Monday, August 31, 2009

Notes for freshers trying to get a job in IT

There is a recession and the market is bad for freshers trying to enter the software industry. Graduates who were offered jobs in campus interviews have been asked to wait by companies. Companies have dropped out of campus interviews for this year. I know that last year many freshers who were being trained were laid off (almost the entire batch in my last company).
Things are looking bad for people looking into stepping into the software industry for the first time. On the other hand, if you have a couple of years of software experience, things do not look so bad - companies still are recruting people with minimal experience.
In this post, I will try to give some advice on how to tide across these times. I will follow it up with a primer for freshers about the workings of an IT corporation and career paths.

My Credentials
I was a VP in a medium sized company for some time. Among other responsibilities I was one of the primary trainers for incoming freshers. I set up syllabus for such training, and also evaluated freshers regularly. I have been an interviewer on campus a few times. I have also evaluated computer training companies for outsourcing our training.

Why do Freshers fare worse in a recession?
Let us say I am running an IT company. I have projects coming in "pipelines". I have a set of current projects and they may be expanding or closing down. These projects may be in different technologies (such as Java, .NET) and therefore moving people around in these may be a problem.
An IT company constantly faces manpower issues. People tell us that the main reason is "employee turnover". That is, employees keep leaving companies in search of better jobs. But that is a small part of the problem.
Unlike manufacturing companies, software work cannot be transferred easily from one person to another. In manufacturing companies, producing a piece of a product (such as a telephone) takes the same amount of work for each telephone. Reproducing each product the same way is the main focus in manufacturing. Thus there is lots of manual, repetitive work.
But in a software company, reproducing a software or packaging it in a CD is trivial. It does not take any effort. The main problem in software is CREATING it according to specs.
Thus the avreage worker in IT needs to be much more qualified and intelligent than the average worker in other industries.
So, when a new project comes in, finding the RIGHT person for a role in that project is a big pain in software. Even if you have ten people sitting in bench, it may be difficult finding the right person.
I as an IT company owner, find staffing and recruitment difficult. I decide that I may run my business more profitably if I found smart people from college. The college already has a built in evaluation system, so I depend on that system to find smart people.
In India, seeking computer science engineers alone does not help me. A person passing as a computer science engineer, with high marks, still may have NO idea about what a company needs right away. I will come to this later, but that is the nature of the university degrees here. Particularly in computers. It is not so bad in electronics or in automobile industry. I joined an electronics company when I passed out of college. I got no training, but I was productive in two days, fixing circuit boards. That does not happen with software so much.
So companies end up seeking college grads, and then training them for two to three months. For an actual productive work, it takes upto 6 months of hand holding for a fresher - even if they are from a computer science background.
But companies still do it, because they can justify the costs. Freshers are likely to stay longer in a company. They are also paid less. And they are less dmeanding from the company. There are several advantages to investing in freshers.
But they all disappear in a recession - because the lack of projects and mass layoffs flood the market. All of the above advantages now also apply to experienced engineers in a recession. So, companies end up not recruting freshers.

Training Courses and Certifications
There are different modes in which companies recruit outside campus. They have walkins. They have a referral system - so if you know someone's friend, it helps (nothing wrong with that).
Meanwhile, you are sitting at home, trying to decide your next course of action. Your parents are worried and they want you to do something to get a job.
In this situation, I see many freshers take a standrad approach - they join computer courses to learn more. They write certifications or other exams.
My opinion is that these are useless. I can tell you right away that computer courses have ZERO value for a recruiter. In my opinion they are a waste of money.
So are certifications, unless you actually use that as an opportunity to learn. The certification that a fresher shows is simply a way for recruiters to ask questions in that direction. The certificate itself has no value.
I have evaluated software training companies to determine if we can outsource training from my last company. I interviewed people from some premium training companies. The trainers had NO idea about technology. They themselves had no grasp of concepts - they needed training themselves.
There are three types of training companies:
1. Top-tier like NIIT - In my opinion, these are bad too. But they may have some value because they have placement services. But they are costly.
2. Second tier - these guys want to be NIIT but they are really really bad. They are affected by the lack of good trainers.
3. Third grade scamsters - these guys will promise a job and have other scams up their sleeves. They are evil - stay away from them.
My advice is, do not spend money on computer training courses. Recruiters do not respect them. In fact there are people who even disrespect if you went to NIIT. If you have an engineering degree or an MCA, they are of much more value than computer training certs.

