Thursday, October 23, 2008

Space science as a career

The successful lift-off of Chandrayaan lifted spirits all over India yesterday. But will it also help lift the status of science as a career?

Well, the various talking heads on TV made their points:
* NASA invites schoolchildren to participate in special programs and visit its centres. ISRO is zero in that department.
* Students are enthusiastic about science at school level but not in college, where science education is stuck in the Stone Age.
* Science is compartmentalised and treated as a 'subject'. Instead of being an important part of every aspect of life.

All true, but the plain and simple truth is this: Scientists work for the government. Working for the government is no longer cool.

It means being stuck to a single employer for life.
It means a job with steady but not spectacular pay.
In short, it means 'losing' out.

Taking up science means preparing for various engineering entrance exams. And this is the norm among children of scientists as well. I should know, having grown up on the TIFR campus!

Of the couple of hundred kids who were brought up in that 'scientific environment' I can think of only 2-3 who have chosen the sciences as a career. Everyone else went into the application side (engineering/ IT) and from there, onto the world of business.

Actually when I was 8 years old I honestly, truly and deeply wanted to be an astronaut. Or something to do with space. I spent hours poring over books like Charlie Brown's Super Book of Questions and Answers.

My lack of aptitude for mathematics killed that dream. Maths nahin to science kuch nahin. But even for those who are great at maths, 'pure science' is hardly an option.

I think the government and allied organisations do a fair bit on the scholarship front. Take this initiative by Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to support toppers who pursue Biological Science at 10 + 2 level.

What is missing however is a sense of the career path you would have as a scientist. The fact that you may not make that much money but you will enjoy a fine quality of life and also make a difference.

A career in science really has to be sold on the element of 'passion'. And that's what events like the Chandrayaan might help ignite... It will be interesting to see if the newly established IIST (Indian Institute of Science and Technology) gets more applications next year!

IIST, was set up in 2007 under Department of Space, Goverment of India, and offers undergraduates B Tech programmes, a five year integrated masters in Applied Sciences as well as PG and doctoral programmes. The basic aim is to build a talent pool for

Entry to IIST is through JEE and so far it hasn't been a hot choice for anyone with a 'decent' rank. Although there is the odd report of a student who could have made it to an IIT opting for IIST (rank 2000 and above).

The real boost would come when one of the JEE toppers decides to take up an IIST offer over computer engineering at IIT B... And I tell you, something like that will happen soon!

Meanwhile there are amazing young women like 23 year old Khushboo Mirza who are already showing the way. Born into a tiny, traditional Muslim neighbourhood in UP’s Amroha Khushboo is one of the 12 engineers of the Check-Out Division of Chandrayaan I.

Her inspiring story, in today's Indian Express:

When her father died when she was seven, her mother, Farhat, broke norms to run the family’s petrol pump to keep her children in school. Her brother, Khushtar, a 2005 BTech from Jamia Millia Islamia, shelved his career ambitions to take charge later.

To get out of the claustrophobic bylanes of Amroha, Khushboo applied for B Tech at Aligarh Muslim University. A volleyball player, she qualified through the sports quota. When she graduated, she landed a lucrative job with Adobe but gave it up to join ISRO two years ago.

More power to Khushboo, and to science as career. Space... the final frontier, here we come!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Job blues

I get a query a day like this one from jittery engineering grads:

I am XXX completed Biotechnology(2008 pass out) at SRM University.I got placed in YYY (top 10 IT company) in July,2007 through campus interview. The company has informed us through mail that we will be called in batches any time between Aug(2008) to June (2009).

As seen in media that IT is down will this delay my date of joining. Should I try for some other job? or wait for their response?

So I asked a friend who worked with one such company till recently and he says:

Times are clearly tougher, particularly for some orgs that are significantly exposed to the west and specifically to the financial services industry.

That said, media tends to go extreme (effusive praise/deep despair). These companies are very well run, and historical antecedent shows that recessions accelerate outsourcing (2002/03) so I would not lose hope.

What would be a good idea though is to take this time and perhaps enhance skills (communications, soft skills, Eetc ) whilst waiting for that joining date letter to reach your door.

