Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg

One of my colleague from Marqeta first told me about this book, so I put it into my top queue for to-read list. Then couple of weeks back in a company offsite, our CEO Jason Gardner mentioned this book. So as soon as I was done with How Google Works, I started this book.

I found this book very thought provoking. It's a philosophy of life that can be of practical use at any place and time. The author talks about how to build new narratives so that we get rid of blame games and instead pay attention to the needs of people and ourselves. Here are some sample ways that we can use to communicate in a nonviolent compassionate way. You may initially find it a bit difficult or unreal but with time it will become natural I hope.
  • Can I interrupt you for a moment? There's something going on in me.
    • Use it when you want to interrupt someone because you dont want to listen any more.
  • Do you have space to listen to me for like 10 minutes?
    • Use it when you want someone to listen to you.
  • How would it be for you to do this?
    • Use it instead of can you do this for me or do you want to do this for me?
  • Would you be willing to try out this strategy for X amount of time?
    • Use it when you want to request someone to do something that might be challenging for that person.
  • Can I think about it and let you know tomorrow?
    • Use it when you are not sure to say full yes and need time to think on it.
  • I would really love to find a way to get both of our needs met.
    • Use it when you are in a delicate situation, thinking you or the other person might be triggered.
  • I would prefer to do X because I have a need for Z.
    • Use it when you want to say No to someone. Instead of saying no, propose this as an alternative.

I highly recommend reading this. Here are some quotes from the book.
  • “At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled.” 
  • “Peace cannot be built on the foundations of fear.”
  • “Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values.”
  • “In this stage, which I refer to as emotional slavery, we believe ourselves responsible for the feelings of others. We think we must constantly strive to keep everyone happy. If they don’t appear happy, we feel responsible and compelled to do something about it. This can easily lead us to see the very people who are closest to us as burdens.”
  • “Blaming and punishing others are superficial expressions of anger.”
  • “Focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging,”
  • “I define judgments—both positive and negative—as life-alienating communication.”
  • “My partner wants more affection than I’m giving her, she is needy and dependent. But if I want more affection than she is giving me, then she is aloof and insensitive.”
  • “There is considerably less violence in cultures where people think in terms of human needs than in cultures where people label one another as good or bad and believe that the bad ones deserve to be punished.” 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell

Last year I finished 2 books that told the stories of Sillicon Valley startups in ways that I liked very much - The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and Zero to One by Peter Thiel. This April another book came up but I couldn't make time to read it until now. I just finished the audiobook - Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Alan Eagle.

It's a great book on leadership, management and business in general based on the lessons from Bill Campbell. Bill was a former executive at Kodak and then Apple, and later became the CEO of Intuit. He was also an informal executive coach to many tech giant CEOs/COOs, including Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, Sunder Pichai, Marissa Mayer, Dick Costolo, Dan Rosensweig, Donna Dubinsky, Sheryl Sandberg, Ben Horowitz, and many others. I am thinking of many of the lessons I am trying to internalize after reading this book. If you are a manager or are in any kind of leadership role, I highly recommend you reading it. And even if you are not, I would recommend the same.

Here are some of the quotes from the book that resonates with me.
  • Your title makes you manager, your people make you leader.
  • Pick the right players. The top characteristics to look for are smarts and hearts: the ability to learn fast, a willingness to work hard, integrity, grit, empathy, and a team-first attitude.
  • People are most effective when they can be completely themselves and bring their full identity to work.
  • Keep note of the times when they give up things, and when they are excited for someone else’s success. Sundar notes that “sometimes decisions come up and people have to give up things. I overindex on those signals when people give something up. And also when someone is excited because something else is working well in the company. It isn’t related to them, but they are excited. I watch for that. Like when you see a player on the bench cheering for someone else on the team, like Steph Curry jumping up and down when Kevin Durant hits a big shot. You can’t fake that.
  • Winning depends on having the best team, and the best teams include more women.
  • Think that everyone who works for you is like your kids,” Bill once said. “Help them course correct, make them better.
  • Because the best person to be the team’s coach is the team’s manager. Being a good coach is essential to being a good manager and leader. Coaching is no longer a specialty; you cannot be a good manager without being a good coach. The path to success in a fast-moving, highly competitive, technology-driven business world is to form high-performing teams and give them the resources and freedom to do great things. And an essential component of high-performing teams is a leader who is both a savvy manager and a caring coach.
  • It’s a manager’s job to push the team to be more courageous. Courage is hard. People are naturally afraid of taking risks for fear of failure. It’s the manager’s job to push them past their reticence.
  • Strive to win, but always win right, with commitment, teamwork, and integrity.
  • Failure is a good teacher, and Bill learned from these experiences that loyalty and commitment are easy when you are winning and much harder when you are losing. But that’s, as Dan’s story highlights, when loyalty, commitment, and integrity are even more important. When things are going badly, teams need even more of those characteristics from their leaders.
  • The world faces many challenges, and they can only be solved by teams. Those teams need coaches.
  • How do you bring people around and help them flourish in your environment? It’s not by being a dictator. It’s not by telling them what the hell to do. It’s making sure that they feel valued by being in the room with you. Listen. Pay attention. This is what great managers do.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Became 2019 US National Class Champion In Under 2000 Section

