An Interview

“Hi Omkar, can you help me with search & sort algos?” Sampada asked over the phone.

“Sure, why not.”

After spending some time explaining algorithms to Sampada she said.

“Thanks for the help. So you seem to be all prepped for tomorrow?” “All prepped for what?”

“For the campus interview…You are attending the interview right?”

“Ahhhh….you know what Sam I’ll call you back. Bye.”

I hung up the phone and immediately called another friend.

“Hey Buddy!!! Quick two questions. Did you know there was campus interview at our college tomorrow and are you attending it?”

“Yes and Yes”

Without saying anything further I hung up and dialed hurriedly.

“Sam, need a favor, can you print my CV, my printer is not working.”

This was going to be my first ever job interview and yet somehow I was neither overexcited nor was I nervous. For the next couple of hours I brushed up on possible interview questions.

The next day I reached college early. But to my surprise the college was already buzzing with students from across engineering colleges. That’s probably the first time I felt the gravity the situation.  I registered myself at the registration desk and headed straight to my friends in the auditorium where all the registered students were sitting. There were not much Hi’s or Hello’s rather there were questions “Did you revise OOPs concept?”, “Will they ask SQL queries or data structures?” I didn’t say much and kept to myself.

The hiring HR marched onto the center of the stage and informed “There would be three rounds of interview; Aptitude test, Group Discussion and a Personal Interview.” Students were then randomly split in groups. I unfortunately got in a group where none of my college friends were in.

There were about 15 students in my group. Each group was directed to a different classroom for the aptitude test. Most faces in the room seemed bright and confident. Of course why wouldn’t they. These were probably the bunch who prepared for GRE, GMAT, CAT and other exams. These guys go around job hunting during campus interviews just so that they can put job offers on MBA CV as achievements. The test was done, and I felt it went well. This made me nervous cause if I felt the test went well, all these MBA aspirants in the room must have aced it. HR came in and started announcing names, first name was mine. “Gone…. Lets pack up and go home.” I said to myself. She read out only 8 or 9 names and then asked us to move to another room for GD round. “One down two more two to go” I muttered to myself.

A few more from a different group joined us in the group discussion round. The topic for group discussion was something related to dress code in offices. Everyone shared their opinion on the topic, I shared mine too. But as I spoke the HR moderating the discussion peered out of the folder where she was keeping notes and looked straight at me. The look on her face suggested that I was speaking something atrocious. I got a bit conscious but I trudged on. Once again I waited for the results. My name was called out and was asked to wait in a queue out in the hallway. But what was the result? Did I clear the GD? Or was I in the line for people who were rejected. I checked with some guys ahead of me, they too were clueless. I looked around none of my friends were in the queue. I slowly moved ahead in the queue. Not until I was about 3rd or 4th in line, I figured that this was line for personal interview. So I had made it through the GD after all. A little solace for me.

“Two down one to go. Come on!” I said to myself.

When it was my turn I went to the door knocked it from outside and entered. “Can I sit?” I said. “You are best to judge your ability to sit in that chair. The question you should have rather asked is ‘May I sit in that chair’.” A little voice in my head just screamed “Grinch!!! You got a Grinch. He is not just going to kill you, and he is going to savor every moment of it.” The interview started with the usual line “So tell me something about yourself” and also ended, again with the usual line “That’s all from my side unless you have any questions.” I just shook hands and stepped out of the room.

I went back to the auditorium where I found my friends, they were quiet eager to know how I had done in the interview. There was very little that I could share because my name was called out by HR. I stepped out of the auditorium with the HR, after a brief discussion I was asked to leave.

At about three in the afternoon I was amongst the first to leave college. I tried calling my friends but none answered. Finally at about 8:30 that night I got a call from Vishal. “Pendse did you get the news? There were 25 students from our college; I called all of them you the last one that I am calling. It was tough interview man and only three got selected. Ravi, Irfan and me. Everyone else got rejected” With a big grin on my face which I wished Vishal could see I said “You know what Vishal. Add a fourth name to the list.” “Who’s name?” “My name, I too, got selected.”

So what’s the moral of the story? Be the creator of your own fate. Don’t wait for serendipity to lead you to the right roads. Life not always takes the right turns when you give someone else the control to decide your future. Secondly, when you think you achieved something effortlessly. Think again, your success is a culmination of all the hard work you did through till that moment. Others only see your success but not the hard work that has gone in to be successful. So don’t discount you efforts by saying ‘It was a silly moment of success.’

How hard is it to say Hi!!!

