Friday, December 30, 2005

      2005 Year End Review

Year end again. I have this habit of reviewing my achievements and mistakes in the year. At the same time, I will set new goals for the new year ahead. This is part of the life-long learning journey for me to continually progress myself; mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Coincidentally, this is the 3rd month of my sabbatical. Hopefully, I will be getting a job soon in 2006.

This sabbatical has allowed me to read and reflect a lot on myself. A career change requires myself to review my personality, strength, weaknesses, likes, dislikes in order to understand what is the type of career that I should next undertake. As I have mentioned before, loving your job is no longer a luxury in the 21st century; it is a pre-requisite to life-long employability.

My years in NxGen was lost amidst a cacophony of work and deadlines. I was lost in striving to achieve the best possible standard. Many times, I forgot the need to maintain good relationship with people around me. My thoughts were usually negative, and I grew critical, harsh and was very unhappy. Although I have always pride myself on my high IQ, I failed to realize that my EQ was very low. I failed to be the guiding light and model that I wanted to be. Instead I was a destructor of others' confidence. Sigh... How blind I was.

But all is not lost; the thorough reading has opened my eyes to a much wider horizon, and I see better now.

Not only in personal terms; career wise, I've learn that a successful IT career takes more than knowing technicalities. Business issues have a large part of influence and should have their fair share of considerations as well. The challenge today is that people either knows technical stuff OR business stuff, causing a wide communication gap that hinders success of many IT projects. I hope my new find perspectives and knowledge will enable me to become that bridge and bring about more success stories.

Initially, many people questioned why I quitted without finding another job, and sacrificing my year end bonus. That insinuated rashness, stupidity, and created much dismay for me. I wanted to leave for a sabbatical, yet in Singapore context, where financial security takes very high precedence over personal growth, many cannot understand the importance of a sabbatical. On looking back now, I do not regret my decision then. I have new found perspective and confidence, with knowledge that I lavish to contribute to in my new career ahead. Knowledge is something money cannot buy.

2006 will be a new and exciting year for me. It will be a year where I shed my old shell, and be a happy man; a model and a guiding light to people around me. A character that I've always wanted to be.

      My First Toastmasters Session

Nearly end of 2005 already. Time flies; it always does.

I attended the first Toastmasters session today. During this sabbatical, I've discovered that I have really poor communication skills. Hence I thought this might be an avenue for me to learn about effective communication. It was with much ambivalence before I stepped into the venue. The room was full of strangers. I had to make myself attend.

Instead, it turned out a fun and interesting event. It was a good practice ground for presentations, and to learn to mix around with people from different walks of life, different age groups. The atmosphere was encompassing. The people there made me feel welcomed.

On evaluating others’ presentation, the evaluators did it in a very encouraging manner. Never criticizing on the short-comings of the candidates in a harsh way. Now that is indeed something that I should learn from.

BTW, I was voted ‘Best Table Topics’ speaker. Table Topics is a form on impromtu speaking when a topic is thrown to the candidate and he immediately have to give a 3-5 mins speech on the topic. That’s quite a feat that I am quite please with. Not a bad achievement for a first timer. Maybe I really have a flair for public speaking.

I feel that this is one ‘ECA’ that I will enjoy participating in. The interaction was really fun, and I feel this is a place where I can develop and expose my strength in presentations; at the same time, I can learn to listen well and to give encouraging feedback to people around me. Not the depressing criticism that I always throw at people. It only weakens relationships.
For a long time in 2 years, this is one of the times that I really feel alive in participation. Only now do I realise that I was 'dead' for some long. Sad... ...

Maybe by participating in activities like this, I can focus on contributing more of my talents and less on what are outside my circle of influence. Then I can be a less grumpy person. I certainly hope that this move marks the start of a good year ahead in 2006.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

      Which Muppet Are You?

Saw this via Stephen's blog. Can't help it, just have to try it out. Turns out that I'm a frog. Ree..bit!

What Muppet are you?

You are Kermit the Frog.You are reliable, responsible and caring. And you have a habit of waving your arms about maniacally.FAVORITE EXPRESSIONS:"Hi ho!" "Yaaay!" and "Sheesh!" FAVORITE MOVIE:"How Green Was My Mother" LAST BOOK READ:"Surfin' the Webfoot: A Frog's Guide to the Internet" HOBBIES:Sitting in the swamp playing banjo. QUOTE:"Hmm, my banjo is wet."
Take this quiz!

