The Demise of Decency

24 03 2007

In the past few days, Indian media coverage has been dominated by the news and the speculations [and now the official statement by the Jamaican police] about Bob Woolmer’s sudden death. The day after it was reported that he was dead, I happened to flip the channel to CNN-IBN [the Indian edition of CNN] and found myself bombarded with possibly the most rabid of speculation as to “Who Dunnit? Why? How? etc…

The term media circus is a bang-on description of the way in which the two hosts of the show, sorry “special”, went about trying to push the theory that this was not a natural event, but a conspiracy involving bookies, gamblers, underworld dons, and the attitude of the Pakistani cricketing establishment. That’s how I saw it. And while they may be justified in this theory that it was not a natural event, the issue I have with these guys is the way they went about trying to impose their agenda on the viewers.

They brought in pundits, former cricketers, coaches, and associates of Woolmer to dissect his state of mind, one theory was that he committed suicide, motives, who was to blame, etc. They tried to dig into whether it was stress-related, and called in people who have experience in coaching as to whether the elimination of Pakistan from the World Cup brought this about. There were accusations flying that there was division in the team, that he was going to reveal information about a gambling ring in Pakistan.

I know you’re thinking “So what? Isn’t that what the media is supposed to do?” I think its a yes and no answer. Yes, the media’s job is to report to us what has happened. But at the same time, there should be some decorum in the way this approached. You don’t bring on people as experts and cut them off halfway because they may be undermining your agenda. And given this is such a sensitive topic, not just politicially, but emotionally for his family, you could show some respect to the man. I found bringing on a psychoanalyst to speculate on Woolmer’s state of mind bad, but bringing on the man’s wife, who was on the other side of the world when it happened, and asking her “How do you feel? What do you think happened?” just smacks of really bad taste.

What the heck is she going to say to something like “How do you feel? What do you think happened?” “Oh, I don’t know???” Or “I’m walking on sunshine now???” Come on guys. The least you could have done is give her some time to digest the fact before putting her on national television and making her relive her loss in front of you clowns. But NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! You’re the media! You need to get to truth ASAP, NO MATTER WHAT! Your audience needs to know!

Well, guess what, you guys need a lesson in decency on how to manage these things tastefully. I’ve watched plenty of serious debates on international channels like the BBC, and the participants do seem to maintain some decorum, no matter how charged the atmosphere may get. I don’t know about others, but I find these special programs and talkshows here in India quite in poor taste. Most of these debate shows and political commentaries remind me of the Jerry Springer show, rather than serious programmes on serious issues. The usually de-evolve [and i do mean it in relation to evolution] into shouting matches, with the common approach being “If you cant win by reason, win by volume. And cut off any dissenters while your at it.” What’s really sad is that the Indian public seems to be lapping this up, and accept this as the proper way of doing things, which filters into other aspects of society.

Why can’t decency be balanced with the desire to get to the truth? Don’t tell me that to get to the hard truth you may have to drop decency. Thats a cheap excuse, that smacks of ineptitude and ignorance. Maybe its part of the learning curve, and the Indian media is still not mature enough to move away from the “Volume Rules” approach. But, as a viewer, I think its about time they at least try to grow up. There is no counter-threat here. Its just an appeal to basic decency. I’m assuming that those in the media to still possess this.

While I write this, I’m watching India fight a losing battling to stay in World Cup. I just wonder how crazy the media spin on this disaster will be.

Fittest of the Survival

20 03 2007

The title for this rant is from a resume [pronounced “reh-sue-may”, not “reh-sume”] I got of a guy who claimed to have, and I quote, “excellent communication skills”. What had me banging my head against my desk is that this particular gem was in the section “Personal Strengths”, which funnily enough was located on the last page of this particular person’s resume. Now, normally, you’d find this sort of stuff right on Page 1 in big bold letters. Anyways, by the time I’d come to this line I’d already been through the contortionist exercise of rotating his resume 540 degrees to try and figure just what this guy was trying to say. And I gave up once I saw this.

“Fittest of the Survival”??? Did this guy even have a clue as to what the hell he was talking about? I figured out that he was trying to say “Survival of the Fittest” ala Darwin, but what the heck does that even mean? Having thought about it now [a lot], I think I can understand what this chap was trying to convey but the concept is so abstract that its difficult to explain it to another person concisely.

As I see it, my goal in reading any resume is to identify the person’s technical competency and to get an idea of how the person communicates ideas and information in writing. I am not interested in, nor am I supposed to be, considering the metaphysical concepts that arise as I read a resume. I want to be done in 5 minutes. What I find depressing is that this sort of idiocy is just the tip of the iceberg when you’re dealing with the IT field in India today.

