I don’t want the hacker tag

I’m annoyed with people adding a hacker suffix to every single word they can find

A friend recently messaged me on Facebook asking me if I had been in touch with the “immigration hacker”. He had asked me a few weeks earlier to help him find an immigration attorney.

I don’t know about other people, but this kinda sorta, drives me a little nuts.

I get that you read Hacker News everyday and idolize Paul Graham..

Though I have the greatest respect for PG, YC, HN and what they’ve managed to do, I still find it a little strange that folks have to consistently use the word “hacker” behind every profession in a bid to try to make it “sexier”.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary gives three possible definitions for the word hacker, out of which the most suitable is — “an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer”.

I just don’t get how the hacker suffix could apply to almost all professions as are being used today.

Heck, my profession has recently come to be called growth hacking which has also been used shamelessly by several people as link bait.

Hackers, us non-hackers love you and what you’re doing for the industry, but we don’t really need the suffix.

PS: Ironically, my Hacker News handle is “stephenhacking”.


A Disappointing Day At The MasalaKart Street Food Festival

I have never been to over-publicized food festivals before (thankfully so, after this experience), but I was prodded into going to this one by my buddy Shiva who runs Bread & Beyond.

If I had to sum up my experience at the Masala Kart Chennai Street Food festival in a line, I’d have to choose one (if not all) among these:

  • The most terribly organized event one could have ever gone to
  • A street food festival with five-star prices
  • A pseudo street food festival

I had to refrain for the sake of giving the organizers a long rope and just call it a disappointing day for me.

Before we even got in – Parking (6:30 PM – 7:30 PM)

I made a very bad judgement call by deciding to drive down to Island Grounds on a Saturday night for a widely publicized event; though you could blame me for my stupidity, that cannot absolve the blame that should fall on the organizers (MasalaKart, Red Chariot etc.,) for not getting their shit together when it comes to figuring out parking spots.

There were no clear indicators about where four wheelers were to be parked — the spot that marked entry for four wheeler parking had a closed gate. The man at the gate wanted us to just move along and try the next gate.

Alas – the next gate was an exit gate and even though it was so, nobody was actually telling us that we should just be finding a gully to park in.

Overall, guys – if you want to organize an event, it’s okay and natural to run out of parking space, just let people know and save us some time and energy.

The line that never ended (7:30 PM – 8:00 PM)

After finally managing to park near Doordarshan Bhavan, we walked almost three kilometers to get to the actual line where we had to buy our entry pass for this street food festival.

An event that supposedly had 20,000 people coming over the course of three hours had a sum total of *drumroll* six lines where they were selling tickets.

The line that never ended

After spending almost thirty minutes fighting through the human mass that was the line for buying tickets, we ended up finally coughing up the 100 rupees per head that we had to pay for entry (out of which 50 was available for us in coupons to spend on food)

The food that wasn’t (8:00 PM – 9:00 PM)

Once in, we were frantically looking for a counter that we could grab some food at, having been hungry since 6:30 PM.

The loudspeakers blazed on about some special “karandi omlette” and “kallaki” that was available at section F, and we decided to try that out first.

We purchased 200 rupees in additional credits on top of the 100 we had, assuming that 300 is all that two people needed to eat at the street food fest.

Debacle #1 – Kalakki (Cost = Rs. 40 | Cash Remaining = Rs. 260)

Selling something that was available next street for five times the cost

This Kalakki (pictured above) is what we bought for thirty bucks. Shiva kept muttering that the same thing was available next street for 8 bucks.

The taste was nothing to write about.

This was the first sign that the food was overpriced and not really that great, but we decided to go on since we had 170 remaining in coupons which were non-refundable.

Debacle #2 – Paneer Hariyali Tikka (Cost = Rs. 80 | Cash Remaining = Rs. 180)

Worlds most expensive Paneer Tikka

This was probably the most expensive Paneer Hariyali Tikka I have ever had and it also was probably the worst tasting Tikka that I’ve ever had too.

I should had read the signs when I saw the way the guy was preparing the Tikkas, which was super unhygenic, but when hunger strikes and you’re standing in a long queue to get ripped off, common sense doesn’t prevail.

I ended up buying three very small pieces of Tikka for 80 bucks — I asked the guy twice if this is what they gave for the price and he assured me both times that I was getting my money’s worth.

Debacle #3 – Chola Bhatura (Cost = Rs. 50 | Cash Remaining = Rs. 130)

Having been ripped off twice so far at the Masala Kart food festival, we lapped up this Chola Bhatura even though the taste was not all that great.

IMHO, Adyar Anandha Bhavan has better tasting Bhatura than what was being served over here. But, for 50 bucks, it was better than everything else that was being sold.

