Thursday, November 22, 2012

Famous Last Words

It's 2:07 AM. I'm sitting in the Bangalore airport lounge and in a sandwich and ramen-induced comatose, waiting for a flight that won't board for another hour and a half and fighting the desire to fall asleep in this comfortable armchair. It's sobering to acknowledge that this will be my last post from India and my last post on this blog for the foreseeable future.

It's hard to pinpoint how I'm feeling. Joy, regret, relief, panic, anxiety, and uncertainty, perhaps but in what ratios, I'm not sure. I've been thinking of this day for a long time but as always, actually going through the motions of saying goodbye and hugging people I care about and standing together with the unspoken understanding that this is the last time we'll ever all be together in this time and place never quite pans out the way I imagine it will. And my emotions afterwards aren't ever what I expect them to be, either. 

I've done a lot of retrospecting this past week, both personally and professionally. So much so that spending Thanksgiving break in Maryland around family and friends will be a welcome respite from all this thinking and overanalyzing and fretting. I want myself to just be mentally empty for a while. I want to let my guard down and to enjoy myself and to be in a completely safe and familiar environment. I want to let go of clutching the reins of my mind with tight white knuckled fists and just let it drift and wander to where it pleases.

After the break, I'm not sure what awaits me when I fly back to Chicago. I only know that while what the future holds for me is uncertain, my TWU experience has yet again proven to be one heck of a learning experience, for better or for worse. And just like last time, I am a different person leaving Bangalore than I was arriving here. 

My flight is boarding soon - it's time to go and get on with the next adventure, whatever that will be.

Namaste, India. Thank you for your hospitality yet again.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

On being a TWU trainer: a retrospective

Well, it's over. TWU 29 has officially ended. The students "graduated" yesterday and are either already en route to their respective homes or are about to be very soon. I've spent the majority of today bidding farewell to the remaining grads and feel mentally and physically drained by the goodbyes, the hugs, the promises to visit, and yes - the tears.

I've also been mentally compiling some thoughts around the experience I've had here as a trainer. Although I'll share most of these with my fellow trainers next week during our wrap-up and retro meetings, I wanted to capture them here as well for anybody down the line who is curious about what it's like.

I am relatively sure that at the age of 23, I am the youngest trainer who has taught at TWU. Not the one with the smallest gap between attending TWU as a student and coming back as a trainer - one of my fellow 17ers taught 27 - but just youngest in age. This was interesting for several reasons. For one, I sometimes felt like I was one of the students. I certainly resembled one physically. And sometimes mentally I felt like one too - like if I zoned out and came back to, sometimes my knee-jerk reaction would be to think "Woah, I'm back in TWU! This is awesome...wait, crap. I'm a trainer. I'm probably supposed to be doing something productive right now." For another, I was considerably younger than my coachees. One was 26 and another was 30. It was bizarre to be imparting advice onto people who had many more years of overall work experience than I had. Although they never asked me outright, I know they were curious by the questions they asked me about when I graduated, when I joined ThoughtWorks and for how long I've been here. I'm sure they put two and two together and quickly realized that I was younger.

I knew going in to the position that being a TWU trainer required a lot of hard work. What I didn't expect was how independently and isolated we were and how much freedom we had with respect to how we wanted to run sessions or projects. We essentially had six weeks, some floor space in the Bangalore office, and very little supervision to do whatever we wanted with the grads. The freedom was both wonderful and unnerving at times. It also meant that we had to do a ton of setup, orchestrating, and behind-the-scenes work to make things function as intended. With the help from the office admin, we trainers took care of virtually everything. I'd estimate that 60% of my time went into actually preparing and delivering material for sessions or for conversations, while the remaining 40% was spent on just planning or figuring out logistics around how to make things happen. Several times throughout TWU29 I felt familiar flashes of stress and pandemonium from my Away Day planning experience.

One of my biggest personal frustrations about training was around the fact that as the only BA coach among a group of 30 students split into three teams, I spent most of my days literally running between three independent and very different teams. I was three times the headless chicken that I usually am as a BA - a role that already demands a lot of running around and flapping of arms to begin with. As a result of this tri-team setup, I didn't get to know any one group especially well - I had barely enough time to work with each of the BA coachees, much less time to interact with the developers and testers on their team. While the dev coaches were all rooted down in just one team, I felt like I missed out on that wonderful experience of pushing through the valleys and celebrating the peaks in one consistent group. To quote Bilbo Baggins, I felt like "butter scraped over too much bread."