The other day I met a friend at a coffee shop. He had recently changed jobs, so I asked him about his new company. He said “Everything’s great! There’s just one small problem. My desk is pretty close to where all the senior managers sit. And since I am new I don’t know anyone. It gets little awkward when I run into them sometimes.”

Fellow toastmasters and guests, how hard is it for us to just say Hi!!!

I have heard similar instances so many times. It is always either that you don’t know people in your organization or people don’t seem to know you. And neither is good. And if you are an introvert, you do go unnoticed in office. Recently I attended a session by John Stepper on his upcoming book “Working out Loud”.  Listening to John Stepper, I felt, his ideas to create visibility for your work and for yourself are applicable to both introvert or not. Here are three simple ideas I would love share with you.

Introduce:

Consider this; you step into your office elevator. As you enter you see your CEO in it, your pause, you stare then you simply nod or put a smile on your face, reach one corner then quickly take your mobile phone out and dig into its screen pretending to be busy. “Phewww, saved.” Is what your thinking, while the CEO is thinking “What a creep, I wonder how he deals with our clients.” It is absolutely important to learn to greet someone and introduce yourself. Figure out what best describes you and what you do. Order events chronologically, it makes it easier for you to remember and for others to understand. Practice your introduction with your friends. Once you feel confident with your introduction, start using it. For starters, remember those folk you came across around office pantry, why not open up to them, introduce yourself. See if your introduction works.

Thank You Notes:

Who doesn’t like to be appreciated or thanked for the work they do, but we seldom take the efforts to express our gratitude. Guy Spier is a well known speaker and a best selling author on value investing. He is a big proponent of thank you notes. All he suggests is to make efforts to thank people. He says he always leaves a short thank you note for hotel staff before checking out for making his stay comfortable. He says thank you notes are small investments that compound over time. Thank you notes are long term investments, they don’t pay back immediately. Keeping at it is the key. And for the rewards, are rarely monitory. The true reward is the satisfaction one gets appreciating others efforts towards you.

Share Ideas:

A fellow toastmaster of our club was telling me how he was facing a particular problem and how he found an easy fix for it. Once he had the solution he didn’t want to loose it, so as a reminder to himself he posted it on his blog. He was amazed to find his blog had over 5000 visitors overnight and in a matter of few days millions had visited his blog looking for solution. You always have something to contribute, it’s just that we are either unaware or undermine our ability. It’s so easy to share today. Use social and collaboration tools like, Word press, BlogSpot, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc. When you open up and share your ideas, it becomes easier for others to share there thoughts and ideas with you. Being part of Toastmasters Club is a great experience and I am sharing this experience on my blog, tracking my Toastmasters Club journey.

Let’s recap; a confident and welcoming introduction is your foot in the door. Appreciate what other offer you and reciprocate with a simple thank you note. That’s the least you can do. Finally share your thoughts, ideas and put your work out there for others to see. Networking is not simply sharing business cards, quick handshakes, phoney smiles and small talk. Networking is about making meaningful relationships. I hope what I have shared with you all today will help you shed inhibitions about networking and help you explore new ways to make yourself and your work visible.

Juggad Innovation.

What comes to your mind when I say “Juggad”? Quick Fix or work around. Juggad has a very negative connotation. Fellow toastmasters and guests today I am going to talk about Juggad Innovation which will change your perspective on this word. Today I will talk on two things structured innovation and juggad innovation. What I will also do is explain the six principles of juggad with six simple examples.

Structured innovation is the conventional form of innovation, implemented widely across industries. When we think of structured innovation we usually picture large organization with huge research facilities with lots of funding dedicated to develop new innovative products. The question is does the outputs of these research facilities justify the resources deployed towards it. Consider this; researchers in 3M were researching world’s strongest adhesive. What they come out with was the most temporary adhesive, and that’s how Posit was invented, 3Ms most sold product.

Structured innovation is a top down model of innovation. It is not a problem-solution model. Juggad on the other hand identifies problem and then provides easy yet robust solution. Key features of juggad solution are its frugality, flexibility and inclusiveness. These features are elaborated in the six principles of juggad which are as follows:

Ø      Seek opportunity in adversity

Ø      Do more with less

Ø      Think and act flexible

Ø      Keep it simple

Ø      Include the margins

Ø      Follow your heart

Seeking Opportunity In Adversity:

About twenty years back Gujarat was an energy deficit state, riddled with frequent power cuts and power shortage. A businessman from Surat involved in the textile industry wondered how he would manage his business with the inadequacy of power supply. In his search for alternative sources of power sources, his research leads him to renewable sources of energy. He realized that Surat being a windy city, it suited him best to start wind farms. Soon he got his facilities was off the grid. As the word of his success spread, businessmen from across India started approaching him for his services to install renewal energy plants suitable for them and their geography. This is the story of Tulsi Tanti and Suzlon. Suzlon today is worlds leading service provider of renewal energy solutions.

