Friday, July 23, 2010

Lying while leaving IT companies

A few days back, a fresher (2009 batch) came to meet me at home. A month earlier, he had started working for a huge MNC in Chennai. He had been looking for work more than an year and finally this clicked.
Except that they had him attending training in QA instead of his core interest - database programming. He had a certificate in Java. [Nothing wrong with QA. Just that this guy was not interested in it]
In the meantime, a company which had actually offered him in campus (but then had made him wait through the recession) came back. They were recruiting again and they could have him working in Java.
The fresher faced a dilemma - he had attended work at the MNC for a month, in pretty much pointless training. He wanted to quit. He had not signed any bond. He wanted to know if he could resign; and whether there would be any problems.
I advised him to tell the HR in the MNC the truth. Tell them you were bored with testing and you had decided to leave. Let them know the situation and then leave.
He went and told them the truth.
I will tell you what happened at the end of this post. But before that let me rant about IT companies a bit.

The Lying Culture
I had posted earlier about a white guy who asked me if lying was in the Indian culture. I have seen HR and line managers in IT complaining that people are not honest. "Why don't they just tell the truth about leaving?", they say.
You know why they don't tell the truth? Because you can't handle the truth.

IT Employees lie when they say grandma is dying and they are moving back to the village and tilling the field; when they say (I am not making this up) resigning and starting an MBA school; when they say they are moving to another city and starting a company for selling churidaars.
They lie and say anything to get away from YOU.
Because they know you are power hungry. You have THE POWER - to ruin an employee's life by lying in background checks. They know how vindictive you are - that if the management asked you to go after someone you would do that. You would call up people you know at the destination company and ask them to "be warned" about this "nasty developer you have just recruited". They know you will delay the (legally mandated) relieving order. They KNOW you will exercise your power.

I know all of this happens; we all know all of this happens. Yet HR and Managers have the gall to complain about lying when we leave a company. Of course, we lie. We lie so that we can leave in peace. In any culture, people do not come after you if you are bereaved about a death. So we have to say that our long-dead grandma is dead again.
If we just said, "I am leaving your company and joining the company over there", would you all shut up and bless us with the sacred relieving order?
No, you would talk to us for 15 days about staying, going onsite, giving a promotion, threatening to talk to our parents (believe me, has happened), and so on and on.
In India sane IT employees do not let you know which company they are joining next. When a bunch of people behave that way, it is fair to ask the question why? To say "It is cultural" means you are a moron. The answer is, of course, that we are worried about the nature of people with power, some power, any power.
Because people with power always choose to exercise it.

My Experience Not Lying
I resigned from a big Indian services company when I was in the USA. I had been with them for 2.5 years. I decided to stay in the USA, while they wanted me to go back offshore and work on a project.
I had completed ALL the transitions for my onsite work. The offshore team was already set up for 6 months. If I left, it was not a big loss. I was not leaving at a critical time - it was a maintenance project. I had done all I could (along with the excellent onsite lead) to operate the project smoothly.
I resigned by email and let them know I was giving two weeks notice. I told them I was joining another company.
The Account Manager onsite called me and harangued for 2 hours. He said it was unethical for me to leave at all (nice try; it was not). He insulted me to his heart's content. I said I was available for the two weeks notice period. But he said it was not necessary.
Did I deserve the call or the insults? No, but I am sure he enjoyed it.
I met one of my classmates last week and he tells me that the idea around my former company was that I had "ditched" the company. I was surprised because he had joined a few years after I left, and I am not that famous a person. But I got confirmation from a couple of other people.
So, to recap - I had resigned; given notice; and left. That is ditching. And it is so bad as to make an example out of it.
What I should REALLY have said to the Account Manager is this: "My grandma in the USA has died. In her last will she wanted me to leave your company. How can I ignore that?"
By the way, the Account Manager "ditched" a few months later.

What happened to the Fresher?

The fresher (you should read from the beginning) went and told them he was leaving them and HR freaked out. They found out that they had not got the bond signed. So they asked him to stay back for two months - although it served no purpose;he was in training, and no revenue would be gained.
He went the next day and said his father was sick and they HAD to move to Bangalore because his father's whole family was there. They shut up.
If HR will shut up only on hearing lies (that everyone know are lies), that is what HR will hear. You don't have to dig through culture to find that out.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Grandma and the movie Gentleman

When television first spread across Tirunelveli, there were people who frowned at the development. Television viewing was a community endeavor - you could expect half the street to be at your home for the Sunday movie.
My father got a television in 1986 - it is still at his home.
At that time people would visit other people's homes and find that they were not welcome. They were not as interesting as "Vayalum Vaazhvum". If you went to someone's house between 7:30 and 8:30PM on a Friday (Oliyum Oliyum or Chitrahaar time), you would probably have a lifelong enemy.
Now, from the safe distance of 25 years, I can see that we were going through a transition to more nuclear communities. Nothing wrong with that, but it created some tension.

