Saturday, May 16, 2009

Life lessons an employer taught

Six months back (14.Oct.2008 to be exact) I left my previous employer . It was a tough decision to make, after working with them for more than 7 years. It was equally tough to write the last day mail. This is what I ended up writing.

I have intentionally masked out some terms in the mail.

Dear all,
As some of you already know, I will be leaving B**** in the next few days. Although my dream was to work until retirement with this company, things took a different turn when I weighed work Vs family in a balance.
I’ve learned so much during my seven years here at B****. I believe I’ve grown both personally and professionally, and I attribute much of my growth to the amazing people that I’ve worked with and the awesome opportunities that B**** has provided me.
After a bit of googling I realised that writing a farewell mail is not all that easy when you want to do it from your heart. Let me share with you the most important life lessons I learned working for this great company. These are only my personal learnings and this could be different for others based on the situations they face.
1. Job-hopping is not all that essential
From my personal experience, job-hopping is not all that necessary for a faster career growth. It should be done only for the right reasons.
Whenever you are looking for the change, ask yourself these questions and evaluate the options given. It worked for me.
Am I leaving because,
1. The pay is too less -> You can convert an average salary into a good one if you have the right investment plans
2. The company is not meeting my demands -> Are you patient enough to wait for the right opportunities to come? People who have done this got better bigger opportunities than continuously demanding ones
3. I cannot tolerate some people (mostly managers :) ) -> Accept people as they are. You cannot change how other people behave. Talk openly to them. If it fails, ignore.
2. Performance evaluation (P***) is not all that bad
I have seen very few people who came out with a smiling face after performance evaluations. Agree that few bad managers exist everywhere. Keeping that aside, what I learned is, we can make a change to this if we drive these evaluations. Rather than complaining that managers are not setting objectives on time, can we try to set our objectives (some of them may be termed wishes) and tell the manager - "This is what I would like to do".
I am not speaking for managers here. I am not a manager myself. I am a TCP :)
3. Managing technology is easier than managing people

I learned that handling technology is easier than handling people. You realise it only once you are in that job. I salute all the good managers in B**** for the job they are doing.
4. Be different

I always tried to a different from others in whatever I do. I realised that this helps to innovate.
5. Do not compete with your colleagues, instead compete with the outside world

Many a times we compare ourselves with our peers to evaluate where we stand. Comparing yourself with outside world will make sure that you are valued correctly even outside B****.
6. Don’t say "I have no time"

This is one of the greatest learning I had with B****. I don't agree when someone tells me - "I have no time". If time is constant (24hrs a day) and it remains same for everyone, how can someone have less time. It's all about how you manage your time. As taught in time management trainings, make an Urgent/Important Task Matrix. Trust me, it works!
7. Keep doing DAR (Decision Analysis and Resolution)

An average human mind can keep only upto 7 attributes of an entity in mind. When you have to take a decision which has more attributes than these, always go for DAR. I used this even for my personal decisions and it worked effectively. But keep in mind that there are some decisions you have to take with your heart.
8. Storm your brain

When you are out of ideas do a brainstorming. You will be amazed to see the results coming out.
I did use a mindmap to come out with this mail :)
9. Johari Window

A great technique to understand interpersonal communication and relationships. Google for this term. You will know what I mean.
10. B**** Office Sans

This is one of the best fonts I have ever used :)
Thank you so much for making my time at B**** a truly enjoyable one. I will try to meet all of you personally before I leave. Please keep in touch with me at n*******@y****.com
My very best wishes for the future goes out to each and every one of you.
Mit freundlichen Grüßen / Best regards,
Nirmal TS

Saturday, May 9, 2009

I am Ujian

That's the name of the album to be released in Germany by a new 14 year old pop singer Ujian (pronounced Uyan). When it hits the stands in June 2009, it might give Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears a run for their money. The talented singer hails from Switzerland and currently lives in Heilderberg, Germany.

“If there are any profits it will all stay with the zoo to refurbish the ape enclosure", said producer Christian Wolf. 

