A True Wake Up Call

Standard

At around 4:00 PM today, I was driving to Microsoft office, on an empty road between In-Orbit Mall and Gachibowli and I don’t know, what happened, suddenly my bike went out of control. I was driving around 80kms per hour speed and the road was completely empty. I realized that, I am over-speeding as there is a turn is ahead. As I hit the brakes, the back tyre started shaking, throwing me out of balance and the bike started skidding. 15 meters before was a large pit with lots of large stones and around the corner of the pit was a sand dune and some grass. It’s just the matter of milliseconds that I am about to fall in a pit with large granite stones. The heart-beat is stopped and I am putting as much pressure as possible using my right leg on the breaks. The bike doesn’t stop. The bike is skidding and I don’t have any control. There is no feeling about, what going to happen. Typically, in movies, during these moments, you see the face of a beautiful girl fading away… or something like that. But all I could see was those merciless sharp granite stones, that I am about to hit. And few milliseconds later…

Boom. I have hit the sand dune. My one leg was under the bike. I was wearing helmet, so I knew my head was safe. And for few seconds, I went completely blank. I don’t know, what’s just happened. The blazing sun, the weight of the bike on my leg and the shock. I slightly lifted the vehicle to pull-out my leg and lied on back there for few seconds. The front tyre of the bike was hanging in the air and somehow the bike has stopped just before falling into the pit. A car stopped and a person came over to help me. I was gave him a sign that I am alright. He pulled the vehicle aside. As I stood up, there was a strange shiver throughout my body. I could have hit those sharp granites and had the bones of my body broken. I could have bruised by whole body while skidding. And how merciful Allah has been to save me from the danger. All I found was few bruises to my right leg. There is a little swelling now but overall, I guess, I am alright.

Three hours have passed by since the incident and it having a psychological effect on me. If not death, I would have been badly injured. As dramatic has last three days have been, this is the real wake-up call. It’s like, I have been told, “Do what you have promised or make an exit from this world”. Or maybe, Allah wanted to give me a warning that, time is running out, realize the value of the time that I have in hand and make amendments to life. A realization that, “how insignificant I am, when the things go out of control” is slowing sinking in. May be, this is what people refer to ‘near death experience’. In just the matter of few milliseconds, my life would have changed dramatically. But Allah saved me.

Generally, whenever such an incident happens, people speak about, how they have realized, how valuable the people around me are, how they have ignored the relationships and how they would get back to people. Well, I have a complete opposite feeling. I don’t want to describe now, why I have such feeling. I would let some actions speaks on my behalf.

Tonight I would have been in pain at a hospital surrounded by family and relatives, but here I am, all hail and healthy. This is a gift of Allah. I must do everything to make best use of this opportunity that Allah has given me.

Advertisements

Chief Technology Officer– High Level Career Development Plan

Standard

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.

Justic Katju’s letter

Standard

Recently, in an enlightening speech, Justice Markandey Katju mentioned that, ‘90% of the Indians are idiots’ as an honest feedback. However, as usual, some people mistook his words of wisdom and sent legal notice to him. In Justice Markandey Kajtu was a Muslim, people would have labeled him anti-national. I say this, because, once in a seminar, I spoke about the status of science in India and criticized the current standard of science in India… after the seminar… a lady walked up to me and started labeling me as antinational. Anyhow, some idiots can’t take feedback. Below is the letter written by Justice Kajtu to the people that have sent him legal notice.

