Saturday, February 28, 2015

A short history of Indian IT

I was a regular blogger about the Indian IT industry until I began to blog on politics. The entire list is here, in case you are interested!

The Indian IT industry rode on the Y2K boom. First there were plane loads of coders we sent to exotic locations around the world. Y2K, went down as the greatest damp squib ever pulled off on humankind in the 'internet' age. But it got Indian IT a foothold. Somewhere along the way, there was a rash of body shoppers who promised to send you to the US if you as much as recognized a computer language. There were many small time providers who supplied people to various IT departments in the US. And again, the coding skills here were not great - definitely not for the majority who ended up there. They started off at a basic level, many scaled up, most did not, but they glided because of their knowledge of that one or two applications that they were masters of that made them airborne.

Until the biggies realised that they could provide bodies and also get projects to work on. That effectively killed the small timer bodyshops. Then came large scale IT contracts, driven primarily by manpower. Large projects, indistinct milestones and a lot of throwing people at the problem method of IT. In some sense this was the golden age - rather the easy days of Indian IT. You got a large project, you married it, you settled down, it delivered greenbacks to the company, green card to the employees and all was well. Along with this came large maintenance projects, support projects on all sorts of obscure software.  This could have been milked for only so long and many of the smart companies realized this by diversifying into enterprise apps and started building their own apps and platforms and so on.

But let us stay here for a moment. Till this point, IT companies hired the best manpower (and they scaled up and did whatever was asked of them) and sent them abroad. But as time progressed and margins shrank, the companies went down the skill scale and hired almost anybody they could find. This was the time when I was interviewing people with 4 years experience and many of them told me that they had done enough coding and now wanted to get into people management.

(It was also the time the best people stopped coming into IT services. They sought careers with product companies that, by then, had set shop in India. Apart from pay packets, they gave them a lot more meaningful stuff to work on.)

People management was the name of the game at that point. Everybody wanted to be a people manager. If you were a good technologist and wanted to just be that, it was tough - though some companies let such people be. In my mind, this was an inflection point - because it dumbed down skills of some really hungry folks and made them complacent (they sure deserve a share of a blame of that - not just the companies). People management also came with administrative management - the quintessential middle management - who basically worked as couriers between US and India, or onsite and offshore or top management and the guys who actually did the work. They delivered status reports, forecasts, metrics, filled up xl sheets, had regular conference calls and had designations. Communication skill was a prized asset.

The smart companies in the meantime, figured out that tapping India for development was a smart thing to do. The product companies  and some analytics companies figured this out and attracted the best and brightest in the industry. (Aside: the analytics guys are shining brighter than ever than any other part of the industry).

For the companies who did not stress on skill, the stress on project and people management is coming to bite them back. For companies because of a huge layer of flab at the middle lever. For people, because they have no skill to fall back upon. As Karthik says, the end of experience.

And if you were in the industry this was visible a few years ago, just that people and companies refused to acknowledge it. A few companies I know were looking for hands on experience of 15 years while just a few years ago, at that experience all they wanted was management.

This is where the middle management in Indian IT is being asked to shape up or shift out. Either they scale up to handle global responsibilities or they get out of the way and let someone (the Filipinos, the Poles or someone) handle it. This was all the more imperative because as time passed and companies handed over IT contracts to vendors, there was very little tacit knowledge left with them - so not only was this as a shift, it was also a necessity.

Those who survived this phase with skills did very well - and are in hot demand now. But those who stayed in people management careers are facing very few options today - unless they have scaled to that level of management.

And that is where the industry is today. Greater automation, smarter applications, lesser need for people, lower margins, move to mobile, the cloud - that eliminates the need for a large IT infra at every company and so on and so forth. Many reasons for this to happen.

This inflection point, as usual, has all the wailers crying that this is the end of Indian IT, but hold on to those dirges. Watch how Infosys has hired a product guy to turn it around. Watch how the others are shifting themselves into different skills to stay relevant. And then there are the apps. And the products. And watch the product companies from India - quite a few of them have scaled up to develop stuff from here. And that is the future.

Will they all make it? Most likely not. Will it throw a new set of stars? Almost sure that they will. There are a bunch of start ups trying out their skills. A lot of them are in the mobile space. Will the Indian IT industry stay relevant? I am and continue to be a fan of Indian IT and I believe that it will see this through and enter a stronger phase.

This inflection point though, is tougher than the earlier one - this one demands skills.

Lets see what happens. In the meantime, if you are a new entrant in this industry or aspiring to get into it, learn coding. Stay coding. Go deeper. Get better. Improve. Learn every single day. Stay hands on. Don't lose sight of what got you here.

And stay out of bullshit bingo terms like People Manager.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Corruption facilitates business and other analysis

Top level corruption down in Modi govt, fingers crossed. Screams a headline.

It is important to create doubt, when you write a headline. Especially when it comes to the Modi government. Oh wait. Modi government. Not NDA.

Do you recall the UPA government ever being called Congress government or Manmohan government (as much as it was not his) or Sonias government (she who shall not be named)?

But this is Modi - the bete noire of the media for 13 odd years now. And continues ( as I noted in piece in December)

The headline is also an acknowledgement that top-level corruption was high in the previous government. But did they tell you that when that government was in power? No. They did not. They actually waited long and hard before they finally had to make it public. Case in point: 2G scam, Coal Scam,  National Herald scam. And this blog has documented much of it through the years.  Why that is because of the Congress-media complex. Remember, the UPA was an NREGA at all levels - including the latest of a Nobel laureate whose last name is Sen - who was too hoity toity to explain why he did what he did without following rules.

