5 Resources to Learn Programming

In last few years I have seen an interesting paradox first hand. While there are so many companies looking for good technical talent, there are also thousands of engineering graduates looking for technical jobs. And what explains this paradox is the skill mis-match between what companies need and what these grads own. Unfortunately, most of the engineering colleges are failing to impart these skills required in Industry. Take for instance, programming skills – I have met many computer science grads in last one year who do not know programming. I am not an expert in programming, but being a geek, I have been able to aggregate some resources that might be of some help.

1. Udacity – Udacity is an interesting startup offering free courses from the greatest teachers. One of the current course running is CS101: Building a search engine and Udacity claims to teach enough programming in seven weeks that you will be able to build a web search engine like Google. The best thing is that this course does not need any prior programming experience. The programming language used is Python. Although the course started on 20th Feb, you can still join it or join in next session.

2. CodeAcademy – Yet another startup, but the approach is different from Udacity. Instead of using videos, Codeacademy provides an interactive web application to learn programming. The app goes in step by step manner through each lesson and exercise. As of now, Javascript courses are available and this is a good start. The web app also keeps track of your progress. In addition, there is very engaging QnA platform in case you get stuck. The UI is clean and now since they have made it as a platform [means other can also create lessons], I think many more courses will be available very soon.

3. Khan Academy – Salman Khan has been in the limelight for some time (I had written about him earlier here). Surrounded by lot of hype there is some substance in his style of teaching. The best thing about this videos is the simple and casual language used. However, these videos are not enough if you want to pursue programming seriously but can be a good starting point. Heres the link – http://www.khanacademy.org/#computer-science

4. Project Euler – Project Euler is a series of problems in mathematics and programming. A good collection of problems to solve and the problems range in difficulty level. An example problem here –

Find the greatest product of five consecutive digits in the 1000-digit number

There are 366 problems I can see (without logging in) – enough number to keep you busy for a while.

Image representing Stack Overflow as depicted ...
Image via CrunchBase

5. Stackoverflow – If you are a geek, it is almost certain that you would have stumbled on Stackoverflow. With more than 2.8 million questions, and growing, this has become one of the biggest library of programming questions. There is very high probability that you will find the answer to the exact problem you are looking for and in case you don’t find, you can always ask.

So we have five different ways of learning programming. Khan Academy and Udacity are based on Video learning, Udacity is more structured and comprehensive. While Code Academy and Project Euler are based on problem solving. Codeacademy walks you through step by step , perhaps good for beginners and Project Euler throws a good problem and its all on you how to solve it. Stackoverflow is more like reference where you go when you get stuck with something. All said and done, as some of the programmers say, the best way to learn programming is by doing it.

Ad: Hum Mein Hai Hero

Sometimes I watch TV just to catch on with advertisements being aired. And this particular Ad, composed and sung by A.R. Rahman caught my attention.

The lyrics catch the true emotions of all the characters shown in the video. A girl attempting gymnastics in front of the crowd, a middle-aged Sardarji overwhelmed by the number of steps in front of him, a kid starting on the dance floor and so on. Doesn’t everyone face this kind of situation in one’s life.  And don’t we feel like a Hero while going through such situations? And there are always people who look up to us irrespective of whether we fail or succeed.

I do not know how much this Ad with help Hero Motocorp in their brand building [it is already a BIG brand in India today]. But 5 stars to this video which brings out hero in every common person.

Dil se kaho hai Hum Mein Hai Hero
Khul ke kaho hai Hum Mein Hai Hero
Hum Mein Hai Hero

Yet Another Movie Marathon

The movie marathons are getting rare because of the six-day work week and writing about them is getting even rarer. However, I was able to squeeze in some time to watch these movies few days back [* Spoiler alert *] –

1. Kung-Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda 2
Kung Fu Panda 2

I had high hopes about this movie, mainly because of the great prequel which I have been watching over and over in last few years. And that is why, I chose this movie to show it to my 2-year old daughter in a cinema hall (this being her first movie out of home). I was disappointed. It is not a bad movie but failed my expectations. The story is very predictable and the movie is more about the action, which did not impress much on the 2D-screen. After getting the “secret ingredient” in the first movie, Po looks for and gets “inner peace” in this one.

2. Hangover 2

Hangover Part 2
Hangover Part 2

Again disappointed. Hangover part one was hilarious. The sequel is the same movie repackaged with some new events. There is no element of surprise, leaving nothing to guess while watching the movie. Making a sequent is inherently challenging when the first movie is good and Hangover 2 did not succeed in crossing this challenge. Bachelor party, drugging, last-minute turn up at the wedding and Mike Tyson – the first movie had it all. Well, this time there was no baby – he was replaced by a monkey.

