LinkedIn – Danger of becoming yet another Spam Platform?

I have been using LinkedIn since 2005 and am a huge fan of the platform. It is a great way to keep in touch with all the folks in your professional world. And obviously, as we all can see, majority of the professional world thinks so as well. I do see some signs of trouble though.

(A) Ego war about “Connections”

I notice that a lot of folks have changed their profile names to “John Smith (3000+ connections)” Etc. As far as I am aware, LinkedIn focuses on the quality of the connections (E.g. Do you really know that person?) as opposed to a numbers game, and does not allow connections count to show up above 500. It just says “500+” if that is the case.

I even noticed one guy with profile name suggesting “10000+ connections”!!! Either he is some super-human with super-human memory and super-human networking skills or he is just one good ol’ LinkedIn Spammer who spams folks galore with Connection Requests and “hope for the best”. If someone asks him to recollect and talk about these 10000+ connections (which is what he claims), the facts will come out 🙂

I have a simple rule with these Spammers. I send their requests to the ideal place where they belong, which is either be tagged as Spam or be deleted and be 100% ignored.

With all kinds of shady elements lurking online, one cannot be too careful.

(B) Lowest-quality Recruiters and Consultants

These are folks who have barely passed out of college and pose as “Specialists”, “VP”, “Account Manager” Etc. Pretty much the only skill they have as a Recruiter is to search online for keywords. For E.g. If a Company approaches them seeking candidates who fit the key words “ASIC”, “Design” and “Networking”, they have enough skills to type those keywords in some Search Engine and search for hits. The fact that they barely understand what these words mean or anything beyond those words, is lost on them.

In my case, requests from such “Experts” are also doomed to be reported as Spam or be deleted as soon as they comes in.

I notice that these problems are much more prevalent in India than in the Western World.

I hope LinkedIn really goes after these two issues and continue to make the platform a worthwhile and enjoyable experience for all the skilled and legitimate professionals out there.

Adios!

What can an Engineer learn from Usain Bolt?

Though the possibility of it all coming down in a hail of doping accusations remain a possibility (like the recent Lance Armstrong incident), what Usain Bolt has done in Shanghai and London has been nothing short of spectacular. He did not just win 100m, 200m and 4x100m at both the Olympics, he obliterated the competition each and every time. For example, what he did over the last 40m of the 100m final in London was amazing to watch. I have watched the highlights many many times already. Bolt winning in Beijing was one thing, when not everyone was expecting him to win so comprehensively. But when the expectations and the pressure were sky high in London, he did perform brilliantly. A stadium of 80000+ people managed pin-drop silence before the gun went off for the 100m finals and that is how much the expectations were. An event of the magnitude of Olympics, a once in 4 years spectacle, a formidable rival in the form of Yohan Blake and the expectations of the entire world. Thats what I am talking about …

Let me attempt to look for lessons in Bolt’s performance, though what he does for a living and what I do for a living are entirely different.

(01) Dedicated preparation:

We spectators only see the glamorous part of atheletes, when they perform  as if by “magic”. We do not get to see the hours and hours of hard practice and strict diets these atheletes go through. Even the most talented of people (example, Roger Federer) has to practice like a mad man to perform at the levels of a champion. I read some articles and watched some video clippings of Bolt training. For that less-than-10-seconds of performance, Bolt has been preparing for years.

All achievements take a lot of behind-the-scenes work. Dedicated work. Nothing comes for free.

(02) Have fun:

What makes Bolt Bolt is his penchant for fun. Have you seen him just before and after races? He is playing it up for the cameras. Posing, shouting macho stuff, smiling and joking. Not to forget, his trademark “Bolt” pose. He is a showman athelete like no other. But once the Olympics official shouts “Ready”, it is all business. You can see him mentally zone in. Once the performance is completed, it is back to having fun.

Lot of us common folks forget to have fun in our work lives. We should learn to have a right mix of fun at work. It makes all the work challenges that much more manageable.

(03) Intense Focus:

Watch Bolt right before the start gun goes off. You can see a look of intense focus and concentration. In an area where precision means a lot, an Engineer needs to maintain extreme focus when working on critical aspects of projects. In a field like Hardware, it gets more pronounced as fixing a hardware bug could get very expensive. Shutting off the possible distractions and focussing on the job at hand is not a very easy task. You just have to give a casual glance around you to see folks who gets distracted each and every time someone walks by (for example).

As I say at the beginning, history will judge if Bolt’s amazing performances were legit or not. But one thing we cannot deny is that with or without steroids, he managed to squeeze in performances of a lifetime in those 10, 20 and 40 seconds of those 3 events, over two Olympics, when many things could have gone wrong (false starts, injury, a competitor on fire etc.). (Side Note: Regarding Lance Armstrong, though he is probably a cheat as far as steroid usage goes, he did beat cancer and that is no easy task. Atleast we can gather hope from that aspect of Armstrong’s life, rather than focusing only on the negatives).