This was also my first time being in any type of formal training role. Sounds macaroni and cheesy but it really was incredibly rewarding to observe those moments when your student finally beings to "get" it after you've spent so much effort guiding them towards the right direction. They stumble, get frustrated, eventually pick themselves up, and repeat this cycle until that they finally get it right and the realization dawns upon them that yes, I did it! - that is an incredible thing to watch. Throughout the course of TWU29, I was constantly impressed and inspired by how brilliant the grads were. They are a testament to the careful and hard work that ThoughtWorks recruiting puts into their jobs in cities all over the world - kudos to any of you guys that may be reading this.

My final observation is that training at TWU really brings to light your strengths and weaknesses. It is an incredibly demanding role and there inevitably come the moments that can really test your limits. Looking back, I came into the role with a very naive and idealistic view of how things would be. I grew frustrated very quickly with how underprepared we seemed or how little sense things seemed to make at times. I learned slowly to grow comfortable and ease into the role, to take those frustrating experiences and use the learnings to make the next one better. And now I walk away from the training experience with a much broader perspective on how different types of people can work together to make something awesome happen.

Would I be a trainer for TWU again? Definitely. But I would want to come back with a few more years' worth of experience (and battle scars) to share with the students. And I think that next time, I would try to spend more time with the grads outside of the training room - this time I mainly socialized with trainers or with Bangalore TWers. Oh, and I'd definitely push for more butter chicken lunch and learns. Because the world could always use some more exposure to butter chicken.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Where have I been?

Things here in India started out so well. I was sleeping well, eating a lot, getting exercise, and blogging regularly both for my own sanity and for my loved ones back home. I was living like a responsible adult and I couldn't have been any more content with my life here in Bangalore.

Or so I thought.

Somewhere around the half-way point, life here took a turn in a different direction. I'm not positive what triggered it or when - maybe a series of late nights at the office, or a particularly enjoyable team dinner, or perhaps just the inevitable bond that forms between ex-pats facing similar job experiences - but I found myself spending a lot more of my free time with my fellow trainers than ever before.  It was almost surreal, like I was watching a movie of myself where my new friendships were snowballing slowly but surely into a new lifestyle that I'd dismissed before in favor of sanity and routine. And just as slowly and as surely, as I was out and about on adventures with my new friends, my thoughts and ideas tumbled from my mouth during conversations rather than through this blog, my alcohol tolerance crept up, my post-work plans always started with the words "So what's the plan for tonight?", and the nickname "Granny Rose" became rather obsolete as I can't remember the last time I got eight hours of sleep...

It's been a shift, that's for sure. One that I've made some sacrifices for, like posting here. Or having any real free time to myself, really. I haven't had this much fun - or this little sleep - since my last TWU experience. I've been making a conscious effort to not let it affect my performance as a trainer and judging from feedback, it hasn't been. The hit has rather been on my own personal sanity. I think that at the end of the day, while I demonstrate the tendencies of both, I still consider myself more of an introvert than an extrovert. And that prolonged abandonment of my own time to recharge in solitude, though fruitful in its creation of wonderful friendships and memories, was still a departure from my comfort zone. A large departure that was growing each day.

Then I started to feel sick - physically sick. And I figured that was my body's final protest against all the activity - that it was its way of saying "Woah girl. Calm the fuck down and take care of me." Last night was the first time I consciously declined an opportunity to have fun in the company of others. It was a grandiose occasion too - a large Diwali celebration at my co-trainer's house. Diwali is one of the biggest holidays here in India and spending it alone - especially the walk back to my apartment to the sounds of bursting fireworks and delicious smells wafting out of homes - made me feel sad and relieved at the same time. But I knew that my body - and more importantly, my exhausted mind - needed the time alone.

Fast forward to today and I know that I made the right decision to stay in last night. I'm feeling much more rejuvenated with gasp! more hours of sleep under my belt than fingers on one hand. I'm hoping to spend my remaining week here with a bit more of that balance - I feel that I've strayed too much towards one end of the spectrum and want to make an effort to get somewhere less crazy. Still crazy, but less crazy. Figuring out where I want to be has been half the battle and these past few weeks have certainly taught me a lesson or two therein.

All that being said, I'm still not going to stop Gangnam Styling. Whether its in a sari at the office, down the streets of Pondicherry at midnight, or whilst Skyping with the boy... that fun won't end.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A little monologue.

I can hardly believe I've been in India for seven weeks - almost two thirds of my planned time here. I keep trying to recount what I've been doing with my life here but mostly what comes to mind is just tripping on sidewalks and consuming a lot of butter chicken.