3. Stanley ka Dabba

Stanley Ka Dabba Poster
Stanley Ka Dabba

The third movie saved the day. There are very few movies that inspire you to make movies. And this is one of them.

Why is Stanley not getting his dabba? The question keeps popping in your mind while watching the entertaining child actors going through their daily routine. Sadly, we get the answer later when Stanley gets a slap from his cruel Uncle. This is not a children’s film, i.e., not meant for kids as it seems, but for adults and carries a message about child laborers in India. More than the message, it is the Stanley’s positive attitude towards life that touches the heart.

All images via Wikipedia

5 Inspiring Movies That Teach Entrepreneurship

As I keep repeating, entrepreneurs are irrational. And they need to be so. The biased optimism keeps the confidence high and helps them keep going. However, there are times when pessimism runs high (that sinking feeling). Its time to stop working and instead pick up some movies. And start watching non-stop –

1. The Shawshank Redemption

shawshank redemption“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Andy Dufresne kept his hope alive and kept on digging his way out of the prison. And how many days did it take him? Getting rejected by your customers and VCs? Been in business for so long but not getting rid of the red ink? Tried 50 things but nothing working out? There is no other way but to continue trying. Two very important lessons learnt from this movie – hope and perseverance

2. The Lord of the Rings – The Trilogy

The Lord of the RingsThis movie reminds that the journey is not easy. And the odds against are very high. Also there is no other option but to succeed. But if you and your team are firm and determined, you provide a solid leadership to your team, and team members trust each other blindly, it is possible to pass the test. There are innumerable lessons we can learn from this movie (and the book).

3. Dead Poets Society

dead_poets_societyStudy. Go to work. Climb corporate ladder. Keep getting pay hikes. Live easy life working 9-to-5.

That is conventional path. Entrepreneurs break out of this path somewhere. The words from O Captain my Captain –

“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

4. Ice Age

Ice Age“That’s what you do in a herd: you look out for each other.” That even people like Diego change their hearts when they see trust. That all members in a team are different but are tied together with the same objective. And that you should have fun in your journey because that is where you spend most of your time.

 

5. Lagaan

lagaanA guy challenges winners to a game he has never played. He builds a team and brings out stars from ordinary men. He creates a solid plan and works with the team to execute it. All for a purpose. He was an entrepreneur. He was Bhuvan who defeated the opposite team at their own game.

A Fistful of Rice – The Wonders of Goat Economics

A Fistful of RiceEntertainment is the primary purpose when I pick a book to read. Learning from it is a by-product most of the times. I picked up this book because someone recommended it very strongly after knowing that I am working in Indian education sector.

Well, A Fistful of Rice is not about education but it ended up in educating me about Micro-Finance Industry. Putting aside current controversies around SKS (AP court order, ouster of the CEO after the IPO, falling stock price), there is no doubt that Vikram Akula has got a deep understanding of Micro-Finance Industry. In this book, he travails through his journey from being a student with a vision to do something for poor to the success of SKS serving millions of people. Akula spent many years in the villages understanding the Market he was targeting. From the very beginning he was very clear that he would take the for-profit route unlike Grameen Bank. Profitability enables scalability.

Akula also explains how he always considered other scalability factors while creating SKS. He committed $2 million for the technology platform at the time when the total business was order of magnitude lower than this commitment. Akula also walks through how they got inspired by the McDonald’s’ model and how they got into Google’s domain and grew up so aggressively.

Bill Gates asks a very valid question – What kind of business models provide enough returns to SKS customers after paying the exorbitant interest rates of 28%? Akula impresses Mr. Gates and me as well when he answers this question by explaining the Goat Economics. And this is what he explains –

“a landless agricultural worker might use a 2,000 rupee loan (about $40) to buy a goat. She continues with her daily work and takes the goat along with her to the fields. The goat eats grass and virtually anything else, so there is no investment from her end. A goat gives birth to one or two kids a year and the value of the offspring is about 50% of the mother, or about 1,000 rupees. Even if a borrower took a 28% loan, she makes a return of about 70% on invested capital.”