If you are wondering why the money is going to the Zoo, well, it's because that's where Ujian lives. Ujian is a orangutan at Heidelberg Zoo who learned to whistle last summer.  According to the zoo, Ujian started whistling after a vegetable delivery man was late coming to his cage. Ujian let out a disgruntled whistle in an attempt to get him to hurry up. From simple notes, Ujian soon graduated to melodic phrases. A local musician was impressed with his talent and decided to make a musical album having Ujain's whistle in the background. 

Ujian's talent doesn't end there. He along with his female live-in partners has painted and produced a number of abstract art works. The zoo recently held an auction of their paintings.

Even though Ujian might not be the first orangutan in the world to whistle, he can be glad that he is the first pop singer to produce a "Wind of Change" after Scorpions.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Do we live in Whoville?

A caring elephant named Horton lived in the jungle of Nool. One day while taking a dip in the pool, a dust speck floats past him in the air, and he hears a tiny yelp coming from it. He finds out that the speck harbors the city of Whoville and all its microscopic inhabitants, led by a Mayor. Realising that Whoville would be destroyed if he doesn't find a "safer more stable home", Horton decides to place the speck on top of a mountain, the safest place in the jungle. The other inhabitants of Nool ridicules Horton and forces him to get rid of the speck. But Horton refuses saying "A person's a person, no matter how small". 

In the end, after facing lot of difficulties, Horton manages to convince others that he was right. Everyone helps Horton carry the speck up to the top of Mt. Nool. At the end of the movie, the camera zooms out, revealing that along with numerous other worlds in our universe, the jungle of Nool is just one speck among numerous others like our planet. 

The fiction ends here. Lets move on to a real life story.

On 23rd day of April 2009, an international team of astronomers discovered the most distant object in the universe — a spectacular stellar explosion known as a gamma-ray burst located about 13 billion light years away. The observations demonstrated that the record-breaking explosion occurred when the universe was only 630 million years old, or less than five percent of its present age. 

If you translate the numbers, it means, the explosion took place at a spot in the universe which could be reached if we travel at the speed of light for 13 billion years or the spot is 1,229,89,496,143,550,400,000,000 Kms  (76,422,129,851,386,900,000,000 Miles) away from us. Now, did you know that, to reach the sun we need to travel only 8.3 minutes at the speed of light?
No doubt we too live in Whoville.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

(De)cipher your Kurzarbeitergeld

Kurzarbeitergeld (wage for reduced working hours) or KUG wouldn't be a new word for many employed in Germany during these turbulent economic times. Even though it is scary, I guess people who are receiving KUG should consider themselves lucky - that they still have a job in hand. 

Many undergoing Kurzarbeit would be waiting for the payslip (Brutto-Netto-Abrechnung) to find out how much they would have in hand for a month. The ones who already completed atleast a month with Kurzarbeit would be beating their brain to find out how KUG is calculated. 

In simple words, KUG is 60% of the difference Brutto (that is, difference between the Gross Salary you were receiving before Kurzarbeit and the Gross Salary during Kurzarbeit). In case, you have kids then it is slightly higher at 67%. Whatever it is, you might find that the calculations doesn't seem to match with what you have in your payslip. Forget math and follow the simple steps below to find out the Netto (Net Salary) during Kurzarbeit.

Step 1

Step 2

Fill in the Brutto before Kurzarbeit and during Kurzarbeit. For example, if your Brutto was €4000 earlier and you are currently working only 50% (that is working for 20hrs a week instead of 40hrs), your current Brutto would be €2000. 

Also fill in the other details in the form and click berechnen.

Step 3
Note down the KUG calculated (€711,87 in the example above)

Step 4

Step 5

Fill in the Brutto during Kurzarbeit (same as before) and other details and click Berechnen.

Step 6

Note down Netto-Arbeitslohn.

Step 7
Sum up the noted down KUG and Netto-Arbeitslohn. This would be your Netto including KUG for the month.
Shall I change the title to "KUG calculation for dummies"?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Aftermath of the "Final Solution"

Germany has its history written all over it, most of which every German would like to forget (or rather, not think about it anymore). But at times, the history sends its messages as gentle reminders of the pain the country and its people went through. 

Yesterday, some workers at a construction site, about 4kms from where we stay, uncovered human bones, what the experts later found to be the remains of a German soldier.

