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Telling Your Story with Babak Hodjat

George Grombacher April 1, 2022

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Telling Your Story with Babak Hodjat

LifeBlood: We talked about telling your story, the process of writing a book, how publishing a book is similar and different to a software release, and the value of perspective, with Babak Hodjat, CTO of Cognizant and author of The Konar and the Apple: Fun, Beauty and Dream-From Awhwaz to California.

Listen to learn why you shouldn’t take criticism personally!

You can learn more about Babak at, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Pick up a copy of his book HERE

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You can learn more about us at LifeBlood.Live, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook or you’d like to be a guest on the show, contact us at contact@LifeBlood.Live.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher


Babak Hodjat

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
Come on

one bla bla, this is George G. And the time is right, welcome today’s guest strong, a powerful Baba koja. Babak, you’re ready to do this. Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Bob Beck is an Iranian American inventor, tech entrepreneur and author. He’s chief technology officer of cognizant and his newest book is a kohner and the apple fun beauty and dread from our was to California. Babak, tell us a little bit about your personal life and more about your work. And what motivated you to put pen to paper and write the book.

Babak Hodjat 0:43
Yes, I was born in London, went to kindergarten in Moscow, Idaho,

and grew up in Iran, pre and post revolution and war, and got my PhD in Japan, and ended up in California. So been moving around a little bit. And what motivated me to write this stories down? Well, I kept repeating the same stories and parties and gatherings. And I realized that while the stories were familiar for people, the setting was kind of weird to be, for example, in, in boot camp, and the police force in Iran, or, you know, with shelling going on in my town, and all that kind of stuff, but the same familiar life events, and I started writing them down. I mean, the joke is, if I go to a party, now I can just point out a chapter and say, go read that so I don’t have to repeat the whole thing.

george grombacher 1:50
What do people say when you say that?

Babak Hodjat 1:55
I’ve yet to try it. The book just came out. I’ll, I’ll have to try.

george grombacher 2:01
I am sick a ton of story, just read the book and come back. Like how long as the chapter Okay. Got it. Alright, so, you are a? Well, I don’t want to call you a technologist because now you’re an author as well. What do you what what what? What do you think about your identity as

Babak Hodjat 2:23
I am a technologist, I don’t think of myself as an author. The book just kind of happened would not have been published if I had not read a couple of the stories and people said all you got to publish this. But no, I, my whole career has been in AI, an AI entrepreneur and technologist and asked me about AI. And I’ll talk to you for two hours asked me about writing a book, I really don’t know what to say, how struggle.

george grombacher 2:53
So what was what was the motivator for, for writing it down, or just starting to write? People were asking you constantly that said, You did write it down. And so you took the cue?

Babak Hodjat 3:05
Well, you know, I’ve, I’ve always been writing stories. I have many stories that have never been read to anyone just just write it, I just comes to me, and I like the structure and having to tell a story having a beginning, middle and ending. And I had a long commute. In the before times, we used to commute to work. And it was on BART, and there was no cell cell coverage. Back then on BART, no decent Wi Fi. Bart is the transportation system here in the Bay Area. So when I got on, I knew I had like 45 minutes to kill. And I would just write stuff down. So I started writing these stories in 2012 2013, and it was just a thing to do for me. And there are many stories, I collected the ones that I thought had had to do with this juxtaposition of this kind of westernized kid in in a weird setting. And so I put those together in the form of a book. So yeah, that was that was the main motivation, I guess,

george grombacher 4:17
westernized kid in a weird setting. So walk us through the timeline again of the actual ages, when you’re moving around.

Babak Hodjat 4:27
Yeah, the story starts with the first real story in the book is before the revolution, the Shahs in his peak of megalomania visiting our little little school and it was, was was this oil rich town still is in the southwest of Iran. And I was going to elementary school there and being in fifth grade. Me and a couple of my friends were tasked with running around the School Taking carpets, because they didn’t have enough carpets for the for his royal excellency as he’s walking. So right after he walked over some of the carpets, we were to pick these carpets and run around before he gets to the other side of the school and kind of lay them down. We were little kids, I mean thinking about it, these were heavy, big carpets that we had to roll. And so that’s that was the sort of the German is for, for this story. Kind of showing a little bit of the setting and, and the atmosphere before the revolution. And that’s the first story. I don’t have a lot of I have interesting memories from before the revolution, not that many. I thought the revolution itself was a story that’s been told a lot. So then we skip to, after the revolution, there was a brief pause and peacefulness and openness, right after the revolution before the war started with Saddam. And so you know, I kind of go through all of that. And lo and behold, as I’m experiencing these stories, I’m also growing up. So that’s part of it, it’s kind of coming of age. And then of course, I leave the country at the end,

george grombacher 6:18
I appreciate that. So your experience in these different places, westernized kids strange places, our, our, our kids, kids, wherever they are

