this win.

Mr. Khan who is currently serving a sentence on charges of corruption holed up in a Pakistani prison wasn’t allowed to contest elections or even engage directly in any political communications. But in a groundbreaking move that marked a paradigm shift in political communication, he continued to rally his troops via AI morphed images and synthesized speeches crafted with the assistance of cutting-edge artificial intelligence tools. In a grand finale, he took to the “virtual” stage, thanking his audience in an “AI version” of what he termed “an unprecedented fightback from the nation.”

This is indeed a fascinating application of AI/ML in politics out in the open – a topic at the intersection of Technology, Business, Government and Society. The mainstream media around the world and political analysts took note. The New York Times describes the victory speech as “the mellow, slightly robotic voice said in the minute-long video, which used historical images and footage of Mr. Khan and bore a disclaimer about its A.I. origins.”

Innovative use of AI tools and technologies

Using sophisticated deep learning models, AI can now analyze and synthesize audio and visual content with remarkable accuracy which are hard to distinguish from the real-version with a naked eye. This capability enables the creation of videos that seamlessly blend real and virtual elements, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. From realistic computer-generated characters to immersive virtual environments, AI-generated videos push the boundaries of what was once deemed impossible in visual storytelling.

Hollywood has long used AI-generated videos in streamlining the film making process, especially to generate special-effects that wow us. With the ability to automate certain tasks, such as scene composition, special effects, and even scriptwriting, AI can significantly reduce production timelines and costs. Filmmakers and content creators can leverage these technologies to bring their creative visions to life more efficiently, fostering a new era of innovation in the entertainment industry. The technology emerged from Hollywood to social media and is now into the mainstream influencing mindshare in politics and democracies.

Influencing mindshare

Imran Khan’s use of AI-generated videos to broadcast political speeches are at the intersection of innovation and society. These are not merely a string of algorithmically generated sentences but a reflection of the leader’s vision, values, and commitment to progress in Khan’s ‘voice’. The AI system, trained on vast datasets encompassing Khan’s speeches, policy documents, and public addresses, successfully captured the essence of his distinctive communication style.

Critics and supporters alike lauded the innovation, acknowledging the efficiency and effectiveness of AI-generated speeches. While skeptics questioned the authenticity and spontaneity of the delivery, supporters emphasized the potential for AI to enhance and amplify the impact of political messaging.

While ethicists are lauding the disclaimer that came with Khan’s speeches, one wonders about all DeepFakes circulating without a similar notice. What if Mr. Khan’s team had used the same technology to generate DeepFakes of his political opponent, Nawaz Sharif, in a compromising position with Bollowood starlet or worse making blasphemous speeches?

The Ethics

The widespread use of AI-generated videos, especially to influence large groups of people raises ethical considerations and challenges. The potential for deepfake technology, where AI can convincingly manipulate footage to depict events that never occurred or alter the words and actions of individuals, introduces concerns about misinformation and trust in the digital age.

As these technologies advance, concerns regarding misinformation, privacy invasion, and the potential misuse of AI-generated content have emerged, prompting a critical examination of the ethical implications surrounding this cutting-edge field. Striking a balance between the creative potential of AI-generated videos and the responsible use of this technology becomes crucial in navigating the ethical landscape.

While the technologies to detect deepfakes continue to advance at a fast pace, bad actors bank on the virality of social media. It is almost like a game of real-life whack-a-mole where the good-guys try to catch-up and swat deepfakes sprouting around. The bad guys who create deepfakes bank on their viral spread on social platforms. Attempts to later contradict them with facts backed by digital proof of tampering can’t undo the widespread damage done.

Of course, this is not the last word on the topic. We are sure to see armchair-critics of politics continue to debate these applications as citizens of two other major Democracies – the largest and the oldest – go to polls this year. The innovative and ‘ethical’ use of the tools by Imran Khan’s team during the Pakistani elections are being studied by political wonks and consultants around the world.

