The two main reasons I feel we are often misunderstood is because of bias and our past. We tend to forget the most important, the present, and the future that can be totally ruined due to misunderstandings. Past may not be relevant in the present or define our future, even then, we continue to give it more value.

Aastha

IT’S SQUARES AND CIRCLES EVERYWHERE

During childhood, we used to play a game. We would draw squares on the floor and number them. One has to hop through the squares with single-leg following the sequence of numbers. If the other leg touches the ground, that was considered foul. The longer one can religiously stay inside the border of the square while hopping the safer it is. If the leg touches the border, that’s foul too. The score would increase each round, basically, we add up the numbers in the squares, and at the end of all the rounds whoever has the highest score wins. The game was fun and everyone wanted to outperform others.

I got reminded of this game when I was standing in one such square marked on the floor at the medical store. Similar markings in squares and rounds were made at many places all through India so that people can maintain ‘social distance’. This word became a buzz word in no time after the pandemic hit. People were too worried about maintaining distance. I witnessed an argument between two gentlemen over maintaining distance at the grocery store. One of them just requested the other to maintain distance and this lead to a heated argument. Some were following the rules religiously and some were ignoring them.

Maintaining social distance is nothing new to us, Indians. For many generations, there was a disparity between people belonging to different religions and castes. The upper caste would have the final say in everything and the lower castes were looked down upon. There were people belonging to some castes who were considered untouchable. Women during menstruation are untouchable. Eventually, we modernized and developed distances based on social class. When we are so well versed with all these, why was it difficult to maintain such a distance when the government requested it?

Because physical distancing is not the same as social distancing. When following physical distancing measures,  we are supposed to stay 6 feet away from people who do not live in the same household as we live in, which includes our friends and colleagues. We have no clue who are carrying the virus. Asymptomatic cases made this worse. The virus sees no difference in gender, religion, caste, ethnicity, or age. No matter we are rich or poor,  famous or not, celebrity or a common man, we are alike before the virus. Only as long as we maintain the distance and wear a mask, we would be able to protect ourselves.

Some news that I read in the papers really made me realize there is so much as a community we have to change. There were instances where front line workers were not allowed to their respective houses. The same happened with Air India pilots. These are the people who are putting their lives to risk so that our community stays safe. We shouldn’t distance them, that’s immoral.  There were some encouraging examples too where, in some societies, doctors were welcomed with flower showers. Tributes were paid to all the front line workers and sanitary employees. Without them, we can’t even imagine what would be our situation. I myself made a new friend – my neighbor. Her work timings and mine are different, we hardly ever saw each other’s faces before this work from home came into existence. But, this pandemic, at least made us say hello to each other at times and I cherish that.

stay-connected

There may not be group hugs, graduation walks, chit-chatting in the corridors, lunch with colleagues, or attending huge conferences in person any time sooner. Maintaining physical distance during these tough times is very important… Let’s not make this time burdensome for ourselves. Let’s wave hands, smile at each other even if we cannot hug or shake hands. Continue to have virtual meetings with family, friends, and colleagues. No matter how far we are physically, we have the same bond as before, maybe even stronger bonds have emerged. We have crossed many hurdles in life, this too shall pass.

FROM BEING RESTRICTED TO RESTRICTING MYSELF…

As every other girl child who grew up in an Indian house hold, I had to adhere to quite a lot of restrictions. Starting from what to wear, to whom to talk, to what to talk, to when not to talk, how many friends I could have so on and so forth. When I was a teenager, all these restrictions definitely made me very uncomfortable. I wondered many times, if these many restrictions are really necessary. Why can’t people just be self disciplined? I understand, it is easier said than done.

After I moved to a new city for job, I had very less time apart from work. One thing, that I was new to software world, and second thing was that if I decide to take up something I tend to give my 100% to make that work. I had very long work hours including weekends. No one has asked me to do so much work or take up challenges. It is just who I am. I hardly used to get time to spend with family or friends and I justified this saying, “I have so much of work”. We actually weave a new story around it leaving aside what the real problem is.

