Sunday, March 22, 2015

In a few weeks, I will be working with a large organization that is in midst of a revolution. A revolution that strives to induce new energy and innovation into the organization while dealing with its legacy and traditional mindsets. In fact, the major revelation as a part of this, is the idea that the organization is no longer a traditional brick-and-mortar company. Instead like its predecessors and competitors, it is destined to become a Platform company. It is destined to become a Technology company with deep roots in traditional business. It is finally destined to take IT as not just a cost-center or a support function, but as a key ingredient for its future. 

The bigger challenges that surround this revolution is the idea to be able to maintain a delicate balance between the current short term targets and the bigger, bolder bets that it needs to make in the times ahead. 

For a while now, the majority of activities surrounding this revolution is tactical, and less strategic. Partly, because of the increasing need to have the house in order, and target achievables that have missed the timelines multiple number of times. 

Although the organization understands its position in the market, it still has miles to go in order to be able to gain significant presence in the new business areas that the company wishes to expand.

I, for most, will concentrate my energy into creating an engine of Software and Technology innovation that provides a standard boilerplate for all existing and new projects. 

As I plan to own these activities, I have been looking around for ideas, inspiration and practices. Partly, this will help me to pile up my arsenal on how I would approach solving this technical riddle for this organization.

My research and curiosity leads me to multiple different lanes, each with its own ideology and practices.

One of my first involvement was the Lean Startup movement by Eric Reis, inspired by Steve Blank’s Customer Development Methodology. I borrowed some ideas around Lean Startup, and the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in previous projects, and found them deeply useful to reduce noise and create essential focus when building projects. However, a common trail of disappointment that I faced was the constant withdraw of people on adopting these ideas in mainstream enterprise, primarily due to the fear of unknown or new. Where people got interested, they got deeply disappointed as they faced practical challenges and resistance from other teams.

I found interesting work by Telefonica in adopting Lean Startups ideology to create very useful and innovative new services for its customers. The Lean Enterprise book by Trevor Owens and Obie Fernandez was also a fantastic investment for me, helping me navigate through the particulars of what it takes to adopt Lean Startups in large organizations. I was able to resonate with the entrepreneurial framework that the book introduces for innovating and making their enterprises go Lean. 

My next stop was IDEO, and its Human Centred Design Thinking. I was introduced to this Design Led thinking a couple of years back, thanks to a project I did while participating in Acumen-IDEO Course with some friends. My experiences with the course and the project was extremely exhilarating, and I found it to be an excellent framework to innovate and create demonstrable results in short amount of time. Although the focus of that course was Social Innovation, the learning from the project did hint me to believe that they are as useful in a large enterprise to solve problems. 
Steve Blank, however had a very interesting take on the commonality and differences between the Lean Startup and Human Centred Design Thinking on his blog. He advocated that indeed both these processes are useful for large enterprises, but Lean Startups is more about getting their first, and then iterating. Design Thinking was more about getting it right. 

I then looked at some essential readings that my friends and mentors recommended. The Goal from Eliyahu Goldratt, and The Phoenix Project by Kevin BehrGeorge Spafford,Gene Kim were my first stop. Both are highly recommended readings, and kept me going back to them on each step of my research. I have a laundry list of things to do, thanks to these two books. I am still amazed on how relevant and similar Operations Research and Lean Manufacturing is to modern IT and Technology development. I still have multiple bookmarks and To-Dos pending till date, even after going over the books a couple of times. 

After having looked at ideas from Lean Startups in Enterprises, IDEO’s Human Centred Design Thinking, DevOps and Lean Manufacturing, I focussed on my other favorite topics - Cognitive Psychology and Behaviour Economics. 

