“Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor and attended with diligence.” – Abigail Adams
January is an important month for me. Both me and my beloved wife sit down and list down our top three professional and personal priorities for the year.
This is a 2-3 hour long ritual where we have to decide what matters the most for us in the long term and then work backwards from there to what is immediate and pertinent for the current year. Reflection of the past years and multiple past years performance is always a good input for us.
Once committed, we then religiously follow the goals and then try to measure our progress month on month. Over a period of time, this practice has shown us our development areas and has now stabilised as a process that gives us fair indication of our achievable goals in short, medium and long terms. Of course, this gives us scope to make some lofty goals also and stretch our limits.
One of the things thats been a permanent for us is to add new skills or to enhance our existing skill sets, every year. These skills could be something that help us in our professional life or something that we want to just learn for ourselves.
These have varied from learning to swim 5-6 years ago, learning to drive(for my wife), to Azure Certifications last year, wherein I achieved the Certified Azure Solutions Architect level.
The year 2021 started with a lot of promise for us as we looked forward to a better than 2020 year. However, our whole family was shipwrecked with Corona in mid April. The next 2-3 months went in recovery and then stabilisation. Obviously, our plans for the years had to be recalibrated to be more realistic given the loss of time we had faced already.
I decided to give up one of my personal goals of launching a website to discuss financial concepts and market AND launching a tech oriented website, as I realised that I just didn’t have the time to do justice to these this year. Instead, I decided to revise and further enhance my AI and ML concepts.
This is still work in progress.
However, in the beginning of August, one of my dear friends posted a link for 30 days of ML challenge launched by Kaggle.com. I initially thought of skipping it but then went ahead and signed up.
I am very happy that I stayed course for the whole of August and finally closed the competition submission as well in time for evaluation. Now, I don’t have a score card to brag about my ranking in the leaderboard. I am somewhere in the middle there.
However, what is important is that I learned a few more concepts in AI and ML. I did some coding after a long time. And most importantly, I finished something again. My reward is the email below.
The year is still in progress and I am hoping that I would meet my revised objectives of the year.
Keep learning and keep growing!
The new Income Tax portal launched by GoI says (as is visible above) –
‘The all new portal with features that make e-Filing easier for you!’
With all the inconvenience caused by the portal and so the well-earned criticism, one wonders who’s ‘you’ in the above statement. The new portal was designed and delivered by one of my early days employers – Infosys. So much pride we used to have in wearing the badge of this organisation when I started my tech career.
In Bangalore, when we used to walk on the Brigade Road wearing the official merchandize of the company, people used to take notice. I am sure after the launch of the new IT portal, only the really courageous would try such adventures anymore.
With so much press around the grand fiasco by Infosys while delivering the e-Filing experience easier for you, there is no point that we discuss whats going wrong with the portal. The portal just doesn’t work properly and one needs to login and logout multiple times to get a meaningful update on the portal. And then the very essential tax calculation itself goes awry and throws a new tax payable number every time you login.
The pain aside, there is a plethora of learning from this. I am jotting down 3 top ones that I could gather just as a user.
- Building solutions that can deliver at scale is an art and not just (computer) science – In 2013, the US Govt opened the ambitious ‘Obamacare’ to the country with the launch of http://www.healthcare.gov. This is easily one of the biggest failed launch at scale for software to be used by common users. The reason cited was that the number of visitors on the site was 5 times of the anticipated traffic. In other words, the site could not handle 250,000 concurrent users as it was designed for 50,000 users. The Income Tax site faces a similar problem. It is clear that the designers and architects deployed for building the solution have not done due justice to appropriately design for the Non Functional Requirements, also known as NFRs. The simple experience of login and logout to get data updated from one screen to other, makes one wonder whether there were proper end to end design walkthroughs for all scenarios or not.
- Large scale distributed system require intense scenario planning and multiple iterations to cover all the use cases.
- They require designing for failure more importantly than for designing to work
- They require anticipation of detailed use cases
- They require right choice of tech stack for various aspects of the system
- They require smart, modern and competitive programming paradigms
- They require abusive testing to make the system resilient, robust and quickly recoverable
- They require a deep partnership between users and the technology teams
- They require technically strong architects, competent developers and smart managers who can anticipate problems and be proactive to fix them
Unfortunately, it doesnt seem that this basic lesson has been properly learned from the Obamacare fiasco in the US to the Income tax portal. It seems that Infosys tried to maximise its margins here too with deploying rookies or low-paid incompetent engineers, as has become norm for the general IT service providers in India. The larger the size of the service provider, the worse the situation is.
