Monday, December 02, 2013

The last mile

This one will be the one of the longer posts I have written.


1) The curious case of office internet

This is a rant against the pathetic internet in my office. This is a first, and I hope, the last.

We have a team of 8 engineers and total around 40 folks in all. And amongst so many people, there is a leased line connection of 4Mbps. I have a 4 Mbps connection at my home, and that barely serves 5 of us flatmates well enough. Even if its a leased line, I don't understand how it can take care of 40 people.

The problem has been raging for months, and yet we haven't been able to find a satisfactory solution.

It so happened, on this particular day, I was expected to turn in some work urgently. Aware of the pathetic internet in office, I decided to work from home during the first half, and had done the major pieces of the task from my home itself. However, some other pieces remained, and I was planning to extend the WFH for the entire day, before I checked in with people and was told how the internet should now be working fine with a new 4G connection.

So I headed for my office, went to my desk and switched on my laptop. And then I started waiting. I started waiting for my laptop to connect to one of those 4 routers we have in office. And I waited for a good 40 minutes, and yet it won't connect.

So I took a tea break. And came down to my desk. Almost 1h since I came in, and the internet had still not connected. Routers were restarted. Mobile hotspots and internet dongles were used. But no stable internet. The ruby gems simply won't download.

I ended up waiting another hour, trying all kind of tricks. And yet, there was no bloody internet.

And thus, I had a short conversation with our COO, packed my bags and left for home. All furious and anguished. Because I knew I would miss the deadline.

I usually walk back home and throughout , I couldn't stop thinking why something so stupid had been allowed to stretch so far.

All startups face issues, but so many months for internet?  For something which is at the core of the entire business! I mean we are an ecommerce website at the end of the day, how am I supposed to work if there is no internet? As far as my memory goes, this is the most amount of time I have wasted in a single stretch on an occasion when I had no intention of wasting any.

Its not like we are on the verge of dying out,  on the contrary, we are quite well funded, enough to be able to spare an extra 100k $ on infrastructure. And I find it irritating that people prefer solving problems like weekly Yoga classes or a fruit a day over something as essential as this.

Just a simple calculation would make tonnes of sense to solve this problem on priority - say average employee expense is 50k per month, that makes it 2k per working day. Say even 10% of all people face the problem on a given day, the company loses a direct amount of 8k bucks every day. Not to mention ripple effects, compounded productivity losses etc.

Made me realize quite a few things
  • No matter what the requirements, always prioritize the must-haves above the should-haves
  • The light in which management sees a problem is rarely the same in which the people experiencing it see. Only empathy will save you from your own ignorance of neglecting the finer details of an issue. Develop it, nurture it.
  • To the credit of whoever had been handling this problem, there had been a lot of actions. However, there was inadequate planning and decisions without right knowledge, which is as good as having no plan.
  • When you start getting pained by something, start seeking out a specialist. Within constrained scenarios, a specialist will lower the inefficiencies and decrease time to reach the goal.


2) A conversation from work

During the current project, for the first time, I think I had the view from the top with absolute clarity, with others having to rely on me to get the actual picture out. It was an interesting experience in the sense that I got to test out a lot of my theories, and came across lots of unconventional wisdom.

Consider the conversation:
X: "we are breaking an important earlier assumption of the system"
Me: "We are making a new system, there is now way in the world we can be stopped from modifying it to work according to our business cases". 

Reflecting on it later made me realize that at the end of the day, making decisions just boils down into making 2 sets of assumptions, the first one for those you can never break, and the second for the ones you will break later. They are, if you were to think of analogies, the same as the foundation and the gravel around it.


3) Theories

You spend your time doing whatever you find the most engrossing 

I have realized that this is precisely the case with me. Its true that a normal person can at max think of 7 different things in his short term memory, and yet there are physical limits to what he will devote his maximum attention to among the 7.

And I have reached a conclusion - that I spend my time doing whatever I find the most engrossing during that time - that is, whatever catches my imagination at that moment.That's the reason why I can work for longer stretches than most other people around me - because the work catches all my attention. That is also the reason why I can read books for a longer stretch of time.

You are the smartest guy you will ever know
And you are the dumbest person you will ever know.

The devil is in the definition.

Lets define smartness as the number of smart things a person does on an average day. Since you will mostly observe yourself, the number of smart things you do per day will be greater than what, say X does on a given day. Unless you spend the whole day just observing John, in which case it wouldn't be an average day.
If we define smartness as rate of smart things done (#smart things/#total things), then we have a selection bias in place, as .
Similarly, you will be the biggest idiot out there. In case you think you observe someone else more stupid, you will again fall into the trap of selection bias.

Of course, this makes sense only from your POV, not from an independent observer's POV.


The last mile

With all the updates over, and this post almost one, I feel completely out of my wits right now.
In any case, lets be done with this.

I think I have made a lot of improvements over the last year. I find myself a lot more confident and aware. Still, I believe I have a long way to go forward. The key here would be focusing on the last miles, where thought meets action.

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