Originally published in Express computers - The role of Artificial Intelligence in Influencing Democracies  

Friday, February 16, 2024

Reflecting on Life and Business lessons from Jeffrey Archer's Kane and Abel. When letting go of a grudge is not easy, but one must #bookreview #lifelessons

 During a recent break, I decided to revisit Jeffery Archer’s old masterpiece years after I had read it, and was struck how the life-experiences hits home. 

This bestseller is a story spanning the lifetimes of two strong willed men whose life couldn’t have been more different, but whose lives are intertwined by fate. Jeffery Archer weaves a tapestry of life in America spanning the first and second world war seen through the eyes of two protagonists William Kane and Abel Rosnovski.   

Abel Rosnovski is an adopted son of a Romanian Baron who finds himself in a Siberian Gulag after Russians plunder the Baron’s castle raping the women and killing most men. Exhibiting a fighting spirit, young Abel manages to escape from the Gulag into Turkey, eventually seeking asylum in America where he begins to carve out his American Dream. 

William Kane is a young, upstart but smart banker who grew into his family empire after graduating from Harvard. While he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder, as a son of a banker who owns one of the largest banks in America, he was predestined to take on this mantle. 

During the early days of his empire building, Abel faces a big financial setback, and seeks a loan from a bank and meets William Kane. Kane tells Abel that the board of his bank found the request unviable and had to deny it due to the financial crisis. Kane tries explaining that he is just a messenger, though he personally thinks Abel’s venture should be funded. Abel Rosnovski feels let down and is unconvinced by the explanation and begins to harbor strong feelings against Kane. He was hoping for this lifeline to rescue the large financial bet he had made, a bet that would implode without an immediate cash infusion. 

While Abel is in a quandary, a mysterious benefactor steps in to give him a ‘loan’ with a stipulation that Abel was never to be told about who funded that grant. Abel assumes it is one of the other competitors in hotel business who had taken a fondness for him. 

Kane and Abel’s saga continues with a few twists and turns, all the while each trying to backstab the other till the end of their lives, even at which point neither is willing or able to reconcile; at least not verbally. Grudge and Revenge are significant themes in the novel, and it explores how seeking vengeance can have lasting consequences. 

A story that plays out in real life all around us

While fictionalized masterfully by Jeffery Archer’s, we see such deep-rooted grudges play out even between family and friends. 

Take the example of a close friend of mine who was telling me about a grudge his brother has been harboring for more than a decade. His father had mortgaged their family home to draw out some money for an investment that went sour. Having lost his life’s savings, the bank had offered to ‘reverse mortgage’ the property to let their parents live there.

On discovering this huge burden, my friend wanted to step in to clear the debt before their parents passed away. His brother wasn’t inclined to join hands and invest, especially since he had migrated to England with his family. He didn’t want to let that loan taken by their father run its course; After all he was living thousands of miles away. My friend drew up a legal contract and paid up the mortgage with his funds. While taking over the title of the property, he paid his brother “a fair share” based on the market value of the building at the time. My friend then moved into the house to be around for his aging parents. 

His brother visited India for their father’s funeral and discovered that the value of the property had doubled in the decade since their contract had been drawn. He gave an ultimatum to his brother – re-settle his share of the property based on the “current market value” – and if the request wasn’t headed, he would “sever all ties” with his brother and never return to “that house.” 

Life lessons from the novel

In a story reminiscent of Jeffery Archer’s Kane and Abel, or the biblical version, years have gone by, but the brothers haven’t reconciled. This story seems to play out in millions of families among siblings, relatives, and friends with estranged members unable or unwilling to reconcile long forgotten differences. Years go by while the memory of the transgression is replayed with embellishments over and over again kindling the old flame.

The story of Kane and Abel also plays out in the business world and professional life as much as in personal lives. Business backstabbing is par for the course in many cultures, and the rivalries continue for years or decades. Even in the office, some folks who are slighted for a raise or promotion may carry a ‘personal’ grudge against colleagues or bosses. 