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

      Book Review: Making the Software Business Case - Improvement by the Numbers

Making the Software Business Case - Improvement by the Numbers by Donald J. Reifer

This book bridges the technical, economical, social and political issues that surrounds the business of software. Reading this book makes me understand why many business people complain that 'IT people do not understand business'.

In teaching techies how to prepare compelling business case that makes senses to business executives, Reifer highlighted the various perspectives that are often overlooked by technical people. He rightly pointed out that many technical folks weight options largely based on technicalities, and failed to address issues that are of concern to successfully running a business (albeit a software business). Issues like cash flow, cost/benefits, taxation, capital budgeting, legal, market opportunities, company's strategic goals are all valid but often not considered. No wonder any recommendation made by techies are often rejected. We are not talking on the same wavelength!

Although not explicitly stated, this book also highlights the importance of networking and developing influencing skills as it is needed to address the myriad needs of many stakeholders involved.
  • How do you get the sales data from marketing?
  • How do you get financing and staff costing information from the accountants?
  • How do you seek taxation and legal advises?
All the above information are required as part of the business case preparation.
  • How do you get your initiative funded when there is no budget available for this year.
  • Where are the other places that you can resourcefully draw funds from without making enemies?
  • How to balance the needs of all the stakeholders when they are conflicting?
  • How to ensure the needs are met so that development efforts are not wasted?
All these intricacies that forms part of office politics are inherent in justifying a compelling business case. Reifer succinctly highlighted real-life issues that manifest in the business of software. And they are not solely technical ones.

Highlights include:
  • How and where business case analyses fit into the software and IT life cycle process
  • Explanations of the most common tools for business case analysis, such as present-value, return-on-investment, break-even, and cost/benefit calculation
  • Tying the business process to the software development life cycle
  • Packaging the business case for management consumption
  • Frameworks and guidelines for justifying increased productivity, quality, and shorter time to market, and cost avoidance/savings strategies
  • Case studies for applying appropriate decision situations to software process improvement
  • Strategic guidelines and principles for various business case analyses
This book is highly recommended for anyone working in the software industry. Even if you do not participate in the process of preparing a business case; reading it opens your eyes to the wide-ranging issues that are outside techies' scope of considerations. Maybe it will just start your road towards being a more business-savvy technologist.

Friday, December 09, 2005

      Get A Life? Get A Job That You Love First.

If we are to go through the hectic life and find balance in this world today, we must find meaning in the work that we do; at the same time, been able to align our potentials and fulfilling them to the greatest height possible within this choosen domain. That is finding our Voice. Otherwise, it will be a furtile struggle resulting in a disillusioned shell.

“A musician must make music, and artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.”
-Abraham Harold Maslow

Sunday, December 04, 2005

      Half-Marathon : Test of Will

Finally, today's Singapore Marathon run. The run that I have been training for. Despite the darkness at 600am, the Esplanade was already charging with energy. The 21km run started at 630am. To my surprise, unlike the Army Half Marathon, EVERY participants started running upon crossing the start line. That's the difference when you have people who take ownership of the participation.

The first 8km to Marina South and back was a breeze. I have been prepared for that. Upon crossing the 8km mark, I told myself, "Now the race really begins". At 10km, I clocked 1 hour in timing.

I hit the first hurdle at the 13km mark, my legs started to stiffened and my back started to ache. My stomache was telling me that energy store was depleted and that I needed fuel. People started to overtake me. Blessed, the next drink station had bananas!!!! I grabbed one and took half the banana, not daring to risk eating too much. Call it my imagination, I started to feel energised after that and got into a "runner's high". In a trance like state, I started picking up pace, and overtaking again.

I clocked 1:30min at 16km mark at Nicole Highway. The route went uphill, and my performance went downhill from there. My kness were hurting real bad, and my feet were numbed. At one point, I could not feel my feet touch the ground! There were 3 entities in my mind, the Angel, the Devil, and I. The Devil was particularly strong at that point. I slowed down. An elder man with all white hair jogged passed me; the back of his t-shirt had a picture of Roadrunner and said "Catch me if you catch". I willed myself to carry on, and started to talk to myself; hoping to distract the pain. "Cannot stop."

