Be Less Professional.

There is an entire discourse in to professionalising of disciplines which hampers reskilling in the heart of darkness aka uncertainty. The narrow disciplinary lens forecloses opportunities to tap in to arena which are around the corner. As an environmental engineer I took up modules in public policy and studied STS-sociology, Social Change Communication and read a lot of history to get the granular context of decolonisation and decarbonisation pathways.

The obsession rather needs to be about being amateurs, as that is the very spirit of innovation. And take the cv less seriously.

Experiment, be lean and agile.

#writing #growthmindset

Why Mr Pai is Wrong?

The JNU+FTII+HCU episode is an attempt to reduce students as ’employees’ and ‘consumers’ and not nurture citizens who should understand and aspire for a better polity. Anyone with activist leanings is labelled as ‘non-employable’ borrowing from Mr Ratan Tata as his/her spirit needs to be subjugated to the majoratarian narrative in order to work. The contrarian spirit is essential for innovation. Make in India needs ‘ignited minds’ in the words of late President APJ Abdul Kalam.

This sentiment connects with the entirely bogus conversation on liberal arts majors being not market worthy and wasting taxpayer rupees/dollars. In the words of Mr Mohandas Pai in a NDTV article, activist students waste money and the subsidies are for education. According to Mr Pai students are supposed to treat their opportunity at JNU as a social elevator and train themselves to be call centre workers. Tax payer cash is not only the perogative of supposedly more productive STEM majors, who will be ‘Bangalored’ for fulfilling headcount for North American IT Outsourcing Project. 

The average student at JNU would not be able to pay the fees at Manipal Education which he is chairman at. Kanhaiya, an aaganwadi workers son, was reading his PhD as Umar. JNU is very competitive to enter, and fortunately not the same as Manipal and as competitive as an IIT/IIM. Mr Ratan Tata, as per his logic should shut down TISS, one of the best social science institutions that bears the Tata brand. The positive from this episode is raised conciousness regarding nationalism and identity.

Questioning the status quo for the better is nationalism.

‪#‎Vemula‬ ‪#‎JNU‬

Charge your Market Rate

Never do anything for free what you know to do well about which there is a market need. Even for a start up or not for profit, even if they do not pay you make sure they respect your work and factor in your opinion. Otherwise, do your own stuff until there is a critical mass until folks need your skill set. Charge the market rate, that is the only respect that matters.

Beyond the Technical: Reimagine the Engineer’s Tool Kit

The epistemic character of Engineering is about problem solving and crisis management and by default as an engineer I am expected to possess decent quantitative abilities as the lingua franca of science is mathematics. The social contract between the engineer and the work-place has undergone a transformation through the proportion of jobs shifts from the shop floor to the computer screen. Recently, I had been to a Steel Plant and I found 95% of all operations on the process floor automated (complex industrial process control) and that’s real brick and mortar stuff. The core metallurgical processes have not changed since the industrial revolution.

I have worked in Engineering & Policy Research Consulting for about 6+ years until now, and I have found to my surprise that science as a social institution inhabits a force field of economic, cultural and social realities that lie way beyond the lab.  Often the top leadership, whether technically trained or not (often a lawyer, accountant or a MBA) is merely focused on the quarterly results rather than the long term; a classic business strategy conundrum.  Accountability to the masters of Wall Street is more precious to your epistemic calling.

As the meta-phenomena of globalization and urbanization over the past three decades have desolated steel towns of Pittsburgh and Liverpool in the developed world, and in contrast have led to the tech boom towns of Route 128 and Silicon Valley. Manufacturing has dipped, being shipped off to the ‘Factory Girls’ of China and the automation revolution has stemmed blue-collar job creation. The ‘Myth of Manufacturing’ is real.

Nowadays engineers have to do more project management- resourcing, scheduling, and budgeting than wielding the spanner/shifter. Marine Engineers in the engine room of a Panamax have a lot more technology at their disposal which has reduced the crew of a ship to barely skeletal.

Engineering at the present is doing technology to create products which cater to the clients need, get paid and scaling up. Simple stuff, but it needs a very different mindset.

I have often heard a strain of discontent from my fellow early career technical professionals that they don’t get adequate opportunities to chart/shape the course of their technology product driven organizations. Here are a few suggestions to grow out of that inability:

  • Understand your organizational ecosystem
  • Learn to Negotiate Hard
  • Look and Talk like a Leader
  • Do not have Tunnel Vision mind-set regarding science
  • Learn to read a balance sheet
  • Keep yourself informed

Alas, the ability to learn and be agile is more crucial to your GPA. No one cares a shit about that.

