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Learn, Grow up, Energize
Vijay Anand
Saturday, July 1, 2006
I believe what is important to the techie community in India’ is how we mature from being a low cost provider of energetic young talent to a community of thought leaders. In forums, I have heard one of the main impediments to building a strong software product ecosystem in India is early stage venture capital for entrepreneurs. Having spent over two decades in the silicon valley and Bangalore I feel what is more important is thought leadership. I list ten points below that I’d like techies to think about as they develop their careers as technical leaders and entrepreneurs.

Geek culture
Engineers and scientists are well respected in India. However, we need this geek culture to exist not just at entry levels in the organization but all the way to the top. We certainly need our MBAs but we should equally value advanced degrees from our institutes. If you are a thriving techie, consider doing an advanced technical degree while at work, this will make you more valuable and the insights you gain from further formal study could open your mind more. Companies that hire engineers should consider positioning candidates with advanced degrees higher and actively source PhDs from our institutes. And we need our institutes to take graduate education more seriously, raise standards of research and work closely with industry in collaborative research, not to mention increase the rate of students doing advanced degrees. Compare India with countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union where there is a rapid flourish of students with PhDs entering the work force at the entry level. If we are to innovate new technologies and products from India, we need our geeks to thrive at high levels.

Love for technology
I call this loving technology for technology’s sake. We need the bigots; we need the people who love a particular technology having been deeply involved in its evolution and simply stand with it. For e.g., I recently read an article by the founder of a storefront technology company on why Lisp gave them the competitive edge in building their storefront platform and was instrumental in them being acquired by one of the large portals. Now, I don’t know if Lisp indeed was that important but it is interesting to see how, as a techie and entrepreneur he breathes and lives recursion and parentheses! Deep attachment and love for the technology breeds expertise, ideas and differentiation. And this is important for the techie- to simply love what you do and believe strongly in what you believe. So, what technology do you deeply love?

Stand for something
Any community is based on a set of theories, philosophies, arguments and of course religion. Every time a paradigm shift occurs, there are new believers. Remember the OO revolution and now of course the open source one. The key to a techie is not just to participate in the community but also influence and be influenced. Building strong informed opinions is important. Influencing the ideology and being a part of the opinion is key to a strategic thinker. It does not matter that most techies are probably introverted. Socializing online through blogs and forums is an advantage. It is important for techies to figure out their own ideology that they would like to attach themselves to and follow-an open source credo will for example guide the techies life-long on the kinds of work and contributions they will make. And once you have made up your mind, actively influence and drive the evolution of that community. So, what’s your ideology?

“I” matters
Our culture emphasizes teams. We talk about our batch mates, classmates and officemates. We do team building events. While this is important to build camaraderie, the more important topic is Who are You? What is it that distinguishes you from everyone else around you? How can you stand out from the crowd? Ideas are simply born from people who wish to do something unique. It may seem daunting to bring up a spark of an idea when you feel there are many sparks happening around you, but the effort you put into distinguishing your spark will make sure you realize your own potential. A team of people who realize what their own value is often partner better with each other given the level of mutual respect that exists.

This is often less understood. Individuals who understand their own value well and are secure are often very forthcoming with their thoughts and ideas. This may often be misinterpreted as being arrogant and overconfident. However, a certain amount of “swagger” or outward self-confidence in expressing one’s own position and ideas may help build credibility and respect in the community. It is often not just about the thought but how it is delivered. A certain amount of “swagger” among the techies I think can help build themselves into leaders. Look around you, the successful techies you see all have a certain amount of swagger built-in.

Self recognition, not just peer recognition
This is related to the previous point. I find a strong penchant among techies to be recognized by peers. There are many evening get-togethers, award ceremonies that we find ourselves in. I agree socializing and networking is important. Feeling recognized by peers is important in one’s positioning and influence in the community. What is more important I believe is self-recognition. Introspection helps. What do you think of yourself? Have you set your goals on what you would like to be? Where are you with respect to your goals? A deep belief in one’s goals and a strategy to go after them long term could build strength as an individual and help you deal with external influences that are constantly bombarding you. In a way, to use a well-worn cliché, this self-belief is the strong rudder in stormy seas getting you to your homeport.

The thing in hand
It all begins with how happy you are. An executive I worked for often used to ask me, “Vijay, are you happy?” This seemed strange at first (here I am ready to discuss the organization’s success and key issues!) but later seemed profound. The reason is simple- persons who are happy with what they are doing are simply doing a great job of it and are positioning themselves for success in their careers. How happy are you with your job? How happy are you with the code you just wrote, or the document you just published or your last blog or your email response to the customer issue? Chances are, if you are not happy you will not be happy with anything else. Figure out how you can begin to feel happy with what you are doing and you will see success with your career growth as a technical leader.

Where did the craftsmen go?
India was all about the craftsmen. Whether it is large monuments, miniature handicrafts or thoughtful writing, it was all about skills inherited through generations and brilliance in the way it was depicted. What happened to this culture in the new industry? I look back over the last 100 years for evidence of skillful display of craftsmanship in new industry and I find ourselves wanting. We need to bring the skilled craftsman back in the front- it’s not about KLOC (Kilo Lines of Code); you don’t buy handicrafts by weight. It is about the elegance and profoundness of that expression or line of code you wrote just now. How skilled a craftsman are you and how can we help make you the best in the business?

It’s not about the money
Often times, the news media is good at highlighting which entrepreneur made how much money but what is more important to the entrepreneur is success in itself - the validation of the idea, the impact the company has had in the marketplace and the experience in building a successful company often outweigh the money. The techie should realize that the focus is on the idea and the expertise, if these are in place the money will come. I feel the same applies to your career- focus on your technical expertise, opinions, ideologies and contributions. The money will come in due course.

Metrics matter
There is a saying that what cannot be measured isn’t worth doing. In our world, there is quite a bit of subjectivity and we cannot eliminate it. We use terms such as “trust” for example to emphasize subjectivity. However, it is important, even in a creative process such as innovation to be able to measure output against the input. Terms such as productivity are being used but the science behind measuring output in software product environments is still not advanced. So, how can you measure your own output versus input? Do you track your own productivity, what benchmarks do you set for yourself? Wouldn’t you be happier if you can relate your own productivity increase to that last salary increase you got?

Vijay Anand is the Vice President, India Engineering Centre (IEC), Sun Microsystems Inc.

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