Do More With Less:

With international fast food restaurants like McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut etc. opening outlets in India, Samar Gupta saw opportunity providing these restaurants with exotic vegetables like iceberg lettuce, zucchini, avocado, olives etc. To produce these vegetable Samar needed farms, but in India laws are such that only farmers can own agriculture land. Since Samar was not a farmer he could buy farmland. What he did was the next best. He loaned farmland form small farmers. Ever since that time, Samar Gupta’s Trikaya Agriculture has grown from strength to strength.

Think And Act Flexible:

Have you ever heard of a potato cleaning washing machine? Haier is a Chinese consumer electronic company which has done just that. Haier kept receiving complaints from rural China that their washing machines kept clogging. After investigation Haier found that farmer after harvesting potatoes used washing machines to clean the silt from the potatoes, and the result was clogged washing machines. Thinking and acting flexibly Haier choose not to dismiss the complaints of the farmers and instead made modifications to there machines which could then clean clothes and clean vegetables with out clogging the machines.

Keep It Simple:

Remember the first Apple iPod that hit the market, none can be better example of keeping it simple than these iPods. It had a play and pause button to play or pause music. It had left and right arrows to shuffle through the playlist, up and down arrows to increase or decrease the volume of sound. The best part was its long lasting battery which could play high quality music for long time and also loads of space to store all your favorite music. Techno savvy or not anyone could pick it up and use it without the need of any instruction manual. Early iPod epitomizes design simplicity.

Include The Margins:

Vodafone was looking at ways to increasing its base in Africa. During there market research they found that majority of Africans were unbanked. To assist the unbanked Africans, Vodafone launched m-pesa in Kenya in 2007. Using m-pesa individuals could top up there prepaid mobile phones with cash and then transfer the prepaid cash to anyone’s mobile account. To redeem the cash all one had to do was to visit one of the many small mom & pop shops with which Vodafone had tied-up with. This proved a big hit Kenya; soon Vodafone launched the m-pesa in other African countries. Where once again it saw run away success. With m-pesa Vodafone created synergies for its customer and itself.

Follow Your Heart:

When venturing into the retail market, many advised Kishore Biyani to model Big Bazaar on successful models used by hypermarkets in western countries like Tesco, Wal-Mart, Target etc. But trusting his intuition, Kishore felt that the look and feel of the western hypermarkets would seem artificial façade of gloss and shine in country like ours. He believed that Indians loved the bazaar atmosphere and yet the stores had to be clean and organized. That’s why the aisles in Big Bazaar are narrow, so that people bump into each other, just like in a real bazaar. That’s also why most of the products like grocery for example are not packet but kept loose in large vats for people to touch and feel the quality before purchasing.

To sum it all up, juggad innovation is all about three key ideas being frugal, being flexible and being inclusive. Juggad innovation develops precise solution for problem at hand and fast. But this does not mean any compromise on the quality. Rather the emphasis is on delivering high quality in the fastest and the cheapest way possible. How does all of this relate to what we do as software engineers? We work in a product company like Oracle; our products are used by millions across the glob. The only differentiation between us and our competitor is innovative products that create value for customers. Let’s apply juggad innovation to create better products and enhance value for our customers faster and cheaper.

Gujarati Wedding

When in kitchen I am like a fish out of water. I know to make tea and Maggi. A strong self sustenance model right there. I am not much of a foodie. I think I got this from my dad. He’s not much of a foodie himself. Our philosophy towards food is more on the lines of “Udaram Bharanum”.  Serve my dad karele ki sabzi or something exotic like Afgani Nargishi Shahi Korma, ask him how it was “I am Stuffed!!! Fulll!!!!!!” that the response you’ll get. His review is more quantitative than qualitative in nature.

My cousin sister fell in love with a Gujarati guy and wanted to marry him. My uncle was against it, so she came to my dad for help. Dad met this guy, his family; he was assured that they were nice people. So he told my cousin that if her dad doesn’t marry her to this guy he would. Suddenly and almost instantaneously my mom, my dad and I were elevated to be “The People” to impress for the grooms family.

It was a wonderful wedding ceremony. A beautiful mix of Maharashtrian and Gujarati traditions and customs.  I learned a lot about Gujarati culture from this whole affair. There is a common myth that Garba is played during Navratri. That’s false, cause just a day before the wedding I got a call from the groom saying “Garbo night che.”. Gujaratis need smallest reason of happiness and to from a circle and start Garba. Coming back to the wedding, the food was amazing. A wide assortment of Gujarati delicacies were at offer. There was dhoklas, patra, khaman. There was ofcourse Undio. Then there were some trick items as well. It looked exactly like a normal papad but they called it chora fail. Then there was another item which also looked exactly like a papad but it was called Mathari.

