Archive for the ‘work’ Category

Why Your Name Matters : The New Yorker.

 In 1984, the psychologist Debra Crisp and her colleagues found that though more common names were better liked

They found that the “white-sounding” candidates received fifty per cent more callbacks, and that the advantage a résumé with a “white-sounding” name had over a résumé with a “black-sounding” name was roughly equivalent to eight more years of work experience. 

These findings have been demonstrated internationally as well. A Swedish study comparedimmigrants who had changed their Slavic, Asian, or African names, such as Kovacevic and Mohammed, to more Swedish-sounding, or neutral, ones, like Lindberg and Johnson. The economists Mahmood Arai and Peter Skogman Thoursie, from Stockholm University, found that this kind of name change substantially improved earnings: the immigrants with new names made an average of twenty-six per cent more than those who chose to keep their names.

The effects of name-signalling—what names say about ethnicity, religion, social sphere, and socioeconomic background—may begin long before someone enters the workforce. In a study of children in a Florida school district, conducted between 1994 and 2001, the economist David Figlio demonstrated that a child’s name influenced how he or she was treated by the teacher, and that differential treatment, in turn, translated to test scores. Figlio isolated the effects of the students’ names by comparing siblings—same background, different names. Children with names that were linked to low socioeconomic status or being black, as measured by the approach used by Bertrand and Mullainathan, were met with lower teacher expectations. Unsurprisingly, they then performed more poorly than their counterparts with non-black, higher-status names. Figlio found, for instance, that “a boy named ‘Damarcus’ is estimated to have 1.1 national percentile points lower math and reading scores than would his brother named ‘Dwayne,’ all else equal, and ‘Damarcus’ would in turn have three-quarters of a percentile ranking higher test scores than his brother named Da’Quan.’ ” Conversely, children with Asian-sounding names (also measured by birth-record frequency) were met with higher expectations, and were more frequently placed in gifted programs.

Rajesh Jain makes an interesting observation that “Employees can always get off when the going becomes tough or new opportunities beckon, but not the entrepreneur.”  He wishes that “staff joining entrepreneurial start-ups/early-stage companies show the same grit and determination through the challenging times“.  That is a reasonable wish, and I think it can be achieved by hiring the right people and giving them appropriate incentives.

Incentives in terms of stock holdings is obviously being widely adopted; the important thing here is to make sure the upside is alluring enough. If the stock reward is a paltry sum, it is not going to make a difference. Besides monetary incentives, it is also important for these early employees to be involved in all major decisions; they should know what is going on. They should feel that they are part of the founding team. If the founder(s) think they can push through the tough times and build a great product, how can the employees feel otherwise? If employees are not sharing the optimism of the founders, then it is definitely a matter of communication gap.

You can’t overestimate the importance of hiring right people early on. The right kind of people are those that value their work beyond the rewards that it brings in; the ones that are burning the midnight oil simply because they love what they are doing; not the ones that are doing their job to justify their paycheck at the end of the month. The ones that would fight with their boss to do what is in the best interest of the product; not the ones that are dancing to please the boss. Get the right people, and sell them your vision. When they believe they are fighting for a cause, when they truly think what you are doing makes the world a little better, they are there for the long run. They would toil during the tough times without any complaints.

Recently I came to know about DLI through this post on Sowmya’s blog. DLI is an admirable effort to digitize old books and make them accessible online. They have a nice collection of rare old books in many Indian languages.

In her post, Sowmya explains how hard it is to search for books on that site. They have used a lot of different non-standard ways to spell the names of Indian authors. If that’s not ludicrous enough, they have different spellings for same names in different titles. For example, Lakshmi goes with the spelling ‘Laxmi’ in one book, and as ‘laq-smi’ in another. Well, you can imagine how tedious it would be to search for something in such a database. It got me thinking to see if there is a simple way to fix this search problem. It occurred to me that using SoundEx based search can solve this problem. It’s such a simple thing to implement if they want to. Pretty much all database systems have built-in support for SoundEx indexing these days. For a moment, I considered implementing it myself by crawling the website and building an index. It’s doable because we  don’t have to replicate the entire DLI database. All we need to do is  just store all the unique names that appear with their different spellings; that can’t be very big.  We can use this database to retrieve the list of alternate spellings that are used for any given name. We submit all those spellings to the DLI search, and Bingo! we have the results that we are looking for. For example, if someone searches for ‘Lakshmi’, SoundEx lookup in our database would give us the other spellings ‘Laxmi’, and ‘Laq-smi’. We submit three queries to DLI with these three different spellings.
Anyway, I dropped the idea for now since I don’t have a place to host such a system at my disposal. Besides, It doesn’t seem like there are many people using DLI to warrant that effort.
While we are on the topic, few more things that came to mind when I looked at DLI: The website proudly proclaims that “For the first time in history, the Digital Library of India is digitizing all the significant works of Mankind”. Tall claims without substance, typical of us Indians. The entire website looks very crudely done and can use some improvements. I don’t understand why they are digitizing English works published in other countries. There are efforts like Project Gutenberg that are doing a finer job.

Bob Sutton makes a compelling case for why bosses should sort of lie to their teams, and express false confidence in decisions taken in uncertain situations. While Approaching the uncertainty with confidence is a good thing, expressing false confidence to the team may not be the best thing to do always. It might be the right approach if the team is relatively clueless and the boss calls all the shots and is the only one with the complete picture. But this may not be true in most of the cases. The team may have a mix of people on the spectrum ranging from exceptionally talented super stars to the average Joe. Some of the good guys might generally be able to figure out that the situation is not as hunky-dory as the boss is claiming it to be. It’s probably better to take these people into confidence. For people who seek challenges and are excited to explore new territory, uncertainty may actually mean an opportunity, and they might be able to handle the situation well enough. Besides, there is a possibility that these people will raise relevant question pointing to the uncertainty if the boss tries to hide this fact, and it can undermine the credibility of the boss.

Also, in the event that the boss’s decisions turn out to be wrong, being honest and quickly correcting the course may not be enough if the boss had expressed false confidence. Won’t the team be less confident of the boss’ confidence this time? won’t that in a way dilute the credibility of the boss?