Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Bangalore Adventure, part 3: Settling in

What a relief, in my apartment and "home" at last! I just crashed and slept until about 2 PM Bangalore time Saturday, that’s about a 12 hour nap. By then, it was too far into the day to feel ambitious so I decided to just unpack, assess the apartment and get a feel for what’s inside the Diamond District, plus figure out what to do about food (I had packed a few emergency rations like tuna and Lipton noodles, just in case.)

The apartment is a service apartment, which means it is always being let out to transient workers like me; nobody has intended it to be a permanent home, so it has the usual chips, cracks, splotches, and quick fix patches. It's spartan, but clean, roomy and bright. It feels a lot like Rogers Park, I’m going to Loyola and just moved out of my dorm and into an apartment with another girl and we got all this furniture at an “antique” shop on Broadway near Wilson Avenue (if you know Chicago, you’ll know what I mean).

Looking toward the kitchen. The colors are nicely coordinated -- dark woods, white leather and white walls, maroon, orange, or lavender accents, white marble tile floors. In a few places, the wood is just bare plywood – like my bed which is a platform bed bigger than the mattress it holds. You can tell there used to be bigger mattress because the platform under the mattress has a border of black paint to match the box sides but the border stops short of the mattress and shows about four inches of raw wood stamped with the manufacturer’s markings. But that's ok because I read in the local newspaper that the majority of Indians still sleep on the floor, certainly many from necessity, but also for some by choice (try googling "sleeping on floor in India").

I decide the place needs some decoration. There are a few small paintings but also two empty shadow boxes on the living room wall, just black rectangles hanging there, and a bare bolt in my bedroom where another wall hanging or mirror used to be. I make a mental note to look for decorative items.

Balcony view of the park by marjorie pries. We have a nice balcony with potted palms and a pretty view, especially at sunrise, sunset and night. It looks into the interior of the Diamond District, which is mostly a park and swimming pool for the residents. Being a pretty serious birdwatcher, I was really excited to step out on the balcony and look for my first Indian bird. Rock dove by Wyojones, Creative Commons.

There it was … a rock dove! AKA, a pigeon, the same thing you see millions of in Chicago and every other city.

Later I did see a different bird with dramatic bands of white on its wings when it flew. Turned out to be a common myna, which is more than just common, it’s like the starling of Bangalore. So, maybe the birding scene is not going to be that exciting here.

common Myna, by Sergey Yeliseev, Creative Commons.

There is a little apartment directory by the telephone. Just like in a hotel. It says there are two restaurants, two groceries, a beauty salon, a fitness center, a dry cleaners, etc. but it could be outdated. I decide to get out and investigate on my own.

But first, how about a shower! It’s a two-bedroom apartment. One of the other trainers, Deepali, will be my roommate but she won't get in until Monday. My room has a separate bath (shower only, no tub) across the hall; Deepali’s room has a private bath. I have a full-size bed, she has twins; bothj bedrooms have room-size air conditioners, lockable cupboards and wardrobes, full-length mirrors and small writing desks; I have a sliding door out to the balcony; she has a TV. So I guess it all evens out.

The bath is equipped with the basics -- towels, soap, shampoo. Inexplicably, there’s a mothball in every sink. I’ve never seen this before. Maybe it’s a trick to keep bugs from crawling out of the pipes. Or it’s a low-cost air freshener substitute. Yes, that’s it. Later in the week Sharlene, another trainer, told me that her apartment on the first floor was subject to intermittent swamp gas odors from the drains. There's a lot of press coverage about water and sewer management issues; Bangalore has had so much growth the past few years, infrastructure is really stretched to keep up.

I get in the shower. No hot water. Great! There’s a small hot water heater attached to the wall above the toilet. Pipes go up into it. I wonder if maybe some valves need to be opened. It’s too high for me to look at closely so I take a cold shower. Later that day, while trying to figure out the light switches, I discover there’s a wall switch outside the bathroom that turns on the water heater. Maybe that is the problem.

