Sunday, October 23, 2011

Which state of mind?

The one big difference I find in myself in the last couple of years is that I take the random normal conversations with some of my friends with a pinch of salt. Does that mean that now finally I have a thought process and mind of my own? Or does that mean I am uncomfortable with some of the points that I hear and thus tend to ignore them? What is my state of mind? 

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Saturday, October 8, 2011


I don't remember how I ended up registering on the website. But lately, as I have been on a drive to reduce email overload, I have been unsubscribing from various mailing lists and is one among many. But it stands out.

No matter how many times I unsubscribe from their list, I still keep receiving the emails. Funny thing I noticed the last couple of times is whenever I try to unsubscribe, I notice that I am already unsubscribed in their settings. Yet I keep receiving emails from them. Perhaps its a bug. Or perhaps its plain simple desperation.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Losing touch

For the past couple of weeks, I have been writing a lot of SQL queries as we do a major data update of the db. The update has been fairly painful, requiring a couple of days of manual mapping of old and new data. But what I realized over the last couple of weeks is that I have forgotten SQL and badly. 

Before I dove into the world of startups, I worked at Tesco HSC and I spent a lot of time over there writing SQL queries. Over the years I had become pretty good at it and had learnt some neat tricks such as using a pivot function. The reports I had developed required some complex data processing which meant a lot of temporary tables and a lot of complex sql queries, all while maintaining acceptable execution time. 

But three years later, I seem to have forgotten SQL. I feel my current proficiency in SQL has gone down from intermediate to beginner. But then I think that three years ago, I sucked at CSS and Javascript. I have been spending more time on front end stuff over the last year than back end. Also, I guess the back end stuff that I have had to touch has been fairly simple. So I guess it's OK. 

But it certainly isn't nice to feel that you are losing touch! :( 

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Friday, August 19, 2011

The importance of a good UI

The most popular job board for startups nowadays seems to be the one by hasgeek. There have been other startup job boards around for a while, but the hasgeek job-board seems to have positioned itself as the defacto job board for startups. In fact, I have seen job  posts by companies like Akamai, which is a testament to the popularity.

What were the reasons that in a short span of time it has become the leading job board for startups and geeks? One is of course, it is FREE. This is in contrast to job board which charges you $10 for 30 days. But I have a feeling that the stickiness factor of the hasgeek job board is its UI. Displaying job posts as sticky post-its is something which leaves an impression on the mind of any visitor.

The underlying features are nothing different. The fields are pretty standard and the data you enter at is what you would enter at any other job board. Perhaps the ability to tweet the job and spread the word is critical as well, but my hunch is that the decisive factor is the UI. 

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Patience - A key weapon when busting bugs in someone else's code

At some point of time in your career as a software engineer/programmer/developer, you would have come across a situation where you were required to fix bugs or add a feature to an existing code base. Over the past few of months, I have been regularly in such situations as I help develop the newer and slick version of babajob.

A thing which I have noticed over the past few months is my general frustration at how things were implemented previously by different people at different points of time. The real frustration happens when I have to try and resolve bugs which occur because of trying to integrate certain portions of the old pieces with the new one. For this I have to understand  -

  1. What feature was the previous developer trying to implement?
  2. How was he/she trying to implement it?
If you are able to figure out the second question, figuring out the first one becomes easier as well. But trying to understand how the features were implemented has been a frustrating experience. And once I did understand how it was implemented, it lead to more frustration because I have never come across such implementations before and I always wondered why couldn't this be simply done the way most ASP.NET developers would do it? After all, what is the point of using ASP.NET if your new/edit forms are in .htm pages with javascript which is not jquery or even the retired Microsoft Ajax library. And worst of all, the javascript is not there for ajax calls, but to actually submit the form to a different aspx page!

Of course, over the course of time I have come to realize that the intention in many cases was merely to avoid duplication of code between the web and mobile interfaces. But this could have been achieved in a better manner, a direction in which we are headed slowly but surely.

Coming back to the title of the post, it is very easy to get frustrated by what you perceive as short-comings in the previous implementation. But getting frustrated is unproductive. It makes you lose your focus and concentration from finishing the task at hand and instead shifts your focus to the deficiencies of the previous implementation. As a result, you end up spending more time debugging because you have lost the focus and are unable to spot bugs which you would have had if you were in a calm and focused state of mind.

