I came across this very old but interesting post about the state of the so called ‘Indian Programmers’ in The times of India website.
A myth called the Indian programmer
They are the poster boys of matrimonial classifieds. They are paid
handsomely, perceived to be intelligent and travel abroad frequently.
Single-handedly, they brought purpose to the otherwise sleepy city of
Indian software engineers are today the face of a third-world rebellion.
But what exactly do they do? That’s a disturbing question. Last week,
during the annual fair of the software industry’s apex body Nasscom, no
one uttered a word about India’s programmers.
The event, which brought together software professionals from around the
world, used up all its 29 sessions to discuss prospects to improve the
performance of software companies. Panels chose to debate extensively on
subjects like managing innovation, business growth and multiple
But there was nothing on programmers, who you would imagine are the
driving force behind the success of the Indian software companies.
Perhaps you imagined wrong. “It is an explosive truth that local
software companies won’t accept.
Most software professionals in India are not programmers, they are mere
coders,” says a senior executive from a global consultancy firm, who has
helped Nasscom in researching its industry reports.
In industry parlance, coders are akin to smart assembly line workers as
opposed to programmers who are plant engineers. Programmers are the
brains, the glorious visionaries who create things. Large software
programmes that often run into billions of lines are designed and
developed by a handful of programmers.
Coders follow instructions to write, evaluate and test small components
of the large program. As a computer science student in IIT Mumbai puts
it if programming requires a post graduate level of knowledge of complex
algorithms and programming methods, coding requires only high school
knowledge of the subject.
Coding is also the grime job. It is repetitive and monotonous. Coders
know that. They feel stuck in their jobs. They have fallen into the trap
of the software hype and now realise that though their status is
glorified in the society, intellectually they are stranded.
Companies do not offer them stock options anymore and their salaries are
not growing at the spectacular rates at which they did a few years ago.
“There is nothing new to learn from the job I am doing in Pune. I could
have done it with some training even after passing high school,” says a
25-year-old who joined Infosys after finishing his engineering course in
A Microsoft analyst says, “Like our manufacturing industry, the Indian
software industry is largely a process driven one. That should speak for
the fact that we still don’t have a domestic software product like Yahoo
or Google to use in our daily lives.”
IIT graduates have consciously shunned India’s best known companies like
Infosys and TCS, though they offered very attractive salaries. Last
year, from IIT Powai, the top three Indian IT companies got just 10
students out of the 574 who passed out.
The best computer science students prefer to join companies like Google
and Trilogy. Krishna Prasad from the College of Engineering, Guindy,
Chennai, who did not bite Infosys’ offer, says, “The entrance test to
join TCS is a joke compared to the one in Trilogy. That speaks of what
the Indian firms are looking for.”
A senior TCS executive, who requested anonymity, admitted that the
perception of coders is changing even within the company. It is a gloomy
outlook. He believes it has a lot to do with business dynamics.
The executive, a programmer for two decades, says that in the late ’70s
and early ’80s, software drew a motley set of professionals from all
kinds of fields.
In the mid-’90s, as onsite projects increased dramatically, software
companies started picking all the engineers they could as the US
authorities granted visas only to graduates who had four years of
education after high school.
“After Y2K, as American companies discovered India’s cheap software
professionals, the demand for engineers shot up,” the executive says.
Most of these engineers were coders. They were almost identical workers
who sat long hours to write line after line of codes, or test a fraction
of a programme.
They did not complain because their pay and perks were good. Now, the
demand for coding has diminished, and there is a churning.
Over the years, due to the improved communication networks and increased
reliability of Indian firms, projects that required a worker to be at a
client’s site, say in America, are dwindling in number. And with it the
need for engineers who have four years of education after high school.
Graduates from non-professional courses, companies know, can do the
engineer’s job equally well. Also, over the years, as Indian companies
have already coded for many common applications like banking, insurance
and accounting, they have created libraries of code which they reuse.
Top software companies have now started recruiting science graduates who
will be trained alongside engineers and deployed in the same projects.
The CEO of India’s largest software company TCS, S Ramadorai, had
earlier explained, “The core programming still requires technical skills.
But, there are other jobs we found that can be done by graduates.”
NIIT’s Arvind Thakur says, “We have always maintained that it is the
aptitude and not qualifications that is vital for programming. In fact,
there are cases where graduate programmers have done better than the
ones from the engineering stream.”
Software engineers, are increasingly getting dejected. Sachin Rao, one
of the coders stuck in the routine of a job that does not excite him
anymore, has been toying with the idea of moving out of Infosys but
cannot find a different kind of “break”, given his coding experience.
He sums up his plight by vaguely recollecting a story in which thousands
of caterpillars keep climbing a wall, the height of which they don’t
know. They clamber over each other, fall, start again, but keep
climbing. They don’t know that they can eventually fly.
Rao cannot remember how the story ends but feels the coders of India
today are like the caterpillars who plod their way through while there
are more spectacular ways of reaching the various destinations of life.