Now I don’t like to waste food. I eat everything that’s been served to me, whether I like it or not. But the problem was here there was nothing that I didn’t like. I kept eating and the servers kept serving some more. I was almost done with my lunch when the grooms Mamaji came along with a few of the grooms cousins. They had a big bowl filled with Gulab Jamuns with them. Mamaji kept forcing “Ek Gulab Jam to Chalse!!”. I had already had a dozen puris, shrikhand ,rabid, patra and dhokla, everything. Still I just couldn’t resist the temptation of that one more gulab jamun being offered. Now of course it was the grooms mamaji how could I say no to him, it would be so disrespectful and all. So I nodded ok for one more. The moment I said I’ll have one more, Mamaji and all the cousins standing next to him pulled out a spoon and served gulab jamuns one each. Now I had five gulab jamuns to finish. I took a deep breath, stared at my plate for a while and dug in. I somehow managed to have three more gulab jamun. To say it like my dad does I was Stuffed!!! But I didn’t like the prospect of having to leave something on the plate. I was absolutely full now. My eyes were bulging out of their sockets. I held the forth one in my hand and stared to breath heavily. I needed moral support. I looked around; all of the great Marathas from my side had already surrendered, conceded defeat and left. I was the last bastion standing. My will to accomplish this herculean task was dwindling. That’s when the grooms dad saw me, he approached me from behind and tapped on my shoulder and said “Revade beta, if u finish this they will bring some more.” I had given up, I could eat no more. I just slouched back in my chair and exhaled a sigh of relief. I closed my eyes, for the next 15 minutes as I just sat there.

There have been very few times in my life when I have felt food on my plate and this was one of those times. So if there was any learning from all this, it was don’t under estimate the power of fafdas and dhoklas. I have a Gujarati friends wedding coming up. I have already started conditioning my body for it. I will be fasting for a few days before the wedding and then a few days after as well.

Ig Noble

Good afternoon fellow toastmasters and guests. A grand welcome to Annual Nobel Prize ceremony 2014. Without wasting much of your time I would like to take you straight to the prize distribution ceremony.

This year’s Nobel for…

PHYSICS PRIZE [JAPAN]: Kiyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai, for measuring the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that’s on the floor.

NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE [CHINA, CANADA]: Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, and Kang Lee, for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE [CZECH REPUBLIC, JAPAN, USA, INDIA]: Jaroslav Flegr, Jan Havlíček and Jitka Hanušova-Lindova, and to David Hanauer, Naren Ramakrishnan, Lisa Seyfried, for investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat.

MEDICINE PRIZE [USA, INDIA]: Ian Humphreys, Sonal Saraiya, Walter Belenky and James Dworkin, for treating “uncontrollable” nosebleeds, using the method of nasal-packing-with-strips-of-cured-pork.

ARCTIC SCIENCE PRIZE [NORWAY, GERMANY, USA, CANADA]: Eigil Reimers and Sindre Eftestøl, for testing how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears.
Ahhh why do you all look so perplexed? Ohhh wait did I say Nobel Prize before no, no, I meant Ig Nobel Prize 2014.

Since 1991 the magazine “Annals of Improbable Research” have been organizing the Ig Nobel Awards. The ceremony is co sponsored by Harvard Radcliffe Society for Physic Students and the Harvard Radcliffe Science Fiction Association. Each year in September a gall is organized in Harvard Sanders Hall where ten prizes are given to research work from around the world. Research work which would make you Smile, then think. The Ig Nobel is intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative, to spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology. The awardees are presented with an Ig Nobel Trophy by Nobel laureates, a piece of paper signed by Nobel laureates accrediting the research and 5 trillion dollars in cash. Well that’s 5 trillion Zimbabwe dollars. Zimbabwe has so much inflation that their central bank actually prints 5, 10, 50 trillion dollars bank notes. Also keeping with the spirits of quirk each year the Ig Nobel trophy designed base on that years theme for the awards. This year the theme was food and so the trophy was designed as a bottle of ketchup on a dish fixed to a black pantry tray with fork and knife. They are always imaginative with the trophies one year they just handed out a big piece of rock to the awardees. After the award distribution each awardee is asked to explain his research in one minute. In case they go longer a sweet little girl comes up to the stage and starts shouting “Please Stop I am Bored” till they actually stop their presentation. Similarly after the Ig Noble awardees are done the Noble laureates are asked to give full technical description of their work in 24 seconds and summarize it in 7 words.
On a serious note, do you think the research work mentioned before was just silly. Well if you look beyond the quirky exterior, the core of is extremely important for mankind. Take this years award for the arctic sciences which goes to the study of reaction of reindeers to men dressed are polar bears. With human so closely co habituating with wildlife wouldn’t it be of any relevance to us to study the effects of human habitation on wildlife.

