Our XYZ is Equivalent to Principal in Other Companies…

How many of us have heard this, and fumed over… In one breath, people generalise the myth that Indians are after designations more than any other geography, in the next, no one wants to play out of the box and start talking about pure talent (and designation + pay being just the aftereffects thereof.)

Another problem. Many in India do receive calls from one of those recruiting agencies for openings with their ex-employer(s), reckon that happens more due to bad master data management than to their eagerness to land the candidate in correct spot.

Another very interesting trend these days, India is also seeing companies trying to scale down/hardball the candidates’ prospective fitment to the ‘roles’ (again, a misnomer) etc., there have been instances of companies (won’t name them here) creating phoney/placeholder positions, just to ensure that they don’t have to pay the incumbent the next grade. HR job (that follows, like appraisals etc.) becomes that less painful I guess.

Above, with a mix of misplaced (at times) aspirations & priorities of candidates and employers respectively, are creating slippery situation in job market where staying with an employer for more than a couple of years is seen as disadvantage, and getting the next grade while switching jobs has become the paramount challenge – not proving the might. Merit (in its real sense) has taken a back seat. It all depends now on how alert you are, and how well you can negotiate.

Wonder if the days of minimum/standard wages for formal sectors have yet arrived in India.

Funniest part is when a recruiter (who has cold called a passive candidate in the first place, and persuaded them to at least take up an ‘exploratory’ discussion,) asks before hanging up “BTW, why do you want to make this switch?”

Disclaimer: Above has been collated after talking to many acquaintances about the topic and is merely a micro report on may be one aspect of hiring practices in India, not an authoritative account on the scene per se. Author’s views are personal and their employer has nothing to do with the content therein.

Test Log for Tech

After more than a year, and infinite procrastination in the names of keeping busy, work and other such stuff, I finally felt that the time is ripe to follow the ‘2 minute’ rule.

More so, because of late I’ve started finding writing on non-tech. stuff very difficult. And inspiring myself to devote more than 2 minutes on writing this blog is a biggest challenge right now. Taken the first step, yet again. More to come… 2 minutes are over 🙂

V

 

The Dreaded Tele-Screen

I used to read Joel On Software a lot during my initial days as a software engineer, after some time when the influence of Feynman’s writings regained its ground (don’t read something that’s not going to contribute to your earnings), I somewhat lost interest in the utopian notion of ‘company for, by and of engineers’ that Joel Spolsky so romantically (and, often) eulogizes in all his writings. I’ve also realized the importance of the phrase that goes like… “Birds of a feather flock together.”

Appears so true while interviewing a prospective team member – but of course, there are other times too when you feel it materializing, especially during the coffee/lunch breaks etc.. A vast majority of interviewers unknowingly recommend a candidate that is closest to them in aptitude and attitude.

During the last couple of years I’ve put the theory of FEPS questions to test and found remarkable results while screening candidates. I’ve also experimented with a few interviews as an observer. Candidates goofing up 40% or more questions failed invariably whenever the interviewer was resorting to the FEPS benchmark… And got instant advancement for the next rounds whenever they played by the rules 🙂

This also proves that the software world is too small and our repertoire of tele-screen questions is even smaller – sans standardization. In this situation, any one with a smart preparation strategy can get a ticket to the in-person interviews – and if the interviewing panel is not awake to the realities still, then such a candidate can ruin the future of the team too – especially when the team is small. So how to get across to the like-minded candidates and at the same time find out where does she stand as a prospective team-mate?

The strategy of using collaborative editors like collabedit, Google Docs etc. worked for sometime, but after a period, it became less effective. Many candidates started declining the calls even before the interview started for the fear of exposing their coding skills (or lack of it).

Cut to the time of netviewer sessions while asking the candidate to solve a TopCoder practice room problem (have to say this was very effective as it gave a standardized score for the same problem, the number of times solution is compiled unsuccessfully before spotting generic mistakes etc.), but this eventually found very few takers as no one wanted to undergo the grind of almost F2F interview while taking the tele one. Besides, computers are still a luxury for many. Even this strategy was fraught with loopholes, because the word of mouth notoriety of interviewer(s) spreads pretty fast among the collaborating candidates, the questions-set travels even faster.

So it was back to the classic ‘hello, xyz… tell me about the most challenging bug… list-sort, recursion… about synthesis’ over phone. I was amazed to see that after trying all the other modes, coming back to telephone wasn’t all that bad, only difference was that while asking the questions to the candidate, I was now making sure that the candidate gets reasonable time to write his code (if he chooses to plagiarize from the www, so be it) in seclusion after the phone screen is done and later, sends it across for evaluation – after all that’s how most of the software developers work — reuse/recycle.

