Category Archives: Thoughts

Gearing up for an “App”y Shopping

On Monday when I tried to open Myntra on my laptop, I was in for a big surprise. In bold letters it said,

DOWNLOAD THE MYNTRA APP NOW
Your choice. Your taste. Your style.
All on your most personal device.

Obviously, I hadn’t followed up on the news and was oblivious to the fact that Myntra had shut down its website on 15th May 2015 and became an App only platform. It is rumored that Flipkart the parent company of Myntra would also follow suit in almost a year. Buoyed by the fact that almost 95% of the traffic at Myntra takes the mobile route and mobile commerce contributes to 70% of their sales, Myntra is all set for the metamorphosis. Recent proliferation of smartphones and tablets (especially in tier II and III cities) and greater access to the internet via broadband, 3G, 4G etc helped build the foundation of an ever growing online consumer base in India.
According to a recent Morgan Stanley report, ecommerce penetration in India is set to grow from 9% in 2013 to 36% by 2020 and most of it being contributed by mobile users. Indeed, I remember, one of my friends was busy adding items to the shopping on a popular ecommerce site on his iPhone coz he would get X% discount more for shopping via the mobile app. Agreed, most of us are deal hunters and we swim with the current but who wouldn’t like a bit of a personalization. With eCommerce companies encouraging customers to download and use the mobile app, it certainly means that app only culture is in the offing. Only Myntra is the first eCommerce company in the world to implement this bold step.
Needless to say, shopping is a personal experience and Myntra is trying to cash in on this. However, personalizing this experience to a level that it is only available on your personal device could actually make or mar the profits of the company. Not all users are of the same composition. While some would feel irritated of the constant notifications indicated by a beeping handheld device, there would be others who would feel neglected with very few notifications. It all depends upon Myntra now to hold and keep its customers on its mobile because we all know that an app can be deleted with greater ease than what was required to download it. Also, there is a fine line that separates engagement from intrusion.
I have shopped on Myntra a good number of times in the past and I was happy with the experience. I may even download the app for now. But whether I will shop only from Myntra is a matter of “choice”. This is because I cannot change my shopping habit. I love to browse through various eCommerce sites when I look forward to buy something, compare prices, add items to the cart and depending upon the urgency, proceed to check out which could be from a handheld device in case I did not complete the action on my desktop.
What would be the repercussions of app only platform for software developers. Well more work possibly; demand for flawless work undoubtedly, greater attention to incorporate better UI/UX into the app definitely and increasingly better career opportunities for mobile app developers. In fact if this step leads to success, Myntra will have a first mover advantage for sure but there will be many other eCommerce sites and boutique online shops that will follow suit with varying degrees of success.
I keep my fingers crossed. At this point of time I am left to wonder how relevant that small icon on my mobile phone would be in the times to come. Only time will tell…

Are You Becoming What You Do Not Admire?

 

I was reflecting today on the movie “3 Idiots”, arguably the greatest movie hit in India (the Idiots are called so because they do not fit convention, not because they are dull or lazy).

We see one Idiot who grows up over the course of the movie to develop a spine, to get courage and confidence to do the right thing, to be honest and truthful no matter what the stakes. Continue reading Are You Becoming What You Do Not Admire?

Smart Work vs Hard Work – A New Perspective?

 

Smart Work vs Hard Work. Which is better, which should be valued?

This question haunts every workplace, and successfully confuses everyone. There are camps and devotees of either side, and convenient converts depending on situation!

It is actually quite simple, if we see some facets clearly. Continue reading Smart Work vs Hard Work – A New Perspective?

3 Trends in Software Developer Roles – And One to Avoid!

 

Three roles have been evolving in software development over past few years.

1. Devigner
The devigner is a person who packs a pretty punch. She is a graphic designer, UI designer, UX developer, server developer and database developer all rolled into one. Continue reading 3 Trends in Software Developer Roles – And One to Avoid!

Can Weekends Begin on Fridays?

 

Weekends start on Saturdays. What if they could start on Fridays? What?!? Are you out of your mind?

Hmm.

Carlos Slim set the dialog rolling for fewer workdays recently. He advocated 3 11-hour workdays a week. Larry Page has referred to a 4-day week. Debate has continued, with views ranging from impracticality to glee. The more I think about it, the more I believe it is worth trying.

What if we actually do it while the world debates about it?

Allow me to share some thoughts – benefits, problems, constraints, and possibility.