An year or so ago, I asked myself why do I actually work this crazy? The returns are not going to increase financially. If the effort I put into work, I could channelize on to some other interest, it would not only serve as a stress reliever but also results in new learning and maybe new beginnings. I have self imposed a restriction that I won’t give more than 10 hours a day to work. There would definitely be days when I might have to spend more time at work, and that is acceptable as long as it does not interfere with life otherwise. Trust me, doing this was hard. I literally had alarms to getup from my seat to head home. Even mornings, I restricted myself from opening my laptop until a certain time. I slowly started realizing I have more time in fact.

I strictly don’t consume sugary foods, ice-creams or soda any more. There was a time when I used to drink close to 40 ounces of soda a day. Now I restrict myself to only consume water even when I go out for lunch. I have completely cut down on consuming white rice to one small portion a day. All of these small changes made life so much easier.

There are some self imposed restrictions that can work wonders like avoiding procrastination by sticking to a schedule, avoiding carbs and fatty foods if we weigh more than what we should be, taking stairs instead of lift, ensuring 8 -9 hours of sleep etc. It takes dedication and discipline. Somehow it is easier to follow the restrictions/limits we have set for ourselves, than imposed by others. The internal dilemma of why the restriction exists in the first place is no more there. The restriction came into existence for a reason we strongly believe in. Some of these restrictions shape us into better version of ourselves. It could be rewarding to cross the bridge knowing we aren’t on an easy path. So, one should try to impose meaningful and justified restrictions 

The counter side of it are those self imposed limits which restrict us from evolving, to not realize our full potential. We should be careful to not fall into such traps. Only one word of caution, don’t be too hard on yourself. 

“In a world of infinite choices, choosing one thing is the revolutionary act. Imposing that restriction is actually liberating.”
― Priya Parker 

HOW ABOUT A CLOTH FACE MASK?

The one big change COVID-19 has brought to our lives is that of using masks. There are significant other changes, but the mask is one of the important measures for safety as well. Whether governments implement lock-down or not, all of us realize the importance of keeping a safe distance and wearing a mask in public.

In India, COVID-19 started in the month of March. Both online and offline stores ran out of sanitizers and N-95 masks. During the first week of March, many of my colleagues were browsing all major online stores for masks. Some of them bought in hundreds. It was a time when none of us knew clearly where we were heading with the crazy COVID-19 around.

Wearing a mask is unheard of in India. Some cities in India are highly polluted, yet we rarely see people wearing masks. Masks are only made for medical professionals. When the number of cases were rising, stores just ran out of all medical masks. Anti-pollution masks were unavailable as well. People just grabbed whatever they could. In all this, I was not at all interested in buying a mask.

Some questions that people started asking themselves later were bothering me back then.

Some day, we may not have any masks to wear? So, should we just roam around without protecting ourselves?

If everyone uses medical masks, what would our front line workers wear? 

The most important question. Are these masks biodegradable? How harmful would these be for mother earth?

Isn’t a cloth mask good enough? 

For a few days I just lived with these questions. I never bought masks. During the initial 15-20 days, I remember using a large hand kerchief folded and supported by my hairbands. It might sound silly to be engineering something out of what we have, but clearly I did not want to use something that could cause harm to mother earth.

With a cloth mask I saw many advantages. It would be more comfortable than the regular masks. I would be reusing some old unused cloth lying at home to make masks. They are washable and could be completely sanitized. Then, why not?

A few days later, lot of organisations including WHO started requesting people who are not infected to use face masks. I browsed a lot and read through many websites on how to make a mask which could protect me from infection. The below is what made sense

  1. Make a 3 layered mask
  2. Thick cotton cloth for the most closest layer to the face
  3. A filter like material for the middle layer (I used the semi-nylon bags with pores for this)
  4. A non-absorbent outer layer

I found some You tube videos on how to make masks, followed the instructions to sew and voila, the mask was ready. It took one mask to get to perfection, but there they were, custom made colorful masks. We can make them with more fun patterns for kids. We don’t have to feel like patients wearing gaudy and single color masks.

