Chief Technology Officer– High Level Career Development Plan

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From last few days, I was working on my career development plan at Microsoft. Career planning is an iterative process and it keeps updating with time. Here’s the high level plan I have come up with so far. I will be blogging more details about each aspect of this plan soon.

Long term goals (10 years): By 2023, I would like to be the CTO of a large scale organization.

Short term goal (5 years): By 2018, I would like to be an Enterprise Software Architect.

Career development plan:

Personal Traits

  1. Be recognized as trustworthy and truthful person. Untrustworthy and fake people never succeed in long term.
  2. Be available to team members. Work selflessly. Nobody wants to work with people who always ask for credit.
  3. Be helpful to others in the best capacity. There is always a return for being helpful.
  4. Undergo voice modulation training. (Learn how to modulate Pitch, Pace and Power based on situation).
  5. Work on Ego-management. Be driving but not aggressive.
  6. Take responsibility during failures and share credit with others during wins.
  7. Avoid short cuts.

Community & Networking:

  1. Participate in the discussions in the technical communities and establish a reputation for being the ‘go-to’ person (SME) in at least 3 technologies.
  2. Build a network and stay connected with various SMEs on various forums.
  3. Participate in Business and Technical Conferences
  4. Identify a group of trusted individuals who can advise/suggest/mentor on technical/professional issues.
  5. Mentor people.

Technical Expertize:

  1. Invest in being technical SME in at least 3 major technologies.
  2. Be an enterprise architect.
  3. Keep up to date with the latest technologies, tools and techniques (at least Level 100)
  4. Become hands-on with programming.
  5. Learn to strike balance for ‘time, scope, cost and quality’ for projects.

Business Acumen:

  1. Invest in Financial & Business Education (CTO is a bridge between technology and business)
  2. Keep up to date with the trends of Industry and market. Read Gartner reports regularly.
  3. Interact with various CTOs inside and outside of Microsoft.
  4. Participate in business and political discussions related to IT industry.

Big Picture:

  1. Understand the 360 degree view of the organization.
  2. Develop a ‘Trust but verify’ approach with people.
  3. Understand business problems and identify technical solutions. Be the bridge.
  4. Raise above the organisational politics.
  5. Be a strategist and articulate the vision.
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State of Education and Teaching in Indian Universities

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An excellent article written by Krishna Kumar, Professor of Education at Delhi University and a former Director of NCERT, published in THE HINDU news paper.

———— Universities, ours and theirs ————–

As long as we discourage young talent, encourage an obsolete examination system and remain indifferent to research, we will continue to lag behind the West

There are four critical differences between universities of the western world and ours. The first is that they do all they can, when they recruit young faculty, to make way for excellence. We do everything to block its entry. We start discouraging talent early, but a few bright youngsters manage to come up despite our best efforts. They are the ones who face the greatest resistance from our institutions at the time of selection for vacancies. The norms and standards that western institutions apply for selecting young faculty focus on individualised assessment of potential. Senior people and administrators who make decisions make sure that the aspirants are assessed on the basis of what they have published, the quality of research they have done, and how passionate they seem about the pursuit of knowledge and teaching.

Mechanical criteria

In our case, the initial criteria applied are purely mechanical. Any hint of trans-disciplinary interest means that the candidate loses the chance to be interviewed. And those who somehow escape this fate are ultimately sized up at the time of interview in terms of the lobbies they might belong to. Someone rare enough to be independent of personal as well as intellectual lobbies is the first to be eliminated. In the semi-final act of short listing, those lacking support from the dominant lobbies get weeded out. Then, in the ultimate moment, hard bargaining takes place and the institution’s future gets sealed. If there is someone with an unusual background or achievement, you can depend on the selection committee to find a technical ground to reject him or her. The only way he or she might get appointed is if a determined Vice-Chancellor forces the person in. Democratic procedures and correctness have become incompatible with respect for quality. Our universities feel comfortable with the labyrinth of eligibility norms that the University Grants Commission has nurtured with relentless energy to issue circulars over the decades. Selection committees debate over the finest of technicalities to justify the selection of the average, allowing anyone with sheen to get stuck and lost in the maze of criteria.