Results after that? Almost as effective as making them write the code in front… May be better.

Almost 70% of the candidates couldn’t code a bug-free, non recursive singly linked-list reversal (in 0.5 hour), 40% couldn’t do it even by 1 hour, 90%+ did it in 2 hours.

Upping the ante, 95% candidates couldn’t write a proper Comeau compilable heap-sort routine even after 3 hours.

Average time for candidates to write the square matrix spiral print (clockwise, anticlockwise) that takes run-time input was a staggering 5 hours – this because the solutions available in the open are either too trivial or incorrect. The hit rate here was a paltry 2%. The ones who submitted genuine (albeit buggy) solutions though, made it all the way to the offer — that tells something.

The above illustration might lead you to believe that unconventional questions lead to better filtering. Incorrect, even conventional and popular questions like reverse a string in-place by words can do the job, only condition is that these questions should come as follow up to something that has already given away candidate’s thought process. Asking bit-manipulation question to a candidate who isn’t comfortable with sizes of data types is a waste. Recursions based questions are best suited to the candidates that have shown enough procedural reasoning. Space-time complexity should always be left for the face to face rounds.

Now, nothing is fool proof, so best strategy for any interviewer is to prepare a standardized set of unconventional questions, practice with modified versions, do time-boxed paper coding and dry runs of  the code to be actively involved with the candidate as you’d do during the pair programming exercises, never ask for the perfect solution. Make the candidate ask a lot of questions – sometimes by giving hints – to gauge the thought process, remember, it’s not only the destination, but also the journey that’s important. Don’t fall in the trap of asking behavioral questions, leave it for the HR. And finally, as someone said, pray, as good developers hardly surface and hunt in open.

Disclaimer: The author doesn’t claim to have any degree of authority in the art(?) of interviewing, neither does he claim to be giving out an effective strategy or warranty of efficacy or a semblance thereof. The above piece is but a page of journal for posterity and is maintained for interested readers who might find the study to be useful, dreadful or amusing based on their respective tastes. Lastly, the views expressed above are of the author’s alone and his employers present or past have nothing whatsoever to do with the aforementioned.

Sports | Life

A Lesson from a Great Rival

Australia India cricket rivalry has been at its best during the last dacade and has to an extent rendered the hype behind Pakistan-India bashes far behind. Of late the encounters between Republic Day sharing nation’s cricket teams have been so engrossing that the respective prime ministers have taken active interest in the goings-on, both on and off the field. Recent statements by Australian PM Ms. Gillard about Tendulkar’s 100th international century is a case in point.

Australian media also leaves no stone unturned in helping home team to score a few psychological points over the Indians, which earlier (read 15 years ago) was a reserve of Poms and the Springboks (err. Proteas).

100 100 and the Bloody Binary Dilemma (will be / won’t be this time)

By being on the centre-stage for so long and carrying a billion hopes alone, Sachin Tendulkar has already attained greatness. The 100th century hype is all but denying him the pleasure of playing the purest form of the game which by right is his.

After giving so many years to the sport, I’d say it’s his right not to be judged by what he has, or is going to, achieve. In India, we treat greats unfairly and thereby making them vulnerable. I remember my father saying it so may times that “There can not be another Vishwanath or Viv”, sure there can not be another Vishwanath, certainly not another Sir Viv. … However, it’s no guarantee that we’ll not get players similar to them or, I daresay, better than them.

For so long our definitions of “test cricket opening bat” was charted by the likes of Boycott and Gavaskar, now it’s redefined by Langer, Sehwag and Hayden, do we need to compare them? Not at all, they bring pleasure in different packages and that’s how it should be. History keeps evolving and who knows, another 400+ score may be just round the corner.

Lessons Aplenty

Coming back to Australia-India tour 2011-12, it has been deja vu all along. How many times we have faltered in the first encounter due to lack of practice matches? How many times do we see ourselves picking up and licking our wounds from a terrible defeat in the starter? Still, instead of addressing the real issues, the BCCI chooses to look other way and find answers the questions to which aren’t there at all.

