Each of our FailQonf Speakers has years of experience behind them and a crazy amount of knowledge acquired over those years. It would be bad on our part if we restrict their stories to only their FailQonf sessions. We are as eager as you all to know them and their journey better, and hence this Interview Series.
We had a few questions in mind which we wished to get answers from all of them, and there were questions we designed based on the little research we did on their work and life. We so enjoyed the process and now as we have the answers with us, we are enjoying it even more. We are sure you will enjoy this interview too.
In this Interview, I (Sayali) took the opportunity to ask our FailQonf Speaker Anuj Magazine a few questions about Failures, Lessons learned, and a part of their amazing work in the Industry. We thank Anuj for their time to answer these, and for sharing a part of their life with us.
About Anuj Magazine: Anuj Magazine currently works at Walmart Global Tech India and leads Strategic Technology Programs. Prior to this, he worked at Citrix and handled roles in a myriad of functions- Director (Product Management), Director (Technical Operations), Director (Engineering) during his tenure spanning 12.5 years. Prior to this, he played different roles in technology companies like McAfee and Quark. He has 16 patent filings.
He considers ‘having a beginner’s mindset’ as his biggest strength.
A good part of who he is comes from my interests and hobbies. He is a self-trained marathon runner and has done 18 full marathons+ distances (42.195 km) (did 100 km a couple of times, also a 75 km). Moreover, he is an avid Sketchnote artist and passionate about representing complex concepts in simple sketches.
Anuj’s portfolio: https://www.behance.net/anujmagazine.
He holds a professional qualification in handwriting analysis. He also likes to read and has been writing regularly at http://anujmagazine.blogspot.com. He’s a passionate supporter of India’s Olympic Sports and has been an evangelist for the NGO Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ).
Sayali: What is the most interesting failure you have experienced, which kicked hard, but once you learned from it you achieved double of what was expected in the next attempts?
Anuj: I was a few months into my first job when we all received this email from Country Head (that was broadcasted to all the employees) sharing an opportunity to work on a side-project. The stated project was for Punjab (a state in India) Government tourism sector in which they needed help in building a touch screen interface for their upcoming website. The idea behind this project was to provide touch-screen kiosks to tourists at various prime places. To set the context, I am talking about the time in the early 2000s when touch screens weren’t as consumerized as they are now.
I was clueless about the technical expertise needed to build this system so I gave this opportunity a pass and went on with my ‘normal’ projects. 3-4 months later, I again received a broadcast email from Country Head, this time announcing the success of the project and thanking the team that was involved in executing the project. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that one of the team members being acknowledged was a peer of mine who had joined almost the same time as I had.
I was surprised because he was also in his first-time job and my assessment suggested that his skill levels were almost similar to mine! Curious to know more, I approached him and asked him whether he knew about the technologies before signing up for this project. He answered ‘No’. I then asked him how he signed up for the project. He simply said that he was curious to know more about the technology and how such projects are managed and simply offered himself to the project thinking that he will learn the skills along the way.
This was the moment when I felt my brain shift a little for the first time in my professional life. I had simply let go of an opportunity because I thought overly of my weaknesses. My friend had grabbed the opportunity because he chose to think of his strength (curiosity, risk-taking). Something snapped within me with this episode and it made me more open to risk-taking and strengths-focused.
From that point onwards, I just removed a filter from my mind. I simply raised my hands and grabbed the opportunity if I felt excited about it irrespective of whether I had skills or time to do the same. This shift had a telling impact on my career.
Sayali: Any experience you would want to share wherein you learned from someone’s failure and based on that lesson you actually avoided a similar failure at work?
Anuj: When you have worked long enough, you obviously come across a lot of failures- some of your own, some of the others.
A few instances that come to my mind:
One of my earlier team leaders who I worked under had this peculiar habit of asking the status of work and asking people to take on more work just when they were planning to leave for home. This was probably his way of exercising control over the team. But to me, it taught me what not to do to become a good leader. At the most fundamental level- don’t mess up with people’s personal lives. Work is important, so is your team’s personal life. Don’t just help your team do the best work but help them lead the best life they can.
There was an instance where I came across a really tough Product Management leader. He was a perfectionist and had this habit of losing his temper at the slightest provocation. Not only that, he had a tendency to explode if he found some things were off, and used to simply shout at top of his voice in the calls. It was an interesting experience for me because I myself had a tendency to be a perfectionist. It taught me how not to impose my perfection on others. It also taught me to give chances to people- all of us are wired differently. There is no templated solution to do a great job, everyone figures out their own way.
I have met and worked with many smart people (much more talented than I can ever be) in my career and learned a lot from them. But I have also been amazed in my observation that many smart people are not able to realize their true potential. They have this innate ability to solve complex problems, do it faster than many others can but what they generally lack is sincerity. I feel sincerity is a force multiplier skill. To me, sincerity is simply doing or delivering what you promise to do, in the time you commit- without being judgemental about the nature of the task i.e. irrespective of whether it is a small task with no visibility or a high visibility task. Many smart people that I came across fell short on the sincerity scale. Not many realize but sincerity towards a task helps you build confidence, credibility, and trust, three traits any professional cannot be without.
