Personal Philosophy?

From a strictly non-religious perspective:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
— John Wesley


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Bad Money – Inside the NPA Mess and How It Threatens the Indian Banking System, Vivek Kaul

This book makes my blood boil. 

I’ve been pretty mad at the amount of money the government spends on propping up white dinosaurs like Air India. It’s our money – the citizen’s and the taxpayer’s money. And it represents a lost opportunity, where that could have solved many other problems that need funding. 

The scale of the NPA mess is astounding. Rs 200,000 crores! Can you get your mind around this number? I can’t. And all because of short-sighted, selfish, lazy, asinine, idiotic policies. And because the people in power are lazy. And don’t care. And don’t want to do the right thing. 

I’m going to stop before I blow a fuse.

The book itself is fairly easy to understand. It should be required reading for all of our armchair economists. And every time we moan about India being a poor country, and the lack of funds for everything from basic necessities to education to infrastructure to defense… we should keep in mind the sums that are flushed away (okay, deep breaths, Shrirang,  count to ten…).

I do wish that the publisher had hired a competent editor. I daresay even Grammarly would have fixed quite a few of the odd punctuations, turns of phrase, and downright weird typos.

If you are close by, please pick up my copy. If not, buy one. But read this book. We all need to. 

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The Intelligent Investor, Benjamin Graham, Jason Zweig

I first read this book in the early 2000s, and I think I missed the point completely! The intelligence pointed to is not in selecting the right investments, but in the emotional intelligence needed, and the maturity required for avoiding the wrong ones. The core message is more defensive in nature (don’t lose money!).

Unfortunately, in my case, the book makes sense in retrospect. Unfortunately, in the case of most young ‘uns who aim to make their millions ‘trading’, it makes zero sense. Maybe we should make it required reading for anyone opening a brokerage account?

Jason Zweig does a great job in his commentary, using the post-dot-com scenario to highlight Graham’s original arguments. Of course, he has plenty of targets, given when he was writing! But then, he would have the same in the current situation as well.

I find it amazing with the current pandemic that the US market dropped — and came right back! It’s as though there will be no earnings impact due to the virus. In India (as of now) there’s been an about 30% drop, but I fear that there are other systemic problems that have not been taken into account yet.

The more money I lose in the stock market, the more sense the book makes. Now if only I could apply the lessons before I make my decisions

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Grass, Sheri S. Tepper

I don’t remember where I saw a recommendation for this book and it had been on my virtual pile for quite a while, so I had no preconception of what to expect. It started off slow, and I was having second thoughts about continuing, but man, it picked up steam. What a ride (no pun intended) (you’ll get the reference if you read the book)!

This is not so much sci-fi or fantasy as a mediation on the human mind. And what better way to examine it than through alien eyes? And what better way to measure a person than to see how they treat their tools? There are many other themes woven into the novel, from religion to selfishness to thirst for power. 

And since this was published in 1989, the reference to next-generation communication devices (“tell-me”) and locators (“locators”) is quaint.

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Atomic Habits, James Clear

I subscribe to the author’s 3-2-1 mailing list (it’s brilliant!) and on that basis, I had high hopes for this book. However, I guess I’ve read too many of this genre, and am too jaded…

Take a look, it may be right for you!

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The Current Education System is Dead

I don’t think this article will tread new ground, but its an attempt at organizing my thoughts.

Observe events of the past few months. We have been forced to go from classroom lectures to online classes  – video recordings of lecturers speaking about their topics. If we have a hypothetical college in Pune with ~400 students in a batch, and therefore ~7 divisions, we suddenly realize that we do not need 7 lectures, but can do with just one. And that one lecture can be conducted by the most effective teacher. So not only is a lot of labor saved, but students get the best instruction. 

Question: Why not do this as a practice, if there are benefits all around? Why subjugate students to sub-standard teaching?

Thinking further, extend this to all colleges in Pune. Get the best teacher for each topic, and we only need one lecturer and students get the best of Pune, not just the best of their college. 

Question: What differentiator is a college providing to justify locking in students to only their offering?

And naturally, why limit ourselves to Pune? Why not get the best teacher in the entire world?

There are two additional factors to take into consideration. 