He adds further,

“There are four other reasons why microenterprises yield very high returns. First, borrowers tend to draw on family to help with microenterprises, which is far more productive than hiring wage laborers. Think of your classic immigrant-owned grocery story in the US where sons and daughters help out. Second, in the informal economy, the poor make too little to pay taxes (they typically make less than $2 a day when they join SKS.) Third, poor entrepreneurs have little infrastructure and overhead costs. A village grocery is a homefront shop, not a separate rental property. And fourth, for the first three reasons, capital is only a small percentage of a new micro-venture’s input. What’s far more important for a micro-entrepreneur is timely access to capital. “

And that timely access to capital is what SKS enables. Must read book, specially for people who are trying to get into Indian markets after serving western markets or people who want to get deeper understanding of rural India.

15 Resources For Intelligent Investing

I remember the amount of time it took to discover resources on investing when I started investing. The problem was further amplified by the analysts’ noise on TV and stock market exuberance in the surrounding. Since I would be taking break from active investing for some time, I thought of putting down some resources for budding value investors. Feedback is always welcome. Here is a list of resources that might give a head-start to young investors –

Books

Books are investor’s best friends if one does not have enough people to talk around about investing.  Spending more time with books would also help you cut your time watching CNBC and stock market levels. There are many interesting books on investing and the more books you read, the more you would want to read. Here are few good books to get started –

1. The Intelligent Investor

The book is written by Benjamin Graham, the teacher of the investing God Warren Buffet. Although Buffet himself does not follow the quantitative framework provided in the book, it is a good book to start primarily to get into value investing school of thought – paying cents for a dollar and understanding Mr. Market.

2. Annual Letters to Shareholder from Mr. Warren Buffet – Berkshire Hathaway

Investing is best done when it is done like business. And nobody understands business better than Mr. Warren Buffet. Every year Mr. Buffet writes letters to Berkshire’s shareholders and each one of these imparts immense wisdom. Must read for anyone who wants to learn investing or learn business. There is also a book covering the lessons from these letters – The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America – a quicker read if you don’t want to download each letter and go through details of Berkshire’s businesses.

3. Buffet: The Making of an American Capitalist / The Snowball

Now since we are learning from the writings of the great man, we can also read more about his life from either of these two books – Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein or The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder. I would recommend both. Continue reading “15 Resources For Intelligent Investing”

Learnings from Mr. Salman Khan

For people who don’t know the other Khan, (I am not talking about the well-known actor Salman Khan, not that the actor Salman Khan has nothing to offer to learn), here I am writing about Salman Khan, also known as Sal Khan, from Khan Academy. Sal Khan started making videos for his cousins who were finding it difficult to understand Maths. He was working as a hedge fund manager then. One day he quit his job and started spending full-time developing these educational videos and sharing on YouTube. Today he has more than 2000 videos available on his site. That was Mr. Khan’s introduction in short. If you want to know more about his, please visit Khan Academy’s website. Khan Academy has now become very popular and Mr. Khan is enjoying immense brand equity worldwide.

Videos provide an ultimate learning experience to students, sometimes even better than the classrooms. Students can go through videos at their own pace – rewind, forward, go as many times as they want through a lesson. Mr. Khan has also come up with a novel learning management system where students can evaluate themselves after watching the videos. The key objective in his LMS (learning management system) is that students should keep trying on one concept until they learn it completely before moving on to another concept. In our conventional education system, students progress through their classes if they secure, say 70% marks. However, do we provide driving license if one knows how to drive a car only 70%?  Mr. Khan has also come up with concept of badges to provide continuous feedback to students.

The great work done by Mr. Khan is truly admirable. However, apart from learning Maths and many other subjects from his videos, there are some lessons of life which can be learnt from Mr. Khan’s life. Here they are –

Start small – Imagine making more than 2000 videos one at a time covering diverse set of subjects. Anybody would get overwhelmed by such a thought. “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step” said Martin Luther King and that is what Mr. Khan started with. I am not sure if he ever thought about creating such a vast library of content.

The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention (said John Burroughs)- What was Mr. Khan’s intention in the beginning? To help his cousins struggling with maths. Indeed a good intention. Was it to change the world using videos? I doubt. But then he kept working and sharing his work. His smaller deeds have turned big now.

Content is king – Instead of focusing on fancy softwares and tools, Mr. Khan focussed on creating easy-to-understand content. I have met students who find it easier to learn from his videos than what they learn face to face from their teachers. He has used no fancy animations in his videos but has delivered his lessons just like a normal teacher goes about in a classroom.

There are many more. Watch this video –

Another Movie Marathon

Someday you wake up with a plan. someday things just happen. 31st December was one such day. It started with the morning 10 o’clock show at INOX with Tron Legacy. Followed up by Richie Rich (1994) in the afternoon, animated Cars in the evening and Twilight Saga and LOTR (probably for the 25th time) in the night. Here are short reviews.