Lets go back to the article linked at the start.

It starts off with some 'sources' named, 'top industrialist', 'prominent businessman' and finds it necessary to carry a statement like this from a 'top banker'. (Note the diversity of sources)

'A top banker, while acknowledging that no significant proposals were coming to his investment committee had an interesting theory on one of the possible reasons for the empty pipeline: 'Operation Clean-Up', he said, may have actually created a different kind of uncertainty for business. "For years, businessmen knew how to get things done in government. Suddenly, they find the game has changed; the old ways of doing business no longer work. Ideas and proposals are being considered on merit. I can't say what'll happen tomorrow, but as things stand, there seems to be greater transparency." (He said the other reasons for lack of new investments included uncertainty on land and labour reforms; industry was wary of committing large funds on the basis of executive ordinances instead of legislation passed by Parliament).'

So, Mr. top banker, thinks that the empty pipeline is because of lack of corruption. Well, sir, that is priceless analysis - hats off to you. Surely, all the corruption in the UPA government flooded our coffers with money I am sure. So, that is my learning for today. Corruption facilitates business and thus by going after corruption, the Modi government may be stifling growth. 

Do read the whole article. It credits everybody with this change, except Mr. Modi (of course, Prime Minister it says). It also credits the Supreme Court - but as far as I know, none of this was suo moto cognizance, but responding to cases filed by the likes of Subramanian Swamy, Prashant Bhutan etc. 

Then there are others who will find fault with everything that the government does - like this worthy writer does. But a quick click on the other articles said worthy has written quickly reveals her unbiased nature - towards the Congress

Not to forget the new Rahul Gandhi on the block (I agree calling him that is a bit of an injustice, but well, for now, this basking in reflected glory is unnecessary) has his twenty five paise to say which the media must of course cover, because he is the latest NKOTB against Modi.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Modi, Delhi elections and then some

Since everybody has shouting from the rooftop as to how unimportant the Delhi elections were and yet writing more and more about it, let me also write in my 25 kb worth of words into it. After the elections everybody claims they knew everything and therefore, pet theories and confirmation biases are peddled as opeds. All it requires is reasonably good grammar.
This was the latest - pick up any oped and I challenge you, any one and they will say the same thing. The exceptions are bloggers who are saying slightly different things.

In  my view, there are two things for Modi to learn from this entire Delhi episode.

One, that Delhi based media will never ever support him and that is the silver lining in this entire episode. The Congress media complex will flock to the AAP, sources and all in tow.  As you can see in this video (LT @amitmalviya)

The moment you are with BJP everybody gangs up against you.

Second, media therefore will amplify whatever suits them. Whether it is statements made by inconsequential persons or random things that happen around. If Modi falls into this trap, he is doomed. The next 5 years can be spent managing churches in villages and answering media - a trap which he so cleverly avoided while on the campaign trail.

Third, he needs to get out of this statesman bullshit - this is the same garden path that media walked Vajpayee up in NDA 1 and he set out reconciling with Pakistan (why that wretched country remains a favorite of our media needs to investigated - a hundred Fais will toppled out is my guess). And offering grand gestures to the Congress - which they are highly unlikely to repay.

Fourth - Modi needs to go strong on reform and breaking the shackles imposed upon it by Congress and its 60 years rule. And reach out to the masses (even if he does this in the last one year it is sufficient). 

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Amar Chitra Katha to Devdutt Pattanaik

We grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha, as did many in our generation. That was the place we got a 'consistent' version of our teachings, stories. Whether it was the Mahabharata or Ramayana presented in a simple, concise form. Whether it was the Jatakas tales or the Panchatantra it was the one series that we were hooked onto.

There were other wannabe books, but nothing like ACK.

Why books? Because there are only so many stories that parents and grandparents can tell you, so ACK taps into the speed of reading and that way you cover more than you can ever. All in all ACK was a winner and now, I see how it helps kids get an idea of a large part of our heritage better than any textbook ever can.

Not sure, if were not for ACK how we would have ever learnt much of these, because most schools barely cover any of the traditions. I am sure, somebody would have marketed and figured it out, but yes, for what it is worth, I am thankful for ACK for having bridged the gap and continuing to do so.

But what after that? I have been reading Devdutt Pattanaik for a while - not regularly, but intermittently and with a mix of curiosity and confusion. I really loved Jaya and even Business Sutra which I thought was about bringing a different perspective of learning from the stories that we have learnt from childhood.

But a few weeks ago, I read the 'Seven Secrets of Vishnu' and I was blown away. For the first time, I realized that his books take us deeper than ACK ever did (and in the format and age group it addressed it probably could not). But interestingly, atleast I felt that without the base of ACK it was impossible to read his works.

But all in all, it is a great path he has charted, of bringing traditional stories into the mainstream. It must have been difficult - given the general suspicion any Hindu tradition brings especially in the corporate arena and for this some credit must go to Kishore Biyanis Future group where Devdutt works as Chief Belief Officer. And Devdutt has been a trailblazer in this place.

I also think that the time is ripe for many more such initiatives that bring many of these traditions into the mainstream and make it more accessible for Indians and foreigners alike.

So, yes, thanks Devdutt for doing what practically nobody has managed to do - bring out the nuances behind the stories and be successful at that.