In Jeffrey Archer's bestseller, the characters are unable to reconcile, even towards the end of their eventful lives, leaving the readers wishing they had. The characters' decisions to settle scores lead to unexpected outcomes, underscoring the importance of forgiveness and understanding. Reflecting on lessons from there, one has an opportunity to bury the hatchet and let go of grudges in one’s life as it progresses. 

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Looking beyond headlines on death of Indian student abroad. Stay safe while studying abroad

During the past few weeks, we are seeing headlines about Indian students studying abroad and there is a a growing concern over a few cases of assaults. The click-bait headlines like this speak of yet another incident: "Another Indian Student Assaulted, At Least 5 Students Dead in a Month." 

Some feel that this "alarming surge in violence against Indian students studying overseas" demands immediate attention, investigation, and coordinated efforts to ensure the safety of international students.

Over the past few decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of Indian students pursuing higher education abroad. The allure of diverse academic opportunities, exposure to different cultures, and the potential for a global career have driven countless students to international shores. Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have become popular destinations for Indian students seeking quality education.

However, alongside the benefits of studying abroad, these students often face various challenges, including cultural adjustment, language barriers, and, increasingly, safety concerns. The latest string of assaults has brought the spotlight onto the vulnerabilities that Indian students may encounter while pursuing their academic dreams in foreign lands.

The tragic loss of at least five Indian students in the span of a month raises questions about the safety measures in place and the need for a collective response. Each death represents not just a statistic but a profound human tragedy, leaving grieving families and shattered communities in its wake.  

There is no single pattern in these deaths

Understanding the root causes of these assaults is crucial for implementing effective preventive measures. Factors such as xenophobia, racial discrimination, and inadequate support systems for international students may contribute to their vulnerability. 

  • Vivek Saini - A 25-year-old Indian student in the US was hammered to death by a drug addict at a convenience store in Georgia where he worked. 
  • Shreyas Reddy Beniger - A19-year-old student was found dead in Ohio last week. Though Beniger's parents live in Hyderabad, he held an American passport. Authorities had ruled out foul play in the case. 
  • Neel Acharya - Was found dead in the Purdue University campus hours after his mother had reported him missing. The County Coroner said in a press release that no foul play is suspected in the Neel’s death 
  • Akul Dhawan - An Indian-American was discovered dead outside the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) recently. According to the Champaign County Coroner, the initial findings of the autopsy suggested he died from hypothermia. 
  • Sameer Kamath -  Kamath, a US Citizen pursuing a doctorate at Purdue University was found dead in a nature preserve recently. Authorities have ruled his death as suicide, saying that it was from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head

Additionally, cultural misunderstandings, lack of awareness, and insufficient communication between local authorities and the international student community can exacerbate the risks faced by students studying abroad.

Ensuring the safety of international students is a shared responsibility that involves collaboration between host countries, educational institutions, and the students themselves. Local law enforcement agencies must take swift and decisive action against perpetrators of violence, sending a clear message that such acts will not be tolerated. Educational institutions should enhance support services, including cultural orientation programs and counseling, to assist students in navigating their new environments.

Here are a few basic tips for those studying abroad 

  1. Know your surroundings and neighborhood – talk to locals for tips 
  2. Share your tips and experiences with fellow students 
  3. Do not be desperate for that extra dollar 
  4. If you really must work outside campus, take safety precautions 
  5. Mental health is a real issue – try to lend a helping to peer and fellow students

It is crucial for the international community to unite in creating a safer environment for all students pursuing education beyond their borders. The collective responsibility of governments, educational institutions, and the students themselves is paramount in ensuring that such incidents do not become a recurring nightmare for the global student community. By addressing the root causes, fostering awareness, and promoting collaboration, we can strive towards a future where every student, regardless of their nationality, can pursue education in a secure and nurturing environment.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Book Review ‘The Elephant Whisperer’ – if only all nonfiction books were this readable

A friend of mine gifted this book to our son, and I decided to pick it up after he read and reviewed it. I can see why the book remains a must-read for wildlife enthusiasts.