View Larger Map

The remains also had 2 metal belt buckles, the knapsack of the soldier (which had an ashtray, a toothbrush with paste tubes and some coins) and some ammunition.

During World War II, Pforzheim was bombed a number of times. In one of the largest raids carried out by the British Royal Air Force, on the evening of February 23, 1945, about one fifth of the town's population, over 17,000 people, were killed, and about 83% of the town's buildings were destroyed.

Ironically, German authorities began an excavation yesterday at another site south of Berlin that they believe contains one of the last undiscovered mass graves of Jews killed by the Nazis. 

The excavation site marks the spot where, on February 2, 1945, 753 sick men and women, originally from Poland and Hungary, are believed to have been killed by the SS after being transported from Auschwitz death camp.

True reminders of the Final Solution (Endlösung) on Earth day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It's only a flat tyre after all

I was at Karlsruhe Zoo during Easter weekend with my family. 

What amazed my 3 year old son the most was not the monkeys at the zoo, but the bus undergoing repair in front of the zoo.

It blew me away too, to see a pick-up truck and a van at the spot, engaged in replacing a tyre and 20+ onlookers (all watching just the tyre being replaced with at most curiosity).

Seems like German tyres are really tough! They rarely let the rim touch the ground.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Really delicious!

A s my collection of DVDs (especially, the Thomas & Friends and Noddy favorites of my little mouse) grew, I was finding it extremely difficult to catalog them. A spreadsheet would have been a good solution some years back. But I don't think I could manage the time anymore to type down all the inventory details into a sheet manually.  I stumbled upon a wonderful tool which cut the eternal Gordian knot for me. 

The Mac OS X based tool acts as a digital shelf. The really cool interface (which truly looks like a wooden shelf) displays the covers of all DVDs and books I have. All I had to do was to 
scan the barcode (ISBN/UPC) on my books/DVDs with the in-built camera on my notebook and Delicious Library downloaded all the necessary information from the Internet like the author, release date, description, and even a high-resolution image of the cover and added it to the library. The scanning and downloading of information is incredibly fast (that is, 4-5 seconds).  I even managed to catalog my television, DVD player, notebook and many other devices with the simple barcode scanning. The cool thing is, as soon as it locates the information on the net, it reads out the name of the item for me. So I don't even have to look at my screen while scanning and can queue the items one after the other. 

This is how my shelf looks like now.

Delicious! Isn't it?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Don't forget the holidays anymore

A typical German doesn't have to look for to find out the official holidays in Germany. For someone who is not used to Germany yet, it would be good to have them on your calender and automatically updated every year.

If you are using an iCalender based email client like iCal, Thunderbird etc. simply create a new calender subscribing to the calender from Apple at webcal:// Now all German holidays would be available on your calender with English names and the German equivalent for them. 

It is not necessary that these are really holidays in your state. To create a customised holiday list (Gesetzliche nach Bundesländern) visit or Feiertage.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Love films? Then you would love this

There are many video libraries in Germany where you could rent movies and games. I have to say, they are soon going to be things of the past. First and foremost, they are expensive. You would have a shell out at least 2-3€ for a DVD movie, to see it overnight and return it the next day. Secondly, they have limited collection. And lastly, to rent a DVD, you would have to drive to the store twice  -once to fetch and again to return.

A promising alternative is It is not an online service like MaxDome where you 
rent a movie online and watch it online (either on your computer or using a special receiver on your television). lets you rent DVDs online and have it delivered at your home via normal post. There are no time restrictions. You could watch it at your convenience and post it back using the prepaid postage cover sent to you along with the DVD. You primarily pay only for the DVD and not for postage - both ways. For as low as 11.99€ per month you could watch unlimited DVDs. 

Services like MaxDome might appeal to many people as they don't force you to go to a postbox often. The killer arguments for me against them are that, these services are available only on Microsoft Windows platform (if you are watching it on a computer and don't have the special receiver for the service). Even if it is available on other platforms like Mac OS X, it is not fun to watch the movie on a "small" screen. Also these services have movies only with German audio. DVDs from have of course the English audio available for selection.

