The Story of Sri Rama – II

Continued from here

Just when he’s looking forward to heading back home and take his place as the king of Ayodhya, the world around him begins to crumble.

On a beautiful day, his beloved wife asks him to chase a pipe dream, forcing him to go after a golden deer. Rama knows it’s an aberration. He’s living in that jungle for several years and knows the woods, the kind of surrounding wildlife. He knows this is probably some kind of trickery. He knows this may lead to something bad. In the world of probabilities, he possibly played all the scenarios in his head. And every one of them had a disastrous outcome.

Yet, he goes after it. Because his primary dharma as a husband was to make the wife happy. He makes his brother responsible for the sister-in-law, and goes after the deer, probably knowing well that something bad may yet befall them.

Immediately after Sita gets abducted, he had two choices: berate his brother for shirking his primary responsibility, or sympathize with him for the obvious repentance. He chose the latter, and probably said something like, “Well, this is a shitty situation for the both of us. Let’s fix it”, and set out to find his wife.

As he progressed searching for her, he had to make some tactical decisions. The Vali vs Sugreeva story is a lesson. A leader must maximize her/his chances for success, and any decision they take towards that is a good decision. In the grand scheme of things, this man set out to right a wrong. We can argue all we want about animal rights and the ethics of overthrowing Vali. But in the end, Rama extracted what he wanted from the Vanara Sena, their unflinching loyalty. And that was possible by backing Sugreeva against Vali.

Even at the tip of the subcontinent, waiting to launch the final attack on the Lankan kingdom, he made another strategic pact. He needed to find a chink in the enemy’s armor. And he found Vibheeshana. As a military general, he made the biggest catch yet – the defection of one of the enemy’s family members. As they say, all is fair in love and war. In this war, Vibheeshana’s knowledge of the city, Ravana’s army, and some military secrets eventually proved vital to Rama’s success.

The one aspect I struggled with, in all my grown life, was the entire episode of Sita having to prove her chastity, after the defeat and eventual death of Ravana. Maybe because as humans we seek logic and explanation for everything. For all we know, he probably simply asked a very ‘human’ question, “Did you sleep with him?”, to which she probably answered, “Are you kidding me? I’m like fire. He didn’t even touch me”. It’s possible that over the years the story snowballed into ‘proof of chastity’. I don’t know. I don’t have a good explanation. In today’s world, it’s a blotch on the story.

While all this was happening, he was keeping time. He remembered that his own brother Bharata vowed to kill himself if he didn’t return on time. So he used technology to catch a redeye back to Ayodhya. BTW whatever happened to that Pushpaka Vimana?

And finally, his sending away of Sita when she was pregnant. In my opinion that was the other blotch, until I saw a video last week of Sadguru, clarifying the situation.  Now, we still don’t know if he sent her away, or she left him (see my post here). But, I am now led to believe that if he indeed sent her away, there was probably a reason behind it, however flawed it may seem to us, living in the modern world.

As a ruler, a king, he had to ensure his people had full confidence in him and his abilities: absolute confidence and unrelenting devotion. In order for that to happen, he needed to make personal sacrifices. This was his supreme, letting his wife go. I didn’t truly buy it. But again, who knows what the norms were ten thousand years ago.

This is the story of Sri Rama, and why even today a billion people worship him. The story of confidence, of obedience, of sacrifice, of valor, of strategy, and of what was supposed to be a perfect man.

The Story of Sri Rama – I

Recently, we had the Sri Rama Navami festival at our local temple. This is a special day for Hindus, as it is the birthday of Sri Rama. It is an important day, festivities cut across the length and breadth of India.

Rama was a very late child of Dasaratha, who had 3 wives. None of them bore him a child. After seeking several remedies, they came upon a procedure that he shared with his two favorite wives Kausalya (who gave birth to Rama) and Kaikeyi (Bharata). Why he didn’t share it with Sumitra is besides the point. Maybe he didn’t know how to divide by 3, who knows.

Polygamy was accepted in those days, and consorts had a good relationship amongst themselves. Bearing a child was (still is) deemed a very rewarding and fulfilling experience for a woman. To that effect, the two wives shared the procedure with Sumitra, the third wife, who ends up bearing twin boys Lakshmana and Shatrughna because of that.

