The Dangers Of Rapid Cycles

I have been working in the IT industry for two decades now, starting as an intern at Picker International – a medical imaging company. I’ve dedicated the last 17 years of my corporate life to a large software company.

Like many other sectors, IT has seen a fair share of down turns, starting with the dot-com bust, followed by the general decline resulting from the Great Recession. Within the industry itself, new technologies and platforms have led to many a casualty. Every little technology storm devours some small boats and occasionally, an ocean liner.

The work culture has undergone major changes as well. From an office-centric culture to “work from home” and now back to “collaboration”, it has come a full circle.

Staffing and resourcing has always been a challenge in this sector. Most software development projects require highly skilled computer programmers. It clearly requires analytical and systematic thinking to put together thousands of lines of code that perform automated tasks.

Traditionally, industries have production cycles for all products. The cycle is fairly straightforward – design, plan, build, test and release. That’s true for software as well. There may be more cycles in a year in this industry owing to tremendous competition and the sheer nature of technology. But in essence that’s what the cycle is.

Lately a rather disturbing trend has emerged. Rapid cycles. Perhaps it’s related to the advent of the much touted ‘Agile’ development methodology. Perhaps it’s just that this is part of the shake-off that keeps happening in any industry from time to time. Perhaps it’s the inherent need of the current generation to always crave for novelty. But there seems to be an unnecessary rush to turn out release after product release.

This is counter-productive on several counts. Quick turnaround does not necessarily mean putting out a great product. It shifts the focus from the product onto dates, which is a disaster to begin with. It puts unnecessary strain on systems – which never get updated thanks to the constant release processes. It also results in developer fatigue. Yes, that’s a real thing. At the end it becomes an exercise in futility, and a promotional vehicle for product management to go to the executives and say “we’re still relevant”.

Hopefully this will eventually stop and some sanity will return where the product and its quality are at the forefront. The character of the software industry will be revealed in the next few years.

 

The Turn Signal Pet Peeve

 

You can call me old fashioned, but I learned to drive the hard way, a long time ago in a country far far way.

We had but two car companies in India back in the 70s and early 80s – Hindustan Motors and Premier Automobiles. Each company had one passenger car model – the Ambassador and the Premier Padmini respectively. The Padmini was commonly referred to as ‘Fiat’, which is what it was – the Fiat 1100.

They both had steering column mounted gear shifters, a bench seat up front, a foot operated dipper (high/low beam), and a rather quirky dashboard design – undoubtedly antiquated by today’s standards. My most memorable feature – the hand crank up in front of the car. If the battery was down you used a Z-shaped handle to crank up the fan belt and rev the engine to life. Nostalgia!

Automotive safety features have come a long way from those halcyon days. Technology has taken over the dashboard and the engine compartment alike. You don’t dig your head under the bonnet (or hood as we call it states side) to figure out what’s wrong – you hook the car up to a computer.

Unfortunately , drivers have become highly distracted and dumber. Basic common sense is lost the maze of cell phone distractions and the mad rush of today’s lifestyle. The turn signal has become one such unfortunate casualty.

The other day I went to a FedEx retail store. It’s about 4 miles from my home. As soon as I got on the road from our subdivision I was following a light blue Acura. It made the same exact turns as I did, and in fact ended up at the same FedEx store. It takes 5 turns to get there. He also changed lanes 3 times. Not once – I repeat NOT ONCE – did he use the turn signal.

Every day I see tons of drivers changing lanes on the highway at high speeds, cutting too close in front of vehicles, weaving in and out recklessly, and not using their turn signals at all. It’s the I-don’t-give-a-rat’s-ass attitude that gets me.

I’ll be honest, I’ve missed using the turn signal from time to time. But I realized immediately on changing the lane that I didn’t, and made a conscious decision the next time.

It looks like self-driven cars are the future of automobiles. I can’t wait until all vehicles automatically signal a turn or somehow communicate with other vehicles of their intentions. Until then, I’d love a loud “You missed using the turn signal switch you dumb shit. Next time use some other car” prompt from the car’s console.

Oh, and don’t get me started on people driving with their headlights off at night. That’s for some other day though.

Assimilation

Before I start – if you’re are offended by anything said against India or Indians then read no further. Exit now!

