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.

The Pasta Darshini

A long time back I’d cribbed that in places like Bangalore where not too many people are willing to experiment with food, non-standard cuisines end up being insanely expensive. This was perhaps during my first trip to New York last year, when I’d been amazed to find extremely high quality food at nondescript places for very reasonable rates, and was cursing my own city for making me pay up exorbitant amounts every time I wanted to have something “special”.

Given that background, the new Veekes and Thomas outlet in Jayanagar 4th block (I believe they have outlets elsewhere in the city also) comes as a pleasant surprise. It’s a small place, situated across the road from the more famous Maiya’s. The whole establishment is less than 100 sq ft, with a large part of it taken by a massive machine to make sugarcane juice. The two times I’ve visited, there have been two guys there, one to make sugarcane juice and the other to make pasta. The seating area is limited, and you’re served in disposable (areca bark) plates and glass glasses.

They mostly make pastas and some other european dishes (their subtitle is “fine European cuisine” though I’m not sure how “fine” they are), and represent really awesome value for money. The average pasta there costs Rs. 60, and a soup I had on my last visit (wasn’t too great) was Rs. 15. And perhaps to go with the fact that they’re situated in the heavily-vegetarian Jayanagar, they don’t serve meat.

The wife says that it’s among the best pasta she’s eaten in Bangalore. While I disagree with that, I do think the food is really good given the price point. Also, given that they have only one cook, the waiting time can get a little long. The other thing with Pasta is that it is a slow-cooking dish, which is why it doesn’t lend itself too well to the darshini format – which is more suited for made-to-order or assemble-to-order dishes.

Nevertheless this is a good start. It’s hopefully a harbinger (sorry for using such a lofty word here; nothing simpler came to mind) for cheap “non-standard cuisine” in Bangalore. The next logical setup, I guess, would be a falafel-hummus stall. The advantages there are that the dishes are either quick-cooking or can be made to stock , ingredients to make them are easily available here, not much is lost by having a vegetarian-only place (I think there are easier to set up in terms of licensing than places that serve meat; and easier to cook as well) and the taste isn’t very different from Indian (yesterday I was describing the falafel as “AmboDe made out of chickpeas”).

Again, I can help someone set this up, though I’m not particularly interested in running the business since I think it involves a lot of hassles.

 

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.

Interview length

When I interviewed for my current job four months back, I was put through over twelve hours of high-quality interviews. This includes both telephonic and face-to-face processes (on one day, I was called to the office and grilled from 1030am to 630pm) and by “high quality”, I’m referring to the standard of questions that I was asked.

All the interviews were extremely enjoyable, and I had fun solving the problems that had been thrown at me. I must mention here that the entire process was a “stud interview” – one that tried to evaluate me on my thought process rather than evaluating what I know. I’ve also been through a few “fighter interviews” – ones where the interviewer just spends time finding out your “knowledge” – and I don’t remember taking a single job so far after passing this kind of an interview.

So recently I read this post by Seth Godin that someone had shared on Google Reader, where he says that there exists just no point in having long interviews and so interviews should be kept short and to the point. That way, he says, people’s time gets wasted less and the candidate also doesn’t need to waste much time interviewing. After reading that, I was trying to put my personal experience into perspective.

One thing is that in a “stud interview”, where you throw tough problems at the candidate, one of the key “steps” in the solution process is for an insight to hit the candidate. Even if you give hints, and mark liberally for “steps”, the “cracking” of the problem usually depends upon an insight. And it isn’t fair to expect that an insight hits the candidate on each and every question, and so the way to take out this factor is by having a large number of questions. Which means the interview takes longer.

The other thing about the length of the interview is signaling. Twelve hours of hardcore problem-solving sends out a signal to the candidate with regard to the quality of the group. It gives an idea to the candidate about what it takes to get into the group. It says that every person working in the group had to go through this kind of a process and hence is likely to be of high quality.

Another thing with the “stud interview” is that it also directly gives the candidate an idea of the quality of the people interviewing. Typically, hard math-puzzle based interviews are difficult to “take” (for the interviewer). So putting the candidate through this large number of math-problem-solving interviews tells him that the large number of people interviewing him are all good enough to take this kind of an interview. And this kind of interviews are also ruthless on the interviewer – it is usually not hard for a smart candidate to see through it if he thinks the interviewer has just mugged the answer to a question without actually solving it.

All put together, when you are recruiting for a job based on “stud interviews”, it makes sense for you to take time, and make the candidate go through several rounds. It also usually helps that most of these “stud interviews” are usually fun for the candidate also. On the other hand, if you are only willing to test what the candidate knows and are not really interested in the way he thinks, then you might follow Godin’s suggestion and keep the interview short.