In times of recession, as I explained above, companies are not going to train you. They want someone they can put on a project and can be productive in atleast a week.
If you can prove that you can do that, you can get a job.
Let us assume there are walk-ins or you get a referral through a someone you know. The aptitude test part of it is over and you are about to face an interview. Let me tell you what I would like from a fresher.
I would like him/her NOT to be a fresher. (From now on we will assume the fresher is a female).

Seriously, I would look for proof of the following (much of this assumes a web development project):
1. She should know HTML, CSS and Javascript - no excuses. When I say HTML, I don't mean creating a list with a marquee flowing on top. Do NOT list plain HTML in your resume, without including CSS and Javascript. And learn CSS and Javascript.
Your BEST hope as a fresher is to know HTML, Javascript, CSS, and then ASP.NET or JSP or PHP. That is the correct combination for an entry level position without training.
2. That she knows a language such as Java, C#, Visual Basic .NET or PHP. It is not acceptable to say you know C or C++. You are unlikely to get a job with C or C++. Don't even list C in your resume if you know one of the other languages.
3. That she has worked in a project that makes "business sense". Address Book is NOT a project we like to hear. Instead if you said you worked in creating a website for you college library, it is slightly better. If you had created a web application for managing your syllabus and project work at college, still better. If you had actually built a website for someone's electronic store, you are ideal.
That means you understand the complexity of a actual web application. Hopefully all that you are saying can be justified when the recruiter further questions you.

Employable Skills
As a fresher, your job is to learn employable skills. I mentioned above the knowledge that can get you a job. Let me break it down a little bit more below. Again, I am talking about a company mostly performing web or desktop development - not writing embedded software.
1. You should be familiar with an editor such as Eclipse, Netbeans or Visual Studio.NET. Eclipse is the best bet. It is also free.
2. Given a photoshop layout of a webpage, you should be able to lay it out in HTML. This is a key skill. It requires lots of work to learn.
3. You should be able to write a simple "Register" form and save it to the database in any platform such as .NET, Java or PHP. You don't need to know all of them - just one platform is fine.
4. You should know standard algorithms such as reversing a string or sorting a list in either Java, C#, VB.NET. I do not like to ask these myself, but people still ask these questions.
5. You should know how the web works - cookies, query strings, going from one page to another (redirects), session state and other ideas.
6. You should know how to design a couple of database tables with foreign key relations (normalization).
7. You should know basic SQL. Inserts, selects, updates, deletes and joins.
8. Try to know what source control or version controling system is. Knowing the concept or having someone demo it to you is enough.
9. You should be able to create "reusable" controls in ASP.NET or JSP or PHP.
10. You should know how to "validate" a form on the client side - making sure phone numbers are correct etc.

How do I gain these skills?
Here is my advice on how you can go about building these skills:
If you are in college or just out of college, prepare to do some learning of your own. Forget about computer courses and certifications. I will give you a small path for learning PHP. You need a computer at home or a friend's home.
1. Buy a book. You have to learn some things from books, no other way. Spend money and buy the Wrox press book "Apache, PHP and MYSQL".
2. Follow the instructions in the book to download Apache, PHP and MySQL and install them separately.
3. Follow the few examples in the book and build simple web pages.
4. Take a website you like. Choose a simple page in that site. It can be a complaint page or a contact us page. Even use my website When you view it, the images will be downloaded to your computer. Take them and use HTML and CSS to build the exact same page as it looks on your browser. Try this in IE and Firefox.
5. I think there is a Wrox press book called HTML, Javascript and CSS. Buy it and use it to learn CSS and Javascript.

