Archive | April, 2012

Shopping Girly; Shopping Geeky

30 Apr

I adore shopping in India, where the fashion tends towards the colourful and the shiny, and these shoes are certainly no exception:

Not only that, but I found a place offering fish pedicures. This is a novelty not just to me, but to the locals as well – so whilst it is not really an Indian experience, I simply could not pass up an opportunity for my feet to be swarmed by carnivorous fish,  all whilst I sat reading my Kindle. Ah, if only I had brought a camera!

I have to admit, at first dipping my feet into the fish tank was quite unnerving. As my feet neared the water, the fish swarmed with greater eagerness. As my feet drew away, they too drew away, as if confused by the lost presence. After satisfying my initial childish intrigue, I plunged my feet in the water, only to be shocked by the tickling sensation – having fish eat your feet is a remarkable experience (disclaimer: both the fish and my feet survived the encounter).

And finally, to share something from the Australian market, and further promote futile consumerism, check out these classy USB Cufflinks.

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Retrospective Planning for a Small Team

27 Apr

I must admit that I have developed a personal infatuation with the retrospective – a process of collectively (as a team) looking back on your team’s progress on a project, with the goal of learning and improving. I quite like the approach of reviewing successes, failures, and lessons learned as an entire team, for a number of reasons:
* it enables shared knowledge
* it can reduce the stigma that often accompanies feedback sessions (as the term “feedback” can often be reminiscent of uncomfortable one-on-one encounters)
* it helps strengthen the team bond (as evidenced in Kerth’s “The Retrospective”)
After having facilitated a retrospective for a “large” group, I liked retrospectives even more for the opportunity to:
* facilitate discussion in a more interesting manner
* choosing from a variety of methods and patterns
* that inspire participation (and maybe even excitement)
* and utilise visual cues:
I can definitely see (and have experienced) the value in retrospectives for medium – large teams. But now I am on a project with a much, much smaller team, mostly co-located, partaking in daily stand ups and with plenty of face to face communication – how can a retrospective help us? What method or style will yield the most benefit?
My answer: I don’t know, but I’m determined to find out.

My Beliefs prior to Retro #1

Individual versus Group
From my point of view, a group retrospective offers two major benefits over individual feedback:
  • Shared learnings/knowledge
  • “Safety in numbers” – team members feel safer in giving and receiving feedback
Visual versus Verbal
I currently prefer visual tools (using written notes) to guide retrospectives, as it offers:
  • guidance for focus
  • opportunity for each person to be “heard” at the same time
Note: I am aware that another major benefit is that written responses may encourage shy team members to offer their voice as well – however, I did not feel that this will be a concern for the current team.
Fun versus Serious
Although games can be used to inspire a team to be excited and strengthen the team bond, I am uncertain of whether this will benefit a small team. On the other hand, a more serious approach may make the team less desirous of retaining the retrospective process.
This point of indecision remains my foremost concern (and hurdle) in planning a retrospective.

Plan for Retro #1

  • Based on my preconceived passion for retrospectives, it should not surprise that I will be hosting a group retrospective, aimed at enhancing collectivism.
  • Although I am more comfortable with the concept of running a fun, energised retrospective, I have my reserves as to whether this will be as beneficial for my team as it will be for me. Because of this, I will strive to create a more serious, reflective environment, by first encouraging self reflection in the following manner: I will ask the team to close their eyes (for a sense of anonymity) and nominate by show of hands (for physical involvement) how they felt the last few iterations have gone. As part of this, I will endeavour to highlight the value of the retrospective directive by disguising it as a short set of questions.
  • I will use a simplistic visual representation similar to that of the speedboat. I am aware that my team is likely to have seen this example before, but I wish to make the retrospective a comfortable/familiar process at this stage.
  • The pattern used will be the “How Did We Do?” Retrospective
Through this, I hope to facilitate a more serious, but still interactive retrospective session. Good luck to me!

