21 August 2021

This has to be some kind of a sign from above!

“Is this what you do full time?”
“No. I usually drive Lyft or Uber during the weekends”
“What do you do during the week?”
“Oh! I take care of a business we have and the kids”

“What would you like to do when you grow up?”, I pressed on with my Lyft driver Osman
“I want to work in startups. Do you know how I can join a startup?”
“Do you know a lot of coding?”
“No, I can learn though. I also know foreign languages – Russian, Turkish… can that help?

“Wait a minute. You know Russian and Turkish? Going by your name, are you Turkish?”
“Where are you from?”
“I do not know – going by the first name – some place in the middle east?”

“I am from Azerbaijan!”
“AZERBAIJAN?” I said so loudly that he turned back while driving to check what just happened.
“Well, I think you are not going to believe me. But you are only the second person I have ever met from Azerbaijan. And the first one was just a couple of weeks back!”
“Really? In Atlanta? There are only four Azerbaijani families in Atlanta.”
“No, in Providence, Rhode Island. I was there with my daughter. We went to a restaurant by the river. And the lady who ushered us in said she was from Azerbaijan. I remember her name was Shams.”
Then after checking my phone, I went on… “Shams Aliyeva is the full name”
“Yes. That is an Azerbaijani name.”

I told him how I learnt a lot about the country from her. Before that, I had heard about the country for the first time in my third grade while reading Tintin (The Crab with the Golden Claws) back in 1975. And that while I have never been to Azerbaijan, I had once flown over it while going from Istanbul to Bishkek.

“What were you doing in Bishkek?”
“Well, my friend Roger and I were on an adventure trip to Mongolia”
“You should now visit my country.”
“I will absolutely do so. In fact, that is what I was telling Shams the other day too!”
“You will love Baku, the Caspian Sea, the beaches and the mountains!”
“Well, I met two of you in a matter of weeks. That is a sign to me already!”

“But do not go to Armenia and then to my country. We have a difficult relationship.”
“I know. Like India and Pakistan.”
“Exactly”, he said while nodding his head.

By this time I had to get off at my motorbike shop where it had gone for servicing. Before getting off, Osman and I took a picture and agreed to grab a coffee in Cumming, GA sometime!!

Roger, if you are reading this, let’s do a quick trip to Azerbaijan some time. Anybody else cares to join?

19 August 2021

Carving out his own future

Tom Aliff!! I remember the first day I met him – back in July of 2009. I am fairly sure he was still in his twenties. What had struck me was his sheer intellect, executive presence and that constant smile!! I learnt a lot about Analytics from him in the next 4 or 5 years.

But the most exciting part of him is his personal life. In many ways, his is the model I hope to emulate some day. He has varied interests and he keeps up with them. He is a super fast marathon runner. In fact, he was one of the three people who encouraged me to go do my own marathon. I remember taking a lot of tips on shoes and stretching.

He is a skateboarder!! And I am trying to do that myself! I need to get him to teach me that too.

Now he has his own band!!

Last April, he and I had a Facebook exchange to meet after we were all vaccinated and all. We did get that done this week.

Of course, when I am with Tom, there is always one more thing to learn. This time I got to know about Meditation – specifically the type he does. “Positive Nostalgia”. I have to admit, I did not grasp the whole concept. He will admit, I was not too good at Analytics either!!

19 August 2021

Meeting Anand after over 32 years!

It almost rings strange to my ear to call him “Anand”. Throughout my Computer Science days in IIT-Chennai, we always knew him as “Sivudu”. I have no idea how he got that name – perhaps it had something to do with his last name – Sivasubramaniam. Nevertheless, like many things from college days, that name stuck!

He left for the USA to pursue higher studies in 1989. Coincidentally, he landed up in Atlanta at that time (Georgia Tech) – which has been our home for the last 14 years now. I proceeded to do MBA in India.

While we have talked a couple of times (at least on his birthdays), I had not seen him over the years. Then one day, he wrote to me that he would be in Atlanta – dropping his son at his own alma mater!

That opened up the opportunity to get to see him. And what a meeting it was!

Rarely – and I mean very rarely – have I seen anybody straddle the academia and corporate life as well as Anand has. Sure, there are professors who start their own company and all that. But to adapt to a different culture and environment of an existing corporation – that too as huge as TCS (about half a million employees?) and succeed there while being a professor in a renowned school (Penn State) is not something for the feeble of the heart.

In fact, Anand talked about how he came very close to giving up once and then managed to prevail and succeed. Today, he splits his time between India and USA – teaching in Penn State and running a large Research Institute in TCS.

That was an amazing story.

“So, Anand, what have you learnt in life?”

“The virtues of patience,” he said. And then thoughtfully added…

“Ignore the small stuff”.

Now, of course, my challenge will be to figure out which are the big stuff and which are the small stuff in life. Maybe we can talk about that when he comes to Atlanta next to visit his son!