I checked out a free trial with  and was pretty satisfied with the service. 
If I don't appear to be exceedingly marketing the service, go and give it a try.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A guide to eating out in Germany

Germans are slightly divergent in the way they behave at a restaurant. If you are new to Germany, here are few tips that would help you dine out - alone or in a group.
Some tips below are not specific to Germany, but are dining etiquette followed in many western countries. They are included here for completion. If you feel you are reading the obvious, all you need is a perspective switch.

Finding a restaurant

Germany offers you international cuisine. You could find restaurants that offer dishes from C
urrywurst to Sushi to Chicken Vindaloo. If you have the new 3G IPhone or a GPS receiver in your car, it wouldn't be tough to locate one. Else you need to plan ahead by doing a bit of googling. In the city centre and other busy areas, you would always find a McDonald's or a Burger King. But once you are away, hunting for a restaurant is not all that easy without some support.

Finding a table (once you are in)

Most German restaurants are crowded during peak hours. Hence be prepared to share the table with someone else, if you happen to be in a restaurant at this time (surely not at places which costs a pretty penny).  Undoubtedly, it is considered boorish to stand near a table that would be emptied soon and wait for them to finish (incessantly looking at them). If you are lucky, a waiter might dope out something for you. If you are not privileged to have a waiter to help you, look out for a table where a single is sitting. 

If you see a single girl, it is better to leave her out, as chances are that she would be waiting for her boyfriend (nevertheless, you could take a chance if you wish). 

You could politely ask the single g(u/a)y if it is OK to share the table. If you don't see a single, you could go to a family. As mentioned before, this would be totally inconsiderate if you do this at an expensive restaurant and ask a couple enjoying a candle lit dinner. You could greet the family with a Hallo and MYOB. It is not necessary to enter into a conversation with them, unless they initiate it (which is again atypical). In case the dish for the couple arrives after you are seated you could wish them "Guten Appetit". They may repay it to you when your dish arrives.

Menu (Speisekarte)

Many restaurants have their menu (or part of it) laid out outside the restaurant. It would be a good idea to go through it briefly before entering the restaurant to see what the restaurant has in store and the price range.

For a single meal with a drink, €12 - €15 per head could be considered as an average in major cities of Germany (as of this date).

Some restaurants would also have a Tageskarte (Menu of the day) displayed outside. This would be some special dishes available on that day and it mostly comes at an offer price (Angebot). It is not necessary that all dishes in the Tageskarte are available. They might be "sold out" already, if you are late at the restaurant. So don't ask questions to yourself or the waiter like - "If you don't have it, why do you keep it in the menu".

The menu is most of the time in German. Some restaurants have them in English too. Sometimes the waiter would bring it for you without asking, after identifying you as a foreigner. Else you could ask for it. 

Following the norm, the menu mostly would have dishes classified as Vorspeise (Starter), Hauptspeise (Main dish) and Nachtisch (Dessert). Many menus would also carry a unique number for each dish. You could either read out the name of the dish, tell the number or point at the dish in the menu (incase you don't want to try your German skills). 

If you know the number of your most-liked dish, you could even order it without asking for a menu. This could impress the waiter and German with you (as it confirms that you are a frequenter there)
A good "English-German Food & Drink Glossary" can be found here.

Placing the order

Don't be taken aback if nobody attends to you for a long time (this has nothing to do with you being a foreigner. Germans get the same treatment too). You could try to get the waiter's 
attention by signaling with hand (no clapping!) or saying Kann ich bestellen, bitte (Can I order, please")?

It is customary to place the order for a drink first. Remember that, nothing comes free in Germany - not even water. If you order Mineral Water (Mineralwasser), mostly you would be served with water containing gas (Kohlensaüre). If you need water without gas (Stilles Wasser), you need to specifically ask for it. If it is not available and you don't mind some flummoxed faces, you could ask for Leitungswasser (tap water). 

According to a German, water without sparkle is for washing, bathing and plants. 

If you are not in a mood to drink or you think the drink is too expensive, you could freely say "Nichts zum trinken (Nothing to drink)".

Beer is the favorite drink in Germany and they cost at times the same as water. It is OK to order a brew any time of the day (even for breakfast if you are in Bavaria, together with white sausage). A typical German who needs to drive after dining would stay away from beer, or have at the most one glass of beer. It is not common in Germany to "force" anyone into drinking.

