82.5% of indian technical graduates are not ready to be employed, but who’s listening???

I came across a recent report which claimed that only about 17% of Indian technical graduates are ready to be employed.

From my experience it is usually about 6 to 12 months before a fresh Engg graduate gives more to the team than he or she takes. Most of what is taught in Engineering degree is pretty much useless or irrelevant. In fact if I have to go back to my 4 year Engg syllabus and re-look what part of what I learnt (or was supposed to learn) has been useful in my 20 year career, it would be a very low percentage.

Now coming back to the survey, based on the track record, the response from the industry would be on the following lines:

Decry the deplorable levels of tech education and write long petitions to the Education Ministry to improve the quality and relevance of our tech degrees and how this is impacting the industry. After all this, continue their existing hiring policy of campus recruitment and have a graded starting salary based on the ranking of the college.

Im fairly confident that none of the big hirers from our IT services sector is going to change their hiring policy in any manner. They will continue to hire Engineers every Engineering college that they can lay their hands on, put them through a long training process before the candidate is ready to contribute anything meaningful.

If 82% of them are unfit and you anyway have to put them through a few quarters of training, why bother with the degree in the first place? Why not just take in students who have just completed their high school, put them through a 1 or 1 1/2 year training instead of hiring fresh Engineers and training them for 6 months before they are ready?

While this does sounds extreme, this is exactly what a Chennai based technology product development company has been doing for the past 4 years now. I understand about 15% of their 1300 work force is actually from their own University and they expect to raise it to 30% over the next few years based on the current strength in their University and their hiring plans. I believe their 18 month course has been designed keeping in mind the needs of and expectations from a “Software Engineering Trainee” in their company. Roughly 95% of the students from this University have been absorbed into their company and the “graduates” from their University are actually more “job-ready” than fresh graduates who have spent 4 years in an Engineering college.

Of course there are other dimensions to this company’s initiative – they hire disadvantaged high school pass outs who would otherwise not be able to afford our super expensive (but inefficient) education system and are willing to take this “chance”. The students are paid a nominal stipend and are free to “drop out” anytime from their University – during or after the course.

Its high time that our IT industry looks at such innovating means of fulfilling their resource needs than relying on a system that delivers 82% unfits and believing that the government / education system “owes” them better trained people. Nobody owes anybody anything.

This would also put an end to people believing that they can start an Engineering college if they just have 50 acres of land in the middle of no where and turn out unfits who would be hired anyway.


Focus on the effort… as much as the result – Another perspective

This is the second part of my earlier blog “Focus on the effort… as much as the result” – http://jwritings.com/?p=562. In case you have not read that, I would suggest that you do before proceeding to read this.
While that blog presents a good picture of a project with high stakes, riveting rush by the team culminating in a nice photo finish (almost cinematic), there are some disturbing questions too. Why did it take until 2:00 pm on the release date to figure out that there was a long list pending? Shouldnt there have been appropriate checks and balances in place (especially since this was a release that multiple regions were looking forward to)? Shouldnt the stakeholders (folks who had made commitments to customers) been sounded off earlier that there could be a slip (in which case they could at least fore-warn the customers that there MIGHT be a delay)? What if the release had not happened even after all the effort?

Is this similar to our infamous Commonwealth Games experience where weeks before the games were scheduled to start the supervising committee found stinking toilets and unpainted stadiums and deplorable athlete village? Isnt it interesting that even a senior Indian official compared the whole Commonwealth Games fiasco to Indian weddings where things are chaotic right up till the last moment before miraculously falling in place in the nick of time? Has our Indian psyche trained us to see this whole episode as a “victory from the jaws of defeat” rather than a “last minute frenzy to barely manage to deliver after screwing up all along”. Even in this case, wasnt it passion and a heroic slog by the highly charged team that delivered the win rather than a methodical and systematic process?

Now if I have to weigh both sides and choose which of these two set of qualities – passionate and heroic sloggers vs methodical and process driven marchers, I would lay more emphasis on, I would much rather pick the former. Now I am not talking about these as mutually exclusive traits, but more as the dominant characteristics of the two sides.

Here is the reasons for my choice:

Software product development is inherently unpredictable. While you can do a reasonable job of approximations earlier during the development cycle, hard release dates pretty much “emerge” during the later stages of development. After about 12 years in product development, with 8 of those as a Product Manager, I have very rarely released a product exactly on the planned release date – and I have never felt bad about it. One of the best part of this job is the opportunity to say, “I dont mind if this product is launched a few days later, but I want the wow effect”. There are always last minute changes – enhancement that you want to add for the “wow” effect or a database query optimization that’s going to deliver faster customer response times – that you did not plan for when you wrote the specs 4 months back, but want it now!!!