It is worthy to note that almost 10,000 years ago (Rama was supposed to have been born circa 7300 BCE), someone knew of a procedure by which childless parents could bear children, AND, they could choose the gender; male in this case as Dasaratha needed a crown prince. 

Coming back to Rama, why do we celebrate his life? This man, on the face of it, was the picture boy for hardships. From the time Vishwamitra asks Dasaratha to have his first born accompany him on a deadly quest, until his own estranged sons frustrate his forces in a battle, his life was filled with hardships and sadness. Yet, that is precisely what makes him God.

When he was barely 16, an unknown sage waltzes in, asks his dad to send Rama on a quest that could easily have killed him. Yet, he obliges, as much for paternal reverence as it was for the explorer and warrior in him. He uses all his skill and power to defeat the demons and learn archery and war strategy from Vishwamitra. He is unfazed by the challenges thrust upon him and makes the best of the situation. That’s leadership.

When he was around 24 years old, he sees a beautiful maiden and does what most men do, fall hopelessly in love at first sight. He then proceeds to use his skill and willpower to win her (and her father) over, by accepting, and then defeating the challenge her father puts forth. That’s determination.

Hours before coronation, he is told that he has to 1) abandon the throne and 2) go away for 14 years. Doesn’t put up a fight. Doesn’t complain. Does as he’s told. It takes a lot of courage to dramatically alter the course of one’s life. This man backed his ability, and decided to go into the woods by himself. And then he learns his wife and brother will accompany him, which now makes him responsible for them. He doesn’t flinch, and sets out to fulfill his father’s promise. That’s composure.

Continued here

The Ugly American Tourist Is Dead

This year, we decided to spend the Thanksgiving week in Greece. Due to other commitments, we could only squeeze five days for the trip. We squeezed Athens, Delphi and Santorini in those 5 days. The trip itself was amazing. Perfect weather. Not a drop of rain. No delays. I mean, doesn’t get any better than that.

The city of Αθήνα (as it is called in Greek) attracts millions of tourists every year. I cannot imagine visiting during summer. It must be a circus. Even this late in the year, there were hundreds of tourists. Mostly American. And Chinese. Oh, the Chinese!

We’ve all heard the stories of the ugly American tourist. They go to Europe, but expect America. They are loud and obnoxious.They criticize local customs, traffic, sanitation, weather, and everything else.

Fear not, however. The ugly American tourist is dead. Someone else has taken his coveted spot.

The Chinese are the nouveau-riche this millennium. And they’re not afraid to flaunt it. At Παρθενώνας ( the Parthenon), we saw a group of ladies shamelessly crossing barricades and ropes to sit on ancient stones and take selfies. At museums, we saw a woman touching sculptures and other exhibits in spite of the ‘Please Do Not Touch’ signs posted all over. This is probably why the Greeks have tons of officials walking around watching people. At the change of guard ceremony at the Parliament, a woman crossed the boundary, in spite of being told to stay behind a line. It was repulsive watching these guys break rules and conventions without a care in the world.

It is one thing to be overly enthusiastic about taking pictures at a historic site. We all do it. We all go bonkers, flipping out our cameras and phones, taking selfies to preserve for posterity. But this was utter disdain. Would they flout rules in their own country?

I was told they aren’t any better with taxi drivers either. They make them pull over and stop every few minutes for selfies. Their most frequently used phrase, “stop stop stop stop stop”. They take pictures of everything, the ground, the sky, trees, streets, and of course, the attractions.

On our trip to Santorini, as we drove the steep and winding road up to Ancient Thira, a van in front of me stopped in the middle of the road. For a moment I thought their car broke down, or just stalled on the incline (as it can happen to a novice driver). But no! The Aegean presented a breathtaking view from that vantage point. So they decided it was OK to stop in the middle of the road. Nationality of the occupants? No prizes for guessing.

Welcome to the new world order!

The War Of The Skies

I am a self declared AvGeek, or at the very least an AvEnthusiast, if there was one.

I used to consult for a living several years ago. It meant taking a flight out of my home airport (CLE at the time) every Monday morning and returning late Thursday night. Did it over and over and over for a few years.

Airports and air travel can quickly get boring unless you develop a hobby. So I did. The AvEnthusiast hobby, where one can recognize airline tails, their livery, aircraft types (and their variations) etc. Which basically means I can tell a 777-300ER from a 777-200LR.

