Life in UK – the good, the bad and the ugly

December 27th, 2007

The Good:
1. Medical services are free and are of good quality. Normally for small sickness you would visit the nurse and NOT a doctor. You can walk-in into any hospital and get free medical consultation.

2. Public transport is good, efficient and timely. The network of trains and buses are efficient. Till now I have not felt the need to own a car.

3. Great natural beauty with Scotland in the vicinity. Summer months (April to September) are the ideal time to be in UK.

4. Free membership to the Libraries with good collections of books. If you like reading then this is probably heaven for you.

5. If you are on Work Permit (not business visa) in the UK then you do not need any visa to visit Switzerland.

6. Many places to see like Isle of Weight, London, Brighton, Snowdonia, Birmingham and many more.

7. A good mix of people from Asia and Europe. Lots of Indians (mostly Gujrati) and people from Bangladesh and Pakistan.

8. For a vegetarian Hindu like me, there are options for restaurant as well as grocery, however, if you are searching for a pure vegetarian restaurant then you will have a tough time.

9. You can see latest Bollywood movies (limited show timings on cinemas. E.g. 2 shows in a week).

10. You can get Schengen visa stamped in UK to go to other parts of Europe for a holiday.
 

The Bad:
1. Everything is expensive when compared to USA and VERY expensive when compared to India. You are better off buying electronics from US then purchasing it in UK.

2. You pay a lot on tax from your salary. Apart from taxes on salary you also pay council tax which is additional to house rent.

3. Probably the only place on earth where you pay a TV license fee to the government to see TV at your home (approximately £11 to £12 per month).

4. If you want broadband then you would have to sign a contract for 12 months at least. You cannot get a broadband for 1 or 2 months.
 

The Ugly:
1. The culture is very different from India and hard to believe. Yet to find a married couple. Mostly I find people who are single parents or staying with a partner. The whole idea of marriage and committing yourself to one person does not seem to exist.

2. The winters are truly boring with 7 to 8 hours of daylight and nothing much to do in the chilling weather outside. Most of Midlands (where I stay) is wet with rains and fog. The days are cloudy and dull.

The views expressed above are based on my stay here in the UK over the past few months. Do share your views and experience with others using the comments link below this post (on the right hand side, the link would say ‘No comments’ or ‘x comments’).

Aaja Nachle – review

December 24th, 2007

The movie has a good story line which provides a mix of a typical village girl and a modern New Yorker. Brings out some of the family aspects and conservative family oriented thoughts in the Indian society. Also shows some aspects of politics and the kind of people involved.

Looks like yash raj films has carved a story for Madhuri Dixit (MD). No one can beat her even today when it comes to dance and I think she has announced that loud and clear to the larger film industry with this movie.

In the recent Bollywood trend of challenging stories Aaja Nachle is a recent addition. Few other recent ones are Chuk de India and some parts of Rang de Basanti. The story line revolves around the fact that the lead actor/actress accepts a challenge which is difficult and turns it to reality. Apart from Madhuri Dixit some of the strong characters of this movie are Akshay Khanna playing Raja Saab, Irfan Khan playing Farooque and Kunal Kapoor playing Imran/Majnu.

Overall it’s a good movie worth watching once. If you are planning to see this movie then either go to cinema hall or make sure you have good music system on your TV. Entire fun is in the music and dance this movie promises. I have deliberately not touched on the story line of the movie in detail as it would spoil the fun of people who have not seen the movie yet.

The views expressed above are based on my thoughts after seeing the movie. Do share your views and experience with others using the comments link below this post (on the right hand side, the link would say ‘No comments’ or ‘x comments’).

Investing in Equities – Basics

July 30th, 2007

As a practice, making the right investments requires the nack of picking the right options that the market has to offer. In one of my my earlier posts, I have spoken about the various options one can look at cialis price for investments in India.

When it comes to equity investments, I have seen people with various lines of thoughts. Many have lost a lot to the stock market while others have gained from it. Some call it a big gamble while others feel it’s the place to build long term capital. It is important to draw a line on how much you want to invest in equities and with what purpose.

Few prefer short term investments based on their research about the market.