Sayali: If you recall your first professional failure, what was it and how did you respond to it?
Anuj: My first professional failure dates back to my first day at work. After completing the joining formalities, my manager paired me up with a senior member of the team. And my first task was to start reading a book known as Software Testing Techniques by Boris Beizer. In all my enthusiasm, I picked up the book and started reading. But my enthusiasm was short-lived. I don’t recall the contents of that book now but I do vividly recall how I felt after reading the book. After reading the first few sections, I increasingly started to feel disconnected. The book felt like heavy artillery, I found the concepts hard to grasp and the explanations in the book complex. As I flipped the pages through the day, I felt quite demotivated by end of the day. With nothing to show for my first day, I felt that I don’t have it in me to make it and do well in the profession. In all, I allowed the situation to dominate me and almost feeling helpless.
A bit of introspection allowed me to get back on my feet and adopt the learning strategies that gradually helped me grasp the fundamentals.
Now having the luxury of the hindsight and ability to connect the dots, this episode taught me a few things
Never be shy to ask for help when struck. I didn’t do it on the first day. I thought I have to do everything by myself. I just took a few curious questions to my mentor to unblock me.
Don’t let your own inner demons defeat you. Don’t get ahead of yourself. I simply allowed the negative thoughts to be cultivated inside and dominate me. It clouded my ability to think clearly. We should always be willing to pick up a fight with the demons of mind who are working overtime to pull us back.
I have never forgotten these lessons to date.
Sayali: If a Tester wants to start putting their thoughts in the form of sketches like you, where do they start? Is there a pattern that can benefit them?
Anuj: I started sketching 2-3 years back, had never sketched extensively before this but I somehow got hooked on it. Now, It’s just like any other habit in my life. So, if I can do it, I believe- anyone can.
If I try to deconstruct my process, it might look like this (steps not in particular order):
- Observe: David Perell said “Painters look at a lot of art. Musicians listen to a lot of music. Writers do a lot of reading.” Likewise, budding or expert sketch artists look at a lot of sketches. Keenly observe the minute details, absorb and learn.
- Decompose: into small parts. Build the structure of your sketch. Every sketch has a title, body type, text, images, flow. Tackle one part at a time while drawing.
- Build Visual Vocabulary: Sketching, like writing, has a vocabulary of its own. Like new words take time to settle in our minds, building visual vocabulary takes patience and practice. Observe your life around and train your mind to think of what visual metaphors best represent what you see around you.
- Subtract: Sketch-noting is about brevity. More than adding content, it is about subtracting content. It is should high signal/noise ratio- eliminating noise and including more signals.
- Choose fonts and colors with precision: Font and colors give your sketch a visual identity. Develop a flair for what combinations work, what does not. Think wearing the shoes of your audience.
- Get into the mind of the artist: One way I used to learn to sketch was to pick up a sketch and just try to copy it line by line, font by font, color by color (of course not share it publicly as it is meant for practice). This gradually helped me learn.
- Practice: There is no substitute for practice. You can follow all good practices but unless you get into the rigor of practicing it daily, your skill will not grow.
Sayali: How do you manage these many things in your professional and personal life including your hobbies & interests(handwriting reading, books reading, running, sketching, writing blogs, etc, etc)?
Anuj: Thanks for asking this question. No silver bullet here. I just try to pick up a new hobby every year just to get better at experiencing life holistically. Some of these hobbies stick for longer, others die away but experiencing each of them makes me a more evolved human being. E.g. picked up Graphology (Handwriting Analysis) in 2003 or so and am still practicing (have written a book for a private publication, use it for counseling, etc.), started running in 2008, it has stayed till date- have run multiple full marathons including 100 km runs. Started writing in 2003, it has stayed with me (have written for several publications). Started sketching in 2018 or so, and have been hooked on it. Likewise, I tried my stint at learning magic, it fizzled out but it made me learn a lot about communication and presentation skills.
A simple equation that I believe in what we eventually end up doing in our lives is in direct proportion to where we choose to spend our time. That’s it. There’s no other secret.
I had written about this in my blog almost a decade back. Would encourage you to read this- Managing multiple passions- make most of your hidden talents. In summary, the following questions are a guiding light for me:
- Am I “Only Interested” or Am I “Fully Committed”?
- Am I able to “prioritize” effectively?
- Am I able to “create” enough time?
- Am I able to “compartmentalize” life?
- Am I believing in myself more than I should?
We hope you enjoyed reading this amazing interview. Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section.
We can guarantee that you are going to enjoy FailQonf even more. Have yourself enrolled here if you have not done it so far. Please note there is a Free Pass option for the ones who cannot afford the Paid one in these difficult times. See you there.
About the Host:
Sayali is working with the iLink Digital, Pune as Senior Technical Specialist – Software Testing. She is a dedicated, passionate tester with a curious mind.