So when the war broke out, it piqued my interest. Yes, the war. The war between the US Big Three and the Middle East Big Three.

For the uninitiated,

US Big Three (US3) = American, Delta and United

Middle East Big Three (ME3) = Emirates, Etihad and Qatar

The two have been at it for several years now, squabbling like boys in a schoolyard.

At the heart of the matter is international traffic to/from the US (and in some cases, EU). The US3 claim that the ME3 get government grants/bailouts which let’s them survive and prosper. They accuse the ME3 of unfair practices, underpaying their employees, violating fifth freedom rights (more on freedoms of the air) and so on. There’s a litany of accusations. Leading the tirade is Delta, and its CEO Ed Bastian.

The ME3, of course, refute all allegations. They laugh at all claims of government assistance and accuse the US3 of running inferior operations, while extolling their own newer infrastructure and aircraft. Some of their executives have snickered at the product being offered by the US3, saying it is sub-par and not up to international standards.

Let’s focus on that last item – the product. Airlines offer hard and soft products. The equipment (aircraft), the seats on offer in the different classes, their lounges etc. form the hard product. The service provided (on ground and in air) is the soft product.

The last time I flew the US3 on a long haul was in September 2014. As a disclaimer, I have to say this was before Delta’s Delta One (DO) and United’s Polaris (UP) J-class products. I haven’t flown those products since their launch.

That year I traveled internationally four times, 3 trips to India and one to Bucharest, Romania, all on different airlines. I flew Emirates (EK), Lufthansa (LH), Austrian (OS), Delta (DL) and Qatar (QR) on my international flights. All, except EK was in J class, pretty much each airline’s premier product (EK and QR offer F class which I won’t go into). Since 2014, I have traveled exclusively on EK’s J class several times on their 777s.

I have to say the ME3 executives are absolutely right in their assessment of the product on offer by US3. DL’s soft and hard products left much to be desired. The 777-200LR they used on the DXB route (the route has since been discontinued) was old and dare I say, rickety. The herringbone seating arrangement, with each seat having aisle access, was the only thing to write home about. The seats felt old, the TV console kept falling out, one of the seat functions didn’t work. When you pay premium price, you expect premium product. Specially on a 14+ hour flight.

What left me pissed was the soft product. The service was ordinary. The flight attendants were hit or miss. The food was OK. The worst part, they ran out of bread about 3 hours before landing. How can you run out of food in J class? When asked, the flight attendant said, “we’ll be landing in a couple of hours so hang on”. WTF? You don’t pay $4K for a plane ticket to be told to wait three hours for food.

Contrast this with EK or QR (let’s leave the European carriers alone for now). EK sends a chauffeur for pick up and drop off if you’re traveling J or higher class. Nice gesture. Their flight attendants are smiling and willing to serve all the time. When you go talk to them in the galley they’re willing to listen and talk, something DL’s FAs seemed reluctant to, with their one word answers and a general ‘keep away’ disposition. EK’s seemed to love their jobs. They are from all over the world, and live in Dubai, far from their homes. Yet they seemed happy with their work.

As for the hard product, EK and QR leave US3 in the dust. Although to give them the benefit, they’re relatively young. Which means their aircrafts are young. But their cabins exude a freshness that was missing in DL. I have to say QR’s was the best, even better than EK. The In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) at both EK and QR is awesome, offering hundreds of movies and TV shows. Their TV screens are large. Again, I haven’t flown DO or UP.

Their lounges are a-mazing! Large, airy and modern, the business class lounges at both DXB and DOH are a welcome bliss, compared to the small, cramped ones at US airports. The Admiral Club lounge at JFK (which I used while flying out on QR) seemed trashy in comparison. I mean, this is JFK. How can your international lounge be so shitty?

I wish to see US3 compete with ME3 on a level playing field. I believe government assistance is eventually detrimental to any private organization. So if ME3 is unfairly benefitting from their governments, US3 have reason to complain. But at the same time, I would like to see better products from US3. People turn away from your product. They don’t care much about your complaints or concerns. So fix your product first.

On Jul 13, 2017 Delta (Nasdaq: DAL) posted a $1.89 billion pre-tax income.  Which is a good chunk of change. I wish they invest in their service offerings. I wish they took a long, hard look at their product and did some honest introspection. Modernize your equipment (seriously, get rid of those MD-88s), invest in infrastructure, refresh your cabins, rebuild your lounges if you have to, have the FAs smile – genuinely.