The best thing in such cases is to just get up and take a 2 min break, drink a glass of water, take a deep breath and try and bring your focus back to what you wanted to achieve.  Be patient and don't get flustered easily.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thoughts on the Digital Divide

Last week, I was at a job fair organized by a Micro Finance Institution (MFI) and the target audience were the customers of the particular MFI. Most of them were people from the lower middle class. People vying for the blue collared jobs such as typists, office assistants, drivers, maids, receptionists etc.
It is a humbling experience to meet these people and listen to their aspirations and problems.

I talked to quite a few of them. However, there was one lady whose story intrigued me the most. She must've been aged around 50 and used to work in a factory where she put windings on transformers. She was now looking for any job. Did the factory shut down? Why was she looking for a job that paid her less than the one which she had? Turns out she quit the factory job so that she could withdraw all her provident fund savings to pay a loan which she had taken for her daughter's marriage. No this is not a tragic story from a 70's bollywood movie. By paying up the loan upfront she saved on the interest which would have accrued. Or so she said.

She spoke English very fluently and could speak three other languages and was on the lookout for any decent job. I explained to her how babajob could make her life easier by showing various available jobs in one place so that she could pick and choose the ones she liked and then go ahead. Searching becomes hassle free to quite an extent. Though she did not know how to use the internet or a PC, she understood the benefit and said she would ask her daughter to search for a suitable job.

I think to bridge the digital divide, it is essential to market technology as something which makes life easier and hassle free for the masses. The masses don't care about the internet. They want better jobs. Farmers want better forecast and information. If the internet is seen as something which addresses the day to day problems of these people, then you wouldn't have to ask them to learn how to use the internet. They would learn that themselves!

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When was the last time that you went to any exhibition and remembered an exhibitor for the pamphlets/brochures they were distributing? Chances are very rare. What you might remember is what they demonstrated to you and the impact that demo had on you.
If that is the case, then should you focus your energy and resources on secondary materials such as pamphlets? Absolutely, because your customers and users expect your pamphlets or other printed marketing material to be of a certain standard. The better your flyer/pamphlet, the longer is the time before it ends up in the dust-bin. In case you didn't realize, all pamphlets/flyers end up in the waste some time or the other. It might be immediately after handing out or might be months later when the customer is moving to a new place and needs to get rid of the useless stuff.

Remember next time you are putting up a stall at a fair - pamphlets are secondary marketing materials and you are not at the fair to distribute pamphlets. You are there to make an impact on the minds of people whose pain points you are trying solve.

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Laziness leads to Innovation

So many times in the past year, I would return home to find that someone else has parked his/her bike/scooty in the spot where I usually park. Those who have faced this would know just how irritating it is. But a few weeks back, things changed.

Troubled by the chaos and bashing that ensued every morning, when people staying in the apartment complex left for their offices, the new security guard divided the whole parking area into parking spots. The parking space is now managed very efficiently and there is no confusion. It has been designed by the security guard so brilliantly that there is no way a vehicle gets stuck (at least I haven't found any design flaw till now). So now he does not need to be woken up in the morning to pus some bike out of the way.

I was amazed by the design of the parking space. But I was astonished that a security guard who has basic education designed the parking space so efficiently. I know some of my batchmates from engineering would not get it right.

The only motivation for doing this was the guard did not want to be disturbed early in the morning while he was sleeping. Did laziness lead to innovation in this case?

What do you think?

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Marking Facebook Posts as Spam - Messaging Challenge

Every now and then, there will be a moron amongst your friends who will click on a link which will lead to spam posts on your wall. The latest one doing the rounds is that of a video of Osama Bin Laden being shot. 

3 such posts on my wall and I was fed up. I clicked to remove the post. One of the options that came up was Mark as Spam. The question then was - Will marking this post as spam result in all posts from that friend as spam? Or, will it result in no more Osama videos posts? Does marking my friends post as spam result in some adverse effect on friends' facebook profile? 

Is the messaging clear, or did anybody else have these doubts in a similar situation? 

PS:I totally forgive the news channels for the Osama - Obama typo. I made the same mistake in the second para. Luckily I spotted it before it was published. 

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Trying to deceive or just an honest mistake?

