Four Years of Sabbatical, and Counting…

A Random Note

It’s been more than four years (I reckon), way more than what I had planned as a vacation from blogging, and now it’s so very difficult to start again. So here goes, I decided to write again, and thought of making public what I’d be writing on, so at least the pressure starts to build up. Last four years have been very interesting for me, I tried new things, built a lot of new ideas, read a ton, travelled a lot. So by that account, I have now a critical mass of authentic and spontaneous stories to tell.

This post is just to get me started on the computer key-board for long-form writing, back from pen and paper, and also to list down what all topics I’d be writing on during this year…

  • Advaita Vedanta
  • Linguistics
  • Semiotics
  • Start-up Adventures
  • Technology
  • Literature & Arts
  • Sustainable Living & Environment
  • Philosophy
  • Travel
  • Science (Mathematics and Physics)

I intend to keep my word with myself and make quality time regularly to tell some really interesting and compelling stories, I don’t have any excuse here either, because four years, as a leave of absence, is really something… Something indeed!

To Life!

Work-Life Week 2 & 3 Log

And here it goes again, it’s Deepawali day (India’s biggest festival, also called festival of lights), and I finally managed to carve out time to log the last stage of my experiment.

I’d be brief about the observation part as the sound pollution is getting on my nerves rather fast. The last two weeks were hectic, from every front, and the results were almost-wonderful, I worked like crazy, had fun crazier, and my family life wasn’t better… like ever.

I managed to take 3 days easy, for my personal use, out of 11 – which is not bad. Managed to finish off major code piece, and was able to travel too (official though ;-)) without letting the day-job’s responsibilities suffer.

The distribution was as follows:

– Productivity up by 4% W/W
– Productivity up by 3% overall
– Physical activity up by 8% by dint of taking the walk route to the office
– Spent 20% time with family (unfair, as a lot of it was due to festivals during last 2 weeks)
– I was able to skip more un-useful meetings, and it didn’t hurt

– (massive) had to drop out of the coursera courses
– missed hackerrank 101 totally, as I was traveling (couldn’t do much)
– Productivity, though increased, didn’t translate in quality code as much as I’d have liked it to
– Didn’t write enough (this blog is just another proof)
– Daily walk to the office, was used sometimes as an excuse to skip a round or two of work-out

– Yoga practice resumed, however, urge to discontinue is cropping up again 😦 I hope I’d be able to overcome it
– LoC produced remained roughly the same over the weeks, it also means that priorities were a bit off
– Jogging, still on the shelf due to fear of stray dogs in the morning hours of Indian streets (esp. during Monsoons ;-))

General inference would be that when I was busy like a dog, I used to manage time better, however, it did take a toll on my body-clock. This’ll mean that what I gained in a particular week, lost on some other front during the next. It’s a precarious balance to keep… This same thing can be extended to life, weeks turn into months or years, or even decades, the choice is ours to make – what we wish to gain, and are ready to trade in i.e.

What I loved the most during these four weeks? Well, when I solved a tricky problem, when I read something that I really wanted to, when I was with the one I love etc. the list has one commonality – you can call it work, life or whatever, it ultimately ends up with you. Work becomes life when you aren’t careful, vice versa for life. Less said, the better, but what we need to know is that experiences need to be transformed into life lessons almost instantaneously in this digital age, otherwise, everything flies.

To life! Happy Deepawali!


Shameful attack on Canadian parliament condemned in the strongest possible words.

Sarita Devi’s ban from IBA condemned, it’s unfortunate, ill-timed, and awfully highhanded to say the least.

Congress party, left/left-of-centre media’s critiques and other anti-BJP parties’ routinely puerile attacks on anything that the Indian PM does, are losing their headline value, they need to reinvent on the ground to be of any relevance, words aren’t making them look any better than the election results have shown during last 6 months.

Work-Life Week 1 Log

Things are getting increasingly difficult, especially the part where I have to jot down time spent on each of the categories and then feed it into the erratic database schema, which by the way looks like having a lot of scope for redesign. There were many pluses and minuses, and same-old kind of stuff during last 7-8 days. Let’s take a glimpse on hits and misses:


  • Productivity up by 17% day over day
  • Physical activity up 6%
  • 172 LoC up for 5-day WoW comparison
  • Finished one book, 200+ pages, non fiction
  • Spent 9% of time purely with family, up 1% from week 0
  • Less time spent on ideation, down to 12% of total workbench time, doesn’t include meetings


  • Couldn’t submit coursera homework in time despite wanting to do so
  • Preparation for hackerrank 101 hack September ’14 is almost nil, indicating that there’s still much scope on planning the hits
  • Sleep time reduced to 5 h 18 m, down 42 minutes from week 0 (again indicating that much can be improved)
  • Looking at the above, there can be clear rift between productivity and efficiency, what I think is gained in productivity, can be stealing time from other activities, let’s look ahead towards week 2

Same old:

  • Necessary waste like office meetings were not less than week 0, in fact they increased both in numbers, odd hours of occurrence, and duration
  • 13 No.s, 1 full day event, 5 late night tele/video conferences of 1+ hour duration, here the hits look more glorious, and misses less glaring 🙂
  • Sluggish pace of paper trail, as ever, may be due to programmer’s block (just 3 papers this week, down 1 from week 0)
  • Couldn’t restart Yoga practice that was halted due to an injury [red flag]

U2’s latest album was distributed free of charge via iTunes, many didn’t like it, I definitely did, those who are calling it a marketing disaster, are wrong, don’t ask me why.

India’s MangalYaan (Mars-Craft) successfully entered Martian orbit, making India the first country to have achieved this feat in first attempt, as much as it’s a proud moment for every Indian, it’s the moment of introspection for the skeptics and critics of India’s space ambitions alike. The world would do better to treat Indian science’s prowess with that bit more of respect. If they think the time is not yet arrived, well, just you wait!

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.

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.