Monday, March 19, 2007

A life called Infosys - The Great American Dream

The Great American Dream
Most of us from the developing economies like India, have grown up looking up to the US as a land of opportunities, where nothing seems impossible. A lot of us have aspirations to go this land of dreams and make most of the opportunies if offers. It is a dream about living a comfortable life, having lots of money to spend, owning a fancy car, a small villa somewhere, having fun at the casinos, watching the gorgeous looking hollywood babes, the XXXX clubs (sorry that is censored), travelling half way around the world and so on ... A lot of the dream is, fuelled (apart from the money part) by our appetite for the hollywood movies, may not be a true representation of the US. However whether the representation is true or not it does form "The Great American Dream"

Now how does Infosys link up with this dream. That can be explained quite easily. Just like any typical Software services company, a large part of the Infosys business comes from the USA. Thus as an employee it offers a lot of opportunities to travel. So within weeks of entering the company a person would come to relate the term "onsite" (stands for the project team that faces the client in the US) to "The Great American Dream". Its true because the people at onsite are usually Indian employees on abroad deputations and for all those in India, they are living the Dream.

For anyone remotely interested in any part of the Dream (for most of us it is the money), a subconscious build up to that dream starts very soon. Thus its a time to party when the manager asks some one to file the papers for a Visa, or when the Visa interview is successfully cleared, or when the travel date is announced. Never would anybody be so excited about a short term transfer as some one who is about to get that ticket to the US. I think even Europe or Australia would be good destinations but then they don't have the "Dream" associated with them. The best part is that any person with a sufficient work experience, an ability to get the job done and acceptable communication skills, eventually ends up getting the chance. In short most people would eventually get that chance to party.

Its a dream that literally shakes up the life for some. It should be, for it involves moving physically to the other end of the globe. Thus the announcement of an onsite opportunity is not just a time to party. Its a time to spend several thousand rupees in shopping. The time to perhaps even sell of some of the household items like furniture, electronics etc, if the trip is expected to be a long one. For some with stable relationships it is a time to even tie the knot in a hurry (for who knows when will I get to return?). Its a time to start bothering about things like do I have an international driver's permit, how many $s should I save a month, do I know any one there, can some one fix up an apartment for me and so on. I cannot think of any event, other than marriage, that shakes up some ones life so much and yet that person is excited about it. There is the anxiety, the fear, the pain of separation from loved ones but I think usually the excitement reins supreme.

For some this dream becomes true the first time the manager announces about the opportunity. However for many this dream also has an additional twist of the "law of uncertain dates".
The law as I would quote it is "A person is not at onsite until having cleared all the immigration checks at the US airport and taken the first breath of the air in the US" Any one would say that the above statement is obvious and this very statement does not mention anything about a Date. The reason is that this statemen is the consequence of some of the uncertainties that bother people. As mentioned in the "shake up of life" para above, the announcement on onsite shakes up life and yet a person is excited about it. It is because most people have in their dreams already started living the "Great American Dream". However every now and then due to delay in formalities the dates get pushed, the trip gets postponed in definitely, the trip even gets cancelled and so on. I have even heard stories of people having confirmed tickets in the hands and then being recalled from the airport. Of course given the business model of the company there is rarely a case who does not get the opportunity at all. As I mentioned before "eventually" every one gets the chance. However the uncertainties mentioned above mean that the excitement will often be met with grave dissapointment for short while. Thus the simple statement at the begining of this para,turns into "The law of uncertain dates"

Thus every infoscions "Great American Dream" is now summarized in few words. My next article would be about living that dream.

A life called Infosys - The bulletin boards

In my last post in this series, I mentioned about the bulletin boards. While the clubs and canteens are important to the life called infosys, the bulletin boards are perhaps the single unique feature that really sets apart, the life at Infosys.

So what are the bulletin boards. For all users of MS Outlook, they are nothing but a set of officially set up public folders open to all employees for posting anything as long as the "anything" complies with a certain set of restrictions. As for non MS outlook users, imagine it as being like a wall where every employee could come and post his / her thoughts, only that this wall is not a real one but a wall in the virtual world of the computer network.

So with the context of the bulletin board set, its now time to bring it to life .. at least in words.

My first encounter with the bulletin board was when I was looking out for a rental flat in bangalore. Me and my roommates to be were all new to the city and also new to the concept of renting apartments. The brokers charged a hefty commission and most of us were without any cash as we hadn't yet received our first salary. Then we came across a bulletin board folder dedicated to real estate, buy and sell .. So what was this folder, a virtual market place with buyers and sellers all posting their messages, views and reviews about anything and everything that could be bought or sold legitimately. For us as the new comers it was just the ideal thing we could ask for and soon within a couple of weeks of searching we were in an apartment that was almost perfect. Thanks to the bulletin board we directly contacted the owner, had already got reviews on the area and the location. All we had to do now was to sign the contract and move in.