After these steps, try to do a couple of simple projects - one is the famous Address Book. Others should be more complicated, such as a bookstore.
My point is this - if you have computer access, then get a couple of books and SELF-LEARN. There are numerous resources in the internet to help you learn programming. If you face a problem such as "How do I restart Apache?" just search in Google and you will find hundreds of pages.
Remember when you learnt how the television works in school? After that whenever you looked at a television you can understand how it works. Understanding websites is like that. Once you build a couple yourself, you can understand how any webaite works. Take a look at Google. Try to figure out how it works. How does Yahoo mail or gmail work? It is easy to figure this out from the bookstore example, believe me.
If you walked into an interview with the above skills under your belt and listed in your resume, it is likely you will get a job.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Myths on Careers

My nephew is doing post-grad in Aerospace. We were recently chatting, when he said that from the age of five, Astronomy had been his dream and he wanted to be an astronaut all his life.
I was somewhat skeptical - you see, I knew him from the time he was a baby. He does not even own a telescope at home (they can afford it). I have never heard him talking about astronomy; nor seen him read books related to that subject.
I think my nephew was falling into a trap laid by popular culture - which is the idea that people have "dreams" about their careers from very early in life and that they should "follow their dreams".
I know the message sounds all optimistic - but it makes no practical sense. Yet, in advertisements, Disney movies and media we find this meme - that we all have some kind of destiny and that we should strive to fulfill it.

Can We Decide When Young?2.
Increasingly, we are also told that we have to decide our careers very early in life. This is a repeated theme in Hollywood movies. Our advertisements nakedly exploit this - with children spouting lines about becoming a pilot or a computer programmer.
The idea that we have talents, I agree with. But those talents are more at the abstract level - it is impossible to decide very early on in life if you are going to be a computer programmer. Just as you cannot decide if you are going to be a lawyer or an auditor or an archaeologist.
At some level we all understand this when it comes to a career like law or accounting. But when it comes to "engineering" and other such romantic careers, we are told that we should "dream" and "follow our dreams".
There is an effort to make us believe that our dreams as children matter. I think that effort is simply putting more pressure on parents and children - on parents to "discover" their kid's talents very early on; and for children to decide their talents early and then stick to it, even though they may be completely wrong about it.
In one way, this is the age old game of trying to maintain a competitive advantage in our society - it has nothing to do with dreams or following those dreams.

The Truth about Career Dreams
The truth is this: most people decide their career based on financial reasons. This is true both in India and abroad. I know plenty of American programmers who are from finance, medicine, chemistry and other backgrounds. There is NOTHING wrong with deciding your career based on financial considerations.
Let us say, in spite of this, that we should follow our dreams. The question is, practically, for the majority of the population, at what point would you even know what your "dream" career is.
This is why I believe popular culture is sending the wrong message. I think it takes a long time, even into adulthood before you can understand what you are REALLY good at. And that is fine. Most people will end up working on something we are average at. That is fine too.
One of my cousins said she decided to be in the media very early on in life. Maybe. Did she even know what role she would play in the media? Doubtful. I mean, media includes roles from project management, production design, writing to several on-stage and off-stage roles. I think, instead, she decided to specialize in media when she entered adulthood, but then re-invented her passion for it and projected it to her childhood.

My Career
When I was in fifth standard I wanted to be an archaeologist. Then I wanted to be an astronomer, bus driver, wandering sanyasi, temple poojari, writer, reader (if someone would pay for it) and countless other professions.
It is obvious that I had no idea what a "profession" meant. I did have a talent for writing. But it was not very well-honed then.
Now, it would be absurd for me to say that I wanted to be in computers from when I was young. Why? Because I did not know what a computer was till my second year in college.
A bunch of my classmates were studying in NIIT at that time. Me and some friends were into Physics. We thought the guys studying computers were betraying Physics. We wouldn't talk to them.
This hatred for computers continued into engineering college. When it was time to choose what jobs we were interested in, I chose Elecronics and then Communications. I did not select computer software as a campus interview choice.
Then in my final year in engineering college, I realized something fundamental - I was an Electronics engineer, but I could not even solder two wires together. In fact, I sucked at building anything using electronics. Some of my classmates were building their own transistor radios and even micro computers. But I was a "theoretical electronics" guy.
This inability to handle anything mechanical must be an inherited bug in my genes. But as luck would have it, this bug pushed me into software.
When we had to choose our final year project, I had two choices. One was building some kind of electronic triggering system for cars or something. The other was a "simulation" project in which I had to program a communication system in a computer.
Since I knew that if I created any electronice triggering system, it would likely blow up when the car started, I decided to go for the simulation project.
Well, 15 years later, I am still programming.
Do I like it? Of course. I am free to make and break things while building them - without any cost consequences (atleast not compared to the real world). I like what I am doing.
But it took me many years to like it.
My point is that my story is far more typical. Getting a job you like is rare. The idea that you can "dream" about a specific career when you are young is just a myth. It takes well into adulthood to figure out what we like and why we like it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Speaking "Indian" at work and public