First, evaluations. How do we give feedback to students so that they understand how much they have learned, and what they need to focus on (this is should be the primary goal of evaluations)?

Second, degrees. What purpose do they serve?

This leads me to wonder why we even have colleges and universities in today’s day and age. Companies have their own criteria for evaluating applicants, and if they use college scores at all, it is as a filter (which is pretty stupid!). There are many that conduct tests online, so it doesn’t matter where you studied, but what you know (see Hackerrank for continuous iterations of this). 


  • I can attend courses online, learning from the best teachers in the world. In some cases, I can learn the same subject from multiple teachers, to get different perspectives, and deepen my understanding.
  • I can engage with mentors who have the right research, academic and industry experience to guide the subjects that I focus on.
  • I can build a portfolio of projects to demonstrate my capabilities. I can contribute to world-class open source projects so that I am gain experience working in teams large and small.

Why do I need to attend college at all?

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Leonhard Euler: Mathematical Genius in the Enlightenment, Ronald S. Calinger

I didn’t realize how little I know about Euler until I read this book. I had a hazy awareness of him as one of the great mathematicians (along with Gauss) and knew he had worked on number theory, was related to imaginary numbers, of course, the Konigsberg Bridge problem, Euler’s identity and my favorite number, e. I also knew that he worked at St. Petersberg and was almost blind when he died. 

This exhaustive (exhausting?) biography of Euler opened my eyes to the breadth of topics he worked on – not just mathematics, but also mechanics, optics, music and astronomy. I have a better understanding of how he is placed with respect to other mathematicians and how he contributed to the development of science and pushed the boundaries of what was possible. 

I recently re-read (for the nth time)  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and the parallels in development as described by Kuhn and what Euler does is amazing. Two striking points are – first, applying Newton’s laws to explain e.g., the motion of the moon was not straightforward and took plenty of debate and trial and error before it was accepted. I did not know this! Second, developing the calculus needed developing fundamental concepts like functions, logarithms of negative numbers  and 

It’s easy to study calculus today but to be in a state where even fundamental concepts of functions or co-ordinate systems do not exist

I’m actively thinking about current paradigm shifts, especially with respect to AI, and  

Newton’s laws were being debated for quite some time! How to derive the lunar orbit (3- body problem, but not like the book!) was a huge problem, and Euler relied on the ether to account for discrepencies

Motivation for deriving new maths (what is the current analogy?) ML is a paradigm shift, but no new maths (not that it is necessary…) well, maybe the attempt to describe how a NN works…

The energy and time spent on the Maupertuis-Koning affair are idiotic — it’s unknown today! (at least to me, till I read this book)

The effort to explain the motion of the moon & planets using Newton’s laws is fascinating. 

Before this, Euler was more than just a name, but mostly associated with e^i pi, series expansions and the bridges of konigsburg. Now he’s more real

would like to understand the proofs from number theory better. Add it to the list!

In those days mathematics and scientists had to contend with religion

So much of stuff we take for granted today had to be developed from scratch. eg differential equations, elliptic integrals, …

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The Weil Conjectures, Karen Olsson

I’m not sure what to make of this book. In terms of history and the individuals involved, it’s pretty depressing. In terms of mathematics, there isn’t much. There was the thrill of connection when the Japanese mathematicians Taniyama and Shimura (of the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture) pop up — this was crucial in Andrew Wiles’ proof of FLT. And there’s the hilarious Bourbaki episode, we need more of these!

At the very least, I’ll look up what the conjectures are (though I doubt how much I’ll understand), and this puts algebra back on my radar…

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Identifying/Creating the Right Opportunity

What would you prefer:

  • Apply to any and all openings, and be forced to ‘accept’ the first offer that you get, or
  • Identify the right place for you, and proactively create your opportunities therein?

How can you go about getting the ‘right’ internship? It depends on what ‘right’ is — so the first thing to do is be clear about what you are (or are not!) looking for (see this previous article). Once you have this down, its time to search for opportunities that match your targets.

…Which is pretty much not going to work!

In my experience, you will not have much success if you look for opportunities. You don’t get opportunities by searching, you have to create them.

This process can be divided into the following factors:

  • What capabilities does your target internship require?
  • Who are the people and companies that you would like to work with?
  • When should you start
  • How do you create your opportunities?