- Quality becomes a toast of hierarchy: I have been convinced for long, after my long interactions with engineers, managers, directors, AVPs, VPs, SVPs, EVPs, Presidents, COOs and CEOs of multitude of IT service providers that quality becomes an ignored topic as one moves us the layers of hierarchy. With rookies and not very competent engineers at the bottom and the levels above more focused on billing and head counts, quality of the end product gets severely compromised. I remember speaking to a CTO of a multi-billion dollar company about quality when he was discussing about a new data platform that they wanted to launch to their clients globally. Mind it this data platform was built by the largest IT services provider from India. Obviously, the few pilot clients had complained about the quality of the data platform and the pain that their users faced while using the platform. The CTO who’s org had mimicked the same multi-layer org as IT service providers. So while, he wanted the quality to improve but the multi-layered organisation just didnt align. Unfortunately, the situation didnt improve for multiple quarters and a new CTO came in eventually. Now, the fall may not be justified but quality has to be a central tenet of the organisation and not a side routine, a parentheses or a buzz word. It should be part of the DNA of the org. Unfortunately, the culture built hitherto by the IT service providers has spoiled the market and the industry so badly that not many give quality the kind of importance it deserves. Consequently, projects after projects and initiatives after initiatives take multiple iterations to stabilise or simply fail. The multiple iterations are also shamelessly defended as part of the ‘strategy’ in ‘agile’.
- Change for what? And how?: The one thing thats unclear to me is the need to make this change in the IT portal. The old It portal worked perfectly fine and was very user friendly. Over the years, it had become robust to allow one to submit their tax returns in a very short period of time, and that too painlessly. One wonders what was the motivation to redo it? Was the intention genuine or it was just another pitch by Infosys sales team to promise the moon while bad mouthing the current portal? Even the tech stack on the older version was not something that was outdated. Even if it was decided to change the portal, did the Income Tax department itself use the portal? If they had they would have faced the same problems as the general public. There is an age old rumour in Delhi that the Income Tax officials themselves do not file any taxes. One wonders if thats true else they would have themselves reacted to this fiasco from Infosys.
While umpteen promises have been made by the Infosys CEO Salil Parikh to the FM and through the FM to the general public, the situation seems to be out of control at the moment. With a promise that things will improve by Sep 15 2021, the hope is the portal will work properly.
With the intervention of the FM and the bashing of the CEO, this project may finally be successful but Infosys the company will continue to fail if it doesnt make quality as part of its DNA or learn from such experiences and revises its business model to deliver better.
I have complained many a times in inner circles that the IT services and so the engineering education has been highly commoditised in India. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more clear that these are cheaply commoditised.
Lord Krishna and his teachings are the guiding forces for a wide variety of people across the globe. In his selfless and fair way, he is the one who has helped in letting the truth prevail. His teachings can help one change and lead a purposeful everyday life as well.
Thanks to my Gujarati wife, I have embraced Lord Krishna much more closely than before and learned a lot along the way.
Here I am very crisply sharing the top five lessons from Lord Krishna that have helped me.
- Do everything you have to do, but not with ego, not with lust, not with envy but with love, compassion, humility, and devotion
- Whatever happened was good. What’s happening is going well. Whatever will happen will also be good. Do not worry about the future. Live in the present.
- Set your heart upon your work but never its reward.
- Among all kind of killers, time is the ultimate because time kills everything.
- Perform your obligatory duty, because action is indeed better than inaction.
One needs to take actions to leave the right legacy behind. And no matter who you are, a legacy is always left behind. It may be big or it may be small, but the legacy is there.
One can only control their actions.
Positive actions can lead to positive outcomes.
Negative actions, irrespective of the outcome, will definitely leave regret and remorse behind.
Look forward to building a legacy that is not regretted or remorseful.
Take positive actions for positive outcomes. Thus build a positive legacy.
We often hear the words persistence and discipline. Rarely a day goes now, thanks to the content deluge om social media, that one doesnt come across some article or a poster or a post that underscored persistence and (or) discipline.
The two traits form the foundation for getting things done. when things get done, outcomes come. This is success. And shortly the rewards follow.
I have been following this on first principles. Coupled with building atomic habits that make long lasting impact., theee small things have made a lasting impact.
Right before the lockdown started due to wave one of Covid -19, I started solving 7 little words puzzle that is published in Economic Times. This comes on week days everyday.
This small activity at the beginning of the day, gives me a perfect morning.
After some initial inertia, I am very happy to say that I have been able to make my submission in the contest successfully for close to 500 days now.
The feeling of a complete submission everyday gives a sense of achievement in the very beginning of the day itself.
The process is satisfying, the outcome is a daily submission and the reward is name in the leaderboard twice now in a year.
So my submission to you dear readers is to take pleasure of finishing these small things on a daily basis.
Big outcomes will follow with these small wins.