Today, in a ceremony at Paramount Theater in Oakland, I became a naturalized US citizen.

We were encouraged to live tweet the experience!

Its been a long journey of 18 years, various types of visas and a LOT of paperwork! But I am so proud to be an American citizen. I feel as though my legal status finally matches how I’ve felt in my heart for years. I came to this country for the same reason that millions of other people have done before me and will continue to do: to realize my potential in a way that would not have been possible anywhere else. In her video message to the new US citizens today, Madeline Albright said it best:

Proud #NewUSCitizen!



Disrupting Excel

In a recent post MG Siegler suggests that Excel may be the last stronghold of Microsoft Office. I agree. I worked as a PM on Microsoft Office for 4 years on 3 versions of Office. I have long since switched to Mac OS, Gmail and Google apps, but I remain fully in the Excel camp. Nothing has come close to replacing Excel for those who do any real work with spreadsheets.

MG goes on to suggest that the way to beat Excel is not to build a simpler version (ala Google Spreadsheets) but rather an even more power user version as Excel is essentially a power user tool: “I think the way to attack it is to go over the top with functionality so ridiculous, it makes Excel look like a toy.” I don’t quite agree with this.

For one thing, these tools exist: R, SPSS, Stata, Matlab etc. all leave Excel in the dust in terms of functionality. They have not dampened Excel’s popularity, maybe because they are too advanced and specialized. The balance of (relative) ease of use and power user functionality is what makes Excel so popular.

A viable competitor to Excel does need to be simpler. But not simpler due to reduced functionality. Rather simpler in terms of the interface. Excel is not hard to use, so much as its painstaking to use. It does not have a high skill but a high effort requirement, which is why the same Excel templates are being used in banks and offices since the nineties. These hand-me-down templates combined with lack of good error checking have caused many errors costing hundreds of millions.

The software that takes out Excel will need to maintain its functionality but significantly simplify the interface with more intuitive UI (learning my preferences as I use it, making visualizations super simple and interactive, making pivot tables, lookups, etc much easier to do – for example with natural language input, and making error checking much much better.) This is a really hard problem but I hope someone decides to tackle this. I would love to never ever have to do a VLOOKUP again.





Disrupting Excel

On Reading Books

[Also published on Medium]

I read a lot. Always have. Growing up in a lower middle class family in India, I didn’t get to buy new clothes unless it was for birthdays and special occasions (thank goodness for school uniforms!) and only rarely got new toys (we mostly played outside anyway.) The only “allowance” I got was for books. Every month my parents would take my sister and I to the local bookstore where we could each buy a book. Any book. No budget cap. I cherished these bookstore trips like some kids look forward to Disneyland. In 4th grade we were issued library cards for our school library. I had made it to Disneyland :-)

My reading habit stuck with me. I read approximately one book a week. Naturally when the Kindle first launched I was enthralled. Here is a device where I can “carry” tons of books without dealing with their weight, never be without reading material on a long trip and switch from a non-fiction to a fiction or biography without having to cart around three books with me. What’s not to love?

But after 2 years into reading mainly on Kindles, I found myself some time in 2012 going back to paperbacks more and more often. (I don’t like hardcovers; all that extra weight and cumbersome handling, not to mention expense.) I am not exactly sure why I went back to paper books but as soon as I did, it was really difficult to go back to the Kindle again. It just didn’t feel the same. I realized I loved the feel of paper, the smell of books, the clear visual indication of progress from the book lying open face down, sharing books with friends, and going back to a book I read a long time ago that I notice on the bookshelf.

I also noticed I read less, not more, when reading mainly on the Kindle. I am not sure why this is. It may be the out-of-sight-out-of-mind effect? The stack of unread paperbacks on my nightstand is a constant reminder of all the goodness coming my way while the Kindle library is invisible. (Some people think the opposite and I can see why.)

Oddly however, I did not give up Kindle books because around this time the iPad mini launched which is quite possibly my most favorite gadget of all time. I found reading in the Kindle app on my iPad mini a much better experience in most circumstances than the Kindle device. (Except of course in sunlight. But I read primarily before bed, in coffee shops and some times on flights. So the sunlight thing really wasn’t an issue.) This was especially true for non-fiction; I find reading non-fiction on the iPad app a superior experience than the Kindle device and even than paper books. I can skim sections I find less interesting, highlight, add notes and references to come back to, jump around non-linearly, save information out to Evernote etc. These are things I do primarily for non-fiction that I would never do with fiction.

With fiction and most biographies, I like immersing myself into the book, being completely transported to another place and time and losing myself in the characters’ lives and their stories. As a teenager I remember being so deep in this trance that I couldn’t hear my mom shouting my name from 4 ft away. This is a feeling I still can’t get from ebooks.

Besides this difference in reading style, another reason I like buying non-fiction books digitally is their transient nature: many non-fiction books apply to current events. A lot of them can feel terribly outdated just a year after publication. (There are exceptions of course.) So I prefer to treat non-fiction books essentially as longform web articles: save what I like to Evernote and move on.

So my reading pattern has settled into this: fiction and biographies on paper and most non-fiction in Kindle app on iPad mini (now with retina.) My Kindle device mostly just sits fully charged next to my bed these days.

Where do you land on the Kindle vs. paper books vs. ebooks on tablet spectrum?

On Reading Books

Disruptgate and the problem with “women in tech”

If you’ve been following Techcrunch Disrupt news at all, you know by now that 2 really inappropriate and insulting apps not only got made and submitted, but also allowed to demo on stage. (See: http://valleywag.gawker.com/techcrunch-disrupt-kicks-off-with-titstare-app-and-fa-1274394925)

This is of course sad for lots of reasons but I want to add one to the list, which I think is the most important: it steals media and industry attention away from the 200+ AMAZING hacks made by people who spent all day and all night in terrible, uncomfortable chairs in an exhibition center for no other reason than wanting to make an idea real. I happened to be one of those people and saw firsthand the energy there.

Yes Techcrunch made a dumb mistake by not scrubbing their submissions and have apologized for it but all the media outlets jumping down their throats at the expense of giving some spotlight to great hacks are making an even bigger mistake. The problem with “women in tech” is not this Techcrunch error or the 2 idiotic teams who made those awful apps. The problem with “women in tech” is that this fiasco makes for a better story than writing about all the women and girls (including a nine year old!) in that exhibition center last night.

Disruptgate and the problem with “women in tech”

To be or not to be… American

This article in NY Times today is close to home for me. Today marks my 17th anniversary of arriving in the US. In 17 years I have had an alphabet soup of visas and statuses: B2, F1, EAD, H1-B, B2 again, H1-B again, and finally a lawful permanent resident (green card holder.) However going from being a permanent resident to a citizen somehow feels like a major leap.

Perhaps because my whole family lives in India – I visit every year and still feel very connected to India. Another factor is that India does not allow for dual citizenship so I would have to give up my Indian passport to become a US citizen.

Until I read this article, I honestly thought I was in the minority – because after all everyone wants to be a US citizen, right? I guess not for the 8 million people who are eligible for citizenship but have not taken steps towards it.

In my case I have just started the process to apply for citizenship. Why? Because I want to finally be able to vote! Also because I feel American more than anything else.

But a big reason is to travel on an American passport. I travel a lot and traveling on an Indian passport sucks. Almost every country requires Indian citizens to get travel visas which can take up to a month of advance planning. I want to finally experience that most American of freedoms – to be able to catch a last minute flight to Paris :)

To be or not to be… American