I became undefeated champion today in 19th US National Class Chess Championship organized by BayAreaChess. I played in A section (Under 2000) in 2 days format while Ahyan played in B section . (Under 1800). I won first 4 rounds and drew the final round to be champion. Ahyan didn’t get a good tournament this time as he is trying to settle in this relatively new B section. So far all my games were hard earned slow endgame wins, three times being a pawn down with slight or no compensation. I should receive $1008 first prize along with the champions trophy. 

You may find the final standings here. Also I have recorded below all the 5 games I played in this tournament.

Rohan Rajaram (1794) vs. Ashik Uzzaman (1947) 1/2-1/2
Hyatt Regency, Burlingame, California: US National Class Championship: 2019.09.29

In the final round I needed a draw while my opponent Rajaram needed to defeat me to be champion. He thought he got me in the bag after his 42. Kd2. I am going to soon loose my c2 or g6 pawn with a good chance for him to win. But my reply 42... g5! threw him out. I virtually sealed the draw there by ruining his pawn structure despite going a pawn down. I remember Tournament Director Tom (who was watching the game) asked me later, where did that g5 come from? Moves like g5 is not intuitive and easy to miss, so I was very happy when I found it!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Great Speakers and Influencers

I listen to many speakers, watch youtube lectures, follow tweets as well as posts from LinkedIn, Medium and other blogs. Over time I came to listen to some of the speakers repeatedly either for their eloquence in speech or for their insightful message. Here I am compiling a list of best of them as per my taste. Please feel free to compile your own and share with me so that I can enrich my list. 
  1. Shykh Yasir Qadhi - American Sunni Muslim Scholar and one of the most eloquent speakers. Check out his youtube videos.
  2. Richard Feynman - Famous Physicist. Check out his youtube lectures, twitter quotes or read his 2 books Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?
  3. Naval Ravikanth - A serial entrepreneur in bay area. Follow his tweets and listen to his lectures in seminars.
  4. Jordan Bernt Peterson - Clinical psychologist and writer of 12 rules For Life. Follow his youtube lectures.
  5. Reza Aslan - Scholar of religious studies and writer of No god But God. Listen to his youtube talks.
  6. Andreas M. Antonopoulos - Bitcoin and Blockchain Enthusiast. Listen to his youtube videos
  7. Patrick Lencioni - Popularly known for his business fable Five Dysfunctions of a Team, try out his other books as well his podcast At The Table with Patrick Lencioni to know his fascinating ideas on business leadership.
  8. Robert Sweeney - Founder and CEO of Facet. He posts the most insightful LinkedIn wall updates for software engineers and engineering managers I have ever encountered. 
  9. Simon Sinek - Motivational speaker. Listen to his youtube lectures.
  10. Gary Vaynerchuk - Public speaker. Listen to his youtube talks.
  11. Mehdi Hasan - British political journalist. Listen to his debates, shows in Al Jazeera English along with his hosting of Richard Dawkins.
  12. Muhammad Yunus - Microcredit and microfinance pioneer, founder of Grameen Bank.
  13. Abdullah Abu Sayeed - Founder of Bishwo Shahitto Kendro (BSK). 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Most US Presidents and Many World Leaders
  • Carla Harris - Start with her Ted Talk and listen to her youtube videos
  • Lawrence M. Miller - One of the best Leadership Coach. Check out his youtube videos and Udemy courses
  • Yuval Noah Harrari
  • Thomas L. Friedman
  • Dr Bruce Lipton - Read his book The Biology of Belief
  • Hasan Minhaj - Listen to his youtube channel Patriot Act

