It’s been quite a long time since I posted. This is latest new event I am planning to attend.

It is the first product barcamp in the country (I think!) cuz I have not heard of anything similar before. The aim of this barcamp is to bring all the product companies in hyderabad out into the open so that we can learn from their experiences.

Here is a brief about the event:

March 28th, 4:30pm @ IIIT, Gachibowli, Hyderabad

Event: Hyderabad Software Products Showcase

Showcase producs from Hyderabad,  demo recent new products/startups, established products from Hyderabad, successful entrepreneurs sharing perspective, discuss the eco-system and support network available

Target: Product companies, Startups, Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Objective: To highlight the strong product traction, successes, opportunities and eco-system available.

:30 Tea
5:00 Anil Jampala, President Hysea, Welcome address
5:05 Ramanathan, CEO, Cordys India- Journey of a Product company- the Business perspective
5:30 Products landscape- Ramesh Loganathan (MD, Progress Software India)
6:00 Case study- internal innovation- Microsoft (Rich Web on mobiles)- Sudeep Bharati, Director, Mobile Developer group, Microsoft
6:15 CEO Speak
  Suheim Sheikh- Founder CEO, SDG Software
  Jay Pullur, Founder/CEO, Pramati
  CK Shastri, Founder/ CEO, Intense Technologies
  Azhar Farhan, Serial tech Entrepreneur
  Mahesh Murthy, Founder CEO Pinstorm & Founder CEO Seedfund

Sandeep Bhandarkar CEO and Founder of Fineng

7:15 Panel discussion – CEOs, Academia, Support system & VCs
  CEOs, Prof.Sangal (IIIT), Sateesh Andra (DFJ), Hemir Doshi (IDG Ventures), Unnikrishnan (Sun)
8:00 Eco system- Sateesh Andra;  Hemir Doshi (IDG Ventures), Unnikrishnan (Sun) 
8:25 Announce IIIT Innovation lab- Rajeev sangal
8:30 Dinner

See you there! For those who can not make it, wait for the update after!

I am in Jamnagar at present and this part of the country is seeing the coldest wave in 40 years! I was standing in line to get a ticket cancelled. I stood for almost 2 and half hours and heard the funniest conversations. The most common and striking though were the ones about the overwhelming cold in jamnagar.

This is a windy city. When temperatures are 25 deg, the winds make it seem like 21. With the temperature at around 17 during the day and a few degrees lower at nights, you can imagine how it makes  some feel. I learnt the meaning of chilled to the bone while standing in line! The winds were so fast that despite having a jacket on, i felt like i was standing in bare skin!

If it is this bad here, I can’t imagine what it is like in Delhi, Kashmir and the rest of the line all the way down to here!

I thought Hyderabad was bad, but this is horrible! I din’t even feel this cold when I was in Jamshedpur during the winter!

Lots has happened over the past couple of days. I have travelled to Shirdi by road from Hyderabad and from there to Jamnagar. It’s quite a journey. :)

All through there have been various thoughts in my head. Since it is my blog, I suppose I can put them out here! :D

First of all, my fundamental thoughts regarding places of worship – what is their purpose? Do temple authorities (management) have any duties towards the place they are located in (i.e. city/village etc.)?

AFAIK, places of worship are there for primarily two purposes: a) To provide an atmosphere of peace and quiet so that visitors can clear their mind and recharge spiritually.

b) To provide spiritual learning and profess the teachings of the lord of the place.

What I find to be amazingly strange at places of worship now is that neither are achieved. They are not peaceful as hundreds and thousands of people visit these places on a regular basis. They are now surrounded by more security than you would have seen at the average work place and definitely more than is warranted. This is the immediate atmosphere of the temple and the atmosphere outside it, I don’t have to describe. There are hundreds of vendors trying to seek your attention and sell u stuff that is neither needed for your visit nor things that you can use. As a visitor, I find their behavior to be intrusive and I find it to be highly unwelcome. So the first target of achieving peace of mind goes out the window! :D

The second target of professing the teachings… well that also I must say is barely if at all done. Yes, there are books u can find and read up, but there is literally no one who actually shares any of the teachings. The visit to the temple and surroundings is more like a crowded museum visit (with few artifacts to see) than anything else. One more thing surprised me. That the place could go completely against the teachings of the great person it is dedicated to.

Sai Baba in his avatar on Earth essentially left behind a few lessons for the modern man.

1) Treat everyone as equal cuz in the eyes of God, everyone is. – No favoritism based on financial status!

2) A truly secular belief that “Sab ka maalik ek” – a collectiveness and connectedness to the single entity – God!

