Posts tagged: Kraya

Work Life (Im)Balance

Started twittering this week although I’ve had an account on there for about a year. Huge, very interesting community on there of people from all walks of life. Whole communities, sub-communities, tools, utilities – all based on 140 character messages. It really is very impressive.

As a twitterer, there is the question I ask myself as to whether i tweet my personal life or my professional life. Right now, with half a dozen followers, it really doesnt matter. But in the longer term, it would be my goal to increase that number substantially. After all, it is all about who you know, not what you know…

I am already following Levar Burton (Geordi La Forge), Brent Spiner (Data) and Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) – all from Star Trek The Next Generation, Richard Branson of Virgin and Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror and Stack Overflow.

I’ve often thought about separating my personal life from my professional life in terms of online presence. Clearly Star Trek above is a personal interest whereas the other ones are professional interests. But then, my professional interests are classified as such only because I turned personal interests into a career.

If I could make my interest in Star Trek a part of my career, I will…

I do wonder how it would affect my relationship with my followers though, in the long term. I am always going to tweet about things that are of real interest to only a percentage of the followers. This percentage is going to be lower than for other people. This stems partly from my wide range of interests and diverse group of friends / associates.

As an organisation, that works in a fairly diverse range of sectors, this identity crisis is experience not just by me, but as a whole within the organisation. One of the challenges we face is expressing the core values that are fundamental to the way we do work regardless of what that work is.

I believe, at the end of the day, that is the most important quality and our biggest USP…

Insanity

Outside of Kraya, there really is no Shri. Every one in my life knows this. There was a time when I took some “time off”(Lasting about two years) In reality, however, this was far from being a holiday. It was simply just some much needed time away.

It’s not much different from spending too much time with a lover and simply need some alone time(For those checking back in their calendars, this was between October 2006 and September 2008).  By 2006, I had dedicated pretty much 95% of my time, emotionally, intellectually and physically (and any other lly’s)  to the growth of Kraya. I guess this was with a very obsessive and addictive personality and an incorrigible persistence.

It turns out however, that no matter how much I seemed to stray or run into a spiral of despair or disillusionment, the last two years have actually been the most successful and important years of my life so far by a huge margin. In fact, in the last two years, Kraya has seen growth that is larger in magnitude than its growth over its entire lifespan combined.

There are two very very important reasons for this. The first one, I listened.

Much much more importantly, it was the people! I have tried very hard to make Kraya a community of people rather than a company. I would like to take this opportunity to recognise some of the people that have made this possible.

First off, I have to thank my Dad for showing me the space outside the box and of course for introducing me to the Computer. Without his “insanity,” I would be far too normal to have pulled this off.

My Uncle for helping me take the first steps in learning about computers…

State Street Bank & Trust for teaching how a workplace can be fun.

Laurence Demarco & Rodney Stares for introducing me to Entreprenurialism.

Andy Shaw for giving an 18 year old the chance to put his theories into practicalities. Also for giving me the opportunity to take over his company with two other directors…

Krish, for starting on this endeavour with me and holding the fort ever since then through thick and thin. Making sure that the basics were taken care of when I got carried away with the big picture and the big fish!

The one girl who managed to dominate my personal life! The one person who loved me and helped my confidence grow and never complained about Kraya always taking first place in my life.

Graeme Binnington, who has changed the landscape of Kraya more ways and more times than anyone else without actually working at Kraya.

George Connell, who along with Graeme Binnington showed a confidence in my abilities(A tall order at just 21 years old)in building megabus.com. It was George & Graeme that gave me this chance. I know that Aird was involved in this too but I will get to him later on.

Chris, one of the first people to start at Kraya(in our study at home). The person who has been with us ever since. His dedication and committment to Kraya earned him a very special and important place within Kraya. Rising to any challenge; throwing up challenges of his own; and doing his part in integrating new members into the team.

Aird & Alison McKinstrie for their support and advice as we grew, shrunk and tried to define Kraya.

[Black spot between the May 2005 & Feb 2007)]

John, who hit the job running (and has kept running since, even after the birth of his son Jack). Now responsible for the whole Software Development team – our biggest team by far. He makes it look a walk in the park!

Seumas, for taking over the burden of systems and server management. The extent of which I did not realise until I learnt to appreciate how much of my time was freed up when he joined us.

Bob, for taking over the entire Tech Support department to free up more of my time and take away a large worry from off my shoulders.

Stephen for showing me a different view into the sales process and for showing that cold calling can work! not to mention, for cheering me up on many a day 😉

Liam, David F and Richard who show me that age is not relevant; that skills can be learned; and the most important thing is to have the right attitude!

