Sunday, July 12, 2009

SQCA: Simple Questions with Complicated Answers

Ever been the brunt of a very simple question that you struggled to give an answer to? A really simple, ordinary question, for which the inquirer usually expects a one word straightforward answer, but for which, just in your case, the answer is extremely complicated. When asked this question, your response is usually a ridiculous answer, or a thoughtful/confused look, a lot of fillers while you try to think of an appropriate answer and go "err..." or "umm.. lets see" and make the person asking the question think "Damn, its such a simple question, why does this guy/gal make it appear like its the KBC 1 crore question?". We all have our SQCAs, Simple Questions with Complicated Answers. For most of my single friends a classic SQCA is "So when are you planning to get married?" For others the question is "Are you single?" For my married friends it is "When are you planning to have kids?". For some ambitious career oriented people I know even "Are you happy with your current job?" is a SQCA. For most of my NRI friends a classic SQCA is " Are you planning to settle abroad permanently?". I even know some people to whom a question as simple as "Was it a love marriage or an arranged marriage?" is one of the toughest SQCAs!!

So yes, I have some SQCAs, one of them is “What do you do professionally?”. Some people don’t ask further when I mention the two golden words “Information Technology”. Some don’t go further if I give them the name of the company I work for, it’s one of the most recognized companies in the world. Its strange, that when I say I work for XXX, they just don’t ask further, even though this company is into more than 15 different diverse fields and has more than a hundred different professions. But other than the few who do not ask further, I get this question a lot. Yes I know, it sounds like the easiest question in the world, but I have struggled to answer it. Because anything I say will not be understood or will be misunderstood. But with time I have realized that I should give the technically correct answer. So now my standard answer is “I am a consultant by profession”. The problem with consulting is that there are too many types of consulting and they are very diverse from each other. Management consulting and Application Consulting are two ends of a stick. Business Information consulting is somewhere in between. If you call a Management consultant an Application Consultant, he will be insulted, call a SAP consultant a Management consultant and he will be flattered. The other problem is that there are way too many jokes about consulting. And the perception of the profession is undermined beyond all imagination. I hold Dilbert responsible for it. Anyway, when I give this answer, I am met by blank looks, or sometimes further questioning. What are your job responsibilities? Are you a manager? What does the role require you to do on a day to day basis? Umm… so I explain, my job requires me to do B2B sales, pitch for new business, do baseline business development.. the role is also into service delivery management, program management, client engagement… and very soon I realize that the person in front thinks I am talking gibberish. And then I shut up and give a stupid grin and say “As I said, I am into consulting”. I am not alone, I recently realized that a lot of people have the same SQCA when I was talking to some of my colleagues. And I didn’t realize the extent to which I confuse people till I created this “How well do you know Merlin” quiz on FB. One of the questions was “What is my profession?”. The options were Consultant, Sales Manager, Project Manager, Software Developer, Chief Information Officer. Nearly all my friends got it wrong! SIGH. And even in spite of all the confusion and in spite of all my self obsessed Reggie Mantle bragging, nobody thought I am the CIO. Damn!

Here another SQCA. “What are your work timings?” Umm… eh.. like.. Typical response to this SQCA as well. I work for one of the best employers in the world (as per the most recent survey :P), one of the perks of working for this employer, and perhaps of being in my profession (which I bet you have still not been able to fathom) is that I don’t have fixed work timings. I can work when I want, from where I want. MBF will disagree, MBF will say, my profession means I work ALL the time :P. But the truth is I don’t have to reach office at a designated time or leave after a designated time. Its the most ideal scenario, as long as I get my work done and keep the moolah coming in, nobody cares when I come and when I go. Of course, I need to be present at client meetings and client events, and they can be at some absolutely ungodly hours. I might be called to attend meetings at short notice, might be on call continuously through the day, a lot of times at night as well. I might be attending client dinners on my birthday. And yet, I do not have any “regular office timings”, which I feel is a big convenience. It means that I can WFH (work from home for the uninitiated), when I don’t have any major meetings, and I don’t have to mail/call/inform my manager or anyone that I am doing so. Hence sometimes I am leave for work at 7.00 am, sometimes its 2p.m. sometimes 7p.m. only for some client event.. it varies. Now you know why this one is a SQCA for me?