Others go for long term capital appreciation and are willing to hold on to their investments for years together. And then there are people who go for intraday trading (typically are the one who loose as they often fail to time the market). There are few who would follow the ‘Hybrid’ approach by putting majority of the stock in the long term investments bucket and few in the short term profit making bucket. It all comes down to how much money you have at your disposal to invest and how much risk you want to take with it. Risk again needs to be defined. Investing in a poor performing company based on tips and hoping to give good return is a bad decision and not risk appetite.

Here are a few points that have helped me in my journey in the stock market in the past few months

    • Telecom – biggest players are Reliance Communication and Bharati Airtel with established track record and are growing.
    • Infrastructure – GMR, IVRCL, L&T, Nagarjuna Constructions are a few good names in this arena.
    • Banking – The biggest players are ICICI Bank and SBI. However many other players are also doing good like Yes Bank, HDFC Bank, Centurion Bank of Punjab and many more.
    • IT / Software – Infosys and TCS are bigger players. The recent rise in rupee and fall in dollar have given a test to many companies including Satyam, Wipro and many more.
  • Identify the sectors that you want to focus on and then identify the winning player. Now, this is easier said than done. You can get sector-wise reports in sites like myiris.com and indiaearnings.com. Next, we need to pick the growing and proven companies in each sector and then invest. Some of the sectors and top stocks are mentioned below:

 

  • Pick the performing companies with proven track record: This requires some time to do research. Some of the sites that I found useful are Indiaearnings.com, poweryourtrade.com, moneycontrol.com, myiris.com and kotaksecurities.com

  • Broker advice / market tips are good to know but not to be followed blindly. If you have a tip on a company, check its performance and see if it is convincing. No one in the world can tell you the price of a stock one month in advance. Whoever is doing so, is also taking a calculated or random guess based on his/her research and may not be correct. I typically avoid tips as they always point to short term / intraday trading.
  • Number of shares / amount invested paradox: Lot of people say that a given share is expensive as it is priced high (say Rs 1500). It is a myth, it does not matter how many shares you hold (numbers), what would matter is how much you have invested and what return you have received. Buying 1000 shares of Rs 10 versus buying 20 shares of Rs. 500 should not make a difference in your decision making. End of the day you would invest Rs.10,000 and would look forward to good returns.

  • While there are many other points to be considered, I have tried to keep this short and simple. Do share your comments and views.

Recruitment in IT industry – The Dark Side …

July 6th, 2007

The recruitment function is the most important function in an IT organization as they are the entry gate for people to enter the organization. Of course, technical interviews happen, but at the end of the day, the options that a technical panel has, would be limited to what the recruiter presents. The current pace at which IT industry is growing in India, the pressure to recruit the ‘best’ in the industry and that too in few weeks (days in some cases) creates a lot of internal pressure on recruiting manager/executive.

The external scenario is equally challenging as the entire IT industry is seeing a resource crunch and people can today afford to choose the company they want to join. Typically the candidates/recruits would bargain for both role and money.Normally, the recruitment department is responsible to recruit the person with desired skills. Once the person has  joined , he/she would be assigned to a resourcing manager or project team where he would work. The recruiter has NO clue of the actual work the person does. However, till the recruitment cycle is over, recruiter is the most important person who can decide not to hire and can potentially give any HR reasons.

A typical recruiter would find talent in the outside world through online portals ( naukri.com, monster.com, dice.com … ), internal reference, external agencies, would talk to the candidates, see their willingness to move from their existing job, lot of times motivating people to quit and join. Mostly the focus is on finding new talent and then motivating candidates to join after they have cleared the technical round. The so-called ‘HR round’ most of the times ends up becoming a formality and salary negotiation round. After painful discussions with the management or compensation team on salary, the recruitment team would be able to satisfy the salary needs of the candidate and hands over the associate to the resource management group after they have joined. At this point the responsibility of the recruitment team is assumed to be over. Resource management group based on the demand forecasted and current needs starts looking for projects in the company where the associate can be assigned.

So far as the model is concerned, it works for most of the IT organizations today. As it clearly identifies the exit criteria for the recruitment team which is getting the person on board.

How things go wrong

The recruiter’s view

  • The hiring manager is crazy, how am I supposed to find a person with the given skills and that too in 3 weeks time?
  • Joining time of 4 weeks is not possible to deal with. Let me offer a heavy joining bonus to attract the guy.
  • Let me advice him to join without experience letter from the previous company to meet the joining time needs. I know it would be bad for the candidate in the long run but I have to meet the deadline.
  • I had to show the candidate lot of future in the organization although I know there is not much for him/her here.
  • I need to do my job (perceived to be the motivating and convincing the candidate), I don’t care if there are no projects for him here.
  • I would bargain with the candidate to show that I can get the best talent at least price from the market. After the candidate is in the company, he might find-out that that he is paid less, but that’s none of my problems.
  • Where can I get more resumes from?