David, one of my closest friends for helping me indulge my insanity, for the support, for helping me see some possibilities which I didn’t see.

Joe & Laura for reminding me of who I was and taking me away from the world of work (as best they could)!

There are a lot of other people who have touched my life. However, the magnitude of impact these people have made on my life is so substantial that it warrants note.

With all these people backing me up, is it any surprise that Kraya grew the way it did in the last couple of years. Thank You.

We have got the final unnofficial confirmation of the largest project that Kraya has undertaken to date (by a very large margin). A lot of work went into the budgeting and proposal process for this project from John & Chris. This helps Kraya take a leap skipping a few steps in between and gives us the capability, once it is complete successfully to do so much more.

So, with this post, I would like to thank you all and invite you to help us to change the world… 😀

Censoring Law

Krish asks a good question about censorship & blogging.

Unsurprisingly, it was me who broke the rules and made an overtly political statement which Krish had to censor that raised this point.

Censoring is such a grey area. Less grey in a corporate environment but grey nonetheless. My last post about Tinkerbell is for the benefit of the Kraya crew and of course the Mascot himself. However, the question has to be asked as to how it will be perceived by our (potential) clients and our (potential) new staff…

Some of our clients (the ones for whom we do a lot of work) know that we are off the wall. In fact, the reason we are able to do some of the amazing things we have done is because we are a little crazy and off the wall… :-)

It has been made clear in Kraya that it is a lifestyle and not a job. The crew at Kraya are so fantastically good at what they do, it would be unfair (at best) to restrict them with rules, structure and guidelines. All geniuses were eccentric at best or outright crazy or insane. Take Van Gogh, Beethoven, Mozart, Einstein, Newton.

No matter what people say, technology is an under-appreciated art and some of the most creative people in the world today are in the technology sector. Simply because technology is so pervasive, it is simply taken for granted. The genius in the technology sector is easier to find because the desire to conform is in general far less. In fact, technology encouraged the people who were more traditionally in the sidelines and to let themselves loose and discover their potential in a field where they could still hide in the background but still make an impact.

Kraya is a good example of this.

In 2003, we built the first megabus site; in around 6 weeks. It is now a force to be reckoned with in the transport sector with over 100,000 visitors every day (across the uk & us).

We have our name on the site and we tell people that we are responsible for the site. However, it is impossible to convey the true genius behind the site. It handles around 5 or 6 searches every second (at peak), with each search being returned within a second or two. This does not seem that impressive but then that is because it is difficult to convey the complexity of the availability & pricing algorithm and the amount of data it has to deal with just to return one set of search results.

As another example, lets take the Edinburgh Festival Fringe website. Since launch, on the day of opening bookings, it has been unavailable for day(s) due to the sheer amount of traffic.

The first year that we took it on, without making any changes to hardware but by pretty much completely re-writing the internals of the site, we took the site live with disruption to service limited to a mere 2 hours.

This is difficult to notice from the public’s perspective since the site looked exactly the same. The fact that the site was now substantially faster, more responsive and reliable was just not registered!

For the Fringe website this year (2008), we organised a complete infrastructure revamp and carried out more work on the internals to ensure that the site would work and be completely available with NO disruption to service at all.

Unfortunately, due to issues with the ticketing system, this never went live as planned.

Kraya has largely stayed in the background through all of these. Like an artist, we signed our work (our name is there both on the megabus site and the Fringe site). However, like with all pieces of art, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

It is unfortunate, that organisations like Apache, GNU and even Microsoft, people like Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman and even Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, and products like Linux that make a real difference in the world stay largely in the background while Tracey Emin’s Bed is so much better known.

It seems the best way to measure the success of a technology product is to see how much it is taken for granted. Google is the perfect example of this.

Are we now living in a world where “to use something” is the best way of saying “thank you.” In other words, is the best way to thank google to just use google?

To come back to my original point of censorship. I agree that as individuals in a community, and as an organisation in the marketplace, there are some things that would be inappropriate to say in a public blog. However, this is often hard to define. More importantly, I believe that each and every single one of us at Kraya are capable and sensible enough to decide what is (in)sensible to be in a blog. The person most likely to pop something into a blog that shouldn’t be there would be me.

I blame this on the fact that I have never differentiated my life in general from my life at Kraya!

Invisible Interface

I am a fairly avid reader of Jeff Atwood’s Blog and the post on Is Email = Efail post was particularly interesting. This led me on to Tantek Çelik post and several other articles relating to this.