Although I am so looking forward to going home to my loved ones in the States (and have been since day one - heck, before I even left the US!), I am also horrified at the thought of leaving this country. What do you mean there's only a month left? How can analyst boot camp already be over? Why does it feel like I've done so much and so little here at the same time? These are the questions that have been leaving me stupefied as of late.

You know those Garfield cartoons where Jon is about to eat a slice of cake and just as he's sat down to enjoy it, eyes closed so as to heighten his palate, a sneaky Garfield comes up from under the table and grabs it off the plate? Jon chomps down on thin air, opens his eyes and we see his face render the horrible realization that what he's been anticipating and expecting is already gone. *insert Nelson "Ha-Ha!" here*

Well, I am Jon. And that cake is my time here at TWU. I'm opening my eyes and seeing only a third of it remaining and it's making me anxious because I cannot fathom it being over. I've been building an incredible rapport with my fellow coaches and coachees (well I think it's incredible. Hopefully they do too, especially if they happen to be reading my blog. Otherwise this is just hella awkward), I can't get enough of the new sights and travels, and I'm in the midst of accomplishing one of my foremost personal goals of being here - validating the learnings and growth I've experienced throughout my journey as a ThoughtWorker by coaching those who are where I was two years ago. Coming back as a trainer has been the last link in the full circle of realizing that 'Hey guys! I do know what I'm talking about!'

Unless one takes the time to step back, it is too easy to not notice how quickly the time here at ThoughtWorks University flies by and how brilliantly we as individuals with places we call home scattered all over the world learn to work with each other in just six tiny teeny little weeks. For me, TWU just feels more alive than any other place I've ever been. More ripe with energy and growth and hope. And more rampant with naivety and ignorance and mistakes, too. Above all else, it is all too fleeting. I remember being immensely depressed on the last day of TWU17 because I knew that it was the last time that all of us were going to be standing together under the same roof ever again. It was just such a sinking, awful feeling that stayed in the pit of my stomach for a long time. I felt cheated somehow of my experience, that my memories and pictures weren't going to do justice to what TWU17 truly meant to me. This time around that dread has been creeping up on me much sooner. Ack! I have to force myself to not think about it too much.

To end on an uplifting note, this weekend I am going on an excursion with some fellow ThoughtWorkers to a safari - wahoo! We're traveling to a protected wildlife area of a national park that's about four hours away to see tigers, sloths, gatrillions of birds, and if we're very, very, very lucky - a big cat. I'm beyond excited for this trip and for all the adventures in near future. And the distant ones too, I suppose. Just thinking about it all can be overwhelming sometimes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Shivanasamudra Falls


This past Sunday I went with my fellow trainers to see the Shivanasamudra Falls (now that's a mouthful) that are on the outskirts of Bangalore about three hours away from city center. Despite having been the main organizer and advocate of the trip, I was this close to staying behind when Sunday morning came around because I had spent the entire previous day er, disagreeing with some food in my system. Eventually I talked myself into going and figured I'd just take that gamble of throwing up on the bus in front of all my colleagues in a foreign country. Because yolo.

A hearty breakfast and a few rounds of mafia later, we found ourselves stepping out of the bus in what was pretty much the middle of nowhere. For being such a well-known attraction attraction, the falls were surprisingly devoid of the usual hawkers, vendors, and restaurants that set up shop near tourist sites. I breathed a sigh of relief as we descended down an extensive set of stairs to the base of the water, happy for the opportunity to just see what we'd come here for.

Though they didn't come even close to the grandeur of Niagara or Angel, the falls were nevertheless quite beautiful. We hopped into corocles (think woven floating baskets) for 50 rupees apiece and were paddled close to the base of the falls where the spray produced a much-appreciated mist as it was a hot day outside. Then the man rowing the corocle spun us around and around in it as we giggled and exclaimed "whee!" and felt all of five years old.



After the relaxing corocle ride, we were ready for playtime. We scrambled over some rocks and crossed a small stream to another area where we got even more up and personal with the water. Bow chicka wow wow.



At one point I was sitting alongside the friendly folks in the above picture for about thirty minutes, chatting aimlessly and enjoying the rush of water that had by now completely soaked us all. In retrospect I'm certain it was quite dangerous to be that close to the rapidly rushing water, but at the time nobody paid any mind. I'm finding that I love that about India - that as my roommate Scott says, everything sort of operates under a controlled chaos. If this waterfall was in the States, I'm certain that whoever owned it would have learned from one lawsuit too many not to let people run and scramble around these wet slippery rocks but here there was nobody who cared about lawsuits and regulations and caution tape. You were just responsible for yourself.

