Harish Bhat furthers the Sunscreen Agenda

by sidin in


This came in the email day before yesterday. Harish, as you can see, has mega-tons more experience than I do. And also runs a big company. So you should probably listen to him.

***

Further advice to the MBA Class of 2011

Dear Mr. Vadukut, and MBA students navigating placement season -

Your “Cubiclenama” of last week, containing advice for the graduating MBA class passing through the madness of placement season, made for inspiring reading. There is a strong case for making it compulsory reading at all business schools. I must clarify that I am from a very ancient MBA Class of 1987, but some of your sage advice is relevant to all MBA students and alumni, however young or bald they may be. I have indeed begun balding, but am yet to finally conclude whether this is on account of a quarter century spent in corporate cubicles, or a sign of true wisdom that comes from reading various pieces of excellent advice such as yours.

I agree with all the advice you have proferred to the new MBA batch, except your recommendation that they should forget Pink Floyd. This is simply because it is never possible to forget Pink Floyd, despite the fact that we first heard many of their songs in the midst of alcohol fuelled stupor or even worse. Hence, you are asking for the impossible. In any case I must point out that it is quite appropriate to sing their signature number “We don’t need no education” when we finally leave the portals of business school, which is possibly the last educational portal most of us will ever pass through. Many of us will say a very loud Hallelujah to that.

Now, there is further sound advice I would like to share with the MBA class of 2011 as they step into placement season, which builds on what you have told them. To begin with, you must not merely answer questions from the august panel of interviewers. Many of us who are part of interview panels these days also like to be questioned, since we get questioned all the time in our offices anyway. A day without questions is like a dancefloor without music, or Elizabeth Taylor without a husband. So ask your interviewers a few simple questions, such as :

“Are you really happy at your job, Sir ? And what makes you so ecstatic at work, if I may ask ?”

“Do you have really beautiful women in your Organisation ? I mean, even rough approximations of Katrina or Angelina ? Do you encourage dates, Sir, either blind or visually vivid ones, with colleagues ? And a last question, Sir, given the high costs of dining out, do you fund these dates ?”

“What is the best and worst thing that has happened to habitual latecomers in your fine Organisation ?”

You can gradually progress to more complex and interesting questions, such as –

“Sir, can you tell me how you segment consumers in your industry ?” (rest assured, questions on consumer segmentation can never be answered correctly)

“Sir, how can smokers light up in your Company, without breaking the law ?” (from my years of experience, atleast one member of the interview panel will be a smoker, and hence likely to be an implicit breaker of the law. You will therefore never get a honest reply.)

“Sir, do you permit the wearing of bermudas in your office ?”

Now, this last question may appear unusual, but it is a very important investigation to make. Reliable dipstick research has shown that offices which permit Bermudas are generally happy-go-lucky places which you will enjoy forever. If they permit quick tots of Jamaican rum, a delightful liquid close enough in origin to Bermuda, they will be even better. But if an Organisation says No to a Bermuda or a Jamaica, be doubly cautious about accepting an offer from them, because you may end up in a stuffy office which has never ever heard of Dilbert or Vadukut. Sadly, such places exist.

You must also enquire from the interview panel whether the Company parties often, and if so where do they go to let their hair (or what is left of it, in some of our cases) down. If the initial response to this question is positive, go ahead and offer to organize a party that same evening in your dorm. Here is a valuable insight. Most interviewers crave to get back to their campus lives, and there is nothing like a rocking party to soften them up completely. You can play Pink Floyd, mix drinks liberally, and provide colourful bermudas to the interviewers as well. The Chairman of your Placement Committee should be kept away from these happy events, and use good masks all around since these days photographs and leaks appear liberally on the internet, even if Julian Assange is in some sort of custody.

Masks are good advice, actually. Use masks during the interview. Mask everything interesting or illegal you have done on campus. Mask your mathematics scores, if you can, or attribute the dismal performances to the flu you repeatedly suffered during exams. Falling ill is the most natural thing that can happen in business schools, and is sound preparation for your later life in an Organisation.