Anyone else with advice is welcome to add their two bits here!

My own take is: 90% of commitments will be honoured but with a 2-3 month lag. Grads from lesser known colleges are likely to get the short end of the stick.

It's also particularly distressing for those who know they took up engineering only because of the IT job dangling at the end of it... But that's life. There really is no 100% 'safe' option.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

'Stay Hungry ' update

It's no 3 on the Crossword non-fiction best-sellers list in Mumbai :)

Here's the review which appeared in Business Standard on Oct 17.

And the Mint review on Oct 18.

Also a report of the event held in Delhi!

If you've read the book and reviewed it on your blog send me the link and I'll add it to the Stay Hungry site.

More Wall Street wit

A forward sent to me by Rahul Agarwal...

President Bush said clients shouldn't be concerned by all these bank closings. If the bank is closed, you just use the ATM, he said.

George Bush said that he is saddened to hear about the demise of Lehman brothers… His thoughts at this time go out to their mother as losing one son is hard but losing two is a tragedy.

The problem with investment bank balance sheets is that on the left side nothing is right and on the right side nothing is left.

There are 30 billion prime numbers below 700 billion. The rest are all subprime.

Why are all MBAs going back to school? To ask for their money back.

For Geography students: What's the capital of Iceland? Answer: About Three Pounds Fifty...

A trader: "This is worse than a divorce. I've lost half my net worth and I still have a wife."

What's the difference between a guy who just lost everything in Vegas and an investment banker? A tie.

What's the difference between a bond and a bond trader? A bond matures.

Lehman have changed their recommendation on Lehman from hold to sell.

Forty years ago I sold fifty shares of my company stock and had enough money to purchase a brand-new 1967 Ford pickup. Last week, I checked it out, and if I sold another fifty shares, I'd have enough money to buy a 1967 Ford pickup. So, the market has stablised.

Look forward to some inspired by Dalal Street !

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wall Street wit

Things are looking very bleak on Wall Street right now. But humour is the silver lining of every dark cloud. These jokes are circulating in my iima egroup and I salute the out-of-work i-banker who's probably invented them even as his Porsche is getting repossessed!

Q: What is the definition of optimism?
A: An investment banker ironing five shirts on a Sunday night

Q: What is the one thing Wall St and the Olympics have in common?
A: Synchronised diving

Q: What is the difference between a pigeon and a merchant banker?
A: A pigeon can still put a deposit on a Ferrari

Q: What do you say to a hedge fund manager who can't short-sell anything?
A: Quarter pounder with fries please

Q: How many commodities traders does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None, they don't change bulbs; but the trading price of darkness plummets due to oversupply

More contributions welcome! If they're funny, I'll feature them here. Forwards are also ok, but just don't claim you wrote 'em!

Here is another interesting dig at Lehman Bros, I noticed it in a post by Nikhil @ Medianama. It's the loading page of The Lehman link leads to the careers@webchutney page.

Kaafi creative, wonder if any fired Lehman execs actually applied :)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bigg Boss speaks: welcome back!

Like the proverbial father welcoming back a disowned child, Naresh Goyal has 'reinstated' all the employees his airline recently sacked.

Whether he really could not sleep because of his conscience or the battering the airline was taking in the PR department, Nareshji decided to pull the oldest trick in the politician's arsenal. Take a tough measure and then simply 'roll it back'.

Almost like a reality show where we bid farewell to some participants with high drama and copious tears. Only to soon enough say, laut ke aa...!

Nareshji's turnaround solves the immediate problem of young boys and girls in trademark yellow-and-blue taking to the streets to save their jobs. As well as the noises being made by 'action-oriented' parties ranging from the CPI (M) to the MNS.

But what about the larger issue?

In my last post I pointed out that the manner in which employees were dismissed was callous. But I think any management has a right to terminate employees on probation, given that the business has experienced a downturn.

You just do it more discreetly and compassionately. And often you couch it under 'non-performance'. TCS did it, so did Adventity and Hexaware. Brokerage houses are doing it. Other sectors may soon follow.

Are we mentally prepared for this new and turbulent job market? Apparently not.