Saturday, August 10, 2019

12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson

In 27th May 2018 late afternoon in one of my regular visits to my friend Ashfaq's house, I found him with the book 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson. He mentioned that he recently ordered it from Amazon but after reading part of the forward he was thinking to return it unless I am interested to read it. My eyes just sparkled as I got some great references of books like Sapiens, Thinking Fast and Slow, The Three-Body Problem (trilogy) etc from him in the past. So he gifted me the book and I started reading it.

It's difficult to over estimate how much I liked the book and even more difficult to explain in how many dimensions I discovered a non-fiction book can enrich your thoughts. The book talks about 12 life lessons that you can follow to make the best of your existence. The lesson titles are given below and the titles don't represent properly what he actually means when you read the chapters in detail.
  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
  2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
  8. Tell the truth – or, at least, don't lie
  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't
  10. Be precise in your speech
  11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

It's a hard book to read. Very hard. Apart from its size, its written in a way that before pitching the central idea for each rule, Jordan dances around the contexts of why its relevant. I have spent lots of time between each chapter so that the lesson sinks in me and I can think about it before starting the next one. And unlike most other books now-a-days that I listen in audible, this one I read word by word. And not only I read, I listened to most of the youtube lectures Jordan has given. When he came in December 2018 in San Francisco, I attended it personally with all enthusiasm.

Jordan is one of the most popular figures in social media in recent years. He has been giving talk on this book for a year now all around the world. He is controversial sometimes, but more often bold and passionate about what he preaches. He is not a comedian or entertainer, yet I listen to him for his eloquence in speech. He comes up with different points to talk about every time he stands, very little repetition. 

When reading the book, many sentences I re-read again and again for how he organized the words within sentences. Its as if you put the words a bit differently, the whole meaning and force behind his speech will be lost. Many of the sentences can be treated as great quotes. If you take out religious scriptures, this book has the highest number of quotes that will qualify as great quotes in my opinion. 

So I read it slowly in parallel to many other books I read or listened to. Finally I finished it last week on my way back to San Francisco from Austin in the weekend trip. I am sad that the book is finished and I will read it again - this time probably listening to audible. It will remain one of the best books I have ever read.

Here are some sample quotes from the book (not exhaustive at all) - 

“When you have something to say, silence is a lie.” 

“Intolerance of others’ views (no matter how ignorant or incoherent they may be) is not simply wrong; in a world where there is no right or wrong, it is worse: it is a sign you are embarrassingly unsophisticated or, possibly, dangerous.”

“You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act. You simply don’t know what you believe, before that. You are too complex to understand yourself.” 

“It took untold generations to get you where you are. A little gratitude might be in order. If you're going to insist on bending the world to your way, you better have your reasons.”

“To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability, and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and mortality are only dimly comprehended. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the ancient language).”

“So, attend carefully to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them—at least the same right as others. Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous.”

“Perhaps you are overvaluing what you don’t have and undervaluing what you do.”

“Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding opportunities. Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being. As the great nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche so brilliantly noted, “He whose life has a why can bear almost any how.”

“In the West, we have been withdrawing from our tradition-, religion- and even nation-centred cultures, partly to decrease the danger of group conflict. But we are increasingly falling prey to the desperation of meaninglessness, and that is no improvement at all.” 

“Ideologies are substitutes for true knowledge, and ideologues are always dangerous when they come to power, because a simple-minded I-know-it-all approach is no match for the complexity of existence.”

“You must determine where you are going in your life, because you cannot get there unless you move in that direction. Random wandering will not move you forward. It will instead disappoint and frustrate you and make you anxious and unhappy and hard to get along with (and then resentful, and then vengeful, and then worse).”

“And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.” 