But let me cut to the only serious point I really want to make, which is the direct opposite of masks. Unmask your passion at the interview, and say what you really want from your career. Tell the interviewers what excites you, what you want to really do in your life. Speak spontaneously. Stand up and speak, if you wish. Loosen your tie, and roll up your sleeves, even if this is considered heresy. Nothing will show you in better light than speaking about what really moves you, and how. Show them that there is fire in your belly, and that it burns brightly. All good interview panels look for the spark within you, but you have to unmask it first.

Here’s hoping you land a job of your dreams !

Harish Bhat

(Harish Bhat is Chief Operating Officer – Watches, Titan Industries Limited. These are strictly personal views, and are quite likely to be disowned by both his Organisation and Alma Mater.)


Dear MBA Class of 2011: There will be editing mistakes

by sidin in


Last Friday's Cubiclenama piece has been well received. So much so that it has given the nation strength at a time when it is ravaged by rife corruption, nadirs of public virtue and plumbing displays of power-play batting.

Unfortunately the version you read in the paper was the bastard child of two versions of the piece: the first one I had written before the missus had a chance to quality control, and the final one after. But something got lost in email transmission. So not everything is in the right place. For instance there shouldn't be two references to shaving. And there are some lines missing, which jar.

This is what the final version should have read like.

P.S. Now I know you're thinking that this is a complete cop-out and I am merely doing this to update the blog without actually putting in any effort into writing an original post. You are thinking very correctly.

P.P.S. I might start an email newsletter.

P.P.P.S. I want to drop everything and write a crime novel.

***

Ladies and gentleman of the MBA class of 2011,

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, a good USB memory stick would be it. The long term benefits of a USB stick has been proved by the number of times people lose laptops, or are suddenly asked to submit resumes on a plane or at a conference. The rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering work experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy your last few days in business school. Chances are that you’ve already cynically dismissed the whole bloody place. But trust me, in 5 years you’ll attend an alumni reunion and realize that business school was perhaps the last place you were both truly intellectually challenged and emotionally excited. Both those things will happen again. But rarely together.

You are not as smart, or stupid, as you think.

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to make investments based on research reports that will, one day, be written by that same clueless idiot sitting next to you in the canteen right now. The real troubles in your life will never be solved by a presentation or spreadsheet, and will always involve other people. And people are unpredictable sons of bitches.

Spend a little time everyday doing nothing.

Listen.

Don’t expect organizations to be as committed to you as you are to them. Organizations don’t work that way. If you do find one that is as committed, never leave.

Jog. (Or walk briskly, or cycle, or do yoga.)

Don’t judge yourself by how much money you make. Someone you know is always making more than you. (And no good comes from knowing who this is.)

Record all the feedback you ever get in your career. Especially the inaccurate, pointless, biased and vague bits that drove you nuts. This will help you when you eventually give feedback to somebody yourself.

Keep a copy of all your old resumes. When you are struck by bouts of existential crisis, flip through them in chronological order. Do the same with resignation letters.

Decide.

Not a lot of people are ‘meant’ to do something or the other. They just say that to sell bad books. Salman Rushdie might make an excellent, and content, supply chain management consultant. Who knows? You will find various amounts of meaning and satisfaction in various things. Choose your compromises wisely.

You’ll like the job a little better if you like the dress code.

Take chances when you’re young, single and don’t have loans to repay. You’ll take larger chances. Large chances are more fun than small ones.

Be nice to people for the heck of it.

Maybe you’ll retire when you’re 45, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll get an Awesome Alumnus Award, maybe you won’t, maybe you will marry your school sweetheart, maybe you won’t. Whatever happens, do not forget those probability lessons they taught you in school. Things tend to even out.

Dance. But keep it classy.

Avoid reading business books. However feel free to write them.

Travel light.