3) Give to those who need for sharing is what spreads love, joy and creates more well being.

4) Sai Baba led a very simple life and taught the virtues of simplicity. In fact Baba quite often spoke against excesses!

5) Baba was a man who practiced Yoga (various kinds)

Unfortunately in Shirdi now, we have special Darshan (for those who pay money) and VIP passes to see Aartis, which were not there a few years ago. The temple top and other parts inside the temple are coated in gold (excesses!), there are no community lunches/dinners served (and definitely none for the really poor), did I already mention the intrusive security – ur inability to bring in cell phones whereas even video cameras were allowed just 6-7 years ago. Obviously, the temple authorities are not in conformance with the teachings of Baba himself. It has become more of a commercial place with quite a pull rather than a place of spiritual freedom. There is no one really preaching what lessons Baba left behind, so there is no Yoga, there are no sessions where stories of Baba are read alound, there is no place one can go and learn more about Baba and his teachings. Perhaps the reason I am being so critical is because the place is deviating away from certain core philosophies and needs to be checked!
Unfortunately, this is the case with just about every place of worship (at least Hindu holy places) I know of.

Coming to second question of the role of temple authorities on the city/town village, I believe it has far more bearing than anything else. Rather than just make the town about the temple, developing the town in other ways with the cash that comes in is not just useful, I believe it is very Godly. If we assume the role of providing and creating infrastructure is that of the Govt and private sector, the temple authorities can and should definitely invest in the people. Grow the economic conditions of the people around… Provide basic things like loans, create alternate livelihoods than those purely dependant on the temple, provide healthcare, education etc. The temple should be a place of worship, not the center of commerce and trade! But since so much donation comes in anyway, it is appropriate to use it the same way Baba did! I am sure were he alive, he would have invested in precisely the things I mentioned!

Among all temples, Shirdi can do this because it is in accordance with the teachings of the leader it is built for. I wouldn’t expect this at any other place.

Yes, I attended both this year. Incidentally I was there at TIE ISB Connect last year as well. It’s amazing how there is always a really pretty girl dressed very chic, who is the student coordinator for services

There are a myriad differences. Let’s start with the basics:

TIE ISB has lots more suits, better food, more deserts, more people in general and definitely a much higher net worth per head on average, not to mention age.

The event is purely for profit and reeks of it. It is a very honest, straight forward event. The speakers who come in are top notch in their fields. Most speeches/presentations deserve ovations. It’s professional.

The event has lots of people looking for a few VCs, to corner, and talk about their company and things they do. It is purely networking oriented.

The technology talks involve no code but rather a recount of what has happened in the recent past and a few people playing Nostradamus about the field. More often than not, since they are the guys who are putting money where their mouth is (either as VCs or entrepreneurs), it’s true.

I thought FOSS guys were determined, but I have met certain entrepreneurs with such grit and determination, it’s almost insane. There are people who are working without funding for the last 4 years! From what I hear, the VCs are chasing them now.

FOSS.in that way, for a non-programmer was not all that great. Since I have a tech background, I could understand a few things they said, but that’s about it. I could engage in conversations with the contributors of Mozilla and Openoffice but it was more at a level that looked at what is happening and what will happen to the usage, user-friendliness and such of the products.

Very honestly, it seemed that the event had double standards – one of playing the do-good, open-source promoting kind and the other where large and small corporates promote themselves shamelessly. I will not even spare the open source communities who promote themselves shamelessly. While there was an air of contribution going around everywhere, there definitely was an air of marketing going around too! It’s almost like they were hot and cold currents that kept the system going and the people rotating from one place to another!

Some of the talks were fantastic. Some speakers were phenomenal, but on the whole it was a little too dry for me and I definitely could not contribute anything there!

It was an event where I believe every open source product/project was being shamelessly promoted to attract scores of programmers/users to flock to it and contribute. It’s no different from services marketing except these are free services (obviously numbers matter to them too… their funding is linked to it!).

At the TIE ISB connect, people really did want to connect, meet each other. Entrepreneurs wanted to share ideas, build on each others thoughts. At FOSS.in, I really did not find too many people engaged in thought exchange as such. There was more discourse on other general things rather than idea generation and such. Unless the primary contributors of the project (i.e. employees) asked for and were patient enough to listen to feedback and suggestions, there were barely any exchanged. Several talks were more like reports of what had been happening for the past 6 months than anything else.