This is especially true in case of start ups where priorities change fast, demands from a large customer can require you to rejig or do a course correction and you are constantly trying to do more with less resources and shorter time.

With best checks and balances and processes in place, you will still have your share of “2:00 pm on release day with a long pending list” days (the frequency pretty much depends on the pace of your business)…. and on those days, you’re seriously better off with a team that’s willing to go the extra mile than a team that’s dissecting what went wrong with the process or how many times the requirements changed.


A meditator called Rahul Dravid…

Rahul Dravid, one of legends of world Cricket, announced his retirement yesterday. Even though I admire many cricketers, Dravid reserves a special place. It’s mainly because of the way he approached the same and lessons I could learn by looking into cricketing career. For him, being in the cricket ground and playing for India is similar to doing meditation. He did almost anything and everything that the team wanted – batted at different positions (being an opener to batting at seventh),kept wickets, bowled on few occasions, captained the team — even though most of them would put him out of his comfort zone. The sheer joy derived from his ‘uncomfortable zones’ is the key differentiation point for Dravid from other players. While there are definitely a lot of lessons one can learn from Dravid, here are my top three.

Aggression, in his own way: It’s been told that players need to be aggressive to win matches, which is true for Cricket as well. When it comes to Dravid, the definition of aggression takes a different meaning than what we generally perceive. Being a batsman, it’s mainly about competing fiercely against world’s toughest bowlers even in pitches that are favorable to them. Especially test cricket (which I believe is the true form of Cricket) is all about keeping the wicket intact. Dravid played multiple critical knocks in adverse conditions (ex: century scored against WI in 2011 tour) just by staying in at crease, thanks to his sheer concentration. Aggression is not only about taking on bowlers, playing attacking shots, scoring quick runs or sledging. It is also about keeping the wicket intact, beating the bowlers and opposition with patience, making them do mistakes and eventually capitalizing and winning on it, which Dravid successfully demonstrated in multiple occasions. It is not required to hit (or even touch) each and every ball to win test matches. Dravid has faced 31258 balls in his test career which is the highest ever faced by an individual in the history of test cricket, talks a lot about his own definition of aggression and winning test matches.

Continuous improvement: Dravid is definitely not a batting genius like Sachin Tendulkar. He had his own limitations when he started playing One day internationals, some of them being — poor strike rate, not so effective in rotating strike, not a quick scorer, not an entertaining player etc. Over a period of time he continuously and consistently improved on each of his limitations by giving acute focus for improvement areas. This can only happen when an individual admits ‘there are more things to learn and improve. Let me acknowledge and work towards it’, rather than wearing ego in shoulders. It took more than three years (1996-1998) for Dravid to get his career going in ODIs (see picture on the right), but he kept his consistency intact over the years, thanks to his continuous improvement mindset.

Glamor vs. Effective: In order to be effective, result orientation is the key. Unfortunately in India there are many factors that take a player way from the focus. Players are seen as glamor material some even regularly occupy page-3. Dravid remained in his own cocoon by completely keeping away from the glamor game. He was hardly known outside cricket (except few commercials) never been a popular guy, most wanted by media. Often his game is also perceived as boring or not so interesting to watch, but for him it is all about winning matches for India by being as effective as he can. Compared to his greatness he enjoyed relatively less media/press coverage, which talks a lot about the mark of this man. Even his retirement announcement came like a corporate package – No frills, no emotions but job done!

I am so humbled to see a great player sign-off on such a high note. There are definitely many things I can try and learn from this great individual. Hats off – Jammy!

Focus on the effort… as much as the result

A few years back, my team was preparing for a big product release which was widely anticipated across multiple regions of the organization. Many customers had committed that the product would be available on a certain date. One advantage that many Indian companies are grateful for is that IST is almost 13 hours ahead of pacific time (where many of the customers we had promised to were based out of). So, if you had committed delivery on 15th April to the customer, you could deliver it at end of day IST. In fact you could even deliver it before end of day pacific time 🙂

At 2 pm IST on the release date we realized that a few components that would make up the release had not yet converged. I got the entire team into a war room and it was all hands on board. The whiteboard listed out the pending items and were being ticked off as and when things moved ahead. The list at 2:00 pm looked pretty long for comfort. We also put in place a process of hourly updates on the rush towards the release that I as the PM would send out to the functions that were anticipating the release. It was all hands on board and the team was pretty pumped up to do the release that day, Whatever it took. I was convinced that the team would go for it even if it took well past dinner that day, or even after breakfast the next morning!!!!