As days passed by I discovered that the bulletin board was more than just about buying and selling. There were various folders which served different purposes. If differently put, the purpose was pretty much discussion and a place to put opinion , but the topics were many and hence grouped logically very much like discussion forums on the net.
Thus there was a board each for sports, heath, entertainment, events, buy / sell etc. As if they were not enough there was also a general board for everything under the sun. Not to mention the fact that being in the information technology industry there is the need to collbarate and share information / knowledge on the technologies itself. Thus there were a whole lot of boards for each and every technology that people worked on.

Soon my day, usually started with checking emails, followed by getting to work. Every now and then I felt the need to stretch and relax for a minute and there were the bulletin boards. I gradually starting depending on them for the time I chose to sneak away from work. The best part was that my boss wouldn't be able to spot that I was not quite working as it would seem like I was reading my mail.

Thus to serve my break time reading, there were the cartoons like Calvin and Hobbes (till some one discovered that posting cartoons on the boards was a potential copyright violation and it was stopped), there were the discussions like "is Lara or tendulkar the best batsman", "Why can't the canteen cook better meal?", "Why should there be a dress code?" and so on. I realised that apart from a few fruitful discussions most threads would start with some useful knowledge sharing which was soon hijacked by a set of totally useless yet entertaining comments and then the thread would take a whole new direction.

One example best illustrates the entertainment value of the bulleting boards. I recently read one thread where some one complained on the non availability of whole milk in the coffee dispenser in a particular DC while other DCs had that facility. The argument was that tea with milk powder does not taste as good as with whole milk. While I agree with the argument itself, what discussion ensued later is probably still doing rounds in the email forwarding zone. The discussion soon turned to the sources of getting whole milk in the campus, which in turn pointed to a need for Infosys to enter Animal husbandry and then the most hilarious twist was the question whether the animals would be made to wear identification badges like all human employees. Thankfully though Infosys does not seem to interested in entering that business ..

Apart from providing entertainment the bulletin board also served as a vent for pouring out the frustrations and the stress of the work. It also served as a place to share information. A place to even form a network. I think a whole lot of clubs would have had their roots starting out in a thread on the bulletin board. I myself know of one such club and the number could not be down to just that. Apart from real clubs there were also virtual clubs. A good virtual one which I came to be a part of albiet for a short time was a Mithun da fan club were all people were hell bent on proving that Mithun made up for the most entertaining action hero with all his stylish antiques. Now for most people who have grown up avoiding his action flicks, the number of people who responded to this club would seem incredible but I guess the entertainment value of the club was to blame for that.

A description of the bulletin board would be incomplete without talking about the types of people who could be found posting on the boards.
So here is a guide

1. Information seekers - The people who would more often than not start new threads. They represent the need of a bulletin board in the company.

2. The guides - These are the people who share useful information based on the context and are very valuable to the sustainance of the bulletin boards. Usually a post seeking information will be met with a post from someone from this group.

3. The misguides - These are the people who are very important to the side effect of the bulletin boards - entertainment. It is a very useful side effect as described in my above paras but not necessarily a desired one as far as the management goes. Put simply the misguides provide the twists to the threads so as to take the discussion to new levels. My example above demonstrates the result of posts by the misguides.

4. The experts - These are the people who are not really experts on any particular subject but they are the experts on the bulletin board itself. They are in a way an advanced form of the misguides. Like misguides they too provide twists and turns to most topics but theirs grip on the art of misguidance is at a completely different level. They are the ones who check the bulletin board messages like their own mailbox and consider it their duty to reply to every post to the best of their abilities. Thus no thread can go without having a comment from the experts. Gradually these experts by their ability of misguidance become so important to the entertainment proposition of the boards that their absence is also felt.
I remember once when one of these "experts" was on leave for a week. Within a day there were postings asking where he was. In short some of the experts also end up developing a fan following for their posts. They may also be thus refered to as the "the celebraties" of the bulletin board.

Of course with these varied types it is important also to point out that no person can strictly fit into one single category. Most people take all roles from the information seekers to misguides.
Its only the "experts" who are few and even they occasionally wear the shoes of the information seekers or guides.