Once the drinks are served, you could place the food order. Even if the menu has starters, main dish and desserts, it is not necessary that you order all of them. You could dive straight into the main dish. Even if all of them are ordered together (most cases the first two), you can be sure that the dishes are brought to you one after the other.

It is not common in Germany to share a dish with another person dining with you. Most dishes are meant for one person (an average German) and everyone places their own order. 

It is also considered OK to ask for small tailoring to the dish you ordered. For example, you don't want tomatoes in your Salat, you would like to have Pommes instead of Späzle etc. If it is possible, the waiter would say so. If you are at a restaurant that offers spicy food, you could say "Normal/Mittelscharf" if you want it medium spicy. Brave ones could say "Sehr scharf" (Very hot). But there is not guarantee that it would be HOT.


Even though public smoking is banned in many states in Germany, some restaurants offer special areas for smokers within the restaurant. If it doesn't, it is advised not to smoke and irritate your non-smoking neighbour.

Toilet (WC)

Toilets (or WC as they are called in Germany) are available in most restaurants and they are almost always clean. There are separate WCs for men and women . They would be marked as  Damen (D) for women and Herren (H) for men or with the respective symbols.

It is OK to chime in during any part of the dining and attend your nature's call. In some restaurants, you would see a cleaner in front of the WC with a plate and few coins in it. If the WC is maintained clean, it is a practice to drop a few cents (the gold ones) into his/her plate as you come out of the WC. In some other places (like BurgerKing), to avoid misuse, you would find the WC door number locked. You could find the secret code to open it in the bill you received.

After the food arrives

Normally food for everyone arrives together or one after the other in short span. It is considered courteous to wait for everyone's food to arrive before you start eating. If there is a big delay you could ask others to start off by saying Laßt es euch schmecken, as it is clear that their food is getting cold. 

Everyone starts the meal by wishing "Guten Appetit (Good Appetite)". If you start with a Beer or any other alcoholic drink you could say the equivalent of cheers as "zum Wohl"(formal), "Prost" (informal)  or "All Voll" (extreme).

Most Germans talk while eating (also laugh while eating). But in spite of this, they normally eat their food very fast.

Eating with hand in Germany is considered uncivil. But if you are at a international restaurant and certain dishes demand eating with hand (like Indian or Mexican), you may promptly do so. 
Keep in mind that, many Germans don't eat anything with hand that might stick on to the phalanges.

Closing the plate

Once you are done with the food you close your plate by placing the spoon and fork parallel on your plate with the handle towards the right of your plate.  Once you do this, you might see the waiter coming across your shoulder to clear your plate. You could move your shoulders away to make space for him or even assist him by taking the plate and handing it over.

Keeping the fork and spoon crossed on your plate indicates that you are not done yet.

Commenting about food

While you are eating, the waiter might turn up and check if you are enjoying your chow by asking "Schmeckt es Ihnen?". In case you are,  you could say "Gut", "Sehr Gut" etc. On the other hand, if you are not so satisfied, you could say a passive "Nja Gut" (which would be a lie) or say with a slight sarcasm "Interessant (Interesting)" (which wouldn't be a complete lie, but not insult others who are enjoying it, at the same time). 

The waiter might at times check this while he is clearing the plate (Even if he doesn't ask, it is considered a good practice to pass a comment on the food as he clears the plate). You could also pass on the negative comments during this or while you pay the bill (check). Most of the waiters would listen to you and some might even take notes of it. 

Paying the bill

It is not common in Germany to ask for the bill as soon as the plates are cleared (unless everyone needs to go home and watch Bundesliga). Also don't expect the waiter to bring the 
bill to you until you ask for it. Germans spend a lot of time at the table chatting after finishing the meal. Once it is time to go, you could fish for a waiter and tell him "Wir möchten bezahlen (We would like to pay)".  In many restaurants in Germany you don't get a bill in hand. The waiter would approach you with a note he made of the orders and ask "Zusammen (together) oder Getrennt (split)". If everyone is paying for their part separately, then you could say Getrennt. The waiter would then approach everyone one by one and start asking what you had ordered individually and tell you the part you have to pay based on it. If one in the group is making the payment for all, he would say Zusammen.