Benefits
Contiguous time off from work helps our minds to relax, and our fires to recharge. It means time for hobbies and interests. Learning for techaholics. Research for thinkers. Tinkering for doers. Open-source contribution or personal projects for workaholics. Ideas for would-be entrepreneurs. Community and social work for do-gooders. Parties for party animals! Travel for travel-lovers. Family and kids time. Romance for couples. Sports for sport lovers. Home travel for those from other cities. A mix of all of the above for most of us!

Better life. Broader outlook. Broader minds. Better work.

Problems

On days you work, your work of 11-12 hours blocks out the rest of life. Those days can be more tiring. Work can suffer. An organization with longer weekends may be mistaken to be lazy, under-ambitious, and neglectful of work.

Constraints

With many benefits, fewer work days seem attractive. But there are constraints we have to consider.

Commitment
Every organization commits something to its customers/clients. At Mindfire, we commit 160 hours of work a month, 40 hours a week. Anything less and we have to suffer – when the organization earns less, everyone earns less. Work is the economic activity which generates wealth for all. Income is carved from eternity with our time. When income suffers, everyone suffers. That cannot be allowed to happen.

Non-work activities at work
In flexible workplaces, most of us have some non-work activities at work, perhaps about 10% of the time. In other words, 40 hours of work need about 44 hours at work.

Possibilities!

Now let us consider the possibilities.

3 x 11
3 days of 11 hours each is 33 hours a week, so that is infeasible.

4 x 11
4 days of 11 hours each can mean 40 work hours, which is feasible. However, getting clients to agree to one day off every week, even when other days are used to make up – is tough. Anything which harms work, will harm those who work.

4 x 10 + 4
Practically doable, similar benefits: 4 10-hour days followed by 4 hours on Friday!

This would mean 9am-7pm or 11am-9pm or whatever, Monday through Thursday, and 9am-1pm or 11am-3pm or whatever on Friday. Work ends and the weekend begins with lunch on Friday! Yay!

Interesting? Interested?

This could be a giant step for work, a small leap towards Work 2.0.

What do you think?

 

A Short History of Desktop Operating Systems

 

At the beginning of this millennium, the PC/OS wars had practically ended. You used Windows everywhere. Only some companies like Mindfire, which worked on Apple Mac development, had any use for platform diversity. Everybody bought Wintel – because you had to. Software was made for Windows only in most cases, so being on anything else meant being unable to run most things you needed.

Then, several unexpected things happened.

First, Operating Systems. The OS landscape changed. Apple made a spectacular comeback, and working on a Macbook was cool again. Mac OS X flew high. And Ubuntu rose from the ashes of Unix and Linux fragmentation, unifying them and making a friendly Linux.

Second, the Internet. The web became dominant platform for app delivery. Functional software that looked grey and dull, was suddenly all over the colorful web. Chrome and Javascript/AJAX hastened user experience on browsers that rivaled native desktop software.

Third, Design. Or, the ascent of design. Apple led the charge, and the world of tech grew to appreciate design for what it was – the yin for its yang. And those dull grey apps died a quiet death.

Fourth, Consumers. Technology exploded from enterprise/business to the consumer setting. Revenue started skewing towards consumers – although that died an early death due to our next point.

Finally, Devices. In came the world of smartphones and tablets, which changed the meaning of computers. And led to the creation of cloud. And desktop platforms became just one out of many access points for the cloud. Which leads to the Internet of Things. Coming next.

 

All the above made desktop platforms a choice, since the world of computing was no longer restricted to the PC and OS you used. Today, consumers buy Mac systems and techies buy Ubuntu systems, without needing to think what they will not be able to do. Because they can do everything.

At Mindfire, we celebrate this victory of choice with a commitment to platform diversity. Mindfire is investing in Ubuntu and Macbook laptops, aiming to have at least 15% of our people on Macbooks, and 15% on Ubuntu.

Why is diversity important?

A rainbow is interesting only because it has all those colors.

 

Thoughtful Programming Can Save Days. But Do You Have Time For It?

 

Today I will share an experience in the effects of inflexible software, actually caused by hard work!

We use a SaaS service for our payroll process. Last month, we needed to add a salary component for selected people. We decided that instead of adding it as the pre-defined “Bonus” component, we would name it “KMBonus”.

All good till now. The payroll system allows addition of custom components. Then you download a blank Excel file and upload it back after inserting figures.

We downloaded the template which had a column for KMBonus, along with columns for every other component. This sheet was filled for KMBonus and uploaded back. It failed. No error message, nothing – the page just refreshed silently.