The Saving Grace – Mysore Bajji (Cost = Rs. 30X2 | Cash Remaining = Rs. 70)

Having almost given up on this food festival, we walked to the Andhra section where there was a relatively small line trying to buy Mysore Bajji.

Since there was nothing much to lose and another 130 bucks to blow, we decided to give it a shot.

We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the bajji as well as the chutney (though they ran out of kara chutney for the second plate)

This was probably the only saving grace of the entire day.

Debacle #4 – Paav Bhaji (Cost = Rs. 50 | Cash Remaining = 0)

Having spent another 20 bucks on over-priced Kinley 500 ml water, the Pav Bhaji stand intrigued us, partly because we were flabbergasted about how Pav Bhaji got included in the Masala Kart Street Food Festival, while there was no Vada Pav, and secondly because we only had 50 to spend and still had our tummies to fill.

What we got for the fifty we spent was this:



I went through the same conversation I had with the Paneer Tikka vendor with this guy asking him thrice if this is what they provided for 50 bucks, and arguing about why there was only one Pav.

It was beyond comprehension why we were getting so little food for so much cost.

When we finally started eating the Bhaji, it tasted so much like Lemon Achar that we decided not to have anymore.

It’s time to go home and we’re still hungry

Having spent all the money we had bought coupons for, we were ready to go home, still hungry.

We had been the victim of “sondha kaasulaye soonyam vechukaradhu”.

At 9:00 PM, hunger was finally satisfied with Muttai Dosai at a real street food Kaiyendhi Bhavan near the Adyar Bus Stand.

The Masala Kart Street Food Festival could become the perfect candidate for a Big FM episode of “RJ-Balajiyum 100 Rubaiyum”.



Sticky Notes Motivation

I’ve used all sorts of swanky project management systems ranging from Teambox to Streak to whatever me-too task manager the Marketing Guru’s son comes up with, but I’ve come to the humble conclusion that:

Sticky Notes > Swanky “Cloud” Based Task Manager

The problem with task managers on the cloud was that it wasn’t accomplishing what I wanted it to:

  • Show me something “physical” right in front of me and everyone else on the team of stuff that needs to get shipped right now
  • Give me the joy of tearing a todo out from the board
  • Allow everyone in the team feel like they’re (or, not) accomplishing something significant

This is the experiment I ran to get myself and at least two other people in the day work on what has resulted to be one of the most productive days in weeks!

  1. We would all create a list of items that we needed to get accomplished today / tomorrow on sticky notes and paste them on the wall
  2. We’d try to be as realistic as possible on whether it could be done (gotta mention here that a lot of us are very unrealistic about what we can accomplish)
  3. We’d get cracking and each time one of us accomplished a sticky, we’d tear it off the wall and shout it out to the rest
  4. Everyone else involved in the sticky board would stand up and clap, yell hurray or whatever

What this did was get me super motivated to get yellow stickies cleared off the board and since I’m big on the “competition” part of almost everything, I was trying to eat stickies faster than anyone else and trying to get people stand up and acknowledge as much as possible.

What this did for some other people is get them to try and torture me by finishing their stickies so that I could lift my lazy ass up to acknowledge them!

Now, can someone create a me-too cloud based smexy task manager to replicate the same experience? I promise to give you $250/mo in business tomorrow!



Shocking Housing Discrimination In Chennai

This is a site-layout that I saw in a recent development project that they claim to be a “modern life-sized villa project”.

I was shocked to see the builder segregate the homes for sale into those that could only be purchased by Vegetarians versus those that could be purchased by anyone.

So, what they’re saying is – if I wanted a home in the first four rows, I would not be able to purchase one, even if I had the money, as long as I was a meat eater.

Does this remind us of something?

  • BRITISH ONLY. INDIANS AND DOGS NOT ALLOWED. The Taj Mahal hotel that you refer to in these photographs and which was the site of state-sponsored terrorism from across the border – was built by a beloved Parsi industriallist J. N. Tata – a Parsi. The reason he built this hotel open to all Indians – that overlooks the ocean in Mumbai, is because the hotel next doors was “British Only. Indians and Dogs not allowed”. (view original source)

This may not be as bad as the treatment meted out to Indians during the British Raj – but, telling people they can’t buy a home just because they’re not vegetarian seems like the latest method used by India’s vegetarian elite to ensure that they’re as far away from everyone else as possible.

This menace is not just limited to new constructions – the rental market in Chennai is another similar story.

In fact, a lot of folks I know in Chennai, don’t rent out homes to people who are not vegetarians – the bulk of people I asked around wouldn’t rent their home to someone who was not from their same caste, if they couldn’t find someone from their same caste, they wanted a vegetarian. Under no circumstance were they willing to rent out to a family that cooked meat at home, and they had specific reservation towards renting out to Muslims.