We were also joined by some monkey friends. I'm relatively certain that I will never get tired of observing monkeys - they are so damn fascinating, not to mention they make for excellent photography subjects.



Living in Bangalore doesn't afford many opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors so I'm really glad that we went and were able to frolic about the falls for a few hours. Hope you enjoyed this post - more pictures here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hello again, world.

The grads are here! The grads are here! *runs around wildly waving hands in the air*

That is my number one reason for having been absent from blogging for the past week-and-a-half or so.  Number two was yet another Flickr snafu (all fixed now) and number three was the fact that most of my adventuring has been limited to classroom teachings and project inceptions - not exactly the most interesting of blog topics.

Having said that, ThoughtWorks University 29 is in full swing and I'm loving it. Altogether, we're a batch of 62 students and 14 trainers. Everybody is divided into two teams - the one I'm on is called the 'Autobots' and we basically do everything in parallel with our 'Decepticon' friends. Even though 31 grads is much more of a manageable size than 62 (though it is still quite a lot!), a drawback of splitting up is that we don't get to spend as much time with everyone together. 

What have I actually been doing, you ask? Exactly what's on my business card - being a cat herder. I wake up in the morning to Skype with parents + friends + the boy, catch the 8 AM bus to the office, and grab a quick breakfast (two hard boiled eggs, chutney, sanbar, idly, and a moosambi juice) on the roof of our building. Throughout the day my time is divided between organizing trips/events, preparing for sessions, pairing with my fellow trainers, having one-on-one feedback sessions with coachees, ignoring my inbox, facilitating retrospectives, and of course, actually hosting sessions. Then in the evening I have a catch-up with my trainers and if I'm lucky, have a few minutes to weed through the clusterfuck that is my inbox to address the important items. We Autobot trainers also often meet up with the Decepticon ones to share cross-team experiences and to compare how our parallel days and sessions went. By the time I get home, it's usually quite late and every ounce of my body just screams "get yer ass in bed, young lady!" but some nights I have to stay up and wrangle with my inbox or catch up with other projects/activities that I didn't have time for during the day. Every single day thus far has proven to be more challenging and more busy than the previous. And everything feels like organized chaos. The good news is that it's not going to be this way forever; once the project simulation begins in a week, the trainers will have much less of an active role as grads start to step up begin to self-organize...knock on wood.

In addition to balancing a hectic schedule, another challenge for me has been learning people's names. I know everyone's face quite well by now but I think I've only got about 80% of the names down in the Autobots (and maybe 30% of the Decepticons... sad but true). It is especially difficult for me to remember the Indian and Chinese grads' names because I'm simply not used to having "Aarthy"s and "Xiaojing"s in my vocabulary, whereas an "Alex" is pretty easy for me to remember. I also tend to get introduced to grads in groups instead of one-on-one, which makes things all the more confusing. Grandma Rose just can't keep up with the young'uns!

But enough about work - let's move on to playtime!

We visited a statue of Ganesh, the elephant god who is the son of Shiva and Pavarti.

Hanging out with my fellow Autobots trainers in front of Shiva Temple
We held an XD day and teams got to design SmartHome mobile apps using paper prototyping and iterative design
Grads unraveling themselves from the Human Knot energizer

Bowling Night!

TWU29 Gangnam Style
Learning how to salsa dance
Who says grandmas can't bowl?

More pics here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

On being Lean and Agile beyond the software world

One of the biggest goals I set for myself for coming to India was to make a conscious effort to take good care of my body. While India boasts some of what I firmly believe to be the most delicious nourriture in the world, much of it (especially the kind that gets me salivating) is the stuff of nutritionist's nightmares. Deep-fried donuts, slabs of freshly-made naan, and creamy, buttery gravies dominate the menus while fresh fruit and veggies are virtually nowhere to be found in restaurants here. No surprise why some jokingly refer to the combination of TWU in India and expense account dining as the ThoughtWorks Thirty.

In order to stave off the pounds and to keep myself feeling good about my health, I've had to be a little more strict with my diet. Although in a perfect world I'd be consuming butter chicken (or better yet, hooked up to a butter chicken IV) on a 24/7 basis, I'm limiting myself to it just once a week, which has been surprisingly not horrendous. In fact, it's become a treat to look forward to. I'm also avoiding foods that reek of deep-fried goodness, all forms of soda, and alcohol unless it's for a good reason. That's not to say I don't ever allow myself these foods. Trust me, I do - but I try to aim for thoughtful consumption therein.