Tron Legacy – I am not too much into sci-fi movies and don’t watch many of them. In spite of that, I find them to be so similar to each other. Tron Legacy was no different. Matrix was the movie, rest many of them are just hangovers with programs and grids and users. To give some points, it had few good 3D effects.

Richie Rich – Fun movie to watch with family but gets too dragging by the time it ends. Nothing new in the story but a good timepass.

Twilight Saga – I had been holding off myself from watching vampire movies. And after watching this movie, I think I was rightly so. A girl loves a Vampire and then there are werewolves and confrontations between the three parties. The marathon was taking its toll, I dozed off in between.

LOTR – The Return of the King – My favourite of the trilogy and one of the favourites of all the movies. Wonderful story (read the book), fabulous productions, amazing war scenes and Aragorn. Enough to keep you awake even when you are watching it nth time and it is 3 o’clock of the happy new year morning.

Next movie marathon wish-list – Social Network, Wall Street 2, Dhobhi Ghat, a good war movie and a good animation movie.

The jinx of the second book

I made an interesting observations while my 24 hour train journey from home to Bangalore. I have failed to complete a book if it is written by an someone whose book I have already read. Or in other words, I find it very difficult to read a second book by an author whose I have already read. The trend started with JRR Tolkien when I read “The Hobbit”. I find it so interesting that I decided to read the trilogy and bought it. Well size of the book can one of the reasons but I have read fatter books and it certainly was not the reason. Another reason can be the well adapted movie by Peter Jackson. Despite being one of my most favorite movies and the central character “Aragorn” being my role model, I was never able to complete the book. And then, this second-book-failure continued with other authors like Gabriel Marquez, Jim Roger, Benjamin Graham, Peter Lynch, Naseem Taleb, Chetan Bhagat, Ayn Rand and James Collins. I read “Hundred years of solitude” by Marquez and was quite impressed by the way he writes and unfolds the story but then I failed to complete “Love in time of cholera”. This does not mean that the second book was worse than the first one. Had the random events led me to read “Love in…” first, I might have missed the first one. Random events bring me to the book by Naseem Taleb who cast a big change in my way of thinking by his book “Fooled by randomness” but again no matter how good he is in influencing, he wasnt able to influence me to complete “The black swan” which I am still struggling to finish. Similarly, Jim rogers sounded very cool while reading “The investment biker” but I found him repetitive while reading ” Hot Commodities”. However I managed to complete half of it and then lent it to my brother in a hope that he will get me my ROI on that book.

Benjamin Graham helped me become a investor in the stock market by his book “The intelligent investor” and I almost read it twice. But then found “Security Analysis” so boring and add to that the big drain on the pocket it caused. “One up the wall street” by Peter Lynch was the second book I read on investments and immediately bough “Beating the street” but again I havent even completed the first chapter of this book and do not plan to do so ever.

Chetan Bhagat writes book which can be completed in a day. “Five point someone” was one such book which took no time but even after three years “One night at call center” sits idle in my rack. I am not even sure if I still have it or given it to someone. Next in line is James Collins. However here I know the reason why was not able to complete “Good to great” after completing “Built to Last”. The book by Naseem Taleb made such a difference that I threw both the books in dustbin (well.. not literally. Actually gifted them to someone).

The last one in the list is Ayn Rand whose “Fountainhead” I immensely enjoyed and have read it twice or may be thrice but found it extremely difficult to read “Atlas Shrugged”. However in this case, I somehow managed to complete the book atleast but not quite enjoyed it.

And I just finished reading Roger Lowenstein’s “When Genius Failed” which chronicles the fall of LTCM in a very beautiful way. And I am panning to buy his book “Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist”. Lets see if he can break the trend!!

The Dark Knight

I fail to understand how this movie is third in IMDB top250. I agree that the movie was good but number three – naah. The overall plot is good with good performances by Chris Bale (The Batman) and Heath Ledger (The Joker) and certainly one of the best movies of 2008.

Couple of things were predictable in the plot like The Joker acting dead while some junkies present him to the gang-lord (dont know who he was) for the prize money. And when Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) declares himself as Batman.

There were also couple of cool scenes in the movie. The first scene with Bank robbery, and the one where The Joker goes to the “conference” of the gangsters. Among the action scenes, the one where Batman’s car converts into a motor bike and when he topples the truck down with his strings, were the best. Even the “prisoner’s dilemma” was used aptly in the end by means of the “social experiment” in the ships by The Joker.

I would give it 5 out of 5.