My longest project was when I was assigned as a part of the team to develop the end-to-end Telecom Billing and Customer Care System for Total Access Communications PLC in Bangkok, Thailand. I enjoyed every moment of my stay in TAC between 26Jun97 to 30Nov99. The adventures began from before I joined the project. NIIT wanted to sell a consultant to TAC who was a Power Builder expert. I was picked for the assignment and I had never touched Power Builder in my life till that date. KC assured me that everything would be just fine, as Sougata would give me the needed training on Power Builder.
One day before my appointment to start the TAC assignment, Sougata met me in the Hotel Kularb, where we used to stay. Sougata provided me 30 minutes training on Power Builder and informed me that I knew enough. As Sougata was the expert, I said to myself that it should be okay. Next day I went to TAC with KC and was introduced to Ms. Suthira and Ms. Siripa. Siripa was the Project Manager for the development of an end-to-end Telecom Billing and Customer Care System to replace the Kingston Jupiter Billing System. Suthira was the Technology Manager. On the first meeting, I told them that I had no idea of Telecom; however I had good experience in programming. So, I did not tell a lie that I knew Power Builder. Siripa said that it was not an issue, as TAC would give all needed knowledge of Telecom to me. Suthira informed me that I was start by attending training on Tuxedo from BEA as Tuxedo was to be used as the middleware.
For the next 2 weeks, I underwent training on Tuxedo conducted by Mr David Miller from Australia. After the training in the daytime, I would sit on my machine and tweak with Power Builder. By the end of the Tuxedo training, I was fairly conversant with Power Builder. My first assignment was to create a prototype so that we could have a thin client built using Power Builder interfacing with the middleware Tuxedo that would host all the business rules and Informix would serve as the Database Engine. I had 1 month for this exercise. For the next 1 month, I was an island as nobody would disturb me and I just kept programming on Power Builder and Tuxedo and Informix. After 3 weeks, I invited Suthira and Siripa for a demonstration of what I had developed. I had developed a fair part of the Inventory Registration Module along with much of the security administration and control module.
Siripa was always very difficult to read, as she did not express anything. On the other hand, Suthira was very transparent in her expressions. Suthira was so happy that I understood that I had done a good job. Suthira asked me if I was hungry. I said yes. She rushed out and got a huge packet that contained something which seemed by Potato Fries made in the Bengali style. I grabbed it and had a mouthful when I realized that the stuff did not quite taste like Potato. I enquired about what it was. Siripa told me that it is was shrimp chips. I was speechless; but took very small helpings till they were around. This was the beginning of a great friendship with Suthira who we used to call Aum.
There were many adventures during this project. However, I bring your attention to the stage where we were making steady progress in the project and we needed increasing the velocity of development. I had by then already brought in another 30 consultants from NIIT into the project. I suggested to Siripa that they could consider off shoring the job to Calcutta, as this could be a cost-effective option. After some deliberation, TAC accepted the idea. Saroj came from Calcutta factory to study the scope of outsourcing. After Saroj’s study, it was decided that Aum, her boyfriend Khemchart (also an employee of TAC) and I would travel to Calcutta and set up the environment. Arrangements were made and we 3 flew to Calcutta.
After dropping Aum and Khemchart in their hotel, I went home to Barasat. Next morning, I came to office early by 8AM. KC informed me that we had a challenge as we could not manage to get hold of a copy of Solaris and this would take another day. At 9AM, Sudipto da, our Vice President, came to office. He told me that I should not get the guests to the office and take them for a whole day tour of Calcutta and keep them engaged for the day. This was huge challenge and I did not know what to show them in Calcutta. I consulted Kalarab da and he told me that I had two options – either to go north or to go south. In the north, I could go to Dakshineshwar and Belur. In the south, I could go to Diamond Harbour. Ashim arranged for a car.
When I arrived at the car, I was shocked. It was an Ambassador, which was okay. However, at every interaction, it jarred. When it started moving, it made such a raucous that my ears were severely challenged. Anyway, I had no choice. I arrived at Aum’s hotel and picked up Aum and Khemchart. I told them that we would go for a tour of Calcutta. They were perplexed. However, they did not say anything. Both of them sat in the back seat and I sat next to the Driver. I asked Aum whether she was interested in religious sites or natural beauties. Aum said that she did not prefer religious sites. So, it was finalized that we were going to Diamond Harbour in the south.
We first went to Victoria Memorial. Both my guest were extremely happy here. We spent some time here. Next we headed for Science City. Science City was an empty piece of land with some sheds. I was most taken aback at this. Anyway, we kept loafing around when we came across a person who was doing something with a gadget. When he saw Aum, he rushed at her. His gadget would make a person’s hair stand straight and a Thai woman’s hair was just what he was looking for to be able to demonstrate. Aum would not comply and this guy would not let go of the opportunity. A reasonable crowd was gathering around us. Sensing trouble, I took my 2 guests and ran out of Science City. Sensing the stress, I took them to Sharma’s in Ballygaunge and we had nice lassi. Next, we headed for Park Street and had lunch at Peter Cat. From here we started our journey to Diamond Harbour.
Now, I had never been to Diamond Harbour before. When we arrived at the Diamond Harbour road and crossed Behala, we were able to move faster. This also meant that the Ambassador was at its noisiest best. Our car was moving at around 40 KMPH and the road just did not seem to end. Aum and Khemchart fell asleep. This was the best way to counter the noisy Ambassador. We kept going and going. Ultimately, the driver told me that we had arrived at Diamond Harbour at about 4PM.
I was shell-shocked at what I saw. There was dilapidated guesthouse beside the road with the river a distance away. The road was filthy with cow dung and other similar stuff. I did not try to guess what was going through the mind of my guests. I cracked some jokes to make the situation light. We all wanted to wash our face and hands as we had gathered a lot of dust on the way. I found a person in a dark room in the guesthouse and he showed us the way to the toilets. After having washed ourselves, we found that we could get bottles of Thumbs Up. We purchased 4 bottles of Thumbs Up. With our cold drinks, we came out of the guesthouse. Instantly, a mad person started shouting on the road. He was saying “Ai Japani, Ami toke marbo.” (Meaning, “Hi Japanese, I will kill you.”). Sensing trouble, I asked everyone to drop the Thumbs up bottles and get into the car. We got in the car and I requested the driver to drive back as fast as possible. When he did so, I could see the mad guy chasing our car. Once again, we were enjoying the jarring of the Ambassador and cracking some joke. At around, 7:30PM, we reached Peerless Inn. We freshened up and sat to enjoy the Mahabhog.
We eventually made the set up in Calcutta. However, the outsourcing did not work out. However, our project was a huge success and our system got the award for best Telecom Billing System in South East Asia.