I’m freshly dressed and ready to take a walk. The building manager knocks on the door. “Here is today’s paper. Is everything fine in the apartment? Would you like cleaning today” “Yes, it’s fine. No, they can come tomorrow.” “Ok, tomorrow then, madame. Enjoy your stay.” That was nice.

Now, how about that walk? No, wait a minute. Paul hasn’t heard from me in two days. I should send him an email, he’ll be waking up in Chicago soon. The apartment comes equipped with wireless internet so I switch it on. There is some very faint scribbling on the modem, a number that looks like 4567890. Once the computer fires up, I get the prompt to enter the network password. I enter 4567890. The wireless reports that it is connected but I can’t get on to the internet. Great! Another thing to deal with.

Maybe it’s just a temporary outage of some sort. Well, I'm not going to fool around with it now, I just want to get out and walk around.

To be continued: the Diamond District up close.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My Bangalore Adventure Part 2: Where's my apartment?

There I was, in Bangalore at about 2 in the morning, without an apartment, with all my luggage in a car parked in front of an office building while the driver and I are in an elevator going up to the ThoughtWorks office. It is a short ride, since ThoughtWorks' main office is on the second floor.

The elevator door opens and the place is almost pitch black except for a small night light across from the elevator. For a second or two, I think the office is deserted. It is also very hot. Bang! The driver slams his hand on a counter, a chair on wheels crashes into a file cabinet, and a security guard appears out of the darkness.

The driver says a few words to him, it doesn't sound like English to me, and the guard gives him a set of keys. The driver and the guard show the keys to me. I see that the tag says A-77 and sign for them. "Ok, Come on," the driver says to me and we get back in the elevator.

The apartment apparently is in the building across the service drive from the office so we get all of the luggage out of the car, walk past another security guard at an outdoor post, cross an open courtyard and get in another elevator. The luggage barely fits and the door closes on us about three times while we try to get everything in. We go up to the seventh floor and get hit about three times by the elevator door while we take the luggage out.

The nearest apartment says A-78 and over to my left at the end of the hall is an open door labeled A-77. Through that door is a little receiving area with rattan sofa and potted palm, a closed door and a flight of stairs going off to the left. Here it is at last, my apartment!

I try the keys in that second door. They don't work.

I tell the driver they don't work. "No, no. Try it again." I do that. They don't work. Rerun the previous sentences. This time there's a man's voice on the other side of the door. "Bruh-burh-burgh." I can't make out the words but it's a grumpy voice. I tell the driver, "Look, there's somebody in there. There's some kind of mistake. this is not my apartment." The driver says to ring the bell.

"I'm not going to ring the bell, there's somebody in there already. We've got the wrong apartment." The driver rings the bell about three times. Then he wants to try the keys again. Suddenly the door opens and an angry, naked Australian or English man wrapped in a sheet looks out and says something like, "If the bloody keys don't work, then you've got the effin' wrong apartment. Now leave me alone!"

"See, I told you." I said to the driver.

The driver gets an "Ah-ha!" look on his face and says," I know, come on." We haul all the luggage back to the elevator, struggle with the door to get it all in again, go down to the first floor and struggle to get it all out. The driver knocks on an apartment door and in a few seconds a guy appears with clothes on. He seems to be either a friend of the driver or an employee of the building or both. They talk a little. The guy looks at my keys. The tag says A-77-PH. He says something else to the driver and the driver gets another enlightened expression on his face.

"Come on," he says and we get back in the elevator. We go up to the seventh floor. We go through the door marked A-77 but this time we haul ourselves and all the luggage up that flight of stairs to the left.

It's actually a flight, a landing and another flight. At the top are two doors. Neither are marked but the driver points to one and tells me to try the keys. They work! I've found my room! Apparently, I've been given the penthouse suite.