You will most certainly face difficult choices. In most cases it helps to think of what choice maximizes gain, instead of agonizing over what minimizes loss.

Invest in a good suit, pair of shoes and get a shave. Thanks to society’s shallowness, your return on investment will be considerable.

Calm down.

Let people give you advice. Develop the art of looking interested even if you are not. Pay attention to advice from people who have a stake in your happiness, and not a stake in your success.

Please stop listening to Pink Floyd.

But forget everything else. Quickly go buy that USB stick.

Best of luck.

***

If you have questions, thoughts, musings and such like leave a comment. Discussing things might further help a lot more people.


Cubiclenama: The BlackBerry Spies

by sidin in


If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook you've probably already received a link to the latest edition of the weekly Cubiclenama column I write for Mint.

But there is more value-add in this blog post. So don't go.

When I first started writing the column, in December 2008, the idea was to poke a little fun at the workplace. Or, to paraphrase the column's boilerplate, to look at the pleasures and perils of the workplace.

Since April the column has gone from being fortnightly to weekly, but my mandate hasn't changed. I still need to file, every Thursday even though they really like it by Wednesday night, around 850 words of somewhat amusing prose.

Humour writing is exhausting. Especially so when my product, in this case Cubiclenama, appears on a page which has pretty high standards. For instance every Thursday the same space is occupied by the wonderful, curious and endlessly informed Salil Tripathi. How do you follow a top act like that?

Which means besides poking fun at HR and IT and Consulting and Banking and BlackBerrys and things like that, I also need to make the reader think a little bit. Somehow. At least by some form of free association.

Compounding this problem further is the fact that many people read excellent workplace columnists like Lucy Kellaway, and all people read Scott Adams. Kellaway is one of those rare writers who make you laugh and think at the same time. Her column for the FT is an institution.

Adams is God.

So most weeks I start worrying about the column around lunch time on Monday.

First I start to Google for offbeat news stories about murders or electrocutions or amputations in the office space. Many of them are not usable directly or indirectly. But they sometimes point at themes. They point at some aspect of the office space or office culture that I might resonate with. The trick usually is to find something that is obscure enough to be fresh, but not so obscure that few people connect with it.

So I can't do anything with the IT or jargon used in a newsroom. Few people would be bothered. But Lotus Notes jokes are good. Bloomberg terminals can be touched upon briefly. Spam email is old news. HR is an unending fountain of delight.

Eventually I end up reading or discussing something with somebody that generates a small seed of an idea. And then I semi-think about it till Wednesday morning. At which point I think about thinking about writing about it. (I don't know about you, but often the hardest part about writing a column is the writing of the column. The brain sometimes does anything to delay the typing. That and Twitter.)

And then around noon on Thursday I panic and begin to type. (For weeks now I've been using the excellent Q10 app on the office laptop to write. If there is a lot of noise in the office or in my head, I listen to Rainy Mood on my headphones. It makes me drink a lot of water and pee a lot. But it is most soothing. Too soothing and its difficult to keep the language funny. Too frenetic and I feel rushed by the music. Boring podcasts are very good.)

This week I didn't have to Google at all. As soon as I heard about the whole BlackBerry-government imbroglio I knew I had to write about it.

Eventually I wondered what the government would do once it had access to BlackBerry messages.

Sometimes, when the idea forms perfectly, the columns write themselves.

I rarely link to columns or articles on the blog. But quite a few people seemed to have liked this one. So here it is:

Note: There is a small Cubiclenama group on Facebook. It has been dormant for a while. But I hope to ignite the existing community and attract new members by amplifying the experience with relevant and engaging content.

---

The BlackBerry Spies

Originally published in Mint and on Livemint.com.

Sometime in the near future.

Deputy director Kumar of the National BlackBerry Monitoring Agency of India (NBMAI) briskly walks into his shiny new office. The floor creaks under the weight of his shoes. The maple wood must be replaced, Kumar thinks.