Babak Hodjat 6:29
kids or kids, wherever they are, and they’re fun, and it’s cool. And the experiences are very, very similar, I think. But there is this duality, at least there was for me of having been having grown up in a westernized society in the first few years of my life. And my friends, were all mostly also westernized as well. It’s so that kind of duality of seeing what the end and the society itself went through this transition as well. Before the revolution, people didn’t wear the hijab, you know, it was there was a lot of civil liberties and and it was a very westernized society. And it just went black and white, I talked about how, for example, my mom, my grandma was an atheist, like, that’s the kind of family I grew up in. And she grew up and lived in Iran all her life so that that transition from the Constitutional Revolution 150 years ago, had taken place. And then suddenly, we were attracted back. After the revolution, my mom was forced to wear the hijab, and she didn’t like it. She was she was stubborn, I have a story where she was told, you know, we were fleeing the war, and she was told she has to wear the hijab, otherwise, we wouldn’t have we wouldn’t get the hotel. And, you know, we see glimpses of that as well. Futile resistance against this, this wave that’s coming.

george grombacher 8:10
I mean, fascinating experience, from your perspective, but then obviously, her experience. I mean, I’d literally just kept Yeah,

Babak Hodjat 8:20
you know, actually, this is, it’s an interesting aspect of growing up when you say, you know, is it is it common, one of the things that you experience as you grow up is, is that your parents are not the superheroes you thought they were. And you experienced that sooner or later, you kind of go, you know, what, you’re not as cool or, or right all the time is, as I thought you were, and you know, there is that too in this story, but you experience it with a higher power, which is this new government, this revolutionary government coming in and telling your parents they have to be in certain way and or the war coming in and telling your parents and that they have to pick up and leave and they can’t live where they where they are and do what they they do. And so you experienced that? Not just from perspective of a rebellious teenager, you experienced that from a perspective of society kind of telling your parents that they can’t do certain things, and you look it up and go, Oh, if they can’t, if they can’t get away with that, who am I to? You know, rebel? So there’s a little bit of that too.

george grombacher 9:26
Yeah. Fascinating. Do you have kids?

Babak Hodjat 9:29
I do. I do. I have two grown kids. They’re both in the East Coast. Yeah, they’re, they’re great. And they’re reading the book.

george grombacher 9:40
And so your perspective growing up and your learning is is what do you hope the book does? What what what do you hope the kids get out of reading the book?

Babak Hodjat 9:57
You know, I was, I was in college, I think I was doing my masters. And one day, I thought, I got it. I know everything, all the challenges there are, I’m going to write them all down in chapters, so that when I have a kid, I’ll just pass this on to them. They’ll read the various different chapters, and they’ll know they’ll know what to do when they’re confronted with a girl, they will know what to do like to succeed at school, you know, it’s just gonna all be there, because I just got it. And I even I wrote down the title of the chapters. And I showed it to my on one of my friends. And of course, he made fun of me. And he’s like, You’re crazy. What are you talking about? And he had a, we had an interesting time just making fun of the prospect of me being a dad someday, anyway. And then when I wrote the book, I was like, this, this book is, I mean, it’s not for my kids, it’s for me, really, let’s, let’s face it, it’s for me and my generation, maybe I think they’ll read it, they’ll be curious. There will be things that they’ll, they’ll appreciate, and it will be interesting. It’ll be more curiosity about what what their parents went through. I don’t know how much of it they would think is what they’re going through. You know, I think everyone thinks they’re going through something very, very unique themselves, even if their parents or their friends tell them, hey, this is fine. And you’re going to grow out of it, you’re going to be I don’t know, if you can tell people, you know, to relax, it’s going to be okay. You know, didn’t you think so? I mean, what do you think is that is that’s it? Like, if an older brother or parent told you don’t worry about it, it’s gonna be okay, what would you you’re like, you know, let me just go through this, you know,

george grombacher 11:43
for sure. Yeah, I mean, the worst thing that happened to us the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, so exactly being really catastrophic, like, some of the experience you went through, or your mother, or it could be the experience of a rich kid, or somebody who’s well to do growing up in, in Minnesota that never really deals with any conflict. So both of those things can be true, right? And I could certainly revere and hopefully learn from your experiences, just like, I’ve learned personally, from the experiences of my grandparents live into the Great Depression and World War Two and all that. So, exactly. He could tell your kids, listen, this is what your dad went through. I wrote this book when I was in college. And this is even better.