Ig Nobel brings a ray of hope for me, for once I can actually hope to achieve something nearly Nobel in life. My friends and my parents especially say that I am very lazy. I am actually collecting evidence and doing statistical analysis of the patience and perseverance it takes for me to do nothing at all. I hope once I am done with this research you would definitely nominate me for the Ig Nobles.

There is so much more that is worth mentioning about Ig Noble but time is a big constraint today. Google Ig Nobel and you can enjoy the full video of this event or past events on their official website and also on YouTube. I can guarantee you some laughs, if not enlightenment to you.

Not So Clichéd after all!!!

Good afternoon fellow toastmasters and guests. When asked to introduce myself, I thought I could sum up all my life’s achievement in one single cliché of contemporary Indian. “Hi I am Omkar Pendse, I am a Computer Engineering, with a MBA and I am working in IT”. But looking back in time for today’s icebreaker and recollecting all the sane and insane things I have done. I think it not so clichéd life after all.

It all starts with an alliance of marriage between two distinct and very eccentric families. My family is like, Yin and Yang of the Chinese symbol. On one side, my father’s side we have everyone, that is Engineer or skilled technician. On the other side we have connoisseur of finer things in life. My maternal grandparents, my mother, her uncle’s all are accomplished musicians.

Apart from the things happening at my home, my childhood had been fairly similar to any others. Both my parents were working so I was looked after by my maternal grandparents. I used to run around the house distracting my grandpa in his daily riyas. He would catch hold of me and say “Omkar sing Desh rag.” “What do you mean you don’t know Desh rag, don’t you sing Vande Mataram in school, Now that’s Desh rag, come I’ll teach you.” I never grew to become a musician but I did learn the art of good listening and appreciating good music. My father on the other hand taught me to work with machines & tools.  I remember when it was time for us to replace our old TV, my dad and my uncle made our new TV. Yes, you heard me correct. Unlike a normal family who go out to electronic store selects a TV set and the dealer delivers it to their home, we actually built our own TV. In those days the government was encouraging sales of Do It Yourself electronics equipment kits so that people could learn how to build and fix electronics equipment.

In seventh grade I learnt the business of wholesaling and retailing from my father when we went out to buy firecrackers for Diwali. The next year I made my first elevator pitch to start firecracker retailing business, and found an angel investor in my Dad. My dad was more excited with the idea of me doing business and learning to do business than even I was. But people didn’t see what he saw. When I left my grandparents house with my bag of merchandise, grandma called up mom to say “Swati if you’ll were in such dire needs of money why did you tell us, why does poor Omkar have to go door to door selling things?” Anyway I got 5000/- seed capital from my dad and made a whopping 3000/- in profits. I was probably the self made richest kid in school that Diwali.

All through my school days I played club cricket and did trekking in vacations. Like any other fifteen year old I wished to be Sachin Tendulkar. But I soon realized the difference between having an achievable dream and an unattainable fantasy. Just after SSC I was picked up by prestigious Elf Academy. I was preparing for Kanga League, when I fell on the ground, breaking my wrist. With plaster on my hand I still went to the academy everyday to be with the team and see them practice. Watching all the other kids around I realized that I was good at cricket but there were others far more passionate and determined than me. So I made a deal with myself college and cricket during the weekdays and trekking on weekends. With the new found collegiate independence I stayed true with the weekend part of the deal, cricket lagged behind. Trekking has given me some thrilling and exciting experiences but I’ll reserve those tales for some other day.

With the long list of engineers in my family, I had no other option but engineering after SSC. In Engineering I learnt a life lesson. “ATKT was the greatest equalizer of all”. Mumbai University plays this insidious game to dish out ATKT to all. KTs are not to be frowned upon, for a true engineer flaunts them with pride just like a worrier flaunts his battle scares. KTs aren’t there to close doors on you but they are there to make you realize how determined you are to open the closed doors.

These experiences that I shared today are only a few of the many dots in my life. A book can’t be judged by its cover and no person can be compartmentalized in clichés. I am looking forward for dots yet to come in my life with a hope that when connected the dots form a beautiful picture in the end.