—-

Dear Tanaya and Aditya,

I have received your email, and am giving my reply, but before doing so in detail I wish to make some preliminary remarks:

  1. I have been misquoted in the press reports, but it is true that I have said that 90% Indians (not all) are fools. My intention in saying so was not to hurt anyone but to awaken people to the realities, that is, the widespread casteism, communalism, superstitions, and other backward traits in the mindset of a large section of our people which is blocking our progress and keeping us poor.
  2. The figure 90% is not a mathematical figure, it simply means that in my opinion a large proportion of Indians (and again I repeat, not all) are fools.
  3. I never named you, nor any community, caste, or sect, and I never said that you are in the category of 90%. Hence I do not see how you are defamed.
  4. I made this comment not to humiliate or harm anyone but because I love the Indian people, they are my people, and I wish them to prosper and have decent lives, which is only possible if the Indian masses develop the scientific outlook and scientific temper and give up casteism, communalism, superstitions and other mental attitudes which a large part (not all) of them presently suffer from. I wish to see India in the front ranks of the advanced industrialized nations of the world, with our people having a high standard of living, instead of suffering from the present evils of massive poverty, unemployment, price rise, corruption, farmer’s suicides, child malnutrition, absence of health care and good education, casteism etc. So you see I made that statement not to harm the Indian people, whom I love, but to benefit them. The truth is sometimes bitter, but sometimes bitter medicine has to be given to an ailing person.

Having said this, I may proceed to give a more elaborate explanation.
I wish to first of all clarify that I do not regard Indians as inherently stupid or foolish. It is only at present that large parts of our people are foolish. But there was a time when we were leading the whole world in science and technology, and India was perhaps the most prosperous country in the world. It is now that we are having bad times, but we had a glorious past and shall have a glorious future too, but for that we have to get rid of casteism, communalism, superstitions and other backward traits in the mentality of a large part of our people (because of which I call them fools).
India’s Past

With the aid of science we had built mighty civilizations thousands of years ago when most people in Europe( except in Greece and Rome) were living in forests. We had made outstanding scientific discoveries e.g. decimal system in mathematics, plastic surgery in medicine, etc (see in this connection my article ‘Sanskrit as a Language of Science on my blog justickatju.blogspot.in and on the website kgfindia.com). However, we subsequently took to the unscientific path of superstitions and empty rituals, which has led us to disaster. The way out of the present morass is to go back again to the path shown by our scientific ancestors, the path of Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta, Sushrut and Charak, Panini and Patanjali, Ramanujan and Raman.
It is not necessary to mention here all the great achievements of our ancestors, but I may just mention a few.

  1. The decimal system in mathematics was the most remarkable and revolutionary invention in the past, and it was created by Indians. To understand its significance, one must know that the ancient Romans, who built a great civilization (The civilization of Caesar and Augustus), felt very uncomfortable with numbers above 1000. This was because they expressed their numbers in alphabets, I standing for 1, V for 5, X for 10, L for 50, C for 100, D for 500, and M for 1000. There was no single alphabet expressing a number above 1000. Hence to write 2000 an ancient Roman had to write MM, to write 3000 he had to write MMM, and to write 1 million he had to write M one thousand times, which would drive him crazy. 
    On the other hand, our ancestors discovered the number 0, and hence to write 1 million they had simply to put 6 zeros after 1.
  2. Plastic surgery was invented by Sushrut 2000 years ago, whereas Europeans invented it only about 100 or 200 years back.
  3. The English alphabets are all arranged haphazardly, there is no reason why D is followed by E, or E by F, or F by G, etc. On the other hand Panini in the first 14 sutras of his Ashtadhyayi arranged the alphabets in Sanskrit scientifically. Thus , the first sequence of 5 consonants (the  ka varga i.e. ka, kha, ga, gha, na ) are all sounds which emanate from the throat, the second sequence from the middle of the tongue, the third from the roof of the mouth, the fourth from the tip of the tongue, and the fifth from the lips. The second and fourth consonants in each sequence are aspirants in which the sound ‘ha’ is combined with the previous consonant e.g. ka+ha =kha.
  4. 5000 years ago in the Indus Valley Civilization the system of town planning was created with straight streets, covered drains, water and sewage system, etc.

Before the coming of the British India was a prosperous country. Its share in world trade in 1700 was about 30%, which fell to 2% by the end of British rule and is still not more than 3%.

