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Archive for the ‘Engineering’ Category

Today I came across a reaffirmation of something I had heard even earlier. It’s all about what is valued most in aspiring/practicing engineering-leads/managers by (product) companies in US.

A is a smart young man who has made rapid strides in his professional career in the few years he is employed in a very well-known product company in the west coast. He was recently promoted as the champion of a futuristic platform slated to serve as the bedrock for the company’s flagship products in the pipeline (or maybe it’s already deployed).  

Not surprisingly laudatory messages flowed in on his promotion, coming from his team, peers and others mostly congratulating him for his achievement. The manager’s message was a little different and more insightful. I understood in gist it went something like: ‘Besides being a genuine person, compassionate in his approach and frank without being brutal in his feedback, he was recognized for being a great help to his team and its success…’

My eyes lit up. Interesting, how did/does it happen? May be there was something in here waiting to be dug up and aired for broader good.  Or, like at other times, it might throw up some ‘Drinking milk is good for health’ kind of statements. Try I did and this is what I came up with.

At this point I must point out my digging – a short exercise – was not with A directly, but with a very articulate professional close to him and in the know. In a way it was a blessing because I was being served with sum-up’s without the obfuscating details (always available if needed).

A had in his team a good number of youngsters faced with and fazed by humungous amount of code thrown at them. Much as he might have wished, there was simply no way he could sit with them one-on-one and help them in their work.

Ye huyi na baath, ab batao, batao, kya kiya A? Tell us, tell us what did A do! 

No magic, here. He would give them pointers to what, where and how, induct them into a few structured processes (and possibly tools and techniques), and leave them alone to work on the details. It made them happy they did the work on their own, boosting their self-confidence. Soon they learnt to do some part of the analysis too all by themselves. Result: faster learning, quicker ramp-up, better productivity and a happier team.

While this may work with the younger lot, how did he handle the seniors in the team?

Firstly, he quickly appraised himself of their background, their skills and strengths. He would then place before them a few questions that needed to be resolved for the job at hand and challenged their mettle. They were free to research, analyse and figure out the answers for a discussion. It included bringing their prior experience and knowledge, wherever relevant, to bear up on the problem. It was thus an interesting, useful and tedium-breaking problem-solving cum learning exercise for them and for A too. Once again, the result of having tail-up seniors on one’s side: enhanced quality of the solution, better productivity and a happier and motivated team.

While the above may not be an entirely new read to many, it’s nevertheless an interesting insight into a) how a young successful engineering-lead on the rise in a product company made it work for him and b) what product companies value and recognize in their engineering-leads/managers.    

It’s clear while individual excellence may well be a prerequisite for other pieces to fall in place, it’s not an end in itself. Enabling and empowering others in the team to perform gets far better results for the organization and for oneself in terms of recognition and reward.

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Source: Image from here.

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Weeks ago, my daughter visiting from US brought a small device.

It was a night lamp. With a motion sensor!

Peel off the cover on its back and stick it to the wall and you’re on. As simple as that.

So when it finds someone walking, it lights up the way.

And thoughtfully it comes in pairs.

Useful to help the old, for example, when they get up in the night sleepy-eyed to go to toilet. One device for the way up and another for return, especially when there is a bend.

Costs some $25 to $30.

Here’s a simple device that makes tending a wee bit easier and life safer for the old. Am sure there must be other uses too.

But it’ll be years before it’s made in this country, if at all.

It’s nothing new – the concept and the opportunity of putting electronics and miniaturization to help in daily life for some strange reason never captured the fancy of young engineers and entrepreneurs in this country. And with it a huge potential for employment for self and others.

What happened years ago comes to mind. I had a long daily commute from Chembur to workplace in Seepz. At one point in Ghatkopar, our vehicle would tee off into the road through Asalpha. After plodding through heavy traffic for a few kilometers unsuspectingly, we would find the road blocked – merrily dug up by the authorities or some utility company.  What else but to trace back to the point and take a long detour losing precious time in the busy morning hours. Why couldn’t they tell us about it in time? A communication problem amenable to some simple solution with electronics. Of course, in absence of anything else, a placard with an announcement would have served the purpose.

The arrival of and the revolution brought in by pagers and later mobile devices elsewhere in the world failed miserably to ignite any kind of similar innovation in this land.

This is not limited only to the field of communication. Consider this simple but dire need: Until recently we did not have a reliable and inexpensive way of timely switching on and off of pumps drawing water from the municipal mains to storage tanks atop apartments. The guy on duty would turn on the pump, go goofing about and return ‘aaraamse’ from his chai and gossip and switch it off but not before the floors and adjacent parts of the road had been washed clean by the overflowing water. Even today in times when water is scarce, installing these devices are not mandated by corporations to plug wastage!! A small opportunity to create a market place for electronics and its supply chain missed 😦

Areas like entertainment electronics, avionics, computers…are ‘to dhoor ki bhat’.