Over the past few months several anti-immigrant incidents have been reported across the country. Some of them have been against Indians. An Indian software engineer was shot and killed and his friend injured in a bar in Kansas City. Others have been asked to “go back to your country”. Yet others have had feces flung at their homes – according to reports. A video emerged from somewhere in Ohio of someone recording a bunch of Indians hanging out in a Park.

This is not about why those incidents “reveal the ugly underbelly or racist America”. No. This is about the why. Why are Indians seen as aliens and outsiders? We are one of the best (if not the best) immigrant ethnic group any country can get. Most – if not all – of us go through often lengthy immigration process to become LEGAL and VALID residents or citizens of this country. We’re sincere. We pay our fair share of taxes. We – again most of us – are law abiding (law fearing) people. So – why?

Assimilation – or the lack of it.

assimilate

to bring into conformity with the customs, attitudes, etc., of a group,nation, or the like; adapt or adjust:

That’s the reasonable expectation – that an immigrant group conform to the local customs and practices.

Mind you – this is not about following rules or not breaking the law. This is about culture and customs.

There are several things we do as Indians that are so “Indian” that even the most open minded born-and-raised American can be pissed off.

Let’s start with the phrase “Personal Space”. Different cultures have different definitions of personal space. The more crowded the country – the more cozier people get in public spaces. Picture the friendly neighborhood grocery store. You need tomatoes. There is one person in front of you but there’s enough room for two . Now, the American way of doing it is to wait until the person finishes. But you, you don’t wait. You pull up next to the person, getting a bit too close to them (remember 18 inches or less is ‘close’ in the western world). You start picking these tomatoes. Several times your hand can be within an inch from the other person’s. In most western countries that’s defined as an act of war.

It gets worse when you’re in an Indian grocery store – mostly at the Tindora box. When two Indians (who’re already physically too close for comfort) are picking these veggies a third hand emerges from within the 2 inch gap. The hand invasion continues as you and the other person part a move away a couple of inches. The shoulder and eventually the owner of that hand then makes himself (or herself) a happy sandwich and continues gathering, blissfully unaware.

Scene 2: At the restaurant. The waitress is taking your order. The kids want coke. You want them to stick to water and stay healthy – knowing fully well that once they’re out of home they’ll be binging on coke and chips. Instead of saying in plain english “We talked about this at home kids, no cola. Period!”, you start off your Bhagavad Gita discourse in your native language. When the kids try to speak in english you reprimand them. You indicate that you don’t want to discuss this in front of the waitress. Your body language betrays your mention of her. She doesn’t know what you’re saying. All she can tell is that she’s being discussed. Strike 2

Scene 3: The Office. Oh boy where do I start. I know I’m going to take a lot of heat for this but I’ll say it anyways. If there’s one place that has contributed to the alienation of Indians in the US, it’s the IT workplace.

It’s a scene that is probably played out every single day in the thousands of cubed offices across the country: the polarization of Indians vs the rest. We tend to form and move around in groups, talking about obscure politics happening 8500 miles away, cricket matches and their heroes, Bollywood and its heroes (and heroines). Yet we seem to be totally oblivious to what’s happening around us. When someone says “out of the left field” we have blank faces. An acquaintance referred to the 2017 Super Bowl as “that popular football match”. We have that smug smile when an American talks about his son’s “basketball game last night” – somehow conveying that he’s wasting his time while his own son is competing in Math Counts.

We suffer from a severe lack of contextual awareness. It’s compounded by the fact that we refuse to learn. We don’t have to be an expert on American History. But some cursory knowledge of the Cuban missile crisis or the Watergate scandal would do quite well. When we hear Ford Bronco and OJ Simpson in the same sentence we draw blank faces. Why? Even talk of Kyrie’s clutch 3-pointer will render us absolutely clueless. And that happened in 2016.

I guess what I’m saying is that one doesn’t need to transform oneself to assimilate into this culture. But an earnest effort will go a long way in identifying Indians as an acceptable ethnic group as opposed to an alien one. None of the above mentioned scenarios are illegal or unethical. But they are irritants which usually bubble up and cause social issues.

Even in that video of the Park in Ohio, while the person was shooting the video you can see kids running around, crossing his path and cutting in front of him. What you don’t hear or see is a parent asking them to watch for people. If I were in his position I’d be thinking “what the heck – not even the minimum decency towards other people?”

There is a refusal to assimilate – and THAT is what alienates us.

Dealing With Grief

<Some of the elements in this post were written almost 2 years ago. But I finally found the courage to publish it>

Death – the only constant in life. The only guaranteed outcome of life.

