I fell in love with computers because of Ctrl-Z.
Until that moment, I loved Chemistry with all my heart.
During high school, right upto the time I was sixteen, I had all but assumed that I would be a chemical engineer of some sort. Inorganic chemistry was not just a subject in class - right around commuting distance was ISRO's Liquid propulsion labs and right over there near the beach lines were the Titanium sands of Kerala waiting to be smelted. I took trips to the CSIR-NIIST from school, seeing cryogenic superconductors levitating over magnets and was dreaming of changing the world wearing a lab coat and safety goggles. And if I wanted a different pathway than pure research, the Tatas were the next stop for an engineer who wants to melt things and pour them.
I had chemistry oozing out of my brain, but very little could be done without actual equipment or supplies.
Even today, I watch NileRed to indulge in this part of my childhood fantasy.
But besides the obvious problem of reagents and facilities, Chemistry had two other main problems for me.continue reading "Undoing Expectations"....
Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense,
and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes.
-- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
This is not something I ever tell myself. Usually at least.
In fact, I've often said the opposite in anger and sadness.
Being alive is such a lazy thing to accomplish, that it takes no effort to do it. But nobody is going to call it effortless. Often, it takes effort to find ways in which life is worth living; To raise your voice enough over the default drone of everyday life and tell yourself that "I'm alive!".
But for a thousand miles now, I've been hearing it loud and clear over the roar of my motorbike.continue reading "I don't want to die"....
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
-- Khalil Gibran, "On Death"
It is the summer of 1994, I'm in a room all by myself. And the room is bolted from the outside, for everyone's safety.
I'm twelve and angry, because obviously nobody loves me. In my anger, I've also bolted it from the inside. My father is outside, telling me to open the door, but go to the bathroom & wash my hands while he's leaving my lunch next to my bed. He's losing his patience, but I didn't have any to begin with. And that lunch he has, it's going to hurt to swallow - my throat hurts, my gums hurt and to make things worse there is no salt in any food. My mom has made a different dish for me with something like salt (ഇൻഡുപ്പ്) in it, but it tastes like licking copper (it's really magnesium and potassium, but who cares).
I've been quarantined, because I have chicken pox, a slightly virulent strain of it. And I had carried it home. This was my punishment (I thought, unfairly).continue reading "A Pox On Both My Houses"....
Anxiety, the next gumption trap, is sort of the opposite of ego.
You're so sure you'll do everything wrong you're afraid to do anything at all.
Often this, rather than "laziness" is the real reason you find it hard to get started.
-- Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Almost exactly to a year ago the merger between Cloudera and Hortonworks went through.
I've had a fairly inside field view of the process and the rollercoaster has been fun or at least never boring. Along the way, I kept having these four questions.
Four questions which are like an organizational rorschach test. But they all look like butterflies to me.continue reading "Four Questions and No Answers"....
“I would rather have questions that can't be answered than answers that can't be questioned.”
― Richard Feynman
In 2018, I've have spent more time interviewing than I have ever done since 2004.
I went through the entire interview loop at five companies in total. At two of those places, I had two cycles of interviews as I got referred sideways by the original interviewers. Including the recon visits, lunches and phone screens, I've spent about two whole work weeks of my 2018 talking to recruiters, managers, engineers, architects and directors.
One half-hearted offer (pay-cut included) and one golden one (wow) later, I'm still working for Hortonworks till it doesn't. To make sense of this, I'm trying to distill those two weeks into something that can be bottled for the top shelf.
First up, the Bay Area is special and you are not.continue reading "Advanced Impostor Syndrome"....
A company of wolves, is better than a company of wolves in sheep's clothing.
-- Tony Liccione
Often Software (with a capital 'S') is not built, it is grown. And a lot of green digits are involved, not always thumbs.
When I got an education which taught me how to build software, the process emphasized on sitting down in front of my computer, pushing my will upon a barely explicable machine which was built to resemble advanced technology on some days and complete magic on others.