Adios!

Will “keeping a promise” be a liability?

I always pride myself in being able to keep a promise or commitment, with a very high rate of success. Of course, there have been occasions when I have had to break a commitment, examples being:

– Being late for a meeting because the previous one ran late (or back-to-back meetings, in different floors/buildings)

– Car trouble or accident on way to an appointment

– Falling sick

Etc. But, in general, I am pretty good at keeping a commitment.

One of my personal pet peeves is to have people say “Yes, I will do it” and then having to keep reminding them. Of course, the standard answer is: “Too many things on my plate. So sorry …”.

It appears that in India, and Asia in general, you might be considered:

– A fool, if you arrive on time for a meeting 🙂

– A loafer who has nothing better to do, if you arrive for a Dinner/Lunch Party at the scheduled time 🙂

It does not bode well for me, if that is the case. Personally, I prefer to arrive for a meeting earlier than what was required, than be rushed and gasping for breath by trying to arrive right at the correct time. Atleast, it allows me to collect my thoughts before the meeting (Unless of course if it is a snooze-fest time-waste of a meeting, in which case I really am a fool in accepting the invite!).

Since English language allows for:

– “No, I am afraid I cannot do that (because …)”

– “I would not be able to make it”

– “I am sorry, but I am too busy”

Etc. I find it quite easy to be able to keep up with what all I have to do. As I have said elsewhere, it all begins with having your own scheme of keeping track of Action Items. There is no single best way to do it. It is not important “how” it is done. It is most important that it “is done”, whichever method is used.

Do we all have enough time to do everything we would love to do? Absolutely not! Then what is the answer? Prioritization and keeping the list to manageable levels.

In a few weeks, you will probably hear of a “foolish loafer” roaming in Asia … 🙂

Adios …

Desk Job Tips – What works for me …

Though there are perks associated with working in an Office, there are some disadvantages as most of you might have found out already.

(A) Computers & Eyes:

Even with proper anti-glare protection, working on a Computer is quite taxing for the eyes. At a bare minimum, one needs to relax the eyes every 15 minutes. How to do it? Walk over to the nearby window and look at distant objects, for atleast a minute. Or close your eyes and take deep breaths. These two activities help my eyes prepare for the next burst of Computer usage.

(B) Stretching The Body:

I notice that a lot of my colleagues, as well as myself, get body aches from sitting in one position too much. Every hour or so, I take a leisurely walk to the Break Room, for a cup of Coffee (I am not much of a “Tea Guy”) or sometimes just for the break. Even if the chairs are very ergonomically designed, the way one sits matter. It is like having the safest Child Restraint/Seat, but not installing it properly in the car. While doing intense work, it is not easy to monitor your posture. My personal remedy is to do these short walkabouts.

Nowadays you get very expensive and complicated Ergonomic Chairs. I am not sure how helpful these are. Maybe the idea here is to price it so highly that the person sitting on the Chair has “bigger pains” (I.e. Cost, $$$) to worry about than the body ache the Chair is meant to solve.

(C) Lunch Break:

I am not a big fan of bringing lunch and eating it at Office, though I do occasionally get sandwiches etc. and have quick lunch (especially when some crisis is unfolding). I love to take a break after 4-5 hours of non-stop pressure. The lunch break allows me to spend some time with colleagues/friends, away from the work activities, and refresh my mind before the afternoon stint.

(D) Steady Work Routine:

In my opinion, it is good to have a steady routine and work timing, except for cases where all-nighters, late-nights, weekend-work etc. are in play (a.k.a Crisis Situations). Typically, with meetings and other similar activities, it is tough to get “alone time” to work on items only you can do. My personal solution is to use AMs for such work. Since most of the people amble in around 10.30/11AM, it gives me a clear 4-5 hour headstart and “alone time”. As I have mentioned in my Blogs earlier, I am a Morning Person who finds his mind most fresh in the mornings.

 

People and their needs differ. But I think that each one of us needs to find that sweet spot of mental and physical peace, for us to be able to give our best at work.

Adios …

“Tiger By The Tail” – Pet Peeve

We are all humans and tend to make mistakes. (Well, consistent and predictable mistakes will be an issue! :-). One of my Pet Peeves is watching Tasks or Action Items disappear into a Black Hole. I am sure we all have experienced (or caused) such an event some time or the other. I am no saint in this matter either. I too have had occasions, where I might have dropped the ball (atleast from other’s perspective).

Typical examples are as follows.

(01) Scenario1:

Date: Januray 4th, 2011

Person A, “Hey B, Is it possible for you to do task XYZ?”

Person B, “Sure. No problem!”

Person A, “When do you think you can complete it?”