So… Is a cloth mask effective?

It is not an equivalent to N-95 mask but close when it comes to protection. They may not effectively stop the virus from getting absorbed, but would certainly block the exhalation of droplets with virus. That is good enough if all of us religiously wear layered masks. Personally I wore only the masks I made all these days when I went out. I don’t even have a surgical or medical mask at home and sometimes wonder if I should buy some. Thankfully, the need hasn’t come yet 🙂

As businesses are resuming and employees are returning to work, masks can play a pivotal role in blocking or at the least help reduce the spread of the virus, especially from asymptomatic carriers. The more people wear masks, the less viral particles would make it to the space around them, decreasing exposure and risk.

BEING A FEMALE PROGRAMMER

Close your eyes and imagine a computer nerd staring at the screen trying to solve a problem.

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What did you imagine? A boy with a casual t-shirt or hoodie typing on the keyboard? I am sure most of you won’t imagine a girl. This is predominantly not because women are not talented but more because of our culture. When women express that they are programmers, the reactions would be, “Ah, she must be a genius.” There is a lot of stereotype in this one single statement. Before I dwell on that, do you know a recent study in the US showed an enrolment of women into STEM disciplines is close to 20%? Was it always like this? Well, more than the ratio, it is better to have an overall look at how women progressed in software engineering.

Have you heard about Ada Lovelace? It’s ok if you haven’t. She is the first computer programmer. I am not saying, first female programmer. Yes, people. It all started with a woman. Computers back in those days were massive, with a lot of hardware components. Assembling a computer itself was considered a tough job and is for men.  So, programming was a second-grade job. Women were also chosen candidates for that because by the talent that women posses with arts such as knitting, it was considered that they would naturally be able to perform well in writing analytical software. I am talking about the 1800s.

How about Margaret Hamiton? She is a computer pioneer who actually coined the term “software engineering.” Her software, Apollo Guide Computer in the Apollo Space Program sent humans to the moon. If any software engineer feels proud to call himself so, it is because she described herself as a software engineer. She gave an identity to the work she was doing. Margaret is an inspiration to many, and I am one of them.

There is a long list of inspiring female programmers, and they do perform well in what they chose. In fact, there were quite a few books written on women who excel in STEM, and I would recommend those books to everyone.  Nowadays, we see women doing quite well in a variety of mathematical, analytical, and engineering disciplines. So, the question is, why is the percentage of women so low who pursue an education in STEM? And the percentage reduces more and more as they progress in their careers.

Male dominance – This is the case in all disciplines but more so in STEM where girls are treated as if they don’t belong. As a woman, you might have to prove yourself more than a man does. The solutions proposed by a woman gets scrutinized more. I won’t deny it. I have found myself in situations where I had to defend more than needed. The same coming from a male counterpart would not be questioned as much. Also, as a woman, we may not be able to be part of all the tea table talks or casual gatherings beyond work. This is negative at times because some of the discussions and sometimes even decisions happen over these informal talks. 

A pre-perceived notion about women in tech – Many not only think women can’t code, but they are somehow inferior to men when it comes to being technically geeky. Looking at the accomplishments women have made ever since computers came into existence, this sounds untrue. Personally, I have women around me who are as geeky as men and spend hours without interruption when a challenge is thrown at them. So, there is interest and dedication as well.

Apart from these, there are other disparities. Women are paid less compared to men of the same caliber, it is often a daunting task to prove yourself over and over again and also not having the flexibility to work from anywhere. Big tech companies and even small company employers are actively considering ways to bridge these gaps.

So, should women learn to code? Absolutely. For a second, forget all the stereotypic thoughts. How would you feel about finding a solution to a problem no one ever did? Would you have an adrenaline rush to be able to build whatever you want? Cool, then programming is for you. Having said that, I won’t say it is a bed of roses. You are going to have moments where you end up questioning yourself, “Am I good at this? Maybe, this is not for me”. Worry not, you are not alone. A lot of men also have the same feelings. Fear is built into us and is not gender-specific. Programming is not just analytical or logical, it is a creative form, and we women are great with creative stuff.

