Tag Archives: clue

I don’t know what to name this bias

So yet again I’m at that point in my life when I’m pondering about my career, pulling up my socks and asking myself uncomfortable questions. I’m asking myself what it is I really want to do, what it is that I really enjoy, what is the best way I can monetize my skills and the like. I’ve been pondering between radically different alternatives – from staying on in Wall Street to becoming a hippie; from becoming a professor to starting a company. I’ve been thoroughly confused and have been talking to a number of people about this.

The one common strand I extract from my conversations with all these people is that most people give you advice that is aligned with what they are doing. When I talk to the prof, he talks to me about becoming a prof, and about why I’m suited for it. When I talk to the corporate whore, he tries to convince me that there’s no way out from corporate whoredom and that I must simply embrace and accept it. When I ask the hippie, he thinks it’s no big deal if I keep switching jobs, and that I’m being dishonest with myself continuing to do something I don’t enjoy. And the entrepreneur tries his best to push me into becoming an entrepreneur.

Given my thoroughly confused state of mind, all this has been mostly adding to the confusion, but now that I’ve managed to extract this common strand, I been able to add the appropriate amount of spices to all the advice I’ve received, and making more sense of it. While I continue to figure out what’s the best course of action for me, I wonder what it is that makes people want other people to be like them.

I must mention that this is not a recent phenomenon. Back when I was in college, I remember talking to a senior who went into consulting, and he convinced me that I should do that, too. The banker talked about how banking is perfect for my skills. Till I was in 10th standard, I had no clue about the existence of IIT until a rocket scientist uncle told me about it, and about how going there would be the best thing I could do.

Of all the people who have given me career advice, perhaps the only person who didn’t clearly show this kind of bias was my father. He was an accountant, and he used to work as a regulator. And right from the beginning he made it clear to me that I should neither become an accountant nor should I work for the government.

And I’m trying to think of what kind of advice I dish out. Perhaps because I don’t have one clear “career axis”, I don’t really show this kind of a bias. Or maybe it’s hereditary.

Why You Should Not Do An Undergrad in Computer Science at IIT Madras

I did my undergrad in Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Madras. My parents wanted me to study Electrical Engineering, but I had liked programming back in school, and my JEE rank “normally” “implied” Computer Science and Engineering. So I just went with the flow and joined the course. In the short term, I liked some subjects, so I was happy with my decision. Moreover there was a certain aura associated with CS students back in IITM, and I was happy to be a part of it. In the medium term too, the computer science degree did open doors to a few jobs, and I’m happy for that. And I still didn’t regret my decision.

Now, a full seven years after I graduated with my Bachelors, I’m not so sure. I think I should’ve gone for a “lighter” course, but then no one told me. So the thing with a B.Tech. in Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Madras is that it is extremely assignment incentive. Computer Science is that kind of a subject, there is very little you can learn in the classroom. The best way to learn stuff is by actually doing stuff, and “lab” is cheap (all you need is a bunch of computers) so most courses are filled with assignments. Probably from the fourth semester onwards, you spend most of your time doing assignments. Yes, you do end up getting good grades on an average, but you would’ve worked for it. And there’s no choice.

The thing with an Undergrad is that you are clueless. You have no clue what you’re interested in, what kind of a career you want to pursue, what excites you and the stuff. Yes, you have some information from school, from talking to seniors and stuff, but still it’s very difficult to KNOW when you are seventeen as to what you want to do in life. From this perspective, it is important for your to keep your options as open as they can be.

Unfortunately most universities in India don’t allow you to switch streams midway through your undergrad (most colleges are siloed into “arts” or “engineering” or “medicine” and the like). IIT Madras, in fact, is better in that respect since it allows you to choose a “minor” stream of study and courses in pure sciences and the humanities. But still, it is impossible for you to change your stream midway. So how do you signal to the market that you are actually interested in something else?

One way is by doing projects in areas that you think you are really interested in. Projects serve two purposes – first they allow you to do real work in the chosen field, and find out for yourself if it interests you. And if it does interest you, you have an automatic resume bullet point to pursue your career on that axis. Course-related projects are fine but since they’re forced, you have no way out, and they will be especially unpleasant if you happen to not like the course.

So why is CS@IITM a problem? Because it is so hectic, it doesn’t give you the time to pursue your other interests. It doesn’t offer you the kind of time that you need to study and take on projects in other subjects (yeah, it still offers you the 3 + 1 months of vacation per year, when you can do whatever you want, but then in the latter stages you’re so occupied with internships and course projects you’re better off having time during the term). So if you, like me, find out midway through the course that you would rather do something else, there is that much less time for you to explore around, study, and do projects in other subjects.

And there is no downside to joining a less hectic course. How hectic a course inherently is only sets a baseline. If you were to like the course, no one stops you from doing additional projects in the same subject. That way you get to do more of what you like, and get additional bullet points. All for the good, right?