Umm.. other SQCAs I have.. “When will you permanently return to India, will you ever?” (The standard SQCA for nearly every NRI), “Are you satisfied with your job?” (The day I am satisfied, I shall retire!) “How much do you earn?” (I know its rude, but people still ask, and I get my salary in two different currencies, its complicated!!), and some others which I am embarrassed to even write about :).

Some interesting answers to SQCAs of some friends, and I swear these are real ones from real life:

Q: What is your ethinicity?
A: Its complicated. My father was half British, my mother was Spanish, I was brought up in Italy, and studied in Australia and now I am a Swedish citizen in Sweden. However my wife is Iranian and I identify with the culture a lot.

Q: How many children do you have?
A: Umm.. that’s a tough question, I have 1 boy from my previous wife, and one from my current wife, my current wife also has 2 kids from her previous marriage, and we have 3 kids in the house presently.

Q: Where do you live?
A: Hmm.. interesting question.… my family lives in London, but I work in Sweden, so I am in Stockholm 3 days a week and in Malmo 2 days a week, and back home in London on weekends. But I have a house in Italy and one in Thailand, and I usually spend my vacations there.

SQCAs are widely acknowledged, not the term (that’s invented purely by me), but the general concept. Recently my business school alumni team opened an online google document where we were supposed to update our current status, company, profile, location, email etc etc. There was also a column for “Relationship Status” and the options in the drop down were Single, Married, Committed and Its Complicated :).

So heres tagging all my Blog friends (if you are reading this, and if you know I read your blog, you are tagged!).

What is your SQCA?

Quote of the day (yes, once again, but its relevant!)
Before you call someone a weirdo, remember.. Everybody is someone elses weirdo!!


  1. i really liked this one. i'll show it to my sister who'll wipe a teary eye at the sight of it. a very 25+ problem :p

    and i am too much of a kid still to have any real SQCA for i tend to answer them all :|

    and uhhm. i'll steal this idea of yours and blog it :|

  2. My SQCA is - why did you move from NY to CA ! and my answer is - why does it matter to you :P

  3. @Olive: You are never too young to have SQCAs... think about it, you will have some like "Why didnt you take science?" or something.. you are tagged, you so you have to blog!

    @Iya: Cmmon, thats just one, I am sure you have more, this deserves a post.. I am interested :)

  4. have blogged it. :p
    as for the science question. people didnt ask me that actually. the moment i told them i have taken up humanities they thought that i have done pathetically in my boards so they didnt proceed with it :P

  5. oh.. it really made me think about it:))

  6. "Why don't you have a boyfriend?"
    I think that by far qualifies as SQCA for me!
    This man at Robbie Burn's Nite in January wouldn't let it go and kept on hounding me!

  7. No seriously.. Men are so intimidated by me that they dont ask me silly questions..And women don't bother with me. I mean the last someone asked me was , "will you marry me." AND there was just one answer to that :P :P

    But yes the move related stuff realy was crazy -- some ahole even asked me " why the sudden need of domesticating yourself." As if i am a cow, needs to be domesticated :P

  8. @Jas: I can imagine that one being a SQCA

    @Shivam: LOL, now THAT one just cannot be a SQCA can it? It has to have a one word answer and maybe a ring to follow :)

  9. And yeah, I agree with your SQCA "What are your working hours?" I'm in academia and I have tough time explaining my hours...

    Can I put a link to your blog on mine please?

  10. @Jas: Of course, I will be happy to have a link on your blog :)

  11. Just came across this post on your blog.. I like the term SQCA. Apart from the usual you mention that are often asked from NRI/Singles/Job related.. I have another one from you: Do you want to marry an Indian or a Canadian? I don't even know how to begin answering a question like that.. I am sure there are more but that's the one that's sticking in my head right now..