What is expertise economy?

Are you ready for the expertise economy? Constant upskilling and gaining expertise beyond education is the millennial way to work.

At the age of 25, Gautam Soni, who works as a business analyst at LinkedIn in Bengaluru, has already pivoted twice in his career. After graduating, he did not find a job immediately and tried his hand as a digital media consultant. Two years later, he become interested in data science and pursued a post-graduation diploma with UpGrad, an online course and certification site, investing all his savings into it.

While completing the course, he joined LinkedIn India in operations. He was encouraged to apply his learning on the operations role and in a few months, moved to business analysis, getting a 75% salary hike. “In jobs today, we face new challenges on a daily basis and it’s very important to stay updated and possess the right skill-set,” says Soni.

Soni’s experience captures work life in the age of digitization and acceleration where the world of work is going through a large-scale transition and critical skills and expertise are imperative for success. “New platforms, technologies and ways of business are sprouting constantly,” says Kelly Palmer, co-author of The Expertise Economy, “Businesses and employees need to make sure they have expertise to make these changes work for them. The career path of a future employee focuses on skill development rather than college pedigree,” she explains.

Prateek Benya says upskilling is required – be it through learning from someone in your own company or taking up a course. Photo: Saisen/Mint

Forward thinking companies have already restructured their process in such a way that employees have the choice, and freedom to decide what expertise they want to develop. For startups like 75F, a company that makes efficient buildings using internet of things and cloud computing, upskilling is a necessity to remain competitive in a fast changing, dynamic market.

“From our CEO to a new intern, every employee in our workforce has to stay at pace with technology,” says Oindri Sengupta, HR head, 75F India. “This is why we prioritize learning and development and invest in our people to upskill.” Every new employee goes through an intensive training program and then continues updating themselves through in-house libraries, online courses, industry-relevant certifications and training programs.

The value of an individual today lies in the knowledge and skills he or she brings to an employer or an organization and millennials recognize this, says Lisa Cannell, MD and leadership professor at Darden School of Business in University of Virginia, US in an email interview. This new wave has changed how employees view their careers.

“Millennials now value skill building and development opportunities within a job as much as compensation. If they don’t get required training from companies, they find courses to reskill themselves.”

Lisa Cannell, MD and leadership professor at Darden School of Business in University of Virginia
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How to do a steady job with a part-time startup

What are part-time startups and why are millennials doing them?

Since June 2017, Bengaluru-based Saswati Suchipadma has led a hectic life. She is a full-time technology consultant in a multinational company and runs a handmade jewellery start-up. “I have meetings with clients in the US, and deadlines both at office and with my personal business clients,” says the 26-year-old. “All my free time during weekdays and weekends goes into designing jewellery and marketing my brand over Facebook and WhatsApp.”

It’s like keeping two jobs together, says Suchipadma. However she doesn’t want to quit either. “My technology job is what I studied for and the start-up is my passion, what my mother taught me,” she says, “and now I’ve learnt to manage both together efficiently.” Her manager at work has also accepted the start-up since her work hasn’t suffered. In addition, Suchipadma feels being in a job is actually good for the start-up as she gets more clients for her jewellery designs.

Riding in two boats

A whopping 90% of Indian start-ups fail within the first five years, according to a study titled Entrepreneurial India by IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics in mid-2016. The most common reason for failure, according to the study, is lack of a unique business model and new technology.

Gurugram-based Aparajita Roy, a 28-year-old photographer and corporate trainer, is happy managing a start-up and a job while she learns more. “I am from a middle-class background and want financial stability in my venture before I quit my job,” she says.

Since five years, Roy has been working as a corporate trainer in a UK-based financial firm. Her start-up, an event planning and photography venture, began a little more than a year ago. The going has been good with 15 clients in one year, but not good enough for Roy to quit her job. “A full-time job guarantees regular pay and being in a corporate environment exposes me to a lot of business and networking tactics,” says Roy.

Your job can teach you how to run a business

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New ways that founders are doing business meetings

Startup founders are doing meetings in newer ways to save time, increase their efficiency and also be much more productive.

