Category: Frontpage

Corona Shorona

Popular social media arguments, and social circle arguments. I don’t want to get in unnecessary debates, but here’s a deconstruction of the flawed logic behind each of these.


Coronavirus is a hoax.
  • We all wish it was, but the number of people who have died due to this makes for the most heartbreaking evidence.
The media is lying.
  • The governments around the world would be happy to say that the Media is lying and this is not a big deal; because all politicians’ careers are at stake on trying to recover from the pandemic. Except for a few, none are doing so. Even if a politician is successful, they are at great risk of not surviving in their career.
Only 0.1% of the people die.
  • 0.1% of approximately 7.5 Billion (total world population) people is  7.5 Million people. That’s 3 to 6 times the number of deaths due to diseases like TB, Pneumonia (communicable diseases) and Cancer (non-communicable). While it is harder to get the communicable deadly diseases, it is because of general public acceptance that they are deadly. Seldom does one say: “It’s only TB, I’m gonna be fine.”
  • Death is a finality. What you don’t hear about the other 99.9% is as to how many of them suffer long term effects. Permanent loss of smell, chronic headaches, chronic fatigue, depression and insomnia. These life long effects can be just as devastating to one as mortality.
I don’t care, I’ll take my chances.
  • It isn’t you taking a chance. You are giving more chances to the virus to mutate. Mutation is rapid evolution of viruses to evolve into strains that can be more transmissible, more fatal or both. Every new person that gets the virus, gives a chance for it to evolve into something else. Your strength to the virus is irrelevant, it’s about not giving the virus a chance to become stronger.
Ivermectin or Remdesivir is a cure.
  • Yes, this may be so. This is no reason to don immortality shields though. While Tinidazole is a fair cure for dysentry, we don’t go about drinking sewage water just because we can defeat our ancestors. This is common sense because so much time has passed with us living with these things.
Masks are irrelevant.
  • So are clothes in warm tropical climates. Logically, there is no point to wear anything there. We still do it because we care about social norms. Social norms can be broken, and the worst thing to happen will be ridicule for us. Masks, even though you may think are irrelevant, give a sense of protection to a large percentage of population. There is some evidence that they work, and it is OK to disagree with it. In any case, do it for everyone else.
Vaccination is irrelevant or dangerous.
  • Your caution or suspicion is appreciated. If you are in this camp, it is unlikely you are reading this. If you are, remember that nobody has gotten Polio in the US in the last 25+ years. India had been polio free for last 6+ years. There were people  back in the 1950s advising against getting the Polio vaccination.
  • Polio vaccine was an inactivated virus, and for the 6-10 cases where it caused Polio, this was a risk being taken. Coronavirus vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna on the other hand CANNOT cause you to get COVID-19, since these don’t have the virus. Hence, the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are way safer. So are others, with the benefits far far outweighing the risk.
  • Third argument; if we don’t have enough people vaccinated, the virus mutates and spreads in ways that we cannot defeat it. This argument only holds if you believe that vaccines work. If you don’t believe so, read the first bullet above again.
I need to travel.
I am tired of being stuck.
I will be careful.
  • The only reason that new virus strains are traveling around the world is because people need to go on a vacation. Your need to travel pleases you but ends up hurting everyone else and their chances to do even the most basic and urgent things in life (like travel for a loved one’s passing away).
We are a closed group of people, we can meet indoors every weekend.
  • No arguments here, for a tightly closed group. All it takes is one person to lose caution and come in contact with someone outside, and out goes the undying trust you had. Bottom line, the virus now gets a chance to mutate. Thank you for contributing your part in the possible destruction of humanity.

All of this said, I empathize with the mental trauma of people who have been socially isolated and cannot live without seeing other people. Just take the vaccine, or if you get infected, stay home.

To the 80%+ of the rest of the world who have observed strict guidelines, you have restored my faith in humanity. Thank you.

Generational Generalization

Categorizing and bucketing people to make statements such as:

  • Baby boomers are…
  • Gen X always…
  • Millennials will never…
  • Gen Z will always…

…is called generalization. This is what we do when we immediately appropriate a singular behavior to over millions of people.