Let’s dive into these.

Your internship is a combination of contributions and learning. A company is more interested in the former than the latter, and the more you can position yourself as someone who is going to contribute, the better chance you have of landing your opportunity. How can you position yourself thusly? Easy — figure out the skills that are needed and develop these. This does not mean getting certificates or doing well in exams; it is being able to demonstrably solve problems in your domain. Make a list of expected skills, learn, practice, and enhance these skills and showcase them.

Do you have a GitHub repository with all the projects that you have worked on?

Next, identify your targets – and I don’t mean the companies that you want to work at, but rather, the experience you want to gain. This goes back to having a clear idea of what you want to achieve with your internship. Once you have this, you can filter openings based on your goals. Speak with friends who have done internships and learn from their experiences. An internship at a large firm is going to vary drastically from division to division, and big names are not necessarily the best options.

If you are looking for a summer internship and start thinking about the process in, say, January….. you’re too late! Building the skills needed takes practice, which needs time. Creating a portfolio to showcase capabilities is a long-term and continuous activity. Determining what you really want is not a five-minute thought experiment.

Finally, how do you create your opportunities? This is the part that most separates the successful, effective students from everyone else. You have to build a network. Reach out to people and start having conversations with them. This is not asking for internships, but reaching out for advice, mentorship, and learning. Keep in mind that most people are busy, but are willing to help – as long as it’s not a waste of time. So when you connect with anyone, be clear and upfront about what you are looking for, and if possible, offer something in return. You will be surprised at the response that you get. And you will be amazed at the doors that your network can open for you.

Apply the perspective above to building your network — what do you need (be interesting), who should you approach (begin with invited speakers and visitors to your college) and when should you start (early).

In general, I have found that success comes to those who consciously pursue their goals. Some students “get” the right opportunity, and are labeled “lucky,” but luck has very little to do with it. Look behind the curtain and you’ll see initiative and effort.

I’ll end with two contradictory pieces of advice:

  • once you are clear on what your goals are, don’t settle, have the courage to say ‘nyet.’
  • if you are in an internship that is not to your liking, convert it into something that you gain from. There’s a skill that will make you a 10x contributor.
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My (Evolving) Intern Selection Strategy

This is part of a series of articles on internships. Previous posts talked about the motivations of doing and offering internships (Why Intern?) and my motivations for taking on interns (Why I Work With Interns). This one is about how I go about deciding whether you are the right candidate.

First a bit of background — I’ve been fortunate to go through the Shell assessment training program, where we went through the philosophy of a good assessment and how to go about making the right decisions in a structured, objective, non-judgemental, unbiased manner. This helped me to formulate necessary and sufficient characteristics of good interns and how to evaluate these qualities in candidates.

Unfortunately, trying to do this in an interview is too time-consuming, hazardous, and ends up being imprecise. Basically, a 1-hour conversation is insufficient, and multiplying this by the number of candidates is inefficient. 

In order to rectify this, I tried doing a ‘pre-internship’, where I invited students to work with me and then we would decide if we wanted to continue. This didn’t work out too well for a number of reasons that I shall not go into here.

My current approach is to create a bunch of filters to make things easier for me and students interested in an internship.

Filter 1: Technical capability

I ask students to work on a small problem based on their area of interest. This is not a pass/fail test! I am more interested in understanding how students went about researching a new topic, developed an understanding of the problem, and developed a solution and how they solved or tried to implement the solution. Thus far, I’ve asked students to work on:

  • digit recognition using vector distances
  • AGM visualization of across a range of (pairs of) numbers
  • simulate and visualize the behavior of an RC circuit to a step input

They get a week to work on a problem, and I encourage them to consult google, Wikipedia, etc. but to implement their solution themselves. I don’t think these are challenging, and an internship would need (at a minimum) the ability to solve these problems. 

There has been a spectrum of responses:

  • Some students don’t respond — I guess they find this too difficult, or it is out of their interest
  • Some do work on it, but struggle, and realize that maybe this isn’t for them
  • Some of the outcomes are not up to snuff, so I gently suggest that they work on their basic skills and re-apply
  • Some don’t solve these but demonstrate the ability to independently pursue new areas and come up with innovative approaches
  • Some do a fantastic job, and we have great conversations around their ideas and implementations

Note that, once again, solving a problem or not does not guarantee or disqualify you from an internship. 