Eating out is one of the biggest culprits of weight gain, so I'm also trying to be mindful of the ratio of meals I eat in a restaurant, as takeout, or make at home. The healthiest is definitely my homemade stir-fries or veggie + fish dishes, but I'm not always up for cooking after a long day at the office, so if I do find myself eating out I look for the healthiest, most nutritious dish on the menu.

I've also been maintaining sort of a regular workout schedule. I aim for cardio three times a week and yoga twice a week. Cardio consists of running outside around Diamond District roughly 30 minutes, taking the stairs up to my unit, and doing Ab Ripper X while the water tank in my shower warms up. Yoga just consists of the the P90x Yoga X video, which lasts about 90 minutes and is actually quite difficult for me. It has been leaving me very sore lately. Going up the stairs at the office has now turned into a slow and comical ordeal dominated by wincing and mutterings of "Oh sweet Jesus my hamstrings"s.

Then there are the small things that really do add up. At the office I try to drink between two to three liters of water every day. Of course, this prompts nature to call quite a bit, but I find that getting up for breaks does wonders to declutter my brain and get the blood flowing in my system. I've also been taking vitamins on a daily basis, drinking green tea with honey, and getting 8 hours of sleep almost every night to keep my energy levels up. God knows I'll be needing it when all of the grads arrive this Friday.

I believe there isn't such a thing as a miracle diet or workout routine that lets you shed 10 pounds in 10 milliseconds. It's all just common sense - watching what you're putting inside your body, getting regular exercise and making good choices on a day-to-day basis. And yes, getting that butter chicken fix once in a while also works wonders on the mind, and hey, at the end of the day a happy mind makes for a happy and healthy spirit.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

ThoughtWorks India Away Day 2012

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending ThoughtWorks India's Away Day. Having been involved in planning our North American one earlier in the year, I was beyond excited to attend this Away Day because a.) it was in Goa, which is more or less the Miami of India, b.) I've always heard rave reviews of India's Away Days, especially of the cultural performances and c.) I had absolutely no responsibilities other than to enjoy the event. I'll recap using the basic retrospective format.

What went well:
  • We stayed at the exquisite Grand Hyatt resort. The amenities, food, location and privacy we enjoyed were just out of this world. This was easily the most high-end hotel I've ever stayed at (and probably ever will stay at) in my life. Case in point: our bathrooms had rain showers. What the what?
  • The energy, pride and support demonstrated by each office in India was nothing short of inspiring. Cheers of "Bang'lore....Bangalore!" *clap clap clap* would start with just one enthusiastic ThoughtWorker. Five seconds later and it would inevitably swell to a thunderous, unified chorus and then more clapping and whopping and general merrymaking would ensue. On the same thread, the cultural show and ThoughtBands made for nice ThoughtWorksy events in the evening. I am now thoroughly convinced that TWI can outdance and outsing any other ThoughtWorks region.
  • Talks by leadership, as always, inspired and instilled us with a sense of renewed purpose. Our chairman Roy talked about a lot of BIG ideas that transcend the normal scope of things I think about on a day-to-day basis ("where is the nearest Chipotle?"). While I don't always agree 100% with Roy's opinions, I really liked that he urged us to make our own decisions and to find our own way of impacting our surroundings and the world at large. The first step in all of that, of course, is simply to stay well-informed. That was one of my biggest personal takeaways from this weekend.
  • Seeing old friends and making new ones. I especially loved reconnecting with my TWU17 friends and catching up with what they'd been up to these past two years. I also was introduced to/bumped into random people and met everyone from the managing director of China to new soon-to-be grads in the upcoming TWU session to everyone else in between. 
What didn't go well:
  • We stayed at the exquisite Grand Hyatt resort. Despite the comforts described above, this was sub-optimal for several reasons. First, it was incongruous with our theme of frugal innovation. There was nothing frugal about this place (except for the part where we took the barely-used soaps and lotions and shampoos back with us) and it felt more suited for a honeymoon than for a company conference, especially a ThoughtWorks conference. Thankfully, Roy said that we would not return to this particular resort. Second, being in Goa meant that the sessions and keynotes were competing with white-sand beaches and the historical city center located a few miles away from the resort, which brings me to the next point.
  • Some folks skipped out entirely on what I thought were the most important parts of the weekend, like keynotes from guest speakers and internal leadership, for favor of going to the beach. I suspect those who left the premises to visit Goa viewed Away Day simply a free ticket to a destination vacation spot and nothing more. This makes me question the value of having the Away Day in Goa in the first place. Next time, either allot some time specifically for visiting the beach or don't have the event close to such alluring attractions. 
  • I wish there had been more focused tracks dedicated to learning. I wanted to talk to the Indian BAs or attend a code jam or learn about the project work we are doing in India or have a Bhangra pro teach me how to dance to Bollywood music so that people stop mistaking my dance moves for a seizure. Perhaps my sentiments are just a vestige from the NA Away Day, where the emphasis on (and competitive slotting for) breakout and affinity sessions was much, much heavier. Or perhaps it's just a reflection of the differences I've noticed between work culture in the US (jam-packed, stressful, competitive, on time) and here in India (more relaxed, prone to delays, and generously paced out). I wanted to walk away this weekend with an information overload as well as a cultural one; I definitely got the latter, but not the former.
Next steps:
  • Take my learnings back to the NA Away Day planning team. Discuss and hopefully find a way to incorporate the good parts of this weekend into our 2013 NA Away Day.
  • Research and find some reliable news sources so I can stay on top of the happenings in this world. Watch more videos of ongoings around me and less of cats on roombas. 
  • Go on a run. If the CEO of my company can make the time to train for and complete an Iron Man triathlon, then I have no excuse not to run for thirty minutes tomorrow morning.
  • Use up all that free soap.
And finally, this post would be remiss without some pictures of the weekend. 