In fact, when I think about it, every part of my computer science education was about imperative commands to a system which, if you give it adequate commands always throws up unsurprising results everytime (and all surprises were bugs). Everything I was taught about this fit that model, where when I had a "Software Management" class it was full of Gantt charts and PERT charts, going over how to schedule time for different engineers to work on the same project in parallel. The recommended reading was The Mythical Man Month and that was hilarious to read, at least. Mostly that class was taught as a way to have an engineer understand what a manager might have to do, not exactly explaining the operational realities.
This post is about the third time I realized I was ill-equipped to deal with the actual demands of being an engineer with the industry. Because none of what I describe works the way I've been taught - at least, when it comes to these skills I'm entirely self-taught.continue reading "A Software Gardener"....
Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions.
They thrive because someone expended effort on them.
-- Liberty Hyde Bailey
This isn't about leadership, but the events leading up to it. There's nothing new for me to say here, except to walk you through the path I took reading Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
Though this truly started because I read Men At Arms again and wondered what Corporal Carrot is made of (& Vetinari and Vimes too).
Because reading it made me pick up H2G2 and look at Zaphod Beeblebrox & the man who rules the universe. But that's for a different episode, about presidents with a penchant for orange sashes.
In the Republic, Plato records Socrates's argument about the nature of leadership. That guardians of the state are not necessarily the leaders, but leaders employ themselves where they can show the way and to do that may abdicate power when they observe a well functioning, if not perfect state of affairs.
Weighing between the potential advances they could make from mastery of their art against the heavy burden of leadership, they choose to advance their mastery instead and indicate to others that their mastery is advancing the world.
The world changes shape, right at the moment where those have ignored politics realize that the state of affairs is regressing, despite their progress through life. In those moments of chaos, they consider leaving their avowed profession and take up the unthankful jobs that they had left to others before - leadership. There is no longer a question about comparing the rewards of leadership against anything else, since the alternative is to lose out on the most relevant of common goods - peace.
And I quote
And this is the reason, my dear Thrasymachus, why, as I was just now saying, no one is willing to govern; because no one likes to take in hand the reformation of evils which are not his concern without remuneration. For, in the execution of his work, and in giving his orders to another, the true artist does not regard his own interest, but always that of his subjects; and therefore in order that rulers may be willing to rule, they must be paid in one of three modes of payment: money, or honour, or a penalty for refusing. What do you mean, Socrates? said Glaucon. The first two modes of payment are intelligible enough, but what the penalty is I do not understand, or how a penalty can be a payment. You mean that you do not understand the nature of this payment which to the best men is the great inducement to rule? Of course you know that ambition and avarice are held to be, as indeed they are, a disgrace?
And then Socrates explains.
And for this reason, I said, money and honour have no attraction for them; good men do not wish to be openly demanding payment for governing and so to get the name of hirelings, nor by secretly helping themselves out of the public revenues to get the name of thieves. And not being ambitious they do not care about honour. Wherefore necessity must be laid upon them, and they must be induced to serve from the fear of punishment. And this, as I imagine, is the reason why the forwardness to take office, instead of waiting to be compelled, has been deemed dishonourable.
And Socrates goes onto explain the punishment that awaits a good person who sees a leadership vacuum and does not step up to it.
Now the worst part of the punishment is that he who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one who is worse than himself. And the fear of this, as I conceive, induces the good to take office, not because they would, but because they cannot help --not under the idea that they are going to have any benefit or enjoyment themselves, but as a necessity, and because they are not able to commit the task of ruling to any one who is better than themselves, or indeed as good.
And that's how Socrates concludes that leaders are forged out of a crisis, not out of peace or prosperity - not by intention, but by choice and circumstance.
That does paint the progression as sort of inevitable, but it is entirely rational to observe the choice ahead and just leave.
PS: Republic talks about doctors getting paid for good health, women being educated equally and rulers being enlightened - it's hard to think of it being written two millenia ago, while most of that is still fought out. Read the whole thing.--
There is no harm in repeating a good thing.
Money is just misplaced effort.
Most of my waking hours are spent working on things which are not part of my long term goals in life. There is a implied social contract that if I turn my hours into money, there's some way to use it to accomplish those goals much more efficiently than if I worked on the goals on my own in those hours.