The Doctor’s Office

15 Apr

Disclaimer: I went to see a local doctor recently, but don’t worry, it wasn’t overly serious and I’m okay now 🙂

The directions to the doctor’s office were a teensy bit obscure, but only as obscure as every other location in India:
“it’s on this lane, which is opposite this lane, just off of this road”
“Ah yes, let me just find that on google maps. I see the lane, but where on the lane is it?”
“Oh… it’ll be there. Try finding this landmark, or this shop, and remember to look out for the this particular complex”.

This is how locations are commonly defined, in terms of intersections and landmarks. No street numbers, that would make it too easy. The business card for my current accommodation literally says it’s on “x road, 1km ahead of y bridge” (and yes the streets and landmarks have real, non algebraic names, but I don’t want to be stalked, mmk?).

So I may have overlooked the doctor’s office the first time around. Instead of departing the rickshaw at one end of the lane and walking its entirety to find the office, I rode in the rickshaw through the entire lane (just over 1km) in the hope that I would spot the aforementioned “landmarks”. As a result, I ended up on the far end of the lane, only to walk the whole way back. My bad.

Ah, at last I reached the doctor’s office – a small building that looked somewhat hazardous upon entry, but was immaculate and lovely within. Upon arrival I was advised that the doctor would be back shortly, and I was asked to wait outside. Outside! Sure, it makes sense to loose sick people unto “fresh” air rather than group us into a tight space and incubate our germs, but … outside?

At first, that was definitely a bizarre notion. Until that holiday feeling started sinking in. You know, that feeling you get when you’re doing nothing at all, outside, away from the fluorescent lights, sound systems and ventilated air; when you’re not tempted to think about emails or deadlines or dishes. It was calming, and definitely reduced the anxiety that might at times be felt in an ordinary waiting room. For once I wasn’t rehearsing what I’d say to the doctor, or wondering what vile, contagious diseases the other patients might have. Personally, I think this doctor is onto something.

Then I made the faux pas of not taking my shoes off once I went inside. I understand how this is common when entering a home, but to go barefoot in a doctor’s office? If my lovely friends from India can please tell me (a) if this is common and (b) why it happens, then please, please do!

Aside from that, I can mention that the doctor-patient confidentiality is not so prevalent here. Again, I am not sure if this is common or was just for doctor, and I don’t particularly want to visit more doctors to find out. What I do know is that two or three patients would see the doctor at the same time. They’d each have their own turn in consultation, but they’d be in the room together, listening to each others’ symptoms and prescriptions. I was fascinated to watch a baby being treated – she was simply adorable! Once again, this was a bizarre concept to me at first, but it was far better than being isolated with a stranger, and putting all my trust in them. *Phew* So in reality, this practice built up my confidence in the doctor, which I think is what any foreigner might need. And as a final note, the doctor was brilliant, and I am quite well again.

So yay! for another update to prove that I’m still alive.

Switch off to switch on

11 Apr

Having recently relocated on assignment, I am finding it super easy to be with my computer all the time. I turn it on first thing in the morning, and it’s the last thing I interact with before going to sleep. There’s little to stop me, as I’m no longer going over to friends’  places, meeting up with them at the shops or movies, going out for a drink, and so on. I’ve boycotted my regular life and, behind the pre tense of settling in to my new location, am instead interacting with it electronically. My laptop is now an even greater connection with both my work and personal life – pretty convenient, huh? And yet, it poses a dire threat to my ability to remain focused at any point in time. Whilst at work, sure I’m thinking about the project, but I’m also wondering how my savings are going, whether I should buy another guitar, where I should travel to this weekend and, of course, how my friends are going. Whilst back “home”, I might appear to be relaxing to a movie, but I’m also monitoring my emails, waiting for a response, or trying to plan the next working day.

Whilst multi-tasking can seem to be a point of success, giving the illusion of achievement, it is becoming more and more recognised as a deterrent to productivity (click here or here for examples).

One of the simplest solutions is to create opportunity in the workplace for uninterrupted focus. Many, many blogs and articles detail the ways in which in to organise your day to aid focus and thereby aid creativity and productivity, but I particularly like the ones written by Mark McGuiness, such as this one.

