Overheard : Communication

Mark Horstman, on his podcast about when not to use email (

No delivery of information is purely about information. Every delivery of information has some effect on the relationship that is formed during the communication or (relationship) that previously existed.

Overheard : Quote about Servant Leadership

Quote (or rather statement) by Arthur Brooks on Servant Leadership. Credits for capturing the statement and documenting it, goes to Bret Simmons.

“We in this country are facing a lack of visionary servant leadership. Any leader you can think of will say they are fighting for people, and this is a necessary but insufficient condition for being a leader, to fight for people that need you. But what we really need for real vision is level two and level three servant leadership. What’s level two servant leadership? It’s fighting for people that need you that you don’t need. Level three servant leadership is fighting for people who don’t like you. This is the problem, where we split into tribes where leaders only lead their followers.” Arthur Brooks, February 18, 2016, TED 2016, Vancouver, British Columbia

31 Days and 29 posts

In early March 2012, I decided to write at least one blog post per day for the whole month. How did I do? 29 posts in 31 days. I should acknowledge that I cheated a bit :), by blogging two posts in a day, but scheduling them to be published in different days.

My learning from the month long exercise?

  • There is truth to the adage “practice makes one perfect” :). The more I wrote, the quicker I was in getting the posts completed. I used to take a couple of weeks to a month in completing a post, but now, I can crank one out in a few minutes.
  • I stuck to the “perfect is the enemy of good” principal. Even though I knew that some of the posts were not as good as I wanted them to be, I kept posting them and then editing them later on.
  • More content = more traffic. Even if you don’t write earth shattering articles, there is just more content for the search engines to index you on. I saw an uptick in the traffic to the site in March.

Let’s see, how long I can keep it up.

And no.. this is not an April fools joke :).

HOW TO : Identify good talent

In the fortune magazine, there is a section (and for the life of me.. I cannot seem to find it online and I just cleared my dining table of all the back issues of the magazine 🙁 ) on how business leaders see trends in real life and than make judgements on where the economy is headed. For example, if someone sees a starbucks they visit regularly become more busier than normal, that person judges that the economy is doing well.

I judge good talent (think sysadmin, dba, programmer, application engineer etc) in a somewhat similar fashion. I should note that this system is not perfect, but it seems to have worked out more than not for me so far. I judge their talent based on what browser and how they use it.


Ever see a person who has multiple browsers (not tabs) open and is doing a specialized task in each one of them? Their home screen is usually set to a specialized search engine (blekko, duckduckgo, wolframalpha) and they have add-ons that block ads and show them a variety of information of the site they visit. These are usually the best folks to have on your team. These are the folks that you want your systems designed by.


This group tends to either use firefox or chrome. Has Google as their  home-page and know how to use multiple tabs. Yeah.. sorry, I a browser discriminator :). Since there can only be a few rock stars in the world, you should consider yourselves lucky if most of the members in your team belong to this group.


Ever see someone, whose homepage looks like Google but is not.. And has a bunch of “toolbars” that take up 1/3rd of the screen. And has popups showing up randomly? Yep.. these are the folks you don’t want touching your code. Even with a 10 foot pole.. no sir.. Having these folks move to firefox and/or chrome doesn’t help the situation either :).

Stay Hungry.. Stay Foolish

Just read a really nice article on the Harvard Business Review by Walter Isaacson on leadership lessons of Steve Jobs at .  There were a lot of points that Walter makes in the article, but the one that resonated a lot with me was the need to “Stay Hungy.. Stay Foolish“. This is similar to having a “hacker mentality”, which I believe is one of the key ingredient for a person to be successful (professionally and personally).

Being a hacker means..

  • being inquisitive about how things work.
  • always being a student
  • being able to challenge “this is how we always did things”
  • never stop perfecting
  • remembering that one can (and used to) survive on ramen  noodles 🙂

HOW TO : Move your life into the cloud

Nope… I am not too late to get on the “cloud” bandwagon :). I started writing this post in Dec 2009 and here’s a screenshot of my drafts to prove it 

And I have finally decided that it is time to complete the post and publish it.

I change laptops every 6 months or so and a lot of my friends ask me how I manage to swap them so quickly and yet stay productive. I am sure a lot of you can relate to this. It usually take a month or so to get your workstation to a “state” that you feel comfortable with and are productive. Here are the tricks/tools I use to make the switching of a laptop/desktop to be a no-brainer activity. And I utilize the “cloud” heavily for this.

I adhere to a couple of simple rules to make sure I can be productive anywhere, even in situations, where I don’t have my workstation with me.

  • Everything I produce should be searchable
  • Everything I produce should be available on the web
  • Everything I produce should be easy to share

With these principles in mind, here are the services I use..


  • SERVICE : I use flickr to store all my pictures. I have taken ~40 thousand pictures since 2003 and everyone of them is online at I wish, flickr was around when I was a kid, so that I had a place to store all the pictures from my childhood instead of rotting away in some old cardboard box. I like Flickr for it’s simplicity and ease of use. There are other sites that offer a lot more features, but the features offered by Flickr are are more than enough for me.
  • COST : $24.95/year to upload/store unlimited number of pictures
  • OTHER CHOICES : There are plenty of photo storing/sharing sites. Some of the popular ones are picasa, photobucket, facebook


