Interview with Mahendra Palsule

In our earlier interviews, we have seen awesome bloggers’ leaving their well to-do jobs to pursue and follow their passions. Today we have someone, who has spent 19 years in the IT industry, where his colleagues had only good things to say about him and then switched to writing. ‘Project Management’ was his forte until he took the plunge to writing and become the editor of one of the top tech website in the world.

His communication skills and clarity in thoughts reflect in his writings on his blog. We are pleased to welcome Mahendra Palsule, Editor at Techmeme, to your Adda for an exclusive interview. In this freewheeling interview, he speaks about the solution to information overload, crowdsourcing, technological challenges as parents, his life, future of IT industry and much more. Don’t miss this insightful interview!

Q: When and why did you start blogging?

A: I started in April 2007 with my personal blog. I started blogging because I like to write and I always believed in the power of the Internet to connect me to like-minded people from all over the world. At times, writing is also a vehicle for me to achieve conceptual clarity in my thinking.

Q: What topics do you generally blog about?

A: These days, my primary blog is purely focused on analyzing trends in the technology and social web space, while my personal blog gets step-motherly treatment. On my personal blog, my recurring topics over the years have been psychology, gender-equality, atheism, politics, movies, and parenting.

Q: Do you ever get stuck when writing an entry? What do you do then?

A: Never. I only start writing after I have a fairly complete picture of my entire post in my mind. If I don’t, I don’t start writing at all.

Q: 19 years in IT industry and counting. You have been a witness to the fall and the rise of the industry. What have been your prominent observations in this period? Based on these observations and your experience, what changes do you predict in the next 10 years?

A: In the early days of my career, the entire IT industry in India was purely services-based. I always lamented the lack of product-based companies in India. Seeing the proliferation and rise of many Indian product-based companies and startups, is the most fulfilling observation in all these years.

Predictions for the future are always a dangerous game with many unknowns, but here are some I’d dare to make:

  • The Indian startup ecosystem will mature significantly in the coming years, making life a bit easier for entrepreneurs who undergo a difficult struggle today.
  • Indian IT outsourcing companies will face significant challenges and opportunities in several areas – getting qualified labor in India, diversifying geographically outside India, capitalizing on the growth of SaaS, etc.
  • In terms of overall online space, we are already witnessing a shift to a personalized experience. This will only get bolstered further in the coming years, with relevance filtering, giving you an optimal experience in everything you do online.
  • User behavior online will increasingly tend to share more publicly, leading to continued discussions and concerns about privacy.

Q: Being a first ranker in college for all the years, is a fulfilling achievement. 🙂 Can you share some very special moments from your college days that still bring a smile on your face when you think of it? 🙂

A: I was once asked by our Electronics professor to take a guest lecture on Multivibrators, in the middle of the year. When I started the lecture, I realized that my class wasn’t following me, because they had not understood what had been taught in the earlier months. So I reverted back, asked them if they knew how a transistor worked. By this time, our class got bold enough to be frank and replied in the negative.

So, I eventually ended up starting with basics of how diodes worked, followed by transistors, and then covering multivibrators over a span of 3 lectures. After I was done, my fellow-students suggested that we get rid of our Electronics professor and just use me instead. 🙂

Q: ‘Mahendra embodies the ideal Program Manager I would like to be working with’ & ‘He is one of the best Project Manager I’ve worked with’ is what some of your ex-colleagues say about you. You are now an editor at Techmeme. How and Why did this shift happen? Was it because of your keenness to explore new frontiers and realization that communicating well is your forte or was it something else? How did your friends and family react to this move?

A: The Project/Program Manager role in large Indian IT companies is a stressful balancing act dealing with challenges on three fronts – your bosses, your client, and your team. After 18 years of working in this role on several US & European projects, I realized I wanted a change.

I have always been an avid researcher, with a huge appetite for scanning a multitude of information sources and filtering the best from them. My present job goes hand-in-glove with this innate skill, and makes me think I was born to do this kind of work.