“if you cannot understand why someone did something, look at the consequences—and infer the motivation.”

Monday, February 25, 2019

Chess Chat: Q&A with Ashik Uzzaman

Ashik Uzzaman was born and raised in Dhaka, capital city of Bangladesh. He finished his post-graduation in Economics from University of Dhaka while completing diploma in software engineering from NIIT. He came to USA with job as a java developer in 2005 and currently working as a Senior Software Engineer at Roku. He, along with his son Ahyan Zaman, is a regular participant in chess tournaments on the west coast.

How old were you when you first learned how to play chess? Who taught you?
– I was about 8 years old when I learned to play chess. I learned it from my cousin.
How has chess effected your decision making process off the board?
– Chess makes you efficient considering many possible outcomes in parallel. This helped me consider pros and cons of making any decision carefully. Chess also helped me learn when to take time, observe and weigh in detail before making any conclusions. So I think it helped me in my career choice, my education and my social skills. 
How did your earlier career choices lead you to where you are now?
– To accommodate my chess tournament schedules, I picked relatively easier subject (Economics) during under graduate program. But later I focused on building my career as a Computer Programmer leaving chess for a long period of time.
How would you define your chess style?
– I was initially very aggressive attacking player. But as I started reading lots of chess books, I progressed to be a strategic positional player. I like Capablanca or Karpov’s style of accumulating small positional advantages.
Does your chess style transfer over into your business decisions as well?
– Yes. I often make decisions that are good for my team in the long term instead of looking at the immediate task in hand. Also I do a lot of trade off comparisons while deciding which option to choose while solving a problem.
What has been your worst chess mistake which has given you the biggest lesson?
– My biggest mistake was not focusing on the end game which resulted in loosing lots of games despite having advantages in the middle game.
What has been your worst career mistake that has given you the biggest lesson?
– My worst career mistake was not moving into Engineering Management roles despite getting several opportunities. I have been comfortably working as a software engineer in individual contributor roles for 19 years now. I am glad to share that I have amended the mistake and joining a company next month as an Engineering Manager.
Do you think chess has helped you to become more resilient in life?
– Yes. Chess teaches us perseverance and endurance. When I am stuck with a problem, I dont give up easily. I patiently continue to retry until I succeed. This is a direct habit learned from playing long games chess with intense struggles.
What do you hope to achieve professionally during the next couple of years?
– I want to see myself making good impact in my new project and hopefully take the pre-IPO company I am joining to public.

What is the biggest challenge to achieving that goal?
– Meeting continuous aggressive deadlines of multiple software projects; hiring and retaining the best engineers of bay area.
How would you relate these goals and challenges to the chessboard?
– In chess we have to keep eyes on our own weak squares and king safety and at the same time exploit our opponents’ weaknesses all throughout the game without slipping. Just as challenging in life.
Could you please leave us with a favorite piece of chess wisdom to conclude this interview?
– “Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do; strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.” – Savielly Tartakower

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Ahyan Finally Defeated Me In A Competitive Chess Tournament

This finally happened. Ahyan defeated me for the first time in a competitive chess tournament despite my rating being more than 300 points than his. We are playing in 19th Henry Memorial Chess tournament today at Mechanics Chess Institute, San Francisco. This is a 5 round Swiss where after first 3 rounds both of us were at 2. Consequently I got white in 4th round against him. I gained a pawn putting some positional pressure and got greedy to get the second pawn. So I got into a long defensive position and miscalculated a pin which I thought I can defend. Well no. Ahyan piled all his pieces on the pinned Bishop despite having only 1 minute left in his clock. As it was a game in 40 with 5 seconds delay, seeing very low time in his clock, I didn’t resign until getting checkmated with the hope to flag him down on time. But we it didn’t work out for me. I have never given up any game in my life, and did my best to win. But kudos to him. Recently he had been crossing me in tactics multiple times (my puzzle rush best is 26 and Ahyan’s is 27 for example). The moves of the game is below but u will put a diagram tonight when at home. Ahyan will get some prize money if he wins the last round that we are about to head into.

Thoughts on Life, Death, and Overcoming Fear

I've been pondering a topic that's universally relevant yet rarely discussed - death and the anxieties it evokes. As I delve deeper ...