To be continued: My first weekend in Bangalore.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Bangalore Adventure Part 1: Getting there

Flying to Bangalore from Chicago is a long flight -- about 20 hours including the connection time in Paris -- but not too bad if you 're comfortable sleeping on planes. I had the good luck to get a good price on an Air France flight. Flying Air France is very nice. They pour you a little glass of champagne for starters and it doesn’t cost $6 and not even $4; it’s free! (Although I think it’s really sparkling wine from the Pays d’Oc.) The wine with dinner is free too. And the dinners are not bad either…personal-size French bread loaves, couscous & smoked salmon salad, chicken in mushroom sauce with garlic mashed potatoes, vanilla custard and orange-cranberry cake. I could help myself to Perrier in the galley, too.

So that part was all very good. But I did have one brief moment of panic. My ticket from Chicago said arrival would be at gate E-something in Paris and depart from gate C84. In Paris all the monitors showed the Bangalore gate was now C91. No big deal, except transferring passengers had to go to a bus pick-up zone, wait for a bus, drive a long way over to the C gates, then go through a Security check (only 2 lanes open), all over again.

After that, there was only enough time to buy a box of chocolates for the office (a ThoughtWorks tradition), go to the ladies room and get in the line that was boarding the plane at gate C91. I liked my seat and had more legroom than the first flight so I was happily distracted in a book by the time the plane pulled away from the gate and started taxiing to the runway.

Just about then, I vaguely heard the captain say something about seatbelts and/or electronic devices blah-blah-blah "until we arrive in Pakistan"….. WHHAT!!!! Did he say really say Pakistan??! Did I get on the wrong plane??????

The map in the Air France magazine didn’t even show an Air France connection in Pakistan. What to do? I decided it was too late to do anything and if this plane really was going to Pakistan, they’d have to sort it out at that end. Thankfully, about an hour later, the menu cards came out with French and South Indian options, along with a swine flu questionnaire and information card from the Indian state of Karnataka, so I knew for sure I was really headed for Bangalore.

Arriving at Bangalore International Airport was pretty ordinary and about as efficient as anywhere else. After we de-planed, we had to queue up and go through the scanners again (but not the full shoes-off, laptops out scanning). Mysteriously, after about two-thirds of the passengers had gone through, a guard shut the line down and waved the rest of us on to customs unscanned. All the customs personnel wore face masks to safeguard against swine flu and were very interested in checking for anybody who looked the slightest bit ill. The lines moved pretty fast, faster than it took for the luggage to arrive.

I had an email that said a driver would be there to meet me and he would have the keys to my apartment in an envelope addressed to me. Very simple, very typical, I think. So when I step out into the taxi/pick-up area, there is a long line of drivers holding signs for different people from different companies. I walk up and down the line twice. Nothing with my name or ThoughtWorks on it. On the third pass, as I get near the far end of the line, I catch a glimpse of a driver I hadn't seen before folding up a sign that said ThoughtWorks and walking away. Maybe he had always been there at the back of the crowd. Maybe I was just too tired.

I yell, "Hey! ThoughtWorks!" three or four times until one of the other drivers catches him and points me out. Yes, the sign he is holding is for me. It's not exactly the precision pick-up I had imagined but not a disaster, either.

We hauled the luggage; two suitcases, a backpack, and my computer case a long way to the parking lot. It's sometime past midnight and really dark so I can't see much about the surroundings. We load up the car, but it's a small car (almost all the cars here are small to tiny) so one suitcase has to go in the front seat. He pays the parking attendant and we start driving.

And driving. And driving. Drive. Drive. Drive. Occasionally we beep at somebody for changing lanes or trying to enter the road ahead of us. Others beep at us for the same reasons. Drive. Drive. Beep. Beep. Drive. Beep.