Flawed Logic: At the core of tagging generations with a certain attribute, there is an inherent logical flaw. Before exploring the flaw, here’s a background premise first.

Premise: Even though it may seem that a person always has the same behaviors, this is seldom true. People go through complex patterns in life. Often, people’s behavioral patterns change over time where you may not be the same person you were ten years ago. Personally, I have undergone a change over the last ten years, as I read old personal logs. A good way to check how you have changed is to catch up with a friend from 10 or 15 years ago.

The Flaw: The logical flaw is demonstrated henceforth. If at least 50% of the population undergoes a behavioral change in the next  ten years, then Gen Z will now split into Gen Z and Gen Z.1. If this continues over the next fifty years, we will have approximately ten generational behavioral patterns for Gen Z alone (or, ten sub-generations of Gen Z). By that logic, older generations (Baby Boomers, Gen X) are probably split into 15-20 of their sub-generations already by now. Hence, do the  tags from ten years ago for Baby Boomers or Gen X apply to that entire generation?

Possible Explanations: In most cases, when you see a behavioral pattern, it probably is due to a certain point-in-time condition: a market behavior, economic condition, choice of options, political scenario, environmental scenario or, a unique global phenomenon. It may have nothing to do with the people, but with their experiences of the environment and the peculiar condition affecting it.

There is one effect that comes very close to tying a behavior to a group of people in same age-range: peer effect. Even peer effects tend to be localized in certain planes. Peer effects don’t have the gravity to become a larger global phenomenon with the same age-range folks empathizing with each other.

Moral: Don’t generalize. Especially generations of people. It is all good when it is fun and games, but it starts hurting people’s career or social prospects when this is taken seriously. Plus, generalization leads to poor decision making, in general.

Ethics: The Small Stuff

(Written for kids with ages 16 and below.)

The one supreme power that the human mind has, is the ability to be ethical in life. This is a power, not because it achieves miracles. This power is supreme because it requires an underlying mental stamina and discipline that is unparalleled. Due to the complexity of human emotions and needs, the mind is often unable to keep things together in life for one to be ethical. If one can master the skill of being ethical, one can be assured to achieve other great things in life with the foundations thus laid.

What does it mean to be ethical?

Consider the simple case of when you have to answer a few questions in a final examination, but do not know how to. Your classmate next to you is at it though. You can almost clearly see what he is writing, and now that you know, what is the harm in writing it out? If the goal is to ensure that you know something, how does it matter if it is from a handwritten note from an answer sheet of one of your classmates?

Look at it from a logical standpoint, and it does matter. The essence of knowledge is not in repeating it, but in being able to reproduce it when you need to apply it. Reproduction of knowledge is when you add your own character to the understanding of something. Application of knowledge is thus possible to its fullest extent.

Going back to the final examination, should you write those answers down or not? This is where ethics come into play. Ethics are governed by loosely coupled rules that are meant for the betterment of the society as a whole. If the diktat from your class teacher was to not study prior to the examination, not pay attention during class, not ask for help when you didn’t get a concept – and yet come to a final examination ready to answer questions on a piece of paper, the ethics have been set to do whatever is necessary to get through those questions. Mostly because the other play by such a fictional class teacher is, unethical.

This definitely is not an ideal school teacher. Most teachers expect their students to learn, understand and grasp concepts in advance of their examinations. Here, the ethics dictate that you use those expectations alone to answer questions. In fact, it is even unethical to learn by rote, without understanding concepts and repeat knowledge. This is often overlooked, because you are not physically cheating. This is still cheating, mentally. This is how you know what is ethical and what is not. You have to understand the basic  expectations of society, and avoid what defies them. Granted, these expectations are geared towards the betterment of society – and positively geared, not in the, “it gets worse before it gets better,” way.

How to lead an ethical way of life?