When the Australian race attacks happened, as I noted here, commenters said that Austalians did not like Indians talking in their native languages in public.
In India itself, there is an uniquely Indian aspect to this controversy that refuses to die. This post is about that controversy and what it means for our society.

The Stereotype
When I left for the United States back in 1999, one of my HR briefers in India told me not to talk in Tamil at work. At that time I did not question that. I just accepted it.
In the States, some of my colleagues were from North India, and we fell into the habit of talking in Hindi when together(I learnt Hindi from them).
But I was surprised that in the online forums and chatrooms there was always an accusation that if a group of people speaking Indian language X got together they were very rude and continued to speak in language X at work (where X could be Tamil, Telugu, Hindi or Malayalam). That is, almost every Indian group was accusing other groups of talking in their own language at work.
When I came back to India I myself had an argument with a drunk guy who made the general accusation at Tamil speakers and I wrote about that here.
It was obvious to me, then, that like several other derogatory stereotypes about the diferent ethnic groups (such as North Indians smell or South Indians speak bad English), this was simply another stereotype. No particular ethnic group "uniquely" misbehaved at work and nor was any other ethnic group "well-behaved". Just as Telugu people are unfairly accused of faking resumes (everyone does it; it is a competitive country) similarly the stereotype is that when a bunch of Tamils or Bengalis get together at work, they talk in their native languages.
But stereotypes have consequences.

The English-Only company
Recently a company I know passed a HR "policy" that all conversations other than water-cooler types or at lunch time, should be in English. I have no idea how they would implement this in practice, without imposing a kinder-garten like atmosphere. But this post is not about that.
The question I have is this. Who decided that talking in your native language among other people who speak that same language is somehow "rude"?
India has 200 different languages and within every three or four hundred kilometers you encounter a new language. When we were growing up, there were people speaking different languages all around us. And this is definitely true in this day.
When you went to public places or in school, you always came across people who speak in different languages among themselves. It never "offended" anybody.
On the other hand countries like America and Australia have a "melting-pot" metaphor. In these countries racism takes different forms - ONE of those forms is the anger against people speaking in different languages among themselves.
That is, the INTOLERANCE that Americans, the British or Australians show to linguistic diversity is not a GOOD feature of their society. It is actually profoundly insensitive and xenophobic.
My point is that we have taken this remarkably stupid insensitivity and then tried to develop the same insensitivity in INDIA - which is against any common sense. This is a country which should be celebrating linguistic diversity. Instead, the modern Indian at work and in public is encouraged to frown on people speaking a different language among themselves. Why? Because they do so in the West.
So, now we have people turning up their collective noses when a few developers talk in Tamil or Telugu or Hindi.
What is the result? As I explained in this post, it is not as if we are all trained by super English teachers. Most of us talk bad English anyway. So we end up talking butler English at work just to prove someone's point and power.

If you are in a meeting and a bunch of people are talking in a language you don't know, then why not simply let them know you don't know the language? Why is that such a bad option?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Is the USA headed for civil war?