Why all this discrimination?

How can something like this happen in a country where a majority of the population are meat-eaters and what claims to be a major democracy where discriminating people based on religion, caste, food-habits etc., is an offense.

This project, for everyone’s information, is being built in Chennai (the 4th largest city in India) and each home is being sold for two crores ($500k) – the construction company is heavily advertising the project and may also be using this vegetarian – not so vegetarian classification as a marketing gimmick.

How Do We Make Being An Indian Digital Marketer Sexy

DISCLAIMER: These are my observations and thoughts about the online marketing space and professionals in India. I have no clue what happens elsewhere.

For those of you who don’t know what I do for a living, I help businesses get more visible on the interwebs.

As part of my job, I need to hire at least half a dozen young recruits to do online marketing for me every six months or so. Needless to say, I have to sift through a few hundred resumes and multiple interviews before it finally gets to a point where I’m finally ready to make an offer.

But, I’m seeing a very discouraging trend:

  1. Almost 90% of the folks whom I interview have no clue about how online advertising works (think, difference between indexing, caching and crawling or what is the difference between a metric and a dimension)
  2. Most of the folks took up a career in digital marketing simply because they got no other job
  3. Most of them are neither passionate and are open to shifting industries if it means they get paid marginally more

This is sad..

Not just because it makes it harder to get talent – but, because this is happening in one of the most fulfilling and profitable professions I’m aware of.

It appears like online marketing is not sexy anymore and the smart kids just want to do something else.

This needs to change, fast. And, they *could* change if we try to implement some of these ideas.

Let’s Influence

There exist a lot of smart kids who could end up being kickass marketeers, they just don’t know it yet.

As marketers ourselves, we need to help them understand how fulfilling and interesting this space is. No other profession really allows you to grow as fast as you would in this space and makes it this easy for you to become an entrepreneur if you want to.

Do you know a smart kid that hates flipping switches in a dead-pool job? Educate them about our industry.

Talk to everyone you know about how this is a great career option and possibly a better option than most others.

We Need Schools That Train

You’d be surprised how many MBAs with their major in marketing have no clue about how there is a paradigm shift happening to digital when it comes to advertising and marketing.

Digital isn’t getting as much mind-share as traditional advertising. Though awareness is increasing, it’s not happening as quickly as we’d like.

There are a couple of very good finishing schools for digital like Web Marketing Academy and IAMAI and IMRI, but there are no big universities covering this as a subject in their curriculum.

We need the folks in the IIMs, IITs and XLRIs to take notice and start offering digital marketing as part of their coursework.

Heck, it might help if IIM-Bs director’s contact email got a couple of hundred people asking him why they don’t cover digital marketing as part of their curriculum.

It is also a completely different matter that there are not as many finishing schools out there as one would like. I can’t find one in Chennai, for instance.

We Need Better Trainers

The interesting thing about what we do is that, a lot of this information cannot be crammed by reading a book. I’m more of an expert at Search Engine Optimization, and I think it’s more of an art, and there are different practitioners with different schools of thought.

All of us practitioners are so busy making moolah, or gyrating over campaign success that we don’t really go out there and teach people. Yes, I’m talking about going to a University meetup and talking to students, not tweeting your 160 characters of thoughts.

If we could share with students, budding entrepreneurs and folks who are genuinely interested in what we’re doing, there’s going to be so much more talent that becomes available.

I know of at least ten different people in my social circle who could become great mentors / trainers / teachers, but just aren’t doing it yet!

We Need Consensus

The software industry has NASCOMM. What do we have?

Some folks say SEMPO or IAMAI is the alternative, but it is my personal opinion that neither is really reaching out to students and enthusiasts who want to get into the industry, or evangelizing internet advertising as much as they should be.

We need a pan-India body who’s sole purpose is to get more people into the fold.

Let’s Make Online Marketing Interesting Again

A question that’s been running in my mind constantly is that “Are we getting too process oriented at the risk of converting something very interesting into something super boring?”

Being a marketer isn’t similar to being a software engineer – most companies that do online marketing (myself, included) seem to be process heavy at the risk of making the process dull and drab.

We need to operate more like PR Agencies and Advertising Agencies; we need to foster creativity and make this job interesting again.

We Need To Pay Better Money

At the place I work, we pay approximately $600 to a kid fresh out of college – but, to my surprise, I find that a lot of people with three or four years of experience in the industry, don’t even make half of that.

This is BAD – a guy sitting in the bench in any Indian IT mega-corporation probably makes closer to $500/mo. Considering the fact that it is super easy to land a job in any of the SWITCH companies, why would any recent graduate want to waste their time on a $100 – $200/mo job in the internet industry?

We pay way too less as an industry to expect folks to take us seriously – we need to up the bar and quick.

