Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Onsite - Short Story

12th floor of Elements high raised apartments in Bellevue. My clock says it's 7:30; but now that the Americans have manually displaced time by 1 hr, forcing it to run faster; the time is actually believed to be 8:30 PM. You know... like a lie that's universally believed. I could see almost the entire town from my patio and in the nights, the view is at is best. I should admit it gives me the "I'm on top of the world" feeling; though the reality is that the world is sitting on top of me and in fact, crapping all over me. I'm an onsite coordinator in a consulting company here. What do I do? Oh well... that's kind of hard to explain in one sentence; but let me give it a shot. I talk to the dumbest people on earth, frequently termed as clients; and then pass on my version of their expectation from our company to the silver medalists - the offshore team. In this process, I would've to make sure that my boss makes money and I also come up with a lot of documents explaining what, how and when things ought to be done with a clear conception that nothing is going to go on the way I've explained. And yeah... I also interview people who are willing to be crapped on, train people with zilch programming knowledge and convert them into programming gurus (or at least make them believe they are one). With these believers, I ought to deliver above and beyond client expectations without thinking about any increase in pay, as recession has affected the job markets here. What? Coffee? No no no... I don't supply coffee; and in fact none does. Heard it's against the US labor laws; and the employees are supposed to brew their own hot water... err... coffee!

Enough said about me! Let me try to make a Memento (as in the movie remade in Tamizh as Gajini; not a token of remembrance, that usually comes down to a soap box or the cheapest trophy in the market) out of my moments.

5 years back... Chennai, India

Manager (Imagine a middle aged, wheatish, stout person with a head balded akin to a Samurai, dressed in an apple green shirt and a brown pant with a black belt and brown shoes): What are you going to do getting a promotion? Trust me it doesn't help. Will you take a word of advice?
Me (5 yrs younger and 15 kgs lighter): Tell me.
Manager: I'll initiate your US visa. That's the way to go buddy!
Me (Rolling Eyes): Oh!
Manager: So, we are settled here. *Grins*

1 day back...

Me: I just did a comparison of the client working set with the repo and I see a lot of differences
OTL: Yes. Looks like I didn't check in some changes into the repository.
Me: But you said it's all in sync.
OTL: Yeah. My local copy is in sync.

3 years back... Chennai, India

Manager: I tried really hard for your promotion this time. It looks like you would've surely got it if you joined our company a couple of weeks before.
Me: But...
Manager: Don't worry! I'll surely get it for you next time.
Me: (Thinking, this has become a fable now) What happened to my visa?
Manager: It's on its way. Embassy takes its time you know...
Me: When do you expect it to be done?
Manager: Pretty soon. Don't worry! So we are settled here. *Grins*

2 days back...

Client: I'm not going to pay for this month. You guys have done absolutely nothing in the past couple of months and you don't even know how to set up a basic repository.
Me: But I heard from the offshore team that everything is setup and working. There should be some communication gap somewhere. I'll personally look into it and address it.
Client: You better do it!

Same night

Me: What is happening? Why can't you even setup a repository correctly?
OTL: Everything is fine in our checks. I've compared my working set with the repository and everything is in there.
Me: Did you always keep your working copy in sync with the client working copy?
OTL: Yes.
Me: Sure?
OTL: Yeah. 100%

2 years and 1 day back... Chennai, India

(There is this group called immigration team that's supposed to help us out with Visa processing and other stuff; but what they do best is to scare the crap out of you and perhaps make you think that you need a special petition to continue your Indian citizenship)

Immigration Team Member: These are your documents. It contains the project description too. Keep it by-heart. If you don't answer a question right, your visa will be rejected.
Me (Beginning to sweat a little): Looks like the description doesn't meet the actual project that I'm going for.
ITM: I know! But this document is your bible. If you don't know it in and out, you are doomed! (dialog from "Full Metal Jacket" echoing in my ears... "This is my document. There are many others like it; but this one's mine. My document is my best friend...")
Me: Ok. Thank You.

1 year back...

* Outlook notifies an email from client *

"... A school kid will do a better programming than you guys and you completely failed to be of any value to us..."

* Sky is filled with darkness and night announces its presence *

Me: I've repeatedly told you how to fix these issues. I've presented the solution. I've given you the specifications. I've been there staying up all night long... What else do you expect me to do?
OTL: I know! But it's working in our local copy.

1 year, 11 months and 2 days back... American consulate, Chennai, India

* Mixed voices in fast forward motion *
"Your appointment letter and passport"
"Your documents"
"Join this line"
"Is this the correct document for H1-B stamping?"

Finally, in front of the immigration officer.
Officer: Good Morning! How are you?
Me: Fine. Thanks. My documents...
*Officer seriously typing something and I was wondering how she found out it's not the right project in my petition request *
Officer: What is your skill-set?
Me: Oh skills... Yeah... Java, J2EE, err... Smalltalk
Officer: Your petition is approved. You'll get your visa in 1 week.
Me: Huh?! Thanks!