So how is one supposed to live their life, following every rule and expectation of a complicated society? It is the small stuff that matters. Ethics in daily life, can be as simple as these:

  • Standing up to give your seat away to a lady or an elder person
  • Not using a fake teacher’s identification to get yourself vaccinated for COVID-19
  • If unable to answer a question, saying so – and preparing in advance to have the pride next time to be able to answer it
  • Returning to the supermarket to pay for that extra item that was accidentally not checked out (even if it was just a 10c bag)
  • Paying the overage on the parking meter, even when no one is looking
  • Keeping someone’s secret, if they said, “between you and me…”
  • Putting those pens you took from your office back into the drawer of the common area
  • Not paying cash without a receipt at that restaurant so that you can save that extra 5% tax

Why does this small stuff even matter?

When faced with these choices, your friends may often mock you and encourage you to overlook the ethics behind them to make an easier choice. They’ll reason with you, “It’s small stuff, let it go. Chill.” Stand your ground on the small stuff. Even the sun is made up with a lot of it.

Most importantly, ethical behavior is doing things when it may not benefit you personally and immediately. Sometimes even hurting you. This self-sacrificing mode is not eternal, and will force a change in your surrounding (or auxillary) behaviors to adjust to the ethical way of life. This is where your super powers are taking roots, leading to key foundational changes in who you are and what your character is. This will lead to the bigger deal in life, where you’d be able to:

  • Build self-reliance to stand up in life to take what you need, deserve and earn
  • Maintain principles in life that you will cherish, as they bring you the eternal wealth of keeping your head high
  • Garner the respect of everyone with your brand that will be set apart

Start your ethical journey with the small stuff in life and cherish them. Brag about them, and take pride when others mock you for it. And some day, when you have kids of your own, you will be able to look them in the eye and tell them about your supreme powers, your ethical way of life and transfer these on. Most of all, you will earn the respect that most can only dream of.

The Mother And Her Calf

My father once revealed to me about a cow in his household during his childhood. Given the nature of my paternal roots, this was not particularly surprising. What I didn’t quite understand was that the cow he spoke of was more than a pet or an animal. She was a ‘part’ of the household.

About fifteen years ago, I was visiting a family function in a city in central India. Taking a stroll through the streets, I came across a  calf (bovine), perched on one side of the street. Such sights are not uncommon in India, and the rest of the world now has come to terms with how Indian streets have all kinds of animals on the loose. This isn’t about whether that’s right or not, so I will stick to the story.

The calf caught my eye. (S)he was probably a few months old, light brown and had a distinct white patch running through his/her forehead. With legs folded, this beautiful creature melted me inside. I drew closer, lowered myself and gently stroked him/her with my fingers. (S)he seemed to enjoy it, raised his/her head, and soon I was an itch machine for this being.

About two minutes into this interaction, a young boy appeared out of nowhere and struck the calf with what appeared to be a bicycle tire (rubber) tube. The blissfulness of the animal transformed to a loud shriek, as his/her legs recoiled and carried it away. As for me, I was thrown off balance and almost landed on the back of my head, if it wasn’t for my hands.

This kid though, laughed hysterically. The humor didn’t escape me either, it was rather comical to see the calf take off like road runner. Sadly, this humor was not going to last for a second more.

From way across the street, as I pushed back on my hands to get up, a double-beat waltzing grew louder and more prominent in what seemed like the smallest packet of time that could pass. A raging cow ran towards us, and the only sensible course of action was to match it’s velocity vector. After I had gone maybe ten leaps out, I turned around to see  the poor kid pinned to the ground by the cow with her forehead. I rushed back to help him and loudly hushed the animal away.

A bystander came over, scolding the kid and intimidated me by asking, “Why were you running?”

“You mean, I should have just gotten hit by this train?” I replied, maybe I said something less sarcastic, but I was definitely sarcastic.

“That cow was not going to hurt you, it was watching you playing with her calf. You had no reason to run.”

This was a very unusual thing. Part of me wanted to believe what this guy was saying, because it made me feel good. The other part of me didn’t, mostly because this is some random guy on a street and didn’t quite look all that vested in my self-esteem. Before I walked away, I preached to the kid, “You reap what you sow; don’t do this again.”