The loss of a parent can be devastating. I lost mine a few months ago. Daddy was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia on May 31, 2014. He underwent chemotherapy in June, August and finally November. By mid-September it was fairly obvious that the treatment was ‘palliative’ – a euphemism in the medical business for “If you have money to spend on a terminally ill person you are in the right shop”. He died November 24.

The days following his death were a blur – the cremation, the rituals, the trip back to the US along with a grieving mother, the catching up at work while trying to deal with the reality of not hearing dad’s voice ever again.

Friends and family alike commended me on how I handled the situation. I took a screenshot of the text from my friends “Shravy – you just handled a key life situation gracefully – you are an inspiration to others now”. It felt good – to be honest. This is exactly how dad would’ve wanted me to handle it – stoic and dignified.

The months after his death were hectic. I was training for, and ran the 4-Day Dopey Challenge. When I think back, I guess it was more an emotional challenge I wanted to overcome than the physical venture. Work and family – which had taken a back seat during the tumultuous few months in 2014 – came back into focus as time wore on.

A book recommended by a cousin – Many Lives, Many Masters – brought some much needed solace.

One Year Later…

I’ve dug into myself the last year and tried to figure out why it hurts as much as it does when you lose a parent. My father was not an emotional man when I was growing up. He was detached, even aloof during my childhood and adolescence. He loved spending time with family but never given to things like “well done, great job, I’m proud of you” kind of stuff. To be fair, not many Indian dads of his era betrayed much emotion. As he became older he started being very emotional. As I went away and started living in the United States he probably missed me a lot. He always hinted at me taking up a job in India – without so much as saying “I want you to come back and live here”. But deep inside he would’ve wanted to live among his children and grand children, much like his father before him.

I guess it has to be the attachment. For most people there are 2 people that have always been with you since your birth – your parents. There is never a time when they were NOT there. You’ve always assured yourself of their security. When you lose a parent you’ve lost something innate, something elemental. In the Indian tradition, you’ve lost your umbrella, your emotional sunshade.

I felt a deep emotional void the past few months. Throughout the year we all felt the absence. I guess the first year is the hardest – the New Year, the birthday, the wedding anniversary, our own birthdays. The inexistence comes to the fore every single occasion. Daddy’s was invariably the first call on any birthday. He would remember our Hindu birthdays as well. He would not miss a festival. His ringtone was the song “Agar Tum Mil Jao Zamana Chod Denge Hum”. I miss calling that number. I miss expecting that song whenever I dialed his phone. I miss him terribly.

Two Years On…

I have started writing again – albeit intermittently. It’s March 2017.

Someone remarked at a party recently “has it really been 2 years?” Well yes, it has. Life has slowly moved on. I guess the best indicator (if we can call it that) is mother – she cries still but instead of every phone call it is now once every 5 or 6. We now fondly remember his quirks and habits.

For me, there are times when – out of nowhere – a memory flashes in the mind. The heart swells up with sorrow. Eyes moisten. Memories flash across the mind. The events of the last day, the last words, some last sights play back in the head. Sometimes I think if there could’ve been an alternate ending – anything we could’ve done differently. Natural treatment? Yoga and Pranayama? Voodoo (yes I’ve thought of this as well). What would you not give to have a few minutes with him, hear that voice, speak to him. Alas!

I noticed a strange thing lately. Few of my friends lost a parent in these intervening years after dad’s death. I felt an immediate affinity to them. An urgent need to commiserate. I spent a long time chatting with DV after his mother’s death. When I visited India I met him in Hyd. When our Alphonsus’ gang met in Nov ’16 I went out of my way to talk to two of my friends about their respective fathers, who had passed away at or around the same time as dad. I asked them how they felt, if they experienced any depression. PVL seemed to connect. He agreed he experienced grief and depression long after. He took to philosophy and religion. They say grief dwindles when shared. I’ve tried to share mine, in my own ways.

I started writing this in January 2015. I can’t say I have put the grief to rest. But it seems better now. I feel I can move on – at least for now.

I had started off this post thinking I’ll share my heartache, the loss of one of the most beloved persons in my life. It ended up being a journal. I’m not sure if this can be shared or published. But I think I will, in case it benefits someone who lost their loved ones.

I have come to believe – time is the best healer.

An account of his last day alive are published here (some of the entries are very emotional so forgive me)