My Book Review

The story begins with Lawrence Anthony getting a call from Marion of “Elephant Managers and Owners Association” offering Thula Thula, his fledgling game reserve, a herd of 8-9 wild elephants. He had recently taken over Thula Thula and was getting his feet wet in the operations of a game reserve and naturally, Anthony is skeptical. He wonders about the ‘catch’ and Marion explains how this was a herd of ‘Rogue elephants’ that had broken out of the previous reserve and damaged crops nearby and the owners were looking for a way out. She muses that the herd would have to be “put down” if a new reserve didn’t accept them immediately.

While Anthony is thrilled at the prospect of bringing wild elephants back to his part of Zululand, he has mixed feelings about taking on this elephantine task. He must rush to electrify the fencing around 20-square miles of Thula Thula before the arrival of the herd.

The drama begins, and we are hooked.

The chapters flow seamlessly one after the other taking us into the heart of Zululand in South Africa, with the trails and tribulations of life in the bushes. The journey includes glimpses into the Zulu culture and healthy respect for the local environment which is a way of life. We share Anthony’s despair over the death of a newborn and are left cheering when he finally learns to whisper to the rogue elephants musing how “Elephants can smile beautifully.”

The Elephants are the central characters, but the story is not just about them. It is about Zululand and the life in the bushes. The risks are inherent in the operations of a game reserve, and it is not the odd rogue elephant or wild beast. Poachers, the Cattle Cabal, and the odd inept game wardens seem to do immense harm to the functioning of the carefully curated reserve.

The chapters include brief glimpses into the ‘business’ of running a large game reserve – providing jobs to the locals, opening up high-end lodging and fine-dinging for visitors, hiring and firing rangers, and entertaining VIPs and dealing with government officials and local bureaucracy. And the business is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Waking up at 2 AM awaiting a truck with arrivals, or dealing with ‘mini emergencies’ like the bite of a Black Mamba or flooding of the dam and rivers during rainstorms are par for the course.

Anthony and his co-authors are master story tellers. His first-person narrative style tries hard to make it about his beloved reserve, where he is merely the sherpa.

Footnote: Lawrence Anthony died several years ago but his French wife stayed back at Thula Thula

Monday, January 29, 2024

Rohan Bopanna Scripts History - Becomes Oldest-Ever Man To Win Grand Slam: What are the lessons for mid-career professionals?

This weekend, India's Rohan Bopanna became the oldest man to win a Grand Slam after clinching the Australian Open men's doubles trophy, pairing with Matthew Ebden. Bopanna, who is set to turn 44 in March this year, also celebrated becoming the oldest number one in men's doubles history by winning the title in Melbourne on Saturday. 

Indian leaders across the spectrum were quick to congratulate Bopanna. The Indian Prime Minster Tweeted on X 

Most tennis players peak in their twenties;  Bopanna on the other hand goes on to win a grand slam at 43! Likewise we are told that most IT professionals peak in their twenties; but that shouldn’t stop you from achieving your peak at whatever age! 

Five-Career Lessons for mid-career professionals from Rohan Bopanna’s grand slam win  

So, here are five-Career Lessons for mid-career professionals from Rohan Bopanna’s grand slam win at Australian Open

1. Grit and staying power

  • Whether it is sports or professional career, one needs Grit and staying power 
  • One needs to take a long term view of life while working on short term goals

2. We all face setbacks… but overcome those

  • Bopanna has faced a fair share of setbacks in the quest for excellence 
  • We may also face personal and professional hurdles, but need to persevere to move forward

3. Life and career don’t always have a linear progression

  • We are always told at 25 this has to happen, by 30 this has to happen, at 40 this will happen 
  • But life doesn’t always move in a linear manner. Accept this fact

4. Work life balance

  • Bopanna is as proud about his family – wife and daughter – as he is about his on-field achievements 
  • Stay focused on your career, while paying equal attention to your personal life

5. Age is just a number

  • Most tennis players peak in their twenties … Bopanna on the other hand goes on to win a grand slam at 43! 
  • Likewise we are told that most IT professionals peak in their twenties… But that shouldn’t stop you from achieving your peak at whatever age!

