28 March 2005

Line of Fire ?

Many a time the software gumbal { gang } is consumed by it's thought that they are responsible for archtechting the world's best systems and that things revolve around them.Of course it's not fair to blame that gumbal alone, there are are other things in picture too.
This is not about that.This is about a forward that i got.The story narrated may not be true.In fact there seems to be no way to verify it too.That does not matter here.What matters here is the essence of the story.Let us not get dragged away into thinking that what we as software guys do is of utmost importance to all of us
around !

Vivek Pradhan wasn't a happy man. Even the plush comfort of the First Class
air-conditioned compartment of the Shatabdi Express couldn't cool his frayed
nerves. He was the Project Manager and entitled to air travel. It was not
the prestige he sought, he had tried to reason with the admin guy, it was
the savings in time. A PM had so many things to do!
He opened his case and took out the laptop, determined to put the time to
some good use.

"Are you from the software industry sir," the man beside him was staring
appreciatively at the laptop.
Vivek glanced briefly and mumbled in affirmation, handling the laptop now
with exaggerated care and importance as if it were an expensive car.

"You people have brought so much advancement to the country sir. Today
everything is getting computerized."
'Thanks," smiled Vivek, turning around to give the man a detailed look. He
always found it difficult to resist appreciation. The man was young and
stocky like a sportsman. He looked simple and strangely out of place in that
little lap of luxury like a small town boy in a prep school. He probably was
a Railway sportsman making the most of his free traveling pass.

"You people always amaze me," the man continued, "You sit in an office and
write something on a computer and it does so many big things outside."

Vivek smiled deprecatingly. Naivety demanded reasoning not anger. "It is not
as simple as that my friend. It is not just a question of writing a few
lines. There is a lot of process that goes behind it." For a moment he was
tempted to explain the entire Software Development Lifecycle but restrained
himself to a single statement. "It is complex, very complex."
"It has to be. No wonder you people are so highly paid," came the reply.

This was not turning out as Vivek had thought. A hint of belligerence came
into his so far affable, persuasive tone.

"Everyone just sees the money. No one sees the amount of hard work we have
to put in." "Hard work!" "Indians have such a narrow concept of hard work.
Just because we sit in an air-conditioned office doesn't mean our brows
don't sweat. You exercise the muscle; we exercise the mind and believe me
that is no less taxing."

He had the man where he wanted him and it was time to drive home the point.

"Let me give you an example. Take this train. The entire railway reservation
system is computerized. You can book a train ticket between any two stations
from any of the hundreds of computerized booking centers across the country.
Thousands of transactions accessing a single database at a given time;
concurrency, data integrity, locking, data security. Do you understand the
complexity in designing and coding such a system?"
The man was stuck with amazement, like a child at a planetarium. This was
something big and beyond his imagination.
"You design and code such things."

"I used to," Vivek paused for effect, "But now I am the project manager,"

"Oh!" sighed the man, as if the storm had passed over, "so your life is easy

It was like being told the fire was better than the frying pan. The man had
to be given a feel of the heat.
"Oh come on, does life ever get easy as you go up the ladder. Responsibility
only brings more work. Design and coding! That is the easier part. Now I
don't do it, but I am responsible for it and believe me, that is far more
stressful. My job is to get the work done in time and with the highest
quality. And to tell you about the pressures! There is the customer at one
end always changing his requirements, the user wanting something else and
your boss always expecting you to have finished it yesterday."

Vivek paused in his diatribe, his belligerence fading with self-realization.
What he had said was not merely the outburst of a wronged man, it was the
truth. And one need not get angry while defending the truth.
"My friend," he concluded triumphantly, "you don't know what it is to be in
the line of fire."

The man sat back in his chair, his eyes closed as if in realization. When he
spoke after sometime, it was with a calm certainty that surprised Vivek.

"I know sir, I know what it is to be in the line of fire," He was staring
blankly as if no passenger, no train existed, just a vast expanse of time.

"There were 30 of us when we were ordered to capture Point 4875 in the cover
of the night. The enemy was firing from the top. There was no knowing where
the next bullet was going to come from and for whom. In the morning when we
finally hoisted the tricolor at the top only 4 of us were alive."

"You are a..."

"I am Subedar Sushant Singh from the 13 J&K Rifles on duty at Peak 4875 in
Kargil. They tell me I have completed my term and can opt for a land
assignment. But tell me sir, can one give up duty just because it makes life
easier. On the dawn of that capture one of my colleagues lay injured in the
snow, open to enemy fire while we were hiding behind a bunker. It was my job
to go and fetch that soldier to safety. But my captain refused me permission
and went ahead himself. He said that the first pledge he had taken as a
Gentleman Cadet was to put the safety and welfare of the nation foremost
followed by the safety and welfare of the men he commanded. His own personal
safety came last, always and every time. He was killed as he shielded that
soldier into the bunker. Every morning now as I stand guard I can see him
taking all those bullets, which were actually meant for me. I know sir, I
know what it is to be in the line of fire."
Vivek looked at him in disbelief not sure of his reply. Abruptly he switched
off the laptop. It seemed trivial, even insulting to edit a word document in
the presence of a man for whom valor and duty was a daily part of life; a
valor and sense of duty which he had so far attributed only to epical
The train slowed down as it pulled into the station and Subedar Sushant
Singh picked up his bags to alight.
"It was nice meeting you sir."
Vivek fumbled with the handshake. This was the hand that had climbed
mountains, pressed the trigger and hoisted the tricolor. Suddenly as if by
impulse he stood at attention, and his right hand went up in an impromptu
It was the least he felt he could do for the country.

Sometimes i think this industry needs to be deglamourized a little bit.Too much of hype is being created !

Posted by Shyam Krishnaswamy at 11:48 AM


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