The activity over the next several hours was pretty hectic and by close to midnight  the hourly updates showed good momentum towards the finish. the next day 2:00 am update announced that it was all ready to ship and the final builds would be available in the next hour or so. But trouble was right around the corner!!!

One critical use case broke minutes after the 2:00 am update I decided that we would not ship it with that bug – we would fix it. The team, weary as they were after more than 17 hours of non stop slogging, was no mood to back out – not after all the effort. We chalked out the plan to fix the stuff. No one from the team had left.

My CEO who was around that day at 2:30 am for some other meeting strolled into the war room and asked, “So, we’re all set???”. I said, “We are not!!! We have identified a critical bug that I would want to release the product with and have turned the release status from GREEN as of 2:00 am to YELLOW sometime back. I’m confident we will fix it in the next hour or so”. I will never forget his response, “AWESOME!!!! Go for it guys” and walked off. I knew he didn’t not mean it sarcastically.

The fixes converged over the next hour or so and we did make the release at 4:45 am (still early afternoon in bay area), but the CEOs response was interesting. No trace of disappointment, no lectures about why things were left to the last minute (even if there were, its best addressed another day). The commitment of the team, right from PM to the newest intern, was good enough for him to be convinced that this set of guys would make it happen.

As the CEO of my earlier company often said, “You cannot assure success… but you can sure deserve it”


Gandhi and strategy of procrastination

Recently I was in a conversation with one of my friends about ‘doing right things at the right time’ in our careers. Interestingly he made a statement ‘Procrastination is also a very important factor. While in some cases procrastination is considered to be a delaying or lazy act, it is important for us to spend quite a lot of time on few critical roles, develop deeper understanding about right things’. Upon pondering deeper I started asking few questions to myself — Can procrastination be a strategic act? If yes, what are the benefits of that? Has anybody done it successfully in the past? Has it yielded significant results? Accidentally I started connecting this thought process with many of the key events happened in Mahatma Gandhi’s life. Let me delve into few historic facts and derive some interpretations.

For most of us, who understand Indian history to a decent extent think Gandhi and his Satyagraha strategy is key behind India getting independence from the British. After being ruled by British for more than a century (by foreign rulers for more than one thousand years), India has become the largest democracy in the world. However very few of us understand the roots of Satyagraha and how Gandhi stumbled upon this strategy. The root of Satyagraha traces back to 1893 when Gandhi, a young barrister from India travels to South Africa being employed by an immigrant Indian to fight a civil case. The same year another very significant incident happened Gandhi’s life, when he was thrown out of the train at Pietermaritzburg station, citing his skin color as the reason. As a shy barrister with so much of self-doubts, Gandhi couldn’t digest this incident. At the same time he didn’t take any immediate decision (say complaining to the local police station) to address this issue. Rather he procrastinated and wanted to understand the deeper aspects of the ‘skin-color’ issue.

Upon deeper discussion with Indian immigrants (who were mainly labor class) in South Africa, Gandhi understood the discrimination issues of fellow Indians. Even though he understood the issues relatively better, he was not sure about launching fight against the British that too in an alien country. The only option left with him was to unite all immigrant Indians (with support of some locals) under one umbrella, device a strategy and then fight against the British. This lead Gandhi to another logical question – How to unite all Indians, who are so different by design? Just by looking into the smaller chunk of immigrant Indians he could clearly see multiple religions (mainly Hindu, Christian and Muslim) and languages (Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Gujarati and Urdu) which differentiated them at elementary level. However Gandhi considered them all to be Indians, taking a lifetime view that ‘Indianness’ transcended religion and caste, before which the concept didn’t even exist in most of the people’s wildest dreams. He believed he could bridge historic differences, especially regarding religion by taking care of the broader ‘Indian’ view. The South African experience also exposed handicaps to Gandhi that he had not known about. He realized he was out of contact with the enormous complexities of religious and cultural life in India, and believed he understood India by getting to know and leading Indians in South Africa.

Gandhi came across multiple such issues and challenges during his stay in South Africa. It took him a long period of 21 years (1893-1914) to systematically strategize, experiment and implement various aspects of Satyagraha. Since his vision was to find out a sustainable yet effective fighting mechanism with diversified set of people (as mentioned above), he felt nothing other than taking the non-violent approach could help. Before taking every small step, Gandhi deliberated a lot, internalized many key points and then went ahead executing them. For most of them it looked like Gandhi was wasting his time (rather procrastinating) by not taking a few critical decisions on time. However, over a period of time the Satyagraha strategy manifested as a mammoth civil rights moment in South Africa, which made the all the difference to immigrant Indians.