I reflected on this episode, mentioned it to a few folks, and almost everyone believed the projected behavior of the cow; that she wasn’t out to punish me. It was pretty much universal, except for the immediate people who really cared about my well being, like my mother, who was just glad that I got out of the cow’s way.

Thinking back though, I do believe that that the cow was just out to teach a lesson to someone who needed it. The logical reason was the fact that she wouldn’t have just walked away with me hushing her away. If she really wanted to hit me, she could have  when I came back to help the kid.

Cows are emotionally intelligent beings, and this Psychology Today article has an analysis from a paper on bovine behavior. Yet, a large part of the world eats beef that comes from farms where these intelligent creatures are abused. You don’t eat dogs, or breed them to be grown into adults for meat. Doesn’t happen for cats either.  

Many of these farm animals are sentient beings. Consumption of sentient beings by humans is inhumane, because we’ve got the brains to recognize intelligence and emotions, as well as replicate this intelligence and these emotions. We are able to grow past this. With time, I hope that our future generations will loathe the idea of beef and pork, not just for their religion, but for their humanity. 

Broken Talent

Have you ever come across people who teach you something every time you interact with them? It is rare to find such gems, but it requires a keen mind to find them, especially if they are not well known and don’t have the regular social achievements under their belt.

More often than not, I have come across such people who are underappreciated by the folks who are a part of their team, their family and very often, by their management. Not to say that every one of these folks are ignored, or everyone who is ignored is somehow in the category of exuding brilliance. Yet, I personally know many (had to mentally go through their faces), and possibly more if I put my mind to it. It pains me every time I think how much more they could achieve, give back to the society and how much further they could be in life than where I am.

These are individuals, capable of so much more, but untapped because they have not been given a focus, not given some feedback,  words of encouragement or some appreciation. This isn’t just a case of bad management, bad parenting, bad friendship, bad mentoring or even bad relationships. This is often because most people look at what shines. It takes extra effort to carve out a diamond, than to polish one. As it stands, there is only so much effort and energy to go around.

The effort is simple. Look for strengths, and look hard. Due to the complexity of the human brain, everyone has a set of unique strengths. Due to the simplistic (and extremely limited) understanding of the same human brain, we don’t naturally see the strengths play out in the limited ways that we have evolved to interact. Furthermore, even the vocabulary to express strengths of what individuals can do is limited.

Unfortunately, only those who are strong in the expression and limited interactions, are able to succeed in playing to their other strengths. To provide an analogy, let’s say that the general public can count up to three numbers: 1, 2 and 3. And they can count well. One person, is somehow good at counting from 15 to 20, but they stumble at going from 2 to 3. This person is now unable to interact with society, because there is a starter problem. Truth is that they are sharper and have extraordinary capabilities, just not in the initiation protocol. Finding such capabilities, when it takes an enormous effort to go from one to three, and with the possibility that they don’t even exist, is what keeps this talent untapped, these individuals unsuccessful and all of society behind.

There are many examples of accidental discovery of talent, the most fascinating one being that of Gillian Lynne (credits to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk). She was 7 when her mother thought that something was wrong with her, when the doctor said, “Your daughter isn’t sick, she is a dancer.”

I doubt that anyone reading this will make  efforts for strangers or colleagues, but I hope they will at least strive to do so for their kids, and loved ones. If only we wouldn’t break talent at 1, 2 and 3.

Principles from the Bhagavad Gita

While trying to establish certain principles, and to discuss some of this with folks I care about, I came across 4 Lessons from Gita (Thrive Global) and Equality By James Roland Pennock. It is a joy to get into the deliberation of logic and critical thinking that the Gita brings out. 

Here are some principles that lead to critical thoughts that spur the mind. 

 

1. Your mind can be your greatest enemy. 

बन्धुरात्मात्मनस्तस्य येनात्मैवात्मना जित: |
अनात्मनस्तु शत्रुत्वे वर्ते तात्मैव शत्रुवत् || 6||

bandhur atmatmanas tasya yenatmaivatmana jitah
anatmanas tu satrutve vartetatmaiva satru-vat  [shankha-yoga, 6.6]

For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be the greatest enemy.