What was wrong? Was it a problem with file format? File size? Number formats? Did columns or sheets or anything get rearranged by mistake? This took a couple hours. When nothing worked, a support issue was filed. It was a weekend.

On Monday, support tried to understand what was wrong. After few hours, and with the file being analyzed, support figured out what was wrong – the uploaded file couldn’t have empty cells/columns while being uploaded back! So, although you wanted to update only KMBonus column, you had to either insert zero into every other cell everywhere, or delete all other columns.

First I was upset – that a simple error message, or documentation on expected file format, would have helped avoid this. Then I realized something else.

Entire payroll for hundreds of people got stuck for a couple days, because the programmer had worked hard – but harder than necessary.

Think about code structure. It would have taken more work, more effort, to put in all this validation – “Check all cells have numbers, ensure none are blank!” Sure, requirements may not have covered this case, so as a programmer I am free to do anything. But if I am free, do I do things after thinking about it – being thoughtful about work? Do I do things for the user – being thoughtful about users? Or do I do things that are just technically correct? Instead of tightening by validation, a simple conceptual foundation would have reduced the programmers’ work and rendered flexibility to user!

Imagine if the conceptual foundation had been: any blank cell means nothing is to be done. If something has a number, update component to that number. Simple.

So when you get a sheet with many cells blank, entire columns blank, ignore the blank ones. And process only the ones with numbers. Did I say simple?

Think of code. This is actually less work, is conceptually clear, and means much more to user! Smart work versus hard work. Saves days of effort for the programmer. And, in our example, a difference of days in payroll processing!

Thoughtful programming is based on common sense. Thoughtful programming reduces work. Thoughtful programming can save the day. Days.

 

Thank God It’s Friday – Mindfire Style!

 

At Mindfire, we recently had a proposal to have one day of the week as “Work From Home” (WFH) for everyone.

A day working at home would allow a day’s escape from the commute. It would enable flexibility in planning personal stuff, including spending time with family.

The ideal day was Friday. Practically, it would mean Fridays blending seamlessly into the weekend, and undiluted weekends. People with family few hours away could travel overnight on Thursday, work from home on Fridays, and have two full days at home. And it would make Fridays a little more fun and a little more free!

Awesome! Doable? Hmm.

We shared the idea with people at our Bangalore center, to gauge response and interest. It quickly became obvious that people loved it! Given Bangalore’s epic traffic and commute problems, it was not surprising that most people preferred to avoid the roads.

Of course, there are some problems. Some people may have connectivity issues and actually prefer to work in office. Some people may have hardware or device-dependent work which cannot be taken home. Some work may need bandwidth which is not available at home. And certain work (such as Hiring) simply has to be done at office.

But there are enabling factors. First is our 100% laptop environment, which allows both mobility and reduces power-cut issues due to battery backup. Second is availability of cheap and reliable Internet connections. Third is the Mindfire culture – of being outcome-oriented instead of needing to see people sitting at their desks.

There is the gnawing problem of unfairness for people who cannot enjoy Friday WFH because their work cannot be done from home. Will they enjoy the joy of others? Or will they hate a facility they are excluded from?

It is a balanced risk. People understand if they have work issues at home, they need to rush to office. People also understand that freedom and flexibility come with responsibility. And that good things come hard, but go easy!

To test the waters, we are rolling this out at our Bangalore center from August 22, Friday.

This is a trial, an experiment in Work 2.0. If there are problems with work, it will have to be discontinued. If it works, it will be rolled out at our Bhubaneswar and Delhi centers as well. Helping positive ideas succeed enables us to do more, to move forward, while failing takes us a step backward.

 

Will it work? I will update what we find out! Life is discovery.

 

Pre-paid Salary: The Shocking Result of Our Poll

Few days back I wrote about salary traditionally being paid after work is done (end of month), and how it could possibly be paid in advance of the month as pre-paid salary.

After that, we ran a poll with 600+ people inside Mindfire. This was not an academic poll – it was an actual serious offer to change salary to be on pre-paid basis. The result was pretty much certain – people would obviously always want salary as soon as possible, and before the month – before work is done – is sweeter than honey. Obvious, right? Right?

Wrong!

The results are an absolute surprise.

About 70% people voted. Of those, 60% people voted for salary at end of month – same as today! 7% voted for salary in middle of the month, and 33% voted for salary before the month begins. If you regard the 30% absentees as voting in favor of status quo, it is a straight majority for post-paid salary, at 72%!