After I graduated, IIT Madras reduced its credit requirement by one-twelfth. I don’t know how effective that has been in reducing the inherent workload of students but it’s a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, if you are going to get into college now, make sure you get into a less hectic course so that the cost of making a mistake in selection is not high.

The Wife’s Methods

During a particularly acrimonious fight last night, I found that I was losing myself, and had no clue what was happening. Tempers were frayed, voices were raised and a huge towel had become wet from our collective tears and nose-goo. And I was fighting a losing battle, against myself. It seemed like I was consuming myself, and there was no way out.

I walked up to the kitchen and pulled out two New York shot glasses from the shelf. I reached for the top shelf, where we store the stuff, and pulled out the Talisker bottle. And I filled the shot glasses, up to the brim, and we downed it, one glass each. Soon, it seemed like all was going to be fine with the world.

At once we calmed down. We started thinking more rationally now. The fight continued, but the voices got lowered, the collective discharge into the towel ebbed. We weren’t consumed by ourselves any more. Instead, we were now calmly talking to each other, trying to find a way out of the problem we had at hand. Note that we didn’t kiss-and-make-up-and-bury-the-fight like we used to earlier. We didn’t sleep until we’d finished our business and reached an agreement. But life had become so much better.

I must admit that over the last year or more, I’ve consistently underestimated the wife (earlier the girlfriend) and her methods. Sometimes I’ve never understood why she does things in a certain way (and expects me to do things the same way), at other times I’ve been too arrogant in my own thoughts, to give her methods a fair hearing. This was yet another such example.

It was I who had made an irrational decision that Talisker was meant for slow sipping and savouring. It was I who had thought it was “too expensive to be shot down”. And it was I who had made the wife promise she won’t gulp it down before buying the current bottle of Talsker. I admit it, I was wrong. Wrong. The wife, it turns out, had always been right.

Ganeshana Madhuve and Challenge Gopalakrishna

Scenes from these two movies were enacted out at our wedding.

So in certain cultures (such as my wife’s; this isn’t practiced in my mother’s house at least) there is a uniform that brides need to wear – a white or off-white sari with a red border. I think this uniform is there in my father’s family also, but I’m not sure. I’m sure this is not there on my mother’s side.

Anyway, Priyanka was in her uniform, in the “bride’s room” doing “gowri pooje” that is supposed to be done before a girl gets married. There were several other women around, and for the wedding, they had all chosen to wear their own wedding saris – white or off-white with a red border. This included mostly Priyanka’s aunts and cousins and one of my aunts.

So there is this scene in Ganeshana maduve where Ganesha (YG Rao) is told that the girl in red sari is Shruti (his “pen lover”). And he goes into the bride’s room to find that everyone there was in a red sari, so he has no clue in figuring out who Shruti is. Similarly, if someone had come to the bride’s room searching for one particular woman who was in the white-red uniform, they would’ve been thoroughly confused indeed.

Then there is this scene that is oft-repeated in the other classic Anantnag starrer Challenge Gopalakrishna (I’m not able to find the link on youtube). Whenever Gopalakrishna’s dad abuses him, he reminds him of his lineage. (translating) “Being the great-grandson of Justice Gopalakrishna (loud temple gong), being the grandson of Major Radhakrishna (another loud temple gong), being the son of Rotarian Muralikrishna (yet another gong) you dare to behave like this… “. This scene is played out several times in the movie, and towards the latter half, as soon as Mukhyamantri Chandru utters “Justice Gopalakrishna”, Anantnag runs.

So as part of the wedding rituals, the bride and groom are anointed as Lakshmi and Narayana (the gods). So while I was being anointed such, the priest chanted “Venkataramanasharma nautram, Suryanarayanasharma poutram, Shashidharasharma putram Shri Karthika Sharma … ” and similarly for Priyanka (that way I got to know her great-grandfather’s name). The first couple of times it was ok. But when this bit came up later on in the rituals, we couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Thankfully there were no temple gongs to punctuate the recital.

I’m not sure if Lakshmi and Narayana are supposed to laugh.

Making guest list

So last night I sat down to do the presumably fun task of preparing my wedding guest list. This was just the first cut, where I just put down the names of people I want to invite in an excel sheet. In the second cut, I’ll parse the sheet and figure out how each person on the list should be invited – personally, or on phone, or email, and so on.

So there can be two kinds of error while making such a list – errors of omission and errors of commission. The probability of error or commission is quite low. After all there aren’t too many people who you explicitly don’t want at your wedding. And if there exist any such people, you will remember that only too well while putting their names down in the invite sheet.

Errors of omission is what I’m concerned about. There have been times in the past when people have gotten married, and I haven’t had a clue. It’s a different matter about whether I’d’ve gone or not, but I know that there is scope for hurt feelings if certain people are left out of the list. So one must be careful.