The Idealistic Balu

During that time, my father was associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). It was a tumultous period, about to get more tumulty between 1989 and 1992, a period that ended in the criminal demolition of the Babri Masjid.
High ranking Tamil Nadu VHP cadre would visit our home pretty often.

There was a young VHP member named Balu stationed in Tirunelveli at that time. He was a extremely polite, nice person. His family wanted him to marry and settle down. But Balu was a nationalist. He (along with many others in the "Sangh Parivaar") had no plans to marry. He was waiting for Akhand Bharat (a future plan of the RSS in which India, Pakistan and Bangladesh will reunify and form a mighty nation of software programmers).
Balu visited our home often. He had a lot of respect for my father and mother. They tried to tell him to marry, but he was not convinced.
Then my father bought a television.
Initially we had Doordarshan, Hindi, telecast from Kodaikkaanal. Our family still maintained a rule - if a visitor came in, we were to switch off the television. The switching off was easy in 1986 - while watching the news with Rajiv Gandhi's face plastered all the time.
The next year Tamil programs started coming in from Chennai. Balu still was visiting our home, but my father had a noticeable disinterest in Akhand Bharat, or in reclaiming the Dalit-Muslims of Meenakshipuram. He was talking about avoiding "social commitments".

The Ringing of Temple Bells

Soon we left Tirunelveli. My father was slowly disengaging from VHP and RSS contacts. But the fires of communalism were burning bright across India. Apparently not everyone had bought televisions. Advani started going around in Raths, pretending to rescue Lord Ram from a 500 year old affront.

On Dec 6 1992, a couple of my classmates came to meet me at home. They wanted me to accompany them to the nearby temple; apparently there was to be a peaceful protest by ringing temple bells for the Ayodhya temple at 12 Noon.
What really happened in Ayodhya at 12 Noon was far from peaceful. That is now history. But why didn't I accompany my classmates to the temple-bell-ringing?
Because there was a new movie on the cable channel at 12 Noon.

My Grandma and the movie Gentleman

Cable television had just arrived for the Chennai middle class. Music director A.R.Rahman had also arrived on the scene. Mani Ratnam was at his peak. The Chennai film institute cameramen had just begun to kick butt.
That was the early 90s.
From that time on, my family was completely hooked on cable. There were several new channels within a couple of years. Further, we all were proud that "our" cable channels telecast even the newest movies immediately. We had no idea about piracy or copyrights. We just thought the new cable technology guys were hooked with the movie makers and all of them were telecasting arabic sub-titled Tamil movies in our television purely out of benevolence.
Time to introduce my grandmother.

My grandma was the bestest grandma in the whole wide world.
She was smart, the sanest one in the family. She was around 90 and managed most of her tasks herself - even though she was blind by then.
I had a habit of narrating world events (she was completely briefed on the First Gulf War). I kept her abreast of the progress of the Agni missile. Our only point of difference in politics was that she believed the Nehru family were royal. I tried to educate her about democracy (she had voted many times in her life). But she was very emphatic on that.
Apart from these, I also told her stories of the movies I watched. She usually did not like the stories much. She would listen to the whole thing and then say "Bad story" and walk away.
When the movie Gentleman was released, we all went bravely to Vetri theater, Chromepet; fought in the crowd; got tickets; and watched the debut of director Shankar. As you all probably know, that movie cannot be "seen with family". It had too much eroticism, and was not subtle. But the movie is very, very fast. It is just spectacular.
I came home and narrated the story (editing out the nasty parts) to my grandma. Surprisingly, she liked the story. She had a lot of sympathy for "Kicha" as the lead character was called. She also understood that the very rhythmic song "Ottakatha Kattikko" was from this movie.
Within a few days the cable company announced they will be telecasting Gentleman that Sunday afternoon.
Sunday afternoon, I asked my father and mother and brother to sit together and watch the movie. This rarely happens; we all usually end up fighting. But that day we were all ready and it seemed that we could watch the movie without beating each other up.

The doorbell chimed at 12 Noon.
It was Balu.
Balu who? Yes, the same Balu who was the tireless worker for VHP, whom we last met running around Tirunelveli.
After five years, Balu had finally gotten married. But he was still passionate, I think. He had brought along his new wife to meet his ideal family.
Unfortunately the television was on. And Arjun was beating up people in it.
We all sat down. The conversation was mostly one-sided. Nobody switched off the TV.
Balu kept talking and we all kept watching television.
I think he was slightly disillusioned. His wife fidgeted in her seat. Surely, Balu must have thought, there must be some remnant of that old dignified family.
Then "Ottakatha Kattikko" started. There was commotion in one of the inner rooms. The door slammed open and my grandma came feeling her way to the living room.
She said, "Is it Gentleman?"
I said, "Yes, Grandma"
"Oh, that poor Kicha. He tries so hard, but the police is after him", said Grandma.
And then she started keeping time for "Ottakatha Kattikko".

Balu left and we never heard from him again.

It makes you wonder - If everyone in the country had cable television in 1992, that old Masjid may still be standing.