Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A life called Infosys - The clubs and canteens

Infosys is a big software company now and like most software giants they have several campuses spread across the country. These campuses are better known as Development Centers.
As expected these DCs have a few to several thousands of employees, state of art office spaces and state of art hardware to get the job done. They have those break out rooms, coffee vending machines, security cameras ...etc ...All things that one might expect from a company this size. Of course there are the canteens and clubs ... However these are the 2 very facilities that differentiate Infosys DCs from a lot of peers.

One might say so what's so special about these, every big campus has these facilities. Yet they are different.
Lets start with the clubs..
There are again two parts to these .. the people and the material. The "material" being a state of art and well maintained Gym, which might put any commerical gymnasium to shame. Not to mention the swimming pools (complete with jacuzzi and sauna beside them), TT tables, basket ball and volley ball courts, Tennis Lawns and at some DCs even indoor badminton courts.
For any man of muscle (or those without muscles like me), or woman of curves (no naughty thoughts please) one look at the building is convincing to shell out the small premium to use the facilities (yes good facilities come at a fee, albiet a small one here compared to any commercial facility). Even a person who dreads the gym (yours truely) would end up joining the place after a look at these facilities . As for me, despite my laziness I ended up learning swimming. Its a different story that for every 20 minutes of swimming lessons I spent another 20 minutes just standing in the water convincing myself to have another shy at going the distance and another 20 minutes (at the end) were spent relaxing in the jacuzzi.. However had it not been the last 20 minutes I guess I would have never endured the first 40 .. Now that's what I call a good Gym ... the one that entices the laziest of persons to expend some calories (for the uninitiated even spending 5 minutes in jacuzzi will burn out a lot of calories )

Then there are the people... The very software professionals who also happen to have diverse hobbies. ... And thus as many hobby groups (clubs) as the hobbies .. You name it and you have it ... adventure club, music group, theatre group, Toastmasters club ... the list goes on.. At last count there was even a Mithun da fan club (more on that in a different article when I get to the bulletin boards). Beat that.. For some these clubs are avenues to fulfil their hobbies and for several others they are the places to discover new ones.. I, for one, am among the discoverers and can attribute my "Shanbhag Travels" posts to the Bangalore DC Adventura club for helping me discover the trekker in me.

The clubs are so much a part of the Infosys culture that, for people like me they are one big reason, the years at Infosys are what I have come to call as "The life called Infosys"

If the clubs where are not enough to make one a part of the infosys culture, there are the canteens.
As dictated by big campuses the canteens are also big. They have their own separate buildings. A typical canteen is a spacious looking hall with lots of chairs and tables occupying the space and the food counters at some corners. Some even have chairs in the open air which make them quite ambient. However with the size of the DC one cannot ignore the people factor. Thus each canteen is charaterized by the long queues to get the food coupons, and then the hunt for empty tables / chairs. In some DCs the lunch queues give a feeling as if there was a gong that announced the lunch time at a factory and all the workers have suddenly flocked to the canteen. Of course there was no gong here and the software professionals (workers) are dressed in well creased formals rather than boilers suits. The situation frankly is not too different given the numbers. Then there are the caterers who will feed you almost anything in the name of food. There is competition in form of multiple caterers being allowed to set stalls in the same DC, yet all of them seem to be bad. I guess when there is plenty of demand, there is no motivation for the supplier to provide good quality. Contrary to the clubs so far I have only criticized the canteens.. then why are they places which are so important to the Infosys culture...

Despite all the criticism, the canteens are an integral part of the DC. They are the place where all of us took our long tea breaks. A canteen is a place where people are not just eating food but a place where people socialise. Be it cursing your boss, discussing the last "sachin" century or taking about the highs and lows of the stock market. Its a place where some great friendships are forged, the ice is broken between complete strangers, the solutions to some of the trickies coding problems are found. Its a place where the accumulated stress from work melts over a cup of tea. (The tea by the way was pretty good in most canteens especially compared to the vending machine on each floor).

Some of my most memorable times in Infy have been the time when I was waiting for a project soon after a transfer (better described as when I was on bench). In the office I had nothing to do but pretending to be working. Instead I found that the canteen was a very good place to be. So I used to catch some or other friend who had some time on hand and go for a cup of tea. The tea usually would take a long time where we would discuss topics of national interest, like why the vending machines were not serving good tea ?, why India lost last cricket match ?, what came first the chicken or the egg ... etc. The canteen is also the place where I came up with useful ideas like why not open a public speaking club in Infosys pune (now they have a Toastmasters Club at Pune) or Why not go out to cycling trip to Sinhagad ?

A typical day when on bench began with a half an hour of breakfast at 10:00 am, followed by an hour of lunch at 12:00 am, followed by another 20 min tea break at 3:00 (thanks to another friend on bench) and then another tea break at 5.30 before leaving for the day at 6:00 pm. In short for every 1-1.5 hours spent in office I used to spend half an hour in canteen.
So much so that some friends even started to believe that I spent all my time in canteen. Thankfully my manager didn't think like that.

Given that this is a bachelor's log and we are talking about canteen, one topic cannot go without a mention. That is Girls ... It was a time when I would ogle around looking for my next big relationship (unfortunately this is one purpose, the canteen didn't serve for me). It was a time when I would spend hours doing nothing but glancing around and not get tired. I could appreciate how despite a dress code there was really none for the fairer sex. Actually thankfully so, because "Ladies usually look good" and they variety of clothes means there always something new to look forward to (even when there is a dress code). Apart from a place where young bachelors like me are merely ogling around doing nothing, there are also the smart ones who actually used the canteens to get "tables for two" at a highly economical price and make it count. I know at least 2 couples now who used these "tables for two" to convert friendship into a useful relationship and have ultimately gotten married. If not for those canteens it would have been difficult to imagine those couples. The canteens do have a greater good to offer apart from just feeding thousands of hungry workers .... oops, software engineers.

As I end this post I would say only that there is more to these DCs than work... There are the clubs and canteens