I wanted to get this out first.
Last year there was some commotion around the prediction of a Russian politician that the USA was headed for civil war. At that time the Sarah Palin nomination (as VP candidate for the Republican Party) had just split the country into unbelieving independents and democrats on the one side; and a fired up "conservative" base of Evangelicals and neo-conservatives. Still almost every commentator dismissed the civil war prediction as too far-fetched.
Fast-forward to this year - post the Obama inauguration, the Republican party and its base have been getting crazier and crazier. Unhinged is too mild a word for these lunatics. For any neutral observer, this is the current situation:
1. An array of right-wing pundits such as Rush Limbaugh(radio), Glenn Beck (Fox) and Bill O'Reilly (Fox) have been equating Obama's administration with the Nazis and have been talking about "driving a stake through the heart" of the admin. They have been calling any policy move by Obama and the progressive Democrats as "tyranny" and "socialism".
Any intelligent debate has been cancelled out by applying terms such as socialism and Marxism to policies such as healthcare. Right now, there is neither an attempt to debate nor any interest by the entire right-wing intelligentsia.
2. A set of "astro-turf" groups calling themselves Tea-baggers have become a channel for expressing incredible racism and anger against the democrats and Obama in particular. These groups have shown zero understanding of policy issues, but scream "tyranny" and "socialism" against a legitimately elected government.
3. Another group of people called the "Birthers" have been expressing the conspiracy theory that Obama is a Manchurian candidate and that he is not an American citizen. Apparently more than 60% of Republicans believe that the current President of the USA is not a citizen of the uSA and therefore consider his election illegitimate.
4. What is more shocking is that the Republican Party leadership falls in line with their party's most lunatic fringe. They show no interest in contradicting or controlling these conspiracy theories.
5. At present the Republican Party has the lowest approval rating in history. It has beocme a party of the American South, and has become a refuge for racists, white supremacists and Christian fundamentalists.
6. One of the starkest battles going on right now is the healthcare debate. The "public option" proposed by the progressives is neither out-of-the-world, nor is it socialism. The Democratic congressmen have been organizing town hall meetings to discuss the healthcare reform bill. Right-wing thugs such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and a few Republican operatives have sought to disrupt these townhalls with screaming mobs who are not even there to discuss policy.

Right now, it seems the Republican party has been taken over by its ultra-right fringe. There have been several instances of lone gunmen shooting and killing innocent people since the election.
Both the deeply racist and fundamentalist crowds seem to have come together mainly because the Republican leadership is lost. At this point, particularly after the town hall meetings fiasco, it is obvious that the right-wing is taking more and more steps to push their agenda by fascist, violent means.
Thus, they consider the current president illegitimate for reasons of race; and because of a conspiracy theory that he was not born in the USA. They think Obama is a secret Marxist. They think the government is engaging in tyranny and have been advocating revolution.
At this point a civil war breaking out does not seem remote. I think we will see more acts of violence and more incitement to violence by right-wing leaders and their followers.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Profile of Eve Teasers

When I was living in Nungambakkam, around 1992, an incident happened in the road behind our house. A college girl was driving a scooter. Two guys saw her driving and decided to harass her. They drove near her and kept aggressively pushing her off the road. At one point, the girl lost balance and fell down. A passing bus hit and crushed her.
The guys were nowhere to be found and I am guessing nobody got caught.
This incident was one of the earliest incidents of "eve-teasing" (a very benign term describing a horrible murderous affliction in Indian cities) that burst into news. It was following this incident and the death of another girl near Ethiraj college that police started deploying women's brigades in plain clothes. Every year brought its own outrages - including the incident at Satyam theater a few years back - the daughter of an army officer was hit repeatedly in full public view; an intervening police man beaten up. In that incident the girl's family decided to drop all charges because the guy involved was a politician's son.
The problem of eve-teasing, is, of course, not specific to Chennai. Jammu and Delhi are said to be the worst in India.
Now, our society has dealt with this problem in different ways - the usual suspects have shown up and blamed the women themselves. Police, in their typical clueless way started harassing lovers sitting in parks and beaches. All these are known.
What is also known is that "star" dumb asses such as actors Vijay and Surya started justifying and promoting violence against women in their movies. They have hidden behind the usual excuse of "oh, the story writer wrote it - I just acted in the movie" while taking all praise and money for "their" movie successes. Whether movies influence society or it is the other way around is a separate topic. But there is no doubt that these guys tried to make money by appealing to chauvinism in "their" fans. I also have no doubt that the classic Indian rich guy defense of "I-can-do-anything-for-money" will be taken by these star clowns. I sometimes wish for militant feminism so that women chase these guys down the road with chappals and broomsticks.
Before I go on to the main purpose of this post, please take your time and read through the Blank Noise website. It has some of the most moving accounts of the victims of eveteasing. They are also trying to get something done about it. All help to them.

