I write this post from a window side seat of an Indigo flight from Pune to my hometown New Delhi.
While we just took off from the Lohegaon airport, the journey is already enjoyable and fun-filled.
The primary reason is an energetic group of 15-16 odd co-passengers who seemingly are on a leisure trip. With the number of kids in the group, one wonders how did they manage to skip the essential mundaneness of their school? But the kids are only making the rather boring flight deck, more buzzing with activity.
As the flight rolled out from the parking bay, the group made very loud chants to pray their beloved God with an elephant head, Ganapati.
In Maharashtra, today is a big day with Ganapati visarjan (immersion into a water body) of a sthapit (established) Lord statue at home. This is typically a 5, 7, 9 or perhaps 11 days affair. The last day, that is today, typically sees many groups heading to the water bodies of all sizes to do the immersion. Covid has of course led to calls of adherence to strict guidelines issued by the local admin. Its a very special day in the state.
I was reading the Sunday edition of the Economic Times, but my ears were alertly catching the discussions of the group.
The part of the group right behind my seat seemed to be traveling in the aeroplane for the first time. The young kids started describing the whole process of flight take off both with great level of detail and also with lot of excitement.
As the plane was taking a mandatory U-turn on the Pune runway, the shrill voice of one kid drew everyone’s attention outside the window. Another started asking if plane can go in reverse. Frankly, even I dont know if a plane can go in reverse on its own.
The plane then started climbing elevation and the group’s excitement also escalated.
There were chorus of voices filled with amazement as they reviewed each and every scenario that the beautiful morning threw at us.
The shrinking Pune skyline, for no better choice of words, was described as an amazing toy land.
The mighty Sun was welcomed with another set of loud cheers.
The scattered clouds in a clear blue sky were appreciated for their abundance.
As all this was unfolding behind me, I was trying to jog my memory and find the last time I appreciated this routine part of life and nature so excitingly.
Unfortunately, I couldnt recall any. This makes me feel more sombre and surreal.
If anything the last 20 odd months have taught us is the importance of this beauty of small things that is embedded in our surroundings but often ignored by us.
I felt rejuvenated by the experience. This is just the perfect gift to end my trip where I have embarked onto a very exciting exploration.
As I sat back and enjoyed the rest of the journey, I played through the entire week that went by in Pune. The things I did and I didnt.
I am glad that the child in me is still prevailing in some very important aspects of my life.
“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.