I finished at 2:06min. Missed my target of under 2 hour. I wasn't fully prepared, and training started late. If I had clocked at least 2 sessions of 12km training, I would have done much better.

Nonetheless, completing the run signifies passing the test of will. To complete against all odds. Having the mental and physical discipline to train consistently. That, in itself was definitely a very strong character building exercise for myself. I am glad I did it.

I will target next year's Army Half Marathon, and then go for 42km in Standard Charter Run 2006.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

      Book Review : Offshore Outsourcing - Path to New Efficiencies in IT and Business Processes

OffShore Outsourcing - Path to New Efficiencies in IT and Business Processes by Nandu Thondavadi, George Albert

Content In General
This book explains the progression of offshoring from the manufacturing sector and how it has moved into IT and Business Process (BPO) space. Highlights the impetus for offshoring, and the potential costs for not offshoring. The major players in offshoring, and offshore delivery channels are briefly mentioned as well. Lastly, geopolitical, economical impacts on countries affected was discussed. The book completes with 6 case studies stories which includes that of Citibank, GE and Infosys.

Learning Point - The Reason to Offshore

Cost Reduction - the obvious factor would be cost savings, when the differences in standard of living causes the costs of skilled labor in developing countries (China, India, Russia) to be 60-70% cheaper than their counterparts in developed countries (e.g USA). Other results highlighted as follows:

Increased focus on core business - resources committed functional and back-office processes can be redirected to develop core business capabilities.

Improved process quality - for the outsourcing service providers, their core business is to perform the back-end office functions of their customers (e.g. call center, billing and accounting services, IT developement and maintenance). Hence they are likely to spend more time and money to ensure their quality in their processes. CMMI and Six Sigma are certifications of quality processes that these service providers adopt. Many service providers like Wipro, Infosys are already CMMI level 5. If these functions were not outsourced, obtaining these quality processes would be too much overhead to bear for most companies.

Access to Talent Pool - service sector requires a big pool of skilled talents esp in IT. The lack of skilled engineers in USA, coupled with strict labor legislations and huge pool of engineering graduates in India/China has contributed to offshoring trend. Microsoft and GE were cited as examples where they had established R&D centers in India and China due to the large pool of engineering talents there.

Shortened Development/Product Life Cycle - using the time difference between USA and Asia, work is virtually 24 hours ongoing as engineers in USA hands over their work to their counterparts in Asia at the end of their work day. Their counterparts in Asia would have just started work then due to time differences. This continous workflow helps to shorten life cycles.

Learning Point - Cost of Offshoring and Key to Offshoring Success

How to do a business analysis to decide on offshoring or not? Other than the recurring cost payable to service providers, the following costs must not be overlooked:

Recurring management cost - management processes must be put in place to ensure that service providers adhere to service level agreement (SLAs) of outsourced process and that they meet the outsourcing company's needs.
One time infrastructure cost - In the case of BPO, there is usually a need to setup a technical infrastructure to enable the service providers to tap into the business process of the outsourcing client, so as to ensure seamless integration of the processes even after non-core processes have been outsourced.
Intangible costs - Lost of goodwill from the general pubolic and legislative blockades by the government to provide outflow of jobs to other countries. In both cases, cost in PR and legal consultation must be expended to ensure compliance and mitigations.

Learning Point - Type of Delivery Channel and Service Providers

Delivery channels includes:
  • offshore - where vendors are located offshore for maximum cost savings.
  • onsite - where service provider's staff on located onsite. This does not take advantages of cost differences of countries.
  • mixed mode - a management team from the service provider is onsite for liasing, while the main bulk is located offshore.

Service provider types:
  • Independent local service providers - Located offshore and has access to oversea talents with economies of scale to provide low cost to clients. E.g. includes Tata Consulting Services, Infosys, Wipro.
  • Independent multnational service providers - MNC's subsideries that also provide outsourcing services. E.g. IBM Global Services and EDS (Electronic Data Systems)
  • Captive service providers - Subsideries of MNC's that provide outsourcing services for its parent and sibling subsideries. E.g. GE's Capital Services (GECIS), and Microsoft's India Development Center.