The second major difference between our universities and the western ones relates to the concept of teaching. We calculate teaching in terms of periods taken. The Radhakrishnan Commission had bemoaned the fact that our colleges work like higher secondary schools. More than six decades after the commission gave its report, life in our undergraduate colleges is just the same. The UGC demands 18 periods of teaching per week from an assistant professor. “Isn’t that reasonable?,” one might ask. Of course, it is, if you ignore what the word “teaching” means. The practice of calculating teachers’ daily work by counting the number of periods they stand beside the blackboard exposes the hollowness of our system and the concept of education. It also shows how little we have progressed since colonial days when accountability was tied to crude measures. How far Britain has moved away from the procedures it introduced in India long ago became apparent to me a year ago when I was invited to serve on a course evaluation committee in a British institute. After examining the course content, the recommended readings and the description of each lecture session taken through the year, the committee met groups of students from the previous three years. We also read the detailed feedback each student is required to give at the end of each course.

Our discussion with students and — separately — with their teachers was frank and detailed. We learnt how students assessed their teachers in terms of preparedness for each class, personal interest in the subject, the pedagogic strategies used to arouse interest, and not just regularity — which was, in fact, taken for granted. In India, we worry about attendance records to keep the student under pressure to attend classes that may be altogether devoid of intellectual stimulation. Despite attendance norms being stringent, there are classes without much attendance. There are also numerous cases of attendance without classes. An obsolete system of examination helps teachers who miss classes and make no effort to relate to students. There are many who take the number of periods required, but their classes have no soul or spark.

Concept of knowledge

The third critical difference between life in an Indian university and a university in the West arises out of the concept of knowledge embedded in the system. The crude measures our regulatory bodies such as the UGC apply in the name of accountability mask the epistemic sterility of the curriculum, the pedagogic process and examination. In the West, curriculum and pedagogy both follow the teacher’s own research interests. Even smaller universities with limited resources attempt to cultivate a research environment. Topics of research reflect the university’s concern for the social and natural world surrounding it. Research is seen as an inquiry to solve problems as well as to induct the young into a community of inquires. Keeping a record of hours spent on direct teaching becomes irrelevant in such a system, even in the case of undergraduate students. To keep their research interests alive and popular, senior professors engage with young undergraduates who bring fresh questions and perspectives to ongoing inquiries. In India, you stop teaching undergraduate classes as soon as you attain professorial status. Teaching and research are seen as two separate activities. While teaching is perceived as institutional work, research is viewed as a personal agenda for moving forward in one’s career. Not surprisingly, infrastructure and administrative procedures that might facilitate research do not exist. Obstacles do, and the teacher who makes the mistake of initiating a research project has to struggle all the way to its completion and the ritual of report submission to the funding agency. No one among colleagues or in the administration cares to know the findings, let alone their implications. Teaching goes on following the grooves of preset syllabi, like the needle boring into an old gramophone record.

The fourth critical difference lies in the library. In the West, even in the most ordinary universities, the library forms the centre of life, both for teachers and students. Librarians enjoy a high status as their contribution to academic life cuts across academic disciplines. They work closely with teachers and students in the various tasks involved in procurement of books and journals, keeping the library quiet and friendly, and ensuring speedy access. Our case is the opposite. The library exists on the margins of the classroom. In many universities, undergraduate students are not allowed to use the university library. Subscription to journals and magazines has dwindled over the years, and maintenance of past volumes is now seen as an obsolete practice because e-storage is available. We forget that the library is not merely a service; it is also a physical space whose ethos induces the young to learn the meaning of belonging to a community of scholars. Our reading rooms carry an unkempt, hapless look, with clanking ceiling fans and dog-eared books waiting to be removed. Book acquisition has been saturated with petty corruption and a crowd of spurious publishers has thrived on the outskirts of the academia.

Symptomatic

These four critical differences are, of course, symptomatic of deeper problems entrenched in structures that govern higher education in India. Those who perceive all problems in financial terms miss the barren landscape of our campuses. Inadequacy of funds is, of course, worrisome, but it cannot explain the extent to which malice, jealousy and cussedness define the fabric of academic life in our country. There is a vast chasm that separates the Indian academia from society. Let alone the masses, even the urban middle class cares little for what goes on inside classrooms and laboratories.