If a fresher software engineer can be paid $500 – $1000/mo, our industry needs to catch up!


A lot of our decisions as Indians is influenced by brands, our parents, our neighbors and the random person we meet in a family gathering. In the 60s and 70s, everyone wanted to work for the Government. In the 2000s, everyone wants their kids to work in a software company.

2013 and beyond, we need to get kids and their parents to WANT to look at us as a serious career prospect.

The first step in doing that is to brand ourselves – what NASSCOM is currently doing for the Indian software, or what one of the larger Indian IT companies are doing for themselves.

I’m writing this as an appeal to fellow online marketers, folks who run digital media companies and enthusiasts – let’s try to implement some of these steps and reverse the trend.

Digital Marketing SHOULD NOT be the second choice for someone looking at career options.

Do you have ideas to make being an digital marketer sexy? Please add them as comments and I will include them in this essay.

The Elusive Nagothila Tree

I have this habit of a “knee jerk response” to make stuff up when I need to get out of a sticky situation. It’s something I’m not very proud of, especially since I make absolutely ridiculous yet convincing lies to make myself look good.

Recently, I discovered a story about my great great grandfather which may explain the “knee jerk response”; looks like I can blame genetics for one more defect after-all!

This story happens when the Brits were still kicking us around and it goes like this:

My great great grandfather was a forest officer working somewhere close to the erstwhile Mysore state.

Even though he was supposed to be stationed in the forest, my grandfather being the man he is decided that the job had no accountability and he was not being monitored – so, he decided to do what any sane man would do – stay at home, laze around and keep collecting his paychecks.

One fine day while he was lazing around at home (incidentally, 500 miles away from the forest he was stationed at), a curious British botanist decided to want to be shown around the forest.

My grandfather rushes to the forest, he hasn’t been there in years and has no idea how to get around and takes a local with him to help out.

So, the pesky Brit looks around and decides to get curious with one specific tree – this was a tree he’d never seen before, and he asks my grandfather what it’s called.

In typical fashion, my grandfather has no idea what it is and asks the local accompanying him in turn.

The local responds back saying ‘Na Gothilla Sir’ which literally translates to ‘I don’t know’ in Kannada.

Any normal person hearing this response would just go back and say that he didn’t know what the tree was called; but, not my ancestor.

In a quick knee jerk response, he tells the Brit ‘Oh, this is the Nagothilla tree’.

The poor trusting Brit botanist classifies the tree in his records and moves on…



Having To Dress To Work Is… Pointless

If there is one predictable argument that happens everyday in my life, it is the one I have with my mother at 2 PM about why having to “get dressed” to work is completely pointless, unless of course, you’re in sales or any other customer facing role where you have to impress the shit out of the people you meet with your external appearance more than anything else.

I’ve personally found the process of actually getting dressed to go to the office really tiring, cumbersome and energy sapping. Especially if you’re waking up at 1 PM and trying to get to work before everyone else leaves :)

1. Do you really want to spend 45 minutes doing something unproductive?

If you’re a lazy bum like me, you’re probably in shorts and tees most of the time at home – to actually make the mental shift to wearing full-pants a shirt and everything else, to selecting your clothes to wear, to actually wearing them takes between thirty to forty five minutes.

Can you really waste that time? Imagine how much stuff you can actually get done with 15 more hours in a month? – that’s almost enough time to watch the entire 2nd season of Game Of Thrones, and still have some time to troll around in the ASOIAF Forums.

2. Does your weather support formal clothing?

I live in Chennai, India – we have only two seasons, the hot season and the rainy season. Both of these seasons do not support typical official attire.

Why in the world would I want to wear (inadvertently) three layers of clothing in a city where you can get drenched in your own sweat?!

The best clothing IMHO for my city is shorts and tees, or the traditional lungi.

3. Are you truly comfortable?

You need to feel truly comfortable at your workplace to be able to stay productive and get stuff done.

How will you feel that way if you’re all dressed up, wearing really uncomfortable clothing all because Indian companies in the 50′s and 60′s very badly wanted to emulate their British masters?

Heck, even the Brits used the Khakhi Shorts in India more than anything else.

4. What about minimalism

I’m a big fan of minimalism, and it’s very hard for me to understand how you can be truly minimalistic if you’re going to have multiple “sets” of clothing – one for work, one for working out, one for lazing at home and one for everything else.

5. Who the hell are you trying to impress

Finally – your motive to go to work should be to get stuff done and not to impress people around you. If people get impressed because of what you wear and not what you do, then it’s not the most productive work environment or peers.

I personally believe that you should wear to work what you’re most comfortable with – not something that’s been imposed on you.

If you cannot have the freedom to choose what you wear to work – JUST QUIT!