Our chairman (center) with guest speakers from Africa who talked about how simple, frugal thinking could be applied to tech innovation in developing countries lacking in infrastructure or public services.
ThoughtWorkers rocking out to our home-grown bands.
Our rooms, which faced the gardens and water.

Painstakingly manicured lawns and foliage.
Everyone was a photo op at this resort. I could just point my camera any which way and produce a beautiful image.
We ate like kings. Many seconds were had. Some thirds, even.
The swimming pool was impressive, to say the least.
We were right on the water (though not on the famous white sand beaches). I especially loved ooh-ing and aah-ing at the beautiful shells strewn on the sand.
Two years later and reunited with my friends from TWU 17!
More pictures can be found here

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Videos are better anyway

All my pictures are broken again.

In the meantime, here is a video of my Pecha Kucha (20 slides for 20 seconds each on any topic we so desired - simple in theory but tricky in execution). All the TWU 29 trainers had to do them and will have to do different ones when the grads arrive too.

The best part was definitely when I referred to Peru as a city. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Earlier this week I moved out of my apartment at Lotus Suites and into a unit flat palace back in good old Diamond District. Some context: Diamond District is a large housing complex located about 6 km from the office where all coaches and coachees reside when our TWU sessions begin. It's also where I stayed two years ago for the whole duration of my trip.

Despite having to give up the 5-minute walking commute from my old apartment to the office, I was eager to find my permanent home away from home and settle in for good. Some other trainers (read: my current roommates) and I did a bit of investigating into what the best unit was. "Best", of course, is always subjective; for us it entailed 1.) a stable internet connection, 2.) relatively functional amenities and some would say most importantly, 3.) party pad potential. In the end it came down to between P81 and H81, both 4-bedroom penthouse units with spectacular views and more space than we know what to do with. We decided on H81 and suffice it to say, we haven't exactly looked back on our decision.

Laundry corner
Chess, cribbage and cards station

Yoga nook
Gargantuan living room
Two of my awesome roommates - Jules and Scott - doing a code review together. Aww.
My new room. I like how simple it is. And I loooove the semi-private deck.
A panorama view from our huge deck. The deck has almost just as much floor space as the inside of the unit.
Right now two of my roommates are out so it's just me and Scott inhabiting what feels like an enormous empty mansion. Now I know how Batman and Alfred felt, abandoned in the Wayne estate. Now I know.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Blog world problems


I got a Tweet from a lovely co-worker who kindly informed me that the images from my last entry on Commercial Street appeared to be broken. Weird - I'd sourced the HTML from my brand spankin' new Flickr Pro account (yes, I caved to Flickr. I know, I know - burn me at the stake) and they were appearing perfectly fine on the blog for me.

I immediately vetted this with my Maryland-based best friend, who confirmed that the images were not appearing.

Then came words that I dread hearing my whole life:

Apparently a lot of the standard fonts (and images, it seems) here in India aren't so standard in the US and do not render in their intended form on US screens. And of all typefaces they had to revert to - it ended up being the one I loathe the most, comic sans. Ironically enough, I've probably made mocked comic sans a dozen times in the time span that I've unknowingly had it plastered all over my precious blog. Oh how the gods-I-do-not-believe-in have a sense of humor.