In summary it took 21 years for Gandhi to find out the ‘right thing’ for Indians where he developed his political views, ethics and political leadership skills which were critical for him to re-build Indian National Congress from the scratch back in India. After returning back to India in 1915, he implemented the same approach which eventually resulted in Indian independence in 1947. In total Gandhi spent 53 years for Satyagraha, which almost occupied his whole life. By looking into Gandhi’s life and his political struggle clearly indicates me that what is perceived as procrastination from many of us, can very well be a powerful strategy. The very fact that India exists as a single piece, in spite of so many issues talks the power of Satyagraha’s effectiveness.

Fill = 200 INR, Bill = 2000 INR

Let us talk about Integrity – by taking couple of recent examples that I came across.

Scene1: Fill = 200 INR, Bill = 2000 INR

After a long break, I have started driving my two-wheeler to work. One of the indirect benefits of driving motorcycle (apart from saving time in Bangalore traffic) is the opportunity I get to observe people and some interesting conversations among them.

Last evening I was pulling into fuel filling station as my vehicle was in reserve mode.  Unlike normal days, I need to wait in queue. The gentleman before me was getting little restless and I understood he works for one of the multinational companies (now let us call him Mr. MNC) by looking into the access card and laptop make (clue – both were having name).  The queue did move in few minutes, incidentally I happened to observe the conversation between Mr. MNC and pump worker who fills the fuel.  Mr. MNC filled petrol for 200 INR (for his Honda Activa) and started negotiating with the worker to provide him with a bill of INR 2000. He also requested him to provide a bill without mentioning date of sale and insisted to write it as “Diesel”, even though he was filling “Petrol”, that too for 1/10 of the bill amount.

After getting the “fake” bill from the worker, Mr.MNC gave him 100 INR as a tip and quickly drove out of the station. Initially I was little puzzled but understood what Mr. MNC was trying to do – produce fake bill and claim tax or perquisite benefit from the organization.

Scene2:  Core technical books for LKG kid

We have been purchasing lot of books for my little one in order to develop healthy reading habit. One fine day my dear wife asked me an interesting question “I heard from our neighborhood friend that her hubby’s company reimburses books purchased for kids. Not sure if your organization provides such facility. Since we are spending quite a lot for our little one, won’t it be cool if somebody reimburses that?” Again I was puzzled for a minute and gave her a simple answer “Let me check this and come back”. I was pretty sure there is no such benefits provided by my organization, but I wanted to be double sure as I don’t want miss on any benefits that I am entitled for J

After going thru the organizational tax claim policies, I couldn’t find anything related to books purchased for kids. However I was able to find a related item, where money spent against purchasing technical books and journals can be exempted from tax by producing bills to my organization.  I updated my wife back about tax claim policy and asked her to check again how our neighborhood friend is able to claim the money. Kicked by curiosity, my wife checked with her friend and the answer she gave me was really shocking. Her friend’s husband’s company also have the same policy (i.e. reimbursing technical books), however she has stuck a deal with nearby book store (as they are regular customer) that they will provide a fake bill with some technical books names, even though they purchase LKG books. Here you go – another form of Mr. MNC!

Even though these two cases might look small, they expose a huge underlying issue related to integrity. Given a smallest amount of opportunity even educated, well paid knowledge workers are ready to compromise their integrity even though the financial benefit (gained in form of tax exemption or perquisite) could be merely in thousands of INR. Of course, one can put a counter argument saying the whole country is corrupt (means billions of people with no integrity), what’s harm in me doing some small things like this? In my opinion somebody “else” is doing wrong is not a passport for “me” to do the same, when I have all the choice to do the right thing. When it comes to integrity there is no argument of “small or big”, rather it’s the matter of “exist or doesn’t exist”.

The objective of me writing this post is not to say somebody is doing something wrong, but to expose a new dimension of a well rooted problem. In most of the cases, every software professional gets an opportunity to travel abroad (to developed countries) and appreciate basic things working in a corruption free manner. However when it comes to our own country, we don’t seem to appreciate it and become the wrong example by doing activities mentioned in the above two stories.

Clearly the core issue neither money nor desperation. It is done consciously with 0% guilt associated with it. On multiple occasions I have seen people producing fake medical bills, house rent allowance receipts, resumes with fake experience, claiming the role that an individual actually not done etc. These things definitely provide short term benefit but how it can be sustained over a period of time? After globalization there are umpteen numbers of knowledge workers (who earn a lot in a comparative scale) but end up doing basic things incorrectly. In my opinion India has a long way to go to build world class professionals. Especially when such fundamental issues are there it is really hard to call ourselves as world class. What better way to bring in change than by setting the right example? Let us not worry about our corrupt politicians or bureaucrats. Let us do right things to have a better next generation professionals.