Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bunch of Thoughts

How much thinking do you need to do in a startup?

You dont need to be a rockstar product developer.
You dont need to go for the ultimate sophisticated features needed.

You need smart customers, who can tell you what they need. Once you have a base product ready (which people call minimum viable product - MVP), you just need to go get those smart customers, and they will tell you what all they need, what all you should prioritize for development, and what all you can leave for future.
The end users know their requirements far better than we can estimate, and this need-driven approach really helps in quickly getting out a broadly usable product.

Of course, there is a flip side, that you should know which feature request you should take in, and that you should be able to realize what is the common underlying theme behind all such requests.
But my assumption would be you are smart enough to do that analysis, and gritty enough to resist the pressures.


How big can you grow?

I said, I want to expand the horizons of my thought,

This is because of an important lesson I have learned recently.
You can only grow as big as you aim, as big as you dream.
In life, you will always be limited by your own capacity, to think of a solution to a problem.

Let us take an example.

Think of the biggest writable number you can instantly think of. Thought it?

Now give it a thought, can you think of a bigger number than that? The answer is of course yes - say you thought of the number for 1 minute, now try thinking for two minutes. You are bound to be able to think of a bigger number.

You can counter me, that its the result of time, that during the second attempt, you had more time, so you could come up with a bigger number. But imagine if your brain could come up with numbers faster, then what do you think would be limiting the answer? The limitation will still be the ability/ rate at which brain comes up with the number.

And that is true for almost everything in life.

We are limited by our own abilities to achieve whatever we want to achieve. While it may be true, that all our abilities are not limitless, and that we are bound to hit a glass cieling sooner or later; Fact is, most of the times, we don't push ourselves enough - We stop a lot before we hit that ceiling.

And that's where all the difference starts coming in.

If you have heard, inches win matches, this is the kind of scenarios in which it matters the most to have the inches on your side.

If you shoot for the stars, you might end up on moon at least.
But no man who shot for the moon can ever land on the stars.



So the civil services prelims exam was held this last Sunday. One of my wingie came to Bangalore to appear in it. Another wingie, and a current flatmate has started preparing for it as well.
On the other hand, UPSC released the results and detailed marks/cutoffs for previuos year's exam last week.

If anything, there are two things I can surmise.

The UPSC cutoffs showed that a guy with score 1107/2300 made rank 7, a guy with score 1197 made rank 1. That's a clear cut difference of 100-150 marks from last years, when the topper would score around 1290 marks, and by around 1230 the top 10 ranks would be gone.
What this tells us is this - UPSC is trying to remove predictability from scores needed to clear its exams. Score from last two years are enough to create uncertainty  about how high you need to aim. So all those coaching classes that tell you to score minimum 1050 in mains can screw themselves

Its what the IITs did during my times with JEE. The rank I got at my marks, would have been the rank someone from previous year would have got if he scored some 30 marks lesser than me. And in the subsequent attempt, I would have to score another 15 more marks to get the same result I got in my first attempt.

Combined with the fact that UPSC has reduced the number of optionals from 2 to 1 this year, and has made some more pattern changes with respect to mains, there is no way to predict how high you need to score to get throughOne just can't risk aiming low.

The other thing is about the decision, of when should I appear for CSE. For now, I know the answer is 2015.

Thoughts on interviews

I have conducted some 6-7 interviews now, over phone call, Skype and face to face. The people I have interviewed - many of them were smart, and each and every one of them was more experienced than me. And there are a lot of learnings that I think I should remember for my own personal good, and will note them down here.

  1. Focus on the question that is being asked. Don't violate the conditions of the questions, but if possible, add some out of the box thinking. If a solution can't be though of within the system, there has to be a way to think of it outside the box.
  2. You have no way of knowing what the interviewer is actually trying to assess when he asks a particular question. You can make a guess, and that's that. Know what you are getting into before you walk into an interview room. Don't expect to be given opportunities to make stupid assumptions.
  3. You might make through in spite of those questions that you answered wrong, or you might not make through even though you feel you did it good. its all the interviewer's judgement. The interviewer has certain expectations, you beat them, you go through, you don't meet them, you don't go through. Its not about your expectation wrt an answer, its about the interviewer's expectations.
  4. If possible, always think of relevant questions that you can ask your interviewer. Most interviewer's want to check your approach to a problem, and its best to keep talking to them, feeding them tidbits of your thinking before you solve a problem, so that they can judge how you think. Remember, its not about solving the problem alone that they are looking for, its the approach, the temperament, and all those things that you can't judge in a written round.
  5. Be a good judge of time - how much you can take to answer a question. An interview is about taking the best foot forward in a balanced way. On the average it will hold for > 50% of the interviews.
    Take an example. Most interviews start with a tell me about yourself question. Let us say I have 4 mindblowing and 8 not mindblowing things to tell about myself. Now let us say I can tell one thing in 10 seconds. How much of an impact I make will depend on the approach I take up, plus on the time I am allowed to take up. Usually, you can only estimate how much time you are allowed to speak up.
    Thus if you speak up only good things, and are given 120 seconds to speak, you will stay silent for 80 seconds (Underutilisation), and it might give an impression you don't have much to speak of yourself
    If you speak good things first and not so good things later, what persists in the mind of the interviewer is those last things (The last recall)
    If you speak not so awesome things and then the good things, you risk being interrupted in the middle and not being able to tell all things, thus underutilising.
    The best way is to mix and match. Something like G-B-G-B-B-B-G-B-B-G-B.
    That ways you create multiple impacts, the variations make the impact stick - that the candidate is a smart candidate.
    You must make the impact stick. Its not about a question or two, its the whole experience that matters.
  6. Its most probably a person like you - either he is someone as good as you, or someone as good as a future you who is interviewing you. Be courteous, polite, amicable. Its just an interview. Stand with your words, but don't let the tone to impart any unwanted message.
  7. At the end of the interview, the interviewer must have enjoyed talking with you.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ideas and reasonings

An important assumption/conclusion that I have been making since long is that you are fighting a battle against yourself, that you have to become better the better you every day. And that alone is the aim in life.