India’s Present
Today there is no doubt that India is a poor country. While there are some pockets of affluence, about 80% of our people are afflicted with poverty, unemployment and other evils, and one major cause of this is the mental backwardness of a large part of our people.
(though there are also brilliant people like the Indian scientists and engineers in Silicon Valley)  Consider the following:

  1. When most of our people go to vote they cast their votes on the basis of caste or religion, not the merit of the candidate. What else is the meaning of vote banks? And this is exploited by some unscrupulous politicians who know how to manipulate and manage these vote banks. That is why many persons with criminal backgrounds get elected.
  2. ‘Honour’ killings are common in many parts of the country. This is a barbaric practice, and shows how backward many of us still are.
  3. Dowry deaths are common in India, and as a former Judge I can tell you that our courts have a large number of cases of young married women who are murdered in a barbaric manner by their in laws for not getting dowry e.g. by pouring petrol on them and setting them on fire.
  4. Scheduled castes are still often treated inhumanly, and an example is the recent attack on dalits in Dharmapuri district in Tamil Nadu.
  5. Female foeticide is common in many parts of India. Often when a male child is born the relatives are happy and distribute sweets, but when a female child is born often relatives get dejected. This is also a sign of backwardness among many of us.
  6. Communalism, which was almost non-existent in 1857, is widespread in our society today. Muslims often face discrimination in getting jobs, houses on rent, etc, as the Justice Sachar Committee report has highlighted.  Muslims are often falsely implicated in bomb blasts and they have to spend years in jail though ultimately found innocent.As I mentioned, upto 1857 communalism was almost non-existent in India. There were no doubt differences between Hindu and Muslims, but there was no enmity between them. In the Mutiny of 1857 Hindus and Muslims jointly fought against the British. After crushing the Mutiny the British decided that the only way to control India was divide and rule.Consequently, the policy came from London to create hatred between Hindus and Muslims. The British Collector used to secretly call the Panditji and gave him money to speak against the Muslims, and similarly he gave money to the Maulvi Saheb to speak against Hindus. All communal riots began after 1857. The communal award in the Minto-Morley ‘Reforms’ of 1909 introduced separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims. Year after year, decade after decade, the communal poison was injected by the British into our body politic, and even after 1947 there are elements which continue this (see online ‘History in the Service of Imperialism’ and my article ‘What is India’ on my blog justicekatju.blogspot.in)Certain agent provocateurs take advantage of our backwardness to incite communal riots, and unfortunately many people fall prey to these evil designs and get emotionally carried away by communal propaganda and fight with each other.
  7. Superstition is rampant in India. Most people believe in astrology, which is pure superstition and humbug. And it is not just the illiterates who believe in it, it is also most of the so called educated people in India. Many Ministers and Judges prefer to take oath of office at the ‘auspicious’ time.A few years back it was announced that Lord Ganesh is drinking milk, and there was a rush of people to offer milk to Ganesh. Earlier, a ‘miracle’ chapati was circulating.
  8. A large section of the media, taking advantage of the backwardness of a large section of our people, dishes out lives of filmstars, cricket, etc as if these are the real issues before the people, when the real issues are socio-economic.

As I said above, when I called most people(not all)  fools I did not wish to harm them, rather it was just the contrary. I want India to become a prosperous country, but this is possible only when the mindset of a large number of people changes, and their minds are rid of casteism, communalism, superstitions, and other backward ideas and they become scientific and modern.
By being modern I do not mean wearing a nice suit or a beautiful sari or skirt. By being modern I mean developing a modern mind, which means a rational mind, a scientific mind, and a questioning mind. As already stated above, at one time we led the whole world in science and technology, but today we are undoubtedly far behind the West and even China. How did this happen? Why were we left behind, why did we not have an Industrial Revolution like Europe? This is known as ‘Needham’s Question’ or ‘Needham’s Grand Question’, named after Prof. Joseph Needham of Cambridge University (1900-1995). It is high time Indians try to answer this question, instead of trying to evade the reality of the backwardness of most of us.

The worst thing in life is poverty, and 80% of our people are poor, which is largely because of the mental backwardness of most (not all) of us. To abolish poverty we need to spread the scientific outlook to every nook and corner of our country. It is only then that India will shine. And until that happens the vast majority of our people will continue to be taken for a ride.