The citizenry does not see higher education as an intellectual resource. Nor do political leaders. The only commonly understood purpose that the system of higher education serves is to alleviate — and keep under tolerable levels of discomfort — what the British economist, Ronald Dore, has called the ‘Diploma Disease’ in his 1976 classic on education in developing economies. Dore has explained why a country like ours will continue to lag behind the West in knowledge and technique so long as we keep using mark-sheets and certificates to screen the young for further education and employment. His insight that the valid goal of widening the pool of talent is defeated by bureaucratisation of selection continues to be pertinent across the colonised world.

Effective Career Planning Discussion

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For an employee, having an effective and open career planning discussion with the manager is must for career growth and job satisfaction. Today, I had a great discussion with my manager on my career plan and what I must do to enhance my career growth.  In this blog post, I am sharing most of the non-confidential things that we discussed during our career planning meeting (I can’t share confidential details such as my salary, organization and promotions for obvious reasons). There are two reasons why I am sharing this.

1.      Often we have this type of meeting behind closed doors and then we forget. By putting it in open, I have to set goals for myself. This is how I was in 2011.  In future, I can always look back and say, where I was and in which direction I chose to take.

2.      This might also be useful for other employees and managers who are looking for information on how to have career planning discussion.

To begin with, let’s first understand the ground rules for effective career discussion between employee and manager. From the employee point of view, these are the ground rules

(1)    You must be open with your manager about your professional ambitions

(2)    You must be self-critical about your weakness and limitations

(3)    You must give a deep thought to the feedback given by your manager

(4)    You must respect the opinion of your manager, even if you disagree

(5)    You must draft a career plan, immediately post your discussion

From the manager’s point of view, these are the ground rules  

(1)    You must carefully listen and understand the ambitions of your employee

(2)    You must provide realistic and true assessment of your employee’s abilities

(3)    You must provide fair feedback on areas where the employee needs to improve

(4)    You must put sincere effort in helping the employee grow in his/her career

(5)    You must be open enough to tell to your employee on areas where you can’t help  

If anywhere the ground rules are violated then the discussion won’t produce useful results. Also, both the employee and the manager must realize that, career planning discussion is not just about ‘career-growth of the employee’ but also about ‘how the employee can contribute to the organization in the most effective way’. This is often ignored in career discussions. Another reality of career discussion is that, employees must always keep in mind that their ‘manager is a human being with limited abilities’ i.e. ‘they cannot expect the manager to solve all their problems’. You have to be realistic.

Now, the next most important thing for an effective career discussions is ‘pre-planning of what you are going to discuss’. In my case, I used a template of nine questions for self-assessment. These nine questions were prepared by the managing director of my organization. By the way, I didn’t use these nine questions template because these questions are prepared by some high level guy in my organization but because they are fairly good for self-assessment. I spent about 45 minutes answering these questions.   

1.      Where do you want to be in next 3-5 years?

Answer: In next 3-5 years, from the technical point of view, I would like to be in a position to design and review large-scale enterprise applications. At the same time, I would like to be a fine orator in fields of science, technology and politics. By 2014, I would like to be author of at least four books. 

2.      Do you have a mentor? How often are you meeting with them?

Answer: Nope. I would love to have one. 

3.      What do you think are your strengths?

Answer: Over the period of time, I have realized my strengths are

(i)    Being fearless towards taking on technical and non-technical challenges in life. One of my childhood dreams was to be a warrior, someone on the lines of Achilles and Alexander. While as I grew up I realized, I am not born in an era of warriors, however, I have found that the qualities of warrior still apply. Whenever a new challenge arrives in life, I would prefer to face it like a warrior than make a compromising decision.

(ii)   I have huge interest in ‘writing’. This has reflected in my ability to write technical research papers, blogs, articles, etc. I would like to put more effort in further developing this skill and turn myself into an influential author. 

4.      What do you think are your weaknesses?

Answer: I believe following are my weakness.

