Tuesday, July 7, 2009

When "tele" prefixed "conference" ...

When Graham Bell invented the tele-phone he strictly made it for use by 2 people at a time. During the course of time, some guy invented this tricky thing called "Tele-conference", aka Telecon. We need to somehow find that guy and send him to an island in the middle of Atlantic before he starts inventing more dreadful things.

Think of the nice way we had conferences earlier. People met in groups in well-illuminated rooms, with glass windows and big chairs, and someone explained things by writing on the board - and there was coffee/tea served, and it was indeed a nice time to relax. Sometimes there would be a Powerpoint presentation and they would dim the lights, and no one would know if you're sleeping or thinking. When they switch on the lights in the end, you would feel as if you finished watching a matinee show in theatre. Also, you will get a chance to meet "long-time-no-see" friends and discuss critical issues like why Mani Ratnam dropped Kareena and chose Aishwarya.

Another good thing was: there would always be a "lead-time" in reaching the conference room. This lead time is defined as the time taken to reach the conference room (or return back to seat) by walking in groups and it includes time taken to peep over cubicles along the way to say a "Hi" to friends, drinking water by the cooler, visiting restrooms, combing hair, stopping over in the neighbouring cubicle to help that pretty girl resolve a "complicated" bug (in olden days it was called flirting), getting updates on IPL score, etc etc.

With telecon, all these luxuries are now lost. No matter where you are and what time of day it is, people expect you to join a telecon asap with a few seconds notice. There are no lead times here. That's why, many a time you hear all kinds of weird background noises in a telecon - autorickshaw sounds if the guy is attending from Chennai, baby crying, spouse shouting, toilet flushing (note: this guy must be really good at multi-tasking), cows mooing (this guy must have gone to his village on vacation), and what not !

If a telecon has more people, then most of the call goes like this:

"Kumar, are you there?". "Hello Kumar...hello".

"I think, we dropped Kumar".

"Yes, I think I heard a beep a while ago".

"No, that was me who joined, this is Amit".

"Oh, hi Amit, I think we dropped Kumar".

"Hello Kumar?". "Was it Kumar? I think I heard someone now".

"No, that was my dog here, sorry".

Then, all of a sudden, Kumar comes back saying "Oh sorry guys, I was on mute". Easy excuse ! He might have actually dozed off or gone to the nearby grocery store to buy milk - but no matter what, you can always say you were on mute.

Telecons demand a lot of concentration. You might be watching Bollywood movie this side, but your ears should still be tuned to the telecon conversation. Else, you might be caught off-guard when someone asks, "Hey Kumar, did we move that code to production?". You would jolt and wake up from the Bollwood-movie-trance, but you will have no idea what code they're talking about. Because you lost track of the telecon when Rani Mukherjee started dancing. A good trick in such critical situations is to make a general statement and provoke the other guy to repeat the question. Like, for the above question, you can say, "Hmmm... I think, we moved pretty much everything we planned". This confuses the other guy and he would surely repeat, "Yes, but did we move XYZ code to production?". Now, you got what you wanted.

Maybe, I should write these tricks in a book, like a "Survival Guide to Telecons" - and who knows, it might be a best-seller. Anyway, I need to go now, got a telecon to attend.