Mostly the scenery is very dark. Just basic outlines of buildings or fences and palm trees. Since it is too dark to see much, it feels a lot like driving through LA on Highway 101 --the parts with all the old-time, low-rise motels and low-rent strip malls. Every once in awhile there is a glimpse of some fantastic oriental fairyland type of structure, it's a bus stand or subway entrance; there's a small temple-like building, then some interesting houses with iron gates, colorful shutters and thick plaster walls and balconies. For awhile we drove past a dark spot with lots of trees. They gave the air a spicy aroma, almost like smelling cookies. After that came a stretch that looked and smelled like a refinery or chemical distribution center.

Then we were driving past military bases. The state and regional HQ for the Army and Air Force are in Bangalore. These were bases with long histories; you could tell by the brick walls and large trees on the grounds. We also passed a large western-style church in a very traditional cathedral style. Next came a big hospital and some type of science academy. I had studied a map before leaving Chicago and I knew all of these things were along Airport Road. What I didn't know was where the Diamond District fit in. That's the name of the complex where ThoughtWorks and its corporate apartments are located.

I see that the road signs are pointing ahead for the central business area. Then suddenly I see the most fabulous pink building. It's several stories tall and really spread out with arches and elaborate columns and figures in costumes. There is a sign that says Leela Palace and I am thinking it is a restored palace or temple that is in use now for theatrical performances or cultural events. I really want to know more about this place (and I do find out more on Sunday), but it is close to 2 AM on Saturday and the driver has made a hard right and is driving several hundred yards back the way we came. He goes though a gate beside an office building, stops the car and says, "Here's ThoughtWorks."

"I don't want to go to ThoughtWorks," I say. "That's where I work. Nobody's working there now. You're supposed to take me to my apartment." "No," he says. "We go to ThoughtWorks. You have to go up there." "No. You're supposed to get me to my apartment." "We have to go to ThoughtWorks. Come, I'll show you." He starts to get out of the car. "What? And take all these bags up there?" I have a vision of sleeping on the floor outside the office door. "No, leave it. It'll be OK." I hold on to my laptop and backpack anyway and we get out of the car and into the elevator in the lobby. We are going up to ThoughtWorks.

Next installment: When do I really get to my apartment ?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Throughtput: Changing the people

First, I just want to mention that I haven't posted anything for a month because I've been really distracted with my current assignment, which is three months in India (Bangalore) to be a trainer for ThoughtWorks University -- an intensive six week introduction to consulting and software development the TW way for entry-level new hires. I'll start blogging about that in my next post. But now, more about throughput:

In my previous post on this topic, I said that if you felt you weren't getting sufficient business value in each release, or it took too long between releases, then you had a process and/or people problem. I wrote that people problems required changing the people.

I want to clarify that. Superficially, it would seem that I am recommending getting rid of staff. That's one solution but not necessarily the right solution. Changing people may also mean making changes to people's job descriptions and assignments. Remix the people who make decisions about new features and enhancements. Add some new faces or switch/promote people into different roles.

It may also mean changing how you relate to your staff so that people understand you expect them to be creative and innovative about the software and the decision process. Let them know they'll score more points with you by taking chances, and you will support them, even when some of their ideas don't pan out as well as others.

Chapter 7 of Scott Berkun's new book, "The Myths of Innovation", does a very good job of explaining the tension between innovating and managing. On page 96, he writes: "... few managers recognize that their training and experience, designed to protect what exists, work against the forces needed for innovation ..."

On page 98, he quotes from Peter Drucker, "... management tends to believe that anything that has lasted for a fair amount of time must be normal and go on forever. Anything that contradicts what we have come to consider a law of nature is then rejected as unsound."

Finally, on page 100, Berkun writes, "... most management, most of the time, is sensibly directed at maintaining good business.... However, when managers raise the flag of innovation, the goals change, and the methods must follow. Many depend solely on Taylorism-inspired behavior .... as a rule ... they avoid all risks, never yield creative authority and operate with self-centric hierarchical control over the flow of ideas."

That's thing that has to change, the behavior, not necessarily the staff composition.