Watching the matches so far these are the leadership lessons I drew from the Australian team’s execution of plans:

  • There are many plans, A, B, C etc. for each player AND every stakeholder knows them
  • Team loses a session AND comes back even harder (taking bigger risks) to make up for the recent loss
  • Leader chooses his words and timings very carefully AND takes a dig at the opposition stalwart in the moment of his utter vulnerability
  • Team creates doubts in the opposition’s mind by taking huge risks AND makes it look fashionable, so much so that the opposition tries it out and dies of it
  • Team rallies behind the beleaguered warhorse AND lets him take the freedom to choose the way he wants to play
  • No one, including the captain digresses from the per-discussed plan
  • Team functions like clockwork, irrespective of whether they are getting beaten left, right and centre
  • Rookies are given freedom to express themselves, not get bogged down by opposition’s reputation AND be verbose (towards the battered opposition i.e.) at times too
  • Killer instinct isn’t something that comes out of muttering a few mantras, it comes AFTER a few successful moments against quality opposition as a result of sustained quest for excellence
  • One team rests on the laurels of a few, the other however, forgets these things quickly AND nurtures the wounds to take inspiration
  • There’s no use of being a Tiger and go hungry for days in adversity, be a pack of wild dogs instead and collectively take down any ‘prey’, adapt if you can, AND quickly
  • Show respect by bringing in the best in you to beat the hell out of the opposition AND then tell everyone that it was required to overcome such a quality side
  • Never let an under-pressure Ace have the breathing space, they are best for us when dormant
  • Easy centuries and landmarks should never be conceded, it undermines the quality of the contest, sport suffers as a whole

Michael Clarke has suddenly scaled a notch on the captaincy table, sadly enough, likewise can not be said for Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Ponting’s poor run with bat has perhaps given Clarke the much needed space to expand and be himself while the old warrior was struggling to gain a foothold back. Blessing in disguise? I’d like to believe so, and I don’t see Australia complaining at all 🙂

As I write this piece, Australia are most probably making India pay every Paisa of the Indian Rupee that they might have thought they were worth. The final point, grind the opposition to dust once you have the opportunity, do it now AND don’t let the opposition forget about it ever.

Where’s Cricket Headed to?

Team India’s decline as such is good for cricket overall, and I hope India take a lesson out of these defeats rather than feel deflated and find solace in axing a few old heads. Being a true # 1 side requires much more than sheer talent, talent per se is now a luxury more-than-less of us can afford due to the exposure and early training. True perseverance is hard to achieve (especially in the face of unfavourable results and easier alternatives) and should be pursued.

Season’s greetings, and a very happy new year to you all.

May this year NOT be the last for our beleaguered planet as many would like to believe (pun intended) L.O.L

Deep Slumber and the Awakening

Start

Finally, after almost a year, I felt the need to write something. This delay wasn’t because I didn’t want to write, or there was some kind of ‘block’; it was simply because I’m keeping too busy these days with my research and there’s hardly any motivation left post some short and sweet Twitter updates once in a blue moon.

Science

This news about Large Hadron Collider (CERN) raising hopes of Higgs-Boson particle’s sighting actually pulled me out of my comfort zone of 140 characters. I’m more into Mathematics and CS, but advances in Physics excite me no end. More importantly since many breakthroughs in theoretical and applied Physics have transformed the Computer and Electronics industry as such.

Gibberish

There are other churnings happening in Indian Polity, India is at the crossroads… yet again.

One is about the unfortunate episode of government attempting to check the freedom of expression by (proposed!) monitoring of the Internet – thankfully the giants of the www didn’t budge. I can only pray that this disgusting culture of sycophancy, egotism (and nepotism) somehow gets decimated and that of tolerance and public debates befitting a true democracy prevails.

Two is about the Lokpal (people’s ombudsman) bill making pretty big strides, and going by the look of things, it’s going to be a reality sooner than later. Kudos to all of India for achieving an awakening at least. Perennial skeptics have their daggers out already about the efficacy and what-not of the proposed bill in curbing the corruption menace, but the protagonists (that includes one and all who sympathise with this movement – I’d excuse myself from calling it Anna’s movement) shouldn’t lose heart. They have taken the all important first step. The way would be only easier from here on.

The Bradman Oration – 2011

Rahul Dravid was invited to deliver the annual Bradman Oration at the Australian war memorial. I’d like to say that he finally (and rightfully) got his due, I’m happy that he got this opportunity before Tendulkar – for obvious reasons. The speech was impeccable, balanced and touched upon major pressing issues facing the game of Cricket.

An important point raised by him was that of respecting (listening to) the spectator. In Asian stadia, it’s a normal practice to ignore the comforts of the general public, no shades, no open areas for the fans to feel welcome for a family outing, makeshift and substandard parking, touts, utterly mismanaged ticket sales & pricing, and above all, absolute lack of hygiene.

Overdose of non-test cricket isn’t helping the cause either. Hats off to Dravid for stating it the way he did.