Working your way up can be a little tricky. Find a women mentor, because she has been there and done that. It might be easier for a women mentor to understand your state of mind. Having said that, some men are great mentors, and they really understand what we go through as women, acknowledge it, and can provide a helping hand in overcoming the hurdles. A small secret, it is easier to convince someone with good code because it cannot be influenced by anyone while it runs!!

Make friends with women who are coders. There are quite a few groups, meetups that happen where women in technology come together. These are great platforms to find someone who you can share your achievements and frustrations. Also, you would get to learn about various new technologies and meet technologists who are pioneers in those areas.

Gone are those days where people say, women who are pretty cannot code, and who can code are not pretty. I am both pretty and can code, do you have any problem with that should precisely be our attitude, and there would be no looking back.

Go out, girls, have fun coding!!!

WANT TO STOP VIOLENCE? START AT HOME!

Last week, I met a ‘gentleman’ in one training. I have put the gentleman word in quotes because that’s his feeling and not mine. While we were talking over dinner, he told me that this is the first time he has ever come to Bangalore. After a few more questions, he said he had never been to any place out of Hyderabad. That sounded a little stupid to me. He was married, and I really wondered why no one would want to go to any other place other than their hometown and workplace. He expressed that his wife has the interest to travel, but he doesn’t want to. I told him that he should let her travel if she wants to, for which his response really bothered me. “You know, women should be kept in control. Once if I leave her to her will, she would never listen to me again”, said he nodding his way as if he was acknowledging it again. I was furious listening to those statements of his, yet, it was not in my power to say anything. Where do you think that hideous thought of his came from? 

Often our behaviors are dependent on our upbringing. There is a saying, “if you want to know how a man is, get to know his friends.” That’s because we get attracted to people who are like us or who we inspire to become. Our childhood has a significant influence on who we are today, either positive or negative. When I read in the news regarding domestic violence, political, religious, or economic, I often wonder if they had any prior exposure to this. Let’s consider economic abuse – When a person wants to abuse another economically, it is usually carefully planned. At the least, the person should have enough talent to fool the other person. To not get caught, it should be executed with the utmost care. If we think about domestic violence, these men would have grown up as boys who witnessed abuse. 

I am no expert in criminal psychology, but the results of certain studies on men who resorted to violent acts are linked to prior acts of violence at home. A recent study has revealed that 50% of men accused of mass shootings or bombings have either been charged or were sentenced for killing or abusing their wife or girlfriend. These studies point only to one fact that violence starts at home. Violence at home is a child’s first experience at a tender age and becomes a justifier in the future. There is a pattern to all this. Don’t believe me? Read about some of the key convicts of popular violent crimes, and you would start to see the pattern too. In most cases, the courts have not taken domestic violence acts very seriously.  

How can we help to reduce violence? I am only going to talk about two points that can really help, in my opinion.

  1. Social media sharing: Violence is a disease. You don’t cure a disease by sharing it.
    • Whenever there is a violent outbreak, we often see people updating their statuses with videos or news articles. If you intend for others to exercise caution, that’s good, but please do mention that along with sharing the article. 
    • When I see someone updating, “My heart hurts,” or “Furious of these acts” kind of messages, I really want to question those people. If you intend to help, please reach out to the victims or NGOs who are trying to help. I do not really understand how it helps if your social contacts know that your heart hurts or head aches. These don’t do any good; instead, there may be others who do not even have an idea of what actually happened, just keep liking/sharing the status, and it isn’t necessary at all. Write a private post to someone who can help instead. 
    • Unfortunately, when we are not part of the violence, what we know is the least, and please respect privacy. 
  2.  Teach kids at a tender age how to stay safe and prevent violence
    • The difference between good touch and bad touch should be known to all kids. 
    • Tell them, it is wise to settle disputes with dialogue and not fistfights. 
    • Never fight before kids. 
    • Speak up when something is not right 

Remember – Language matters. Our words matter. Our actions matter. If we want a society free of violence, we should be part of that change. I understand that it cannot happen in a day or two, but it has to start somewhere. Why not our own home? 

