Offshored

Two of the four full-time jobs that I’ve done have been “offshored”. They’ve both involved working for the Bangalore office of American firms, with both jobs having been described as being “front end” and “high quality”, while in both cases it became clear in the course of time that it was anything but front end, and the quality of work depended on what the masters in the First World chose to throw at us.

In between these two jobs, I had done a “local” job, at an India-focused hedge fund based in India, which for the most part I quite liked until certain differences cropped up and grew. While doing that job, and while searching for a job while looking to exit it, one thing I was clear about was that I would never want to do an offhshored job again. Unfortunately, there came along an offer that I couldn’t resist, and so I ended up having not one but two experiences in offshored jobs.

Firstly (this was a bigger problem in the second job), I’m a morning person. I like to be in at work early in the morning, say at eight. And I like to be back home by the time the sun in down. In fact, for some reason I can’t fathom, I can’t work efficiently after the sun is down – irrespective of when I start, my productivity starts dipping quickly from 5 pm onwards. Huge problem. People say you can take calls from home and all that but that blurs the line between work and life, and ruins the latter. You are forced to stay in office even if you don’t have anything to do. Waste of time.

Then, there is the patronizing attitude of the “onshore” office. In both my offshored jobs, it turned out that an overwhelmingly large portion of the Bangalore offices actually consisted of employees who were there because even the stated reason for their existence in the firms was labour cost arbitrage. It was simple offshoring of not-particularly-skilled work to a cheaper location. I don’t know if this was a reason, but a lot of people in the “main” offices of both firms considered Bangalore to be a “back office”. And irrespective of the work people here had done, or their credentials, or record, there was always the possibility that the person in the foreign office assumed that the person in the Bangalore office existed solely because of labour cost arbitrage.

And then you would have visits by people from the onshore office. Every visitor who was marginally senior would be honoured by being asked to give a speech (without any particular topic) to the Bangalore office. In the first offshored company I worked for, people would actually be herded by the security guard to attend such speeches. The latter company was big enough to not force people to attend these talks, but these talks would be telecast big-brother style from television sets strategically placed all over the floors.

And these onshore office people would talk, quite patronisingly, about how Bangalore was great, and the people here were great, and they were doing great work. Very few of them would add actual value ¬†by means of their lectures (some did, I must mention, talk concrete stuff). Organizing this lecture was a way for the senior “leaders” in the Bangalore office (most of whom had been transplanted from the firms’ onshore offices) to etch their names in the good books of the visitors, we reasoned.

Then there was the actual work. Turn-around time for any questions that you would ask the head office was really high, unless of course you adapted and did night shifts (which I’m incapable of). In the earlier offshored firm, there would be times when I would do nothing for two or three days altogether because the guy in the onshore office hadn’t replied! Colossal waste of billable time! Also, if your boss sat abroad, there would be that much less direction in whatever you did. In my second offshored job, there were maybe two occasions when I was on two-hour phone calls with my boss (in the onshore office), where he patiently explained to me how certain things worked and how they should be done. Those were excellent sessions, and made me feel really good. But only two of them over a two year-plus period? Apart from which, most one-to-one interaction with the boss was with respect to “global” stuff. Yeah a local boss can get on your nerves by creeping behind your back every half hour, but at least you get work done there, and can learn from the boss!

Then there is training. Because of the cost-arbitrage concept on which most offshored employees are hired, the quality of training programs in the offshore offices are abysmal. During my second offshored stint, I happened to attend one training program in Hong Kong, in common with people from onshore offices in the rest of Asia. None of the numerous training programs that I attended in the Bangalore office attained even a tenth of the quality of that program in Hong Kong. The nature of employees in Bangalore meant all programs had to start at an extremely basic level, so there was little value added.

I can go on, there is a lot more. But I’ll stop here, and let you tell me about your stories of working in an offshored environment. And I certainly won’t make the same mistake third time round – of working for an offshored entity.

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.

Turning Twenty Four

Today my wife Pinky turns twenty four. Thinking about it, twenty four seems such a long time ago. Or maybe not. I don’t think there has been any other significant age-landmark for me since then. I remember that when I turned twenty four, I got a feeling that I’d become old.

The premise was based on sport, and more specifically the Indian cricket team. Anyone who was twenty three or younger was referred to as a “promising youngster”. As soon as you turned twenty four, though, you lost that tag! Of course the story is different in different countries, and in different sports. For example, KP Pietersen was 24 when he made his debut. For England, he was “young”. Not for the Indian press, though.

Given that I faced such a step up (in terms of self-perception ) when I was twenty four, it seems like a breeze after that. Completing quarter of a century of existence didn’t trigger any emotion. Neither did going into the “late twenties” (when I turned 28) have that kind of an impact. I don’t know what it is, but it was when I turned twenty four that I suddenly felt grown up, and old. And I’ve felt that way ever since.

I mentioned this “growing old” to Pinky first thing this morning, but she dismissed it saying she feels no such thing. She also said that she’s really happy that she’s turned twenty four. She hates prime numbers, she says.

