Dec 31, 2011

2011 in review

One of the very significant years for me is coming to an end. 2011 is the year where I got a special promotion - from a wife to a mother. I'm so grateful to my daughter for giving me this honor. Her little smiles make the somewhat jerky pregnancy journey worth it. The first trimester brought in a lot of expected surprises, with severe nausea and evening sickness, making me hate the sight and smell of food. As a result, I lost considerable weight and was looking weak. But the decision to quit my full time busy job as a product manager turned out to be very helpful for me to recover from this weight loss.

The ultrasound experiences were so memorable. I still remember the first scan when my daughter was just the size of a peanut. The radiologist showed me a blinking light which was the heartbeat. With subsequent scans, I saw her tiny hands and feet take shape.

The second trimester was so relaxing and peaceful. I started enjoying the sunny afternoons when I had my apartment all to myself, with the company of squirrels and butterflies who were the regular visitors to my terrace garden. My taste buds came back to form. I developed a keen interest towards cooking. I started cooking elaborate meals, trying out new dishes and watching cookery shows. My recipe books started filling up. The pregnancy "special" cravings hit me hard. I craved for sweets so much. Hubby fulfilled them by frequent visits to Adyar Ananda Bhavan.

As I entered third trimester, my gynecologist gave us a shock saying that my amniotic fluid levels were low and the baby had to be delivered pre-term. It caused a lot of stress as I was so scared for my dear baby and also the fact that I cannot have a C-section with little help around post delivery. I prayed for a normal delivery and for my baby to complete full term. That's when hubby and I decided to seek alternate opinion. This came as a blessing in disguise. My new gynecologist was very supportive and never pushed for C-section. We played the wait-and-watch game. The fluid levels returned to normal with proper medication and rest. Two days before my due date, my contractions started and thanks to the almighty, I delivered my daughter without any complications.

While the first month was very tough with sleepless nights, an unexpected surgery and many confusions on child care, I have settled down and started to have some really good times, watching my daughter play.

Apart from pregnancy and motherhood, there were also other memorable events this year. In January, my Professor asked me if I would be willing to take a guest lecture on online decision making as part of "Consumer Behavior" elective course offered to PGSEM students at IIMB. Given my interest towards the subject and the opportunity, I gave my consent. I gave the lecture in July and it was a good experience, getting back to campus. It was an interesting learning experience, coming up with this presentation and reading up different perspectives on E-Commerce in India.

As a follow-up to the lecture, my Professor suggested that we should publish an article on the concept of decision making. It was my first attempt to co-author an article for a business newspaper.

The break from a full time job has given me a blank canvas to work on. Lots of ideas and plans are in mind. I'm sure 2012 would give shape to some of them. Here's wishing everyone a very happy and joyful new year!

Dec 30, 2011

Balance the activities

A few months ago, I came across an interesting article which highlighted the fact that our day-to-day activities can be categorized into three buckets:
  1. we create something
  2. we consume information 
  3. we connect with others
These three categories need to be balanced in order to feel productive and happy.

While I was working, this balance was somewhat intact. But in the past few months, I have been noticing that this balance has gone haywire for me. The "consume" part has consumed most of my available time. The available time for myself has gone down considerably ever since my daughter arrived. Not that I'm complaining. Motherhood has been a delightful experience and is teaching me a lot which I was totally unaware of.

The limited time which I get is spent on reading different articles which people share in my social (twitter, facebook, linkedin) world and the numerous RSS feeds to which I have subscribed in Google reader. These articles and blogs give me many perspectives and ideas about startups, marketing, product management, technology, analytics etc. The information goes in but I'm not making the best use of the knowledge I have gained. Many useful articles get bookmarked under different folders - "read & review", "to process", "future ref". My firefox bookmarks is getting piled up everyday.

This continuous flow of information which I'm "consuming" is making me feel restless and unproductive. While I researched more on why I feel this way, I came across a thought provoking article on similar lines. One of the points mentioned in this article answered my question
"we want to know more about the world in order to have lesser surprises, and hence we tend to read more and more, especially if it is information that we perceive as relevant to us."
I have decided to correct this imbalance, going forward. As a first step, I have unsubscribed from many RSS feeds in Google reader. I have kept the feeds list to a minimum and will reduce it further based on my usage.

My resolution for the coming year is to "Focus a lot more on create". "Create" could be anything - writing an article, getting back to blogging, coding/learning a new programming language, podcasting, cooking a new dish, learning a new art form etc. I want to journal how I go about this creation journey.

Please comment if you have any other ideas to get the balance of "Create, Consume and Connect" right.

