Oct 30, 2022

Book Review: Inward by Yung Pueblo

Some books find you via the vibrations you send out to the Universe while some reach you through Amazon's recommendation engine.

The book "Inward" came to my attention via the latter. It is interesting how both these sources - philosophical and algorithm-driven - are in some way interlinked. I spotted it in my Kindle Unlimited recommended list, after I finished reading "The Universe has your back".

"Inward" is written by Diego Perez with the pen name Yung Pueblo. It is a collection of beautiful lines and verses on the topics of self-love, acceptance, courage, and letting go in our Inward journey. It isn't a book that you would read page after page. Rather you could just turn to a random page and read a few lines that would leave behind such an impact.

Simplistic, yet profound,

poetic, yet not cryptic,

hard-hitting, yet not critiquing

- that's how I felt while reading a few pages every morning while sipping my morning chai.

Words can be healing, words can be magical, and words can change your perspective IF we give them the required time and attention. Unfortunately, in today's times, visual medium rules over the world of words. Books, blog posts, long-form articles, and essays seem to be losing their charm.

As we progress in our inward journey, books like "Inward" need a special place in our attention space. Why do I feel so? Check out a few amazing lines from this book.

"Freedom is happening every moment when we are not craving something more."

"Measure your success by the growth of your freedom."

"Stress and anxiety are the children of attachment."

"Self-love does not grow the ego; it does the opposite."

"It is the things you say no to that really show your commitment to your growth."

"How do you know you are attached to something? Because it creates tension in your mind."

"Letting go doesn't mean forgetting; it means we stop carrying the energy of the past into the present."

"What is happening within us will reveal itself in the energy of our actions and words."

"If you are far away from yourself, how could you ever be close to another?"

"If you measure the length of your ego, it will equal the distance between you and your freedom." 

Oct 28, 2022

My journey into public speaking

Google Photos chose to show this memory from "12 years ago". It was my first public talk and I spoke on Product Positioning at a Product Camp event conducted at Yahoo! office in 2010.

I have earlier shared how consistency has helped me build my reading and writing habits over the past 2 decades. The same goes for public speaking as well.

I vividly remember this moment from my 1st year of Engineering. My Physics lecturer had asked me to take a session on a topic. Though I had prepared well, I was extremely nervous in front of my class - my hands were trembling while writing on the blackboard and my words were all jumbled up.

I realized that I had stage fright but something pushed me within that I needed to overcome it. Back in the late 90s, some of the college lecturers would allocate certain chapters either for "assignment" or for "class session by students". It's a different story that these would be the tougher chapters!

Whenever the lecturer would ask for volunteers for these student sessions, I would end up raising my hand (aarva kolaaru!πŸ™‚ ). Though I gained practice a few times in college, the fear of public speaking still prevailed. So much so, that during the campus interview with Oracle, I was so nervous, while answering the questions asked by panel members. I remember after joining Oracle in 2002, I met with one of the interview panel members and he told me, "Anu, though you knew the technical answers which we were expecting, you sounded very nervous and shaky during the interview".

I had made up my mind that I needed to improve on public speaking. Thankfully, there used to be an active Toastmasters Club in Oracle, run by enthusiastic speakers and volunteers. I joined the Club and used to attend the sessions every week. Slowly, I stepped my feet into the Table topics and then ventured into prepared speeches. It was such a memorable experience to be part of those sessions for nearly 4 years - made multiple friends, listened to some awesome speeches, and made good progress in my public speaking abilities. Thanks to Oracle Toastmasters Club, my confidence improved and I slowly went past prepared speech levels until P7.

As I shifted to product management, I realized why public speaking matters - not just in front of an external audience talking about a particular topic, but with internal teams where communication of ideas, roadmap, strategy, and planning are routine activities.

Though I'm not a talkative person by nature, strangely I seemed to enjoy public speaking in the professional space. I volunteered as a speaker in some of the product camp events and have spoken on topics such as product strategy, design thinking, user research, etc. The whole process of putting together the presentation and delivering the talk is something that I look forward to.

This experience and practice also came in handy for the workshops and talks on packaged foods and healthy lifestyle, which became my passion project / side hustle.