And yet, if we are becoming more aware that multitasking is, for lack of better wording, bad, and that all we need is a schedule that allows us to focus… then why are we still succumbing to the allure of being busily unfocused?

That would be because the simple solutions are actually not so simple. It may sounds ridiculous at first, but it can be quite difficult to shut off your email for an hour, to turn off your phone, and to focus solely on a problem. This may be partially because we are afraid that we’ll find the problem at hard really difficult to solve, and at least if we were distracted the whole time we’ll have an excuse that promises to replace the feeling of inadequacy. Whatever the reason, focusing on one thing, just one thing, can be very hard.

So how we can our increase my mental capacity for focus? Meditating seems like a pretty cool idea, and almost feels obvious when you think about it, but what about daydreaming?

I won’t say that everyone should daydream at the workplace but… it’s a pretty neat way to switch off. By daydreaming, we can train our minds to ignore distractions, with almost zero effort. Once we become a little more confident in our ability to block out distractions, we will not only increase our focus for meditative and problem solving tasks, but we may even become a little more capable of switching off emails long enough to solve a problem in one go.

Social Networking meets Knowledge Management

9 Apr

I am currently deep in the realms of a knowledge management project, where social networking aspects are woven in extensively. Being new to this domain, I conducted some basic searches, and realised that the use of social platforms, or social business software, is fast becoming a commonality, and so I endeavoured to find out more. As there are a number of ways to refer to this concept, I will settle on calling it SKM (Social Knowledge Management) from here on in.

What is SKM?

My understanding thus far is that SKM combines the use of social networking platforms with the ability to store, retrieve and contribute to documents, discussions, and other points of “knowledge”, within a particular community. A simplified example of this, I guess, would be using a Facebook “group” to plan an event with four of your friends – within this group you can store documents, access those documents, host discussions, send group messages, invite others from your extended networks to join and add their insight, and so on. The premise is that by combining social and collaborative tools, group members (or employees in a business setting) can work on documents, share ideas and talk to each other in a virtual/online space, to share and improve upon their own knowledge, and consequently increase the knowledge of everyone within the organisation too.

Finally, I’d like to share some interesting reading materials I came across trawling for information:

My Pampered Evening

5 Apr

Many “geeky” stereotypes are still associated with the IT industry – and they tend to be hideously untrue. Surely you’re familiar with the image of a sweaty geek, in a darkened basement, basking in the ominous glow of his computer monitor. He stares at lines upon lines of code, whilst snacking on stale chips and pizza. Soft drink and beer cans litter his desk – evidence that he has successfully avoided human contact beyond that of his favourite chat room.

Let me tell you that it’s wrong – at least most of the time. Obviously we can ascribe to that stereotype if we want to, but it’s not a prerequisite to being an IT professional.

In the same manner, we the Geek Girls, the Digital Divas, the Women in IT (and so on), we do not have to ascribe to purely geeky stereotypes. Why do I make this point? Well, as a proud woman in IT, I went to the spa today and was pampered for 2.5 hours. That’s right, I work in IT and like to look pretty!

So my shoulders and arm had started hurting because I’m only human, and I was in desperate need of a massage. Not that I ever really need an excuse to go for a massage, but it just so happened that I was in need. The work day had just started, and I looked around at my colleagues to ask who could recommend a place. Two facts about my awesome job in IT: (1) I have recently moved to India on a 6-month assignment and am still new to area and (2) I get to not only work with, but also talk to people. I know right? Face to face communication is common!

Okay, lame jokes aside, I got a great recommendation, quickly googled the location and the contact details, and within minutes had a booking for that evening.

I arrived by rickshaw, made my way up the elaborate stairs (most indoor areas are a stark contrast to the streets of India), and was greeted by friendly staff. Shortly after, a doctor came to assess my stress levels – well that’s a first for me (whilst in a salon/spa). His recommendation: meditate every day to reduce stress levels.