I have a hard time explaining what I do to my friends and family. 🙂 Initially, they were skeptical, but over time, they’ve slowly realized the fulfilling nature of my work and accepted it. The fact that I work from home is an added benefit.

Q: Your current role at Techmeme is ‘Editor working as a human filter for automated algorithm’. Do you think an automated algorithm, no matter how intelligent it could develop into, can replace the intelligence and editor skills of a human? Also, is it better to ‘crowdsource’ and let users decide the relevancy and usefulness of a story, rather than an editor or team of editors doing it?

A: For a news aggregator, automated algorithms have limitations that can’t be overcomed. Gabe Rivera, founder of Techmeme said it in 2008 when Techmeme hired its first editor.

Whether one decides to crowdsource or use an internal editorial team depends on one’s target audience – both models have been used online to varying degrees of success.

Q: ‘Relevance is the only solution to the problem of information overload‘, according to you. Relevance is subjective. Do you feel the relevance could be influenced with popularity and things that might not have been relevant to someone would appear like one, just because it was shared by his/her friends or popular personalities? This seems like a constant challenge and it’ll be great to hear your views on how do you think this issue can be addressed and your suggestions for an individual to handle the information overload he faces everyday. You can even suggest tools if you like.

A: Yes. As I described in the article, relevance is very dynamic and difficult to pin down. There are times when what is most popular is most relevant, and there are other times when a personalized approach is more relevant. This is why you will find both popularity-based and personalization-based relevance models to continue to coexist in the future.

My tips for handling information overload are listed on Quora:

Q: In one of your recent post, you opine that Facebook and Quora should be worried about Google+ but have not mentioned about Twitter, where asking questions, sharing links and speed seems to be the key. According to you, will Twitter not get affected by this? What kind of innovations do you want to see happening on Twitter, to counter any threats from other networks?

A: Twitter’s 140 character limit will remain its USP against Facebook and Google+. This limit makes it more suitable for sharing links & hence its suitability as a news-discovery network. Twitter needs a better on boarding process for new users and a flourishing developer ecosystem – both of which are weak areas today.

Q: You have a little daughter who seems to enjoy newer technology gadgets as much as you do. Being active on the Internet has its own merits and demerits. As a father, tell us what challenges one will face as technology starts intruding into every bit of our day to day life.

A: Technological change will keep accelerating in the future, and we as parents will feel outdated and ‘behind-the-times’ earlier in our lives than our parents did. Challenges from a father perspective are two-fold:

  • First is how to best utilize gadgets, apps, and the Internet to enhance and accelerate my daughter’s learning. A part of this is teaching her to utilize online sites and apps for research and educational reference.
  • Second is to successfully create an awareness of the risks and dangers of online life, where your identity is permanent, reputation and privacy fragile, and being thick-skinned to handle others’ negativity online.

Q: Let us talk about Movies. You are a movie buff and we see a very interesting list of movies here. If you were to live like a character from one of your favorite movies, what would it be and why? (It could be a combination of characters as well)

A: This is one of your most entertaining as well as challenging questions! 🙂 Let me have fun by engaging in fantasy:
I wish I am as compassionate, dedicated, and patient as Kurosawa’s ‘Red Beard’, and gain the wisdom and inner peace as Watanabe did in ‘Ikiru’ after his transformation. I wish I had the musical genius of Mozart from ‘Amadeus’ and the mathematical genius of John Nash from ‘A Beautiful Mind’. Individualists who fight against the establishment like Dr. Dipankar Roy in ‘Ek Doctor Ki Maut’ or McMurphy in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, are always inspiring role models amidst an environment cherishing mediocrity and conformance.

Q: Who among you and your wife have the creative genes, that your daughter has got? The Artwork that she has done for her age is commendable. How important is it for the parents in the current generation, to understand the talents of their child and shield him/her from the external pressures? What are the things that you are doing which will ensure a great future for your daughter?