You build it, we’ll come back!

The Case Against Minimum Wage Hike

Before you brand me as anti-labor, back off!

All across the country there’s a big movement, to increase minimum wage (MW) across the board. Several states have enacted laws to make a big jump – from 10% to 100% – spread  over the next few years. Unsurprisingly, California is at the forefront, with a schedule to raise it to $15.00 by 1/1/2022.

I understand the need to increase MW. I totally do. Wages haven’t kept pace with inflation over the years. The MW earners have the same right to basic needs as the rest of the world. All that is great. But there’s another side to this coin. Nobody wants to look at that side.

Let’s first see what industry the majority of MW earners belong to: Retail. Most retail is small business. Small business has been struggling for several years now, under onslaught from technology and eCommerce. The margins have shrunk exponentially in the 21st century. Most consumers do not notice it, because prices haven’t gone up commensurately. Business owners are loathe to increasing prices. It drives customers away. They would rather take a hit on the margin than raise product prices.

Case in point: Third-Party Delivery Vendors (TDV), like UberEATS or GrubHub. TDVs charge up to 30% commission on every order, from the business. Let’s say I am a restaurant owner selling a sandwich combo for $9.99. You come in for a takeout, pay $9.99+tax and leave. If you order that through a TDV, $3.00 goes to them. See the problem? I could raise my pricing on UberEATS. But will you pay $13.00 for that same sandwich combo that costs $9.99 in the store? Thought so!

How is this related to MW hike? Well, labor is a variable cost. Standard labor expenses in retail is between 30 and 35 percent. This, at a time when the Federal MW is $7.25. Increase that to $10 or $15, do the math and calculate the labor expenses for a business. It’ll make it impossible for small businesses to survive.

Now let’s look at your typical MW worker. Who is he or she? Why do they take up this retail job? What’s in it for them?

Traditionally, these were ‘stepping stone’ jobs. College students, looking to pay their living expenses working part time. People looking to learn a few skills and move up, make a life for themselves. Find a corporate job, start a business etc. The whole idea was that these jobs were temporary for the workers. Not many were interested in making a career out of these jobs. They didn’t come with any benefits. Unfortunately due to social, economic and political reasons these jobs have now become more permanent.

Most of the times these temp workers went on to take up a job at a manufacturing unit, thus setting themselves on a path to a career: shop floor technician to lead to manager to hopefully one day a plant manager, or even a corporate executive. Or, they went on to become retail managers, again setting themselves on a more stable career path within the industry. The decline in manufacturing in the US hurt MW workers dearly.

On the other hand, giant retail companies started offering benefits even for temporary and MW jobs, lulling the workforce into being quite happy working as a barista or a burger flipper.

I am not implying these jobs are any ‘smaller’. As a student at Cleveland State, I have been a busboy, a newspaper delivery person, a parking lot attendant, a clothing retail worker and some more. I know and understand the significance of these jobs.

Let’s now look at the other side of the counter. From our scenario before, if MW increases to $15 from the current $7.25, as a restaurant owner I am left with two options.

One, automation: To quote Mark Watney from The Martian, business owners will “science the shit out of this”. You’ll see automation from order taking to delivery systems. Requires tremendous initial investment but the equipment will pay itself off in a few years. Automation Industry 1, MW Workers 0. Game over! (Ever thought why big tech companies push for MW raise?)

Two, price increases. The business owner raises his prices by 10-25 percent to offset his costs. Problem is, his customers’ salaries won’t go up 10-25% over the same time period. As a result, discretionary spending is slowed/stopped. End result, the business closes down eventually. Oh, what happens to the MW workers when businesses shut down? My guess is they won’t have jobs.

Business owners understand the struggles of MW workers. They really do. They need to be involved in any far reaching regulation about wage increase. Their interests need to be taken into account. Somehow they are made out to be the villains in this. They are not. Work with them. Maybe lower taxes. Work with the landlords to lower their real estate taxes, thus enabling lower rents. It’s all about adjustment.

Any unilateral wage increase statue will only end up being a disaster for everyone.

The Roller Coaster Experience

I am not a big roller coaster person. I can get on some of those benign ones (OK you can call them kiddie coasters) but if it’s anything like the Hulk ride at Universal I stay away. I just don’t feel I need to get my heart rate up that high. I am a runner. My heart rate’s just fine thank you very much! But I do enjoy the ones I ride. I think it’s worth the thrill.

