Saturday, April 20, 2019

Review: Why I Stopped Wearing My Socks

Why I Stopped Wearing My Socks Why I Stopped Wearing My Socks by Alok Kejriwal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a modern day book of fables, fables that are related to entrepreneurship. I found the book very honest and inspirational. This is the kind of book that should be made a compulsory read for students in high school and colleges. I loved the structure of the book, wherein the author recounts important incidents from his life, and finally summarizes the learning towards the end. My only regret is why did the author didn't write a longer book. Kudos to you Mr. Kejriwal!

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Review: Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work

Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work by Sarah Kessler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work, is written by Sarah Kessler, a reported at Quartz who writes about the future of work. Gigged sheds light on a very important change in our world today, the nature of work. Jobs, as they used to be, perhaps 20 or 30 years ago, are not the same anymore. You were hired by a company for a specific skill set, you worked 40 hours a week (or so), you were paid and you received a host of benefits. The nature of work is changing, and while this change was brought upon by the Gig economy start-ups, with AI on the scene and Robotics on the horizon, the momentum of this change will just continue to build up.

A point that has stuck with me the most is the hype and hoopla over "flexibility", "being your own boss" and being a "micro-preneur". Why do we need flexibility? Why can't I work with a boss? Flexibility is a nice to have. And it's nice to not have a horrible boss. But given the certainty, stability and security that usually accompanies a traditional job, is flexibility really that important? Is flexibility being marketed to all and sundry when the need for it is not as urgent as it seems.

While the book is about the Gig economy where employers distance themselves from employees and move to an independent contractor model, the book mentions a few companies that have taken the opposite approach. What do Starbucks, Shake Shack and Managed by Q have in common? They all reap the rewards of the good jobs strategy, espoused by Professor Zeynep Ton, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Operations Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. In the age of the gig economy, these companies have taken the road less traveled, and took pains to create good jobs for their employees.

In Gigged, the author has raised some very important questions about the future of work given in light of of the Gig economy and a wave of "Uber for X" startups. A very logical extension of this book would one where she tackles what might lie ahead given the advancements in AI, Robotics and Bio-engineering.

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Thursday, April 4, 2019

What is your favourite app and why?

I have been a smartphone user for about 7 years now and I have been a Product Manager for 5. In this time, I have used countless apps and worked on the development of a few. However, it was only a while back that this thought floated in my head - "Which app do I like the most, and why?" So I a made a list of apps that I know I use the most and draw the most value from . In no particular order, these apps are:
  1. Whatsapp
  2. Kindle
  3. Google Calendar
  4. Gmail
  5. Evernote
  6. Grab
  7. Samsung Internet
  8. Netflix
  9. Google Maps
  10. Waze
  11. LinkedIn
  12. WorkChat (by Facebook)
  13. Skype
  14. Zomato
  15. Banking App
  16. OneDrive
  17. Clock
  18. Spotify
  19. FB Messenger Lite
  20. Amazon Shopping
When I started compiling my list of apps, I realized that the statistics about app usage I have often come across did seem true. Like most people, I use about 10 apps on a daily basis, and around 20 to 30 apps on a monthly basis. Out of this list, the 20 apps listed above are the ones I think I draw the most value from. Another interesting fact is that 14 out of the 20 apps are free to use. And what about the ownership of these apps? 12 out of the 20 apps that I use the most fall under the following Tech empires:
  1. Alphabet: Gmail, Google calendar, Waze, Google Maps
  2. Microsoft: Skype, LinkedIn and Onedrive
  3. Facebook: Whatsapp,Workchat and FB Messenger Lite. I do not have Facebook or Instagram on my phone. Interesting, they are getting all the data to develop AI for Natural language processing.
  4. Amazon: Kindle and Amazon Shopping

After carefully considering how I engage with each of these apps, and the value I derive from them, Whatsapp seems to be clear winner. While I was thinking over the benefits I enjoyed, it dawned upon me that some of these benefits actually fall under Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.