With a huge population, increased urbanization, improved standard of living and the burgeoning need for a range of services, possibilities of tapping into electronics are mind-boggling.

But we won’t – it’ll all come from China or Taiwan while our youth bitch and moan, blame the government for the ills or in some parts of the country turn into professional protesters available to politicians for hire! Or, turn into programmers!

To heck with sensors, devices, prime-movers, iot…as long as we have those dumb guys in China churning them out…

Is it because tinkering with things is essentially not part of our dna? We make poor engineers with hardware? Of course we always made pots and beads, as archaeological digs reveal. No questions.

So much for leadership in education, enterprise and nation building:-(

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PS: Have no idea how ISRO and a few organizations in defense and private sectors pull along amidst such a dismal ecosystem. Just as it’s a wonder how those magnificent temple edifices in the south and elsewhere were constructed – did China supply them too? Kidding 🙂

This time I’m not kidding. At the risk of appearing quixotic, may I suggest for every software professional of ours US employs directly or indirectly, we employ/import a technician, engineer or an entrepreneur from that country to the extent BOP allows. This will give us a kick-start in real engineering capabilities with hardware and establishing a nourishing ecosystem we are unable to set up on our own.

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“…that pernicious nonsense about being a leader and not a manager. Your challenge is to help the team and team members succeed. The only way to succeed at that is to do all three kinds of work. Lead. Manage. Supervise. Do them all well. “

Read this short post from Wally Bock to know what each entails.

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They all have small feet!

How else could they get into other people’s shoes 🙂

In his article ‘Empathy Is The Key To Innovation’ Baruch Sachs assertively identifies a key ingredient for innovation:

“…Every great innovation has come from a place of empathy. This makes great sense because innovation is so often borne out of someone’s frustration with the current way or state of things. For example, Steve Jobs was frustrated that he could not carry his library of music around in his pocket. He thought others might share his frustration. His answer? The iPod.

Ride-sharing services were borne out of people’s frustration with the overall taxi experience. All of the innovations that Uber, Lyft, and others have created through their technology and services have come from a place of empathy. These are just two examples showing how empathy has driven tremendous innovations that have shaped the lives of millions of people…”

And yet “… Empathy is the single most-overlooked ingredient of innovation. This is a huge problem because empathy is a critical ingredient of ensuring successful innovation…”

Design thinking and other methodologies by themselves will not take the org far in innovation in absence of empathy.

So you know now who is the most likely to drive innovation in your org.

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Image from cio.com

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“Good service design is important for the overall user experience. Yet, it is even more important at the end of an experience (or exposure to a brand) due to the Peak-End Rule and Recency Effect. Placing the business needs before the user’s needs, breaking the user’s flow and not addressing a user’s need at the point of their need are primary culprits in designing a poor experience.”

Chris Kiess writes in his article “Service Design — How to Fail at the Checkout and Ruin Your User’s End Experience” appearing here.

While he talks about “8 ways I see retail merchants like Target, Walmart or Meijer fail in service design as it relates to the end of the customer experience and the final impression they make with consumers,” there’s an interesting snippet about a negative perception and how it could be turned around.

First about the perception:

“The biggest faux pas of superstores is having too many checkout registers and not enough cashiers. Most people would probably not be concerned during the holidays (or any other time) if they sauntered over to the checkout and there were ten cashiers at all ten registers with lines behind each. This would give the customer the illusion the store is busy and they are doing everything they can to help customers move through the checkout process. But, what generally happens instead is you walk up to the checkout area after finding everything you need and there are thirty registers with only five in service. This, I cannot understand. On the surface, it gives the impression the store could do more. After all, there are twenty-five more registers and surely they could open one or two more of them. It boggles the mind that a store would feel the need to install thirty checkout lanes and never use them all at one time.”

He suggests:

“This is largely about human perception. The simple fix is to cut the number of registers installed and use a greater percentage of them during busy times. This would give the impression (and shape perceptions) a greater effort is being employed to move people through the lines.”

A thought:

The suggestion could still leave at times a few unattended counters. So why not have counters that could be rolled in from back of the store on need basis and wheeled away when done? Just as many as needed, leaving no visibly unattended counters at any time.

Also could the stores do like the airlines doing in-line check-in with staff going around with their special devices? Of course, it needs some adaption to allow for handling the purchases in the cart.

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Image from here.

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Vide விஷ்வாமித்திரர்

Drawing water using manual pumps (If the clip doesn’t show, go here):

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