A trip to India gets you a similar experience. Almost everything about this country is unpredictable: the people, the traffic, the weather (more about that later), the punctuality (ahem!). The whole package is one wild ride.

It starts at the airport. You stand behind the line at immigration, eagerly awaiting to get past the dim ambience and the depressing officer, get your luggage, get in that ride and see your family members. You are the next person to be called. And suddenly, much like the roller coaster’s hard-right turn, a large “connected” family is escorted to the officer by an airport employee. Your blood pressure rises, but everybody else is enjoying so why bother.

Having been used to the very loose concept of timeliness in India, you think when someone says they’ll meet you at 8:30 he really means 10am. So imagine your surprise when at 8:20 he calls you and says, “Sir I am outside the gate”. Just like when you start to think “oh how many more curves and drops” on a coaster but it slowly arches around the corner for you to see the station, much to your relief and leaving you with the thought, “this ain’t so bad, we can do this”

When you’re driving on the highway at 80-100 kmph and you see a truck perpedicular to the road, poised to cross, the driver looking left and right, as if to wait until the high speeders pass. But you know deep inside that his mind and his foot are on different continents, because his truck is moving barrelling forward without a care in the world. If you didn’t know any better, you would crash into him head on at 60-80kmph. Much like on a roller coaster where you can see a dead end or broken tracks and we’re hurtling towards it, only to stop within inches.

Your friends want to hang out and down a few cold ones (with temps in low 40s, you won’t mind a lot of those ‘few’). You end up at this scruffy looking building, thinking “Huh! This is modern India?”. But when you enter the restaurant it’s so cool inside it’ll put some of the best bars in Manhattan to shame. And the food hits it out of the park. Similar to the rickety coaster you fear getting on, but leave thrilled enough to want to go back.

Finally, the people. You come across these saintly people you would want to worship. And then you find these  douchebags who are only alive because it’s illegal to kill them. No really, I want an open discussion on that law. It’s like on the coaster, one minute you’re climbing up the rails, viewing a different perspective of the world, and plummeting down the next, blood rushing to your head.

One thing’s for sure. There’s never a dull moment in this country.

The Magnum Opus

I finally watched Bahubali – The Conclusion (BB-2) this weekend, a little more than two weeks after it hit the screens worldwide.

My first reaction on exiting the theater – wow!

But this is not a post about the technical aspects of the movie, or how a regional film family pulled off the greatest commercial hit in the history of Indian cinema. Just do a google search on Bahubali and you’ll get reams and reams of content on that.

This is purely my reaction to, and opinion on the finished product.

To be honest, I was suspect about this movie. Not its success – the hype-meisters had taken care of it long before its release. But in general I am a bit circumspect about Indian period movies – real or fiction. I am yet to watch one that blows my mind. And yes, that includes BB-2. They usually tend to tip the balance: either grossly underwhelming or extremely over the top. Great visuals are crippled by a weak story. Great stories are corrupted by visuals unabashedly ripped-off from Hollywood or downright atrocious stunts and action sequences: we’re obsessed with one man shows than collaborative efforts. And yes, BB-2 suffers from this malaise as well.

There’s also a problem with the ‘critical’ viewer in India (including yours truly). We watch Hollywood movies quite extensively. Our bar is set higher, hence. Inevitable comparisons follow. It is easily forgotten that Hollywood has the benefit of decades of advanced CGI technology and a highly mature industry. Its audience is different too, more discerning and a lot more educated. So I’ve come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t even be comparing BB-2 with any Hollywood movie. It would be wrong on my part.

I looked at it purely from a layman Indian’s perspective. Someone that is not fortunate enough, or doesn’t have access to these foreign blockbusters. To such people, this movie is mind-blowing.

The average Indian movie-goer absolutely loves superhero actions; I suspect there are deeper (and worrying) psychological connotations behind this but that’s for another day. BB-2 more than gratifies them in this regard. The visuals are out of the world. Undoubtedly the best I’ve seen among Indian movies.

The story is tight as well – standard Indian masala but woven very well. All the nava-rasas are present from love to sex to valor to revenge. The actors acted out of their skin: the fierce but vulnerable Ramya Krishna, evil-personified Rana, the loyal Satyaraj, the defiant Anushka and of course the main protagonist: Prabhas. Kudos to all of them.

