Visiting India is always an interesting experience no matter how frequently one travels there. My first trip to Bangalore was almost 40 years back, as a summer trainee during my undergraduate years. Now the same city looks so different! Concrete jungle is everywhere and the long ride from the airport is a reminder of the growth also. On the flight from London, the Indian gentleman next to me lives in Tampa, but travels to India every 3 months. He runs an empire of Indian companies (distillery, hospitality,..) worth Rupees 6000 Million ($120 Million) with over four thousand employees.
The American lady sitting next to me on the flight back to London says she is with Ernst and Young and will move to Bangalore in January for two years. She grew up in the mid-west and currently lives in Dallas. She will move there with her dog. The rental apartment charges Rs.80,000 per month ($1600) which is exorbitant and higher for foreigners, something I fail to understand. The rental does not include any appliances nor utilities which means it will cost her more than $2000 per month. But she was looking forward to her two years in the E&Y’s Bangalore office. India seems so expensive these days, gone are the cost advantage of hiring programming skills. The ratio used to be 4:1 (four programmers for the cost of one in USA). Now it will be less than 2:1, more like 1.5:1.
I saw iPads and iPhones all over the place. Free wi-fi in hotels is expected and service is quite good. In Bangalore the USA does not feel far. Anyone you see at work, travels frequently to US and Europe. IBM India has over 100,000 employees, more than the number in the USA. During my IBM years in Canada and USA, the company had left India (due to its archaic rule of majority ownership by a local company), subsequently started operating the India business out of Singapore. After the 1991 change of policy, IBM re-entered India and has been growing ever since. Even there is an IBM research unit in New Delhi. Oracle started its India operations in 1993 and has big off-shore development groups in Hyderabad.
I had breakfast with a friend who had moved to Bangalore from the bay area two years back. He complained about small day-to-day hassles of living in that city such as – getting a broadband line at home, or getting a credit card at a local bank. These activities which are simple and straightforward in the US, are non-trivial tasks there. Wherever the government bureaucracy gets involved, inefficiency rises quickly. India continues to struggle between the march towards modernity vs the pullback by the old-school politicians and the bureaucrats. My friend plans to head back to the bay area in a year or two.
Getting top-quality skills are as hard there as it is here. The state of Andhra Pradesh produces 200,000 engineers per year, but only 15% get employment. The quality is really bad. It’s mass production without depth of knowledge. Some of these youngsters are without jobs for two years after graduation. There seems to be a general slowdown in hiring. The well known services companies are facing a hard time with growth. The start-up culture is quite feeble compared to what we see here in Silicon Valley. Some friends were not very complimentary in their comments on the local VC’s and their attitude towards funding early-stage product companies.
Still there was lots of interest in the latest trends – cloud computing, big data, and mobility. As the technology and IT world shifts, India seems slow to adopt to changing trends. Young engineers still pay big money to get SAP, Oracle and Java training. Terms like Hadoop, Dremmel, Pregel, Cassandra, Twitter Storm, etc. are unfamiliar to the local techie conversation. Given the trend towards cloud applications such as Workday, the need for customization and services will be much less (Workday claims an 80% reduction in services cost). Hence the future of many Indian services companies will have to change towards a different value proposition as well.
India will continue to fascinate as always. A land of paradoxes with quick adaptability.