 

2. Better be imperfect in your own duty than perfecting others duties. Live your own destiny imperfectly than an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.

श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुण: परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात् |
स्वभावनियतं कर्म कुर्वन्नाप्नोति किल्बिषम् || 47||

śhreyān swa-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmāt sv-anuṣhṭhitāt
svabhāva-niyata karma kurvan nāpnoti kilbiṣham  [moksha-sanyas, 18.47]

It is better to do one’s own duty, even though imperfectly, than to do another’s, even though perfectly.

 

3. Do your duty, don’t be concerned about results.

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 47 ||

karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi [shankha-yoga, 2.47]

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

 

4. Perfection is when you do what you enjoy.

स्वे स्वे कर्मण्यभिरत: संसिद्धिं लभते नर: |
स्वकर्मनिरत: सिद्धिं यथा विन्दति तच्छृणु || 45||

sve sve karmaṇy abhirataḥ sansiddhiṁ labhate naraḥ
sva-karma-nirataḥ siddhiṁ yathā vindati tach chhṛiṇu [moksha-sanyas-yoga, 18.45]

By fulfilling their duties, born of their innate qualities, human beings can attain perfection. Now hear from me how one can become perfect by discharging one’s prescribed duties.

 

5. No satisfaction for people who are always skeptical.

अज्ञश्चाश्रद्दधानश्च संशयात्मा विनश्यति |
नायं लोकोऽस्ति न परो न सुखं संशयात्मन: || 40||

ajñaśh chāśhraddadhānaśh cha sanśhayātmā vinaśhyati
nāyaṁ loko ’sti na paro na sukhaṁ sanśhayātmanah [jñāna-karm-sanyas-yoga, 4.40]

By fulfilling their duties, born of their innate qualities, human beings can attain perfection. Now hear from me how one can become perfect by discharging one’s prescribed duties.

 

Curiosity Trip

Chatting with my 5 yr old, I realized that she had a particular resistance to the words “I don’t know.” It was an indication that I had to put something to an end for her, and “I don’t know” if it was fear or something else. I just don’t know. What I knew was, she had to become comfortable.

We started with the concept of asking “why” more. She prides herself heavily in knowing answers, and like most kids, takes a lot of joy in the praises therefore. Once we settled, she quickly asked me, “why is it ok to say I don’t know?” My job was half done, and I was sufficiently pleased with Vasvi. If anything, I told her, “you will never know everything, I don’t know the answers to most questions.” For brevity here, I did explain that “I don’t know” is the beginning of knowledge. There is no end, and when no one knows the answer, you have the intense potential to make meaningful impact. The trick is to know what is already known to get to the limits of available knowledge.

The conversation was sparked when we read an article on a quote from Einstein, that was about spending most of the time on a problem, than thinking about its solutions. In a recent interview, this was my biggest peeve. The candidate jumped to solving the problem in the first few minutes, without analysis or questions on the problem itself. At the end of the interview, when the algorithm chosen didn’t solve the corner cases of the data structure provided, I did mention, “I wish you asked me about ‘why’ I was even posing this problem.”

Most people presume that the world around them is in some harmony. This is what I want to prevent my daughter from sliding into. The harmony is a good thought, not exactly reality. Making your kids understand that the last generation doesn’t exactly have their ducks in a row, is what drives us forward. The sooner they get it, the more curious they become.

Ultimately, curiosity evolves the cat. A couple of hours I spent chatting with my father this weekend brought back some intense curiosity about how do ATM machines verify currency – that was easy to answer. What stumped me was, “how did they do it in 1980s? There were no scanners.” After a minute of googling it, the term ‘magnetic ink’ lit the bulbs. One thing led to another and I had a huge spike of curiosity, meaningful enough to keep the rest of the weekend interesting.

The only challenge is, curiosity to me, is not to be driven in the direction of what cannot be known because it is dependent on human reaction. In other words, if sound and unemotional logic cannot be tied back to a reason, the trip is unworthy. Vasvi agreed, but did not ask why. That is a discussion for to tomorrow, and it may turn out that she enlightens me to prove me wrong.