That is the question which I am asking and I need your opinion.
Like buttons are now ubiquitous. You see them everywhere on the web. One place where they are prominent and where I actually click on them are news websites. There are so many articles, opinon columns etc. that without a recommendation system, catching up on news seems to be an overload to the brain. Like buttons help me recommend articles which I like so that my friends may read the same. They also help me discover articles which my friends liked. So alongwith my twitter feed, which serves as the primary recommendation filter, the facebook likes provide a good way for me to discover content.
The standard practice that most international news-sites and blogs have, is to associate a Like button with a specific article or a post. You will notice this pattern in sites like techcrunch and new york times . So when I 'Like' a post on techcrunch by Vivek Wadhwa, this recommendation shows up on my friends' news feed and points to the particular article.
Now, today I read this article about Shahid Afridi asking, "Why do we hate India?". I thought it was a good piece of news so I 'Liked' the article. Or at least that is what I thought I was doing. A few hours later when I logged into facebook again my 'news feed' had quite a few posts from But why was this showing on my 'news feed'? I never 'liked' All I did was 'Like' a particular article on But wait a second. That is what I thought I had done, when I clicked on the Like button for the particular article. In reality, the 'Like' button I clicked was for the facebook page of So while I thought I was 'Liking' a particular article, I was actually deceived into 'liking' (rather subscribing to posts) from
So I felt cheated and angry. But the big question now is, was this deception intentional or an honest mistake? And while the number of likes of the facebook page may increase and give impression of growing popularity, if more and more users had the same experience as me, isn't it actually a sign of the brand losing its credibility? What are your thoughts? Have you noticed this in other websites? Is this an India only phenomena?
PS: I noticed that Snapdeal also has a single like button for all its deals and I DO NOT think that is an honest mistake. Its deceiving the user and then spamming the facebook feeds.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yahoo Mail Narrow Search–Awesome

Over the last 3 years, my gmail address has become my primary email address. I hardly log into my yahoo mail address anymore, maybe once a month. My Yahoo address used to be my primary email address. So why did I stop using Yahoo mail. Well essentially because of two reasons. 
1) Search - The search feature of Yahoo sucked. I found it difficult to locate mails which I knew were there in my Yahoo inbox. I found gmail search easy and effective.And slowly I stopped giving people my Yahoo address. I stopped checking my Yahoo mail.
2) Spam - Perhaps the spam filter of gmail is more effective. Or perhaps Yahoo being the number 1 site a few years ago attracted more spammers. I don't know but my Yahoo mail always had more spam than meaningful email.
However, today I had to log into Yahoo mail to find and sort some important mails which I do receive on my Yahoo address. I don't know why but I just tried the search term that I would have tried in my gmail (from:emailaddress) and voila.. it worked. Perhaps this feature has been there for long and I did not know. But this really made my life easier. And now comes the best part.
On the right hand side, a small search options pane opened up giving me very useful options to narrow down my search to the relevant mails. Check out the screen shot below(click on image to view in full size):

These options were super useful. I specially liked the attachment type option as I was looking for a pdf and I knew it was sent sometime in 2009.
All may not be well at Yahoo but this feature sure rocks! Yahoo might just have regained a bit of its lost mojo.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Staying in the Zone (The Social Network vs Inception)

One of the best things that I liked in the movie "The Social Network"  was the concept of "wired in". In November, I was looking back at the effort of the last few months and was wondering where did I go wrong. I thought it took me way too much time to come up with a stable release of CAT-Ninja. Why did it take me so much time and what could I do to improve? 

One of the many things I came across was people talking about getting in the zone, or what was depicted as "wired in" in the movie. This struck a chord with me. I was never in any zone, rather I was always on the HIghway to the Danger Zone.Things that could go wrong, went wrong. Things that couldn't go wrong, also went wrong. Being a one man army (definitely not like this one man army :P) I was unable to manage tasks properly and was most of the time firefighting. Also, what Raghu of Recruiterbox calls the challenge of context switching, is magnified when you are working alone. Its very difficult to sit and code right after your vendor informs you that they will be missing yet another deadline.

So I decided that I shall plan my tasks keeping in mind that most coding work shall be done in time-slots with absolutely no disturbance. That I shall try and get in the zone or be wired in. So with the New Year, I decided to start that practise and started work on a mini project which I have to finish by Jan end. I am also using this mini-project as an opportunity to switch from webforms to mvc, so when I started coding and learning mvc on the night of 2 Jan, I was amazed that I had spent the whole night learning, reading and trying stuff. The same continued on the night of Jan 3. I wasn't going to Jaaga as I was pretty sure I was heading into the zone and that too pretty soon, I would be cranking code out like anything. My new Dell and the switch to Windows 7 from Vista also added to the pleasure of coding. 

However, as I was deep into thinking about TDD and mocking frameworks, something happened. Inception. From within that peace and quiet at 2 am in the night, when I was thinking about TDD, came an idea into my head. A brainwave! A Eureka moment. Suddenly it was very obvious as to why the current product did not gain traction and what could be the possible pivots in the coming months. Excited I tried getting back to work, but was unable to code. The incepion had happened and I was way out of any zone. All I could think was the new approach. 

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