Tuesday, October 2, 2012

ThoughtWorks India Away Day 2012

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending ThoughtWorks India's Away Day. Having been involved in planning our North American one earlier in the year, I was beyond excited to attend this Away Day because a.) it was in Goa, which is more or less the Miami of India, b.) I've always heard rave reviews of India's Away Days, especially of the cultural performances and c.) I had absolutely no responsibilities other than to enjoy the event. I'll recap using the basic retrospective format.

What went well:
  • We stayed at the exquisite Grand Hyatt resort. The amenities, food, location and privacy we enjoyed were just out of this world. This was easily the most high-end hotel I've ever stayed at (and probably ever will stay at) in my life. Case in point: our bathrooms had rain showers. What the what?
  • The energy, pride and support demonstrated by each office in India was nothing short of inspiring. Cheers of "Bang'lore....Bangalore!" *clap clap clap* would start with just one enthusiastic ThoughtWorker. Five seconds later and it would inevitably swell to a thunderous, unified chorus and then more clapping and whopping and general merrymaking would ensue. On the same thread, the cultural show and ThoughtBands made for nice ThoughtWorksy events in the evening. I am now thoroughly convinced that TWI can outdance and outsing any other ThoughtWorks region.
  • Talks by leadership, as always, inspired and instilled us with a sense of renewed purpose. Our chairman Roy talked about a lot of BIG ideas that transcend the normal scope of things I think about on a day-to-day basis ("where is the nearest Chipotle?"). While I don't always agree 100% with Roy's opinions, I really liked that he urged us to make our own decisions and to find our own way of impacting our surroundings and the world at large. The first step in all of that, of course, is simply to stay well-informed. That was one of my biggest personal takeaways from this weekend.
  • Seeing old friends and making new ones. I especially loved reconnecting with my TWU17 friends and catching up with what they'd been up to these past two years. I also was introduced to/bumped into random people and met everyone from the managing director of China to new soon-to-be grads in the upcoming TWU session to everyone else in between. 
What didn't go well:
  • We stayed at the exquisite Grand Hyatt resort. Despite the comforts described above, this was sub-optimal for several reasons. First, it was incongruous with our theme of frugal innovation. There was nothing frugal about this place (except for the part where we took the barely-used soaps and lotions and shampoos back with us) and it felt more suited for a honeymoon than for a company conference, especially a ThoughtWorks conference. Thankfully, Roy said that we would not return to this particular resort. Second, being in Goa meant that the sessions and keynotes were competing with white-sand beaches and the historical city center located a few miles away from the resort, which brings me to the next point.
  • Some folks skipped out entirely on what I thought were the most important parts of the weekend, like keynotes from guest speakers and internal leadership, for favor of going to the beach. I suspect those who left the premises to visit Goa viewed Away Day simply a free ticket to a destination vacation spot and nothing more. This makes me question the value of having the Away Day in Goa in the first place. Next time, either allot some time specifically for visiting the beach or don't have the event close to such alluring attractions. 
  • I wish there had been more focused tracks dedicated to learning. I wanted to talk to the Indian BAs or attend a code jam or learn about the project work we are doing in India or have a Bhangra pro teach me how to dance to Bollywood music so that people stop mistaking my dance moves for a seizure. Perhaps my sentiments are just a vestige from the NA Away Day, where the emphasis on (and competitive slotting for) breakout and affinity sessions was much, much heavier. Or perhaps it's just a reflection of the differences I've noticed between work culture in the US (jam-packed, stressful, competitive, on time) and here in India (more relaxed, prone to delays, and generously paced out). I wanted to walk away this weekend with an information overload as well as a cultural one; I definitely got the latter, but not the former.
Next steps:
  • Take my learnings back to the NA Away Day planning team. Discuss and hopefully find a way to incorporate the good parts of this weekend into our 2013 NA Away Day.
  • Research and find some reliable news sources so I can stay on top of the happenings in this world. Watch more videos of ongoings around me and less of cats on roombas. 
  • Go on a run. If the CEO of my company can make the time to train for and complete an Iron Man triathlon, then I have no excuse not to run for thirty minutes tomorrow morning.
  • Use up all that free soap.
And finally, this post would be remiss without some pictures of the weekend. 

Our chairman (center) with guest speakers from Africa who talked about how simple, frugal thinking could be applied to tech innovation in developing countries lacking in infrastructure or public services.
ThoughtWorkers rocking out to our home-grown bands.
Our rooms, which faced the gardens and water.

Painstakingly manicured lawns and foliage.
Everyone was a photo op at this resort. I could just point my camera any which way and produce a beautiful image.
We ate like kings. Many seconds were had. Some thirds, even.
The swimming pool was impressive, to say the least.
We were right on the water (though not on the famous white sand beaches). I especially loved ooh-ing and aah-ing at the beautiful shells strewn on the sand.
Two years later and reunited with my friends from TWU 17!
More pictures can be found here

9 comments:

  1. Do people there mistakenly think you are an Indian? you look like one from the photos. Nice photos and good points in your writing.
    love,
    mom (forget your dad's google account)

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