And then I was led to my oasis away from home, a candle lit room with a massage table. I changed into my paper-cotton-style underwear, and got comfy for 2.5 hours of pampering. We started off with a full hour Swedish Massage – yummy! That definitely loosened any tension I had. The one key difference abut the massages I’ve had here, as compared to those back in Australia, is that the therapists focus more on the trigger points and chakra points, as if tying in concepts from homeopathy, reiki, and so on. No matter what sort of massage you ask for, I guarantee that your third eye will be pressed down thoroughly (between the brows), along with the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands. It seems a little weird at first, but I’ve come to feel as if no massage would be complete without it.

Following on from this, was the 1 hour facial. I’m not exactly a super model, and I was definitely a regular teenage girl with my impossible-to-escape acne, but I like to think I’m over all that now. Until I get a facial. Most salons offer a range of facial options – hydrating, rejuvenating, cleansing – with a range of lotions and potions, masks and implements of torture. For some reason though, whenever I get a facial, they never ask what I want. They take one look at me, with what I can proudly say is a complexion I am happy with, and start the steamer, preparing the cleansing mud masks, and get ready to extract all of my blackheads. Are they really that obvious?!

So as always, the facial was a mostly relaxing experience, with about 15 minutes of strange pain. Ah, what we do for beauty!
Mamo, yes I do listen to you, and yes I try to look after myself and my skin.

Finally, with that over, I had a half hour foot reflexology session. Here in India they are definitely fond of what were once deemed “alternative” therapies. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by so many natural treatments. The gypsy woman within me rejoices!

Then it was time for a shower, to get rid of the mud mask and all the massage oils, and to settle my bill. It was nowhere near as damaging to my hip pocket as it would have been back home, and that alone has me booked me in for another visit. Not only that, but as I left, they provided me with a gel to put on either base of my feet or on my third eye, whichever I please, to help me sleep at night. What a neat touch, bringing in what I believe are aromatherapy and Ayurvedic concepts to finish off my experience.

Although the salons/spas here in India don’t have as well-known a reputation as those in many holiday destinations, they definitely provide a unique, holistic healing experience.

For further insights into the real lives of real women in IT, I recommend:

  • Tech Girls are Chic – a not-for-profit project promoting IT careers to other tech girls.
  • Diary of a Tech Girl – the informational and inspirational blog of Tech Girls are Chic’s very own editor and author.

Ishanya Mall

1 Apr

The aim today was to visit Ishanya mall for the “bizarre bazaar” event that was advertised in the local paper. I was uncertain of what to expect – part of my mind expected to see a market that Aladdin would attend (yes, yes, I’m in both the wrong country and the wrong era), and yet I also expected a very average mall without enough space for such a market.

In actual fact, I was wrong on both counts, and left both under- and over- whelmed in many ways. Before I get into specifics though, let me just say Ishanya Mall will, one day, be super amazing.

To begin with, the mall is massive. It has extreme amounts of both indoor and outdoor space. It includes an outdoor auditorium, a complex mix of intriguing architectures, a slanted art gallery, many statues/art installments including a massive raven that is absolutely breathtaking up-close, a “food street”, large and small shops, and very many water features. I was delighted to find that in the hot outdoor area, tiny water sprays were set up for a brilliantly cooling effect.

The only downside is that the mall is sadly still under construction, and so there are very few vendors present, though each with an already large reputation, such as FabIndia. In addition to this, the bazaar set up featured temporary stalls for additional sellers and an outdoor market-style “food court”. My assumption is that the now-weekly bazaar (shameless plug, I know) has been set up so that shoppers are inclined to come even though a lot of the space is still in construction. There weren’t many stalls (hence my earlier sense of being underwhelmed), then again it was only the first of many bazaar weekends, so we can hope it will improve.

And finally, even though my rickshaw drivers were both massively disoriented (luckily, I know my way around now and could guide them), Ishanya Mall is very easy to get to, as it’s close to the airport and is situated between two major roads. I can’t wait to watch it delevop into a major shopping hub over the next few months.