1 year, 4 months back...

Me: "Looks like the build is completely unstable. There is nothing working"
Offshore team lead: It works in my local copy.
Me: Ok... Let's try to figure out what went wrong; and have our discussion tomorrow.

1 year, 6 months and 1 day back... Travel desk, Chennai, India

(Travel desk is a bunch of guys who help you travel from India to other countries in the longest possible route)

Agent: We're working on your tickets sir. Please wait.
* 3 hours pass by *
Agent: Don't be in a hurry sir! See... This gentleman has his flight tonight. We are working on his ticket and you have a full day left! Don't worry you'll be in US day after :)
* Dumbfounded and back to the lobby *
* 3 more hours pass by *
Agent: Here is your itinerary sir. Your destination is Seattle; and you will go from Chennai to Mumbai, Mumbai to Bangalore, Bangalore to Delhi, Delhi to Beijing, Beijing to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to San Francisco, San Francisco to...
Me: It's ok! I'll take care!

1 year and 6 months back... Sea-Tac airport, USA

* Telling myself * At last...

1 year, 5 months and 29 days back...

Boss: Hope you have settled in here.
* continues without waiting for an answer *
You have been assigned to project A and project B. You may have to do some development in project B; but project A is primarily coordination. Talk to Arun and he will give you all the information needed. Ok? Take it easy man! * smiles and leaves *

4 hrs back till now... Soliloquy

Is it really worth working with these guys?
Am I really doing the right thing?
Is this what I'm destined for?
* Questions flooding my brains *

What? Why am I not going back to India? Well... That's an interesting way of looking at it. You know... Hey just a sec. Offshore call guys. BRB!

Friday, April 9, 2010

The largest continent!

I'm not a big fan of gyms; but recently I was contemplating joining one primarily for diversion from this world of computers that I'm living in. As usual, the Libran in me chipped in and I was confused if I should make use of the apartment gym/swimming pool - though they look more like a store room and a water tank respectively - or I should pay like 30 bucks a month and drive 10 miles to get to the cheapest gym around. I didn't come to a conclusion, quite as expected; but I had an interesting experience.

Anyone who's spent some time in US, especially the US gyms would be able to tell the difference between the way a desi guy works out (I'm not talking about fitness freaks here); and an American works out. Most of the desi guys hardly have a clue as to what they should do next and they most often end up in the next available equipment! :)) It's kind of weird to describe but extremely funny to watch - like a pregnant cat trying to decide the place where it's going to deliver! When I went to the gym to do my case study, there was another desi guy there looking around and trying to figure out the best workout strategy. That made two of us and I was happy to know I had company... You know... You don't really feel all that silly when someone else is also doing what you are doing; even if you are doing the dumbest thing on earth! A feeling of being with the community :D

So I ended up in one of the treadmills (just so I don't like like I'm picnicking there :D) and started to walk at a snail pace; quietly observing the other guy. There was a TV at the far end of the gym and some night mode shots and a sand boa were combined in an attempt to scare the viewers. I decided not to look stupid and I stuck to my treadmill while this guy was cycling, weight-lifting, walking and jogging within 15-20 mins; and just as it goes with desi guys, we hardly exchanged smiles or names.

After a while, I felt I walked too much (the meter almost approached 0.5 miles which is too much :D) and I was just about to start back home when this guy started a conversation...

"Are you in C block?"
"No... E block"
"There are many desis in C block"
"Which part of India are you from?"
"Tamizh Nadu"
"I am AP" (like Gounder saying I yaam Mekanikal bullet jaaki) "My name is Raju"
"Where are you working"
...Told my office name...

Which technology, which client, how long have you been here and all other de-facto questions followed and I had no choice but to answer them all. Then came the most interesting part of the conversation.

"Did you see the program? They were showing big big snakes"
"Yeah" (Paamba paatthu dhaana bayandha)
"What was the name of the program... Big konda... no no Megakonda" (Konda = Mountain in Telugu :D)
"Here they have big big snakes..."
"Yeah! African snakes are quite large" (Thinking that he was talking about Anacondas)
"US and Europe snakes are also big."
* continues curiously *
"In Africa, is it big?"
"Yeah. Those snakes are supposed to be the largest"
"No no... I'm asking about the size of Africa"
"Yeah... It's quite big. After all, it's the second largest continent in the world"
"The largest is Europe?"
"Err... No Asia" (I thought Geography was mandatory till X grade)
"Oh... Next"
"Africa" (Adhaan sonnaenae da)
"North America and it goes all the way till Australia" (vittaa paadam nadattha cholluvaainga paola irukku)

...A short pause...

Me: "How long have you been in US" (out of curiosity and badly wanting to change topic)
Him: 6 years (Super la :D)

On a normal day, I would've extended the conversation to have fun; but I was in no mood the other day and the entertainment session ended there. I know that a vast majority of the American people (no offense meant) are ignorant of such basic facts; but for the first time I met an Indian who thought Europe was the largest continent in the world.