Few lessons that I learned in this journey of becoming a better public speaker:

  • A deep desire to build a specific skill is very important. It pushes you to seek opportunities.
  • Stage fright can only be managed. It doesn't go away completely. Every time you step on a public forum, you will feel the butterflies in your stomach, but you will eventually get into a flow with practice.
  • As with any skill, consistent practice is essential. Do not expect overnight results. It takes years to build a skill - especially public speaking if you are not a natural pro.
  • Take feedback in your stride and keep going. I have heard comments like "your session was so boring", "too much gyaan", "it felt too academic", "do you need these many slides?" etc. A few people's negative remarks shouldn't stop you from pursuing your goal to become a better public speaker.
  • Be open to indirect feedback from people who might either be distracted or disinterested or might even yawn while you deliver a talk.
  • Consciously take steps to improve different aspects of delivering an effective talk - presentation structure, narrative, delivery style, storytelling, examples, etc.

I highly recommend this book "Present - A techie's guide to public speaking" written by Poornima Vijayashanker and Karen Catlin. I found it very useful to understand the nuances of a good talk. It provides practical tips to improve your presentation skills.

Oct 24, 2022

Book Review: The book of Kindness by Om Swami

A few weeks back, I visited Blossoms bookstore and spent the afternoon in front of the Philosophy/Spirituality aisle. I had such a wonderful time there and returned home with a bunch of books that were on my reading list.

I love the writing style of Om Swami. Having read a few of his books earlier, I admire his uncanny ability to succinctly convey beautiful messages relevant to Life.

"The book of Kindness" is yet another simple and easy-to-read book that talks about kindness and how it is a skill to be practiced and mastered.

The Universe seems to reiterate this point to me through multiple sources - that our feelings are way more important than our thoughts. Came across multiple insights in this book that connected with this point:

"The brain only processes what the heart is feeling. And our heart can feel a million things in just one day. We just need to connect with it, so it feels the one thing that matters most."


"Reason is the killer of empathy. When someone's down and lost, you can't use reason to pull them back. You can use some logical argument to console them a bit, but matters of the heart are best handled by the heart alone."

The chapter "Charity begins at home" clarifies why being kind at home is a prerequisite before we start being kind to others outside of our homes.

"It is not possible to start living for others unless we learn to live with others."

Many times, we hold back on compassion, wondering if the receiver is worth it. The author brilliantly solves this dilemma in the next chapter:

"Show your compassion to the one who wants it.....Exercising compassion is neither based on merit, nor based on the need of the other person, but based on their readiness.....Readiness is not the same as worthiness."

The first step in kindness is to acknowledge and be grateful to those who are kind to you. As we start expressing kindness, something magical happens - "whatever we share, grows."

Many anecdotes in this book left behind a lasting impact. One such real-life example was in the chapter "The Best you can" with this impactful message:

"When you give the best you have to someone in need, it translates into something much deeper to the receiver. It means that they are worthy."

An easy, powerful read. Do pick up this book if you are looking for answers on the topic of Kindness.

Oct 22, 2022

Life Savvy over Gadget Savvy

I bought my first smartphone in Apr 2013 - a Samsung Galaxy S3. Used it for 3+ years, after which the device became extremely slow and the battery capacity deteriorated over time. In Dec 2016, I exchanged my phone and bought myself the first version of Google Pixel. It was a solid model with great performance and I loved it. After almost 4 years (Feb 2020), the battery started to drain out faster. But this time, instead of buying a new phone, I got the battery replaced for 3K. Pixel continued to work well and suited my usage.

In Feb this year, it conked out. None of the usual revival techniques like device reset helped. Bid goodbye to my Google Pixel after 5 years and 3 months.

I then started to use my MIL's phone (Redmi 5 - bought in July 2018) as a temporary one, until we buy a new phone. It's been 9 months and I continue to use the same phone, as it meets my needs.

Over the years, I have reduced my phone usage a lot.

From a personal standpoint, it is now a utilitarian tool (book cabs, make payments, shop online, send text, make calls, take photos, etc).

From a professional standpoint, I use it for testing apps that I manage at work and for trying out apps related to my work domain.

I don't see the need to upgrade my phone every 1-2 years, given my usage patterns.

I see a similar pattern in my usage of earphones too. I continue to use the same earphones that came along with my Google Pixel - the good old wired ones.