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Whatsapp does a few things, but it does those things so well. It is an excellent app for messaging, sharing files, for audio and video calls. It even allows conference video and audio calls now. As a busy professional, with a working wife, a young child, Whatsapp seems to be the bridge connecting the different parts of my life. I use this app to communicate with my wife, my son, his nanny, my parents, sister, family and friends back in India and other parts of the World. I have different groups on which I am able to stay in touch with these people, who are so important to me. In this fashion, Whatsapp has been able to address my need for "Love/Belonging"

Whatsapp is also helping me learn. I was able to discover a very good group of people from all walks of life and parts of the world, who are all keen learners. We call this group the "Learner's Republic", and this group has been a source of knowledge, motivation and a place to share my thoughts as well. We talk about books, articles, movies and TV shows occasionally and other random topics. It has added a lot of value to my life. As an active member of this group, I have learned a lot and contributed a good number of times, which addresses my urge to learn and share my knowledge. I would say that in this fashion, Whatsapp is addressing my psychological needs for "Love/Belonging" and "Esteem"

I am also conducting business transactions on Whatsapp. As an Indian living in Metro Manila, there aren't many choices available to get good wholesome Indian food. One of the best options I have is a Whatsapp group started by fellow Indians who post menus for lunch and dinner on the group, collect orders and have it delivered. All I have to do is to choose my meal, pay for it online and send a screenshot. And the food promptly arrives. This is noting unique because the same thing can be accomplished through any messaging app. However, in my case, and I am sure there are millions like me, Whatsapp is helping me connect to a product or service provider in a convenient fashion. To an extend, this addresses my physiological needs.

In 2017, Whatsapp launched the live location feature, in which you can share your location with your contact, for 15 minutes, 1 hour or 8 hours. Your location will be updated in real time and be available to the person you shared with for the entire duration. This is such a useful feature. My wife and I use this feature almost on a daily basis, especially when we are traveling separately. And here is the cool part. If two people share their locations with each other simultaneously, and they are both in the same area (same city), they can see each other on the same map, at the same time. So if you are coordinating to meet at a common point, this is the best way to keep track of each other's location. What an amazing feature! I would say that through the live location feature, Whatsapp is addressing my safety needs, primarily because my family and I can keep track of each other very conveniently.

In India, whatsapp has launched a feature to enable payments via Unified Payments Interface. So that's another awesome solution to a common problem a lot of us have. There are so many other features that make this product so great. Take the way the chats sync when you are logged on to Whatsapp for web or desktop. It is almost instantaneous. Take the user interface. Clean, simple and elegant, it makes me want to use the app. The options in the settings are clearly labelled and self-explanatory, for the most part. Whatsapp also has some limitations. For instance, you cannot have a group with more than 256 members. But for the most part, whatever is missing from the app is non-essential for the time being. Everything said and done, it does its job really really well. Is is a surprise then that Whatsapp is the most used messaging app in the world, with 1.5 billion users and 1 billion daily active users? That's right. ONE BILLION people use Whatsapp daily. I fervently hope and pray that Facebook Inc. doesn't abuse this awesome power they have at their disposal. 

I am not aware of the features Whatsapp will be releasing in the future. However, the one thing that I can say for sure is whatever is released will work like a charm. Whatsapp has added a lot of value to users, and I personally wouldn't even mind paying a few dollars a month for it. But, it is free. As the saying goes, the best things in the world are truly free. Or, will Zuckerberg figure out a way to monetize whatsapp without us ever finding out!

That being said, what is your favourite app and why?

