When I went to college in India, all I wanted to do was take the first job that will send me to US. And a dozen years later, I am starting to think of where I will retire, where I will work the latter parts of my career and so on. This makes me ponder on the long term future of IT in India. I might as well think aloud here, with the hope that I get some insights from the readers. As always, these are just my personal opinions – not that of my employer.
India’s IT scene is dominated by about 20 to 50 companies or so, and the rest is fragmented by smaller shops. Amongst the big ones – and I mean big in terms of head count – the biggest ones are in services. A large number of people make their living doing production support and BPO type work. There is also some design and development type projects in the mix. Outside the services work, there is some product development too. Most big product companies in the world have some presence in India, and they pay better than the services companies to attract top talent. So in short, there is plenty of companies where an IT job can be found.
One thing I do like about the workforce in India is that it is fairly inclusive. Although I don’t have stats officially – I have seen several more women in offices of IT companies in India, including in leadership roles compared to other countries I have visited. 12 years ago, only certain states had fair representation in IT jobs, but by now – people from all parts of India are getting better opportunities.
I think IT pays better on an average than most other jobs in India, and as a result a lot of people have better quality of life. Most youngsters are now able to buy houses and cars early in their life, which is also pretty good. There is a lot of good restaurants and bars and gyms and movie theaters and all that, so life outside work is enjoyable too.
That is the bright side, but I have my worries on the flip side.
How about the supply side of the picture? No issues here either at first sight with plenty of college grads coming out of the education system every year. From the time I joined the workforce – and possibly a few years earlier, IT jobs attracted away a lot of talent from the top colleges, especially engineering colleges. IT companies at that time ignored non-engineering students. They were not exactly looking for comp science grads – any engineering degree was fine. I am a mechanical engineering major, and it never mattered to my first IT employer . I never could put a finger on why engineers were considered at the expense of every one else. I would just as well gladly hire a math major or a physics major or a liberal arts major with the right attitude – since I have to train the engineering grad also to work in IT. Being an engineering grad myself – I am not convinced that education gave me something extra as a programmer, that I would not have gained if I took say Chemistry as my major. I hope this has changed, or is changing.
After a dozen years since I left India, I still have not seen the engineering colleges tune their education to the needs of the IT market. Text books are still the same as what I learned and what my dad learned before me, with very little updates. And people still join mechanical engineering degrees with the sole purpose of getting a job in IT – with no interest in becoming a mechanical engineer.
Someone recently told me that there are classes at these places for HANA too.
The good thing despite the above is that thanks to internet, working in global teams, and the ability to go abroad for projects – Indian IT workforce has access to almost everything that others have, and hence could keep up well with the global pack.
There are some societal side effects – since the best and brightest grads do not seem to want to go to the government services, military,banking and so on which were the coveted jobs for the previous generations. I often wonder if this will have an impact on society over the next several years.
Infrastructure has been a long term problem. A visit to Bangalore will prove the point. It is near impossible to drive in Bangalore at peak hours unless you have lived there for a while. Pollution is also pretty high. Yet, I know several companies who send work to India insist that it be done out of Bangalore. There are physical limitations to expanding the towns where IT is concentrated now – not just Bangalore. Thanks to political structure of the country, the private sector is fairly limited in what it can do to make the situation better. Thankfully trade unions have not yet taken over IT in India and destroyed it, like they have for manufacturing sector etc.
A big advantage India has held over other emerging IT power nations has been the proficiency in English. Companies in the west readily pay a premium for it. But this is not a long term advantage – I have many friends in Vietnam, China and South America who speak very good English, and it is just a matter of one more generation when this becomes less of a differentiation.
Cheap skilled labor was a big reason why western countries outsourced work to India. Well, it is not exactly cheap any more. Salaries have increased manifold. My first job paid me INR 150,000 a year or so. And that is after I did my engineering and MBA. Today I know my nieces and nephews make more than 3X or 4Xthat in similar jobs when they enter the work force. The rates charged by Indian companies to their clients abroad have not increased 3X or 4X – if anything, competition has forced them to keep it down. They still thrive because of volume and exchange rates and so on. This does not mean other countries will readily over take India in near future – that is like saying 25 years from now, Daddy and I will be the same age. India has tremendous experience and skills now and will carry that edge for foreseeable future.
I am also worried seriously about the credit card debt that many of the younger folks carry that I know India. Just based on personal observation – peer pressure has driven many a young IT employee to spend beyond their means and incur bigger loans than they reasonably should take. I have seen this movie before in US from the front seat, and I would hate to see a replay in India. On second thoughts, I am not very sure if this is an IT only issue or whether others are affected too. I guess every one needs to make their own mistakes and learn, and that learning from someone else s mistake is harder.
Bangalore – and other IT hubs – have one thing missing that stops them from being the next silicon valley. And that is a good VC system. It might be a chicken and egg problem since a large part of the IT business is still on services side, and not on product side. I am yet to have made a trip to India where I have not had a conversation with a bright eyed young guy (or gal) who would tell me that he/she has this amazing idea, but can’t move forward without capital. The De-facto capital raising mechanism is to run to a local bank and convince them to give a line of credit. It is an ineffective process to put it charitably. Off late, I know some VC friends in Silicon Valley who lend a hand to budding entrepreneurs in India, but it is a drop in the ocean compared to how things move in the US. It is certainly not a lack of liquidity in India that investors are not supporting these companies – I think it is one of a cultural difference. Since a lot of people from India who worked in US have now moved back to India, I do see some change in this behavior. I am looking forward to see VCs and Angel investors doing more in India.
One last thought before I go back and plant the last few plants in my front yard ( this is what was accomplished before I started typing this post https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3381192563120.151791.1068608267&type=1&l=48b8a0feb8 ). If cloud is truly the future – and if most companies move heavily to SaaS etc, what will happen to the majority of IT people in India, who make a living doing services projects?
Let me know your thoughts