In the past 2 months, I must have gone over at least 400 resumes and interviewed around a 100 people in person. And I’ve found maybe 1 or 2 candidates who I’d call as good finds. I’ve seen people who claim to have 2,3, even 4 years of experience, who can’t answer questions on fundamental concepts in the very technologies they are supposed to be experts in. Out of morbid curiosity, I had a couple of freshers take the same test I give to these “experienced” candidates. And guess what? Yeah, you guessed it. They did better than the experienced guys. Which means I am better of taking in raw recruits than experienced people, and training them as I need.

While I’m laughing my way to the bank, this situation also highlights a major problem with the quality of the people who work in IT today. Maybe its because I’m in Chennai and its not really considered a glamorous place to work, but how can businesses scale their activities quickly if the “talent pool” they have to dip into is so bad that the people are not really employable? How can they run efficiently if they have to invest in training “experienced” people all the time? In a word, they don’t have a choice. Whether they like it or not, and usually they do not, they have to run a training program constantly to prepare candidates for live projects.

I must say that I am now starting to appreciate why companies like Infosys, TCS, Wipro, etc. invest so much in training people and having so many people on staff, even if they don’t fully utilize them. I always thought that it was a cheap trick to increase billing to unsuspecting foreign clients. But I realize its more than just that [Although the billing aspect is a major plus of the situation]. You just can’t take for granted the quality of candidates who walk through your doors, so you have to fix that by giving them the training in skills you require them to have. And, with the current skill shortage, its better to have some people on standby to deploy when you need them, rather than trying to hunt around for people once you realize, “Oh! I have a need.” That’s ok for the big guys. They can absorb that cost. How can the little guys manage?

I don’t think they have a choice. They have to constantly run a candidate review like the big guns, which is a drain on resources. Also, they have to go to great lengths to hold onto their best people, lest they get headhunted away to a bigger firm, a bigger name. Every day, you are fighting for survival, and the only way you can really survive is to grow and grow, until you are big enough with a reputation to match to attract the better candidates. It really is “Survival of the Fittest”.

Note: I’ll stop here for now. I admit that this rant meanders across a few topics and could do with a bit more explanation, but I’ll shortly start delving deeper into some of the issues I’ve highlighted here. Stay tuned…

The value of the IIx’s

19 03 2007

I was driving home tonight from a family reunion dinner, and I noticed this huge billboard with Narayana Moorthy’s [Infosys Dude] picture on it. The caption was “More Schools or More IITs?? or Both???” This triggered an interesting thought because I started thinking about the value of the IITs and IIMs…

There is no question that the calibre of the average person who passes through an IIT or an IIM is much better than those from a Tier 2 school… Which starts you wondering, “Just why is that?”… Is it really that the people who get in are THAT good that even 4 years at a normal institute doesn’t make them lose their edge? Or is there something about the way the IIxs are run that just seems to bring out the best in the people? I believe its the latter. The kind of exposure a person gets at an IIx is far beyond what a person gets at other decent schools.

My cousin was telling me about the type of exposure they get at their college to prepare them for the real life after college. He doesn’t go to an IIT but he’s in one of the top schools in the state, but he says that even after 7 semesters, he’s not convinced of his ability to jump straight into the real world. Corporates just hand over experience certificates to students on the condition they don’t show up and bug them. But this kinda stuff doesn’t happen at an IIx.

I happen to know of a group of companies who run out of the IIT campus in Chennai, who get to recruit IIT students on internships. These students are asked to perform like normal staff, but while they may not be completely rewarded monetarily, they get an early bite into what awaits them once they finish. And this in turns lets them get off the mark faster once the get their first jobs…

So I’m wondering why aren’t there more institutes like the IIx’s? And not just for technology or business… I know there are national institutes like NIFT and IISC, but they dont receive the same attention as the more glamorous IIx’s… and this is where it gets sad… India’s growth until this point has been courtesy of the IIT’s and IIMs. But to sustain it, it needs to generate more world class talent in domains outside of the purview of these schools. The socio-economic benefits of India’s boom must go beyond just the narrow IT/Technology industries and the financial industry. Otherwise, you have the current growing divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, in this case the “haves” being the IIXians.

To answer the question that Mr. Narayana Moorthy asked, my answer is “Both”. You need to raise the overall standards of education in the country to produce the next generation of leaders, and you need more IIXs to help transform these talented kids to capable professionals. And by IIXs I mean that the emphasis should be on fields other than IT and Business.

Course what doesn’t help the cause is when some yahoo in the Education Ministry declares, “Basic education is not a priority of this administration.” I’m not able to recall where I read this since it was over 2 years back.. If I find it i’ll put it up here. But, its an endemic issue that is the norm here in India. Unless both state and the central governments recognize the problem, and actually devote the resources necessary to overhaul the entire educational system, and not the IIXs, then India will forever be debating, “Which do we need?”

