career

Few years ago, a personality test revealed that I am an INFJ, the rarest of 16 personality types that exist in this world. Most of the time I was in senses, I used to ponder on why my brain is wired differently from the people I hang out with. Words that describe me are conscientious, determined, organized, planful, creative, thoughtful, introspective, value-driven, private and altruistic.

  1. I don’t quit. I work on my growth relentlessly until I achieve the goal I have in mind. I am my biggest critic. I always have a burning desire to achieve more. For me, it’s never enough. I have a purpose in life — To become better in my abilities and sharpen my skills with each passing day and I strive to make it happen no matter how long it takes.
  2. I choose friends carefully. I have few friends whom I trust. I don’t regret it. Less people I sit with, less bullshit I would have to deal with. And this gives room to pursue my hobbies and expand my horizon in personal development.
  3. More than people, I find solace in solitude and art. Be it writing or playing piano or do photography. But I also find it torturous to spend long time alone.
  4. I don’t share my knowledge in person unless asked. Instead my curious mind often comes up with zillion of questions for the problem the other person discusses. And sometimes, it helps them out. My contribution to the Tech community (GeeksforGeeks) is pure altruism.
  5. I give time to people who are worth my time and energy. Selfish, self absorbed, judgemental and negative people turn me off. I prefer to spend time on my hobbies instead.
  6. I am an easy going person because of good listen quotient and great understanding nature. I have been seen from many people at work as a great team player. Rarely have I met someone who didn’t enjoy a face to face conversation with me. From English literature to urdu poems, from politics to fantasy, from finance to technology. I can talk it all except sports. I don’t very much like talking about politics with serious people. I have seen it turning relationships sour.
  7. I choose who to travel with. Good companions make amazing trips.
  8. I walk out of an argument when it’s getting worse and not going anywhere. I cut off people when they sound judgemental and make comments unless they know me personally. It makes people think of me as a rude and arrogant person.
  9. I take constructive criticism very seriously and use it in my benefit. It has helped me in every aspect of personal and professional development in life so far.
  10. I am on open book if you know how to read well. Otherwise I might be the greatest mystery.
  11. Precaution is better than cure. I try my best preparing for a situation before it disturbs my calm mind and sleep. I like plans and value punctuality. I tend to be more of a meticulous person than a spontaneous one. My brain works like a decision tree and it likes to ponder on the various possible outcomes of a decision and decisions of that decision.
  12. I appreciate talent. You might not be the greatest pianist in the world. But if you play good, I feel fortunate to know you in person.
  13. I care for people I am close with. I usually put thoughts and conscience before saying something.
  14. I am fascinated by high quality things — Good food, nice cloths, great ambiance. I appreciate beauty and craftsmanship. I might disagree that looks don’t matter to me. But that would be a lie. I like beauty around me. Minimalistic by nature, I prefer to dine at finer restaurants twice a week than chilling out in below average eateries every alternate day.
  15. I am quite social and often come out as charming. I make friends instantly when they share some mutual interest.

What is your personality type? Have you tried rewiring your brain to improve it?

I am working on #8 and hope to come out of it soon.

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Vampires, we’re. Bright screens are our sun. In broad daylight, we love to stare at the geeky characters under shiny roofs. Caffeine is our rescue in times of exhaustion.

Before I begin with my journey at Microsoft, let me tell you that the views and opinions expressed are completely mine. Please bear with me as I speak, for my style is pretty inconsistent. Drowned in the pool of experiences, I am reinventing myself while writing all this. This post is bit long even for me. After all, squeezing 5 years of experience is difficult to fit in one blog. Go and grab a cup of coffee. I will wait.

Where do I start? Sticking to one place is no joke and I don’t expect anyone to stay this long, unless they are really happy. My chase for money faded away long ago and work contentment, for me, has been the driving force ever since holding the utmost importance in this agile Tech world.

When you reach the stage where you can afford all the food you want, all the travel, the cars and the entertainment, you want, what else is remaining? It becomes a never ending battle to reach to the top. A rat race, I would say. A wise man once said, “Save nothing but experiences”. If not, you would end up having all the materialistic pleasures, but your life would be wrapped up in emptiness. It would lack the sense of fulfilment you seek. While slogging away in the name of money, a day will come when you’re gonna ask yourself, “Was this all worth it?”