Mars Mission Decoded To A Four Year Old

Vasvi declared that she wanted to go to Mars, and I had to decode a lot of things for her to explain the differences between San Francisco and where she wants to go. The best way to overcome challenges is to face them and start thinking about how this generation needs to prepare.

Feature Simple Speak
Gravity (3.71 m/s2) You’ll walk as if you’re light-hopping, you’ll weigh only 1/3rd; Jumping from a rock will feel slow motion (you’ll take about thrice as more time to fall)
Diameter (6794 km) Will take half the time to get around Mars, map scales will be larger
Sun’s luminosity (40%) Brightest days will look like very early mornings
Atmospheric Pressure (600 Pa) Water will boil at about 0 degrees C, right where it freezes here on Earth (see this table)
Temperature (-60C) Really cold as compared to most of earth
Two Moons As fascinating as this sounds, these are really very small rocks around Mars, as compared to our moon and have minimal effect on Mars. In reality, you can’t see a large moon on Mars (its pretty empty).
Orbital Period (687 Days) Summers will last about 6 months, and every other season will be longer than here. Calendars will have longer months and longer years there.
Life (unknown) There are no trees, no bees, no butterflies, no birds and no flowers. Its pretty empty from a living creature perspective.

To a child’s mind, the differences are not as extraordinary as it is to adults. They are still linking to what is supposedly normal.

Getting There

It was not funny for me any more after Vasvi repeated that she is going to Mars, and will on the way stop on Moon and Venus. I asked her what challenges will she have to overcome to get there. She had no idea. I decided to document some challenges in simple speak for a Vasvian brain.

What Simple Speak
Distance (60 to 400 million km) Mars and earth are constantly moving around. It would be best to start when Mars is closer to Earth. If I call you when you’re around Mars, my “hello” will take anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes to reach you. It is that far.
Launch Window About every two years, Mars and Earth are somewhere close that it will be fastest to get there. Our next launch window is Mar/2016. (cosmic schedule)
Packing Food, water, recycle gadgets (to convert gases and liquids back to being usable), space suits, solar panels/batteries, a telephone, an exercise machine and your favorite Alouette..
Delta-v Budget How much money we will spend? This will depend on how much “gas” (propellent) is required, and how fast we can go. We’ll have to use the gravity (or the pull force) of other planetary bodies to gain speed (gravity assist), helping reduce the money we have to spend.
Spacecarft A big giant car, with lots of buttons inside. This is where you will live for about 7-8 months, so it should be nice inside.
Radiation Like very bright sunlight bothers, there are other types of “lights” that are dangerous and can be harmful. Sunscreen lotions can’t protect, so your spacecraft will need to have special outer coatings to protect from this radiation. Otherwise, it can be similar to you being inside a microwave
On the way It will be dark outside, and the sun would be suddenly very bright. Lots of stars to see, the moon will show itself on the way, and depending on when the launch date, Venus could be seen from close enough. Earth will look like a blue ball, that gets smaller and smaller, every time there’s actually a chance to see it. Lots of exercise will be needed on the way so that bones and muscles stay strong.
Mars Orbit Go around Mars, round and round, instead of landing down. Mars’ air and atmosphere will help a slow down to stay above it. Going around the planet, mornings and nighs may be shorter – ranging from a few to many many hours of day and night. Going around will be strange, since it will be elliptical – very close and then very far. Two not so big rocks will be seen, one very close (Phobos) to Mars and another one further away (Deimos). Earth won’t be seen as it used to be seen. 

Landing

At this time, exhausted with the information overload, the decision was not to land on this trip. We’ll land some other time, time to come back.

Coming Back

This is another complex task that I couldn’t get any reliable data for, at least as of this writing. Challenges of coming back had to be simple-spoken.

