I've a dirty schadenfreude about the recent wave of job losses and office closures that are being reported in the IT/ITES industry as, to start with, I never really thought of software engineers as engineers at all ;) I realize it's a really unpleasant situation, and I pity those who've been retrenched as afterall who'd get pleasure by seeing someone jobless? However, small happenings like these bring with them a sense of perverted justice coming to people like me. I may regret it.
Snide remark: while core or traditional engineering (Civil, Mechanical, Chemical, Electrical) grads were always fated to sweat it in the unforgiving outdoors, greasy shop floors or steamy plants, our Comp Sc./IT siblings enjoyed a mollycoddled, solitary, hindrance free devotion to a glorified abacus cum typewriter. Being rarely exposed to the elements, they can be credited to bringing the "soft" back in software.
Recap: by smartly leveraging relatively cheap/er, English educated, English speaking (debatable proficiency), technical Indian workforce our IT giants who began by offering low cost solutions to MNCs quickly expanded their global footprint and widened, out of necessity, their employee base thereby stunting the brain drain. Soon, a swarm of NRIs, who largely emigrated to the US to solve the Y2K bug never to return, joined the Indian IT bandwagon and we soon had a plethora of IT start-ups ala Mom and Pop stores around the corner. And as they began to be flooded with assignments, these companies began to over-plan and over-hire in anticipation of more orders. Overwhelmed with campus hires, pre-placement offers and lateral entries technical/educational institutions and recruitment agencies made a killing. Pay-scales offered at entry stages were far higher than what graduates from other specializations could obtain and the compensation at higher levels was unimaginable for non IT folk at the time. Engineering graduates from other specializations were also encouraged to join in and trained from scratch to become consultants. Consultants were posted to cozy "site" postings (client side) which were usually abroad, at client offices, as an incentive thanks to liberal work visas (e.g. H1B) in pre-protectionist Europe and North America. IT thus also became an easy access pass to a dream emigration.
- The emergence of a vast army of idle employees "on the bench" wasting time while waiting for the next big opportunity where they can be plotted. Employees eventually spent months and years at end idling and leaving their skills wasted. The latest bout of retrenchment may actually be that companies are now realizing
- The opportunistic emigration by exploiting work permit norms and obtaining residency many an Indian employee found himself joining the band of the nouveau riche. Their eventual ascension, at least back home in India, on the social ladder now meant that they were prized and much sought-after potential bridegrooms who commanded a hefty dowry from pliant families who wished to "handover" their daughters to an NRI and claim bragging rights. Warm regards, Gultis :D
- My primary grouse is that because everyone was drawn to IT, a shortage of core engg. graduates ensued. Many engineers, frustrated with their tough working conditions, were found spending money and enrolling for classes on a programming language or two to make it to the IT corporations.
Gripe: The sheer nature, though, of the IT business that evolved over this period invariably meant that these companies served foreign clients spread across the world and rarely within the country. This brought in precious FDI for the Government but did little help as far as Indian public sector or the public at large was concerned. IT cos barely contributed substantial for their own countrymen whereas core engg. professionals built roads, buildings, tunnels, aeroplanes, furnaces, boilers and what-have-yous. While the IT guy always welcome the site sojourns the core guy, on the other hand, dreaded site postings and only prayed that if he is transferred to another site at least it be closer to his home. One word, two perceptions.
Point: Some industries grow faster than others. IT grew, and how!, but lead to a skewed workforce. Corporate India seriously needs to have a re-look at how traditional engineers are being perceived, treated and compensated. They toil hard and in sometimes unforgiving conditions in the face of steep targets. Closing the gap with IT engineers should be a priority. Effort and skill across sectors needs to be weighed evenly and the difference in wages needs to be brought down. Even getting your salary on time is a luxury in the construction industry since the past five years! The Government needs to seriously encourage construction and capital projects in general and do its part to ensure that some engineers don't suffer low wages just because of market forces, demand and supply. Every graduate needs to be given the opportunity within the country to live a life other technical graduates do.
P.S: I need to counter some of my own points
- I concede that the IT industry did have an indirect impact by being an infrastructure 'attractor' as physical assets were and are being built to facilitate IT entrepreneurship through exclusive SEZs and development of mass transportation, ring roads, etc.
- The point on Indians not benefiting is now gradually changing as more indigenous companies benefit from our IT expertise and more e-governance initiatives are undertaken.
- My point about being 'on the bench' applied to almost every sector and not just IT but I've found it more prevalent among IT cos.
- I know the indispensability of IT in today's world, nowhere am I calling for it to be shutdown or undervalued.
- Core engineers draw very good salaries abroad, especially in the Gulf and Africa, but my point is that they shouldn't need to venture out for a good living.