The problem is that I’m currently not in touch with a lot of these people. I would’ve been good enough friends with them at some point of time in life that I’d want to invite them to my wedding. But the fact that I haven’t kept in touch means I may not remember their existence, but when eventually they see my wedding pics on facebook it might result in a kinda hurtful “congrats” message.

The other question I must ask is that if I’m prone to forgetting about someone’s existence, if they are worth being invited at all. That I’ve forgotten about them means that obviously they are quite low in my list of people I want at my wedding. So am I generally paining myself by trying to remember people who I wouldn’t normally remember?

So far the easiest list I’ve made is from my batch of people from IIMB. We have a google doc with everyone’s names and personal details. So one parse through that meant I wouldn’t forget anyone’s existence. Much peace ensued. The problem is similar lists don’t exist for my other social networks. Anyway I’ll try my best.

Tangentially, another issue is about how “forcefully” I invite certain people who don’t live in Bangalore and have to fly down for my wedding. For a variety of reasons I happened to bunk their weddings, and now it’s a little embarrassing to insist that they be there.

PS: This old post of mine, I think, is pertinent.

The Trouble With Analyst Reports

The only time I watch CNBC is in the morning when I’m at the gym. For reasons not known to me, my floor in office lacks televisions (every other floor has them) and the last thing I want to do when I’m home is to watch TV, that too a business channel, hence the reservation for the gym. I don’t recollect what programme I was watching but there were some important looking people (they were in suits) talking and on the screen “Target 1200″ flashed (TVs in my gym are muted).

Based on some past pattern recognition, I realized that the guy in the suit was peddling the said stock (he was a research analyst) and asking people to buy it. According to him, the stock price would reach 1200 (I have no clue what company this is and how much it trades for now). However, there were two important pieces of information he didn’t give me, because of which I’ll probably never take advice from him or someone else of his ilk.

Firstly, he doesn’t tell me when the stock price will reach 1200. For example, if it is 1150 today, and it is expected to reach 1200 in 12 years, I’d probably be better off putting my money in the bank, and watching it grow risk-free. Even if the current price were lower, I would want a date by which the stock is supposed to reach the target price. Good finance implies tenure matching, so I should invest accordingly. If the stock is expected to give good returns in a year, then I should put only that money into it which I would want to invest for around that much time. And so forth.

Then he doesn’t tell me how long it will stay at 1200. I’m not an active investor. I might check prices of stocks that I own maybe once in a week (I currently don’t own any stock). So it’s of no use to me if the price hits 1200 some time during some intraday trade. i would want the price to remain at 1200 or higher for a longer period so that I can get out.

Thirdly and most importantly, he doesn’t tell me anything about volatility. He doesn’t give me any statistics. He doesn’t tell me if 1200 is the expected value of the stock, or the median, or the maximum, or minimum, at whatever point of time (we’ve discussed this time bit before). He doesn’t tell me what are the chances that I’ll get that 1200 that he professes. He doesn’t tell me what I can expect out of the stock if things don’t go well. And as a quant, I refuse to touch anything that doesn’t come attached with a distribution.

Life in general becomes so much better when you realize and recognize volatility (maybe I’ll save that for another discourse). It helps you set your expectations accordingly; it helps you plan for situations you may not have thought of; most importantly it allows you to recognize the value of options (not talking about financial options here; talking of everyday life situations). And so forth.

So that is yet another reason I don’t generally watch business TV. I have absolutely no use for their stock prediction and tips. And I think you too need to take these tips and predictions with a bit of salt. And not spend a fortune buying expensive reports. Just use your head. Use common sense. Recognize volatility. And risk. And you’ll do well.

Wedding Invitation Prefixes

It seems simplest in Tamil Nadu, where the  girl’s name is prefixed with “Sow” (or “Sou”; for Sowbhagyavathi) while the boy’s name is prefixed with “Chi” (for Chiranjeevi). Considering most Tams have only one initial to their names, this sounds fair.

As we move to Andhra, the boy’s prefix remains “Chi” while the girl’s prefix gets elongated to “Chi Lax Sow”. I guess this is in line with the practice of three or more initials in Andhra.

In Karnataka, where two initials are dominant (at least were dominant in my parents’ generation; though not in mine (for eg. my father decided “Gollahalli” sounded too country to be part of my name so he dropped it and gave me only one initial) ) both boys and girls have two syllable prefixes. Girls get “Chi Sow” (for chiranjeevi sowbhagyavathi i guess). Boys get “Chi Ry” (I have no clue what Ry stands for. Maybe Karnataka boys show a special fondness for rye-based drinks).

Found this pertinent given that this afternoon I journeyed to Sultanpet and bought cards on which we’ll print our wedding invites.