Job upgrades and downgrades, and LinkedIn

I think I’ve ranted about LinkedIn here before. I’ve talked about the pointlessness of LinkedIn recommendations (due to selection bias), the further pointlessness of skill endorsement (a desperate attempt by now-public LinkedIn to get users to interact more with each other) and the seemingly ungrammatical “say congrats” (some of these rants might have been on twitter, so not bothering to pull up links).

This post is again about the “say congrats” feature on LinkedIn. When you change your job (or, change your job title on LinkedIn), your contacts see the change on their timeline, with a helpful “say congrats on the new job” hint.

Now, the problem is that not all job changes are upgrades! Sometimes, you might get fired and change your headline from “XXX at YYY” to “ZZZ industry professional”, and LinkedIn asks your contacts to “say congrats”. Another time, you might get tired of your old job, and boldly state on your LinkedIn headline that you are looking for new opportunities (eg. “Software Engineer at XXX, looking for new opportunities”), and LinkedIn again jumps the gun and asks your friends to “say congrats”. At other times, you might make a job switch which looks eminently like a downgrade (especially for people who understand both your old and new jobs). And LinkedIn rubs it in and asks your contacts to “say congrats”.

It seems like LinkedIn needs better data scientists. And people who can make better sense of how to get their users to talk to each other and create value out of a network that is well past its fast growth phase.

The Goa Project

The last three days I was in Goa, attending the second edition of the Goa Project. Considering how stressed out I was with work last week, it was a good three-day break, and I had a good time meeting new ! people, getting to know them, generally hanging out and drinking (though I must admit I got sick of beer).

The Goa Project is an interesting concept. The basic idea, as one of the organizers put it, is to get a bunch of interesting people together and put them in one place for two days and let the network effect take over. There is no particular objective in terms of immediate outcomes from the workshop – it is simply about connecting people! Talks are scheduled through the days and at any point of time one typically has three sessions to choose from, but like in any good conference, most of the “useful stuff” happens outside the lecture halls – where participants meet each other and just “hang out”.

I took an overnight bus to Goa (first time I used VRL – was pretty good), and so reached the venue only at 11:30 am. The first pair of keynote lectures (those that don’t have any “competitors” and thus don’t give you a choice to not attend) had just got over and people were moving around. The first set of “real sessions” were starting, and I realized there were few people I knew. But then, the point of an event such as this is lost if you end up knowing a lot of people there, and don’t make any effort to expand your network.

In ten minutes I was in and out of all three simultaneous sessions – all of which I found rather uninteresting. Then began my quest for what I called the “white noise space”. The problem was that the microphones at all three venues had been turned up, and it was impossible to have a conversation without any of those lectures disturbing you. Finally I reached what is possibly the “weighted centroid” of all the loudspeakers, where sounds from each of the three lectures could be heard equally loudly, so that they cancelled one another out, allowing us to have a conversation.

Two or three weekends back, I was reading this book on networking called “Never Eat Alone” (on Gandhi’s recommendation), which for a “management book” was a really good read and rather insightful. It was while I was in the middle of that book that I got an invite to speak at the Goa Project. So it can be said that my visit to the Project was an attempt to put what I read in that book to practice.

During the course of the two days of the workshop I don’t think I talked to more than twenty people (there were over two hundred there). My wife had made twenty five or so new business cards for me to give out at the workshop, and I gave out less than ten. I collected three of four business cards. There was this small group of people (some of whom I knew earlier, but not too well, and most of whom I had never met earlier) that I met, and this group expanded during the course of the Project. So while I didn’t expand my network wide, I did manage to get to know a few people well.

The irrepressible Krish Ashok (with whom I hung out for a large part of Day One) gave an absolutely kickass talk on day one about mixing and making music. Fittingly, it was heavily attended, despite it eating into lunch time (inevitably, I must say, there were delays and the schedule got badly mangled). There were only two other sessions on day one that I sat through till the end, though, with most of the others being rather underwhelming.

When we got married, my wife and I had decided that we would not have live music for the reception, for if you keep it too soft, the artists will get offended, and if you keep it too loud, it can interfere with conversation. The live music at the end of day one had the second of these effects, and with some people who I’d hung out with that day, I went to a far corner of the venue (where the music was actually enjoyable) to eat my dinner.

I was talking about the economics of auto rickshaws – perhaps a part two of the talk on Chennai auto rickshaws I’d delivered in Chennai in 2011. I got slotted into a track called “society”, where interestingly I was perhaps the only speaker who was not an activist. In some senses that made me a bit of a misfit with the rest of the track speakers. Sample this interaction during my talk:

Audience member: Given that the auto driver is under privileged ..
Me (cutting her short): Policies should not be framed based on who is under privileged and who is over privileged. They should be based on sound economic reasoning.