The offices of NBMAI are located in the netball stadium custom-built for the Commonwealth Games. After the Games, the facility was handed over to a developer for maintenance. Who converted it into a commercial centre. Now NBMAI shared a floor with a KFC and the top floor of a Big Bazaar. Thankfully, the netball field itself remained untouched, and netballers from all over India were allowed to use the facility, whenever they wanted, between 6am and 8am on all Sundays.

Kumar marches through a vast warren of cubicles. Employees peer at computer monitors.

Every piece of data exchanged between two BlackBerrys in the country is routed through NBMAI’s servers. As per government regulations, NBMAI employees are allowed to randomly pick any voice call, text message, instant message, email or MMS from this flood of communication.

The first few weeks of NBMAI were turbulent. Kumar and his superiors slowly realized that depending purely on human agents to randomly pick messages would lead to chaos.

For instance, on one evening, in the early days of the agency, Kumar discovered that 23 of the 34 monitoring experts were all looking for threats to state security, especially photos, on Deepika Padukone’s BlackBerry.

A few weeks after that the home minister suddenly visited NBMAI’s office for a surprise check. However, an employee had already read an email Kumar sent to the home secretary, from his BlackBerry, about the trip.

When the ministry team arrived they saw a banner: “NBMAI welcome the home minister. We wish you a successful surprise inspection visit.”

In yet another case of blatant misuse, a Lok Sabha member convinced one of NBMAI’s employees to tap into an arch-rival’s Berry. A debate was afoot, and the MP asked this spy among spies to rush any dodgy messages to Parliament.

Damage, however, was averted at the last minute. The MP stood up and said: “Speaker sir, I wish to bring to your notice this message sent by the honourable member last week. In it the member says, and I quote: ‘Lolz u cnt hz 3G yt. Eeeheehee reg: MNP. C u at Nth Blck @ 8.’ My question to the House is this: What does this mean for the country? In fact, what does this mean in general? Anyone?”

Since then Kumar had made several changes. First of all, a computer program was installed that could automatically check messages and flag problematic ones. Second, Kumar made it illegal to target checks on any individuals. Yet, NBMAI still faced crises on a daily basis.

Kumar settles into his office chair and switches on his computer. Instantly he notices a series of emails. One is an emergency message. The letters glow red. He summons his CTO.

“Sir,” the CTO gasps, “our terror-attack module flagged over 7,000 terror messages last night. We need to do something about this.”

“My God! 7,000 messages! We must alert Home immediately!”

“But it was a misunderstanding...”

“What do you mean?”

“Sir, there was a national conference of management consultants in Mumbai last night. It appears that their BlackBerry messages are throwing up many false positives.”

“I don’t understand...”

“First of all, in the morning there were several messages that mentioned airports, drops, flights, transfers and even one that said someone was going to ‘crash on the plane’. Our algorithm went mad.”

“Assuming a plane attack no doubt. We must fix this. Then?”

“During the day they had presentations. So we detected messages about ‘blowing up charts’, ‘exploding the process flow’, ‘boiling the ocean’, ‘deep dive’, ‘drill down’, ‘critical path’, ‘go live’ and more than one ‘helicopter view’. The system decided that some form of airborne attack was imminent at Marine Drive.”

“Understandably so. And then?”

“During the evening we got bombarded with ‘mission critical’, ‘chain reaction’, ‘collaborate’ and ‘cross platform’.”

“Oho. This must have set off our rail terror alert logic.”

“Correct. But things got completely out of hand in the evening. When the conference got over.”

“Oh God...”

“Yes...”

“The military site attack sensor...”

“Correct. We fended off all the ‘ice breaker’, ‘break out’ and ‘north bound’ alerts. But when three thousand ‘touch base’ messages flooded the system, it immediately alerted Siachen.”

Kumar shakes his head in frustration. He stands up in order to say something. When suddenly the wooden floor, built by the lowest bidder, gives way, and he disappears into the ground.

Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life.