In the pressure, recruiter ends up doing lot of things which are not correct and also ends-up playing with other people’s career. Also the internal pressure from the project manager to meet the project deadline and revenue targets is a killer. This results in bigger challenges to everyone else in the organization after the candidate has joined.

In this whole situation, the original purpose of hiring good talent and good people becomes a challenge. The responsibility lies in the hands of Management and the Senior people to keep a close check on the kind of people who are being recruited. Senior Management needs to provide some protection to the recruitment team from the ‘blame’ game and equip the recruitment team with some technical knowledge and management view on ‘what’ the organization is looking for. The hiring of people for the recruitment team should be most closely monitored and controlled as they are the entry gates for people to enter. A good and matured recruitment team can make or break a company.

The views expressed above are based on my experience in recruitment and resource management in small (900 people) and mid sized (7000 people) companies. The issues that I have seen, made me move out of that job profile as I felt that I am not doing any good to the people and to myself. However, you can contradict me or share your suggestions and experiences as this is just my point of view.

Should customer know what they want?

May 23rd, 2007

It’s an interesting question which occurred in my mind. Over the years, I have realized that it is unreasonable to expect the customer to know what they need. 

In IT industry when a customer decides to go for a customized application or implement a software solution for a business requirement, they look for partners to outsource the job. As part of the requirement gathering phase we often realize that the customer is not fully aware of what actually the need is. The Account Manager realizes this and hopes to offer the expertise the company has to the customer. When the project manager gets involved, he/she plans the project based on the initial knowledge and comes up project plan with resource needs. The expectation that this Project Manager typically has, is that the customer should know what they need and there are not too many changes. When the customer expresses that it’s not the case, that’s when the trouble begins and all the mappings of change control, resource needs and meeting the timelines & budget comes into picture. 

Let us look back and understand if we understand what we want, when we make a purchase. Let’s take Car as an example as typically its one of the major decisions like IT implementation for a user company. How many of us really look at technical details of the car before making a decision? Do we look at : 

  • Power (bhp@rpm) 
  • Power to weight (bhp/ton) 
  • Torque (Nm@rpm) 
  • Fuel injection method ( MPFi, carborator based … ) 
  • Bore (mm) x stroke (mm) measure 
  • fuel compression ratio 
  • steering types (Rack and pinion, … ) 
  • suspension type (MacPherson strut, Torsion beam and coil spring ) 

Let me ask a more core question … do we even know the meaning and significance of the above on the vehicle to make a decision? At best we would look at mileage, CC count of engine, power windows/steering, A/C, internal space, other people’s opinion, maintenance expenses, brand image and go for the purchase… 

Moral of the story is that rarely customers know what exactly they need and are able to make a decision based on the technical details involved. We cannot expect the customer to know his/her requirements of the system, rather customers look at us to provide them with a solution and offer a roadmap with our past experience. That’s the real value of an IT partner to a user company. 

In most of the cases the customer would have an idea of the end-result that they need and how the system is expected to solve their business problem. A lot of times it’s a long order to achieve the end result as their are a lot of back-end processing and business process change need. Once the project commences, customer is able realize this and then real requirements evolve. Then the project goes through the changes from the original scope.

Hence the development methodologies used for software development becomes very important. Water-fall model is tightly compartmentalized and rarely near to reality while other new models are Rational Unified Process (RUP), eXtreme Programming (XP), Agile Methodology, etc. All these approach focus on the iterative nature of a project from different angles because of the base reason which is ‘changes’ in requirement during the project development. 

In my career of 7 years till now, I realize that the companies, who understand this, succeed much faster and are able to position themselves well in the market.

Change

May 7th, 2007

Quote 1: Change is the only constant

Quote 2: Humans by nature are resistant to change.

Quite an irony but true. We are resistant to change around and within us. What order generic viagra is happening is OK and we just dont want to change that. I have seen this nature at corporate level as well when business users say that this is what our process is and we would not like to change anything. Even the big financial institutions of wall street resist a change in technology which can make system faster and better.