Congress spokesperson M Veerappa Moily has declared: "This is India, not America... We against hire-and-fire policy of the aviation industry. You cannot have such a policy in a democracy. People's livelihoods are at stake."

Yes, Mr Moily but can we go the American way in hiring and the Indian way in firing? Which is that we cannot retrench at all??

The Jet airways saga shows that we are still to shed our socialist mindset. While the same employees would happily flit from one company to the next when times were good, they cannot accept that they may be without a job when those good times sour.

If employees can have their cake and eat it too, how will industry remain competitive?

On the positive side, other solutions will now have to be found to 'control costs'. Reinstated employees will probably be asked to accept pay cuts. But why just the few who were sacked? If the 'family' - and the aviation industry as a whole - really is in trouble, let every member accept a pay cut.

I see no reason why We, the Passengers, should bear the burden of increased fares. So that airlines can pay Rs 25,000 to 21 year olds. So that they can pay the loans they've taken to study at training institutes.

On how to apply eye make up.

A consultant somewhere will soon be asked to calculate how much an airline can save annually... if it does away with the war paint :)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's not what you say, Mr Goyal...

but how you say it!

The shock and pain over the sacking of 1900 employees by Jet Airways continues to dominate the headlines. We all realise this is a desperate measure. That tough times may call for tough decisions.

But must we take 'axing' of jobs literally and deliver the news with the force of a sledgehammer?

TOI reported yesterday : "About three and a half hours before a flight, the office transport reaches your home to pick you up. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, hundreds of cabin crew members who were rostered for early morning flights waited in their uniforms to be picked up."

When the worried flight attendants started calling up the airline despatch office they were told they had been derostered until further notice.

That was the first 800. The remaining 1100 got the news when they turned up for work on Wednesday morning.

The same crew was referred to as 'family' in better days. Now all we get is cold, calculated corporatespeak from CEO Wolfgang Prock-Scahuer:"As painful as it may be for every single person affected, this adjustment was inevitable in the greater interest of regaining viability of Jet Airways and securing its economic health."

Naresh Goyal himself is conspicuous in his absence.

Laying off a single person - even when he is underperforming- is difficult. Laying off hundreds of people (for no fault of their own) is a hundred times more difficult. That is why companies take the 'easy' way out and do it so coldly and impersonally.

The equivalent of dumping your girlfriend by sms, because you cannot face her tears.

Nareshji, it was your responsibility and yours alone to convey this message. Maybe you would get emotional, and so would these young people. But hearing from you that you are sorry this had to be done would have helped them to grieve for their loss. And move on.

And Mr Mallya, much as I like Kingfisher airlines I doubt I will enjoy your hospitality in the near future. As you and Mr Goyal conspire to make air travel unviable once again, for the ordinary insaan.

Sapne dikhaye aur ab waapas dharti par pahuncha diya.

Chalo, aisa hota hai.
But set us down gently, and we will remember you fondly. For the good times.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

You are invited to the Delhi launch

At Landmark bookshop - DLF Grand Mall, Gurgaon
Friday October 10, 2008, 6.30 pm.

Mall a mall weekly!

On a day when the stock markets tanked to a new low Nivedita and I paid a visit to the shiny new acres of air conditioned real estate in our neighbourhood. The just-opened In Orbit mall.

Five years ago Vashi was a mangrove swamp in terms of shopping and entertainment. A row of semi decent but essentially desi dukaans in Sector 17 and one so called multiplex theatre. Meghraj - which had only recently switched from wall fans to air condison.

Now we have five malls within 2 kms of my house. Which is three too many IMHO!

The revolution began with Center One. When Center One opened two years ago Vashi residents finally felt they had 'arrived'. Apart from Pantaloons and Food Bazar the mainstay of the mall was the very attractive and reasonably priced food court.

Next came Palm Beach Galleria. This time the attraction was the arrival of Adlabs - our first real multiplex. And to an extent the many branded clothing shops. Like I was really happy to see my old favourite Cottonworld - no need to visit Colaba or Phoenix Mills again.

But saath saath came City Centre right next door. Another mall with a multiplex (Cinemax) and a somewhat better food court than Palm Beach. Some interesting smaller shops and a Croma as well.

