During my college days I stumbled on a short story in a local magazine which changed my attitude towards work.

A wealthy person employs a few people for housekeeping. Of the staff two of them are of similar experience but one of them is the head of the staff and other is just part of the staff. This results in the senior staff member sulking about not given the right position and salary for the same years of experience as the head. So one fine day this person goes and confronts the boss and asks the reason for difference in positioning. At the same time they hear some noise and conversation from the street, so the boss sends that person to check what is happening. The person returns back saying someone is selling tomatoes for very cheap price, so the commotion.

The boss calls the head of staff and asks to check what is happening, after a while the head of staff returns back with a crate full of tomatoes saying this is too good a deal to miss it, we will make some ketchup for the season. Also the head of staff has struck a deal with the seller for bulk buying of vegetables during the surplus seasons so they can prepare a variety of food for lesser expense.

Why this story stuck in mind was, until that point I felt only technical skills matter and as an aspiring programmer I will be seen as the magician who can make the computer do what a business owner wants to do. It turned out that business and product owners are looking for options to keep reducing their need to make decisions and push that to people executing the work.

Many people have a wrong idea about optionality and will still place the burden of decision making on someone else by just exploring various options and presenting back for decisions. Optionality does not mean giving a lot of choices and asking to choose one, it is about keeping the end result in mind and getting into action so a lot of decisions can be deferred until it really matters. This may result in minor setback if the option does not work out but leads to major gains when it works.

My career turned 18 last month. In this journey, learning is the only thing that keeps me fresh and wanting for more experience.

I joined Thoughtworks first in 2008. I came to know about Thoughtworks through the master class series and geek nights that used to happen in 2006-07 times and got inspired to join. When I applied, I was surprised by the depth of the interviews and until I got relevant experience I was not able to crack it. I got into Thoughtworks only on my 3rd try, coming back working on the feedback after every failed attempt. This feedback was not about gaining knowledge (which would have been easy) instead it was about gaining wisdom which is seldom achieved without having hands on experience. I am an avid learner, but it was the first time I moved from mere fact hoarder to a person with expertise on something.

I finally cracked the interview and my learning grew multi-fold when I started interacting with the growing office in Chennai but also felt that there was a plateau that gets hit soon in the learning and it was easy to get going with the flow. My aspiration was to represent Thoughtworks in forums like Agile India and XP conferences but I was not able to find a way to grow myself into that. 

Our place was never short of mentors and luminaries, it is when I reached out to one of the mentors for advice on career. What I got was a book to read and get back with the summary back to my mentor. The book was ‘Talent is overrated’. It drove a simple point into my head that, intelligence or being gifted is not as important as deliberate practice. Someone with sustained development day on day will overtake gifted individuals and prodigies.

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I was looking for ways of deliberate practice, it is when I did two things that stuck with me forever. One was to write a blog regularly. Not even a month goes by without blogging which I keep continuing. The other was to establish learning communities wherever I am present. I started the learning Thursdays series with a bunch of like minded people and kept it running on every Thursday without fail. We would not find speakers but one of us will always have a topic ready to run and make sure the fire does not die down. Once we picked up the momentum we formed a community event and invited outsiders, as a geeknight series making sure to run every month without fail. Both of these helped me and other presenters shape up their presenting skills. 

These exposures helped me to always be prepared for a few topics on XP, agile practices, clean code and I was able to present them in different forums. One of my topics Whistle Blowers was presented in XP 2013 which was one of the first ideas to take examples from biology and applying that for evolving quality code. All of a sudden I could see how things are inter-related and this made it easy to present any information to any person in an easy to consume form. This happens only when unrestricted learning and chunking happens. From a person who had stage fright, I became someone who can do impromptu sessions on any stage.

I always like to keep this fire of learning communities up and running, so when a new office in Mahadevapura, Bangalore was established; I created ‘Learning Thursdays’ and later ‘Friday Socials’ by getting like minded people again. This group evolved into an active one which is running geeknights and other Thoughtworks meetups in the office. Once we stop learning collectively, that is the day we start regressing as a community. So I keep making sure that learning happens not just at a personal level but at a collective level in some form or the other wherever I go.

Remote work which took the tech world by storm in 2020s is here to stay in some form even when return to office increases. Hybrid work mode is not going anywhere which will challenge our communication and collaboration styles. During the initial chaotic transition to remote work it was common for people to miss work due to poor connectivity and power outages. If hybrid or remote work is the norm then the excuse of connectivity and power outage should be limited to widespread outages, care should be taken to have electricity and data connectivity backup as well as quality of the connection.

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IT workers will fall into two broad categories – Coding and non coding roles. Coding roles require deep thinking time and unbroken chunk of time, high quality connectivity is generally not an issue until an online meeting happens. Non coding roles on the other hand require a stable, high speed connection to ensure that they can always be on calls and have enough power backup.

What happens if not able to have stable internet once in a while or while I have to travel and be flexible to work? There is a not so well known option which a lot of veterans in the industry used to do before 3G connections. Use the stable phone call to connect to meetings, many frontline conference call softwares like zoom provide dial up numbers for many countries and will often be included as a free call in the plan and even if dialling is expensive there is a provision to get zoom to call the participant on their phone.

If we are committing to work remote, depending on the profile of work if synchronous time is required with others, then ability to come on calls is non negotiable. So ensure there is enough power backup for the routers, laptops and mobile phones. Subscribe to backup data plans just in case primary fails and understand to use all the options under the sun.