The Profiles of Eve-Teasers
You see, when I was in high school at Madurai, I had a few friends with whom I used to hang out. Generally we used to commute to school together. Some of these guys were interested in "eve-teasing". Because we were in the same class, I knew a lot about them.
I again came in contact with such guys in Chennai when I was in college.
In our media, just as "terrorist" (Theeviravaadhi) has become a term without any meaning, eve-teasing also has becme detached from the actual meaning. For example, an eve-teaser is treated as if he is a separate species (like a terrorist in a Vijaykanth movie). The true motives and psychology of such a person is not probed. This allows movie stars to harass women in their movies but at the same time punish "eve-teasers". The hypocrisy does not bother them. If a "good" guy, with "love" in his mind harasses "his" woman that is fine. It is just not proper for those eve-teaser bastards to do it.
In my contact with classmates and neighborhood little guys who engaged in eve-teasing, this is what I found:
1. First of all, the eve-teaser was extremely afraid of his parents. All these brave guys who whistle at women and yell at them - they usually had a father who would beat them in circles OUTSIDE their homes if the fathers found out what was going on.
2. The eve-teaser did not like to be alone. He was at his bravest when there were 10 big guys around him from his own college or school to protect him. If there were a lot of people, he would scream, whistle and "have fun". Instead if he was alone, all his bravery left him. He would sneak around with eyes averted. His courage comes from anonymity and the mob.
This is why you see guys who yell at women from a passing bus or motorbike.
3. What the eve-teaser values (from my observation and hindsight) is not really feminine contact. He values two things:
a. He wants desperately to be respected by his friends. His self-worth springs from his friends' approval. This is probably because his parents have not given enough self-worth to him. The female, in this case, is simply a tool - she is the best shortcut to win approval from his friends. Movies get this completely wrong - a guy who loves a woman does not go about whistling at her in public. In most cases, the eve-teaser's hope is to do something dangerous and win approval from his gang-brothers.
There were guys among my classmates who would dream up something new to impress friends every day. They would cackle loudly in public without having said anything remotely funny. In short, they were pathetic.
b. The second thing, in order, that some of them have, is a fear of women. It is hard to explain this - our society being very conservative, kids are brought up in boys-only or girls-only schools and colleges. For these guys (not all of them), women are a completely scary mystery. They get annoyed by women behaving normally in public places - somehow they see an unconnected woman laughing at a joke in a busstand as a threat to themselves.
I don't know what causes this great insecurity - but it is tragic for the guys and for the women who end up getting harassed.
I have seen some of my classmates show anger at something as simple as a woman walking confidently. It is an extreme resentment.
Again, this has nothing to do with the women themselves. Most of the time they are unaware that they are provoking this resentment just by being themselves.

Thus you see that BOTH the reasons why guys indulge in eve-teasing have little to do with sex, love or with the women's dress (as some magazines keep insinuating). It has to do with the inner demons in a teen-aged or even adult man in our society. It is very much a psychological issue.
Thus this problem can never be solved by compartmentalizing men and women further. In fact eve-teasing has somewhat gone down recently in Chennai mainly because men and women are working together more and more.
The only way to solve it is through education, particularly sex-education, and encouraging co-education schools. The more you are self-aware, the less you would engage in a mob-activity.

4. Now, from the above description, it may seem that the eve-teaser is a pathetic little guy. But we hear all the time (as in the Satyam complex incident) about powerful politicians' sons engaging in this "sport". How do we explain that?
From my observation, I would say 95% of guys who engage in eve-teasing have NO political or any other connection. What they are HOPING though, is that you would THINK they had such connections. As I said, a single call to one of their fathers would have them crapping in their pants.
But their approach seems to work. A couple of years back, my wife beat the hell out of a guy in a Chennai road. When we were narrating this to a woman colleague, she said, "what if he had come back with some goons?". This happens only in movies. Almost all the time the eve-teaser has no support from anyone. He is hoping that you would be scared of him, thinking he has political connections. But he has none.

