Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with ME!

The scene’s from “Watchmen” – classic DC comics graphic novel turned major motion picture. Rorschach’s been arrested, and dumped along with all the baddies he had put behind the bars. The rouges are excited as time has come up for their revenge, with Rorschach all alone in their midst. They plan an assault at the food court, and the protagonist retaliates, delivering the classic line:
None of you seem to understand. I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with *ME*!

Ah! What a line!! So simple, but so powerful!!! One that makes you hunt mercilessly for an opportunity to throw on someone :-) The interesting fact is that one doesn’t have to be a black belt in Kung Fu, or bitten by a radioactive spider, to deliver it - What it takes, is a simple look around.

There's an old incident from my initial years at Infosys - I was at Chennai, on a project for a major US telecom giant, maintaining one of their order processing systems. Along with development & enhancement, regular production-support too constituted a major chunk, and among these lay one of our worst baddies, the one we so hatefully called “data scrubbing” - the long manual and monotonous process of digging up cartloads of data and fixing "orders" stuck in the system. The job was someone else's headache until one fine day when I was randomly picked to walk his path.

I was trained, the first day was exciting, the second day was enriching, the third day was monotonous, the fourth day was boring, and the fifth was painful. The job was pretty much mechanical, for when I documented all the steps, I found that it’s akin to a glorified operations manual. However, every day I came to office, took the list of orders stuck the previous day, and spend around 5 hours (for around 50 orders) with droopy eyes and aching fingers (hundreds of Ctrl+C Ctrl+V!). One of the main reasons of the long timespan was the data fetching process (which involved firing queries against an Oracle database situated in Texas, halfway around the world from Chennai). Each order had multiple queries to be fired sequentially, based on output from the previous one.

Days passed, and I felt was locked up in there with this task – this moronic monotonous task, and the only natural way out seemed to be to dump it on someone else’s head a few months down the line. I was sad, felt desperate, and saw redemption as the remotest possibility. And then on a fine Saturday morning when I woke up, I was a man with an idea.

It was a holiday, but still I rushed to office. I skimmed through the “operations manual” I had jotted down earlier, and framed it into an algorithm. Then, over a steaming cup of free office coffee, I started implementing the algorithm in PERL. Four hours and 800 lines of code later, I had my first version of the program, which picked out stuck orders, queried the database, performed the analysis, performed more queries, derived root-causes, devised resolutions, and prepared a spreadsheet report ready to be dispatched for execution! Everything at a whopping speed of 10 orders in 3 minutes!!!!! And from that moment, neither me, nor anyone in the team ever, had to touch a stuck order with their bare hands!

Yup! The coin flipped when I realized that I was not locked up with “data scrubbing”, instead “data scrubbing” was locked up with me! :-)

Problems! Yeah, they are all around us. Many are spun by circumstances where we seldom seem to find ways out. Many a time we end up mourning desperately over the issues we are locked up with. Sometimes, all that we need to magically make our problems disappear is to remember Rorschach, and realize with a smile, that it’s not me who is locked in with the problems, it’s the problems who are locked in with me. God save them!!! :-)


  1. Yo !! truly inspirational !! and yes.. facing problems head on is the only way to face them :) .. poor problems.. God save "them" who are stuck with you !!..

  2. A Man with a Idea .... I was looking for one inspiration too many one came last week ... one comes here .. .Good to see you writing again ....