Category: Business Models

Immigration : America’s Superpower

Subramonya Ayyar watching his Son Graduate from UC Berkeley. He arrived in the USA in 1958 with 22 dollars in his pocket.

H1-B and F-1 Visas are the lifeblood of the tech industry

Donald Trump has made a huge mistake by massively limiting the H1B visas granted to foreign born engineers who want to work in America and also in eliminating the F1 Visas for college bound immigrants that wish to study here. These are the  world’s brightest and most hard working young students that wish  to come to study here at our colleges.  In the technology driven information age we live in  — this talent is the raw material of greatness.

We live in a time where tech companies are the largest companies in the world by market capitalization.   Companies like Google, Microsoft, and Adobe are actually run by 1st generation immigrants into the USA.  There is no denying that immigration has helped create the greatness that is America.

In fact one might argue this is  the secret sauce that has made America great — the fact that the world’s smartest, most ambitious, most resilient young people want to come to America to study and work. Certainly this is true during the last thirty  years of the Information age.

I was born in America but my father came over from India in the early sixties from India on an F1 visa.  He washed dishes at night while going to school to get several masters degrees from SUNY Buffalo (I was born in Buffalo) and started a PhD at UCLA  (which he never finished) as he went to work as an engineer for ITT.   He was a brilliant hard working man who escaped an impoverished village in Kerala to come build a family and future in America.  He came over on a third class boat ticket with literally nothing but ambition in his pockets.  The American dream personified.  He had a 40 year career working for some of the most legendary engineering companies on the planet.

I learned the immigrant hustle for him and was destined to be an entrepreneur from an early age –founding four different technology companies. One company  I started.  in the late 90’s, was  a global consulting and engineering firm known as Karna Global.  At our peak we had over 350 employees in 4 countries. Over the 10 years from 1999 to 2009 we brought to America  (mostly from India) 200+ engineers on  H1B visas and sponsored many of them to get green cards.  These immigrant engineers have been making top wages in Silicon Valley and beyond since they arrived in the US. They  have paid tens of millions in taxes as well as being great law abiding, kind and generous neighbors, teachers, friends, and officials.  A substantial contribution to American society. 

The ability to get the world’s brightest, most ambitious, and most resilient humans to want to come here to study, and work and build a family has been  America’s secret weapon.  To lose this would be a brutal loss.

Sadly we have changed both parts of the equation  — Because of the current administrations’ decrees we no longer welcome them and most hurtful because of our positions and stature in the world and many decisions we have made (leaving the Paris accord, our handling of the pandemic, xenophobic backlashes)  the world smartest and brightest and most ambitious have less of a desire to come make America their home.

When you are a successful technology start-up you always worry about brain drain.  That is another technology company raiding your best employees. America has, up until now,  had a huge advantage over every other country –  that is a reverse brain drain.  Where the smartest people alive all dreamed of making America their home.  If this changes it will be traumatic for the technology industry and America in general. Lets work to change our policies so these great future citizens of America  will continue to want to be here, study here, and work here  in the future.


Innovation in the Enterprise

Innovation Labs in the Enterprise – Start with Design Thinking

Corporate innovation is critical to stay current and compete in today’s fast moving technical environment.  AT GDS we work with many large corporate innovation labs. These labs are fundamental if large companies do not want to be disrupted by well financed start-ups. 

The Labs all try and have a creative space that allows people to think outside the box, hard to be very creative in a row of cubicles.

Just as important as the workspace is an attitude of experimentation.  The goal is to try many little experiences and to fail early and often with them til one gains traction.  GDS brings this rapid prototyping skillset to the table. An important part that we foster in our Innovation workshops is to “Start with Why”.  Understanding the intent of your users and customers is fundamental and then having them achieve those goals with the minimum amount of digital friction. Design thinking is at the heart of achieving this and really the heart of every successful Innovation Lab.

The world of computer software had gotten much better due to User Interface and User Experience focus.  At GDS we spend a lot of time on scenario modeling (use cases) and optimizing workflow (minimizing digital friction) . The power to get adaption and user buy-in is the trick that marks a successful product.  Let’s go back and review some of the major innovations in Human Computer interaction and see how they have created some of the best applications.

