On Writing

I have been writing for quite some time now. I started blogging as soon as I got out of college. I have been writing on and off since then, but in the last one year, I have been successful in maintaining a writing streak. I have always wanted to write regularly; it is only now that I have been successful at it. A significant impetus to the writing streak was the realization that I was becoming a passive consumer and not a producer. I am a voracious reader, and at one point, I realized that I was consuming stuff without putting out anything of my own. Off-late, I have been promoting my posts a bit more aggressively due to which I have received bouquets as well as brickbats. A couple of questions have come my way along the lines of how do you manage to write so regularly, where do you get the ideas from and some trepidations people go through when they want to express their opinion in public.

I write for myself; this might sound like a cliche with a lot of writers claiming so, but you need to start writing to get this. Writing is like having a structured conversation with oneself; it is therapeutic. It helps to bring clarity to a lot of ideas I have. It also helps me to develop a rubric for thinking and decision making which aids me at work as well as in my personal life. Every day I make tons of decisions, creating a framework for this helps me to evaluate the choices objectively and get better at it. Writing helps me to reinforce the process to make these decisions.

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One of the trepidations that most face when it comes to putting out their opinion in public is whether it is good enough, what will others think? Whenever I look at my past writings, I have a terrible feeling in my stomach. I can spot quite a bit of grammatical errors, half-baked ideas, and poorly constructed phrases. I am sure I will feel the same about this post in future. But, you get better by doing, not by not doing, hence, if I write more, I should get progressively better at it, at least, that is the hope. Seeing this from the lens of a journey rather than a destination helps. Ask yourself the question; what is more important to you? Is it your image in other’s eyes or your improvement? What do you prioritize?

What if I write something which I no longer believe to be true? It does not matter. If your views and thoughts are not constantly evolving, there is something wrong. If your beliefs are changing, it means that you are getting exposed to diverse ideas and opinions and you are continually updating your thoughts. A better way to put it is; strong opinions, loosely held. My writings are a reflection of my views at a particular point in time; they may very well change in the future. Wise people understand this.

Another common misconception everyone has is that one has to write something long and unique. Even I held this view earlier, but I have changed. I no longer believe that writings have to span pages to be effective. Shorter essays are equally palatable and powerful. Haikus, proverbs, and parables are some examples of short useful musings. Even if you voice something that someone has written before but color it in your perspective, it adds a lot of value.

How do I write?
I have a rough idea in mind. I draft that. I sleep over it for a couple of days, editing it now and then. I try to shorten it as much as possible nuking unnecessary words and sentences. When I feel I have been moderately successful in communicating the concept effectively, I publish it. After posting, I find numerous ways in which I could have done it better, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

I am writing this in the hope that I can enthuse others to start writing more often.

Ingratitude

Zoho’s domain was inaccessible for a while. This is an embarrassing event for a software organization.

Whenever I hear of events like this, I am reminded of a couple of pages in “The Black Swan“. Taleb calls it “A new kind of ingratitude”.

The idea presented by Taleb essentially boils down to a person who takes steps to prevent something catastrophic from happening. Since that person has taken steps to prevent the catastrophe, the catastrophe never occurs. Thus the person never gets his due and dies a silent hero.

This is a very fascinating thought that keeps repeating in all aspects of life. Whenever it floods, we make a big deal of politicians who fold their sleeves and get into action. What about that politician who took the necessary steps to prevent flooding?

Whenever there is a production issue at work and a team goes out of their way to put out the fire, that team is lauded. What about those teams that took steps to prevent something like this from occurring in the first place?

Software security is one big area that falls in this category. If you have a great security team, life would go on humming silently. You need to have the right tech leadership to recognize this otherwise it falls bang into ingratitude category.

This is a very obvious thought but Taleb has done a great job of giving structure to this idea. If you keep your eyes open, you see this happening around you all the time.

Kwery

When I was at FreeCharge, I did a lot of data engineering. One of the recurring patterns that I saw was:
1. A new product or feature gets launched.
2. The PM wants to schedule a report for her feature.
3. The report should run at a particular frequency.
4. The PM along with others from the C-team should get this report in their inbox.

We had hundreds of reports like this at FreeCharge. We explored tools like Redash, Metabase, etc; but all these tools were geared towards creating beautiful dashboards and visualizations; report generation and report delivery through email were given a step motherly treatment. We hacked together a solution to solve this problem with bash/Python scripts, GIT, Jenkins, etc. The business analysis team wrote the query to generate the report, but they had to depend on the engineering team to schedule the report, create HTML and deliver it over email. One of the goals of the solution was to make the business and product teams self-reliant in report generation. Since the solution was stitched together using different tools that were not meant to solve this problem, it worked but had its chinks; this seeded the thoughts for Kwery in my mind.

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Kwery is a tool that solves the above niche problem well. It was also an attempt at building a single person lifestyle business that could supplement my regular income. I followed a lot of lean startup principles while building Kwery; made an MVP, deployed it at an organization that had the above pressing problem and then iterated from there.

With Kwery, initially, I had to take a call as to whether to make it a SAS product or an in-house deployment. I decided against the SAS route as I was not sure how many organizations would be comfortable giving complete access to their data sources to an external fledgling SAS tool. I wanted to make the onboarding process of Kwery as simple as possible. Hence, I shunned all external dependencies for Kwery, opted for an embedded database so that I could package Kwery as a single binary. The only dependency needed to run Kwery is a Java 8 runtime.

I deployed Kwery in a couple of places which use it even today. Kwery has received a lot of love from them, but I never hit the numbers that I had in mind when I started. The opportunity cost was bearing on me. I had to take a call between continuing to work on Kwery or cutting my losses and moving on; I chose the latter.

Like the old saying – Every cloud has a silver lining, I have open sourced Kwery under MIT license. It is very easy to get started with Kwery. Give it a spin, open Github issues if you face any trouble. Pull requests are very much welcome.

Pay The Price

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Obstacle racer Amelia Boone says that she is not able to devote enough time to friends and family due to the demands of her tough training regime. That is the price she pays for being on top of her sports.

In the movie HEAT, Robert De Niro says – “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” That is the price he pays for being a master thief.

Michael Mauboussin says his quest for knowledge means he misses out on latest series like Game Of Thrones. That is the price he pays for being a crème de la crème investor.

I feel one of the reasons why people give up something too soon or midway is they have not figured out the price they have to pay for doing it.

Everything that one does has a price. Sometimes it is implicit, sometimes not. Better to figure it out beforehand.