I've been thinking about where all I misplace my efforts, but for extremely good reasons.continue reading "Misplaced Efforts"....
The most pitiful among men is he who turns his dreams into silver and gold.
-- Khalil Gibran
Tech interviews are very strange. The whole process makes no sense in general, when it actually comes to being hired to do actual work. This gets worse when you're dealing with a specialization that is all about identifying trade-offs and fitting solutions to them.
But let me explain this with a car analogy.continue reading "The Paradox of Tech Interviews"....
New ideas pass through three periods:
1) It can't be done.
2) It probably can be done, but it's not worth doing.
3) I knew it was a good idea all along!
-- Arthur C Clarke
For the last decade, I feel inconsolably sad about my dad's death and its circumstances, as Dec 2nd draws nearer.
For some reason, this year was different. Perhaps, it is because my mother is here with me - it is the first time in a decade that I've talked to her on Dec 2nd. But it is not just that, there's been a shift, which I barely understood till I sat down to write this.
My sadness has changed over the years. I no longer feel that sadness the same way - it is not a soul sapping feeling of despair, but a different and new emotion, that is still sadness.
I feel sorry that my dad couldn't be here to participate in our lives. He would've loved to sit around and do literally nothing, on this other side of the planet he never saw. I'd have enjoyed sitting with him, drinking tea every few hours and arguing about the legal drama that surrounds today's political news.
For years, I imagined how my life would be better if not his death ... for a brief moment today, it dawned on me how his life would've been better, if he were still here with us.
The burden of my loss has suddenly has turned into empathy for his loss. Because I'm still here, a decade later, finding light in unexpected places.
Because for once, as a parent, I know what I'd lose if I wasn't on this planet when I'm done with my working years. I'm getting ready to spend my final years observing and rambling incessantly.
Actually, I feel old enough start already - the good old days when things were really uphill both ways to school, but we did it anyway - you kids won't understand it anyway, but we had to ask people who was calling when the phone rang and all that, except these days you all ask "hey, where are you ..." instead.
Just smile, listen and nod, because that's what I'm doing for my dad, in memoriam.--
If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.
-- Lewis Carroll. "Alice in Wonderland"
I have started to remember more details about problems than I do about code.
Code used to occupy a large amount of my work-time thinking roots - algorithms, data structures and architectural concepts. Over the last two years, the organization of my thoughts has shifted onto understanding parallels with the real life structure of the problems. I'm looking through my attic for my brain and finding new uses for all that I've already done, which makes a better part II.
So for a while I've been putting thought into revisiting ideas, to feed them through this new lens. Here are some of them which I'd like to work towards thinking more clearly about them over 2018. If any of you have one of these problems or would like to enlighten me about how you are solving them, I'd like to buy you a beverage of your choice.continue reading "Problems I Want to Precipitate"....
If you're not part of the solution ...
August is the single month every year, where I go looking for a better job.
Because everytime August comes around, I'm reminded of a very specific day of my life - Aug 11th 2003.
Very clearly a bad day to recall, but first impressions are often very deep.continue reading "Looking for a better job - part I"....
I don't know who you are.
I don't know what you want.
I can tell you I don't have money.
But what I do have are a very particular set of skills,
Skills I have acquired over a very long career.
-- Paraphrasing "Taken" (2008)
We're into the second act, people!
This is a moment of despair, but you know what the second act is. It is a moment of character, where you get to find out if you're part of the narrative or not. Some of you reading are definitely looking away, but this is really for those who are staring out at the world in despair, watching it stare back into you.
Remember what the second act is - it is the rising action. The heroes' attempts to fix the crisis leads to ever worsening situations. And they can't win, because they haven't got the skills to deal with the forces of the other side. They must not only learn how to wield the light saber in attack, but also to believe in the force that flows through.
There's a part of me which wants to unplug the news and go back to where I have a vote. I could've done a runner with a clean conscience, refusing to fund the process with my taxes. But I've got a tiny american with me, who never got to decide what his future looks like. I cannot remain idle in his defence, but I didn't sign up to die trying.