(i)    After spending three years in software industry, I somehow haven’t fallen in love with it. Because of this, whenever a new software technology comes up, it doesn’t create an excitement within me. Lack of excitement means, I won’t be learning a technology until there is a necessity.

(ii)   In general sense, I am not the kind of person who would spend excess amount of time on a particular activity. This has reflected in my varied interests and hobbies. Long story short, I can’t be subject matter expert in one particular technology. Instead over a period of time, I would prefer to gain insights in every technology I come across. 

5.      What do you think are your areas for improvement?

Answer: Couple of areas that I feel there is an immediate need for development

(i)   I would like to get a strong grip over .NET 4.0 and Windows Azure programming skills.

(ii)  I would like to improve my inter-personal communication skills, especially interacting with the people who have skewed opinions (technical and political). Current challenge is to figure out a way of changing the mindset of people in minimum amount of time. 

6.      A year from now what do you want to be different in your skill set?

Answer: I would like to gain core development skills in .NET 4.0. I am also interested in developing skills in web UX design. 

7.      What kind of work appeals to your heart? What are the kinds of things you LOVE to do?

Answer: From last two years, I have enjoyed meeting external customers of Microsoft and helping them resolve problems. In these two years, I have realized,

(i)    I enjoy the work when I am given the authority and responsibility to handle things

(ii)   I enjoy the work when I am not being micro-managed.

(iii) I have thoroughly enjoyed delivering trainings to customers 

8.      What kind of tree captures your growth aspirations? What are the ways in which you want to grow – horizontal vs. vertical vs. below the surface growth?

Answer:  At this stage of my career, I would prefer to ‘below the surface growth’. I haven’t set any precise goals for what I want to be in 10 years from now. And to make that decision, first I must know what truly I want. Horizontal or vertical growth would be unnecessary distraction before I make that decision. 

9.      What kind of Star recognition do you like? How do you like to be rewarded? In public or in private? And what are the kind of rewards that motivate you?

Answer: I would prefer being awarded in private for my work. As for as ‘what kind of rewards that motivate me’, well, that would depend on what kind of rewards that are on offer!

Once I had the answers ready for the nine-questions, we decided for a one-hour career discussion meeting. Make sure that, before the meeting, your mood is good. Just to avoid any unforeseen situations, I cancelled all meetings three hours prior to the career planning discussion. Being in right state of mind and good mood is absolute must. And I must confess I spend couple of hours watching videos on YouTube just to relax myself.

We didn’t decide on a strict agenda for the meeting, but at the end this is how the time got distributed around the three tasks.

Task

Discussion Time

Self-Assessment – Going through 9 questions and the employee’s answers

20 minutes

Discussion of employee abilities/skills

20 minutes

Manager Feedback

10 minutes

 

As the meeting started, for few minutes my manager and I had a candid conversation about some non-sense. And yes, I told him that I am going to blog this career discussion, for which he replied ‘if that’s going to help you impress few girls, then go ahead!’ Once the serious discussion started, we went through each of the nine-questions and the answers I have written down. Basically, based on my answers, my manager was assessing ‘where do I stand now’ and ‘which directions would be suitable for my career growth’. For each of the questions, my manager asked me ‘examples’ on why I have written a particular thing. Once we were done with the questions, we used a table to measure my core abilities. These abilities are defined below.

Leadership: Ability to influence and persuade.

Communication: Able to communicate via emails, presentations, writing, etc.

Shipping: Ability to track things and get work done on time.

Technical: In-depth knowledge regarding features/specs, development, testing, operations, build/release, etc.

Business: Domain knowledge and insights about our products and competitive products, customers and ability to provide breakthrough insights on paradigm shifts in software technologies. 

After a brief discussion, my manager provided his feedback on where I stand, what I must do to improve and what opportunities I must pursue. Here’s the feedback given by my manager. As far the skill ratings is concerned, I think he has rated me slightly above than I am.

 

Low

Medium

High

Leadership

   

X

Communication

 

X

 

Shipping

 

X

 

Technical

 

X

 

Business

X

   

 

Also, based on my work, this is the feedback given by my manager on the areas that I need to improve upon  

(i)                Task management: Develop an organized way of managing and following up on tasks. Sometimes, I commit to some tasks but due to other high priority works, I missed out delivering low-priority tasks. Also, sometimes, I don’t follow-up on the low-priority tasks.  