Everyone has their reasons for not changing. Some of them are:
1. Logical: The current systems works fine and serves our purpose so why change.
2. People Fear: Change may affect my job, it might expose me.
3. Management Fear: This change is good for the company but I fear the resistance from the people hence would not opt for the change.
4. Attitude: I am doing fine. Why should I change, evenif things improve, who cares … I am fine the way I am.
5. Ego: Why should we change our process, let them map their technology to the process.

The plunge

March 30th, 2007

As an eligable bachelor I was ‘scared’ of getting married and use to run away from every discussion about my marriage. But the inevitable had to happen and here a few lines on how did it happen.

Job and wedding were like a tug of war,
Both pulling me while I was at the center,
The job kept on winning with occasional disturbance,
Wedding was not the convinced side.

Discussions were ‘on’, on what my requirement was,
Analysts were busy doing ‘analysis’,
Once an analyst met and ‘talked’ to me,
Told me his analysis from life.

Many were proposed, many were processed,
Many were described and photographed,
Many were ‘trying’ to meet and greet,
Many were involved in the game.

Game made me make my profile
Game got me clicked in style
Game made me greet and meet people
Game put me in thinking gesture
Game made me scared of the future

Some day I was asked to meet someone,
Someone I have not met ever,
Someone I was not convinced about,
Someone I ‘did’ discuss and meet,
Someone could not meet my hearts need.

Meeting helped me on looking at ‘the one’
Thoughts went through, leaving no space undone

Job kept on winning
Each win made the other side stronger
While I was holding the rope tight towards job,
I did not know that I was about to be robbed.

On a bright afternoon, in a bright shop
People met me with great hope
Soon I was to meet someone.
She was unlike the previous one,
Discussions went on one to one,
But soon the confusion was none,
That ‘She’ was ‘the one’

And I took the plunge !

Wants & Habits

March 23rd, 2007

What you truly believe in and put your effort towards, you typically get it. It’s the universal cause and effect syndrome. Everything works in a cause-effect paradigm. If you work hard, you get results. The question is how much work you consider hard work. The result is inevitable and will follow!!

Life is short and we always have infinite wants. Out thoughts starts revolving around it. Over the years I have realized that we only get and do what we want and we always get some result (positive OR negative). Our wants are dangerous and can guide us to do anything.

Once I wanted to be the best in my company and one day I was given the award of excellence (after 2 years of service in the company). All depends on how badly you want something and what are the other things you are willing to sacrifice. To be the best I had to sacrifice family time, give-up further studies, a few pleasures of life like playing tennis in the evenings, go swimming and also time to do photography. All the time was taken by office and work. So you should be aware of what you want.

We often have the feeling to help others, but often fail to do so. One should be sensitive of ‘Wants’ and ‘Needs’. The need demands higher attention and immediate resolution. Wants could be many and can be addressed later. If you can satisfy someone’s need, then it’s a true service to humanity. As I said earlier, people have infinite wants and to satisfy all the wants is not possible. Another important factor but difficult to access is, if there is really a need or you are a ‘bakra’ in the person’s melodrama.

Habits of a person can make a lot of difference. If you invest 2000 rupees every month, you would have a lot of money in 8 to 10 years. We all know that but how many of us practice it ? Lets take another habit, in our effort to donate to humanity we search for the ideal person who has the needs, why cant we just donate 2 roti every day to unknown people ? In a year you would have donated 730 rotis (365 x 2) !! Is that not a huge donation and service to humanity ? Just 2 roti every day not much. The key here is ‘everyday’ and ‘every month’ which is not easy to practice. Our parents have to spent a lot of time to instil the habit if brushing our teeth everyday when we were a child, after sometime it just becomes a part of your regular routine. As we grow we do not install good habits within ourselves.

Out of love and affection, often my mother would cook delicious food and ask me to eat. I would love the food and soon start asking for ‘tasty’ food again and again. After a few months, if you don’t get tasty food, you just don’t want to eat!! Hold on, lets look back … Is the tasty food you want, healthy for your body? Is the habit of ‘tasty’ food doing any good to your body and you? If the answer is NO then why do you want it ? Why can’t we just say NO to it and move to a healthy diet? The answer is that we have already developed a habit of ‘tasty’ food and now can’t move away from it. We often become slaves to our tongue. Why?