When Mithun Srivatsa, co-founder and CEO of Blowhorn, a logistics startup, began his company, he had a small office in HSR Layout in Bengaluru, which could seat only four people. “I did five meetings a day, and it got too stuffy being in a room all day long,” says the 34-year-old. That was the reason he moved meetings to a beautiful park nearby. “I’ve interviewed possible employees, held training sessions and discussed growth plans with angel investors, all in that park,” he says, adding that he loved the idea so much that he has continued doing what he calls ‘park meetings’ once every day, even though the startup has a bigger office now.

Founders get out of the office

“A park changes the mood, eases the context and gives you space for small talk. It’s better for heated discussions too,” he says, adding that all kinds of possibilities open up in a meeting at a park. In one such incident, Srivatsa recalls, he was interviewing for a possible senior role position on a park bench, when the meeting turned into a lengthy discussion about the startup’s vision and mission. “At the end of it, this person wanted to put in her own money into my startup,” he laughs.

Creative meetings are a walk in the park

A 2014 study from Stanford, agrees with Srivatsa. Upon researching on people meeting at offices versus walking, the study found that walking boosts creative inspiration and leads to divergent thinking, where you explore many possible solutions to a problem.

That’s the reason, like Srivatsa, Archit Gupta, founder and CEO, ClearTax, an income tax e-filing solution, keeps his Sunday meetings with his co-founder, Srivatsan Chari, at Cubbon Park, one of the popular public parks in Bengaluru. “As we talk about growth strategy, Srivatsan, plays with stray dogs,” says Gupta, 33. The relaxed atmosphere makes them come up with creative solutions for their business and also reconnects them over fond memories of growing up together. “Mobile meetings are not only good for blood circulation but great energy boosters and diminishes hierarchical boundaries, putting everyone at ease, allowing free flow of dialogue and creating stronger personal bonds,” says Gupta, who has since then turned a couple of his everyday meetings into walking meetings.

Archit Gupta (right) with a team mate at a park in Koramangala for a mobile meeting. Photo: Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint
Archit Gupta (right) with a team mate at a park in Koramangala for a mobile meeting. Photo: Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint

With international work teams and timing, and smartphones with applications like Zoom, Skype and even Whatsapp, meetings on the go are a norm. However, overwhelmed with a continuous stream of meetings and communication, people are taking innovative, individual routes to keep meeting fatigue at bay.

Don’t let location distract you

Bhavin Turakhia, founder of many startups like Flock and Zeta, has over 100 meetings, every month. Over the last couple of years, this self-confessed stickler for meeting productivity has taken individualization to the height, building customized workstations in all the offices he works from—at his home in Mumbai, as well as his offices in Mumbai, Dubai, London and Los Angeles. “I don’t like to waste time when I travel for meetings,” says the 38-year-old.

“This way, I literally, pick up from where I left off, no matter which office.” Turakhia has a “specification document”, which lists down what he needs in a customized chair, arm rest and desk, including a Benel-designed custom-made chair with dual motors and a sit-stand, seven-feet long desk, which costs anywhere between ₹ 80,000-Rs 1,50,000 per set. “I’ve customized this system over time, creating an exact configuration of three external monitors, monitor stands, exact lighting levels, video conference units and my distance from the entire arrangement.

This minimizes distractions for me, no matter where I’m working from,” he explains. Since travel time to his Mumbai office has increased, he has even had his Innova modified with a work/entertainment station that includes a monitor, so his meetings continue when he is stuck in Mumbai traffic jam.

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Did Amy Ingram just set up that meeting for you?

Amy Ingram is a secretary. She sets appointments and meetings. She works for top-level executives, including CEOs, in the IT, start-up and finance sectors. If you work in these industries, you’ve probably received an email from her.

But Amy is not a real person.

