Saturday, October 3, 2015

You have to pay the piper!

Here is a hard earned lesson that I'm giving for free - "Get a Health Insurance!"

Apparently, I have been out of touch with the advances in the medical industry.  Gone are the days when you go to a doctor, pay 100 rupees and you are magically cured.  These days, you'll be charged Rs.500 for just consulting with the doctor, for barely 5 minutes.  Five hundred is for a small hospital on the outskirts of the city.  If you travel into the city and if the hospital has a second floor, you'll be charged more, much more.

There are lots of other neat tricks that the hospitals play.  Lets say, you want to meet the chief doctor, then, you'll have to meet a doctor lower in the rank so that they can take your history and note down a bunch of stuff on the paper for the bigger doctor to go through.  Now, you'll be charged double, because you spent five minutes each, with two doctors.  Medical Miracle!  Else, you'll be referred to another doctor by a doctor.  Again, double!  Two specialists visited you?  Double!

It's not just the consultation fee that has gone up.  Patient room is costlier than a star hotel.  I suppose they will be, because most hospitals have a valet parking these days.  The cost of medical treatments are sky-rocketing.

What has happened?  You see, lots of people these days have health insurance.  So, the patients don't care that they are being charged an insane amount of money because the insurance company is going to bear the charges.  The insurance companies are happy because as the charges go up, they can charge a higher premium citing the increase in medical expenses.  Also, more people will take insurance because the treatments are costly.  It's a vicious cycle powered by hospitals and insurance companies and unfortunately, we are caught in the middle.

But do you know who is the real loser in this concept?  The ones who don't have a health insurance.  I spent 5 minutes with a doctor a few days back and paid 600.  Later, I had to go back for a signature (which took 2 minutes) and another 500.  I had to repeat this a couple of times & spent the same amount each time.  I often hear people complaining about IT employees spending a lot of money on fancy dinners but that is nothing compared to what's happening in these hospitals.

Also, there are two popular myths about insurance.
1) People say "Oh, don't worry, I have a life insurance".  That's fine sir, but it's not the same as a health insurance.  Only one of those, will help you stay alive.
2) "Health insurance is useless for people with pre-existing conditions".  Wrong again.  There are clauses in certain insurances for pre-existing conditions.  For example, you'll get paid for any expenses incurred two years after buying the insurance.  Or, if it's a corporate insurance, your claim would go through.  Or, at least half your expenses will be compensated.  There are even certain insurances sold only for people with existing problems.

Once we cross a certain age, we are going to face health problems, that is fact.  Maybe one in hundred might live through life without any major medical treatments.  The rest of us, are going to spend some time in the hospital.  The worst part is, we'll have to spend money when we are retired and living on a pension (if we have one).  So, trust me when I say health insurance is a must.

You have to Pay the Piper!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Got home-loan? You might want to read this..

In our lifetime, we've all lost money to thieves and pickpockets but it hasn't really amounted to much.   Maybe a few hundreds or if we were unlucky, a few thousands.  We spend so much time worrying about losing the new 1000 rupee note that we pulled out of the ATM yesterday.  But I realized recently that I'm losing more than a lakh in broad daylight (in a legal way), thanks to my laziness.

Like most middle-class citizens of our great nation, I too have purchased a home-loan (because its an investment, provides tax-benefit, bla, bla).  As most borrowers know, the interest rate on the loan is variable and it fluctuates with the market, yada, yada.  But I recently noticed that the interest rate in my home loan has been going only one way - UP, for the past 3 years.  I assumed that it's due to inflation - all costs go up more than they come down.

One fine day, my dad pointed me to a nice little article in the newspaper that said that my lender (ABC Corp) has reduced the interest rate from 10.xx to 9.9%.  Yet, my payment sheet with ABC Corp has been listing the interest rate as 11.xx.  Now, that's not right!  Then, my dad explained that the interest rate for existing customers is different from the interest rate for new customers.  In other words, you take a loan at 10.xx% and after an year, it magically turns into 11.xx% - TADA!