Person B, “I should be done in 2 days”.

Person A, “Great! Please let me know once you are done”.

Date: January 20th, 2011

Person B, “Hi A. Welcome back from the trip. Hope your trip went fine”.

Person A, “Hi B, Sure. The trip went as planned. Thanks for asking. Are you done with XYZ? I did not hear anything on it”.

Person B, “Oh! Actually, I did not get a chance to complete it. There were riots in Brazil, Tsunami happened in Indonesia and Conservatives won the Elections in Australia”.

Person A (In his/her mind), “What??!!”

(02) Scenario2:

Date: January 4th, 2011

Location: An important meeting is going on.

Person A, “Okay, let me recap all the Action Items. B will do items X, Y and Z. B, can you track these items and make sure they are completed as per the agreed-to schedule, which is within a week?”

Person B, “Of course! No problem.”

Date: January 20th, 2011

Person B, “Hi A. I have completed the Action Items from the January 4th Meeting”.

Person A, “Great! Can I have the update?”.

Person B, “Sure! I will email you”.

Date: January 20th, 2011.

Person A gets Person B’s email.

Person A (After reviewing the email, in his/her mind): “I wonder what happened to Action Item Y? He updates only on X and Z”.

Well, the above two are simple scenarios and this can be played out in many different ways. In complex projects, with insane scehdules, and Engineers getting pulled in all directions, it is very understandable that there will be occasional mis-steps. Also, it can be argued that a Manager or Project Lead’s job is to monitor all the activities and ensure that they are proceeding well, I believe it will be beneficial from the Engineer’s own standpoint to minimize the risk of micro-managing from the Boss, which will happen if he/she loses confidence in the Engineer’s ability to keep his/her own promises most of the time.

The onus is on the word, “Occasional”.

The best solution is to diligently keep track of open Action Items, plan properly and update the status on time and conclusively. My boss has a lot of things to worry about and the last thing I want to saddle him with is worrying if I am keeping track of my own Action Items, which I myself have agreed to.

Sounds simple, aint it? 🙂

Adios …

“Tiger By The Tail” – Internal Communication

Information Overload! Isnt that the common theme in our hectic lives? The partition between work and personal lives are blurry, at best. Do I only work from 9AM-6PM? No. Do I keep away from work activities from 6PM-9AM? No. As I mentioned in an earlier Blog, I believe that it is going to be the trend. We have to get better at efficiently using our times in spurts of high-output time-slots, as opposed to predictable continuous hours on a particular activity. (Of course, a “red flag” or “high priority” item supercedes such rules, I think.)

A typical project involves the following as a day-to-day activity list:

– Individual Work (E.g. Designing, Verification, Testing etc., where there is an invidivual working on his/her activity)

– Team Meetings

– One-on-One (or multi-member, but not the whole team) Meetings or Activities

– Emails (!!!)

– Document Sharing

– Team Lunches and Get-Togethers

Etc. How do we ensure that Information is being propogated through the team efficiently? Let me illustrate with some examples of wastage (in my opinion, of course):

– Scheduling meetings where one or more of the invited members’ input or output is not required or needed

– “Too many cooks” Syndrome: I.e. There is a point where “increasing the number of engineers” is not the solution to the problem at hand.

– Multiple versions of Specifications floating around …

– Conducting a detailed back-and-forth discussion via Email. I have had occasions where a person sitting 5-ft from me discusses with me via Email! Dont get me wrong. Email has its advantages: Written minutes of discussion, Allowing the target person to respond at his convenience, Good way to consolidate an itemized list etc. But wont it be more efficient to tackle follow-up questions/doubts on the spot and terminate a question/issue on the spot rather than giving more workload to my Company’s products or giving a good workout to your computer’s keyboards (or your fingers)?

Some suggestions:

(a) Use Specifications as the hand-off tool between Team Members: It would be a good idea to insist on this. A lot of engineers like to get things done, and documentation is considered a boring chore. It would be best for that mentality to be altered. Any feature change or bug fix or programming guide, should be communicated through the official document, I.e. Specifications. Such a structure allows for a lone source of Information (for that part of the Product/Project) for all members of the Team. (Use Version Control).

(b) Feature Overload: As a part of Information Overload, it is best to keep the Feature Requests to manageable levels. Given a choice, who wouldnt like to cram every single feature into the Chip/ASIC/SoC? But we got to be realistic as well, right? Last minute Feature Changes are the killers!

(c) Team Meetings: Publish agenda beforehand. If there are documents that are needed as reference for the meeting, publish them beforehand. Maintain a list of the items you would like addressed during the meeting and at the end of the meeting, make sure you are on track to addressing each of them. Maintain the pace of the meeting. Some people love to talk. Consider yourself to be a Air Traffic Controller or Traffic Light System 🙂 Maintain meeting minutes and encourage Team Members to sift through the discussions and extract every single useful/related information for their part of the Project/Product.