Babak Hodjat 12:30
Yeah, that I can do. They’re fun stories to read, I think I look at them mainly as as entertainment, I guess.

george grombacher 12:39
So your, your, your work as a technologist, you create things, and then you turn them into the world. How is similar different to writing this book and releasing it into the world

Babak Hodjat 12:56
it’s very similar, actually. Now, now that you say that. With with technology, you at least for me, I saw this power in, in AI and in the lab as you run it on, you know, toy problems and so forth. And and I’ve all my career, I’ve had this craving to bring this out to the world and have it like make a difference, you know, make a change. And with the book, it’s the stories that I have in me that I keep thinking these are, these are fun, cool stories. These are interesting. They’re funny, mostly a lot of them are. And, and interesting, and they have twists and turns that you don’t, you can’t predict and you want to bring it to the world and just, you know, add to the fun of the world, I guess for people to read them and enjoy them. And then of course, once you actually put it out there, you’re hoping that people do react to it the way you thought they would and you never know it with technologies to say and you put it out there and you learn there’s a lot of what what I think is easier with technology is you get to change it even past its its release. You know, you get to put in version 1.2 1.3 Version two Dotto. And you listen to your clients, your users, and you kind of fix it and improve it with a book of stories. Hopefully you go through a lot of that before it gets published. But once it’s out there, you can’t really touch it much. It’s it is what it is. So it’s rare that people would totally rewrite the book after after the fact. So that’s a little scary.

george grombacher 14:42
Yeah, I was gonna say but what what is that emotion? Is it just sort of nerve wracking? Terrifying?

Babak Hodjat 14:48
Yeah, yeah, it’s been it’s funny because we haven’t done a lot of marketing around the book just yet. It’s only just starting. But friends and family of Reddit and some of the folks who are in the book, I’ve read it and they’re like, Oh, you made a mistake here or Oh, dude, you totally got it wrong. This guy wasn’t saying this. He was saying some other thing. And I’m like, oh,

george grombacher 15:11
like, super helpful.

Babak Hodjat 15:13
Yeah, you should read it before I put it out there. Yeah.

george grombacher 15:17
That’s so funny. Fascinating, right? That, I imagine that it’s such a personal thing. Whereas Do you think that your the technology you create is also is it the same? Does it feel the same?

Babak Hodjat 15:34
Yeah, it’s different in that respect. It’s not as personal but it is something that you’ve put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and it does become somewhat personal. You do if when people criticize your technology, it’s something that it’s hard not to take personal sometimes. So yeah, there is a little bit of that. But you’re, you know, you can always distance yourself with technology. It’s a it’s a bigger play, the timing might not be right. The other folks who work on it could share the blame. You know, there’s a little bit of that. But with a book, especially book of biographical stories, it’s yeah, there is it is rather personal question.

george grombacher 16:13
Mm hmm. Well, certainly congratulations on writing it how how long from soup to nuts. Did it take you?

Babak Hodjat 16:20
Well, I started writing it in, I think, 2012 or 2013. I was encouraged to actually put it together into a book in 2018. And went through a lot of iterations until we got it out. Just last month, so yeah, it’s been it’s been quite a journey.

george grombacher 16:45
Oh, certainly. Congratulations on all of it. So thank you. Well, I mentioned as we were talking, before, we turned on the show that I would ask you for difference making tips. So what have you come up with?

Babak Hodjat 16:57
Um, well, I guess what I would say is, there’s there is bravery and putting putting yourself out there. And that that’s you’ve, you’ve won half the battle by just by just doing something and putting it out there. There will always be critics, and that’s fine. Don’t take it personally. It’s hard. But hopefully your admirers are more than your critics and listen to them to.

george grombacher 17:27
Well, I think that that is great stuff that definitely gets Come on. Babak, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you and working to get a copy of a kohner and the apple fund beauty and dread from Iwase to California? Where can I get a copy of the book?

Babak Hodjat 17:46
You can buy it on Amazon. Online, there’s an audio book, there’s an e book and there’s a printed copy. Actually, I have one right here. So excellent. That’s me.

george grombacher 18:00
Well, if you enjoyed this as much as I did, show barbecue appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, pick up a copy of the corner and the apple fun beauty and dread from our West California, Amazon wherever you buy books, and check out the written version, the audio version and all of it. Thanks again. Bye bye.

Babak Hodjat 18:21
Thank you. Thank you, George is gonna pleasure.

george grombacher 18:23
And until next time, keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together.

Transcribed by

Thanks, as always for listening! If you got some value and enjoyed the show, please leave us a review wherever you listen and we’d be grateful if you’d subscribe as well.

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