The audience member was a bit stunned and took a while to recover to continue the question I had cut short.

Anyway, the lady who was managing my track had sent an email asking us to rehearse our talks and also sent Amanda Palmer’s TED talk to tell us how we should structure our sessions. She had asked us to script our talks, and rehearse it a few times. While my experience on day one indicated that few other speakers had bothered to actually rehearse, early on Day Two, I thought I should rehearse at least once before the talk.

And talking in front of the mirror as I made coffee and dressed myself, I over-exerted myself and promptly lost my voice.

The rest of the morning, before my talk, I decided to “conserve my voice”, and thus not being able to speak, I decided to attend some talks. I sat in the front row when Lucia director Pawan Kumar talked about how he crowd-funded and made the movie. I listened to this guy (who I know via a “secret society” but had never met before) talk about his experience of being a cop in London. In between, I walked about, talking in a low voice, with people I had met the earlier day.

Mangled schedules meant that my 12:40 talk started only around 1:50, when lunch was underway. It didn’t help matters that it was scheduled in the arena farthest from the cafeteria. Calling it “economics of local for-hire public transport” also didn’t help. But that there were less than twenty people in the audience meant that I could settle down on the stage and deliver my talk.

And so I delivered. Mic in hand, low voice didn’t matter. Small crowd meant I could take questions through my talk. Hanging out with a few people through the length of the workshop meant they helped enhance my audience (a favour I returned). And a lunch-time talk meant that when I started getting too many questions, the track manager declared “lunch break” and I slipped away.

I was wearing a white shirt with sleeves rolled up, over khaki cargo shorts. Sitting on stage cross-legged (which meant that the fact that my shirt was untucked or that the shorts were cargo didn’t show), with a microphone in my left hand and waving a pointed right forefinger, I think the only thing that separated me from an RSS pramukh was a black cap on my head!

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The rest of the day went well. I attended some excellent talks through the afternoon and evening, though not too many others did, for the schedule had played havoc again. Dinner time saw a nice band playing, though I stopped drinking since I got sick of beer. I met a few more people, gave out a few more cards, “watched” Liverpool massacre Arsenal via Guardian minute-by-minute commentary, and returned to my hotel a happy man.

The Goa Project continued into its unofficial third day today, as I met a few of the other attendees for breakfast (we were all at the same hotel), a few others for lunch, and some more at the waiting area of the impossibly tiny and congested Dabolim airport as I waited to fly back to Bangalore.

I’ll be back next year.

 

Does facebook think my wife is my ex?

The “lookback” video feature that Facebook has launched on account of its tenth anniversary is nice. It flags up all the statuses and photos that you’ve uploaded that have been popular, and shows you how your life on facebook has been through the years.

My “lookback” video is weird, though, in that it contains content exclusively from my “past life”. There is absolutely no mention of the wife, despite us having been married for over three years now! And it is not like we’ve hidden our marriage from Facebook – we have a large number of photos and statuses in the recent past in which both of us have been mentioned.

Now, the danger with an exercise such as the lookback is that it can dig up unwanted things from one’s past. Let’s say you were seeing someone, the two of you together were all over Facebook and then you broke up. And then when you tried to clean up Facebook and get rid of the remnants of your past life, you miss cleaning up some stuff. And Facebook picks that up and puts that in you lookback video, making it rather unpleasant.

I’m sure the engineers at Facebook would have been aware of this problem, and hence would have come up with an algorithm to prevent such unpleasantness. Some bright engineer there would have come up with a filter such that ex-es are filtered out.

Now, back in January 2010, the (now) wife and I announced that we were in a relationship. Our respective profiles showed the names of the other person, and we proudly showed we were in a relationship. Then in August of the same year, the status changed to “Engaged’, and in November to “Married”. Through this time we we mentioned on each other’s profiles as each other’s significant others.

Then, a year or two back -I’m not sure when, exactly – the wife for some reason decided to remove the fact that she is married from facebook. I don’t think she changed her relationship status, but didn’t make the fact that she’s married public. As a consequence, my relationship status automatically changed from “Married to Priyanka Bharadwaj” to just “Married”.

So, I think facebook has this filter that if someone has once been your significant other, and is not that (according to your Facebook relationship status) anymore, he/she is an ex. And anyone who is your ex shall not appear in your lookback video – it doesn’t matter if you share status updates and photos after your “break up”.

Since Priyanka decided to hide the fact that she’s married from Facebook, facebook possibly thinks that we’ve broken up. The algorithm that created the lookback video would have ignored that we still upload pictures in which both of us are there – probably that algorithm thinks we’ve broken up but are still friends!

So – you have my lookback video which is almost exclusively about my past life (interestingly, most people who appear in the video are IIMB batchmates, and I joined Facebook two years after graduation), and contains nothing of my present!

Algorithms can be weird!