Though the world is shifting to Bluetooth-enabled earpods, I'm yet to adopt this behavior.

My earphone usage is mainly for work-related calls and meetings, and I find wired earphones comfortable for this purpose.

K loves to walk and answer his official calls, whereas I prefer to sit at my desk and take them.

From a personal use point of view, I prefer to listen to music with speaker mode ON. I don't listen to audiobooks or podcasts as I prefer to read to consume new information.

And I don't use a smart watch or a step counter either. I prefer the good old watch that shows time!

Our choices of devices are heavily influenced by our personality, attitudes towards utility/novelty/brand association, and preferred behaviors.

Gadget savviness is a personal choice.

I'd any day prefer to be more savvy about Life and its workings than tech gadgets.

Oct 15, 2022

Book Review: Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

 "If you don't implement or take action immediately, then the act of reading books is a productive waste of time" - I completely disagree with this statement that I heard in a workshop a couple of years ago.

I don't believe that you will have to implement all the ideas that you learn from every book as soon as you finish reading it. Not all books are action-oriented in the first place unless you are only reading productivity or self-help books.

There are so many brilliant books out there, that can help change your perspectives and question your long-held beliefs. The actions you might (or might not) take after reading such books are dependent on multiple factors, but such books are influential in rewiring your thinking at a fundamental level.

Grateful to have stumbled upon some of those books in recent years - "Courage to be disliked", "Subtle art of not giving a f*ck", and "Finding awareness" to name a few.

I wrapped up reading Oliver Burkeman's "Four Thousand Weeks" this morning, which belongs to this category of "perspective-shifting" books.

Since childhood, I've been told, "Don't waste time. Use your time wisely. Be productive.". These messages are internalized so deeply that I had been obsessed with time management in my 20s - read many productivity books and tried out multiple systems (from planning, to-do lists, GTD to time-blocking). I used to get irritated when my time gets wasted on things that were beyond my control - getting stuck in traffic, wait times, delays, meetings that don't start on time, when people don't stick to their time commitments, etc.

Better sense dawned on me in my 30s as I started to realize that there will ALWAYS be things beyond our control and there's no point in getting triggered about them. But this basic belief that time is a "precious" resource and I need to make the best use of it - is so ingrained in me.

"Four Thousand Weeks" felt like a much-needed torch, focusing intense light on this specific belief within me. An absolutely brilliant and provocative book that talks about our philosophy of engaging with this concept called Time and how it impacts our life of finitude (4000 weeks is all we have!).

It took me a while to get used to the author's style of writing - a lot of depth that requires more attention as compared to the books I usually read. So I devoured it slowly, chapter by chapter over the past 2 weeks.

The author starts with a convincing argument on how a limit-embracing attitude towards time will help us accept uncertainties and constraints. He then elaborates on how chasing efficiency and pushing ourselves to get more done is a "trap" we fall for. How we perceive time impacts multiple decisions concerning work, relationships, interests, distractions, passion, and purpose.

The chapter on Attention and distraction was just mind-blowing and my highlighter was put to full use. So many nuggets of brilliant and relatable insights.

"My newborn son would do something adorable, and I'd catch myself speculating about how I might describe it in a tweet, as if what mattered wasn't the experience but my(unpaid!) role as a provider of content for Twitter."

"The only faculty you can use to see what's happening to your attention is your attention, the very thing that's already been commandeered."

The explanation on why time shouldn't be considered a "resource" -  something we "possess", "control" or "have" - is exactly what I needed to hear. In our quest towards mastering time, we end up treating the present solely as a path to some superior future state. We have started treating leisure only in terms of its usefulness. We also justify rest as a means of recuperation for better work. "Idleness aversion" - a concept that is so prevalent in our generation.

It was a revelation when the author gradually highlights the fact - 

You don't have time. You are time - your life with all its moments.

The added quotes from philosophers from different timelines add more perspective on how time was interpreted in our past.

The subsequent chapters are a mirror to

- how our approach to time impacts our ability to wait for things to happen (loss of patience) and

- how our lifestyle lacks the shared rhythms required to nurture community/relationships

There are just too many valuable insights in this book that I would go on and onπŸ™‚

An impactful read of 2022. I highly recommend this book to everyone in today's modern society.