Apparently, last year, RBI had asked the banks to not charge different rates for existing vs new customers (as explained in this article).  It is believed that most banks have started following this, but we'll never really know for sure!  ;-)  Now, why is my ABC Corp not following this?  Because ABC Corp is not a bank.  As explained in this article, just because the name of the company is the same as the name of a bank, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are the same.  For example,


are different companies.  This means that the company with 'Ltd' in their name might not need to play by the same rules as the company with 'Bank' in their name.

Still, the huge difference in the interest rate kinda irked me.  So, I sent out a simple one-line email to the Manager at ABC Corp asking "will the interest rate for existing customers come down?".  To this, I received a lengthy reply with lots of financial jargon and what not.  I went through the entire mail a couple of times only to realize that, the reply was just a vague explanation about interest rates.  Essentially, they were trying to sound complicated and confusing, so that people won't raise questions about being robbed at daylight.  Being an avid gamer myself, I decided to take up this challenge and composed a lengthy reply with links to news articles about the fluctuations in the market and the interest rates, bla bla.  This time though, I received a proper one-line reply saying "We are expecting the rate of interest reduction".  Again, translated to plain English - "no", because the rate for me hasn't decreased even once in a past 3 years even though it has decreased a number of times for new customers at ABC Corp.

So, what's next?  Move out, that's what.  My friend Dhivakar introduced me to refinancing, where we move our housing loan from one lender to another.  Relief!  But not so fast.  You see, to move out of ABC Corp prematurely, I would again have to pay a penalty to ABC Corp.  I heard that RBI advised banks against penalizing the customers too much, but again, my ABC Corp is not a bank.  So, in essence, non-bank financial organizations will

a) charge less at first and then increase it later,
b) increase the interest rate for all customers but decrease the rate only for new customers
c) penalize the customers heavily for moving out

Yet, we go to these organizations for loan, why?  Because when the banks say "you can't afford this loan amount with your current salary", the non-bank lender will say "please come in, would you like a Coke while we process your loan?".

Why is this a big deal?  Why have I written such a lengthy post on this subject?  Because when I did the math, the difference in the interest rate translated to nearly 4 lakh rupees.  Four lakh rupees, earned from months of hard work.  This is why the middle-class, remain as middle-class.  We lack Financial IQ.  We leave the complicated maths to auditors and financial organizations and then wonder, why we are not rich yet!

Please, share this information.  Have meaningful and factual discussions with friends and colleagues about financial topics.  Knowledge is literally, wealth!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Staying Relevant at Work

There is a lot of talk recently about the forced voluntary resignation at TCS.  I'm not going to comment on that till I see some facts about the attrition rate and head count compared to the previous years.  Then, there are posts that are trying to spread the following sentiments - 'honey-money period coming to an end for IT', 'IT employees deserve this', 'IT employees have become use and throw products' etc.  I’m not going to comment on these sensationalized opinion posts either.

I’m rather interested in discussing and understanding what’s happening from an employee-employer standpoint and what we can do to try to prepare ourselves.  Essentially, the company is trying to push out people who are “in its eyes”, under-performers.  Even if (assuming) the company is doing this for financial reasons, the company would still try to retain its top performers.  The company’s (real) reasons for doing this, the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the evaluation methods, the morality of this process, the impact to the lives of those who have lost jobs are difficult questions and open for debate.  But I’m not going to get into that either.  Those are all topics that deserve a separate in-depth analysis.

Wake-up Call

I would like to think of these recent events as a wake-up call for myself and this post is about me trying to gather my thoughts on how to stay relevant in today’s industry.  The school/college notion of hard work is - enter the premises on time, stay back late and complete the “given” work.  Yes, these could help but unfortunately, in IT, time is not equal to amount of work done even though at times we are rated on this.  In IT, work is about adding value; in other words, taking responsibility and completing a work that adds value to the client/project.

