Great Hackers

[via Slashdot] Paul Graham writes:

A great programmer might be ten or a hundred times as productive as an ordinary one, but he’ll consider himself lucky to get paid three times as much. This is partly because great hackers don’t know how good they are. But it’s also because money is not the main thing they want.

What do hackers want? Like all craftsmen, hackers like good tools. In fact, that’s an understatement. Good hackers find it unbearable to use bad tools. They’ll simply refuse to work on projects with the wrong infrastructure.

The fact that good hackers prefer Python to Java should tell you something about the relative merits of those languages.

Great hackers also generally insist on using open source software. Not just because it’s better, but because it gives them more control. Good hackers insist on control. This is part of what makes them good hackers: when something’s broken, they need to fix it. You want them to feel this way about the software they’re writing for you. You shouldn’t be surprised when they feel the same way about the operating system.

Great hackers also generally insist on using open source software. Not just because it’s better, but because it gives them more control. Good hackers insist on control. This is part of what makes them good hackers: when something’s broken, they need to fix it. You want them to feel this way about the software they’re writing for you. You shouldn’t be surprised when they feel the same way about the operating system.

After software, the most important tool to a hacker is probably his office. Big companies think the function of office space is to express rank. But hackers use their offices for more than that: they use their office as a place to think in. And if you’re a technology company, their thoughts are your product. So making hackers work in a noisy, distracting environment is like having a paint factory where the air is full of soot.

Along with interesting problems, what good hackers like is other good hackers. Great hackers tend to clump together– sometimes spectacularly so, as at Xerox Parc. So you won’t attract good hackers in linear proportion to how good an environment you create for them. The tendency to clump means it’s more like the square of the environment. So it’s winner take all. At any given time, there are only about ten or twenty places where hackers most want to work, and if you aren’t one of them, you won’t just have fewer great hackers, you’ll have zero.

Great Hackers are what we need to build out the Emergic vision.

China and India

[via Paul Denlinger] Indian Express quotes a Morgan Stanley report which says that “in 13 yrs, India will be where China is today and China will be thrice as large.”

Not surprisingly, China scores over India in most segments of the economy. With one exception: notwithstanding the recent collapse of Global Trust Bank, the Indian financial system is healthier.

China leads on all other countsinfrastructure, consumption, trade. China spends eight times more than India on physical infrastructure. Its total capital spending in electricity, construction, transportation, telecom and real estate was $ 260 billion (20.3 per cent of GDP) compared with $ 31 billion (6 per cent of GDP) in India.

Specifically, while China has been investing around $ 24 billion on improving highways, Indias investment in the Golden Quadrilateral is only $ 12 billion. No wonder, the report stresses, the cost of infrastructure services in India is about 50-100 per cent higher than in China.

Apart from exports, Chinas domestic market for products is much bigger than Indias. Penetration rates and per capita consumption are higher in China for most broad-based manufactured consumption items, says Andy Xie of Morgan Stanley, adding that India will need 10-15 years to reach Chinas market size.

Also see:
China Daily: Software industry of strategic priority
Asia Times: Infosys chief warns of China’s growing clout

No-Frills CRM

Strategy+Business writes:

We think it is possible to reap some, even many, of the rewards of CRM without buying a specialized software package. We call our method Cheap CRM. It involves leveraging the customer data the company already possesses and most companies already possess a lot more customer information than they think.

The payoff from the kind of Cheap CRM we propose is significant. Managers can dramatically improve customer profitability and retention and reveal new opportunities without incurring the disadvantages.

Much of the data needed to implement Cheap CRM already exists, in fact, on the humble invoice. Most multinational companies have invested massively in mainframe enterprise resource planning systems. These have brought rigor to their sales administration, summarizing each months invoices at a customer or business unit level, but they dont necessarily provide transparency in sales reporting, thus leaving the organization blind to the richness of transaction-level analysis.

By downloading invoice data into a simple database tool such as Microsoft Access, however, company analysts can construct a revealing picture of the shape of the business. Which customers are delivered to, and where? Which supply points generate the most revenue, and which receive the most orders? With this data, managers are able to calculate profitability with a precision that occasionally leads to revelation. They can also monitor changes in profitability inside a given reporting period. This is of particular significance with products subject to variable supply prices and potentially volatile margins. Knowing the number and types of transactions, managers can allocate fixed administrative expenses effectively. They can then link the database to external factors that may be driving buying behavior, such as the weather or advertising. By subjecting this data to regression analysis, one can get very close to the heart of CRM: understanding the customers propensity to buy.