So, I must think of the second act and what it demands.
Bassiano: And I beseech you, Wrest once the law to your authority: To do a great right, do a little wrong, And curb this cruel devil of his will. Portia: It must not be; there is no power in Venice Can alter a decree established: 'Twill be recorded for a precedent, And many an error by the same example Will rush into the state: it cannot be.
In this fight for essential liberties, the rule of law is overturned, we are lost. I hear the words of the lovely Portia from the Merchant of Venice. Thus we must look to the lawyers, to ride in like the cavalry. In Shakespeare's words of "The Butcher" in Henry V, lawyers for sure remember the laws and not easily forget that all animals are created equal.
JACK CADE: I thank you, good people:- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord. DICK: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.
The soap box and ballot box have not helped, let's just hope the next box has got enough stopping power. I'd hate to get to the last box, because down that way madness lies. To learn politics and law, so that my children may learn literature and art is no sacrifice, but the last box leaves us without civilization.
I don't know how this will all end. I'm not anxious anymore though, because there's one thing I worried about - that world would turn away in apathy. Because in the end what we will remember most often will not be the words of your enemies, but the silence of your friends. Do not imagine all is lost, do not mistake being out of power with being in the minority - there are more of us, when the numbers are in. This plot arc is long and we're just into the second act.
And though wise men at their end know dark is right, do not go gently into the good night!--
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I'm off facebook, after 9 years of ignoring friend requests.
This was not some voluntary choice to spend less time on useless things.
Facebook in its infinite wisdom, locked me out and demanded my driver's license (or green card, that will also do) to unlock it.
I really wish they'd just delete everything instead of holding it in some deep archive limbo.--
Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV.
This is perhaps the darkest week of the year - every year since 2006.
A decade later, once again, I feel like nothing about me will be the same again.
This new sense of purpose I feel is a few months old, sleeping a few feet away.
The baton is passed, not quite yet and I haven't let go.--
"Life is effort, and I’ll stop when I die."
-- Rick & Morty
Today's the first day of year 5 for me in Hortonworks.
I've now spent more than a decade getting paid to do open source work. But until Hortonworks, all work I did was tangential to the business arm of the company. All my customers were internal, which meant mostly I got privileged access to the problems. The bug resolution for complex issues never had to deal with walls of customer solutions obscuring my insights into the system. There was never a day when I couldn't tell someone from Yahoo mail that I was working on another issue with Frontpage.
During my Zynga period, I learnt how to sell your ideas to a product focus team looking for solutions - to explain better, to justify my arguments with numbers, to convince and to persuade. To keep my sanity, I also learnt to pick my battles, drop issues and walk away when the friction gets personal.
I never had to sell to a customer direct - even at my best, on the books of the company I was a cost, an engineering expense. My work at Zynga or Yahoo, was helping the company bring down its bottom line by a fraction without ever touching the top line, except by accident (yay, faster load times).
This is generally an area of work with no real conflicts of interest built into it - use of APC for instance was mandated and in most cases, my code was the only available solution to the problem. Giving up on APC meant switching to HipHop, which also I worked on (never got the CLA signed by Zynga, which was sad though). The pattern followed me through out the period even through ZCloud build-out, through ZPerfmon, ZProf and pretty much everything I touched.
Hortonworks has been a completely different experience. I'm still a developer, but my contribution to the company has turned into a top-line enlarging investment in most scenarios. The work I was doing with Stinger was actively bringing in more customers and indirectly, more revenue in. This brings in some interesting conflicts for a developer, when talking to a customer about your features, because that particular transaction starts off as a zero sum exchange of money with the implicit declaration that the "solution" is a non-zero sum win-win.
This shift in the nature of my job has been interesting. The role now requires a completely different social skill set which I didn't need in any job before this. The goal is nearly the same, but conflicts fall onto my lap instead of being able to just say "Zynga first" to end a discussion.
Honestly, it's been a bit of a culture shock.continue reading "Hortonworks: Day 1, Year 5"....
Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.
-- Thomas Szasz