It doesn’t seem long back when I set foot in the Microsoft campus. But when I look back over the years I spent here, I oftentimes, get overwhelmed. Microsoft, as a company, what has always seemed to me is a great place to work at, while leaving my imprints across the globe as billions of users get to use its products.

My fascination for Microsoft products goes back to as early as 2002. In those Windows 98 days, we used to have sixty minutes of computer class once a week with one PC being shared between a class of ten students. I used to wait passionately for just 5 minutes of my hands on the PC.

May 2009 – When it all started

Memories of the tough time and the difficult decision while joining Graduation college are as fresh as morning dew. 2008 recession had plagued the software industry and associated opportunities adversely. The sheer fear of decreasing market demand of software engineers had panicked young blood to not pursue engineering in Computer Science. Despite the risk involved in those times and an admission in not so famous university, my passion & optimistic mind entwined their wings and somehow worked together, and here I am, penning half decade of my experience at Microsoft, in astonishment and all flabbergasted.

July 15, 2013

Fresh blood joins. All the vampires rejoice.

5 years it’s been and it feels like it were only yesterday when I wandered the corridors of the humongous campus for the first time. Days bled off into years. I have seen people come. I have seen people leave. Life moves on. Everyone is replaceable. The higher, one is at the management hierarchy, lesser is the tolerance for mistakes.

The time I joined Microsoft, peers around me were celebrating 5 years of completion and I had one naive question. How come they never thought of a switch? Spending long time at one place is quite a thing and more than the place, it tells a lot about the person – Happiness, Patience and sometimes they just let life go with the flow. Well, for me, it never really occurred to me that there is a world outside Microsoft that also builds awesome products and has huge user base. Having worked on world class products like Microsoft Excel and its underlying complex architecture, I feel my existence in this universe is making a mark upon people changing their lives through technology.

In this short span of time, I got to work on 6 version-1 projects each having different complexity and its own problem space. The journey has culminated in a great experience, adding a check to my learning curve at every stage.

The world of flow-charts and diagrams – Office Visio

My career started as SDET in Visio team, a part of Microsoft Office division. It was embarrassing that I was going to work on something I never heard of. Visio is an enterprise software not so famous among students. It captures a huge market for clients looking forward to create flow charts and diagrams. In a nutshell, it is something that simplifies tens of millions of human life. As a test engineer, I designed test suites and wrote automation for various features to make sure the regressions are caught early and help stabilise the product.

January, 2014

K2 phase: It’s Android baby

When I had a feeling that I have learnt enough that would help fasten my deliverable, a reorg happened and devalued most of the things that I worked upon. As they say, only skills acquired through the process matters in the long run, skills to understand and solve a problem. New team and new manager, it was a tabula rasa. Satya’s vision to focus on mobile and services landed me in Android team. Familiar environment and some prior experience, starting was as smooth as butter. Nightmares begun when I was assigned a problem to apply effects on an image. The office codebase is huge, medieval and it’s an ocean if you don’t know where to start. I still remember those hard moments when I was just looking through the code to pick hints, searching keywords like pImage, IImage in the hope that at least the naming convention would lead me somewhere. It was one of the fastest paced project and I was (un)lucky to be a part of it. Learning was great and sleeps were compromised. My team owned low level Graphics rendering stuffs, everything that you see on screen.

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It was an exhilarating roller coaster ride as I had never worked on a project of that urgency before. K2 is the second most dangerous mountain to climb and so was this project. Satya’s leadership and his vision for the company was as clear as a bell. We didn’t want to box ourselves in the Windows world. This was a big leap from our past rusted thinking and it was the beginning of reinventing the company. In Satya’s words, we needed to Hit Refresh. Even if we lost the war in Mobile Operating System, Microsoft could make a mark by releasing products on other platforms. SaaS (Software as a Service) was on the top of mind and Microsoft wasn’t behind. But to truly unlock its potential, we needed to annihilate the platform barrier. The world was transitioning at steep pace and the way users used the computing devices was reshaping. Desktop PCs and laptops were no more in trend and to succeed as a company, users needed to feel connected wherever they go. What is the benefit of all those technologies when users can’t edit a document on mobile while going to office and resume on laptop? Delaying this project could have been catastrophic. Decisions are good as long as they are taken at right time.