5. What movies provide in the case of eve-teasing, is not (as some people think) a direct encouragement. By showing women in a belittled fashion and spouting comments about women's dresses, what "actors" like Vijay and Surya provide is a MORAL justification for guys who may feel squeamish about it. What they provide is a moral framework in which a random person can assault a woman and harass her. Eve-teasing will not stop if these movie actors stopped doing it - but at least society will not have to engage in these stupid arguments about women's dresses in a problem that has nothing to do with women.

Again, this problem is not going to go away with deterrence or punishment. It needs a systemic approach.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Notes to my new-born son

Welcome to the world. I thought I may as well let you know a few things about myself and this planet, in that order. It may help you understand me better, but it also makes for a good blog.
First of all, your father was not a genius growing up. This is important - because you may see my current IQ level and may conclude that your father has always been the smartest man on earth. This is not so - I had great difficulty crossing 50 marks in mathematics all through secondary school.
Nor was your father so ultra-cool growing up. It is hard to be ultra-cool when you are forced to wear "drawers" till 10th std. It leaves a scar all through your life.
How do I explain, then, the current super-coolness and super-smartness that I radiate on my person?
The answer is simple - coolness and smartness automatically are thrust on you when you cross 35. This is because no one expects you to be cool when you are 35.
So, the first lesson of life is this - do not worry about iPODs;or the latest mobile phone models. You will be cool when you are 35 and the coolness then grows with every year (along with your irritation factor).

You mayask what motivates your father's political views. I was a community organizer at 4th std. It is TRUE that I organized my fellow classmates, particularly the boys, against the tyranny of the class leader, Sri Vidhya. At one point, as a mark of protest, I wrote "Sri Vidhya Down Down" all over the blackboard. This shows that I was willing to seek peaceful means of disapproval.
Unfortunately, the teacher did not see it that way - she used violent means such as thrashing the hell out of me; and other forms of initimidation. I had to give up my protest at that point, but it was a strategic retreat.
There is no doubt that it was this early exposure to state power that has made me radical and still helps me protest injustice in peaceful ways. I consider myself a modern day Che Guevara, ever ready to protest the tyranny of class leaders and project managers. I fiercely fight entrenched interests by writing anonymous blogs.

Your father was interested in literature from the time he was in 5th std. One of his earliest poems (written in a fit of literary excitement) was this:
Today, one who is in sorrow
Comes to me tomorrow

I had the word "tomorrow" and then spent two hours searching for a rhyming word. Then I chose the title and the subject.
Poetry IS that simple. Start with a word and then find rhyming words. It is like a game.
I also was influenced heavily by the writer Sujatha. At one point I wrote a really complex detective story in which, just from some water near a dead body, the detective figures out that there is a giant conspiracy to overturn India's elected government. What really helped the detective was that I, the writer, knew exactly what happened.
Writing stories and poems is a family tradition - I want you to continue it. Do not worry about publishing them. Nobody would publish them anyway. We have something called the internet. We can always publish there.

The other art your father is very good at is singing. Our neighbors may not agree, but I sacrificed my whole childhood in singing practice. I am not going to rest until I get acknowledged as a good singer. If I can't, it is your turn - I am willing to sacrifice your childhood for the same purpose.
Unfortunately, the whole idea of "rhythm" is not helping me. I don't know why drums or mridangam have to start playing at the same time I am singing. I have tried to signal them to stop but it is of no use.
At least, I want you to be in the college orchestra or music troupe. I never succeeded in this. They always gave me really weird songs to sing. Such as the songs sung in movies by blind beggars or by drunk vagabonds. Maybe you can improve this situation.

What is your father's profession? What does he DO? How does he earn money?
Long before your father was born, someone discovered the software project manager. Then they invented the computer because the project manager wanted to manage something.
Technology stagnated at this point until someone found that Indians could write software programs for computers. Once they found that, a half a billion Indians jumped up and started learning the C language.
Your father was one of them.
Now, I know that you see your father pottering around the house ALL the time and never see him leave the house and go to "work" like other fathers. You may be wondering where the money comes from. You may be worried about your future purchases such as train toys and Deepavali firecrackers. Has your father been laid off?
No - your father does something that only people who work in computers can do - he works "from home". This means he is available ALL the time to change diapers. Isn't that fun?
No, you can't go to school "from home".