(ii)              Business Skills: I don’t have much knowledge about the competitive technologies offered outside of Microsoft. Having extensive knowledge of both Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies would help me in developing business acumen.

(iii)             Technical Skills: I need to improve on core programming skills especially on .NET 4.0 and Windows Azure.  Also, I need to get some expertize on using Team Foundation Server (TFS). Also, push further on technical knowledge with regard to application architecture review from performance standpoint. Recommended to attend online trainings in free time.

(iv)             Influencing Abilities: Identify effective techniques for persuading stubborn customers to do the right things. Recommend reading the book ‘Great dialogues by Plato’.

(v)              Mentor: Identify a good mentor within Microsoft on career and technical guidance.  

After the end of the discussion, I documented every point we discussed. Overall, I think this was a positive discussion. We discussed several things, which I hadn’t thought about earlier. For example, discussion about the competitive technologies in the market stumped me. Post discussion I realized that my business acumen is severely lacking. Also, the discussion about simple things such as ‘task management’ was very fruitful. Many times, I think I am doing well in my day-to-day job but little things like forgetting a low-priority task might create a negative impression. The good thing about my manager is that, he is very solution oriented than merely highlighting the problem. That helps in a big way. 

With that, I want to conclude this long post. I don’t know whether it would be useful for anyone for having a meaningful career planning conversation, but this will definitely serve as document that will remind me what I was in February 2011.

 

Technical Conferences in India – The rise of Educational Mafia

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Arranging technical conferences in govt. and private engineering colleges has become a revenue generating business in India. I was going through different conferences that are being held in India in the fields of computer science and was totally shocked at the registration fee for each of these conferences. Registration fee in the range of $200 – $500 is ridiculous for the economy like India.

Now, let’s try to understand the facts. I run a discussion community called “Technical Research papers” on Orkut and it has over 1500 members. Most of these members are students, who aren’t aware much about research and how technical papers needs to be written. After moderating the community for more than a year, one thing that was clearly evident that, majority of the students in India don’t care about research. All they want is a tag of publishing a research paper to enhance their chances for securing an admission in a university (mostly foreign universities in US/Australia/Europe). These students pick the research papers from internet and publish it claiming that it’s their own. Apparently, they don’t even realize that its plagiarism. This is where the educational mafia assists such students.

The conference organizers are well aware that majority of the Indian students are doing plagiarism and they also know that, these students desperately need a publication to their credit to get an admission in a university. This is where the ‘give-and-take’ relationship begins. Or rather, I should say, educational mafia takes over. International and National Conferences are organized by govt. and private educational institutes that accept plagiarized papers. The trick here is that, these conferences generally have inflated registration free, something of the range $200-$500. Considering Indian economy, this price is too high, however, the organizers of the conferences are well aware that, they will receive papers from students who want to publish papers at any cost.

Now, I don’t mean to say, all the conferences organized in India are of this type and all the Indian students do plagiarism. However, majority of the conference are of that type and majority of the students do plagiarism. When you question these organizers, they act like mafia. Typically, when asked for scholarship/registration fee waiver, they would simply reject the paper. In fact, there is no concept of scholarship/fee waiver in majority of the conferences. The worst thing about all this fraud is, it is being done by highly educated professors. When you meet them in person and question them, they would say “they are promoting research among students and they are being lenient so that student attends conferences and learns about research’. That’s a very lame excuse. If they want to promote research among students, they should arrange workshops for students so that they learn the art of research and publishing papers. Accepting plagiarized papers should be strictly avoided.

In India, AICTE provides funding for educational institutions to arrange conferences. Even if a particular institution fails to acquire funding from AICTE, the institution should fund the conference. However, majority of the govt. and private colleges don’t take this route. Instead, they arrange the conferences purely from the money they obtain from the registration fees from the participants. And to make things worse, they try to derive profit out of it.

I wonder, for how long this education mafia and plagiarism would continue in India. And I fear, this will deeply affect the reputation of Indian researchers…