Oct 11, 2022

Commute woes

 Back in 2010-11, I used to rely completely on BMTC buses for my work commute. The AC Volvo buses were comfortable. The frequency and connectivity were also excellent. After more than a decade, I have again gone back to taking BMTC buses for my twice-a-week work-from-office routine. One main reason is that the route is a direct one, from the bus stop near my home to the one near my office and vice-versa.

Another important reason has been the unreliability of Ola/Uber cab services. Much has already been lamented about this topic on LinkedIn. Let me add my 2 cents as well!πŸ™‚

I have wasted countless hours while going through the excruciating task of booking a cab on a busy weekday morning. There have also been days when I have waited for a booking to go through for nearly 40 minutes, trying multiple apps.

Staring at the 4th line of the booking progress bar on Uber with no certainty of whether the booking will get confirmed,

As the booking gets confirmed, getting a call or a message from the driver asking "Where is the drop?",

After waiting for 10-15 minutes for the driver to arrive, he decides to cancel,

After waiting for 10 minutes, you notice the driver's vehicle hasn't moved an inch toward your location.

What frustrates me the most is the sheer uncertainty at every step of this whole process.

After a few trials, I figured out that the BMTC bus arrives at my bus stop around 8:30AM. Once I board, there is a certainty that I'd arrive at my destination between 9:15-9:30AM depending on the traffic.

"Predictability" is a very important factor when you use a product or a service.

When you click on a bill payment app for payment of Rs.100, you expect that Rs.100 only will be deducted, nothing more or less.

For pure-play software products, predictability has almost become an expected standard (let alone a few exceptions!).

But for software products with a "human" enabler, predictability becomes a challenge. The cab booking might get initiated but its completion is contingent upon a human on the other side - a human with unique goals and motivations.

As a product person, I'm curious to understand and explore how predictability can be improved on these hybrid apps.

As a user, it feels pointless to waste time and money (16 times higher than a bus fare) with such unpredictability.

Oct 9, 2022

How our pet cat taught us a life lesson

 This might sound like a Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu style of narrative, so please bear with meπŸ™‚

Sun 8AM

Our pet cat W was behaving a little oddly. She was cuddled under the sofa and not responding to our calls. She looked scared and wasn't her usual self.

Sun 11:30AM

The ironwala comes home to collect clothes to be ironed. The door was kept open and W ran out.

Sun 8PM

W hasn't come back. Though we noticed this, we weren't worried as she usually comes back on her own at night.

Mon 8:30AM

W hasn't returned yet. There was a slight worry on my mind, as I was leaving for work. But I told myself that there have been times when W was gone for almost 2 days and had come back.

Mon 8:30PM

No signs of W. All 3 of us went around the apartment, calling her to see if she would respond with her meow. No luck. Couldn't sleep well that night and was keeping my ears open to catch hold of her meow.

Tue 11:30AM

Saraswati Pooja at home. Prayed to the Goddess and the main item on the list of asks was to bring home W safely.

Tue 5PM

It's been more than 2 days and this is the longest ever she has been away from home. As K and I went for a walk on the terrace, all we could discuss was only about W:

"She is getting old, maybe her time has come"

"She is 9+ years old. Cat's lifespan is only 10 years"

"Her eye pain might have been severe and so she couldn't figure her way back"

"She must have gone to the adjacent layout and got lost"

So many theories and reasons to accept the situation were discussed. I kept consoling myself, "The universe has your back. This is what was meant to happen". Though the intellect tried to understand, the heart wasn't ready to accept. It was just too shocking to let her go.

Tue 7PM

All 3 of us were sitting together and discussing something else to distract our minds. D put on her "thathuvam" (philosophy) hat and tried to help me, "Mummy, everything happens for a reason. Who are we to change?"

All of a sudden, I heard a faint meow coming from the corridor. I ran towards the main door and opened it. What a happy surprise to see our beloved W, who ran inside, looking petrified! My eyes welled up and I felt so happy to see her back. She took a day to get back to her normal state. I'm sure she must have had her anxious moments in those 3 days of being out of her home.

Since Wed, every time W sits on my lap (she is sitting right now as I type this post), there is greater awareness of her presence and her love.

Life lesson from this experience

Be super aware of your precious moments with your loved ones, give your full attention and enjoy the present.

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