The HCI (Human Computer Interface) has always intrigued me. This was partly due to the fact that I never enjoyed working with it – adjusting all those widgets by a few pixels so things could fit and it might look that little bit cleaner. Thinking about where a particular field should go and how it would all fit together was a little too bothersome for my liking. Precisely the reason why I enjoyed web development. Someone else could work out all the aesthetics and all I had to do was plumb in the functionality behind that.

Of course, it is never quite that straightforward – there was often plenty of to and fro before the interface was nailed down. However, the worrying of where something should go could be left largely to someone else.

It turns out however, that (like with most everything else in life) – I am very much opinionated about the user interface and design. The only difference is that actually doing the work does not excite me – but the concepts do.

In Tantek’s original post, he points out:

“The fewer fields in an interface, the lower the cognitive load.”

This is something that is vital to Interface design but something that is easily missed.

It was pleasant when I went back to one of our first high profile projects – megabus and checked the user interface on there. The number of fields on there truly was minimal. In fact, there was originally only one field on there and this had a reasonable default value. All the other fields are drop downs. There are now three fields on the uk version and two on the us version of the site. All with sensible defaults.

The other advantage of the megabus system is that when you hit search, the results are usually returned under a second. This is with a very complex algorithm to calculate the availability/pricing and around two searches happening every second. At peak, we have handled up to around 5 searches a second with the results being returned in under two seconds.

After this page, there are no more fields for entry apart from when you make payment. The benefits from the simple user interface and fast search response is, at least in my view, one of the key reasons for the success of the site bringing in people from all walks of life. This includes students as well as old age pensioners who learnt how to use computers and the internet just to be able to book megabus.com tickets.

It did get me thinking thought about the perfect user interface… Is it possible to reduce the interface down to nothing…?

Installation of Thunderbird/Firefox has a good example of user interfaces that can be removed. In particular, I am referring to the import from interface…

Import Data During Thunderbird Install

Import Data During Thunderbird Install

While this is a useful step, why does Thunderbird not do this in the background, find out what other applications are installed, do the import anyway (if possible) from any and all applications, merge them together as sensibly as possible and give the user the option of whether they want to use it, or parts of it.

I realise this opens a whole can of worms…

Q. Does this not mean that Thunderbird thinks that it is smarter than the user (as per my reference to Windows being “smarter” than the user in Evil Linux)?

A. No.

  1. Thunderbird should inform the user of what it is doing – don’t miscommunicate.
  2. Have a cancel button, so that the user can cancel if the process is taking too long and they won’t be using that information
  3. If the process fails dramatically for some reason such that the install crashes, this should be detected on the next try and the installation should be “more careful” when trying again or skip that step entirely

Another example is the Microsoft Office Installation process, The name and the company of the user is already in the System somewhere (User Account Details). Why not just use this information instead of asking for it again.

Same goes for Eclipse! Why does the author information not pick up the users name from the account information?

To summarise, the point that I am trying to make is that applications should not ask the user questions if it can figure it out itself. Most modern applications can pick up most if not all the information it needs from the system itself. This even includes theming information (as per my post on Design). While the majority of the theming in most operating systems is fairly pervasive in terms of application look and feel, applications have enough control over their look and feel to be different.

While this customisation can be useful, it can also be a hindrance to productivity and an allure for procrastination!

If I have specified somewhere on my system that my name is Shri Shrikumar, every single application on here should then be able to pick that up instead of asking me over and over again per application.

I look forward to a day when I never have to type the same information more than once… 😀

Hello world!

Jeff Atwood asks in his blog:

“Until you’ve..

  • Written a blog entry about X
  • Posted Flickr photos of X
  • Uploaded a video of X to YouTube
  • Typed a Twitter message about X

.. did X really happen at all?

Kraya was a tiny company six months back with around 10 members of staff. We are now 20 strong and classed as a small company but as the artist formerly known as Prince once said

“I may be small, but so is dynamite”

Kraya has been instrumental to the dramatic success of megabus.com and not to mention the continuing existence of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

But then, as Jeff asks, since it hasn’t been blogged yet, did it really happen? While there are some pictures that could be published, there are no videos.

Besides, I’ve never been a big fan of Flickr or YouTube. Not that there is anything wrong with them but I use Facebook and that sates my desires for pictures and videos – for good or bad!

I never got into twitter either – the status updates within Facebook keeps me happy enough. Just as with Flickr, I don’t want to have to think about yet another website / system to update.

Now what I could do is add in the Facebook Apps for Flickr, YouTube & Twitter and this Blog into facebook and control my entire online presence from there. But then, do I really want “someone else” (Facebook) having so much control over my online presence.

Taking one step at a time, blog first, ask questions later…

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