“She” is the creation of x.ai, a US-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) start-up, and was built for one purpose: scheduling meetings. For people like Karthik Palaniappan, 38, CEO and founder of August Academy, a career counselling start-up in Chennai, who has to work with 40 clients a year and set up an average of 25-35 calls a week, the AI assistant is a bargain at $29 (around ₹ 2000) a month. “I run a consulting business and have online meetings with clients from across the globe in different time zones. That’s two or three iterations before a meeting is set, which is quite cumbersome. With Amy, I’ve offloaded this mundane task,” he says.

Now all Palaniappan has to do is copy Amy on an email conversation with a client—the AI assistant takes over the scheduling part of a meeting seamlessly. Other than the ease, what he likes is that his contacts follow up with Amy thinking she’s a real person.

“Ninety per cent of the time, if I don’t tell the other person that Amy’s a bot, they don’t recognize from her emails that she’s a digital assistant,” he says.

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Setting up a start-up, straight out of college

In 2012, when Sachin Gupta graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee with a job offer from Google India, he faced a conundrum. He and his college mate, Vivek Prakash, had been building a software system, HackerEarth, for engineer recruitment. They had an offer from GSF Accelerator, a Bengaluru seed-funder for technology start-ups.

It came with a caveat: GSF wanted the two in Bengaluru, working full-time on the start-up, if they were to get the initial money. “That was our first challenge,” recalls Gupta. “If we wanted to do this start-up, and we so did, Vivek had to miss a semester in his degree while I had to leave my job.” Prakash wanted to get his degree.

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How online learning is the way forward

Online learning is the new way millennials are educating themselves. When Lucky Gautam decided to take the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) during his final year as a BTech student at Amity University in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, he was worried about the stiff competition he would face from students of India’s premier engineering institutions.

On a friend’s suggestion, he signed up with the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), an online platform that offers free courses (but charges a minimal fee for an exam for certification), to brush up on topics like analogue circuits and the principles of signals and systems.

Online learning has become the norm

A government-funded initiative by seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), NPTEL helped Gautam earn an all-India rank of 58 in GATE and a job offer from Indian Oil Corporation. “Sometimes books and a library just aren’t enough. With this platform, I could learn from the country’s top faculty at my own pace,” says the 25-year-old.

One needs to be a lifelong learner to stay relevant.

Other than providing high-quality content in high-demand fields, online courses are affordable and flexible, and therefore easier to access.

Cognitive computing, automation and globalization are impacting the nature of jobs and the skills required. One needs to be a lifelong learner to stay relevant. “We can’t afford to stop learning and still expect to grow in our careers. Online platforms are the most accessible for this purpose,” says Raghav Gupta, director for the India and Asia-Pacific region, Coursera.

The formulaic framework of online courses or webinars can be a millennial’s best friend. “Millennials have an intrinsic trust and connect with technological tools and advances, adapting to new technology rapidly,” says Andrew Thangaraj, professor, electrical engineering department, IIT, Madras, and NPTEL coordinator .

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Smart speakers aren’t ready to take over your home, yet

Artificial assistants in smart speakers can do some tasks for you to make your life easier but they are a long way off from turning you into a couch potato. Vinay Ram, a 30-year-old product manager, bought his Echo Dot (Rs4,499, Amazon.in) as soon as it was launched in India in November. “I’d seen an Echo a year ago when Alexa could only understand the American English accent, but mine is very responsive to Indian accents, switching seamlessly from Odia, Malayalam and north Indian English accents,” he says.

How smart speakers work in India

Ram who works for a Bengaluru-based smart-home automation company, Silvan, has set up the TV set-top box with Alexa and now asks the device to change the channels for him. Alexa also controls the air conditioner and room temperature and is automated to switch off all lights if the device hears “Good Night”.

Ram’s wife, Sapna who works from home, plays interactive games like Hangman with the smart speaker, and streams music from Saavn. Together, they give Alexa up to 50 commands in a day. Though he loves it, Ram reluctantly admits, “It’s a luxury rather than a necessity.”

According to data released in January by Amazon, Alexa smart speakers now offer integration with more than 12,000 skills tailor-made for Indians using its digital voice assistants, including the ability to play devotional songs, interactive games, services like Housejoy, Zomato, music apps like Saavn and informational apps like ESPNcricinfo—all of them free, without any subscriptions.