OK, by now hamari consumerist aatma triptho gayi thi. Magar earlier this year we got one more mall right next to the station - Raghuleela. Here the attraction was Fame multiplex and a bunch of Future group outlets (Central, Big Bazar and Food Bazar in the same building!).

There is also one decent theme restaurant called 'The Village' and a lallu (overpriced) food court.

Finally, we have In Orbit. Sabse aakhri entrant but yes, it's the new destination for the chalo ghoom kar aate hain types.

This mall has been 'under construction' for a long long time now. Even after the official opening vast portions remained unoccupied. But, quite understandably, they must be in a rush to catch the all-important Diwali shopper. With whatever goods they have!

The main attraction here is definitely Hypercity. A store I had heard much about (especially in the context of kitchen knives) but never visited. And I must say it is indeed outstanding. There is so much SPACE. Attractive display and AND value pricing.

The exact opposite of the Kishore Biyani model of 'we strive hard to remind you of a kirana store'!

The interesting thing is how the mall has evolved. When Center One came we were just grateful to have a mall, any mall. It looked and felt fantastic!

With tenants like Food Bazaar and the sasta sundar tikau food courts junta felt haan, yeh theek hai. Mere matlab ka hai. It gently broke us in to the whole idea of shopping in malls.

The next malls were bigger and better in terms of space. Glitzier in decor and sold more premium brands. They got us used to the idea of paying Rs 150 for movie tickets + 60 bucks for popcorn (good old Meghraj charged only Rs 10!).

Then along comes In Orbit. So huge in size it can swallow the whole of New Bombay on a weekend. So vast you get tired gawking at the windows on a single floor.

The kind of place where you feel - for a couple of hours - that you are actually living in the First World...

When I studied marketing we were taught about the 'first mover' advantage. But I am not sure there is any such thing in many categories, anymore. One guy educates the consumer, changes his behaviour, creates the market. Another then swoops in and picks up that customer with the promise of 'something bigger and better'.

Or just something new and therefore different.

You know how discos operate? Average life of six months to one year, then something cooler comes along. Well, it's looking like that with malls.

Of course each mall eventually develops its own personality and set of customers but there should be enough people to go around!

Even my nine year old daughter can see there is something stupid about five giant malls in a locality like New Bombay where people are well-off but (mostly) not the kind who sleep on matresses stuffed with ill-earned cash.

"Mummy when Center One opened remember the rush?"

Yup, I nod my head.

"Now there won't be rush anywhere.. all will be 'medium'".

The question is, will 'medium' footfalls be enough to sustain all these shops?

Not that it matters anymore. Since the debacle at Wall Street I guess failed mall owners can just turn around and say - "Yeh to kuch bhi nahin hai... Bhool-chook-galti maaf!"

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Mumbai launch

So much warmth, in the air and through the giant glass windows at Crossword... You can read all about the event here.

For those who wanted to buy the book online in India, head to Bookcurry (not related to Youth Curry! But an entrepreneurial venture from a recent IIMA grad).

Stay Hungry will also soon be on rediff books and amazon.

Lastly, thanks to so many of you for writing in to point out that 'Stay Hungry Stay Foolish' is a phrase used by Steve Jobs in his commencement address @ Stanford a couple of years ago. I know that. That's WHY I used it as the title. It captured the spirit of the book so well!

And I have acknowledged the source of the inspiration in the 'Author's Note' which precedes the book.

If Steve Jobs has an issue I am sure he will get in touch :)

And honestly it would be a top-of-the-world day for me, as he is someone I have looked up to and admired from way back. When I was in college I read Odyssey: From Pepsi to Apple where Jobs said to John Sculley: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world."

This phrase stuck in my head and it has been an inspiration, a guiding light in my life. Through stormy periods, through low periods, the times when you wonder:"Is the rough road really worth it?" I don't know about 'changing the world' but certainly I have not gone down the sugared water route and focussed more on giving, and growing than 'getting for myself'.

Anyhow. I will keep you updated on Stay Hungry from time to time but for now, time to get back to regular blogging... So much I want to write!

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