Friday, January 26, 2024

Navigating the Challenges of Middle Management: A Necessary Trade-Off for Compensation

I came across the recent podcast on Marketplace with a catchy title "Why are middle managers so unhappy?" The podcast also builds on from new Gallup analysis that highlights, only 1 in 3 Corporate workers say they are engaged with their job. Less than half say they know what is expected of them at work.

Being a middle manager has long been regarded as a challenging and often underappreciated role within organizations. The demands of balancing responsibilities, managing teams, and navigating corporate hierarchies can make the job tough. However, many middle managers take comfort in the compensation that accompanies the position.  

In this brief Youtube clip, I reflect on middle-management and why some people thrive in the role while a few like me decide it is not our cup of tea.

  • The Balancing Act: Middle managers operate in a delicate balance, caught between the directives of upper management and the day-to-day realities of their teams. They must translate high-level organizational goals into actionable plans for their subordinates, all while managing the expectations of both superiors and subordinates. This balancing act requires a unique set of skills and a high level of adaptability. 
  • Limited Decision-Making Authority: One of the primary challenges faced by middle managers is the limited decision-making authority compared to top executives. While they are responsible for implementing strategic decisions, they often lack the autonomy to make significant changes independently. This constraint can be frustrating, as middle managers may find their hands tied when trying to address specific issues within their teams. 
  • Communication Challenges: Effective communication is paramount for successful middle management, but it is not without its challenges. Middle managers must convey the vision and goals of upper management to their teams while also providing valuable feedback and insights to those at the top. Miscommunication or incomplete information can lead to misunderstandings and hinder the successful execution of strategies. 
  • The Pressure from Above and Below: Middle managers operate under a dual pressure—accountable to both upper management for the successful implementation of strategies and to their team members for providing effective leadership and support. This pressure cooker situation requires middle managers to excel in their roles and deliver results despite the challenges they face.
The compensation and perks that comes with the role outweighs the challenges for some. While the challenges are abundant, the financial rewards are designed to recognize the unique stresses and responsibilities inherent in the position. The salary, bonuses, and other perks are intended to compensate for the demanding nature of the job and to attract talented individuals who are willing to navigate the complexities of middle management.


Being a middle manager is undoubtedly a challenging endeavor. The intricate dance between upper management and front-line teams, the limited decision-making authority, communication challenges, and the constant pressure can make it a demanding role. However, the compensation that accompanies this position serves as a tangible acknowledgment of the difficulties faced by middle managers. In this context, the financial rewards can be seen not only as a trade-off but also as a recognition of the vital role middle managers play in the success of organizations. While the challenges may persist, the allure of financial compensation remains a driving force that keeps many individuals dedicated to the demanding but essential role of middle management.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Rejection letter from Disney to a woman who applied for an apprentice position in 1938 - How the workforce has changed for women in 80 years?

So, how the workforce has changed for women in 80 years?

Disney's rejection letter highlights

  • Girls are not considered for the training school 
  • The only work open to women consists of tracing characteristics on clear celluloid sheets
Thankfully, this policy didn't last long at Disney
  • Mary Blair started working for Disney in 1940. her design work was crucial to the company's aesthetic through the 40s and 50s 
  • Retta Scott - the first female animator at the studio, worked on Bambi

How has the world has changed in 80 years?

  • We see women in almost ever segment of jobs and career 
  • Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)– specifically those focused on Women in Workforce have become more vocal at multinationals 
Yet we see ongoing debates about the ‘glass ceiling’ and on salary disparity between men and women