Where I really found a problem in this movie is the pace. It may not be the maker’s fault but BB-2 fails in this regard. Let’s break the story down into 2 parts: the flashback and the avenging. The flashback takes up almost 80-85% of the movie, leaving very little time for the son to avenge his father. The last 30 minutes of the movie goes at such a frenetic pace that it seems rushed, like a mad sprint to the finish-line in a marathon, if you pardon my running analogy.

I distinctly remember looking at my watch a couple of times, well into the second half and thinking “We’ve still not killed Amarendra Bahubali. When are we getting the retribution?”. I believe the director got so engrossed in trying to exalt the father, and thus generate the sympathy for his death, that he overlooked the fact that there’s a son out there waiting to kill the conspirators.

I hear Mr. Rajamouli is considering making the Mahabharata into a movie. I look forward to it. To me, as to many Indians, the Mahabharata is the greatest story ever written (sorry Tolkien, Lucas and Rowling). In order to bring that to life, his pacing needs to be spot on.

Back to BB-2, to me the best and worst parts of the movie were:

Best: The coronation setting and sequence. Such exquisite execution

Worst: The angry bird parallel at the end with soldiers bundled up and catapulted into the fortress from palm trees. Seriously! WTF?

The American Telugu Polarization

I’ve been living here in the United States for close to a quarter century, having arrived here less than a year into the Bill Clinton presidency. I was received at the Cleveland airport by a Bengali man, roomed up with a Mumbaikar for the initial few days and leased a rental studio with a Kannadiga.

Eventually, when we moved out of the studio apartment six months after, I had an all-Telugu set of roomies. The most amazing thing about the time that followed was the absence of that one social evil that plagues India more than anything else – casteism.

We never asked each other’s castes or made friendships based on last names. We were just a bunch of students away from their home country, come together for a common purpose – finish your Master’s, find a job and make it count.

Personally I have avoided caste like it was the plague. I was raised in a household that scowled at any discussion on caste, even though on occasion elders betrayed their preferences. Growing up in a cosmopolitan city like Hyderabad, and having friends that didn’t give a damn about my caste (or that of the others) laid a solid anti-caste foundation in me long before I landed on a Lufthansa 747 at Boston’s Logan on a chilly December evening in 1993.

Fast forward to 2017. Over the past 10-15 years there has been a massive influx of techie Telugus to the States. The inflow brought with it some much needed respite to India-starved long term residents: Indian grocery stores, restaurants, jewelry stores, temples, even specialty shops selling everything from furniture to beauty products to clothing. Some of the immigrants jumped into entrepreneurship, increasing the number of Indian-owned businesses. All in all, it was great for the economy in general, and fantastic for the Indian diaspora, which forms 1% of the American population.

Within the Indian Telugu community though, things soured. I’m not sure this happened with other Indian sub-cultures. Polarization based on region (Andhra vs Telangana) and caste (Kamma vs Reddy vs Velama vs You-Name-It) began finding its roots in cities with large Telugu populations. Multiple cultural organizations, split along caste lines, started dividing communities. The most vicious of these happened when a landmark split took place back in the homeland in 2014.

The formation of Telangana as a separate brought a cataclysmic change to the Telugu community in the US. Neighbors got alienated, friends grew apart and groups began to form contesting the merits and harms of the split. People that have lived in the US for ages, and that lost all connection with the home state began to fight for or against the split. Cracks appeared even in tiny, clean cultural organizations creating chasms that never existed.

I know. I’ve seen it first hand.

In a small city like ours, the lines have been drawn. Get-togethers are now parochial, conversations are petty and harmony has gone the way of the dodo. Mini-Andhras with all the evils are being formed, and cultivated, much to the community’s detriment.

It’s sad. But it’s true. And there’s no going back.

The only silver lining is that (hopefully) this evil will be contained amongst first-generation immigrants.

You can take an Indian out of India but you can’t take India out of an Indian.

The H1B Damage

I have to put up two disclaimers before starting this post:

  1. If you’re an Indian person offended by my opposition to the H1B program, don’t read further. Get out!
  2. What I write below does not apply to everyone. You know who you are.

The H1B program was instituted to bring in some the super-skilled, extremely talented, smart individuals to help out businesses in this country.