The changing nature of work and education

Work and livelihoods is something which defines our lives. We spend the most productive years after college at our work places creating wealth, making something worthwhile of our life, and simply traveling in the capsule called time. We have 50 weekends per year, in which we can attempt doing things apart from the chores of our work life. On an average, a person works 35 years until retirement and this is for the Blessed folks who have medicare and retirement savings. Most guys have temporary contract based employment in this age of hire and fire, life long employment is an oxymoron. Welfare states are crumbling under the weight of retirement obligations, France is resisting labor reform violently on the streets as it would take away the french way of life; a 35 hour work week, summer vacations and time for the family. The changing nature of work is creating havoc in terms of social dynamics. People work longer hours to be productive in the run for profit maximization for companies, have lower savings as inflation shoots up but salaries do not keep pace. More people stay with parents because they cannot afford their own home leading to men and women getting married much later than the previous generation.

Unpredictable career trajectories mean higher divorce rates from office romances, lower self esteem in men because they do not earn enough to support families and lower fertility rates in east asia leading to pronatalist policies in Taiwan and Singapore. People work on weekends remotely from home via VPN and the Blackberry has sounded the death knell for privacy at home. Of course, this means flexibility but it also means that we all check mail and write reports on vacation while our partners are asleep at 3am in the morning. Technology is changing the nature of work and the way we shape society for the worse.

The static nature of graduate education (undergrad degree is simply not enough now a days, sad fact) is contributing to the nature of debt people accumulate and pay off through out their careers. A graduate education degree does not mean we are work life worthy with the right skill sets.We all have to be entrepreneurial in seeking opportunities out of the box to make our ends meet. We have to do a lot more to meet the living standards which were given to us during our upbringing by our parents in our current state of work and education.

The Metricization of Education at its worst-the admissions ballgame in India

Yesterday, the worst possible news for an average student came across in the Indian media, that in Shriram College of Commerce, a prestigious college of the Delhi University had a undergrad first list cut-off of 100% maximum for the B.Com Hons. programme for a science student, albeit marginally lower percentages for commerce students at the pre university public exams. A full hundred percent, for a seat in a prestigious college!! Its the mockery and absurdity of the education system which is being demonstrated. The SRCC Principal is defending the rationale that commerce students have to be given preference and that science students should become engineers! So much for inter-disciplinary learning and brotherhood. I would not be able to pursue any one of my academic interests if I would have studied in India, firstly- I would not have made it to even a Sanskrit Hons. undergrad degree (I like philosophy better) or had to pursue a distance learning program.  Secondly, I have myriad interests which require some degree of flexibility in the academic system, I am presently reading Sociology at the Grad level in Singapore without any prior Social Science Background!

There is no future for an average student in publicly funded institutions in India. More private universities like Amity will flourish in the country and education is already treated as a business with Manipal as its mascot with private equity stakes in it. The grade inflation in the public exams is responsible for it as well. The maddening and cut throat competition in the public exams that are dependent on rote learning rather than individualized talent and potential leaves thousands like me to leave for greener pastures overseas. I was Blessed enough, millions of my brethren are not.

Radical reforms of the school system is required to prevent such emotional catastrophes for students and parents in the future. Entrance exams should determine the talent for such non technical under grad courses such as CAT, although not perfect but its still a good screening mechanism. For the elite schools, an admissions pie should determine competence along with scores. WE are failing millions to a second tier life by not creating enough opportunities for them. There are good private engineering universities such as Vellore Institute of Technology and BIT Mesra  catering to demand. Why then Liberal Arts and Social Sciences be left behind?

The New Learning Paradigm- Get off the textbook!

Recently, I was reading up on the Thiel Fellowship- An Acumen Fund Type Fellowship or Ashoka Fellowship for super bright young professionals and undergrads under the age of 20, who are real early starters. The catch is however, that these smart chaps take an off from formal tertiary education for two years and spend time in pioneering their own research projects or commercial ventures. A 100k USD scholarship is a decent carrot for their prodigies. Dale Stephens, is a Thiel Fellow and founder of the Un College Movement, which believes College is way to perennial debt and 4 years of needless fun. He is formulating a firm which delivers self directed learning mechanisms. A graduation degree is an equivalent of a high school diploma, 30 years back. We are diagnosed with higher education degree dependence and paralysis. Now, one grad degree is not enough, its the age of double degrees, MD-MPH, MBA-MPP in simple words, one degree is passe! In the age of hyper connectivity and smart phones, data is ensconced in our consciousness. With TED, Open Courseware and multiple learning sources on the internet, learning is open source and free.  The Khan Academy, is providing school tuition classes for free online, which is accelerating the learning curve.

The Text book in this Web 2.0 era is obsolete. Wikipedia was a game changer in democratizing access to information. However, Access to Computers and High Speed Net Connectivity is a limiting factor in the developing world. In the next decade, as technology proliferates and penetrates the walled cities built by the digital divide, things will change for the better. Learning in ten years in a conventional classroom setting will be very technology dependent and will usher in the era of personalized education. The best of simulations and visualizations are available online for science and engineering. Almost almost all books and textbooks are available in e-version on peer to peer sharing websites. The education industry would have to radically shift its business model, if it has to stay relevant in the coming decade, as an alternative education model is evolving.