Justice Markandey Katju
10.12.2012

Life–Road Map

Standard

It’s been a while since I posted about my personal life. Honestly, there hasn’t been any progress in my life, so didn’t feel the necessity of posting. And I didn’t want to embarrass myself repeating same stuff again and again (although when I read my old posts, I find them poetic and intimidating). Even as I write this, there hasn’t been much change in my life. Still, my priorities are the same. But the failure to produce anything productive in last few years have taught me lot of things. The first and foremost being, the value of being able to convert the raw ideas into actionable items. Frankly I never had difficulties in producing new ideas, however, the fact that, I haven’t had much success in life testifies that I haven’t been able to convert my ideas into actionable items.

As one grows old, the need for stabilizing the life increases. You either have get adjusted with the direction in which your life is heading or you have to push the life towards the direction of your choice. I am working at Microsoft, earning reasonably good income and have a supporting family… there isn’t much to complain. Yet, I am finding it difficult to adjust with this life. This means, if I have to be happy, the other option is, I need to push my life towards the direction of my choice. In order to do so, I first need to identify the ‘direction’ of my choice. Otherwise, I will be trying out various things but that ‘happiness’ would still be elusive.

I did a mind-map of what exactly I want to accomplish during this life… the list of objectives when accomplished, I would feel satisfied with life. After lot of introspection, this is what I have got.

clip_image002

Essentially, there are four top priority goals. And each of these goals have a criteria for being successful. I don’t want to go in details about each of these things… but what this essentially means is that, I need to immediately reduce investing time in activities which aren’t my priorities.

The next step was to draft action items for each of these goals. Here’s what I have come up with so far.

Practice Islam: Action Items

  • Offer Salah punctually
  • Give away significant portion of earning in charity
  • · Stay away from Riba and Zina
  • · Read and Understand Tafsir of Holy Quran
  • · Read all six important books of Hadith
  • · Practice the values of mentioned in Holy Quran and books of Hadith.

Be a Good Son, Brother, Husband, etc.: Action Items

  • · Practice Islam and guide the family members towards the right path
  • · Love and respect the family members even if they don’t listen to me
  • · Support and fulfil the (halal) wishes of family members
  • · Be selfless and reduce ego

Make Discoveries: Action Items

  • · Be persistent in learning new stuff
  • · Convert ideas into research papers and publish in top journals (Nature, Phys. Rev. Letters)

To showcase intellectual leadership: Action Items

  • · Complete Masters and PhD.
  • · Connect with people and understand the issues faced at a civilization level
  • · Inspire and guide people through ideas and values

Will keep you posted about my progress. By the way, I do recommend you to try the above exercise if you are not happy with life.

State of Education and Teaching in Indian Universities

Standard

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.

Influential leaders: They are never fat

Standard

 

clip_image004

Ever thought about the common thing among all the influential leaders across the world? Is it their leadership qualities? Is it their attitude? It is their intellectuality? Is it their ability to win over odds? Philosophers might argue about these questions over centuries, but I have found a very simple thing that is common among all the influential leaders.

clip_image002That quality is that, they were never fat during their peak years. I can’t think of a single influential leader who was fat during his peak years. Note, there is a distinction between being fat and being obese. Obesity is a disease, whereas being fat is laziness. From Mahatma Gandhi to Barrack Obama, from Nelson Mandela to Abraham Lincoln… none of them were fat.

Also, the larger question is, does success relates to fitness? Statistically, it appears to be true. Success indeed is dependent on the fitness of the person. People with athletic abilities are more chances of being successclip_image006full in life than fatsos. I list out the following reasons

1. By birth, if there is anything that accompanies a person is his/her physical body. If a person has already compromised with his own body, he/she can compromise on anything. Making compromises doesn’t lead to success.

2. Long term success is always achieved by persistent hard work.

Effective Career Planning Discussion

Standard

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.