While the statement is correct, in actual life, you don't get to grow to 30 years when talking to a 30 year old guy. The time is always now, to compare yourself, to judge yourself with respect to others.

Imagine a jungle, with me, and an 18 year old more active athletic guy. If a tiger were to come, he wont wait for the 18 year old guy to turn 23.5 and give us both an equal chance.

Life is like that, it doesn't wait for you to grow up and give you a fair chance.


I have seen people measure time by hours. I think that is the wrong unit to measure time.
That unit works from an external point of view, lets say, the view of the manager, or that of the company.
They don't have any other way of measuring time objectively for everyone, so they have to make do with the unit that is available to them - hours.

I think, from a personal point of view, time should be measured by the amount of value you have created, plus by the amount of learning you have amassed. The first one needs a good measure of the impact your tasks are creating, the second, the intensity of your learning curve. 

Hours, days, weeks - these are for worldly goals.
You should define your own time limits. This is another lesson I  have learnt recently.

Personally, I have always found it distracting to work on something for a small amount of time.
So I can't study for half an hour, I can't play a game for just half an hour and so on. Hence I have to devote at least 1.5 hours and I can easily devote upto 3-4 hours working on the same thing.

Every person has his own way of achieving that flow - discover it, and use it.
Remember, there is no way for other people to judge the intensity with which you work, accurately. That doesn't mean, they cant judge it within fair amount of limits - they can, only that it wont be accurate. Define your own time limits.

Whatever work you do, its important, you make both these kind of times come into sync and play together, the worldly one, and the personal one.

Know that externally, your work/output will always be measured by the hours, but also remember, that you alone are the best judge of your time. You can lie to everyone, but not to yourself.


Over a period of last few months, I have come to realize, that life is heavily dependent on principles from Physics, and Probability.

So, take for example, Physics.
A lot of the times, you will find person X telling other person Y: I dont work enough, I am not smart enough, I am an idiot and so on. And they just can't believe their ears. The reverse can happen frequently as well.

The reason for that is frame of references.

There are usually three frames of references that exit for every person involved.
So for me, there will be  -
1) the point at which I started,
2) the point at which I have reached, and
3) the point to which I want to reach.

Whenever someone else is talking something about - he will now have 6 such frames of references -
4) the point at which he started,
5) the point at which he thinks I started,
6) the point at which he is at,
7) the point at which he thinks I am at,
8) the point to which he wants to reach,
9) the point to which he thinks I want to reach

And there in lies the catch.

Very few set of two people can do the job good enough of estimating all these frame of references correctly. Some can be sure of themselves individually, but it truly takes a genius to be sure of all.

The rest, either underestimate, overestimate, exaggerate or underplay.

And thus, almost all of the points of references they are thinking of, are wrong.
They just don't get it why X calls himself an idiot - he am thinking from point 3, which is how smart X would want to be; and Y can at best think from point 7 and 9, which lie much before 3.

Over the period of last few months, I have started putting the above frames of references in perspective whenever I am having a conversation, trying to understand what exactly people try to mean, when they speak something.

Anyway, if you want to outgrow yourself, you should definitely work with the smart people - they are the ones who can push you harder than you can yourself


A lot of the times, I look at some higher ups, and can't stop thinking, am I incapable of making the kind of decisions like they do? The answer is I am actually very capable of making those decisions.
But if there was any fact that you can take for given in a professional setting - it would be that you dont make just one decision, you make hundreds, or thousands of them, and you make them fast.

So yes, for an isolated singular instance, it is very much possible that I make the same kind of decisions as them, in fact, it is very much possible that I make a better decision than them. But on the aggregate, they will have a better strike rate compared to me, by virtue of their experience.

Same is true for most things in life.

You will find not so smart people, higher up in the ladder, reason being (though not the only reason), they have better strike rates in what matters, or that they have a good enough strike rate, for what matters.

You will find so many people telling you, that you should work hard now - because that's a fool proof way of bettering that strike rate. Its a different matter, you need to be smart about that advice, because beyond a point, mindless working for long hours alone won't hep you enough.

Its one of the reasons why you should work with smart people, because they have been there, done that, and you can learn a lot from their experience, their mistakes.

its one of the reasons why you will find people, who were not so smart early on (the ones who went to  not so hot schools) are able to catch up later on - because beyond a point, talent alone isn't the only requirement to increase the strike rate.
Talent just helps you get there faster.
Smartness just helps you get there faster.
Beyond them, persistence and practise matter.

I think this is one fundamental lesson that I have learnt recently.

As a kid, I always used to think that I can be the best and so on, but now that I think of it, I always had the potential, but I never had a strike rate good enough to convert the opportunities I wanted to.

So the aim of life can be, to better those strike rates in things that matter, 
let it become a habit over a period of time, 
so that the average expectation rises on its own, 
by virtue of that better strike rate.