I was speaking to my friend the other day about customer service and and service design. I even gave him a little book to read. Since then I suppose even I have been passively observing customer service and service design.  Here are a few glaring examples of what I call absolutely idiotic service design/practice:

1)  Sabse Saste Din – yes it is a great idea from a great group. Unfortunately the implementation and I believe a lack of thought (service design) ends up in huge hassle for the customers. I happened to visit the Ameerpet Big Bazaar on the last day (Jan 27th). One of the first things a customer needs is either a shopping cart or a basket. Neither of these were near the entrance. Instead, they were all outside the exit (where once the shopper went, was not allowed in through there!) So finding a shopping cart was essentially a harrowing task which took me literally 45 minutes! I shopped for 30 minutes to get everything I wanted. Then I wanted to get billed. Out of the 5 cash counters only 2 were functional. Obviously, there was no queue – the scene was like a typical late 80s movie scene of the women at the water pipe. Whosoever pushed the most and shouted the loudest got to go first in line. (Strangely or not so strangely, it was the women above 40 years who were involved in this!). After standing for almost 45 minutes and literally pushing myself to the front of the queue, I managed to get out unscathed!

The shopping experience was 45 minutes – search for a shopping cart, 30 minutes shop, 45 minutes – stand at a billing counter – out of a total 2 hours only 25% was productive! That’s insane by any measure and even the most naive person can tell u that it is ridiculous. I saw people standing in line for 45 minutes who had bought just 1 item ( a bucket – with which u got another free!) I can not fathom their productivity numbers!

I will not even begin to talk about the lack of customer representative at high traffic locations, not to mention the absolute lack of knowledge about how much discount each product carried (we had to find that out at the billing counter!). Just imagine standing in line with 10 people pushing u, only to realize that u are not actually getting a 50% discount on the product, it’s only when u purchase 6 of them that u do!

Well, that is an Indian shop, we can assume that they are still learning, their technology is not all that great, their thought process for service design, touch points etc. is not all that mature.

2) Today I had dinner at Subway. Yes, the world leader in sandwiches – that Subway. We are a regular at that place. In fact my friend is so regular, I think they’d miss him direly if he din’t go for a week. If they have a good CRM practice in place, I wouldn’t be surprised if they called up to say, “There is some unusual activity on your credit card!” ( A line I borrowed from the conversation between the credit card company and Rachel from Friends, when she stops using her dad’s credit cards!).

They have a redeemable coupon system… give 8 coupons and when u order ur next sandwich and a large drink, another sandwich/salad is free.  Note: The large drink has to be an aereated one and not iced tea, which I usually drink. Although it was common practice for other Subway outlets in the city to allow people to take Iced Teas instead of aereated drinks, here they began to complain. Not cuz they couldn’t give it, but cuz the billing system wouldn’t accept it! A large iced tea actually costs INR 5 more than a large aereated drink. For the system not to allow it is ridiculous! Of course, we being the resourceful, rule bending Indians that we are, manage to go around anything. So, their service was exactly the way i wanted it to be… but the issue is that their existing system did not allow it to begin with.

It suprises me that the place where the customers interact most and most importantly with any company is their Billing system and it happens to be the shittiest written software. Probably cuz it is legacy and that’s why we have literally thousands of Indian programmers making a living from writing billing software and maintaining billing software. I know of atleast 7-8 large companies that have billing software teams the size of small companies.  It’s great for these companies and individuals, but it sucks for the billions of customers who have to face crappy billing systems on a daily basis!

Seems like there is ample business opportunity here for new entrepreneurs to take up the challenge to build systems that can work well with the companies’ marketing strategies.

A heads up: I might make some idealistic statements – recently read Don Quijote de la Mancha. :)

In my previous post I essentially said that the youth of the nation are apathetic to politics. I also said that it is not necessarily true that the engineers (the acknowledged big brains) are the best to lead the nation.

The other day, my friends and I were up all night. I guess we were revisiting good ole college days. We had just watched a movie and had nothing much to do, so we were just talking. I don’t know how we got around to the topic of politics, but it is indeed strange that we are speaking more often about it than I ever did in the past.

We were discussing the history of this nation and how certain families and parties have had a large and not particularly great(unanimously agreed) influence on the nation. I do know we should do a little more research on Indian History during partition and understand what were the forces in play, but from our preliminary and naive understanding, we believe the partition happened purely because Nehru couldn’t swallow his pride and let Maulana lead.

In the subsequent years, Nehru was quite a tyrant and tried to control several things including who became President. Unfortunately he received no support from Sardar Patel and thus Dr. Rajendra Prasad did end up becoming the first Indian President. Petty politics aside, he was the prime reason for Socialism to creep into India. It stayed longer than it should have and wreaked quite a bit of havoc. It is not all Nehru’s doing, but the almost nepotistic succession with Indira following soon after Nehru left the political scene.

