Another week

On Monday, when I met some students who evaluated our product, I wondered what made them stand out from the rest of the graduates in the field. And I found one answer in what they were doing at that moment: interacting with people in the industry. Industry exposure is an area Indian universities need to focus more on.

On Tuesday, a day that ended on a sad note, I learned of Leela’s sister’s unfortunate condition. Tragic and extraordinary. Tragic not just because of the sudden turn of events for the worse – how one’s life can change in so short a time! – but also because of the manner in which Preeti first contracted her illness. And extraordinary because of the strength and resolve that comes across in an account written under those circumstances. I was reminded of one of Leela’s older posts where, recounting the remarkable attitude of her friend Ro, she wrote: “People with the real problems are busy counting their blessings.” Those words were in response to someone else living through a difficult time; now Leela, passing through a very difficult phase herself, shows no trace of self-pity – instead she is counting her blessings, seeing beauty in human compassion, expressing gratitude towards all her well-wishers. Remarkable, in every way.

On Wednesday, while waiting for the dentist to come and fill the cavity she had cleaned a little while ago, I thought of how her daily work consisted of helping patients – her customers – by solving their problems. Over a career spanning a few decades, this is what a dentist does: solve problems, day-in day-out. And how different we in the software industry are, where the general tendency – among developers in product-based companies – is to create products and (preferably) leave the problem-solving part (labelled “maintenance”, as if it were inferior to “development” of new products) to someone else. Another difference: being a dentist implies independent work throughout (where growth is defined in terms of the number of customers you serve, and the depth of your expertise in your area of specialization), while working in a software company implies working in a organizational hierarchy (where growth is linked to your position in the hierarchy, so you would rather climb up the hierarchy than specialize, a tendency that results in most programmers nurturing dreams of becoming a manager). I then wondered to what extent these attributes – like “independent contributor Vs player-in-a-hierarchy”, which are closely linked to one’s personality – are considered by someone deciding on a profession. At least, I never thought of such aspects back then.

On Thursday, when I was finding it hard to concentrate in the afternoon, I was reminded again of how the language barrier can at times act as a shield. An year ago I could work undisturbed sitting in the midst of a few German colleagues arguing passionately over a technical matter: the background noise made little sense unless I concentrated, and I was shielded by my lack of understanding of the spoken language. Now-a-days, as the barrier gets smaller each passing week, I can no longer easily summon the weapon I earlier possessed: sentences spoken within earshot make sense and trigger a reaction, and it takes a effort not to listen, not to get disturbed.

On Friday, while watching Swades again on DVD, I was struck by the distinctive character portraits, a feature it shared with Lagaan. And to me, at that moment, those portraits seemed to convey that there is always a place for everyone, true to one’s nature, and how important the place is depends on which world you view the place in, on whose story you view the character in. The postmaster who wants to bring Internet to the village, the dhaba-wallah who wants to open a dhaba next to a freeway in the US, the colleague at NASA who works on a complex project involving satellites – all have their unique places within the story. Their role may be small, but that is only because the movie is Mohan’s story. Had it been the story of the postmaster, his role would have been magnified. Find your unique place, the movie seemed to tell me, and don’t lose sight of whose story you view yourself in.

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