Optimizing for Phone Screen Size

When we look at User interface breakthroughs we have to start with the Iphone. The Iphone led the way with touch screens.Your finger was the new mouse.  This was an innovation that changed the way people interacted with an application.

The pop up keyboard where you could use your finger to type allowed for even complicated interactions. . Smart software allowed this to work for even people with fat fingers.


This innovation made it easy for the User to do the most Common thing.  Tinder had an amazing simplification to express interest in someone, swiping there entire picture one way or the other.

Tinder’s amazing User experience innovation

Swipe right

Representing Physical  Worlds Virtually

Stub Hub

The visualization of the stadium and the tickets was key for the user to understand what he was buying,



When you can create a link between real world and virtual world you are onto something.

Merging Virtual and Real Worlds
The overlaying of the car  on the map was a great innovation and let the user feel in control of what is happening with the process.




Voice May be the Greatest UI

Voice may well be the interaction mode that becomes the most common.  We are already seeing Amazon Echo and Google assistant make amazing inroads.  But other devices have started to grow ears. Samsung has Bixby with its line of smart appliances, Bosche has a voice activated system as well.  It may get confusing with so many different devices trying to make sense of what the user wants from them.

Human interaction and User experience is a key part to product adoption and use.  The enterprise is continuing to learn from prominent consumer applications to keep the user engaged and move them forward with a minimal amount of digital friction.  We would love to have a workshop with you and your company to find innovative ways to deploy design thinking and make your application rollout powerful while reducing support costs.



The Smartest People in the World Don’t Work for you

This quote made famous by Bill Joy in the late 90’s is as true as it ever was. By way of introduction, I have spent the last twenty plus years of my professional career building large mission critical software and building the multi-disciplinary teams needed to design, develop and deploy it. This includes many large successful projects and some unfortunately unsuccessful ones, all for Fortune 500 clients. When I started to notice the large and growing trend of highly skilled developers becoming Freelancers I knew that it was an unalterable trend. The Uberization of computer programmers.

The promise of hiring experts to build software for your business has always been highly marketed. Now based on advances in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning along with curated networks of experts in design and engineering along with re-useable software components it has become more of a sure thing. In fact, we have a perfect storm. Let’s look at each of these factors.

Engineering as a Service

Creating a culture that is embraced by top developers is hard. They are eccentric and many times need a lot of special treatment. Grand Design Systems (GDS) has created a network of certified high caliber software engineers. This is the first part of the puzzle. Expert networks are sprouting up everywhere and there is no better place for them than in software engineering. It is widely noted that the difference between an average developer and a great one (sometimes called 10x engineers because they can be an order of magnitude more productive than the average) is alarmingly big. Just like communities in open source the network is “self” certified with members policing the quality and skill of the other engineers.

Re-useable Components

The large (and growing) amount of open source libraries and functionality that can be drawn upon to the build the next project is astounding. Building a marketplace ? The backbone technology to do that in a mobile world is already developed. Need a dashboard for analytics or a visualization interface ? The building blocks to do so have already been created. Our clients benefit with faster delivery and lower cost by using a treasure chest of re-useable and certified modules.

The missing ingredient to tie this together for the client are Product Managers. They coordinate the functionality, workflow, and schedules of delivery. This is the crucial part of getting complex software development projects right.

AI and Automation Tools

Lastly we have built automation tools to manage these parts of the platform. We can become better at software development and the data can lead us there. By tracking all the events associated with a successful project including communications, commits, emails, chats we can programmatically tell in real time the digital footprint of a successful project versus one for a broken one. Analogously, we can rank and grade the best professionals for a given project and we can determine which modules can be re-used successfully.

These tools help us give Fixed Price proposals which derisks Software Development for our clients. Our goal at GDS is to create happy clients by delivering impactful cutting edge applications. We have executed on hundreds of projects and the more projects we do, our automation tools get better and smarter.

There are many examples of how our clients are using our service. A common ask is to help them track and use the behaviorial data from their clients and to build machine learning into their apps to alter their business model. Another is to create a chatbots using the latest NLP technologies for customer support and customer acquisition. Check ous out at Grand Design Systems.

Should I Lease or Should I buy Tech Talent

When talking about a car, this decision comes down to your cost of capital, and other considerations like the amount of miles per year you drive and your desire to have a new ride every 3 years or so.  But what if you need a convertible one day, an SUV the next and on certain days needed a flatbed truck. It would be hard to buy all three, and if you leased them you would need very short leasing periods- days not years- to make it effective.