Cognitive Psychology and Behavior Economics have been a good casual readings for me since sometime, thanks to writers like Steven Pinker, Dan Areilly and Daniel Kahneman. One of the aspects that stuck to my thinking was how deeply we underestimate and undervalue the study of human psychology as an essential ingredient for creating a technology rich and innovative organization. After making some notes on the science behind how we think, perceive and decide, it was quite evident that the more we understand about what’s inside, the better we could build things and structures outside. More than ever, it provided me some interesting ideas on asking the right question, introspecting, and creating opportunities for adoption of new technologies. I had, in my past, found considerable trouble in teams to take risk, make bold bets and have faith in doing something innovative. One of my mentor, rightly said that the problems in most cases is not the technology, but the humans who develop and use it. 

After spending multiple weeks and months into this, I am still dumbstruck with the exact answer to my original quest. Though I am aware that the answers will not be evident immediately, but I am glad to raise some key questions, and have pointers to experiment and evaluate. 

In this quest, I have created a new Github project that will be part a collection of my notes, questions and inferences. The other part will be toolsets that I build and use as I work towards creating a Technology Platform for this organization.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Learning Notes #1 - 15th Feb 2014

“I'm not a real programmer. I throw together things until it works then I move on. The real programmers will say ‘yeah it works but you're leaking memory everywhere. Perhaps we should fix that.’ I'll just restart Apache every 10 requests.” 

- Rasmus Lerdorf (creator of PHP) 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Launching "The Photon Effect"

Today I want to share one more investment under preparation with all of you - A story blog powered by photographs. Photography has been an enjoyable hobby for me, and I am now taking it to the next level. 

"The Photo Effect" is an attempt to tell stories. These stories are part of me when I travel, meet people and share experiences with the world. 

"The Photon Effect" is currently under preparation, and is going live the beginning of June 2013. 

Till then, keep reading !

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Deep Learning: The next paradigm for Machine Learning

2 posts that made me excited about Deep Learning, and how it is evolving the state of art in Machine Learning. 

For newbies, Deep Learning is a set of algorithms that emphasises on layered approach to learning. Each layer is a neural network corresponds to a concept, going all the way from high-order to a low-order. A high order concept is composed of low-order concept and multiple low-order concepts give way to a high-order concept. A concept could be a part of a feature - like learning to understand a language.

Post 1:- 

Andrew Ng, the celebrated Neural Network Researcher and the prestigious AI professor talks about his love for AI and Neural Networks. In The One Algorithm Brain - Andrew Ng discovers how the concept of "One Algorithm" could define how our brains perform complicated processing. And One day, we might finally built something near to it.

Post 2:- 

Rick Rashid, the Chief Research officer of Microsoft Research, wows audience with real-time translation of spoken words. The technology deep within this work is Deep Learning. 

The behind the scenes action of Post 1 and Post 2 lies in application of Deep Learning. Not only, it is creating a paradigm shift in creation of intelligent software, it also shows that key to such creation is learning how our own brain works. 

I am writing a blog post for allowing a layman understand about Deep Learning. Watch out for this in the next blog post.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The world through the Glass

Google Glass is a phenomenal attempt to create a device that blurs the interface between a human and a machine. I believe this is a first step towards the complete integration, and a scary one too. The Glass as advertised by Google is an important step in the evolution of the human species, where the humans start accepting augmentation with machines as a natural progression. However, it brings out an important point on how Google as a company wants to invade in the private and personal space of each user. Google is primarily an Advertisement based company. It survives and thrives on people, you and me, using its powerful search engine, and other plethora of tools to play with information. This includes searching, recording, authoring, viewing and sharing. An important part of this engagement between the human and Google is the need for a consumption device. This engagement allows Google to profile the user, provide targeted advertisements and information. But a key problem with the engagement is that a user needs to be in interaction with the interface. A device fills the gap except places where the user does not intent to involve it. This may include the free time that we all have including interacting with our families, pursuing our hobbies, sharing love and experience for the first time etc. All this represent the pure human to human interaction. A machine in the form of a mobile phone, laptop, tablet is seen as an intrusion in these type of interactions, until Google Glass arrived.
The Glass opens up tremendous opportunity for Google to perceive the behaviour of each user in far detail than possible now.  This means, an unprecedented access to more of our human - to - human time. When the interface becomes invisible as in the Glass, there is very little a user can do to decide on the appropriateness of the content that gets communicated and shared. The interface is becoming a part of our real self. I will not be surprised if when using the Glass and playing a game of tennis, my Glass realises that I am poor in the sport, and superimpose training videos on my retina followed with advertisements of training institutes.
This is scary thought, but one whose time has come. I am all excited and scared at the same time :)

PLEASE NOTE:- The Image used here is a part of the published article "". The blog owner does not own any rights for the image.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why I can't replace paper ?