Amount of work vs value of work

What does it mean?  It means that when a lead asks his/her developer ‘why hasn’t this bug been fixed’, the reply ‘I spent 8 hours on this & I even stayed back late yesterday’ is not going to help.  Either the developer doesn’t understand the issue, in which case he/she should’ve asked a colleague for help after the first hour of analysis or, the requirement/design is incorrect, in which case he/she should’ve discussed the potential flaw with the lead.  Sometimes, we get so caught up in work or debugging (and our null point exceptions), that we forget this big picture.


When a task is given, the person doing the work should try to understand the work being done and why it’s being done.  Following someone else’s instructions instead of understanding what’s happening is also why most mistakes happen.  We should also be in a position to explain the work to others because without that skill, no one would understand the importance of our idea or work.  I’ve seen people give explanations like “I’m working on it and it’ll take time; I can’t explain this because you don’t have the technical knowledge in this area”.  In my opinion, they either don’t fully understand what’s going on or lack the skills to explain it.


If I leave my project today, how many work items in my project will get affected?  Am I suggesting that we hoard information to stay relevant in the project?  No.  Collect as much information as possible from others and provide as much as possible to others, but what we do with that information is what really matters.  Say for example, I find out that there is a recurring issue in one of my applications – that’s knowledge.  Taking steps to resolve it – analysing the issue, setting-up calls, building the fix and deploying - that’s taking responsibility.  A lead would always appreciate someone who takes responsibility and would think twice before letting him/her go.  After completing two years in IT, if we are still waiting for the lead to assign us with work, then, we are doing something wrong.

Taking Responsibility vs being a Workaholic

In the course of analysing the issue, the developer might stay back late, have lots of conversations with his lead, ask a lot of questions to his colleague, etc.  This doesn’t mean that he/she is a workaholic or he/she has managed to befriend the project lead.  It means that he/she is getting the work done.  But if the person regularly stays late to complete a 10 days’ worth of work in 5 days, then he/she is a workaholic.  In IT, if someone takes responsibility for a work, they would have to work late for a day or maybe a week or two during analysis and/or deployment.  But once the work is done and deployed, they should be back to regular routine.  If the person is assigned 10 days’ worth of work and is being “asked” to complete it in 5 days, then he is in the wrong role or wrong project.


Often, too much work is assigned to one person but this is not a bad thing from the individual’s perspective.  When a lot of work gets assigned to the same person, it could mean that the lead trusts him/her (more than others) to get the job done.  But the person needs to identify the important tasks and prioritize.  Because we have only a limited amount of time every day.  At the end of the day, if only two out of five tasks are completed, the lead could get upset if the completed ones are the least important ones.  Prioritizing the open tasks is extremely important even if the task wasn’t assigned by the lead.  Say for example, a person is given three tasks but he/she realizes that there is a long pending fourth task that others in the team have forgotten about and not completing that task would turn into an issue next week.  In that case, the person should bring it up with the lead instead of worrying about adding burden.  Prioritize instead of worrying about the work load.

Go-to Person

Finally, we need to be the go-to person in either a technical area or a business domain or some skillset.  Every office will have a person who others consult with for JAVA (or any technology) related issues.  Or a person who everyone reaches out to, for questions regarding the client’s business.  Or let’s say that you prepared a document for the client and now your lead asks you to get it reviewed by a person who is unrelated to your project, then, he is a go-to guy for documentation.  These are usually people whom the lead or manager considers as key members. 

In summary – take responsibility, get work done, prioritize and be the ‘go-to’ person.

Let me emphasize that I’m not saying that these will guarantee job safety.  Also, I’m not saying that the people who were asked to leave did not do any of these.  I’m simply suggesting that, in an IT career, there are certain skills that we need to learn and develop.  Asking “which technology/book should I read to retain my job?” is irrelevant.  Instead, try to understand the work, the current project and the business.