A: My wife says the creative genes come from me, though I think her creativity takes different, subtler forms. You can see some of my sketches here. I think our generation as parents has a great opportunity to liberate our children from the myopic, academics-obsessed upbringing of earlier generations. The ‘shielding from external pressures’ that you mention, also needs to be balanced, such that our child develops the inner strength that will be required throughout their lives. Some of the things we try on our part:

  • Choosing a school that encourages curiosity, creativity, and talents in a holistic way.
  • Exposing our daughter to educational media about science, nature, and art through books, documentaries and gadgets like the iPad.
  • Encouraging her to develop extra-curricular skills through various summer camps, dance classes, etc.

It is always a struggle to achieve the right balance between your expectations from your child and the child’s freedom to be what she wants to be. Walking that fine line is a continuous learning experience as a parent.

Q: If given an option to do a CTRL + Z in your life, at which moment would you have used it and why?

A: I have made many mistakes in my life, but I wouldn’t wish to ‘undo’ any of them. I think making mistakes and learning from them is one of the greatest gifts we human beings have.

Q: When not in the Virtual World, how does Mahendra spend his time? What other things excite you apart from technology?

A: Old Hindi film music, Western Classical music, serious films and documentaries, reading non-fiction as well as fiction and philosophizing over long discussions with friends are my other favorite pastimes.

Q: Do you promote your blog? What promotional techniques work best for you and why?

A: I don’t promote my blog much. I have a Facebook Page for my blog and share new posts on Twitter, Google Reader, and now Google Plus. These networks work well for me, as I have a reasonable level of following and engagement on them.

Q: How important is it for the blogger to interact with their readers? Do you respond to all the comments that you receive?

A: Very important. Engagement with your readers and followers is the most critical aspect of your online presence. I respond to almost all comments, replies, etc. whenever they’re made in good faith, are not obnoxious, and are deserving of a response, even if it’s just a simple “Thank you”.

Q: What do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of blogging?

A: The number of friends I have made online through blogging, exceeds the number of friends I made in real life. I think that says it all.

Q: How, in general, would you rate the quality of Indian blogs? Share your favourite five blogs.

A: I am afraid that my involvement and engagement in the Indian blogger community has declined considerably, ever since I jumped into the information overloaded world of technology news. Here are my five favorite bloggers of all time:

Q: What is your advice to someone who wants to start a blog?

A: Blogging is like gardening – while there are many rewards, it also takes a lot of effort, consistently over a long period of time. Be clear about your objectives and choose a blogging platform that suits them.

Q: Do you earn revenue through your blog? How does one go about it?

A: No, I don’t. My blogs are ad-free, not-for-profit blogs. Making significant revenue from single author-blogs is difficult, so have realistic expectations.

Q: According to you, what is the future of Blogging?

A: Blogging will continue to evolve, but is here to stay. Social networks take up a lot of our time, but ultimately, our content and our online identity is best served by hosting your own blog. Platforms that combine blogging with integrated social features like Tumblr are going to become very popular and dominant in the future.

Q: Let’s conclude off with a few favorites.

Color: Black

Movie: Out Of Africa

TV Show: Seinfeld

Book: An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology

Time of Day: Night

Your Zodiac Sign: Virgo

That was an enriching interview. So, Twitter is here to stay, Relevance will matter, and lot of tips on how technology and your kids can co-exist. 🙂 Thank you Mahendra for this wonderful interview. We got to know a lot about you, (Especially the fantasy part :)). Readers, any questions? It is all yours now.

Connect with Mahendra: Blog, BlogAdda, Twitter

3 Replies to “Interview with Mahendra Palsule”

  1. Having met and interacted with Mahendra in person, I must say these questions have been framed superbly, allowing readers and those who know him an even greater insight into his mind and what makes him tick. Brilliant stuff.

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