(d) Be a good “Router”/”Switch”. (Hat tip to the Company I work for!). As important as knowing what to say, is knowing what NOT to say. Please keep in mind that not all information is meant to be “democratic”.

Adios …

“Tiger By The Tail” – Conflict

It is everywhere. So, it should not be surprising that it is prevalent in Organizations as well. Through my Career, I have had the opportunity to experience quite a few instances, which prompts me to make it one instalment of my “Tiger By The Tail” series.

Note: As I have mentioned elsewhere, please note that I do not have a Phd in Human Psychology nor have I “studied” Human Behaviour for years. All I have done is to keep my eyes open and my thoughts are based on what I have experienced.

One of the most important lessons during my time in the Silicon Valley is that of Professionalism. Proving, before demanding. Giving one’s very best under less than ideal conditions. Getting inspired and inspring others. Project/Product-first mentality. Not poisoning Team Dynamics. Not using Team Meetings for venting. I can go on and on, but I hope you get the gist. I notice and hear that the Work Environment and Culture has been improving quite a bit all over the World. That is a good thing!

In any Society, Organization or similar Entity, where a group of people coexist and interact closely, Politics is inevitable. Wishing for an Organization or Company without Politics is a wasteful exercise and I personally do not think all kinds of Politics are bad. (E.g. Politics which works to the detriment of the Product/Project would be a bad one. Politics to get a plan/idea (you sincerely believe in) approved is a good one). What I think is bad is “Eat or be eaten” mentality. In other words, pulling down others, who are well on their way to success or recognition, because of a myriad reasons/feelings/needs, which ultimately brings down the Project, Product or worse, the Organization itself. Politics causes a lot of Conflicts in Organizations.

I have come across the following gem several times. PersonA to PersonB, “I hate you. I cant stand you. But, its nothing personal!”. What??? Of course, it is personal. Looks like PersonA need to go back to School and brush up on the language basics a little bit. Or maybe PersonB can give PersonA a Websters Dictionary as the Christmas gift next time. The moment you allow your judgement about an Idea or a Plan or a Message, to be clouded by your feelings about the Messenger, it gets personal. Such a scenario is not good for the Engineer or for the Project/Product. Let me illustrate it with an example. Assume there is a PersonA who teases me and makes fun of me almost every single time we are in a group. Over a period of time, being a human, I could develop a dislike for PersonA. Later on, PersonA comes up with what is (objectively) a brilliant plan or idea. The odds are, I will lean towards hating the idea/plan, because I hate the Messenger.

Disagreement or Conflict does a lot of good as well (I mean it is not all bad!). It keeps the team on their toes. It helps with gut-checking the ideas/plans and making sure it is cross-checked from all angles. The catch is that, the Team Leader and the Team should keep the Conflict away from getting personal and toxic.

Some suggestions:

– If you have high-energy Type-A personalities in your Team, it might be worthwhile to have a “ground rules” casual discussion with everyone before the Project/Product enters the crazy and hectic final phases.

– Detect the following traits as early as possible and try and nip it in the bud, using a frank one-on-one discussion. E.g. (a) Loud-mouth who babbles on and on and does not let anyone else speak (b) Toxic behaviour like public shouting match (which the entire Organization can enjoy 🙂 ) (c) Habitual schedule-slippage (There could be other issues with the person concerned) (d) Kings of dissent (and pessimism), who offer no solutions.

– Sometimes you have to deal with brilliant Engineers, who just happen to have a short fuse. Handle with care! After a few instances, you will get an idea on how to proceed with that particular individual. Most probably, you will have to develop a targetted strategy for dealing with that person (and if required, propogate within the team).

– Encourage everyone to think long term. It is surprising how many times people forget this basic rule.

– How about us losing cool? How much ever you try, there will be occasions where you end up losing your cool. I have had occasions where I have lost my cool. A person who claims he/she has never lost cool, is, well, a L-I-A-R. It is quite natural in high-pressure, high-demand and high-stakes Industry like High-Tech. The correct way to handle it, in my humble opinion, is to apologize in person and smoothening things out. Yes, it takes significant mental effort and ego-shattering embarassment to do that. But I think it is well worth it.

– Team-mates doing a verbal (or physical?) WWF (or WWE, as it is called nowadays)? If it keeps on beyond a particular benchmark, you have to dive in and help restore equilibrium. One need not be the Team Leader to do this. Anyone can (and should, in my opinion) do this. What is the correct “benchmark” for one to step in? One rule of thumb to use is “when the discussion is appearing to enter the grey area, the area between “white” (all rosy) and “black” (blood-bath). Are you feeling a bit uncomfortable and are not sure if the discussion is going in the right direction? Ring! Ring! “Benchmark” has reached!

Adios …