P.S. I'm not sure how much time I would get to "connect" with my 3 month old daughter at home but will keep my options open.

Nov 24, 2011

Is hiring the be-all and end-all?

I came across an interesting article a few months back on the difficulties that startups face in hiring good developers. I think "retaining" good developers is also equally important, given the scarcity and attractive offers from large organizations and other startups. I want to address the trivial-but-often-overlooked issues that make a lot of difference in the long run. These issues and suggestions will be applicable to startups with a defined business model and an established core team that is already into execution mode.

The new developer should feel "at-home" right from the first day. HR/Admin in-charge should ensure the IT requirements are addressed before hand so the person has access to his desktop/laptop right from the moment he steps in.  A designated space should be made available based on the team members with whom the new hire is supposed to work with. "Sit where there is space" kind of an attitude by the hiring manager could be a turn-off on the very first day.

However busy he might be, the hiring manager should take the time and effort to introduce the new developer to other team members. He should make the new person feel comfortable, appreciate the challenges and learnings of working in a startup and not be intimidated by the work pressures and late working hours required. The manager can also plan for an informal meeting where he takes the new hire out for lunch and explain his role and expected contributions in the next six months.

The developer, having decided to work for a start-up comes in with a lot of expectations on opportunities to grow. A formal training programme should be organized to give an overview of the company’s business model, the current challenges, the organization/team structure and explain where the new hire fits into this whole model. This gives the developer much more understanding of the business and a broader scope where he can apply his skills and explore his potential.  Through this training programme, he should get introduced to the technical leads, designers, product managers and project managers who could explain how the development process works in this startup.

Another big turn-off could be blindly handing over the code base and asking the new developer to dig into it to figure out the implementation and fix the existing bugs. A senior technical person should take the effort to explain the architecture of the product and share the thought processes that went behind the design. I'm not suggesting to "spoon-feed" but rather help the new hire to get started in a phased manner that would enable him to understand and appreciate the nitty-gritties of the product/architecture.

The first 90 days period is crucial for both the company and the new hire. If the developer doesn’t get a clear picture on where he fits in and what his responsibilities are within those 90 days, he will lose interest. Either he might drag along with the job for a few more months or start to look out for other opportunities.

The interesting aspect of working for a startup is the dynamic nature of the work, the role and the priorities. There could be new areas of interest which the developer might want to explore and that could also align with the organization's priorities. So it makes sense that the goals assigned to the new hire are established only for a short term and not really span out for the entire year.

I firmly believe that hiring the right set of people and establishing an inspired team can catapult a startup to greater heights. Please comment if there are any other finer points that startups should focus on in terms of post-hiring processes.

Jul 13, 2011

A little progress everyday

I was reading this interesting article on overcoming procrastination. Though I don't procrastinate everything that comes my way, I do procrastinate tasks that are not urgent but important. Time plays a critical role in determining what I decide to do next. As a result, my urgent tasks get processed fine while the important ones get piled up. This article talks about a few important points to overcome procrastination such as
1) Break the project into smaller concrete tasks
2) Treat deadlines as windows of opportunity
3) Create accountability and be committed

But the aha moment occurred to me while reading the final point - "Work on the project a little bit each day". The linked article talks about subconscious information processing.

"once your brain starts working on a problem, it doesn't stop. If you get your mind wrapped around a problem with a fair bit of time left to solve it, the brain will solve the problem subconsciously over time"

How true this statement is! In many of my projects, the steps are not very clear that I can blindly list out them as 1, 2 and 3. There is a fair bit of abstract thought processing and information gathering needed. I do tend to notice that some remarkable ideas to proceed with such projects flash at unknown times - while I'm cooking in the kitchen, taking a shower or random channel surfing on TV.  Because I've been chewing my brain on such  projects, it seems to respond with amazing solutions. I quickly jot down such responses on my whiteboard so they don't get lost.

Though I have noticed such insights from unexpected situations, I didn't try to make much sense of how it happens. But reading this article has helped me become aware of this powerful concept.

One of my traits is that I'm a good finisher and not a good starter. If I start working on a new project or an idea for a few weeks, then I ensure I take it through to completion. But the hard part was to get started. No wonder, I don't have many in the list - "books started but not yet finished"

The practical take-away for me would be this passage in the linked article:

"He explained that I should start working on a project as soon as it was assigned. An hour or so would do fine, he told me. He told me to come back to the project every day for at least a little bit and make progress on it slowly over time."

