Monday, 27 June 2011

Monkey see, Monkey do - Why can't we?

Empathy - The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person - is one quality that we have been taught to have since childhood. I'm sure everyone of us would have felt the emotions, that the presence or absence of empathy, brings to us. I was under the impression that empathy or putting oneself into the other person's shoes or being on the other side of the table or whatever you call it, is a skill that every human being should try and develop, till I started reading "Just Listen" by Mark Goulston. It was interesting to know that it is not a skill that a person develops but instead it is wired in his brain. In fact that is something that we inherited from our ancestors during the evolution.

It has been proved by scientists who studied specific nerve cells of macaque monkeys that, these monkeys' brain cells reacted in the same way when the monkey performed some action and when it watched some other monkey perform the same action. V.S.Ramachandran explained in his ted talk that if we could remove the skin cells that senses the touch and sends the signals to brain, the reactions in the brain would be the same, if we were touched or if we watch someone else being touched. To the brain, it is all the same.

Every human being has this ability to empathize another person and expects the world to reflect our feelings as well (at least a little). Or in Mark's words
Each time we mirror the world, it creates a little reciprocal hunger to be mirrored back.
But most of the time we fail to do just that and it might create an impact in the other person called "mirror neuron receptor deficit".  When people experience it, they feel that they are left alone and depressed. Most of the techniques, to get through people,explained in this book is just about making people feel felt. When we mirror people's feelings/emotions it makes them feel less alone, which brings some relief to them, which in turn makes them feel more relaxed. As a result they'll be more open to listen to us and willing to work with us. I believe that this simple science must be very useful and handy to everyone of us who need to collaborate with a bunch of people day in and day out.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The road to ThoughtWorks

One fine evening in the first month of my final year in college, we got an information from my placement officer that a company called ThoughtWorks (TW) is visiting our campus. None of us got the name right in first place. He spelled it out for us and we googled to find out more about TW. The day before TW was supposed to come to my college, I received a call from one of my lecturers. He asked all the placement reps (I was one of them) to come early that day. I had no clue as to why he called for a meeting but still, being an early bird I showed up early, while none of the others turned up.

The first round of placement was just over, by that time, and there were still some students left in my department who were not placed yet. He started off with asking me the stats and then went on to blast me for not taking any step towards getting those students placed. I tried to explain him on whats going on, but I stopped responding when i realized that he was not ready to listen and started comparing us with the rest of the placement reps in other departments. I was super pissed off. He went on for more than two hours and then calmed down and wished me good luck for ThoughtWorks. I left the room with no motivation to do anything.

In the afternoon we went to attend the pre placement talk, just for the sake of attending it. Initially I was thinking that its gonna be yet another ppt. But i was proved wrong. It was amazing I should say. They took us through the everyday life of an TWer and i was pretty impressed. I was all excited about getting this company. Then came a slide in the presentation that listed the languages and platforms TW works with.  I have written Java programs (as simple as to find the inet address of the machine) in the networking lab. That is all the Java knowledge I had. I've heard of .Net, but didn't have a clue about what Ruby and Perl are about. The question "Will I make it?" was lingering in my mind, but still I wanted to give it a try.

The first round was logical. But the kind of questions were different and interesting. I enjoyed solving those and successfully cleared that. Then came the pairing round. We were given two problem statements. We had to provide a solution to the problem of our choice in the language of our preference. That was really simple for me. I chose a problem that I understood and decided to code it in C, since it was the only language that I was comfortable with at that time. I had no other choice. The most impressive thing about this round was the freedom that we were given to refer to any book of our choice and use internet. Never heard about anything of that sort in any of the recruitment process. While we were coding, people from TW were pairing with us, helping us and assessing us in the mean time. The coding round was over and then came the interview.

The interview started with my self introduction, the only thing that we've been rehearsing for the last one year in all of the pre placement trainings. The interview went on for about 45 mins. After that we were anxiously waiting for the recruitment team to comeback with the results. They called me in first. I walked in thinking that all the rounds were over and getting the offer was the only thing left. Well. Not so soon. I had a wonderlic test to clear. I didn't know how the twelve minutes passed. But in the end it was all for good. I cleared it and received the offer and a bunch of goodies from ThoughtWorks. I was all smiles when I came out, so nobody had to ask me if I was placed. That was the moment I cherished.

It's been three years now, since I joined ThoughtWorks. But this experience has been refreshing and brings me goosebumps every time I think about it.