This brings me to another nature we have is resistance to change. What is going on is comfortable and we just don’t want to change. I wonder why? Is this habit of ours helping us?

Personal Investments

March 21st, 2007

Have been thinking aloud and practicing buy generic cialis 20mg investment habits but have limited myself to the following options 

,

1.       Post Office instruments like NSC, KVP…
2.       Bank FD
3.       Insurance Plans (non ULIP)
4.       ULIP 
5.       RBI bonds
6.       Public Provident Fund(PPF)
7.       Equity – Shares
8.       Mutual Funds
9.       Gold
10.    Real Estate
 

I have experienced that most of the debt oriented options (FD, post office, Insurance, RBI bonds) does not give good returns and erodes as the inflation rises.

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Although PPF can be a good investment if you are planning for a term of 10 to 15 years also it is a tax free investment. 

Gold is an accepted investment in India but I did not find it to be providing good returns, it surly is a secure investment but not a very good investment and does not offer great returns. 

Equity comes with its own share of risks of the market and time commitments for identifying the stocks. People also get into misleading habit of timing the market and doing daily trading. My philosophy here is that we should get into the market with a long term vision and invest is strong proven companies or companies with a potential to grow. However, you need to invest a lot of time in identifying such companies and then of course stock-picking is not your profession hence how much justice can you do remains an open question! 

Mutual funds are safer than direct equity and does not require too much research. My thought is one should go for proven funds for 75% of the total investment to be made and for 25% take some risk of new funds/NFO. It is an investment where one can expect 20 to 25 % return per annum (equity diversified funds). 

Real estate seems to be a viable option however demands money to be invested in a large sum (between 40 to 80 lacs at least). Many fear the amount that needs to be put in and the future of the same in next 15 years horizon. I feel it is better to invest in land than a flat on the 8 floor in some society; however, it comes with the headache of maintaining and providing security to the premises. Also we need to the math on living on rent versus buying a house. 

Insurance as an investment is a confusing concept to me with so many agents and insurance companies promising 1000 things. However once you buy insurance you get to know the fine prints on mortality rate, admin charges and Terms of insurance. My thought is that one should buy pure insurance products with no returns / investment promise attached to it for 80% life coverage and for 20% can go for ULIP or other insurance products. 

Overall I am still doing research and trying to see if we have better/other options available. . .  

 

Visit to Rameshwaram

March 19th, 2007

This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Rameshwaram with my parents. Overall the place is amazing. In case you plan to visit then this write-up should be of help to you.

There is no airport at Rameshwaram and rail track is under construction, so we took a 40 minutes flight from Chennai to Madurai.

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Madurai as a place is well known for the huge Meenakshi temple and is located 175 kilometers away from Rameshwaram.

We reached Madurai in the evening from Chennai and checked-in into the Hotel. I was suggested to stay at Park Plaza by a friend of mine at Chennai. Next day we covered 175 KM to Rameshwaram in 3 hours, the bridge on the ocean on the way is a visual delight!! The key is to have your ‘Panda’ identified before you even think about visiting the temple. In my case, dad already had the information and we had called him from Madurai itself before reaching Rameshwaram. ‘Panda’ had already made all the arrangements and bookings in the temple.

The grand finale starts with ‘Samudra snan’ (Ocean bath) where you go to a small beach near to the temple and take a holy bath there. This is followed by ’22 kund snan’ (bath in 22 wells). The temple has a well organized system. You enter the temple and pay Rs 51 per person for the 22 kund snan so that a person is appointed to you who would pull water from the kund (well). Taking bath 22 times with a bucket full of water is quite an experience. The guy pours water on your head 22 times!!

After the bath you need to change your dress and be ready for the Pooja. We did Abhishek of Lord Shiva with milk and ganga jal. For this you need to pay Rs. 651 in the temple and all the arrangements are made for you. Total time taken is around 2 hours inside the temple if you have everything organized through the ‘Panda’.

After the visit to the temple there is not much to do in that place, so we decided to take some rest and then started our return journey to Madurai.

One of the most important religious destinations of Hindus, the Rameshwaram temple is simply HUGE and has 108 shivling inside in the corridor. The temple is one of the dham (other dhams are Badrinathji, Jagganathpuri and Dwarkaji) and also one of the 12 jyotirlings.

Next day we visited the HUGE Meenakshi temple which was also a visual delight and returned back to Chennai in the evening.