Here are screenshots of what my blog looks like in the US ("Your blog looks bad. And you should feel bad." - Yoyo) and in India, where I labored over every last typeface, color, and arrangement for hours on end.

The worst part? I'd even tweeted about my new, "prettier" blog. In retrospect, I probably made many a toe curl and a hair rise (especially those belonging to a ThoughtWorks XDers who likely muttered to themselves "Well, I'm never gonna ask her to help with any wireframes.").

I'm going to spend a chunk of this weekend hopefully restoring the original look and feel of my blog + fixing the broken images. It'll be tricky not knowing what a US version of the screen would look like but I'm relatively sure that switching to more universal web fonts and using Imgur again will do the trick for now. Sure - I'll lose some of the styling effects, but at least it won't be comic sans. Anything but comic sans.

For now, enjoy the travesty that is my blog! Oh, and thank god for honest best friends.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Commercial Street

9/22 update - relinked the pictures. Hoping Flickr and Blogger play nice together this time.

Commercial Street two years later doesn't seem to have changed all too much. On my first Saturday here, I ventured out there with two of my fellow trainers. While we didn't have many items on our shopping list - just some kurtas - we wanted to get out of our corporate apartments and enjoy the bustling streets filled with the sounds of lively haggling, the displays of colorful wares and the ever-so-tempting smells of street food.
We stopped for lunch at a Chinese restaurant before heading out. I've found that South India has surprisingly good non-Indian food, especially of the Chinese and Italian varieties. Mexican...not so much.

A candid shot of one of many street food vendors we encountered. I think these might have been peanuts? The rolled-up paper was the vehicle for these presumably tasty snacks. I haven't worked up the courage to try any of the street food yet.

One of the main intersections of Commercial Street. Contrary to its name, Commercial Street actually encompasses many different side roads, nooks and crannies in addition to the main street.


On display: traditional women's kurtas. These come in varying lengths and sleeve types.
This fellow saw me with my camera and gestured me into his store and asked me to take his picture. Maybe one day he'll encounter this blog and see himself here.

An interesting toy - sort of like those blow toys you see at birthday parties, but on crack.

An artfully displayed pomegranate.

The temptation of chicken nuggets haunts me even in India...

Almost everything here can be found in a masala flavor. It's basically synonymous with "a shitload of tasty spices."

A bovine friend I encountered on the walk home. He was furiously licking his side and back the entire time.

Although we spent a good three or four hours there, I ended up buying only two things: a kurta and a small jar of foot cream, both from Fab India. The kurta was the simplest one I could find - short-sleeved and cropped at the waist, basically a t-shirt - and the foot cream was to pamper my piggies a little bit (they sure have taken a beating recently with all the open-toe shoe walking and the Peruvian hiking and such). I can feel how these past two years of being largely on the road have made me much more of a minimalist. Last time I remember being in awe of everything on Commercial Street - I'd gawk at/want to purchase every last sparkly bauble or girly gizmo my eyes landed on. This time around I passed by colorful bangles ("unnecessary clanging"), intricate saris ("will drag on floor"), and shops lined wall-to-wall with shoes ("already have all the ones I need") without even stopping to bat an eye. I was much more interested in capturing some photos of my experience this time around. And eating at KFC. And taking a nap back at my apartment afterwards.

In conclusion, I am slowly but surely turning into a fat grandma at the ripe old age of 23.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

First Week Down!

I can hardly believe it's already Saturday - these first days in Bangalore have had me caught up in a jetlagged maestrom of colors, tastes, learnings, and above all else, honking. So. Much. Honking.

The good news is that I've managed to get my bearings about me and am feeling relatively adjusted to everything from the food to the weather. I'm currently staying at Lotus Suites, a corporate apartment/hotel building that's about a five minute walk from the ThoughtWorks India office. I don't think I've ever stayed somewhere within five minutes of work. It's divine. The extra hour each day that is usually sucked into commuting back and forth is now mine to use as I see fit! (and usually amounts to playing lots of cribbage on my phone)