With this I salute the bulletin board and the people that maketh the boards a reality

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Owl

As a kid, I often read fables which always depicted the owl as a wise bird. Of course I don't seem to remember any of those fables now. What I do remember is that the owl is considered a wise bird. As a teenager most of us are the young birds, ready to take the flight, metaphorically speaking of course. If one could then extend this metaphor to people each of us could end up being named after one of those birds. Thus I have decided to name one of my ex roommates as an owl.

I have known this guy for a very long time now. We started our undergrad in the same class and lived in the same locality. Naturally we ended up spending a lot of time together in the classroom and while travelling back and forth to college. Gradually we came to know each other quite well and shared a lot of our thoughts. I guess both of us have influenced each other in the way we developed in our late teens.

We mostly chatted about a variety of topics in the bus right from how to tackle a particular subject to who's the better actor .. Amithabh or sharukh ...Talkative as I am, I mostly talked and he listened. He always seemed to have a quite confidence about him and I thought he was constantly thinking and analysing things around him (even while he was sleeping in the bus). He seemed to show a lot more maturity than most teenagers his age, albiet he was not as street smart as most teenagers his age. However I realised gradually how much of a thinker he was and gradually also realised that he had become an advisor for most of our common friends in a variety of matters.. In that sense he had become the wise man .. the owl..

However it would be unfair to him if I called him the owl only for his thinking prowess. As a thinker he has always been a definite competitor to me (perhaps the winner too)... but our competition does not stop at that. Both of us have been and still are nocturnal and lazy creatures. The word noctornal definetly justifies his claim to being the owl although I can't say the same about laziness. However at both these characteristics he has always been a very tough competitor.

We came to be the real competitors when we became room mates of late. It was all about being the lazier guy now. The nocturnal part had been destroyed by now due to the entry into the corporate world, where being asleep in the morning hours was not necessarily considered a virtue. However our profession is such that we can hide our laziness and perhaps even use it to our advantage if only we could disguise it well enough. Thus now the competition in laziness had come a long way from boasting about it en route to college to really proving the point.

So there we were trying to out do each other at who could figure out the way to the TV remote by expending the least energy possible. The competition was so intense that usually proximity to the remote was the clinching factor , or rather lack of it. We always tried to prove to each other how the other guy was closer to the remote or to the switch board. If on an odd day, the proximity factor was high enough for both of us that the remote was beyond the stretching leg or hand then,we would wait each other out so that the other person would get up say for a natures call thus increasing his proximity factor and thus bring about the tie breaker.
I don't think either of us ever kept scores but I am sure that the competition was tough.

Another place where we competed a lot was video games. Here I think he was always the guy who had an edge, for somehow despite all his laziness he was a great button masher and I was not. Additionally the usually quite owl would suddenly start shouting loudly and taunting his oponents during the game and thus it was always fun and challenging to play mortal kombat or halo against him.

As if gaming and laziness were not enough, we had a few more common interests - trekking, travelling to mumbai, sleeping in the bus, watching movies.. and so on. Thus I have known him as one of those guys who was usually there just one phone call away, be it going out for a boring movie to get rid of our boredom or going off for a trek to beat the stress..
I remember how after one of those frustrating viva - voce, where both of us had faired really bad, we came close to the train station and decided it was time to go to a movie. I don't remember who came up with the suggestion first or how did we decide which movie to go to. All I remember is that we saw arguably one of the worse movies and came out of the theater with all the frustation gone .. How ... simply by passing expert comments (read as cursing and cribbing) on every possible scene...I think our commenting habits (more so mine) meant that irrespective of rating of the movie, we always came out of the cinema hall quite satisfied with the movie..

Over the period of time he has become one of those friends, who has not only been a friend but on occasions the philospher and some times even the guide.. Each time either of us had something to discuss, be it how to approach that girl I like, or what to do about accelarating professional growth or simply talk about how the new Don movie was different from the old Don we would just go to the cafeteria and have a long chat... In that sense I think the feeling of friend, philosopher and guide was a reciprocal one for both us .. Thus he has been the owl to me..

As I end this post,I have to bring out the fact that he has now taken a huge step which is expected to change a lot his traits.. He has stepped into the world of married people.. I expect that soon his laziness would be treated by his better half and I would emerge the winner the next time we compete (unless something earth shattering as marriage happens for me too). His gaming habits will definitely have to go out of the door in favour of quality time (read as time spent listening to his better half) ... Actually even as his marriage date was closing on, he had already given up a lot of the movies, games, treks etc in favour of quality time.. However now those changes are only going to be overwhelming to him .. and all I can say is my best wishes with married life ..