The Indian political history is really funny. Pardon me for the trivia, but I can not resist it.

  • The longest living Prime Minister (Gulzarilal Nanda) served twice – once for 13 days (the shortest term ever) and another time for a whopping month and 8 days.
  • The second shortest term was served by Atal Behari Vajapayee (16 days).
  • There have been 11 Prime Ministers in 60 years with the longest terms being: 17 years(Nehru) and Indira Gandhi (15 years).
  • The Nehru Gandhi family has been in power for a cumulative 37 years officially. If you count what’s happening now, it will increase!
  • A single party was in power for 47 of 60 years.

There were leaders from 4 other parties in power:

  • Janata Party (3 years, 2 leaders)
  • Janata Dal (3 years, 3 leaders)
  • Samajwadi Janata Party (7 months, 1 leader – thankfully!)
  • Bharatiya Janata Party (6 years, 2 terms, 1 leader – no points for guessing who!)

How can the nation let the same jokers lead the nation for such a long time, especially when there has not been any significant improvement from their regimes? Some of the worst scandals and ill handled crises have been in their regimes – Indo-China war, Separation of Bangladesh, the Emergency, the Sikh carnage, Bhopal Gas, formation of LTTE etc. There is a long list but these are the stark ones that come to mind.

I think it is pretty obvious that I am trying to drill across that being from a Dynasty shouldn’t count in a democracy, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. The old man is rumored to have died of syphyllis – I repeat – rumored! Two of three family members were assassinated – can’t the rest take a hint?

Are we really so starved of good people in this nation that can lead that we need to cling on to old dynasties? That too with one firang, and the other two NRIs for most of their consequential lives? Should these people really be leading the nation? Do they have a unique understanding of people’s problems? Or do they have a unique understanding of the administration machine to get things done faster? AFAIK neither! But then again, I may be wrong.

There is a new youth brigade in Politics with the degrees like MBAs from high flying Ivy League schools and so forth. Would they make good leaders? Perhaps. Definitely better than a dynasty! But I think the fundamental questions remain the same. Can they work the creaky machine that is the Administrative Services to really better the lives of the hundreds of millions of Indians that need help without disturbing the rest too much?

I think our nation needs leaders who understand the country from end to end – a person well travelled (not on govt. or party money, but his/her own), a person who understands economics, law, business and large scale project planning and execution. Such a person would be ideally suited for the job. I suppose it would take someone more than 2 decades to get good at all the things I mentioned above, which is probably why we vote for only gray haired/balding people.

India needs some serious change management. We need to manage change at various levels – the political change, economic change, social change, cultural change, environmental change and global change. We need leaders who have steered turnarounds (not necessarily business turnarounds), but turnarounds in more than three of these spheres. There are several great Indians who have. We need such people at the helm –  people who truly want to architect and create improvement from the basement upwards.

We still have huge quesitons as to how we can find such people? Fund such people to campaign? Provide training to others (like me) to become such people? When will political parties open up to allow youngsters to participate in the process? When will Political recruiment take place from campuses? After all, every party (if managed legally) would need the same set of professionals at a company. There is a lot of intellectual help that parties can take from bright young individuals. When will politics become truly inclusive?

Prasad was speaker at FOSS.in in Bangalore. He took a tutorial on how to build applications on the Mozilla platform. It was received very well. In fact there were several people who appreciated it’s simplicity. Anant – in his blog says, “The calculator example complete with it’s own add-on manager ( for adding scientific support ) was a great way of giving the basics of Mozilla application development as was the highlight of the tutorial.”

As if that wasn’t praise enough, Chris Hofmann, one of the creators of javascript and one of senior most members at the Mozilla Foundation said – “Of all the presentations I have seen (world over) for a primer to developing applications on Mozilla platform, this was the best.” Myk, who gave two talks at the event, also liked it. Now that is indeed great testimony.

If you are looking for the slides, they can be found here!

FOSS.in was a great place to meet the Mozilla folks and we got to really know them at a human level. I suppose all FOSS users like me tend to deify the original creators of great products we use (esp in the open source domain). I got to meet and have dinner (twice) with the Mozilla developers. We got an opportunity to educate them a little bit about India, the cuisine, the culture and so forth. They seemed to enjoy our company (which is why I think they invited us to dinner twice, a party and we even went out to try chat, pani puri etc.). Mary, the event manager at Mozilla, supposedly ate half a kilo of sweets like we eat a pair of gulab jamun. :) She said she liked sweets, little did we knew it was so much. Perhaps we would have sent a kilo!

I think our relationship with Mozilla is just about to begin! Let’s hope it is a long, friendly one.

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