The Frisk Effect – Part 1

19 03 2007

Note: I wrote this article about 2 years back just after watching Liverpool beat Chelsea on route to Istanbul… Oh what a game Istanbul was… anyways, I’m reviving this article as I want to use this to launch a series of tirades on the standard of refs in football, and how to fix it. Looking back, its not half bad 🙂 [yes i did clean this up a bit… so sue me… on second thought…]

Date: May 4th, 2005
Time: Sometime after 3AM in India
Anfield. The 2nd leg of the Champions League Semi-Final between Chelsea and Liverpool. 4 minutes into the game, Baros manages to break through the Chelsea backline, and is taken down by Cech, after getting the ball around the Chelski keeper. The ball is loose, and Garcia pounces, and directs the ball goalwards. Gallas tries to clear the ball off the line. But, the multi-million pound question is, “DID THE BALL CROSS THE LINE?”

In such a big game, the referee and his assistants are on the spot from the start. And yet, they have to be able to make the right decisions in a split second. Whatever the consequences down the line. In this case, the assistant referee on the far touchline deemed it goal, and Liverpool went up 1-0, and went on to win the tie by the same scoreline.

But let us revisit the moment a little more deeply. Baros was brought down by Cech. That much was obvious. The implications were that had the goal not been given and a penalty awarded, Cech would have been red carded for a professional foul, and Chelsea forced to play with 10 men for the remaining 84 minutes of normal time, and having to sacrifice one of the outfield players for their reserve keeper. Just imagine the scenario then. Odds are that Liverpool would have converted the resultant penalty, and have gone up 1-0 anyway. And they would have been in a MUCH stronger position for the rest of the match, with Chelsea having to attack as well as compensate for the player sent off.

Being a lifelong Liverpool fan, I would have taken the goal whichever way it came. But, I must admit that I have my doubts as to whether the ball did cross the line. Quite honestly, I would have accepted it better had the ref not given the goal, but pointed to the penalty spot. That way, we would have won, with a more clear cut decision, and not having to hear Jose spouting nonsense about the better team losing, and the dubious decision of the ref.

For quite honestly, I found the refereeing to be quite biased against Liverpool. Case in point is the yellow card given to Baros for the tackle on Carvalho. Granted it was a late challenge but it was a first offence. But no, out came the card. At the same time, over the course of the game, Carvalho was adjudged to have committed more than 7 fouls of equal intensity, and yet was not even warned, let alone booked, for his troubles. To me, that just smacks of a bias.

What really took the cake was the 6 minutes of injury time. Even with the stoppages, it came to a max of 4 minutes, as there were no major stoppages during play, but for the nutjob who ran into the goal, only to be dragged off the pitch by the stewards. How could they possibly justify the 6 added minutes?

Overall, it was a clean game, although it did get a little nasty towards the end. The ref did keep the game flowing, but then again he wasn’t really called into play that often. And yet on those occasions when a firm decision was needed, he tended to opt for the easy way out. How is giving a goal the easy way out, you may ask?

In the aftermath of the Frisk affair, and the (possible?) reaction of Chelski fans, most referees I think having a nagging fear of giving decisions against Chelsea. Of course their manager is of no help, fanning the flames and somewhat subtly implying that all referees who don’t favor Chelsea, are either bad, frauds, or both.

Getting back to how giving a dubious goal is an easy way out, I agree that this doesn’t hold water considering the controversy that has been stirred up by awarding the goal. But in this case, I think the referees would have been nervous of not only giving a penalty, which almost certainly would have led to a goal, but also sending off Cech, one of the heroes of the season for the Blues. It might simply be the referee being too cautious of adding insult to injury by not only giving a penalty, but reducing Chelsea to 10-men as well.

I most certainly would not want to be in the shoes of the guy who has to make that decision. Because I would not want to be the fall guy for why Chelsea didn’t win the Champions League. Which I am sure would have been Jose’s excuse in that case.

At the end of it all, I believe Liverpool deserved the win as they played a more composed and tactically sound game over the 2 legs. Lady luck did smile on us when Lampard in the first leg, and Gudjohnsen in the 2nd, missed from inside the 6 yard box.

But I believe UEFA needs to rein in the clubs from being able to exert too much pressure on referees through mind games to influence decisions in their favor. The referees need to be protected and backed strongly to be able to make firm decisions, and not fall prey to the machinations of any club(s). Chelsea have demonstrated that if nothing else in this year’s Champion’s League.

Good on you Reds. Remember, even in Istanbul, You’ll Never Walk Alone.