The idea of Shared code had always fascinated me and I got a chance to see how it works. The biggest challenge of developing apps on Android was device fragmentation. Apps you build might work like a charm on one device, while it might be completely screwed up on others. This project literally boosted my confidence as I was really quick when it came to building something on Android. It was an honor to be recognized as Subject Matter Expert. When I got empty hours, I contributed to Android community on StackOverflow and earned many medals. As of now, I hold 12 gold, 48 silver and 89 bronze medals.

July, 2015

Apple, A costly affair

Satya’s vision for efficient engineering annihilated the concept of tester & developer and rendered everyone a Software Engineer. I moved to Graphics team for iOS where I made core design changes and wrote code to be shared across various apps cross platform. The biggest challenge was to think of design that could sail well across multiple platforms and apps. Making changes at such a lower level was risky, heart throbbing and required solid understanding. Tolerance for mistakes was minuscule and the impact was so huge that making even a small mistake had big ripple effects breaking many features across the apps. Some of the nasty bugs gave me nightmares. It becomes worse when you have to fix the bug overnight and when you do it, you get response on the top of your fix mentioning that your change would be impacting twenty millions customers. Even 1 millisecond of performance regression raised eyebrows asking critical questions related to the design and the solution. I have learnt that this is part of life and as long as the learning curve is steep, things would just work fine. It has taught me the skill to never give up. Perseverance and grit are great virtues to survive in this industry.

Before the release of K2, shared code was a myth. As much fantastic as it may sound when discussed, it was practically not possible given the platform differences, language barrier at different end points and the engineering cost involved to bring the complex humongous codebase together. With the release of WXP on Android, we proved it to be doable and sealed it after moving iOS codebase to the same shared codebase.

Having got familiarized with both Android and iOS, I must say that I would choose Android over iOS any time of the day both as a developer and a user. Apple’s developer tool XCode hangs and crashes every now and then and sucks. Things that can be achieved in a straight forward way in Android can be pain when it comes to iOS.

October, 2016

Recalc or Die – Excel

About 30 years ago in a place far, far away, when C++ was still in diapers, Microsoft Excel was born. We even shipped Excel on floppy. We didn’t have much of C++ that time. So we wrote our own wrappers.

Shared rendering was over and I moved to Excel iOS team where I worked on Excel rendering component. Excel is one of the most complex projects and there are dozens of layers of architecture. Few of the bugs literally drove me crazy. I remember frying neurons of my brain for days without a clue on where in the code the problem might be. Some bugs were in the Apple library itself.

March, 2017

Excel on Mac

Another year, another project. Some familiarity with how Excel works, at least a part of it, landed me into another Excel endpoint. This time, it was Mac. It was way more complex than iOS. The quality was super important, for most of the people with big names use Mac, all of them being paid customers. A simple screw up could motivate one of the journalists to write and given how powerful social media are these days, it could have gone viral in no time. We did get good detailed feedback from a NASA scientist which reemphasized the impact we had been making.

February, 2018

SharePoint

While working on Excel and rendering technologies was fascinating because of the huge mass reach, lack of opportunities to add much design and code in Excel troubled me. The Data Structures and design used were fascinating. But they were written in 90s. Another good thing was that I never had to explain Excel to anyone. I remember meeting a college friend in Seattle who was widely surprised when I mentioned that we are fixing bugs in Excel. She always thought Excel to be super stable.

My restless mind, always looking forward to swim out of comfort zone to try and learn new things, found its medicine when a new SharePoint team in IDC was formed. I never realised the sheer potential of SharePoint until I started working on it. New technologies & tools, two decades old product, unknown territory, ownership of core components and never ending challenges, I couldn’t have asked for more.

As I reminisce my time here, I worked with 6 managers in 6 different projects. Lots of learning, challenges, obsession to achieve the best and never ending work. The journey has been no less than a roller coaster. I have sailed unfamiliar ships to unknown territories. I wrote and debugged code in more than ten languages (C, C++, Java, C#, Objecttive C/C++, Javascript, Typescript, Python etc).

Normal days at Microsoft

If you wonder how normal days as a Software Engineer at Microsoft look like, well it can be summarized something like:

  • You get a feature and are asked to come up with a design and various approaches to develop this.
  • You discuss various pros and cons and why one approach should be preferred over others.
  • You write code to develop the functionality. If the code is not shared, Bingo! your life just got easier. If it is shared across apps and platforms , you have to make sure it doesn’t regress anything. There are tons of test cases your code must pass.
  • If you get a bug due to your code and it is hi-pri, a hot mail thread starts overnight stating it impacted ‘X’ millions of customers.
  • If you get a bug not related to your code, well happy debugging. There are tens of millions of lines of code and you don’t have slightest of clue in what layer of architecture, the issue might be. I remember debugging a bug for 8 continuous days and at the end, I found that it was a race condition issue. The bug reproduced every once in 30-40 attempts.
  • Your code performance is super critical. I remember being part of a burning mail thread once because my code regressed the performance by 1 millisecond. I couldn’t see the difference manually as 1 millisecond is something your eyes can’t perceive.
  • You think you’re smart. Well think again. There are smarter people talking to whom is so much fun. You are stuck debugging an issue for 2 days. You don’t see anything working. You are pissed off. You send a mail to the people asking for help. They read your issue on phone, respond with a fix and it works.

In a nutshell, the emphasis is more on reading and understanding code than writing a new one. If you can’t understand well what is written, how are you going to modify it? This varies from team to team. Since office was released in medieval time when C++ was still in diapers, making changes in the code becomes a bit difficult, especially when you are making changes to an existing feature.
Microsoft is full of smart people. You can learn something from almost everyone.

Why I chose to stay at Microsoft?

There were many times I thought of a switch. The thing that always seemed to hold me was the thought that I would be doing the same kind of work that I am doing here. Besides, I am happy here, living life as I always wanted, trying out different things, exploring the world around me and pursuing my hobbies one after the other.

While we’re busy in earning money, life is busy in deducting time

If you ask me if I’m happy with the salary I get here. I would probably say, Yes. And I will shortly explain why. Pay is decent, but it is lesser than what competitive companies offer. Many of my friends have switched to other companies for higher pay. There was hardly a day in my 60 months of career at Microsoft that forced me to think of a switch, because of following reasons:

Work-life balance

The best thing I like about Microsoft is the work-life balance. The timings are flexible. If you get a good manager who knows how to handle pressure well, you won’t have to work overnight unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Company culture and vision

At Microsoft, we strive to build products that amaze customers within thirty seconds of usage. If we fail to wow them, we lose them for life. That’s the underlying principle behind every Office product. Productivity and efficiency are taken very seriously. Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort makes all the difference.

Pursue hobbies

I chose to stay at Microsoft because while working here, I can pursue my hobbies. You get plenty of time for things you want to do. I travel, do fashion and landscape photoshoot, play piano and write blogs, all while writing code in week days.

Money is a good servant but a bad master

The money I earn here is enough to survive and buy things of interest. If I would earn more money, I would buy bigger car or dine in more luxurious restaurants. The standard of living will improve. But the question is, how far are you willing to go for the sake of money. Run for money never ends. Having lived my fair share of life, I realized that life should be made up of moments. As long as you are happy with what you have, you are living a good life. With more money, comes more responsibility. Yes, there are times when I regret not being able to afford a Grand Piano, but I can settle with a smaller version of it.

Brand value

Although Microsoft pays lesser than few startups, I love it. My granddad proudly says that his grandson works at Microsoft. Microsoft is one of few companies that has survived four decades while staying relevant. People are still crazy about it.

Impact

Products that I work on are used by billions of people. I can say that the part of picture manipulation code in Word/Excel/PowerPoint has been written by me. This kind of huge impact can only be felt by working at some of the biggies like Google and Facebook.

Hit Refresh

When Satya Nadella took over, the change was visible sooner than we had anticipated. The company was at the cusp of transformation and is going through a significant transition phase as we speak. It’s not just a Windows company anymore. The focus has gradually shifted to its mobile first, cloud first business. The reason is simple. With so many technological advancements and automated home & car systems generating a lot of data, the humongous data has to be stored somewhere. 90% of the world’s data has been generated over last two years. Microsoft is pushing hard to make a dent through providing cloud services and thereby, stay relevant.

Microsoft is in right hands. Its stocks are soaring all time high. Investors have confidence and they’re betting in its bright future. It’s far from pinnacle of success and there is a long way to go. But I believe in the company’s vision. And as an employee, it’s a great feeling and amazing place to be at, while being part of the major transformation. I can either watch it happen or be a part of it. Well, the former doesn’t excite me enough.

You might like my other posts along the same line:

Journey of a boy from small town to Microsoft – An untold story Part 1

Copyright © 2018, Aashish Barnwal, All rights reserved.
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July 3, 2018
Mary,
I wonder if you’ve even the slightest clue on how much helpless I am finding myself today to express my deep feelings for you. For the first time ever in my life, I have fallen short of words. If only you were here, strolling quietly on the pavement with me, while cool breeze plays with your silky hair, I would have recited a poem in silence, for best of the conversations happen through eyes. No matter how powerful the words are, they are minuscule in matters of the heart.

Copyright © 2018, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.
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While flipping through the pages of the book he had gifted her on her birthday which she didn’t care to open until now, she found a paper folded in the heart shape. Imprints of the writing in blue were peeking at her. On the top, words were penned in glitter sparkling ink, “Happy birthday to the most beautiful person I’ve ever known”.

She opened it carefully. It was a letter.

Mary,
I’m quieter than quiet most of these days for I have no words left to say. Without you, minutes make me feel like years. Each clock tick hammers my heart increasing the wish to see you multifold. O dear! If only I could, I would have written hundred books on love and yet it won’t be enough to justify the strength of enchantment you’ve casted upon me. If only I could, I would have crossed universes and brought the brightest star for you and yet it would be nothing as compared to the glow of your smile. If only I could…

The letter became engrossing and more & more intense as she read. Each sentence was so beautifully crafted that if the words could take the shape of sound, it would have possessed the power to enchant the darkest of souls. And he had penned all this for her. Only her. The letter was like flowers to be kept between pages of the book for eternity. That night, she read the letter again before dinner, and before going to bed, and when she was not getting the sleep. She spent the next hour contemplating the words before reading it all over again.

Copyright © 2018, Aashish Barnwal, All rights reserved.
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Success is a subjective term. I believe every step you take towards reaching your goal, is success. Once you reach a goal, you set a bigger goal. That’s the way life is.

Here are few things that work for me:

Starve distractions and Stay focused

Ask any wo/man who has succeeded in life and s/he will tell you that one of the most important ingredient was sharp focus. Distractions are anti-catalysts in the journey of success. Study says that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track after a distraction. A lot of context switches while you are doing something important , affects productivity. Put your phone on silent and try not to look at phone for notifications. Avoid using social media while you are at work. The best solution is to make a habit of checking notifications or messages twice a day.

Choose a hero to look up to

In the life of every person, there is someone who (s)he looks up to. It is the human psychology. We tend to choose a hero whom we appreciate. Why? The reason is obvious. Sometimes, we love the way our hero lives. Sometimes, it is his popularity. Sometimes, it is just because his dreams were what ours is now. He kept on improving each day, each week until one morning he became what he always wanted. And we start seeing the perfect version of ourselves in him. Each time we come across his story and picture, our inner self echoes, “Yes, this is who I would like to be one day”. But just choosing a hero is sufficient? No. The detailed reason is here: Choose your hero, but…

Set smaller goals

Big goals can sometimes be frustrating and frightening. Break them down into smaller steps and work towards them. Not only it will help you with better planning, it will also change your psychology that it is do-able. For example, instead of setting a goal to reduce 50 pounds in a year, strive for 4 pounds a month. Or better, a pound per week.

Choose your company wisely

Be in company of positive minded people. It has been said that you are the average of five people you spend most time with. To succeed, your mind needs to be full of positive vibes.

Don’t be afraid of failures

After failing thousand times, Thomas Edison said, “I didn’t fail. I know thousand ways in which a bulb can’t be made”.

Success is a journey where you just have to be right once. It’s a long process and it requires patience, perseverance, sharp focus and dedication.

Learn from your mistakes

It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. Make a mistake once, and it becomes a lesson. Make the same mistake twice, and it becomes a choice.

Get to know why are you doing this (Passion)

Last night I was watching a movie on the life of dancer. Her mentor asked her, “Tell me, why do you dance?” The answer was important for her success, simply because it defined her passion. She had the passion of a bullet. Passion keeps you going no matter how difficult the path is.

Get great mentors

Being in touch with great mentors helps to streamline your vision and get guidance in right direction. I was fortunate to have mentors like Sandeep (GFG Founder), Venki (GFG moderator) and Narasimha Karumanchi, especially Venki with whom I used to discuss technical problems for hours.

If you like this, you might my other posts in Hack your life Archives

Copyright © 2018, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

 

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It was a long tiring day. The worst thing about being single is that you can’t share experiences of the day with anyone but pillows. The reader opened a chapter from his favorite book and started reading quietly.

The night was at its peak. Grave silence was blended in the air. The moon was waiting impatiently for Mary near the lake.
“May I ask you something if you don’t mind”, the moon asked the girl. Curiosity was killing him since quite long.
“How do you know that you’ve found the one?”

This was a great question indeed. The reader of the book was longing for the answer since the moment he met his first crush in his early adolescence. He stopped for a moment, took a deep breathe and continued reading.

“I know that you guys don’t like the same music. You have different taste-buds. Your morning habits don’t rhyme with his. While I often see him lost in capturing my reflection in night, you seem to enjoy the silence.
How were you so sure that Peter was the one?”, the moon said with no halt as if he had practiced this many times.

After a pregnant pause, Mary spoke,
“Everything in life has got a purpose and a meaning. Sometimes, It’s important to see things the way they are.
I have learned that some poems don’t rhyme, yet they communicate the fullness of expression. Some trees don’t bear fruits, yet they give shade. Some days are not sunny, yet they are beautiful.
Look at yourself. Even after flaws and imperfections, you are so magnificent and beautiful that famous artists have been carving you in the best of their work since ages.
The starking contrast in our vision and different ways to perceive the same thing made us true companions. We might be different. But together, we are highly potent mixture.”

The reader had finished the chapter. In fact, he liked that part so much that he could never finish the book. “I must have read the story of moon and the girl a hundred times”, he whispered to himself.

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.
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Clock didn’t tick for long since my first visit to US and I got a chance to visit Redmond again. Another high priority work, short deadline and huge expectations.

August 11, 2017

Hot summer evening and snacks break. A kind of perfect time to gossip about things around you. I was discussing entrepreneurship journey with my friend who was in Hyderabad for a startup conference. His zeal and passion to build something was making me go crazy and it hooked me in no time. Suddenly, my phone rang. It usually flashes name of the person at the other end only when something important comes up. Last time it did was when I had a trip to US and the second time, I got promoted.

“Hey Aashish! How are you doing man?”, my manager asked.

“It’s good”. While I was talking, another thread in my mind was trying to find clue on what might be the reason for this urgent meeting.

“Some urgent work has come up. We have to start on this immediately. Before I tell you the specifics, let me warn you that the timeline is quite aggressive and you have to be really efficient in delivering it. We have carefully chosen two engineers with strong debugging skills who can fix and unblock issues quickly.”, he explained the situation in one deep breathe.

“What is the ETA?”, I asked.

“YESTERDAY”, he smiled. “One thing that can be of your interest is that there is an opportunity to visit Redmond. I know that you love traveling. Based on the peer feedback and the work you have been doing, you have proven yourself to be the guy who gets the work done.”, he continued further.

“You can think over the weekend and tell me if you are interested in taking up this opportunity. I would like if you say yes”, he was done with talking.

Well, I didn’t know if I had a choice to press the NO button. Nevertheless, there were multiple reasons on why I wanted to work in that area. There was high visibility and sole ownership. I wanted to work on something new. Plus visiting Redmond was the icing on the cake. I didn’t need a weekend to make up my mind.

“I see it as a fantastic opportunity from the visibility perspective. I am in”, I was excited.

“Thanks man! I will let you know the dates”, he looked happy.

August 25, 2017

I wrapped up the work I was doing and started getting myself familiar with Applescript, a Mac automation language. 2 weeks later, I came to know the exact date to travel.

In my last visit to US, I missed shooting Seattle the way I wanted because of last minute ticket booking and not bringing the right gear.  Two things I did over the weekend. I started a mail thread in Microsoft Photography Club about the best places to shoot and if anyone wanted to accompany me. Second, I booked tickets in my favorite airlines, Emirates.

Technical bugs can snatch away your happiness. Just before 4 days of travel, I received mail from American Express Travel Agency saying my ticket in Emirates was not booked because of some technical glitch. The front end and back end were not in sync and there was a problem communicating my ticket booking request. What I received was the itinerary and not the flight tickets. They were in continuous talk with Emirates folks for 2 days. But no luck. I, finally booked tickets in British Airways.

Based on recommendations from my friends in company, I created a list of places to shoot in Seattle. The list topped with capturing Space Needle from different view points.

September 1, 2017

“Good morning, Mr Aashish!”, the gorgeous lady at the Checkin counter greeted. “Would you like a more luxurious and comfortable journey.”, she asked and explained the business class etiquette.

“Is it a free upgrade?”

“I’m sorry. But No”

“I think I will do just fine”, the happiness was gone in the split of a second.

The same lady was wandering around after an hour looking for me.

“May I see your boarding pass please”, she asked.

“Is there a problem?”, I asked and handed over my pass to her.

“Not if upgrading is an issue for you. Make sure you travel business next time by yourself”, she smiled.

I couldn’t believe it. Last evening I was reading some blog for free upgrade and their tips worked. This was first time I was traveling with British.

It didn’t feel any different until she asked, “Would you like to have some Champagne sir?”

Their menu never changes

I stayed in the same Marriott hotel I chose last time. I must say, they don’t like a change. Nothing had changed in 8 months. Same California grapes, juicy pineapple and waffles with chocolate chips.

My schedule in US was simple. Wake up at 4:30 in the morning, take hot water bath in bathtub, reach office by 8-8:30. Mornings are best when you want great productivity and efficiency. I got 5 free evenings dedicated to photography.

Day 1 – Kerry Park and Alki beach

I met Vijay, a Microsoft engineer and a wildlife photographer. We planned to shoot sunset at Kerry Park and skyline at Alki beach. It was a sunny day and there were chances to get good drama in sky and Mt Rainier in the behind.

The blue hour beauty

This is another picture from my Space Needle series captured in blue hour. 10 points to those who noticed Mt. Rainier in the background before reading this.You have to be really lucky to capture it from Kerry Park. The day has to be clear and sky has to be smoke free to frame the beauty of Space Needle and Mt. Rainier in one postcard shot. When I was in Seattle, due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. Mt. Rainier was visible on only 2 days.

Follow me on Instagram to see more of my work:instagram.com/aashishbarnwal/

Technique:
I took 3 pictures in different exposures when the sun was about to set. One, for the Space Needle, second for the Mt. Rainier, and third for the rest. I then blended these pictures in Photoshop to bring what I witnessed there.

PS: Did you know that Space Needle is the 8th most photographed subject in the world?

Lonely Space Needle under the moon

Kerry Park in Seattle is very famous among photographers for its postcard view of Space Needle. On a good lucky day when the sky is clear, part of Mt. Rainier can be seen too just behind the Space Needle. Vijay and I had planned for shooting sunset, blue hour and of course moon as we were shy of just 3 days from full moon. We reached Kerry 2 hours before sunset and found that there was some construction going on and it was making our frames look not as good as we planned. Making up early there came to our rescue as we were able to grab the best spot to avoid the cranes. We could feel the envy of fellow photographers.
The moon stood high above Space Needle at around 8:30 and I captured two pictures with different exposures, one with the moon in focus and the other with the Needle. I then blended those two pictures in Photoshop to get closer to what I witnessed there. Photography is about patience. We had to wait 4 hours for few good pictures.

Technique used: Exposure bracketing and blending

Day 2 – Waterfront Park

Serenity

This picture reminds me of the serene beauty, I oftentimes wish to visit. The place where there is a bridge and a big lake around. A fusion of man made and nature. Waterfront park in Seattle is quite pictureque and you can’t go wrong anytime in evening. I wanted to shoot sunset, but ended up capturing blue hour as the sky was not dramatic that day because of smoke.

Technique:
I shot two pictures at different exposures, one for the bridge and the railing on right and second for the rest. Due to dark, there was noise in picture which was corrected using longer exposure. I then blended those pictures in Photoshop.

Day 3: Columbia Skyview tower

The Great Wheel teleport

Seattle Great Wheel from 73rd floor of Columbia sky tower looked like a toy. I wondered what would it look like if it were to be teleported. I pulled out 35mm, slowed shutter to 13 seconds at f14 and pano’ed while capturing. It took 20 minutes and multiple shots to bring the wheel to perfection. The result was no less than what we get to see in sci-fi movies.

Technique: Single capture pano.

Day 4: Waterfront park

Waterfront Park was something I fell in love with. I visited there again to shoot the beautiful fountain.

Tomorrowland

Capturing this frame was like a dream come true. Ever since I owned a camera, I had this routine of checking famous photographers’ portfolio and their work. The smooth flow of waterfall and fountains always intimidated me. Their gigantic beauty and mesmerizing views has the power to render anyone spellbound and speechless.
The moment I set foot in Waterfront park in Seattle, I had this composition in mind where the fountain would be in foreground hiding part of Great Wheel in the back. I wanted to shoot sunset. But due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. The sunset was very dull and unfortunately there was no drama in the sky. There were two challenges in capturing this picture. One, the wheel rotates every now and then. Two, the wheel changes color thereby casting different color shade onto the fountain. I shot two pictures, one with 25s exposure to give smooth flowing feel to the water and brighten the foreground and the other with 10s exposure to lit the wheel. To make sure this blends in a perfect one picture, I waited for the right moment when wheel was not rotating and there was enough time to capture two pictures without the change in color of lights.
Follow me on Instagram to see more of my work:instagram.com/aashishbarnwal/

Day 5: Gasworks park

Guns in the air

Gasworks Park in Seattle is famous for its cylindrical structures. One can get one of the best views of Skyline there. A part of it looks like big guns pointed to the sky when shot during sunset. This is a composite picture. Birds have been added in Photoshop.

Love birds

Seattle is the most beautiful city I have visited so far. From magnificent skylines to gigantic mountains, from beautiful lake to green valley, from big shopping complexes to small huts, your eyes can never stop wandering. Sunset would make you wonder if this is real. I have just fallen in love with the city. I had plan for visiting Gasworks Park to shoot skyline and the large gas cylindrical structure. What I didn’t know was that it also offers a clean green valley where you can see a lot of couples roaming around. This looked like a perfect spot for photographers and love birds alike. When the sun was about to set and the sky changed its color, I saw this lovely couple holding hands and walking towards the sunset horizon. Although the park was full of people, I got lucky to frame only what I wanted.

The Piano Store

Being a Piano fanatic, I visited Classic Pianos in Bellevue. More than anything, I wanted to own a Piano since quite long. I tried many Pianos, ranging from 5k to 25k dollars. I really liked one from Yamaha and longing to get it.

Photography or Shopping?

Last day in US was annihilated in shopping at Seattle Premium Outlets. It was a tough decision as I wanted to visit the majestic Mt. Rainier and shoot the Paradise and Reflection view points. But due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. Parts of Mt. Rainier were closed until the wildfire settled down. I heard that there was some view point which was open and I was desperate to go there. But my friend wanted to buy things for his family. Premium Outlets was 35 miles from our stay and we spent whole day shopping stuffs for our families.

I will visit Mt Rainier for sure in my next trip.

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved. 
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Life can be smarter, better and more efficient by following 3 Cs: Consistency, Choices, Communication. More on these below:

Consistency

Whatever you do, be consistent. Be it waking up in the morning or playing piano or reading a blog.

Choices

The less you involve your brain in thinking about stuffs that don’t add much value, the more you would get to spend time in creative stuffs. Reduce choices in day to day life. Ever wondered what Zuckerberg’s wardrobe looks like? He purchases apparels of same color and design. It helps him keeping focus on important things.

Communication

What is the first thing besides dressing sense you notice in a person you meet first time? We get to know a lot about a person by the way (s)he talks. Communication plays a very important role in your professional and personal fronts. Public speaking is one good thing you would like to master. Watch Ted talks and practice speaking in front of mirror. It would help boost confidence.

Be in company of smarter people

It is said that a person is known by the company (s)he keeps. If you are in company of smarter people, you would get to learn more. A wise man once said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room”.

Plan your day in advance

Note down things you want to do before you start your day. Not only this will help you manage your day efficiency, but it will help you remember easily forgettable stuffs. There are things you remember when you are not thinking much, but are easily missed when your have a busy schedule. Example, calling a friend, responding a mail or paying bills

No much TV series

If you are a TV series fanatic, you must be knowing how addictive it can be. It can affect your sleep if you don’t control your addiction. Watch less of series

Time management

Learn to manage time. It would help you achieve more in the same amount of time. More on this can be read here: Manage time like a boss and become more productive

Adapt to the change

Smartness is a continuous process. You need to work towards it each day. In this fast paced agile world, things change rapidly and you must adapt to the change or you would be outdated. Learn a new language or a new skill.

Take a walk and think

When you’re stuck in a problem and no solution seems to strike your creative brain, take a walk and think. It helped me many times in situations where I couldn’t think anything working while sitting in front of a monitor.

Practice

Remember 10,000 rule. The principle holds that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field. Practice a skill you want to be good at sometime each day.

If you like this, you might like other posts in the Hack your life series.

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

 

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