Uniform

So it seems like my school uniform has changed, and I don’t like it. I happened to notice this a long time ago, actually, when I saw this boy standing close to my apartment wearing a shirt that was mostly blue, and trousers that were mostly grey.

The thing that bothered me was the mostly part. Back in our times (1986-98) there was no mostly business. We wore simple plain blue shirts and simple plain blue trousers. No frills, no extra fittings. No uniform belts or ties or uniform sweater or leather shoes or any other such inconveniences.

So I see this boy quite regularly nowadays. He is there, in front of the gate of my apartment that faces the main road, waiting for the school bus. He lives somewhere close by I think, for I’ve seen him walk to his spot. I was somehow hoping he was living in my apartment building, so I could get to know him.

So there are lots of weird fittings on the uniform now. School emblem near the chest (I must mention I didn’t even know about the existence of one such emblem), borders for the shirt sleeves and trouser pockets, and so on. Even on thursdays, there are lots of extra fittings to the white uniform. Some craziness seems to be happening.

The only heartening thing is that one day I saw this boy, in blue and grey with all the extra fittings, wearing sneakers. Some things, I realized, never change. And how much ever people try to change things, some awesome things remain.

New York food recommendations

So I’m in New York for the next 2 weeks (6-18), and like last time want to do this sampling of high-quality cuisine from around the world. Meals are expense-able so cost isn’t so much of an issue, but given that I’ll be eating 13 dinners¬† there I want to choose the places carefully.

Off the cuff, this is what I broadly want to eat. So plis to be recommending where to go:

  • high-quality thin crust pizza
  • pasta
  • hummus-falafel-…
  • mexican stuff – i’ll go to chipotle at least once for sure. any other places?
  • thai – something I missed out on on my last trip there.
  • ethiopian – considering I don’t get to eat this in India I want to eat this at least twice
  • french
  • Korean – I’m going to Hangawi once again for sure. Sheer awesomeness it is

Ok I’m sure there are other cuisines whose existence I’m not even aware of, so if you think there’s something I might like plis to be recommending. And if you live in NYC and want to meet for a meal, let me know. We’ll plan something.

And here is the list of places I went to during my last visit.

Update: I’ll be staying at the Hilton Millennium, next to the WTC site.

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.

You know, I have this condition

My memory cache (talking about my memory, not my computer’s or my laptop) seems to have suddenly diminished. My life seems to have become very Markovian. In fact, a few months back, I used to think that a Markovian existence is the best kind of existence, since in that kind of a situation, you respond to every situation on instinct, don’t make plans, are always on the lookout to optimize, etc. Now that I’ve actually reached close to that state, I don’t know if it’s desirable.

So basically my already weak short-term memory has become weaker. I’ve already talked about one paradox – I’ve traditionally had great long-term memory but awful short-term memory. I remember strange things, dates when those things happened, the colour of the shirt I was wearing when certain things happened, etc. And I typically can’t remember much of what someone told me recently, or what my mom asked me to buy at the market. The explanation I give myself for this is that I’m weak with details – and missing out on details is not as critical when you are talking about long-term stuff as it is in the short term.

Anyways what has been happening to me of late is that days seem very long. Towards the evening of most days, I really can’t remember what I did that morning. Ok, it’s not that bad – I can remember with some effort, but that effort is approximately equal to the effort required to remember what I did a year ago or some such. Once I get into doing a certain activity, I completely forget about everything I was doing prior to that particular activity – it all goes into memory, rather than staying in cache (like it used to earlier).

The most interesting (and scary) part of the deal is that my memory loss seems to be especially bad when it comes to numbers. This evening, I was out shopping for a computer table. I checked out stuff at some four shops, but as soon as I entered one shop, I completely forgot about the prices quoted in the previous shop. So I actually didn’t have a handle on comparative price. Tomorrow, I’ll mostly go buy that table which I liked best, and trust the shopkeeper to rememeber the price that I’ve bargained.

Considering that I’ve traditionally been a “numbers guy” and have a good eye for numbers, this is extremely scary. I just hope it’s some minor problem caused due to something like lack of sleep (i sleep only 8 hours a day) or hunger (i eat at least 6 times a day) and not something more serious. For example, I use a prepaid mobile phone. And each time after a call or a message I see the balance, I don’t know how much I’ve spent becasue I don’t know the previous balance. I remember that the last time I used a pre-paid phone (the same number; back wehn i was at IIMB) I would meticulously keep track of expenses.

While the condition lasts, I seem to be enjoying myself. Days seem so much longer, so I can relax so much more in the given time. I occasionally feel bored, but quickly find myself something to do, and get engrossed in it. I don’t get easily distracted like I used to. I don’t multitask (earlier I was a compulsive multitasker). I’m able to concentrate again, like I used to during the days of blindfold chess in the backbench. I don’t get worried. I don’t remember a thing from my previous jobs – though I’m sure I can pull it up from secondary memory if absolutely required.

But you know, I have this condition..