Sunday, June 10, 2018

India Food & Culture

As someone who eats Indian food pretty regularly I was excited to try some authentic local food.  But I have to say it was a little disappointing.  I'm sure I didn't go to the best places and didn't get a great selection.  So partly my fault.

There is no Yelp in India.  The local equivalent, Zomato is not nearly as good.  Most days I worked until 6 and then needed to work yet a little more at the hotel.  So I didn't feel like getting driven 45 minutes plus in the Bengaluru traffic to a restaurant, having my driver wait, and then heading home with work to do.  Instead I walked somewhere near my hotel or got room service.  That's not to mention my few days of travel sickness where I ate very blandly.  (I went to Subway twice!)  That was not surprising but unfortunate.  I was getting better by Friday but was cautious through the weekend since I was often far from home.  Unfortunately that weekend was my best chance to eat far from the hotel and I didn't.

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But I made the best of it.  One thing interesting to me was the "Veg vs non veg" dichotomy.  I frequently hear this terminology at work but didn't think much of it.  I guess it's the normal terms throughtout India.  Most restaurants I saw separate lines and separate kitchens for the "veg" side.

I found the processes weird.  At a food court there was one guy who took my order and gave me a paper.  Another guy took a different paper to the kitchen.  Later the 2nd guy took my paper and had my food cooked.  At another place I was given a paper.  I waited a few minutes until my order came out.  The guy asked for my paper and examined it before giving me the food.  Like he didn’t remember the one white guy who was sitting there the whole time?  At another lunch I went to a coke store.  They had a big coke zero graphic.  Great!  I ordered that.  They guy says, oh, you want diet coke.  OK, not really but fine.  I pay and he gives me regular coke.

One day I bought a couple of papayas from a street vendor.  Well I asked for 2.  He gave me (and charged me for) 3.  This was my first experience with this tactic.  At least it was 3 and not 4.  In general retailers are very aggressive.  Not my favorite.  I avoided shopping in part because of this.  I just don't enjoy being followed around and told how much my wife would enjoy this jewelry box.  And that I'm a dunce if I don't buy it at this price.  Spoiler alert: she wouldn't want it.

The ever-present security was also a surprise to me.  I was frisked often...including at most every public place.  At the hotel the car was inspected and I had to x-ray my phones and bags like I was at the airport.

I expected Bengaluru to be more diverse than it was.  But I was often the only white dude in sight.  People asking to take a photo with me was commonplace.  At first I thought it was a pickpocketing scam.  But no, I was simply a novelty.

On the first Wednesday all of us Illumina folks went over to the IBM office.  We have a lot of contractors through IBM.  I used to have a Salesforce developer, Swetha, through that arrangement but she moved to Australia about a month prior to my trip.  That was an interesting experience.  I had never managed anyone before or dealt with offshore resources before.  So I was always wondering how I was doing with that.  But when Swetha left India she was effusive with her praise, telling me how much I taught her and how she always felt in the loop.  It was nice to hear.

At IBM it was fun to put faces to names; except Swetha of course.  But she knew this meeting was happening.  She had some local relatives buy some Indian gifts for Christine and I.  And had that package delivered to my hotel.  Really sweet of her, I didn't know what to say.

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I said I wasn't going to talk about work but I've been asked so I'll tell a couple of stories.  Truly it was just what I expected.  I worked a lot with the senior developers (about 10 years of experience).  They seemed competent in that they understood what I talked about and gave good feedback.  I haven't seen their actual work so I can't comment at that level.  Whereas most of the rest of the team was younger and greener.  When I presented to that group I could tell from the questions that they are still learning fundamental concepts.

One of the best things about this trip is I got to meet with the initial team face-to-face.  (There will be people rolling on and off as the project goes.)  They'll know who I am and what I'm like.  Hopefully on our many calls they will think better of me than they would have if I were a disembodied voice.  We ate together, attended cricket together, and chatted about fantasy novels.  They probably know me as well as some people I work with in San Diego.  Which should help as this project rolls along for months and months.

The last thing which struck me that I find worth mentioning is work and hours in these consultant shops.  I was told there that most people work about 11am to 7pm.  I asked why they work those hours.  I was told they work late to avoid the traffic.  But traffic doesn't really get going until 9 so I'm not sure about that explanation.  I think it's just the norm.  After coming back I see that most of them work more like 8am to 10pm.  The dev leads are often plugging away well after midnight.

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…Akshay to my L, Ashwin at L end of photo, I spent most of my time with these two guys

For a while I tried to tell them I could help and they should stop earlier.  But I've come to realize that is the situation there and they chose it.  It's how they get ahead, whatever their goals may be.  Continuously asking them to work less becomes rude after a while.  They're going to keep going, it's what's expected and it's how they will succeed.

There were lots of interesting and fun things in India.  Some culture shock but that's interesting in its own way.  But I am glad to be home and I'm glad that I live and work in a place that values work/life balance.


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