Also note that, just as credit cards are not accepted in several stores in the country, so is it in many restaurants.

Who Pays?  (...some tricks)

Eating out in Germany is normally considered expensive. The question "Who pays?" would be decided even before reaching the restaurant. If the one who makes the plan to go to a restaurant sends out an email or tells you (or the group), "I invite you for a dinner at ...", then  it is clear that he is going to pay for everyone. Incase, the intention is that everyone pays on their own (which is quite common in Germany), then the invite would look like - "Can we go out for dinner at ...?". 

If you are a group of colleagues or friends who always go out together, the intentions are mosty clear based on the occasion and you don't have to always read between the lines.

Now what happens if you are a restaurant and you are not very sure if it is an invite or a eating out together. Either case, it is always polite to eat only as much as you would normally eat (helps reduce fat deposits too). Now you have two options when the time to pay comes, 
  1. wait for your friend to call the waiter
  2. you call the waiter
If you do the latter, then make sure that you take out your wallet while you call the waiter. At this point, your friend might say that he is paying (if he intends to) and you could enjoy the last sip of that expensive Schillerwein. If your friend is the one who called for the waiter, the waiter would,  as mentioned before come and ask "Zusammen (together) oder Getrennt (split)". If your friend intends to pay he would say "Zusammen" at this point. It is not common in Germany to have a contest on who pays. If someone says he pays, you simply thank him and keep your wallet back. 


Unlike in many other countries, Germans don't leave the tip on the table when they leave a restaurant.  So, how then can one tip a waiter at a restaurant. 

A service fee of 10% is mostly included in your bill. Regardless of this, you could tip the waiter depending on the quality of service. After the waiter reads out the part you need to pay, you could round it to the nearest Euro and tell him the amount. Lets say, the part you need to pay is €7.25. You could simply round this and tell him €8. However, if the amount is say €7.90, it would be gentlemanly to round it as €8.50 (or €9) and not €8. Incase, you have the exact amount to be paid (including tip) with you, you could hand over the money and say "Stimmt so (It's correct)!". You could also say any of the following:
  • Das ist für Sie.
  • Der Rest ist für Sie.
  • Danke!
  • Passt so!
  • Bast scho! (Bavarian dialect)
  • Passt schon so.
  • Stimmt schon so.
  • Behalten Sie den Rest.
Goodbye time

You customarily leave the restaurant by saying "Wiedersehen (See you again)" to the waiter who served you and the other restaurant staff you meet on the way.

Happy Dining...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The ultimate code generators from India

My new company specialises on a hot topic (maybe termed a hype few years from now, as it happens with many things that appear cool initially in software). The new coolness has a techie name - "Model Driven Software Development (MDSD)". And the hype that it is building is, everything should be a model, very much skimpy!

The heart of MDSD are "code generators" or "transformers", which takes a model as input and gives another model (or text) as output. They are dumb in the sense, they know only the model that comes in and they are cool in the sense, they give consistent output.

One of my German colleagues said, "Indian Software Engineers are the best code generators". Initially I thought, it is a complement for the wonderful job we do in the bluechip workshops of Bangalore. But didn't take me long to realise what he meant. 

Tell me what exactly I should do, I will make the best software. But I only will do what you ask me to do.

Another colleague of mine cited an example of working with a team in India. He asked the team for a new feature  in an existing tool - "Copy/Paste". The feature was delivered on time by the team, in the backdrop of glorified CMM L5 processes. The feature worked perfectly, covered all possible combinations of Copy and Paste. When he looked for a menu called "Cut", it was not to be seen. In the next team meeting, one the the team members promptly clarified, "but you asked only for Copy/Paste". 

We needn't think up to eternity, but a little, laterally.

I guess this traces back to our educational system. We study "exactly" what the text book says. And if something outside that appears for examination - "Out of syllabus, Sir!"

I needn't hide the fact that, I was the technical lead of the "Copy/Paste" team. I helped the team with what "exactly" they wanted. And we delivered "exactly" what the customer asked us to. 

No wonder we are "the ultimate code generators from India".