 

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”
― Yehuda Bauer

 

LIFE IS A SERIES OF BABY STEPS; AT THE END OF EACH STEP THERE IS AN EXAMINATION

The whole world was surprised when a a non-English movie won the Oscars a a few weeks back. The next morning every major newspaper applauded the movie, It was an epic moment for Koreans to celebrate ‘Parasite’ bagging not just the best film award but the best direction as well. Curiosity arose in me as to what might have been the plot of that movie which impressed the Oscar panel so much. Being a non-English movie it is difficult to create that impact crossing the language barrier. After a little wait, I did watch the movie. It was not my first Korean movie, yet my first of this kind of genre. Parasite depicts that part of life which most of us think is very normal in our day to day life, but the director Bong Joon-ho’s take on it made it a spectacularly woven story. I am not going to spoil the fun for you if you have not watched it yet, but I would certainly love to tell you that the movie is very impactful in many ways. I kept thinking about the movie for a couple more days. 

The best dialogue I loved was, “you know what kind of plan never fails? No plan at all. No plan. You know why? If you make a plan, life never works out that way”. That is very very true. We always think we have planned well, ahead in time and are ready for challenges. At the exact time, life throws an unexpected twist. We might feel helpless and are lacking the strength to fight through it. It is life’s way of telling us, “Get up and keep going”. 

Three years ago, I went through the worst time in terms of health. Something was wrong, I could not see properly, I had balance issues, I couldn’t walk and doctors had no clue what was going on. I was struggling at work because of health. I remember one of the conversations I had with Chiradeep back then, “Dada, I don’t know anything else but to write software. If my eyesight doesn’t recover, I don’t think I can earn for living. My life was all going good a month ago and now I don’t know how my future would be like. The only thing I can think of doing is to continue writing using a speech to text converter, and have you as my editor“. Chiradeep and I had a good laugh over that. A month later, the doctors said my brain pressure is high and they have to do a procedure to check if there was any infection. 

The nightmare my mother doesn’t want to be in. She called up my father and started crying. “How can I take her to the hospital for the procedure alone?”. She was more scared of being alone there than my procedure. I can understand her situation. She never had been alone or handled things alone. The next day before the procedure, I told her, “Amma, listen to me. This is called a credit card, and this is the PIN number. In any emergency situation, don’t panic. You can use this card to pay for the bills. Don’t worry so much; nothing would happen. You just sit outside and wait. I would be back after the procedure”. She came back after the procedure to see me, as the doctor said I cannot walk. There was a sigh on her face. I bet she was worried about the results. My health took a good four months to recover, but during that time I have never given up. It was very slow and steady progress. 

In the above, my father had to take the exam of being a helpless father. I know he would have preferred to be with me, but he could not. My mother was worried about seeing her child suffering. I had no clue if I was even going to survive this. I wondered if I had cancer or even something worse than that. “Who would take care of my parents if something happens to me”, was the constant thought that bothered me. The situation is the same, but all our examinations were different. 

From then on, I did go through a lot of ups and downs both professionally and personally. Sometimes I even wonder I would have committed sins that are following me to torture me, Karma you know. Sometimes I think I am very lucky to have parents who support me in all walks of life. No matter what my decision is, they stand by my side. Without family, I would have been lost a long time ago. When I think of not having a family, I think of those orphans who live their life all alone without the feeling of family. Chiradeep always tells me, “Sona, human beings are social animals. To be alone is not how we are wired, so I can understand you find it very difficult some times” and he is right. A human being always needs at least another human being, who would care for them. As long as you have that one person in your life you would come out with flying colors in all the examinations life throws at you. That person can be anyone but should be the one who you can trust and who sees you as a part of his/her life.