Homeward Simple Speak
Distance (60 to 400 million km) The same distance needs to be covered as earlier. At best, the journey can start only about a year after it was accomplished, since launch windows occur every two years, remember?
Launch Window The next launch window from Mars will be in Feb/2018 – about 15 months after reaching there. This will mean a lot of waiting while going around the planet.
What to pack Just eat very slowly, don’t waste any chocolate bars and keep calm.
Delta-v Budget Significantly higher amount of money is needed to pack double the fuel for getting back (to achieve the same speeds). Multiply everything you want to get there by 2. This may not be completely true if you are above Mars.
Spacecraft Much bigger spacecraft, since you will be taller and supposedly heavier, you need more playground. This increases the delta-v budget, meaning more money.
Psychological Impact Again, it will be very dark outside. Time will seem like it will never end. Feelings of “no one cares” will develop. Alouette, of everyone else, may suddenly seem like the only one who cares and loves. This will be hard.
Close to Blue Being back on Earth doesn’t look any further. Sitting in a space capsule to fall into an ocean sounds easy, but an additional space capsule in the craft is needed. More delta-v. Alternatively, achieve a low earth orbit and then someone comes to pick up. Super-alternatively, somehow attach to the International Space Station – though no one would like the possibility of destroying a $100 billion thing if something went wrong.

Will we get there?

This was the big question. After all this explaining over a few days, this question always rang with a super-optimistic spin at the end – “Yes?” I am just as optimistic as the little one. Yes, we’ll get there, and possibly, some would make it back.

Interviewing Right

There are countless online articles that get hits when someone is preparing to get interviewed: “10 things to keep in mind”, “10 don’ts while interviewing”, “How to interview well..”, and so on. This works well for the times we live in. You get people in the door for a typical 4-6 hour interview, they act nice and everyone tries to play by the rules.

What’s wrong here?

Interviewing is a tough skill. Think about the things that the interviewer is doing, within a 45-60 minute window:

  • assessing technical capabilities
  • assessing success potential
  • assessing seniority
  • assessing team work capabilities
  • assessing <insert buzzword here>

That is a lot to assess. Relevant signals from the candidate can get lost. Depending on the interviewer, they can become too critical or too positive and amplify signals that are one-offs for the candidate, or play down those that give more insight into a candidate’s nature.

Additionally, the clock. Less than an hour to go, and so much to discover in an interview. Possibly, more time is spent on the right car to buy (reviewing, comparing, discussing etc.), than on a likely co-worker.

Then again, not all interviewers will take extensive notes. This leads to lost information, and sometimes, to distorted memory about the candidate. A common trap to fall into is the gist-based memory and associative memory errors (see this article).

Interviewing skills get better with experience. Not being true for everyone, some are good at assessing others while others will just never be good at forming reliable opinions in small time windows. Since there is a learning curve here, it will have to unfortunately come at the cost of hiring misfires.

Given that interviewing is conducted by a panel, the idea rooted here is that judgments passed by a group are less likely to be at fault. Though, more senior or well-respected interviewers tend to dominate the jury.

Referrals by current employees, of past co-workers, is a popular hiring method. Referrals (mostly) get interviewed in the standard ways.  Yet, employee referrals have an added data point. This makes a  difference.

To summarize,

  • interviewees may not be themselves
  • too many skills / behaviors to assess
  • not enough time to appropriately assess
  • not enough record of the interviews conducted
  • interviewers gain experience at a cost
  • interview panels may be dominated by seniors
  • referrals get a bias

Avoidances

What follows is a list of some of my personal practices to avoid these problems.

Pre-interview notes on the candidate

  • Decipher the candidate’s resume, to highlight their strengths, !strengths and anything else of note to brief the interviewers prior to the interview. Your help with this will set the stage and prime interviewers’ experience with the candidate. It is important to get it right and not (bias it).
  • Job descriptions help, but often, the panel needs to be reminded of what exactly is it that you are looking for. Think outside the job description – personality traits, seniority levels (for real), specific personas (like someone with a customer oriented mindset, or someone who’d be more heads down).
  • Keep “referral” biases out, as much as possible. Instead, talk to the person who referred this candidate, and include notes in your pre-interview notes.