I read a lot. I try to find every ounce of time that I can squeeze from my schedule to read. Reading definitely does not mean, carrying a book everywhere, but finding every opportunity to go over a written piece of online and offline text. This means a greater challenge for me to find out the items worth spending time reading on. So I necessarily divide a part of my day into finding things to read and then going over it as I get time. 

Ever since I bought the Amazon Kindle, the graphite version of the stellar product back in mid-2010, its been a part of some of my reading time if not all. 6 months into Kindle, and I was still finding myself going over a shiny new printed paper. Find me in a bookstore, and I am hypnotized to get my hands on to the written text. Reading a PDF in the Kindle was always a pain. I still email most of the PDFs I wanted to read in my free time to my free kindle email address. Kindle has been a quite member of my reading journey since last 3 years. And I still see myself buying a lot of printed books, with some contribution of the easy-to-order online stores promising me 1 - 2 day delivery with good discounts. Then came the iPad, third of their iteration in the apple value chain. iPad with retina display promised me the world of color texts, something I missed in my graphite kindle but was not interested to move on to the Kindle HD. I again found myself syncing PDFs of text, book purchases through the Kindle app and DropBox account with the iPad. Yes, its a disruption. But do I still need Paper. Hell Yeah. 
I believe the advances in electronic displays and online publishing has definitely created a dent in the printed text industry. It mirrored the fine nuances of a printed paper, but the feel of holding a book, with the smell of the printed pages is a costly proposition for digital technology. If reading was all about going over a written text, the current state of the art would have been enough. 
I believe we need a hybrid shot at this. A system that allows us the impression of holding a book (and not a library of them) at one time. Similar to what we do now. We need the accessibility, Search and portability of electronic displays and online text, but with the ability of making a real world bookmark, highlighting and marking the written text for notes, and the feel of holding a paper. 
Is it merely a part of the old experience that we crave for or is this a marriage of the real with the virtual world ?
The onset of technologies like Microsoft Kinect with its multi-point Camera, Leap Motion device, feedback touch interaction that can be mashed up to create such an experience. And if this all can be packaged as one small device, well, not sure if it would create the same buzz the same as Google Glass these days.
Paper is not going anywhere, anytime soon. Interactions would evolve and create a hybrid form of human-machine contact. A contact which is human, and yet in its functionality transcends the current limitations of the earlier interaction.

PLEASE NOTE:- The Image used here is a part of the published article "". The blog owner does not own any rights for the image.

Monday, February 04, 2013

One Question to rule them all

Lately I have been interviewing, especially people with technical skills. One question that lingered in my mind for sometime is that of "the" question which would help me get the maximum out of an interview. How about one "big" question, that provides me all the layers of the candidate. It's like an elevator pitch version of interview question.

Out of all the questions I iterated through, I found one. One elegant question. One question to rule them all ;-)

Question - What are three things in your career till now you are proud of ?

Why I believe this is the elegant question :-

1. It proves that the candidate works for purpose

2. It proves the candidate is ambitious, risk taker and values his / her contribution

3. She / he cares for the work

4. Being proud of one's career highlights does not just translate to achievements or successes. It could manifest into learning points, experiences, impacts and influences.

5. The candidate thinks 

6. The candidate is upbeat, optimistic and reflects on the learnings of past.

I think this will be my question of choice in any interview - be it hiring for tech guys, managers, security guards, chefs etc.

What is your question of choice ?