The only thing I don’t like about this is that it is a ‘negative’ filter that removes candidates, but so be it! This has saved me untold hours, and has resulted in a few interns that I’m excited to work with!

Filter 2: GitHub

This has not been too useful. My goal is to understand if you have been working consistently on any area and to take a peek at your code. Unfortunately, students don’t have the discipline of using a repository; many don’t even have a github account! 

In addition to technical capability, this also helps surface other qualities that I am looking for. More when I write about this in a future post.

Filter 3: Your CV

Your resume says a lot about you:

  • Are there any simple grammatical/spelling errors? It’s perfectly fine to not be proficient in English, but there are so many tools that highlight these. If you cannot take care of the document that represents you, I don’t have much confidence that you will take care of a document that represents your project!
  • Is it formatted well? I’m not looking for artistic designs, but I do expect a minimal level of consistency
  • What are the things that you are most proud of? And do these matter to a successful internship?

Filter 4: Your email/message

I do not use this as a filter, but including it here as food for thought.

Unsolicited emails convey a lot in terms of how you introduce yourself, and how you express your goals, interests, and motivations. 

Responses to presentations/LinkedIn posts/Articles are fascinating. I explicitly ask for certain pieces of information, and most respond appropriately. Others just say ‘Interested.’ This signals that you are unable to follow simple requests, and can be a pretty powerful filter as well. 

Share your thoughts on this approach! If you are a student who has gone through this process, I’m very keen on understanding your perspective.

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The Course of Love: A Novel, Alain de Botton

See this. In the recent past, I’ve been observing an interesting pattern — I end up reading books closely related to each other, and one complements the other perfectly. In this case, I had been reading The Road Less Travelled, and it meshes perfectly with this book! I’ll skip my personal reflections on this book, but will include a few quotes:

If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun


Compatibility is an achievement of love, it shouldn’t be its precondition

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Why I Work With Interns

This is part of a series of articles on internships. A previous post talked about the motivations of doing and offering internships (Why Intern?). In this article, I discuss my motivations for taking on interns.

This is very much about my perspectives. If you are interested in interning with me, my hope is that this helps you understand my motivations, which will lead to better outcomes for everyone. If you are not interning with me, these points will help you think about what you could look for from an internship.

  1. When I was in my last year of engineering, I realized I did not have a clue what a job would entail. My father was at that time retired from the Indian Navy and was working in the Merchant Navy, so his experience wasn’t applicable (or so I thought!). I spent quite a bit of time speaking with students who had graduated a year or two before me, going over what their day was like, and while I got some insights, my experience turned out to be completely different. Fast forward to my next few jobs after my M.S. and PhD, and I realize now that my mindset was very restricted. I was heavily focused on ‘what’s in it for me,’ rather than ‘how can I grow the best’ and ‘how can I contribute the most’. The most effective people I have met create their own opportunities, and this comes about by thinking very differently.So: one motivation for taking on interns is the conceit that I can help students be better prepared for their careers by inculcating better work habits and disciplines that I had when I started out.
  2. One reason I quit my job was the desire to change the world. I see an opportunity to do so by coaching students to be more effective. The good students will anyway figure things out by themselves, but if I can hasten the process for a few and create awareness in the rest, mission accomplished!

The next few motivations are more selfish in nature:

  1. There are many, many areas to explore, and I can only do so much by myself. Plus, my biggest contribution now is at the larger idea-framing (or definition) stage, rather than in the nuts and bolts implementation. With students, I can do much more than what I would be able to do on my own.
  2. Brainstorming different areas with students creates more opportunities. Explaining and understanding ideas lead to new insights that I otherwise would not have.
  3. I get to learn new technologies and perspectives.

And finally, the biggest reason why I take on interns is it’s a lot of fun!

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The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck

Re-reading an old favorite, and encountering once again the thrill of identification and discovery! Like work experience is to an MBA, the wisdom in this book makes more sense the more life-experience I get. The last section (Grace) is the weakest, but that is again a reflection of where I am in my journey right now. 