Every nation faces some resource crunch or the other from time to time. Wealthy nations face it more. They usually have a thriving economy, businesses ringing in profits quarter after quarter, products being released in a hurry but unable to push the R&D required to keep pace with development. The US has long had such requirement in various fields, mostly engineering related: automotive, industrial, construction and lately, computer science and information technology.

The candidates who are foreign nationals and otherwise not legally allowed to work in the US, usually have advanced engineering (or other) degrees, giving them the ability to analyze and solve complex problems. Most of the original H1Bs were foreign students who studied in US colleges for their degrees and went on to find a job to apply the knowledge they obtained.

That was how it was, until the turn of the last century. Some time in the late 90s and early 00s the game changed. Silicon Valley required hundreds of thousands of such people as technology leaped from its industrial confines into our homes. In order to build these amazing gadgets software companies needed programmers. With the education system in the US already on a downward spiral, it was much easier (and cheaper) to bring people from foreign countries to do the programming work for us.

Problem is, some of the companies entrusted with the job of finding the talent began to circumvent the rules. They brought in less deserving candidates using fake experience, and sometimes faking the candidates themselves in to this country. We ended up with tens of thousands of truly undeserving candidates learning on the job. They do a good job at work. It’s outside of the work that the damage happened.

Undeserving candidates, several of whom come from socially reckless backgrounds invaded the American society. These people usually pay no attention to culture, following rules or adapting to customs. Having come from generally underprivileged background back in their home country, they would splurge on cars, homes and other gadgets with their nouveau-riche status here in the US. It resulted in an unusual bloating of prices, culminating in the housing bubble that left everyone in the lurch. They may not be the single most reason behind the bubble, but their contribution is unmistakeable.

It has also resulted in a general soft-corner towards illegal immigration. See, if you are an undeserving candidate yourself, you’re more likely to condone an immigrant who just walked in without papers, rather than the righteous individual who earned his keep.

Another damage being constantly done to the American society – and one of my pet peeves – is the lack of assimilation. I could go on and one about the refusal to adopt new customs but I’ve already covered that enough.

There needs to be “extreme vetting” of the H1B program. Raising the minimum salary for H1Bs is not the answer. Businesses have to scrutinize every single hire (direct, temp, third party or even consultants) and make sure the candidates justify their position. Once you’ve identified the candidate is meritorious, maybe put them through some psychological evaluation to tune them to the American society and culture. Maybe even pay for the ‘Americanization’ of such candidates.

The Dangers Of Rapid Cycles

I have been working in the IT industry for two decades now, starting as an intern at Picker International – a medical imaging company. I’ve dedicated the last 17 years of my corporate life to a large software company.

Like many other sectors, IT has seen a fair share of down turns, starting with the dot-com bust, followed by the general decline resulting from the Great Recession. Within the industry itself, new technologies and platforms have led to many a casualty. Every little technology storm devours some small boats and occasionally, an ocean liner.

The work culture has undergone major changes as well. From an office-centric culture to “work from home” and now back to “collaboration”, it has come a full circle.

Staffing and resourcing has always been a challenge in this sector. Most software development projects require highly skilled computer programmers. It clearly requires analytical and systematic thinking to put together thousands of lines of code that perform automated tasks.

Traditionally, industries have production cycles for all products. The cycle is fairly straightforward – design, plan, build, test and release. That’s true for software as well. There may be more cycles in a year in this industry owing to tremendous competition and the sheer nature of technology. But in essence that’s what the cycle is.

Lately a rather disturbing trend has emerged. Rapid cycles. Perhaps it’s related to the advent of the much touted ‘Agile’ development methodology. Perhaps it’s just that this is part of the shake-off that keeps happening in any industry from time to time. Perhaps it’s the inherent need of the current generation to always crave for novelty. But there seems to be an unnecessary rush to turn out release after product release.

This is counter-productive on several counts. Quick turnaround does not necessarily mean putting out a great product. It shifts the focus from the product onto dates, which is a disaster to begin with. It puts unnecessary strain on systems – which never get updated thanks to the constant release processes. It also results in developer fatigue. Yes, that’s a real thing. At the end it becomes an exercise in futility, and a promotional vehicle for product management to go to the executives and say “we’re still relevant”.

Hopefully this will eventually stop and some sanity will return where the product and its quality are at the forefront. The character of the software industry will be revealed in the next few years.