  • SERVICE : I use dropbox to store any digital content I create. This overlaps a bit with the service I use to store documents I create. Dropbox is a service that allows you to synchronize files between different computers you have the agent installed on and at the same time stores them online for you. They offer 2GB of free space by default and you can earn more space by referring people to the service. (note : the links to dropbox are my referral links. If you sign up for the service, I get 250Mb of free space. If you don’t want to use the referral links, you can sign up for the service directly at would think 2GB is not a lot of space. But once you remove the music, movies and photos, you really don’t need a lot of space :). For example, I haven’t crossed 1.8 GB, even though I have an electronic record of all my important files all the way from 2006. All I do, when I switch to a new laptop is install the dropbox agent and voila all my files are downloaded and synced with the latest copies.
  • COST : free. If you need more space, dropbox offers it for a cost.
  • OTHER CHOICES : There’s plenty of competition for dropbox, but I don’t think anyone of them have come close to making the sharing/storage work as seamless as dropbox. Some of the popular ones are, SugarSync,wuala, Amazon Cloud Drive


  • SERVICE : I use Google Docs to create and store documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Since it’s inception in 2006 as a simple online editor and spreadsheets service, Google Docs has come a long way. There are few things you cannot do in Google Docs, that you can do in a full fledged productivity suite like Microsoft Office. Plus it gives you the capability to collaborate with other people when creating documents.
  • COST : free.
  • OTHER CHOICES : The only other service that comes close to Google Docs is Zoho Suites. Microsoft has a competing product, Office Live, but I think they are confused on how to market it because it will eat into their most profitable franchise (Microsoft Office)


  • SERVICE : I use Gmail for my email. Although there is a standalone version,  I use it as part of the services provided by Google Apps for my domain ( It offers free spam protection, 7GB of space and super fast search. What else can one ask for? 🙂
  • COST : free
  • OTHER CHOICES : There are several free email hosting providers. Some of the popular ones are hotmail, yahoo, aol


  • SERVICE : I strongly believe that all of us have to manage our online presence. And I don’t mean just for the folks that work in technology, but everyone that uses the Internet. And that is pretty much most of the people living on planet earth :). There are several ways to do this (and I think that is for a another blog post), but the simplest way is to ensure you have a place where you can broadcast your presence. I use this blog as a way to document my thoughts, share ideas and in general manage  my on-line presence. I host this blog on a virtual server that I lease from Rackspace.
  • COST : $11/month
  • OTHER CHOICES : I would not recommend what I am doing for most people. There are several free platforms that you can host your blog on. I just do it this way, because I like to tinker with technology. Some of the popular blogging platforms are tumblr, blogspot, wordpress, squarespace.

HOW TO : Data Driven approach towards building a high performance team

One of the virtues of a high performance team is that they take the time to fix “problems” and allocate energy to improving themselves. And we also know that most of the people we speak with say “they are overloaded” and cannot complete their day job itself. Forgot about spending that extra time to fix “problem”. So how does one develop a team that can not only do their day job but continue to improvise? Here is a game plan, I developed over the last few years that I have been managing people. It is data driven, and while it is not perfect, it helps out :). And the only tool I use is a simple spreadsheet.

STEP 1 : The beginning

Evaluate (make a list of) the services being offered by the team. You need to have an good understanding of what your team is providing to your customers. This will not only help you understand what is critical, but also provides insight into services you can cut (not your core competency). This is how stage 1 looks like in the spreadsheet. 

STEP 2 : Identify the SME

Now that you know what services are being offered by the team, identify a SME (Subject Matter Expert) for each service. This is the guy/gal that knows this area in an out. If you don’t have a SME, take a resource that you know has the potential and make them the SME. Once I identify the SME, I make it very clear to them that they own that particular area and the entire team depends on them for support. This helps in creating ownership and professional pride. At this stage the spreadsheet looks like this 

STEP 3 : Backup

Things get interesting from here. You know what you are offering and you have a SME for each of those offerings. If you get to this stage, you are probably already better than 50% of the workforce (note : This is my personal statistic :).. ). At this point, I speak with the SME and give them a simple task.

    • Document the top 3 things you do on a regular basis.
    • Identify someone from your team that you would like to make as your backup. Train them on the top 3 things.

With the backups in place, my team is probably better than 75% of the workforce. Not only do we have a SME, but we have a backup to them. I think it is futile to have the backup resource know everything about a particular service offerings. There are always going to be SMEs and no matter how hard you try there will be some knowledge that is never going to get transferred (willingly or unwillingly). That’s the reason, I concentrate on the most common activities. The spreadsheet keeps evolving :). 

STEP 4 : Nirvana (Backup to the Backup)

This is where you start to become a high performance team. Have the SME and the backup identify another resource in the team to be added to their “group”. If the SME has documented the top 3 activities and trained his backup by now, I ask him/her to document the next 3 activities and train both the backup resources. At this stage, you will start to notice something amazing

    • You team will have time to fix “problems”. Because the SME is not just firefighting all the time. She has a group to fight the fire with. Which means she will get time to fix the root cause.
    • The group starts to improve the service offerings. Again, because they are a group and start taking pride in the services they own.
    • People can go on vacation and not worry about what is happening to their babies (work 🙂 ).
    • You as the manager will start seeing areas and resources that are not optimized. i.e. services not having enough backup, resources being stretched across multiple services. This gives me the chance to fix these shortcomings. And I can go to my boss with the data.

If you have come to this stage, consider yourself a hero :). As the Marines say, you have joined the ranks of “The Few and the Proud” 🙂 . By now the spreadsheet gets pretty colorful. 

Based on the size of your team, you can continue to add backups to the SME. I try to get to a state where the entire team can do 70% of the activities and we need a SME for only 30% of the activities. Why this 70/30 ratio? Because I think that is an easily achievable (but not something most of the teams do) target and anything over that is counterproductive. i.e. you are trying to get the SME spend so much time to share the last 30% percent that they might not have time for the original reason for setting up the backups (i.e. to give time to the SMEs to improve the services).

Any suggestions on improving this?