Develop focus areas for interviews

  • As a hiring manager, a lot of thought needs to go into the kind of person needed on the team for a position. Some times, when you are building a team, you need to create a few different personas.
  • Every interviewer gets a couple different focus areas. The tricky part is to match the focus area for the interviewer as well. I typically read through past interviews from these interviewers to determine what they naturally focus on.
  • Although interviewers give additional feedback, appreciate it, but remind them to “concentrate” on their areas
  • Keep them real. Write out focus areas for what the team is actually doing over 3-6 months, instead of asking for things that lead to optimizing the number of triangles within 5 overlapping circles.

Share focus areas with the candidate

  • Well, why  not? You want to earn the trust of the candidates so that they can be themselves.
  • What if they make up things? If someone can make up a fantasy about an architecture that they never worked on, or only read about, and explain it well, you probably want someone like that.
  • Won’t everyone just know what we ask? Every interviewer would have their own set of problems and will be discussing very different scenarios. The idea is to make the candidate comfortable and forthcoming.

Make note-taking easy

  • I’ve printed out focus areas in the past, on paper, and given a page of blank space that has multiple of following markers (to interviewers) under each focus area:
    • Asked – what the interviewer asked. 
    • Response –  what the candidate talked about.
    • Analysis – refers to notes that the interviewer is encouraged to write out their analysis for the asked/response pair (under that focus area).
  • Interviewers should be encouraged to go back and fill in the analysis after the interview is complete so that they can fill out as much information as they can before their cache expires.

Keep information flowing

  • Most importantly, during the interview. Having brief discussions while the interview is in progress with the interviewers, helps to adjust focus areas. Additional context is added for incoming interviewers to re-evaulate certain areas. Orchestrating the feedback so that it flows to and fro, helps.
  • The slight downside to this is that bias from earlier interviewers can flow to and fro too. Conscientious effort is required to avoid this.

 Post-interview debrief and go/no-go

  • Many organizations have a central committee that decides the outcome. This committee’s judgment is only as good as the feedback captured, the hiring manager’s overall note and the focus on what you need for the position v/s what the candidate has to offer.
  • Sitting down with all the interviewers for a brief amount of time and discussing everything with the panel is very important. It highlights the panel’s own performance, along with the interviewee’s.

Other Problems

Reading through interview reviews on sites like glassdoor, I’ve often seen many other problems that interviewees bring up. Common themes are, interviewers that…

  • …aren’t empathetic
  • …dominate airtime
  • …don’t give enough context
  • …lean into the candidates
  • …never smile & keep things tense

My approach is to find the best way on how to use such personalities (with these unique qualities), such that the interview process is not affected. Often, it means, not using them.

Final Note

After a few cycles of doing this rigorously, this was easier (mostly cloning prepared documents for ongoing interviews). In the beginning, I had detailed focus areas . Later on, I would compress the focus areas to be brief.

There is a lot that can be improved, and I’ve not yet seen all the pitfalls. There’s a possibility that some of the techniques above have serious downsides, but this has worked better than anything else thus far. Well, there’s definitely a better way…

This is all good “for the times we live in.” Interviewing today, is still constrained in a short time window that an interview is conducted in. The future of interviewing will probably not look like any of this. Take home assignments, short projects lasting 1-2 days, contractual work leading to permanent roles and may be even (crazy idea) separate organizations acting as frontiers for people who could to try things out.

I’ve been surprised a couple of times on how certain people who were hired, turned out to be really good at what they did despite shaky panel feedback and an almost “no hire”. There are probably many more that were never interviewed, not hired due to process flaws or hired but weren’t the right fit. This has to change.

Flying From Twitter

Twitter Journey
Twitter Journey

This last Friday, after just over two years at Twitter, I decided to drive down the street to Uber.

The most difficult part of this decision was the fact that I only spent, what seems like an extremely short time at Twitter. The experience was amazing – the methodologies, the technologies and above all, the wonderful people I’ve had the honor to work with.

Will truly miss the relationships I’m leaving behind, especially my immediate team (Aras, DRob, DavidJ, Jeff, Joe, Mike, Toby and Zeke). And then, there’s Ian – who has become a very close friend in this very short time.

Really looking forward to the next adventure.