May 19, 2011

South Indies - for southern foodie

A huge craving for aapams on a Saturday evening took me and hubby to South Indies in Indiranagar. We used to like the aapams in Coconut Grove but the Koramangala branch has moved to a new location and we were in no mood to go searching for it.

South Indies has an interesting culmination of cuisines from the four Southern States of India. We perused through the menu and couldn't really decide what to order along with the aapams. The waiter came over and asked us if we preferred a light or heavy dinner. We were hungry and told him that we would prefer a medium dinner. He suggested us to go for a "set meal" which was a fixed four course menu. It was a good option since we got to try many dishes. First, our appetite was teased by a plate full of fryums (vathals in Tamil) with three different chutneys - coconut, mint and tomato. It's a herculean task to stop eating them and wait for the actual meal. The soup was green apple pepper soup which was just too spicy for our tastes. The starter plate had four different varieties, out of which the keerai vadais were the best.

Then came the aapams - soft in the center and crispy in the outer that just melted in our mouths. Out of the four different side-dishes, the cashew tamarind sauce based one matched perfectly with the bland taste of aapams. The Kerala veg stew was average, though and so was the vatha kuzhambu. After the two aapams (you can also go for parottas instead of aapams), we had a few spoons of the veg brinji rice and curd rice. No meal is ever complete without curd rice. Both of these were cooked to perfection.

It was 10:30 PM by the time we wrapped up the main course. Then came the desserts - kasi halwa and a jaggery based Kerala payasam (similar to the one offered as prasadam at Sabarimala temple). The floating ghee and the sweetish taste lingered in our taste buds long after we reached home.

Overall, it was a very sumptuous and heavy dinner. The service was very good and prompt. If you are a fan of South Indian cuisine, then give South Indies a try.

Apr 14, 2011

Personal space

The last few weeks have been a huge change from my usual routine. There were periods of complete relaxation, exciting new experiences, anxious moments, emotional ups and downs. Thankfully, the World Cup cricket provided the much needed distraction. Now that the world cup is over, the mixed bag of emotions were back. I thought to myself "What should I do to come out of this shell?". I decided to take it step by step. Cleaning always gives me a sense of direction to begin with in such situations (no wonder, I can easily relate to Monica of FRIENDS).

My desk was cluttered with so much junk with just enough space for my tiny netbook. For over a month, this cluttered space was a hindrance to my productivity. I didn't have the energy or the inclination to set it straight. I knew deep down that this was only a temporary phase. The jinx was broken a few days back. I decided to clear out the working space and throw away the non-writing pens, highlighters and papers. I cleared out the desk and the tiny knick-knacks that were coated with a layer of dust. The feeling of a clear and empty space gave that fresh feeling to my day.

After the space was neatly setup, the goals came to my mind almost at an instant.  "Short daily improvements lead to bigger and better results", I came across this meaningful line in Robin Sharma's "The leader who had no title". I started working towards one such goal for about 5 hours at a stretch. The feeling of doing something for 5 hours together after nearly a month came as a big relief to me. I am clearly "back to form". I sincerely believe that a positive feeling and a sense of purpose at the beginning of the day is very important.

Apr 2, 2011

The "real" leader

The title of this book piqued my interest - "The leader who had no title". Having liked Robin Sharma's "The monk who sold his Ferrari", I picked up this book sometime last year. After reading around 30 odd pages, I wasn't eager to continue simply because of the similar plotline to begin with - A guy who is down and out meets someone who has really made a difference to his career and life. A different start would have made this book much more gripping.

I have this reputation of being a good finisher. I can't leave unfinished books behind. I don't know if it's a good attribute to have or not. But I decided to give this book one more try. After crossing the initial hurdle, I should say that this book is one of the simplest books on leadership.

The protagonist Blake meets Tommy who in turn takes him to four unique leaders - a housekeeper of a hotel, a skier, a gardener and a massage therapist. Leadership can be exhibited by anyone, not just by people with fancy titles. In reality, the titles make the natural leadership instincts marred by ego. During his interaction with these four leaders, Blake learns the four leadership principles along with rules to apply these principles.

Out of these four meetings, I liked the interaction with Jackson, the gardener the most. The third principle also strikes a chord from my experiences - "the deeper your relationships, the stronger your leadership". Many simple truths interspersed throughout the book makes you want to take a pause and reflect on how you had dealt with in a given situation. Every principle comes along with a few rules framed as nice acronyms. The initial rules of a principle are explained clearly whereas the latter rules don't get much attention. If you would like to read a simple tale on leadership, pick up this book.

Mar 28, 2011


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Jan 20, 2011

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