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Review: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 2014, a young and ambitious Oxford university under-grad Jim Watson had a bold idea. Inspired by the story of the success of Deepmind, and its acquisition by Google (now Alphabet), Jim dreamed of using AI to uncover the emotional state of a person using just a sentence long enough to be a tweet. Given the recent advancements, brilliant young Jim decided that the time was ripe to jump on the AI bandwagon and develop this world-changing product. So Jim dropped out of Oxford, and started the journey towards turning this audacious idea into a real product. Jim was incredibly inspired by Andrew Ng, one of the world's foremost experts of Machine learning and deep learning. So inspired, that he started wearing only blue shirts like his hero Andrew Ng, and decided to learn Mandarin as well.

So our charismatic, visionary and glib hero assembles a team of highly qualified people and starts developing the product. But no matter how sexy you make it sound or how brilliantly you talk about it, technology that IS magical cannot be developed magically through the flourish of a wand. It takes an inordinate amount of time, effort and resources, and some luck. Language is inherently complex and dynamic. It keeps changing. Developing an AI that understands human language is the one of the most difficult problems in the world and claiming to assess the emotional state of a person from a sentence long enough to be a tweet is a really tall order. But only idiots who are rooted to the ground and don't dare to dream big will be shaken by that. Visionaries like Watson who posses the ability to project a reality-distortion field can always find a way around any problem.

Given that the product was far from complete, Watson instead hired a small army of human translators, who apparently were only assisting to refine the algorithm, but in reality were doing the actual translation. Under a cloak of secrecy, through open and veiled threats, and a philosophy of "deceive-inveigle-obfuscate", Watson managed not only to keep the truth hidden, but convinced a host of luminaries from different walks of life that the technology existed, worked and was just a few months away from release. And in this fashion, Jim Watson managed to raise hopes, raise funds, raise his status and managed to create a company that was valued at close to ten billion dollars. Until the bubble burst.

The aforementioned Jim Watson is merely a figment of my imagination. If you replace the "tweet-long-sentence" with blood, change the product from emotional-analysis to blood testing, replace Andrew Ng with the late Steve Jobs, and Watson with Holmes, you basically have the plot of Bad Blood.

While reading the book, I kept repeating "I can't believe this really happened" and "How on earth is this even possible" to myself. How can you hoodwink a group of some of the smartest, most astute people in the world, be valued at $ 9 billion dollars and yet have a joke of a product? That too, in an industry which is regulated and which affects the lives of people. We are not talking about some dopey social media application or some gaming app. This product was designed to test BLOOD. Consider the ramifications of the testing going wrong. A false positive would potentially lead to more tests and/or treatment for a condition the patient does not have, in a country notorious for its extremely high health care costs. A false negative, could lead to a misdiagnosed or undiagnosed patient, assuming the caregiver doesn't order the test from another credible source. And who is to be blamed if such a patient dies because of this erroneous diagnosis?

The one thing that struck me the most was the extent to which the esteemed backers of Holmes defended her and could see nothing wrong with her. I fail to understand why. What kind of emotions would cloud your judgement to that extent, especially when the stakes are so high? I am sure in the ancient times, having such sway over people would have been deemed sorcery, and Holmes could have been branded a witch. Good for her, that we don't live in those times. Theranos was a veritable house of cards. Its product was vaporware. The ultimate lesson is that the proof is in the pudding. Any product, big or small, has to work consistently, all the time. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." Kudos to John Carreyrou for publishing the story. Bad Blood would be etched in my memory for a very long time.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was vaguely familiar with Trevor Noah, occasionally coming across his show in Netflix. I also stumbled upon the book numerous times, but besides a glance, I didn't engage with it. Until, I decided to listen to the book, which is narrated by Trevor himself. And I was hooked. Born a crime is tale of Trevor's childhood, his struggles as the son of a struggling single mother, as a colored child who didn't really fit anywhere, in the apartheid era of South Africa. What I appreciate the most about the book is that it is also a first hand account of what the apartheid was all about and how that system worked. The story, in parts is also a biographical account of Patricia Noah, who should be a celebrity of some sorts given how much she has endured without a trace of bitterness or self-pity in her personality, according to her son. I am looking forward to this artist's future works, be it books or stand-up acts.

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