I have no idea why people do not want salary before work is done. Maybe it is self-respect. Maybe it is maturity. Maybe it is to be in sync with rest of the world. Maybe they trust Mindfire and salary is not an issue. Maybe people see no reason to do it, and no benefit of doing it. Maybe there is no need for (earlier) money.

One thing I do know: thankfully we didn’t just start pre-paid salary without asking people for their choice. It was dead simple “obvious” and “certain” that people would like it, so we could have just rolled it out in the comfortable assumption that people would appreciate it. But asking people allowed us to get true pulse. And now we know better – people don’t want it. And there ends this adventure!

Lesson learnt: it is dangerous to assume, even on seemingly “obvious” things. The world is full of surprises!

 

PS: It would be interesting to run similar polls in different organizations, and check what patterns emerge. If you happen to run it in your team, do let me know how things go!

 

Why is Salary paid after Work is done?

Since my first job a couple decades ago, I have always been intrigued by a tradition in the world of work. It is so embedded in our minds and expectations that we don’t question it.

Salary for a month is always paid at end of that month. Sounds simple, right? But my question is: why?!? Why is salary paid after work is done? Let us look at this from various points of view.

 

Unknown Amount
In case of electricity, water, phones – you have to pay based on consumption. These have to be paid after the month, because it is not known how much you will consume during the month. Makes absolute sense. But salary for the most part is known and predictable – correct?

Trust
In real estate, you pay rent before a month begins. It may seem like the owner is trusting you with his house, so they expect pre-paid rent in exchange of that trust. In reality, it may just mean that the owner doesn’t trust you. In case of organizations and people working in those organizations, sure the organization is trusting you with its work. But aren’t people trusting the organization with their skills/energy/time? What if the organization shuts down, or willfully defaults on paying salary of people? Did that one month of work go waste? Should the organization have a larger heart in trusting people, or should people be required to trust the organization?

Risk
Sometimes, organizations delay or do not pay salary stating that customers have not paid yet. True, possible, and sad. But should business risk be transferred on to people working with the organization? Unless I am an owner, why should customer and business risk be forcibly transferred on to me? How does it matter to my effort-salary expectation, if customers have not paid?

Economics
A month’s fixed-deposit gets you about 6% annual interest, or 0.5% monthly. By paying salary at end of month, an organization gains 0.5% of the month’s salary. On a salary of Rs 40,000 a month, we are talking about Rs 200, which doesn’t sound big. But look at it two other ways. One, take 500 people, and we are looking at Rs 100,000 as the financial benefit, which doesn’t sound low any more. Second, from a person’s individual perspective, Rs 200 has tangible value. So the question is: should the organization be enjoying this economic benefit, known as the “time value of money”? Or should people be enjoying it?

Power
In business, power play dictates timing of payment. At one end, large companies put smaller vendors on net-30, net-60 days payment as a signal of power. At other end, suppliers insist on advance payment when they know their stuff is selling like hot cakes and demand is greater than supply. It is a power game. In today’s world of work, especially in industries that are people-heavy such as IT/software companies, do organizations have more power or do people? All such organizations profess a philosophy of “people first” – shouldn’t they put their money where their mouth is?

Need
Organizations need money for ongoing operations. This is known as “working capital”. Well, do people not need money for ongoing lives? Who needs it earlier, who needs it more? Who has the wherewithal to raise required finances easier? By paying for work at end of month, an organization successfully delays its need for finances (for salary) by a month, easing its working capital requirements. But whose need should have higher priority?

History, and Everyone
The human mind is trained by history. We do not question practices when “that’s how things always have been” and “that’s how everyone else does it”. We know in our gut that if there were only one way to do a thing, the Kamasutra would never have been written. And we know in our gut that if things were always done how everyone else does it, Apple and Steve Jobs would have never thought different. But both these things afford a sense of comfort, of familiarity, like an old warm blanket on a cold wintry night. Isn’t it safer to just stick around, than to stick out? Why question and rock the boat?

 

Conclusion
Someone asked George Mallory – “Why do you want to climb Mt Everest”? And he replied – “Because it’s there”. Some things don’t have rationale, you do them because you WANT to do them.

Similarly, some other things don’t have rationale, you do them because you CAN do them. I will leave you with this depressing conclusion: there is no logic or rationale. Organizations pay salary after work has been done simply because – Because they can!

Opinion
Personally, I believe that if a person is contributing his or her time and energy and effort to a greater group (the organization), the person has more at stake than the organization. And if you see my thought process on each point above, I am obviously in favor of salary being paid before work is done.

 

What do you think? Is it time to change this practice, to establish a new order? Is it time for salary to be pre-paid?