Vinay and Sapna can’t do without their Echo Dot. 
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Kitchen gadgets that will make the food themselves

Kitchen gadgets that will practically make the food themselves

It’s time to try something new kitchen gadgets. Retire your drab old whistle-cooker and wok, and bring home smart appliances that use the best of technology to make cooking easy. We tell you of the best ones.

The Prepd Pack lunch box is a smart one with an app that helps you plan and prepare your lunch, and track your food’s nutritional value so you can control what you eat.
The Prepd Pack lunch box is a smart one with an app that helps you plan and prepare your lunch, and track your food’s nutritional value so you can control what you eat.

Kitchen Gadget: Prepd pack 

The Prepd Pack lunch box is a smart one with an app that helps you plan and prepare your lunch, and track your food’s nutritional value so you can control what you eat. The start-up began as a Kickstarter project to raise $25,000 and ended up raising more than a million dollars for reimagined lunches.

The main case is an elegant rectangular box that can house a versatile modular system of containers with smart magnetic cutlery. The highlight is, of course, the app (free for iOS, Android) which helps you prepare lunches in advance. Prepd has tied up with chefs and nutritionists to create a library of prep-friendly recipes tailored for a broad range of diets, appetites and health goals. The app also makes a shopping list based on your choice of lunches for the week, and tracks calories. It can connect to other health apps like HealthKit on iOS, to track your health and fitness.

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Run your business with these apps

With clients across the world and in different time zones, Delhi-based chartered accountant Shitij Bahl, who runs his own taxing and accounting firm, needs to keep a lot of information handy on his phone when he’s travelling.

“You never know when I will get an urgent request from a client to see all their documents. The whole 30 MB of it,” says the 33-year-old. He relies on mobile apps to respond quickly and efficiently—Google Suite to organize team schedules and track projects; Zoho Invoice to send GST-integrated invoices quickly; and Dropbox, where he keeps all client data so it can be shared efficiently with just a link. If, like Bahl, you tend to travel on work, here are a few essential apps to keep handy.

Photo: iStockphoto
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Ways to spot fake news

Fake news is not a new phenomenon but social media platforms have made it much easier to spread rumours and lies.

During the demonetization move in November 2016, a WhatsApp forward convinced people, and even news channels, that the new Rs2,000 note came embedded with GPS trackers. The story turned out to be false.

According to a report in March by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), the number of internet users in India was expected to cross 450 million by June—241 million have Facebook accounts and over 200 million are on WhatsApp.

Be aware of fake news

Many of these users have been mobile-first users of the internet, so they are not aware of the fake email forwards and online frauds of the desktop era. They tend to think the messages they get are genuine.

Image result for fake news
It’s important to know the difference between what’s real and what’s not.

It doesn’t help that most fake news operators do not write stories that sound obviously false. They work with half-truths, turning them into believable news. “They fudge the numbers, Photoshop images, take a photo from an old source or from another country and try and sell it as statistics or a photo of something that it is not,” says Sandeep K. Shukla, head of department, computer science and engineering, at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and project investigator at the institute’s Center for Cybersecurity and Cyber Defence of Critical Infrastructure, a centre for research on cybersecurity.

“On Facebook and WhatsApp, people share news that looks scary, spicy or confirms their bias without even reading it.” 

Professor Sandeep K Shukla

The tools for building fake stories are getting more sophisticated. A research paper by professors at Stanford University and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, published in 2016, demonstrated how a new video-making tool can now recreate an old news clip of a politician by changing both the expression and content. Audio advancements mean you only need 20 minutes of a voice recording to replicate it.

To counter this menace, multiple fact-checking organizations have come up, all of them trying to get to the source through filtering tools, automation and collaboration. Internet giants like Facebook and Google have tied up with fact-checking organizations to check the news they show on their feeds. In September, Facebook ran advertisements in newspapers in India, Kenya and Britain, detailing tips on spotting fake news. “The future looks positive with auto-checking of suspect stories, data mining and probabilistic reasoning,” says Shukla.

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