And allow me to bask in a bit of self-validation – it takes great courage to change one’s world view. 

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भगवद् गीता

There are multiple goals I have with this project

  1. I’ve been meaning to read it in the original sanskrit for a long (long, long!) time. The sheer poetry of the few श्लोक that I know is astounding, and I want to (try to) understand and appreciate the original
  2. This fits in with my memorization practice. I’d eventually like to have memorized the entire thing
  3. The philosophical (distinct from religious) aspects match what I’m otherwise studying and forms a good complement
  4. A new experiment: understanding the effect (of just chanting with no understanding) on my efficiency. This deserves a separate article of its own (“coming soon!”)

My plan is to approach each अध्याय in a phased manner:

  • Develop familiarity with the laya, chanda and all the complicated constructs
  • Understand the literal meanings
  • Work on the interpretations
  • Memorize

As of this writing, I am at the first level of अध्याय 1, 2, 3 and 6

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Why Intern?

This is the fundamental question, one that unfortunately nobody pays any attention to! I think there are two important perspectives:

The Student’s Perspective

Because it is needed, either mandated as part of the syllabus, or because it will look good on your resume, or it may lead to a job without the hassle of campus interviews, or the chance to earn some money. All valid reasons, and if any of these are why you are looking for an internship, you should look for one that meets these goals.

However, there are many more benefits from an internship!

  • You get exposure to working in an industrial setting. This is significantly different from what you do in academia
  • You get to test whether your chosen field is a good fit for you
  • If you are interested in a different domain, you get to try it out, at relatively low cost (its easier to switch out of an area after one internship, much harder if you’re in a job)
  • You get a feel for different parts of a business, what they are, how they interact and how your contributions can have an impact. No amount of reading books can substitute for experience! 
  • You get to understand the differences within roles. As an example, there are different kinds of developers: you could be developing the platform or applications on top of the platform. To be more explicit, do you want to develop SalesForce or a SalesForce app?
  • You get to understand different industries (the difference between IT and CS, for example!)
  • You get to develop your network, possibly get a mentor/s and deepen your self-awareness
  • You get to understand the culture of a workplace
  • You get to try out a company to see if you would want to work there – or not!
  • …. and so on

I highly recommend being clear of your personal motivation for doing an internship and then finding the place that will most likely meet your expectations. Of course, you may not always find something that fits perfectly, but if you are clear on what you are looking for, it is more likely that you will be able to create the opportunity for yourself once you start your internship.

The Company’s Perspective 

Students tend to forget that there are two parties involved in the internship, and a successful internship is one where both get what they wanted out of it. So: what do you think the company is looking for? An internship is expensive not only in terms of money but also in terms of the time that your manager is going to invest in you. Also, given that you are still a student with limited experience, your output will likely not impact the bottom line at all. So…. why do companies do these?

When I used to work, there were a few driving factors:

  • An internship is an extended interview. And it is many orders of magnitude more accurate than an in-depth 1- or 2-day interview can ever be, and covers all technical, personal, leadership and any other aspects that the company may be interested in
  • Many things are not ‘must-have.’ but rather, ‘good to have’. Interns are great at executing these (assuming that they can be sized appropriately)
  • Introducing fresh thinking into the team. 

My motivations for taking interns are a bit different, but that is a topic for the next article!

What would you add to this list – as a student or as a hiring manager? Add your comments below!

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This is Marketing, Seth Godin

I used to listen to the Akimbo podcast when I had the bandwidth, and have been an avid follower of Seth Godin’s blog for ages. I’m fully on board with the philosophy he espouses and was hoping this book would be an opportunity to tie up all the different threads that he has into one unified whole. Unfortunately, this was missing

Still, this is a book worth reading if you are not familiar with Seth Godin’s work. 

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Thoughts on Internships

This is a series of articles on internships. If you are a student planning on interning, I hope this will structure how you look at, how you can make the most of, and how you can have a successful internship.

Potential topics are:

  • Why do an internship?
  • How can I identify the right opportunity?
  • What does success look like?

And, from my perspective:

  • Why I take interns — my motivation
  • What I look for in students 
  • My (evolving) selection strategy

Stay tuned!

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