Saturday, March 12, 2016

Jottings in Boulder..

Jottings in Boulder...
The city of Boulder in Colorado is one of those eclectic places in the US. Something similar to Berkley or San Francisco in California. An university town; sizzling with energy of young people, a flamboyant attitude and a sense of raw life coursing through its veins. Surrounded on all sides with beautiful mountains, the city itself nestles in its arms like a child in a mother’s. The name of “Boulder” is apt. In a land of Mountains, it evokes a sense of big stones.. There are no multi storied buildings around; Boulder city prohibits building any, and all its establishments have distinct architecture reminiscent of those built decades ago - flat style colored in deep brown, blending seamlessly with the texture of woods enveloping them.
After work yesterday, Sameer -a senior tech developer took me home with him. What a beautiful home, and family!!. Sameer is one of those immigrants who came to the United States in early nineties, straight out of a premier institution in India. He came here a junior engineer in a multinational telecom company; grew into managerial roles very swiftly, and by 2008. – he was heading a product development team of nearly 2000 people across the globe. Smart, articulate, composed, speaks with thought, authority and clarity. ( What was he doing in a class full of developers, I will allow him to explain that story in the next paragraph). I was not surprised when he briefly recounted his career to me. He was attending my class as any other student would, without any pretenses or assumptions. As a teacher, I instinctively perceived a superior quality in his approach to my teaching, his questions and understanding of subject taught - only vindicated his stature when he told me his story. His house was perched on a hill, the patio almost overlooking its precipice. It was not a huge home; just three bedrooms, a hall and a kitchen. It was spotlessly maintained by his painter wife, whose canvases adorn choicest places on the walls. Her paintings were essentially views from her home - undulating mountain ranges changing colors and hue in the Crimson rays of dying sun, or a big Mountain bear ( ranges adjacent to their home is called Bear Mountain..) languidly waiting around with uncharacteristic solemnity, or deer prancing around in lush greenery of Boulder Spring. In 2009, Sameer made a bold decision. He quit his comfortable position, decided to take a sabbatical; relearn new coding techniques and technologies.
His reason is ( I paraphrase ) “ Bala, It was actually a simple choice, if I didn't complicate it with my then current life style. My passion is to work on details, but as Manager - I found over years I was drifting away from that core. My contact with technology was becoming sketchy and incomplete. When I thought about it and spoke to my wife, we understood very quickly that I could always go back to basics If I wanted to. The problem is not so much personal but social. We are more worried what others will think of us. How could a “Manager” relapse into a developer? Progress is not always not about changing visiting cards with new titles. The real joy comes when we can keep doing what we love with more and more intensity. Of course, an organization must realize that and compensate accordingly. That is the key to success in companies like Google - where progress is not giving you new roles, but paying you more for what you can do best. And you see, the results speak for themselves. Well, I stayed at home for one year, and got down to ABCD’s of mobile technologies. Believe me, it wasn't easy.. The fluid parts in my brain had rusted a bit, but the good news was it woke up at the first touch of intellectual lubrication. I changed my resume, removed my top notch managerial experience.. (Employers were skeptical of employing me with my vast experience. He laughed out aloud…). I got into this company in 2010, and started reporting to this young brilliant guy, who was nearly twenty years my junior ( in age, I mean). In fact, nobody knew my past, and I was Ok with that. It was only recently during a party that many came to know my background after a few rounds of whiskey ( He laughed again). Money wise, I am pretty good and satisfied. I sold a big home in Denver, and bought this cute, but sufficient house overlooking the hill. In terms of physical space, this home is one fourth of what we had, but we were Ok. My wife and two kids had no qualms. The point is , Bala, Both my wife and I are now doing what we love to do, and I am excited about what tomorrow will bring…”
It was a wonderful story.. And something I have always believed strongly in. Among Indians and many Indian based companies, there is this skewed theory that good pay comes only with senior position, and to remain doing what one loves to do for long time indicates failure or an inability to succeed? How strange? God forbid that a Bach, or Michelangelo or a Poe did not think that way. I have been asked innumerable times why have I not left behind teaching. My answer has always been “ I love it, and will keep doing it even If I do other things..”. But, I do agree that many may not feel that way. If financial growth and prosperity are the only things that really matter, then one must be prepared to let go and sublimate genuine interests. Its that simple. It is a choice to be made, and most choose to the detriment of their love at some time. And it is equally unfortunate that companies forces its employees to make that choice by not rewarding true vocation, interest and dedication. I am sure, everyone would want to keep doing what one likes, if their pay-check keeps in pace with their talent and vocation. That’s rarely happens, isn't it? Modern professional world is more about compromises, and never about what one wants. And the few that have the courage to live by what they love is a dying tribe indeed. Sameer is one of them.
One of the most significant pronouncements in the Bhagavad Gita "swadharme nidhanam shreyah paradharmo bhayaavahah “, which means - "To remain true to one’s own nature is happiness. To be someone else or take up some other vocation is not only dangerous but filled with fear”. Insecurity, stress, depression – all these stem from this basic dichotomy of what one really wants and what one is doing. This is a problem typical of modern workplace. The trick then is to touch that chord of interest within as quickly as we can in our lives, and live by it. Sameer was perceptive enough to turn his life around at the right time, and that requires psychological courage - which not many would possess or wish to exercise.

No comments: