The Disha Story

 

Written and Edited by Abhay Joshi

Some content provided by employees of Disha Technologies

Written in 2006

 

First Incarnation: the US-only entity

 

Name: Disha Software Technologies

Date started: 24 August 1994

Business Address: P. O. Box 2437, Champaign, IL 61825, USA

Federal Tax ID: 36-3976854

 

After getting my master’s degree in computer engineering from Syracuse University in 1987 I stayed on in the US and worked for about seven years as a software developer. My friend Vikas Joshi, on the other hand, returned to India and started his own company called Harbinger specializing in knowledge management and computer-based learning. Vikas visited the US frequently to get projects, and I helped him in little things whenever I could. Together we met Steve Veach in Chicago, Joe Hardin in NCSA, Urbana, Prof Vaidya in Urbana, and Mohamed in Champaign. It was a good experience for me to watch Vikas doing his business. That is how the entrepreneurial spark in me was born.

Glimpse of the first Internet Browser

During Vikas’s visits in 1993-94 we used to roam around looking for software projects. Urbana-Champaign was a University town, and there were very few companies in this area; most of them were so used to cheap student labor that even the offshore rates were too high for them! (Of course this was before the great outsourcing wave of the late 90s, and the offshore rates were a bit on the higher side.) We also used to make rounds of the University departments looking for any kind of software development work. NCSA, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications – one of the prestigious supercomputing centers in the country – was right there in Urbana. Naturally, we used to circle its campus like vultures hoping for a piece of the stupendous high-tech work being carried out inside. Joe Hardin was a senior manager at NCSA and we once managed to arrange a meeting with him and give him our sales pitch. He was unmoved, and instead of catching on the offshore story, gave his own sales pitch about a great new application his team at NCSA had designed. We came out of the meeting feeling sorry for poor Joe since he had clearly failed to notice our great programming talent. We openly mocked and laughed at whatever great application he was talking about. The next day, we heard that there was an exhibition at NCSA of some sort, so we drove up there. Apparently the great application that Joe had mentioned was on display. It was called ‘Mosaic’ and it looked like a graphical utility that allowed access to the Internet. ‘Big deal!’ we thought, since we had been using the Internet since our Syracuse days (1986) and this was just another Internet application. There was, however, a big crowd of students, visitors from other Universities, and a bunch of folks in suit and tie. They apparently had much better appreciation of what NCSA had developed than what Vikas and I had just a day ago. As it turned out, we were witnessing a revolution and had no inkling about it! Mosaic brought in the Internet revolution. One of the developers of Mosaic, Marc Andresen went on to start Netscape Communications.

Turning a Bad News into a Good One!

My last job was with a company called Addamax – which specialized in Trusted Operating Systems. It was a very niche business and they always struggled to get customers. But they had a great team, and I learned a lot during this job.  There is something special about working in the system software space – it gives you the feeling that you really understand how software works after all, and gives the confidence that you can pretty much do anything else. After Addamax started showing signs of a slump, my urge to start something of my own got stronger. If Addamax really went bust I could always look for another job; but I might also try doing something independently. That was my thinking. So Tanuja and I worked on the idea together. I obtained some preliminary information about the legalities of starting a business. A name was required to do business, since I was sure about expanding the activity beyond just me. So Tanuja and I huddled to think about a suitable name for the entity.  Since we had no children at that time we were completely inexperienced in the business of coming up with names. But we knew the criteria for the name – it had to be simple to pronounce, it had to have a nice meaning but nothing too pompous, and it had to be an Indian word.  After a lot of thinking, we decided that the name would be Disha.  I personally had an emotional tie with this name because a while ago when I was a student in Pune, I had received a lot of affection and support from a bunch of sisters the eldest among who was Disha.

 

(There is another story about why the company was named Disha. In Marathi, the question: प्रश्न असा आहे की उत्तर काय आहे? brings out the answer “Disha”. This indirectly means: Disha is the answer to every question. In my mind, Disha was the answer to the question ‘what direction to take next’.)

 

The next challenge was to come up with the logo.  Again the goals were simple – the logo had to be nice looking, but easy-to-use for a variety of documentation.  So I simply used WordArt to create the logo – which is basically “Disha” written in the Manhattan font with an arrow laid on top of it, and the arrow points to the right – meaning Disha was to be a place pointing to the right direction!

 

(People ask why the arrow in Disha’s logo is from left to right. The answer to that is: if you read दिशा - Disha in Devanagari - from right to left it reads शादी (Shadi) – obviously not the type of business we intended to do! So that’s why the arrow was left to right!)

 

The next challenge was to figure out a punch-line – which was a relatively straightforward task.  Having decided the name, the punch-line came naturally – technology is a means, not the goal.  I was enjoying all this very much.  At this time there was no grand vision, nor a business plan in place.  I simply knew that I wanted to do some software work on my own and in my own premises. I was full of confidence that I could do any type of work - application development, kernel level work, device drivers, user interface development, or even training. The only constraint was the OS platform - which had to be UNIX, because I had no experience with the Windows environment. In the back of my mind, I also knew that Disha would have a connection with India. I had been watching my friend Vikas doing his offshore business. So I had some idea of the challenges and also the fun involved in having a team working in India. Like everybody else of my generation who had come to America for higher education, going back to India or at least having a connection with India was always on my mind.

 

Later in 2005, one of the employees – Khalid M.Shaikh – at Disha did a search on Google and found this entry:

https://www.cs.unc.edu/~raskar/coep/directory.html

Name : Abhay B, Joshi

E-mail address(s) : trpg3425@uxa.cso.uiuc.edu (Last Update 11/18/94)(valid until May 1995)

Year of graduation from COEP : 1984

Department at COEP : Instrumentation and Control

Current Institution (School-Company): Disha Software Technologies

Current work address: P.O.Box 2437, Champaign, IL 61825

Work phone number: 217-367-4492

Current home address: 2023 S. Orchard Street, Apt C, Urbana, IL 61801

Home phone number: 217-367-4492

India home address: c/o Prof. B.G.Joshi, Mauli-krupa, 499 Pool Ali, Shirala, India 415408

 

Initial Business:

Disha was officially a partnership in the beginning - between Tanuja and me. Of course, she had very little time, as she was busy doing her PhD.  But she had a big role in defining the name, the logo, and she participated in brainstorming on different ideas. My first project was some secure networking related development work for Argus - the new company formed by previous Addamax employees.  Randy Sandone, who was the VP of business development in Addamax, became the CEO of Argus, and most employees joined his new company. So I knew practically everyone here, and I knew they needed help. And they didn't mind keeping me busy.  When the Argus work reduced to a trickle, I contacted my old friends in Naperville at Lachman Technologies. They also had an interesting project going on with one of their customers called Palindrome, a storage company. The work had to be done on-site, so I started commuting to Chicago once again.  I struck a deal wherein I could work for three days and then return to Champaign. The work was very interesting - they were just creating functional specifications for an ambitious new product and I was given the task of creating technical architectures for a few components of this product. The work was in 'networking', which was my strongest skill at the time. So I managed to make a very good impression on the engineering team at Palindrome. As a result, they hired my services later when I was no longer working for Lachman. I specifically remember the names of Paul Hartge, Becky Hjellming, Robert Drake, and Jack Bishop. They were a great team to work with, and I learnt a lot about new application development and object-oriented programming. These guys were very process oriented, and they had excellent guidelines for systematic development. I remember that they even had a detailed guideline for writing object-oriented software in C.

First Employees:

I did not hire full-time employees during my consulting days. But as the work started piling in, I decided to take help of contractors. Naren Mididaddi, who was my co-worker at Addamax, became my first part-time contractor. I think he had taken up a job in Chicago area and I asked him to do some development work on the side for me. Since he was unable to sign a contract for this work, we had his friend Sudhakar enter a contract with Disha. Later on, there was some Ethernet driver porting work, for which I took the help of Ken Wessel - a lanky guy from Wisconsin who had a lot of experience in driver development. I had met him during my contracting work with Motorola in Urbana. (I remember his favorite comment before he took off on weekends for his home in Wisconsin. He used to say, “Well, off I go to watch the cows.” And then he would add after a pause, “On the beach of course!”)

 

These sub-contracts where very informal; I never had a comprehensive legal contract with anyone, but it all worked very well. There was no question of managing people since these guys were quite independent and reliable. But it surely increased my confidence of taking up work of bigger magnitudes.

 

Disha in the State of Illinois lasted 10 months, because we packed up our bags and baggage and made for the State of Washington in 1995. Tanuja had finished her PhD in Computer Science (her thesis was in Computer Vision) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and got 2 job offers - one from HP and the other from Microsoft. Since Disha consisted of just me at that time, I was not too worried about the choice of the new location; I was confident that I would be able to find work to keep myself busy wherever we went. The HP offer was for their facility in Fort Collins (which could only boast of Rocky Mountains besides HP), and the Microsoft offer was for Seattle, which was a much bigger city with many more opportunities for consulting work.  Plus our friend Sanjay Jejurikar, who was at Microsoft at the time, convinced us that moving to Seattle was the superior option. So in June 1995 we moved to Seattle. At that time, I was doing some work for Palindrome in Naperville, and they graciously agreed to let me continue working from Seattle.


Second Incarnation: the real Disha Technologies:

The Third Founder

After I moved to Seattle, I continued the projects with my Chicago-based customers. But it was obvious that I would have to think of a new strategy to get customers in Seattle. It was also clear that I needed to evolve the one-man show and give it some sort of a long-term vision.

 

My classmate from Syracuse University, Sanjay Jejurikar, happened to be in Seattle. By then Sanjay had already built an enviable career at Microsoft in the Windows NT Division. Sanjay and I started the practice of meeting in Crossroads Mall for lunch every Thursday. We always met at the ‘Bite of India’ fast-food restaurant, and ordered the same rice and curry dish every time! The topics of our discussion were varied, but the main topic of interest was the current trends in the software industry: the incipient wave of outsourcing to India, the success achieved by some of our contemporaries, etc. Sanjay tested my entrepreneurial seriousness by describing to me the advantages of being employed at Microsoft. Microsoft stock options in those days had a tremendous attraction for software engineers. I even went through the interview loop at Microsoft as a litmus test - when I was offered a job, I managed to avoid the temptation. After having cleared up this checkpoint, we continued our discussions on how Disha might progress. We knew that the model for Disha clearly was ‘outsourcing to India’. Sanjay introduced me to his childhood friend Kiran Bhagwat, who at that time already was a year-old entrepreneur himself. He had a business called OpenView Technologies in Pune. Kiran and I got talking about the software outsourcing business, and we realized that we were talking the same language. The year-long communication that ensued only cemented our mutual respect and confidence. In about a year after first meeting Kiran, Disha Technologies India (under the actual name of Redmond Software Private Limited) was launched in August 1997.

 

Sanjay continued to provide me and Kiran with insights into the software testing business, guidance on how to spot good talent for testing, etc. He joined Disha on full-time basis in 2001 - one year after he retired from Microsoft - and became CTO. He had, unquestionably, the deepest understanding of the software testing business in our company. He knew the joys and sorrows of this career path; he knew the challenges (and solutions too) of managing this business. So, although he joined Disha a few years after it was launched, we think of him as the third co-founder of ‘Disha Technologies – the specialist in software testing’.


Dealing with a Change(r) at the very start!

Disha India was launched on August 1, 1997. The company’s name initially was Redmond Software Private Limited; I suppose we wanted to advertise our affinity to our giant customer Microsoft which itself was headquartered in Redmond. The US Company, which came into existence earlier, was named Disha Technologies. Believe it or not, we started business not with manual testing projects, but with some serious Test Tool development work. We put up an advertisement in the local newspaper for SDET positions. Quite a few candidates turned up. We had them give a written test consisting of C programming and CS questions. Srikanth Sastry was then an employee of OpenView Technologies - commonly known as OVTL – and he was actively involved in the logistics of conducting the written test. (At that time Srikanth had no intention to consider working for this wacky new venture. Luckily he changed his view soon thereafter!) After the interviews we selected 4 candidates to whom I delivered a few hours of training - basically on the fundamentals of Windows NT-based software development. One of the candidates - the only girl among the 4 - disappeared after the training; so we finally had 3 employees as our first team.

 

One of the first projects was to write an automated Stress Test tool for the RSS (removable storage service) component of Windows NT. In those days it was known as NTMS. The work was quite difficult - probably too difficult for our fresh inexperienced team. We realized that to test the program we would need a Robotic Changer device - one which consists of a tape drive, a rack of storage tapes and a robotic arm that inserts and removes tapes in the drive. I was able to convince Microsoft to loan a small Changer device to ship to the team in India. But a new problem cropped up. The contract was with Disha USA and at that time Disha USA was an independent company - with no relation to Redmond Software other than the fact that I was personally in both companies. So there was no justification for Microsoft to ship an expensive Changer device to an unrelated company in India! So we devised another tack - using Microsoft India as an intermediary. That is, MS Redmond would ship the device to MS Mumbai which in turn would loan it to Redmond Software under a local contract. It seemed like a workable plan. So I coordinated with a couple of people in Mumbai to receive the Changer and then arrange for Kiran to pick it up from them. Unfortunately the Changer got stuck in Mumbai Customs. In spite of heroic efforts from both shores, we were unsuccessful in untangling the Changer. Precious time was lost. Finally we decided that the project was at risk if we continued waiting for the device. The work could not be performed in India, and hence the engineer working on the project would have to travel to Redmond. The engineer assigned to this project (Anmol), in the meantime, resigned - the complexity of the work and the dynamics of the situation probably got the best of him. Subrata Majumder, the second employee in line, was courageous enough to take up this challenge. He got his B1 visa too and reported in Redmond to start the work. Subrata and I worked closely on this Stress Test tool - we came up with a multi-threaded C++ design that achieved the required goal beautifully. We did exceed our initial time estimate (so exceeding time estimates is a congenital disease at Disha!) but our customer didn’t mind since they were happy with the quality of the intermediate delivery, and could easily appreciate why we would need more time.

Prasanna’s first US visit:

We were an active participant in Microsoft’s Windows 2000 project. We were asked to test the migration feature: if users wanted to upgrade their existing Windows installations (Windows 95, Windows NT 4.0 etc), this particular feature would allow them to retain their old settings. We were asked to test both the English and German versions. In those days there was no high speed Internet connectivity available in India to download Windows builds (600MB without symbols). So we had to ship CDs by express shipping services such as FedEx. That also took about 7 days! So we had to plan our work very carefully and ship CDs immediately after they became available. We got this worked out quite well and things were humming almost till the end, and suddenly when the milestone was very near, we realized that we had not shipped the German NT 4.0 CDs for the final test pass! There was no time left to ship since the deadline was just a few days away. The team quickly discussed options and decided that one team member would catch a flight to Redmond and complete the work on-site. Customer’s delivery was very important, and cost was secondary. Fortunately Prasanna got his visa and boarded a plane to Seattle. In those days Disha USA had been given an office (a room) on Microsoft campus itself. There were no employees of Disha USA - I did everything: project coordination, account management, onsite testing, whatever. I also played host for visitors from India - their pick-up to and from the airport and stay, etc. Of course I thoroughly enjoyed that. So I picked up Prasanna at the airport and drove him straight to Microsoft! I took him to our little office within Microsoft; we set up the test bed, and got started. After spending a few hours with him, I left. But Prasanna worked throughout the night – remember that it was day-time in Pune, so he could work with the Pune team. And almost 24 hours or so after landing in Seattle, Prasanna actually took a break for a short nap and again returned to work. This was his first ever flight – one that was a long and tiring flight. This was also his first visit to the US of A, and to the top software company in the world. But he ignored his physical condition, and kept all emotions out of his mind until the job for which he had come was done satisfactorily. We finished the test pass on time and Microsoft was pleased.

 

This is but one example of the pride we take at Disha in delivering the goods to our customers. We know how important it is to find that last-minute bug which can cause considerable end-user grief. And we have been rewarded for this dedication. Engineers have had tremendous opportunities to demonstrate their hidden potential and grow their capabilities by leaps and bounds. I can safely say that anybody who has spent 3 years or more at Disha has gained a fantastic amount of insight into what is software engineering all about – which, in those days, he or she couldn’t have gained anywhere else in India.

 

Incidentally Prasanna became the first employee of Disha USA. He is still there, of course, and supervises all project coordination activity and also participates in System Engineering.

The Seattle Earthquake:

February 28, 2001, 10:55am.

 

We had done well thus far in the system software testing space, having done lots of work for the Windows group. We were slowly extending into the application software area. Web-based applications were (and still are) very popular in those days. Radview was an emerging company at that time that had a Load Test tool called WebLoad for web applications. They once came by to our office and gave a short sales presentation. Subsequently, they invited us to a half-day seminar on Load Testing in downtown Seattle. These seminars are essentially free marketing seminars – the host company gives free breakfast, invites a few industry experts to talk (which is the added attraction for attendees), and then uses the opportunity to showcase their own products/services to the attendees. Well, at that time we were probably more interested in the free breakfast than load testing! In any case, Sanjay, Prasanna, Srikanth and I drove to the venue in Sanjay’s Land Rover. The venue was the 24th floor of a tall building in Seattle. We reached by 9am and merrily ate the free breakfast. The room had a magnificent view of downtown Seattle and the Puget Sound. The initial couple of hours were taken by guest speakers talking on various topics in load testing. At about 10:50, it was finally time for the Radview guys to take the floor and present their great product. The woman fired up the slide projector, greeted everyone with a happy smiling face, and hardly got through the first slide when there was a loud roaring noise as if a huge motor had suddenly fired up, and the whole building started shaking. Being smart testers, all of us there immediately realized that it was an earthquake, and started running helter-skelter. Sanjay crawled under a table – which was a prescribed reaction but no one else joined him and so feeling lonely he crawled out. Some of us (like me) reached the large door of the hall and stood underneath its arch. Prasanna had fear written on his face – and someone later told me that he was mumbling “oh God, this is too early for me to die, I am yet to marry and have a family”, although I don’t believe that this was true! Srikanth, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying the earthquake thoroughly – he had reached one of the large windows of this 24th floor room and was watching how the outside world was reacting to this surprise. I also joined him for a few seconds. The building was moving and shaking quite perceptibly and it went on for 40 seconds and then stopped. As soon as it stopped we knew what to do. The RadView lady probably wanted to continue her presentation. But we had no doubts about what to do next – we ran for the stairway like men on a mission. The lifts were out of function, so we ran down all 24 floors as quickly as possible. The adrenaline was pumping so fast that we didn’t even sweat after this huge exercise. Our car was parked in the basement garage – which meant that we had all of 50 stories-full of creaking concrete above us! When we reached the garage there was another loud noise. We thought the building was coming down; so we panicked and started running out of the garage when someone told us it was just the noise of someone closing his car’s trunk! Then we quickly got into Sanjay’s car and drove out of the basement garage of the heaving 50-story tall building above us. On the way back we turned on NPR (National Public Radio) and got to know more about the earthquake and the damage it had caused elsewhere. Fortunately the earthquake did not cause much damage. The building we were in had no problems either. But if the RadView folks wanted to make their seminar a memorable one, they had definitely succeeded!

 

Technical details of the earthquake:

6.8 Richter, Epicenter Nisqually, Washington State.

Isn’t Samosa a safe thing to eat?

I don’t remember exactly which year this episode took place. I think it was some time in 2001. Sunita Koranne was visiting US for some onsite work. She used to spend a lot of her free time at my house and had become quite friendly with my wife and my children. Once we went to Portland for a weekend trip and took Sunita along. Portland is a nice little city on the banks of the mighty river Columbia. It’s about 4 hours drive from Seattle and its weather is very similar to Seattle’s. The famous volcano Mount St. Helens is about half-way between the two cities. St. Helens in fact had erupted in 1980 and they still sell artifacts made from the ash that had erupted and engulfed most of Portland.

 

Anyway, we knew some folks in Portland from our college days, and so we went to their place. Our hostess, very hospitable as usual, got us all seated comfortably at the kitchen table, and brought out a big plate full of Samosas. We were all quite hungry after the journey, and the weather being cloudy and rainy, the idea of hot samosas followed (hopefully) by some hot tea was very enticing indeed. Sunita, in particular, was beside herself to see the samosas, which she hadn’t seen since leaving India (which was probably a couple of months ago). “Wow! You get samosas here?” she exclaimed, and without asking took one from the plate and munched it down. The samosas were a little smaller in size than what we get in India. So Sunita had no trouble munching down about five of them in a matter of a few minutes. After the initial excitement had settled down, and her stomach had found something to work on, she started eating a bit slowly and started to savor the taste. She realized that the taste was not quite the same. She said, “Hmmm, the samosas taste a bit different, don’t they?” Until this time, nobody else had tried the samosas. So I picked up one and took a bite. Instantly I knew that it was a beef samosa – i.e. a samosa with the filling made up of ground beef. So I told Sunita, “Yeah, it is different. Because it has ground beef in it!”

 

Sunita was a strict vegetarian until that time, and her idea of adventure in the meat-space would have at the most included chicken or fish. But eating beef wouldn’t have been there in her wildest of eating dreams! She was shocked to realize that she had not only broken her vegetarian vow, but had committed the sin of eating beef! Poor Sunita! She was overcome with nausea and had to run to the bathroom!

 

Morale of the story? An attractive UI is not everything. The stuff inside is equally important.

Can third world infra-structure deliver?

Part 1:

These days it is common for people in the IT industry of India to expect high quality work environment and great infra-structure. Employees expect a fully air-conditioned office with spacious cubicles, vibrant and colorful furnishings, and subsidized, if not free, food amenities. They also expect broadband connectivity to the Internet and a secure network infra-structure. Of course, the picture today that one sees outside the IT industry is quite bleak. Non-IT industries suffer from power outages, slow networks, poor civil infrastructure, and so on. Just a few years ago, we also had similar issues. The following story is a good example of what kind of awful logistical issues we had to deal with to deliver our services. It was narrated to me by Milind Bhirud.

 

Let’s roll back to the year 2002. We were testing Windows 2000 Service Pack 3. While testing the FRS (File Replication Services) component, the team hit a regression bug in Active Directory Replication. The team promptly filed this bug in Microsoft’s bug tracking tool called RAID with a lot of information. When the Microsoft tester Rafik Robeal tried to reproduce it, he was unable to do so. He asked for additional information like logs and settings related to Active directory. He also suggested that we could tweak a few registry settings to enable verbose logging. It was the month of April, and we were facing major power cuts. Pune was red-hot under the summer heat. At the time Rafik asked us to re-run the test to get more information, it was a blackout day here in Pune. The UPS systems were draining fast. To get this important issue resolved, we cascaded 10 UPS systems in series to keep the test-bed of only 4 machines online!

 

We were able to reproduce the bug with the required information which we provided to Rafik. For the next 2 days he got busy analyzing it and after that he came back stating that we had hit a very important issue in NTDS-Sites, which might have helped intruders exploit NTLM.

 

Such was the feat accomplished in the days of poor infrastructure. There was no air-conditioning and barely enough power to keep the machines running. The team that literally sweated to deliver was led by Sandeep Sangoram, and Mangesh, Pravin, Karan, and Milind were part of the effort to reproduce this bug. The entire Win SE team of 12 people offered their UPS systems for cascading, although each of them had a delivery pressure of their own.

 

Part 2:

The Bellevue office of Disha was no different in terms of conservative infrastructure. Although there were no power-cuts (thank God) we were quite low tech compared to the companies around us. There is one particular example I remember which is quite hilarious.  For Internet connectivity we had one 56 KBPS modem for the entire office! It was connected to Marcia’s machine (our office receptionist and admin). She was the early bird, that is, she always arrived earlier than the others. So she would turn the modem on as soon as she got in. I had given her a step-by-step procedure to connect to the Internet. She was not a big fan of computers but was good at following exact instructions. So once she connected the modem to the Internet, our office was online! We had shared that modem so that other machines on the local network could use it to route their Internet traffic. So when other employees trickled in, they were already connected to the Internet on a shared line of 56KBPS! We had a couple of local American employees who were quite amazed at our stupendous connectivity infrastructure!

Big pleasures of being small

Note: These episodes are contributed by Deepak Satarkar. Deepak joined Disha in October 2000 as a test engineer. Presently he is a Senior Test Lead in one of the delivery groups in Pune.

 

Let’s go back to the days when we were testing Windows 2000 Service Pack 1. We were primarily running manual test cases for setup and migration. Each test case involved the lengthy procedure of re-installing the operating systems which used to take at least 45 to 60 minutes depending on the OS and the machine configuration. OS installation did not require any manual intervention, so we could simply take a break during that time. Each team member had his/her own machine and some of us had learned to synchronize our test cycles such that we were able to start the installation step at the same time. That allowed us 45 free minutes together. We utilized that time to play cricket in the test lab itself (on the fourth floor)! I still remember that once somebody hit a nice clean shot and crashed a tube light! There were times when there was no electricity for more than 3 hours and even the UPSs were useless. At such times, we used to play cricket on the road in front of the office building. We can never forget those golden days of work and play.

 

We used to celebrate Disha's anniversary every year on August 1st. Since we were so small, we celebrated it on the building terrace which was a little over 120 square feet. Kiran/Sanjay/Abhay used to light the ceremonial lamp and cut the cake, and then it was party time for two hours. All this happened during office hours. We used to contribute funds ourselves to decorate the offices with balloons and other decorative stuff.

Mysteries abound in our business!

Note: This episode is contributed by Prasanna Ganapule. Prasanna was our first STE hired in Pune, and later became the first full-time employee of Disha, USA.

 

This story dates back to the year 2002. I will narrate an unusual incident that puzzled us completely, forced us to desperately find a solution to mitigate risks, and ultimately taught us a valuable lesson!

 

Back then we were a small team at Disha in Bellevue. Marcia did all the non-technical work – handling the phones, reception, HR, travel, kitchen, supplies, taxes, vendors, and so on. I was in charge of ‘shipping and handling’. Our business processes were not that mature to do everything systematically. Of course the ‘software testing processes’ were very mature because of which we could attract business. One day, we received an RFP from a new prospective customer – Windows Mobile (Pocket PC). Abhay and I were very excited because this was something we had not done before. We had a few rounds of meetings with the customer, made presentations and convinced the Microsoft Test Manager (Richard Owens) to try us out on this project based on our proven knowledge of Windows and UI testing. Richard agreed to give us the project and called a follow-up meeting to discuss logistics.

 

Until this point we were treating this just like any other project and were preparing for ramp-up at our Pune office. A Project Lead was assigned and team members were identified. The work was very exciting – testing Windows Smartphone 2002 features. Sounds cool, right? When we met with Richard’s team to discuss logistics, they informed us that their deadlines were very tight, and we would have to ship the Smartphone devices in a matter of days. We had only 15 calendar days before testing must start. We returned to our office scratching our heads on how to ship the devices. For a moment we wished we could ‘beam’ the devices like they did in Star Trek! We called Kiran that night and conveyed to him the good news! He discussed the matter with Anirban and a bunch of other folks to get everything set up at a lightening speed. We were totally unprepared for a mysterious problem lurking in the dark.

 

As I said earlier, our logistics processes were not proven to be mature. This included the shipping process! We had done some shipping before and we had a shipping agent based in Los Angeles. The first installment contained 4 Smartphone devices. These sleek, nice looking gadgets were not at all common in those days. Cell phone technology was just undergoing its evolution to GSM technology, and most cell phones sold in the market were dull looking. The market didn’t even know about ‘Smartphone’. So, these stylish sophisticated devices with bright color screens looked magical in our hands. I packed the phones properly and Marcia (our versatile Office Admin) shipped them to our Pune address through the LA agent.

 

Meanwhile the team in India was waiting anxiously for the devices. They received the box just like I had shipped from Bellevue, and it had all the devices except one! It was a most baffling mystery. The box looked fine and the packaging was in tact. I was quite sure that we had not shipped any device separately; nonetheless only one Smartphone went absconding! Since I was in charge of shipping, obviously all questioning eyes were on me! I was quite sure I had shipped the device. I combed the entire office to ensure the device had not slipped out by mistake. We checked with the Building Maintenance folks to ensure they had not found anything while emptying trash cans. One of us even suggested that we invite the Police to investigate this loss – but we didn’t act on this suggestion. We pestered the shipping agent, the airline carrier, the customs dept for 3 more days, and finally concluded that we had to take corrective steps.

 

Of course it wasn’t easy just to forget about the shipment. If it had fallen in the wrong hands there could be serious implications – hackers could steal this new prototype technology putting Microsoft’s IP in jeopardy. Those devices were not commercially available in the market yet – we had obtained prototype models specifically made for Microsoft! All phones carried an unreleased version of the PocketPC Operating system. They all even had SIM cards installed. It was really a worrisome situation. We debated and discussed for hours and hours how to mitigate the risks and get out of this hole! I discovered, a couple days later, that similar Smartphone devices were available by Microsoft for mobile application developers under the DDK (Device development kit) agreement as part of MSDN subscription. Hurray! We immediately followed up to check the OS version installed on those phones and whether we could flash new versions of OS on them. They indeed supported flashing new OS versions. Abhay and I immediately met with Richard Owens and shared the bad news, but also put forth our mitigation plan. He was quite shocked obviously to hear about the missing device, but he seemed pleased with our honesty, the effort we had taken to investigate, and most importantly the proactive solution that we had come up with. He pacified our fears regarding IP – he told us that he wasn’t too concerned about it since there were security features built in. He also told us in no uncertain words to fix our shipping process if we wanted to continue doing business with him!

 

As per the plan we immediately purchased 4 Smartphone devices at our own cost and shipped by FedEx to Pune office. The package reached Mumbai airport in 2 days as expected. Kiran immediately approved importing the devices by paying the full duty. We paid almost 80% of the purchase price as duty charges and got the 4 phones cleared in a day. The work started at last, not too late to finish the project on time!!

 

We spent considerable time fixing our shipping process. We started using an aluminum box with a combination lock to ship expensive equipment. We put in tracking mechanism and wrote best practices, dos and don’ts, and user guides for everything from purchasing, shipping to custom clearance. We made considerable changes to our risk management and mitigation plans, and established ‘trusted partners’ to tackle all our logistics. We finally shared the process document with Richard.

 

So what happened to the missing Smartphone? We were able to track the device to Milan, Italy since the carrier was Alitalia Airlines. But we were unable to trace it any further. So for all we know the device ended up in the test laboratory of a Sicilian Mafia! Well, let’s hope it did not!

Working from a different kind of home:

Note: This episode is in the words of Rajini Anantha Padmanaban. Rajini joined Disha’s Bellevue office in January 2003 as a Contractor, became a full-time Project Coordinator on the April fool’s day of 2003, and is presently a Project Manager.

 

Here is an interesting project that was executed during my early days at Disha (early 2003), which vividly demonstrated “flexibility to meet customer needs” as one of Disha’s secrets of success. The project was called “Windows Messenger (WM) End to End Testing”, in which we were asked to test WM user experience with different network devices (like NAT, firewall) and Internet connectivity services including broadband services like DSL and Cable. This was my first project coordination experience in Disha.

 

We were hit by the first major challenge right away! We discovered that the broadband services available in the city had their own geographical territories, and it was rare that multiple services could be availed of at the same location. Our office in Bellevue was thus useless because only one provider was active there. We had to literally search for a location in the city that had the best reception from most of the providers. We spent a lot of time on the phone working with the phone company and the ISPs to check out several areas/homes, including homes of Disha’s employees. We finally found one apartment complex, a few miles from Disha, which had the optimal reception. Brahma Vella happened to live in the same apartment complex. He helped us find an apartment for rent.

It was a one bedroom apartment, right above his home. We signed a short-term lease, singed up all the ISPs, and carried tables, chairs, fans, lamps, stationery, water, toilet paper, etc to this new home.

 

Of all the ISPs, the MSN DSL was the last to activate access. We had to ask Microsoft managers to put in a word to expedite the activation. We set up the MSN connection in the kitchen! Qwest and AOL were given the privilege of using the bedroom, and AT&T cable was set up in the living room. Verizon DSL was set up in Disha’s office.

 

Finally the testing began, with 3 testers working from the apartment and 1 tester back in the office. They exchanged results with each other on IM, mail, phone etc. The customers were very happy with the extra effort we had taken to make this project happen. They visited the apartment, took pictures and video recorded our test activities!

 

The project required very meticulous coordination, planning, follow-up, etc. However, it was great fun as well. Given that it was my first project, I got to know several people outside of work as well. We successfully wrapped up the project on time, turned the results in to Microsoft, cleaned the apartment, handed off the keys to the rental office and returned to our office! Thus for this project some of us got the opportunity to work from home – albeit of a very different flavor. One of the testers from that project – Anand Pradhan – is still with Disha today.

It is never too late to report a Bug!

Note: This episode is contributed by Vaibhav Bedekar. Vaibhav joined Disha’s Pune office in March 2003, and is presently a Test Lead.

 

This incident took place in 2003 – just before the release of Windows 2000 Service Pack 4. We were running a test pass on the Escrow build which was to get released to the public after 2 days. I was working on IR testing related to Ports and Monitors components.  I found a bug which was related to detection of IR printers while logged on as a power user. I reproduced it on multiple machines and thus ruled out hardware dependency. It was a genuine bug! I notified our Test Lead Sandeep about the issue and he asked me to regress it older builds and Service Packs (to check if the bug existed). After a thorough investigation we concluded that the bug was present since last 10 builds and had not been reported. Fortunately the behavior was not observed on older Service Packs. Clearly it was our mistake – we had not spotted the bug in earlier builds. The engineer who had tested this component before I took over had somehow missed it because of a misleading comment mentioned against that specific test case.

 

Nevertheless it was an important issue. Sandeep decided to report it to the customer with along with the entire history. Since this issue came to light just two days before release, it caused consternation in the Microsoft camp and a flurry of emails began. We were all very tense. After about four hours (at about 12:30 at midnight), Microsoft’s project manager Prasadi De Silva had a conversation with Sandeep. She was very supportive and showed no panic at all despite such late disclosure of a major bug.

 

In their daily war meeting at Microsoft they decided to postpone the release by one day and the bug was punted (postponed) to the next service pack. After the release Prasadi appreciated our courage, but I can never forget the hours which we spent under tension.

What is Integrity

Note: This episode is in the words of Amogh Phatak. Amogh joined Disha in 2001, became a Test Lead and then migrated to US to become a Project Coordinator in 2004.

 

I started as a Project Coordinator in Disha’s Bellevue office early 2004 and was immediately assigned to the Microsoft LCS (Live Communication Server) or what was then known as "Vienna" project. I had been a project lead before for teams in India, but still I was nervous taking on responsibilities of project coordination for an offshore project, working with a fresh team in India and a project lead who was new to Disha project methodology and work culture. Sure enough, a challenge cropped up for me. When we were nearing a major milestone, I realized that our team was running the tests on a wrong build. I panicked and didn't know what to do or how to bring it to the customer’s notice. Since the customer hadn’t realized the mistake, I decided to first discuss this internally and eventually everyone within Disha got involved – Abhay, Kiran, Sanjay and Samir. Finally a decision was made to inform the customer, accept our mistake and make all necessary corrections – at whatever cost to Disha! Abhay was very calm and provided me much needed support. He accompanied me to meet the Microsoft Customer and explained the whole situation. Kiran himself got involved from Disha India and marshaled additional resources. Everybody worked very hard, day, night and over the weekend to achieve a tall task within 3 days!

 

We could have repeated the test pass without telling the customer and come out clean. However, we chose to accept our mistake first, give the customer the opportunity to understand the impact, propose corrective measures and then make amendments. When I reflect back I look at it as a very important lesson learnt in “Integrity”. Also, it is very comforting and reassuring for an employee to know that the top brass of the company believes in and practices the most important values of this organization.

Our first off-site meeting at Baron’s Resort

Note: Some portions of this section were contributed by Somesh Rai. Somesh joined Disha in October 2000 as a test engineer. Presently he is a Test Lead in one of the delivery groups in Pune.

 

In 2004 the company arranged an offsite meeting of the senior team members. This was the first time in the company’s history that we were all traveling to a relatively distant place for two days. It seemed more like a picnic since the meeting was at a beautiful resort near the Panshet Dam near Pune. We started early morning by a chartered bus and spent two days and one night at this resort. The resort was located at a lovely site – we were just half a mile from the huge lake formed by the dam. The resort itself was architected nicely. Every row of rooms was placed at a different height such that every room had almost the same view – of the lake and the greenery around it. The dam and the lake were just walking distance and there was a boating facility available also. There was a swimming pool inside the resort which some of us made good use of.

 

The schedule for the two days was quite relaxed. There were various presentations by our own people on topics ranging from software security to impact of globalization. There also was lots of free time to take long walks and enjoy boating which we made full use of.

 

The meetings were excellent; however what impressed all of us was the enormous talent exhibited by Dishaites during the evening sessions. Many of us knew that Abhay Joshi was good at playing Tabla and Harmonium, but we were surprised to hear him sing a couple of songs. Achyut Godbole, renowned for excellent management and technical skills, showed that he also was a master of music. The way he explained and demonstrated different Ragas was marvelous. The most stunning part was hearing him whistle entire classical tunes; it sounded as if a melodious tune on Flute was being played.

 

Surprises didn't get over with this meeting however. In the annual function of 2005, we witnessed another personality with multiple talents. Chinmoy Bhagwat, who is a Delivery Head in Pune, was seen singing, acting, playing musical instruments on the same day.

 

Indeed I realized that Disha not only has deep technical talent but also a rich artistic talent.

Performing amidst constant resource and location changes – Project SumTotal

Note: This section is presented in the words of Somesh Rai after some editing. Somesh joined Disha in October 2000 as a test engineer. Presently he is a Test Lead in one of the delivery groups in Pune.

 

Disha’s Setup/Upgrade team for SumTotal (an LMS company) started the project at our Anand Park office. Just after a few months the team was moved to the SBI office. Again in July 2004 the team moved to Disha’s office in Hyderabad. A few months later SumTotal asked the entire team to move to their own premises in Hyderabad. Thus the team was relocated three times during the final six months of the project!

 

Every time the team moved, there was inevitable people turnover. Not everyone was willing to move to Hyderabad, for example.

 

The Setup/upgrade testing involved highly interdependent and time consuming tasks. The available Internet bandwidth in those days allowed us to download the 350 MB product build in over an hour. The build was then deployed on 20 machines with six different configurations. The manual testing was then performed with different tools (used for database, file content and access verification and comparison). The testing task normally took 6 to 7 hours. Since the build was provided daily, usually available after 10AM, the team had to plan and execute the pre-testing and testing activities very carefully and with full understanding. Sometimes upgrades required more than 48 hours of continuous execution.

 

With every location change, the team had to accommodate challenges of setting up of all the machines. The new members had to quickly develop understanding of each test task and the exact intended functionality of each test scenario. All new team members introduced into this team accepted the challenge happily and did quite well.

 

In summary, the SumTotal project underwent relocation four times, and almost complete team makeover three times. These frequent changes did not affect Disha’s performance on this project. The transitions were managed well by effective training, knowledge transfer and planning. I was a Test Lead and I would like to particularly mention Srikanth Sastry for being a great support for me during all phases of the project. I was the only team member that was on the team from start to finish!