Round-two Bangalorean musings, in no particular order:
  • The streets are as chaotic as ever. Cars honk constantly (so much so that it hardly remains effective as a safety mechanism), sidewalks are er, varied in their completeness, and there is still little rhyme or reason when it comes to rules of the road. I've been getting around by myself much more frequently this time around and find that I have to be more alert and street-savvy. Oh and did I mention that crossing the roads here is basically real-life frogger? 
  • The food (still) tastes incredible. I remember being tired of it during my last weeks in 2010 and I was worried that those feelings would carry over immediately this time. Not so. I look forward to every meal with gusto.
  • I'm loving the weather here. On average I'd say the temperature is between 75 and 85 degrees and relatively humid - perfect for a top knot, short sleeves and a long, breezy skirt. The temperature rarely fluctuates out of that range and there is never a need to worry about anything other than occasional rain. It certainly makes getting in the morning a whole lot easier than when in Chicago.
  • I'm fascinated by the dichotomy of being treated like a foreigner at certain times and like a member of the family at others. On one hand, me being not Indian makes me constantly wary about being ripped off; on the other, I've found that my Indian colleagues treat me like a sister and look out for me far beyond the norm among most US colleagues. For example, on my very first day here I bought some oranges from a street vendor near the office and was told later by a local TWer that the vendor had charged me about twice the usual price. I felt annoyed for having been so easily ripped off. Then at lunchtime, I met a fellow business analyst TWU coach from India who was kind enough to walk me to the bank during lunch. While crossing the busy streets she grabbed my hand without hesitation and guided me across. Such a small, simple act was startling to me, as in the US we have such strong walls that form the boundaries of our personal space. Other locals have done similar favors for me - offering to take me to the grocery store, lending me their electric cookers, etc. When I try to express my gratitude for their kindness, they wave it off and say that is they treat all people who are new to India.
  • The following things still baffle me: the dozens of light switches in my apartment, cows in the road, and my body's ability to accumulate mosquito bites despite the fact that I almost drown myself in bug spray every day.

My room: ta-da! The window looks out into a rooftop garden. Also, it may or may not have taken me upwards of two days to locate the switch that would turn off the light pictured on the upper left.

My bathroom's ridiculously complex shower system. The bottom knob controls pressure and temperature while the top dictates which spigot the water comes blasting out of - usually in arbitrary combinations of the seven surrounding little doodads before I manage to fiddle it to from the shower head.

How can there be twenty light switches in a room that only has ten lights? HOW??

Stray doggies are everywhere. They're very friendly and they never bark at people - in fact, I reckon most are better behaved than the average dog in the States. I'm always tempted to pet them but then my mother's horrified expression comes to mind and I refrain.

Definitely not a good idea to text and walk at the same time on these streets.

See previous caption.

Oh yeah - since I'm here for ThoughtWorks University, maybe I'll talk about that too. I work! For real! Sometimes.

The past week has been mostly orientation time for us trainers. Our time has been divided between attending Train the Trainer sessions, familiarizing ourselves with the pre-course material, reaching out to our coachees (I have coachees!!!) and best of all, observing and sitting in with the current TWU class and their trainers. The energy in the room is simply amazing - it's filled with constant laughter and excited chatter in so many different accents. And the current coaches seem so at ease and natural in their leadership. In between sessions, they joke around (and one occasion, even wrestled each other) and are so casual it's hard to tell who's a coach and who's a coachee. But when it's classroom time, they get down to business (to defeat the huns) and it's clear to see from the coachees' rapt expressions that they admire their coaches deeply. It's intimidating to think that soon I will be up there in front of the whiteboard, influencing a whole new set of young minds.

Coaches' corner, where I sit every day.

Current TWU 28 coaches explaining ThoughtWorks' software delivery model. Are we multicultural or what?

One relatively nifty thing about ThoughtWorks India is that breakfast and lunch are provided every day by the company. It's all served under our canopied roof. I gotta say, sitting outside with my colleagues and chatting over free Indian food twice a day is pretty darn enjoyable. It's not the same as lying in the grass of Millennium Park with a Chipotle burrito but it comes close.

A typical lunch with bread, veggies, and various curries all made with yumsauce.

After work, my favorite place to pick up dinner or have drinks with colleagues is at a bar named Sathya's that's literally ten paces from the office. I almost wish it was farther because every time I go there I consume at least eighty thousand calories. I'm relatively certain that they make the most delicious butter chicken in the world. 

After work butter chicken heaven.

And that about wraps up what I've been up to this week! Overall, I'm quite happy to be here and the homesickness/burritosickness isn't as bad as I thought it would be. I'll have some more posts coming soon, including one on today's shopping trip to Commercial Street and another on how I'm attempting to stay healthy and fit here in India. Stay tuned!

P.S. It's 1:42 A.M. This is the latest I've stayed up here! Huzzah!