Limited tech bandwidth is the top challenge for 90% of companies

Enterprise companies have a similar decision  when they invest in designers and developers as full-time employees (FTEs).  The truth is custom software is still needed despite the hundreds of packaged software vendors and SaaS offerings. This makes tech talent, especially very experienced freelancers that specialize in mobile, more in demand than ever. There is a serious skills gap and backlogs are large. 

Without access to on demand technologists, companies face great challenges. It is difficult to scale resources to match technology experts demand.  Rapid proto-typing is a necessary practice and requires specialized resources, and on demand technologists allow for innovation in new fields with emerging technologies.

It’s no secret that you have to invest in your technical team and have developers, designers and dev ops people on staff and focused on your problems.  But as the world of technology evolves and gets prohibitively expensive, is the full-time employee (FTE) mentality still relevant?

Hiring is getting harder

Recruiting top tech talent costs time and money.  For certain jobs, after factoring in time and fees of recruiting, it can cost up to one years worth of salary to fill key jobs, and take six months or more in some instances to find the right fit.  Also, the FTE model requires a 30-40% uptick on base salary for benefits and variable compensation in this incredibly tight labor market. Factor in ongoing re-training costs to make sure people are skilled in relevant technologies which is constantly changing, and the investment continues to grow.

The type of talent you need– Mobile, Web, Front end, dev Ops– depends on the current project priorities and seasonal influences.

A better strategy as an Enterprise is to focus on customer connections, business goals, and planning. Rent all platforms access to help achieve these goals. Do not hire computer programmers and dev ops talent full time.

The future of work is remote

Younger generations are rethinking how work is done. In fact, younger generation managers estimate that 2 out of 5 full-time employees will work remotely in three years.

We call this the Fluid Contract Model. This provides you with focused expertise without having the overhead of FTE’s. It has made much progress over the last 3 years. This allows you to Pay by the drink for design development and project management talent.

Technology has made the world truly flat.  Because of great technologies like trello, asana, and jira for project management, GitHub or Gitlab for source code check-in and control, with automated CI/CD workflows and communication tools like Slack, Google docs, twilio and video conferencing tools like zoom, uberconference, and hangouts, these projects can be driven in a smooth and predictable way.

Fixed prices and outcome-based contracts

Full service firms provide a management layer for this great engineering and design  talent along with Dashboard, KPI’s, Governance, scheduling and Escalation. They have regular reporting with weekly project progress calls, and monthly service level assessment meetings.

Once a partnership is established, this allows for fixed price contracts and outcome based engagements.  This greatly reduces risk to the enterprise.

Smart enterprises are using  freelancers to increase productivity, access specialized skills and drive cost efficiency–  and doing it with the help of full service consulting firms with deep expertise in software projects to achieve great results.

Kannan Ayyar has overseen 100’s of mission critical software projects and is CEO of Grand Design Systems,(  a next generation consulting firm using highly accomplished freelancers and software experts.  Follow him at @kayyar1. 


Free is too Expensive

Working at the Internet Systems Consortium, I feel I have a somewhat privileged look into the open source business model, which I’d like to address. We face the unique challenge of developing and maintaining BIND, the most-installed nameserver software on the planet, which some estimates place on 80% of all DNS servers. We’re proud of our open source heritage–one that began with the first iteration

Richard Sherman: What you Lose when Winning is Everything

Richard Sherman had a great game. He in fact made the game ending play. 30 million people saw it. In his post game impromptu interview he drilled it home and screamed his greatness to all, like he was creating a rap song — in addition he insulted his individual match up, Michael Crabtree. And it was wrong. Wrong for sports, wrong for the NFL, wrong for the Seahawks and wrong for every young athlete aspiring to greatness at her sport.

I get the backstory grew up in Compton, went to stanford, academic and athletic all-star. If you are really that great and are secure in your greatness, you don’t have to bring it up. Let someone else do it for you.

When I was an investment banker working on Wall Street just out of college on the largest trading floor in world, one of the senior traders gave me a tip “Those that say don’t know, those that know don’t say”. If you have to remind the world how great you are it masks a deep seated insecurity.

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