Food and Development

The Economist writes that “global hunger is on the wane but it is still hampering the growth of people, and of economies.”

What hungry people need first and foremost is more food. But they also need better food. The most basic kind of malnutrition is called protein energy deficiency. In other words, a diet that is lacking in energy because of a deficit in all the major macronutrientssuch as carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Typically, though, such a diet will also be deficient in many micronutrients. As a consequence many lives are blighted for want of tiny amounts of iodine, iron, vitamin A and zinc. Micronutrient deficiencies are ranked eighth among the top ten risks to health worldwide by the WHO.

Many of the things that would ease hunger are worth doing anyway. Policies that promote economic growth or better education would be desirable even if they had no impact on nutrition. Democracy and freedom of speech are attractive in and of themselves. But it is also worth noting that rich, well-educated countries never go hungry, and that no democratic country with a free press, no matter how poor it may be, has ever suffered a famine. Unfettered reporters provide early warnings, and accountable governments know they have to respond to emergencies. The recent crushing of the independent media in Zimbabwe is one reason why the WFP expects trouble this year.

In other places, the battle against hunger is steadily being won. Better nutrition is making people cleverer and more energetic, which will help them grow more prosperous. And when they eventually join the ranks of the well off, they can start fretting about growing too fat.

TECH TALK: Tech Trends: 10. Emerging Markets as Drivers

The first phase of the technology revolution over the past few decades has touched the lives of the top of the global pyramid of consumers and enterprises. It is only in the past few years that technology has started making its way into the lives of businesses and families at the bottom of the pyramid in the emerging markets. Because of the lack of legacy and an inherent need, adoption of some technologies has turned out be extremely rapid. In India, about 300,000 computers are purchased every month, as compared to 2 million cellphones. Now imagine what would happen if computers were available at the price points of cellphones. We will then see annual computer sales at 12-15 million for many years to come, making India among the top three markets in the world. What does that mean for the global IT players for whom India has so far been a rounding off error in their revenues and profits? Emerging markets, by virtue of their large numbers, have the potential to be the hotbed for disruptive innovations. They are the new markets which can ignite growth at technology companies. But at the same time, they need solutions which need to be at different price-points from what the developed world has been paying. This is both a challenge and an opportunity.

The opportunity for emerging markets like India is to create solutions using the newest technologies to leapfrog the present infrastructure gaps. Emerging markets are where more than two-thirds of the world resides. They are the next 90% of the market. They are, in the words of CK Prahalad, the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. Technology today offers the building blocks to put solutions together which can help build out the digital infrastructure of these countries at a fraction of the price point of that in the developed markets.

India Action: Build the Emerging Market Tech Utility

Business Week wrote recently about how technological innovations are helping the poor in rural India: No laptop, however cheap or durable, can compensate for India’s lack of a nationwide power grid, or a comprehensive network of highways. But digital technology can deliver information — information the rural poor desperately need — about crop conditions, fertilizer prices, health care, and more. Reliable information can help India’s poor stretch their resources — to plant the right crops, deal with bureaucrats more effectively, operate on a level playing field with customers and merchants. The digital revolution in India is largely an information revolution.

What India needs to do is build out the equivalent of an tech utility which makes available commPuting as a utility to the masses across the country. A centralised platform that makes available computing as a service and accessible via thin clients over a high-speed broadband infrastructure, neighbourhood computing centres that provide access on a pay-per-use basis, a community-centric content platform which makes available local information and helps SMEs connect with each other, investments in education and healthcare to make sure they reach rural Indians these are the elements of the tech utility. India can use the technology trends to its advantage by looking ahead. By making things work in India, entrepreneurs can open up new opportunities for themselves in other emerging markets also.

The world of technology, like time, does not stand still. Innovation and change are the only constants. Indian organizations have the opportunity to leapfrog by simultaneously leveraging many of the new innovations that the technology industry is making available. The force of digitisation is at once a threat and an opportunity. The choice is for each one of us to make.

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