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Monday, September 9, 2002

Make IT more realistic
Roopinder Singh

INDIA has done a lot but it needs to do more if it has to compete with the rest of the Asian giants and consolidate its position in the world market. Even as the downswing in IT continues, many are still bullish about the contribution that India and Indians can make. In fact, the Asia-Pacific region showed the largest sales of computer microprocessors for Intel worldwide and the largest sale was for the high-end Pentium 4 chips.

What's hot in IT

  • Programming.

  • Call Centre training courses.

  • Business Process Outsourcing.

  • Networking.

  • Graphics, design & animation.

  • Games development.

As the Intel CEO, Dr Craig Barrett, said in Delhi last week, India must build a strong computing and communications infrastructure and invest in a strong educational foundation so that we have a skilled workforce that can compete worldwide.

If you thought we already have many skilled IT workers, you are both right and wrong. We have skilled workers, but according to a recent Nasscom study there is expected to be a shortage of nearly 5,30,000 IT professionals in India alone over the next four years. The need actually is for quality persons, not just someone who wants to take on computers just because they are ‘cool’ or are looking for a way of making money.

"Go into IT if you are genuinely interested in it," Hotmail founder Sabeer Bhatia had said in an interview with this writer some time ago, "if you genuinely like to program, if you genuinely like mathematics and engineering and science. If you don't have the aptitude, don't try to do something that is not your core competence. In India I see a lot of programmers who are programmers because it is a way out of poverty. And those persons are not going to do well; the system is going to throw them out."

Quality oriented

What India needs to do is to go in for quality. A fundamental change that has taken place now is that people are not going to get jobs unless they are well qualified and well suited for the job. Gone forever are the days of a kind of boom that we had earlier in which it seemed that almost anyone who could handle a mouse and a keyboard was on his or her way to untold riches.

IT has gone through a typical situation scenario that most new industries go through. The revolution was started by enabling technologies that improved efficiency and this was followed by irrational exuberance that was fuelled by the hype around IT. Now we have gone through a trough of turbulence in the market, which has lead to a reorganisation and reorientation. What we should be looking forward to now is sustained growth brought about by realistic expectations.

There now are also realistic expectations regarding the kind of persons who should be in IT. As Fred Ebrahimi, CEO of Quark, the maker of publishing software QuarkXpress that has an almost monopolist hold over the market, said: "People shouldn’t become software developers unless they really love this, and unless they have tremendous caring…. In software you want to please the customer. What you should be doing is developing absolutely the best you can for the customer."


Along with better quality of education there is a strong need for continued expansion of infrastructure. There is increased need for more bandwidth. According to analysts, the Internet is scheduled to grow at a tremendous rate. In his address, Dr Barrett quoted the following figures pertaining to 2001 and the projected worldwide growth in 2006: the Internet users will grow from 50 crore to 100 crore. From 60 crore Internet devices in 2001, there would be 200 crore devices. Even e-commerce transactions would rise from 600 crore in 2001 to 6.5 trillion.

Because of the lack of telecommunications facilities, which still lag behind even those of other Asian countries, we have a tremendous bandwidth crunch. This hits the students, as well as other users.

As companies here move up the value chain from software sub-contracting to providing consultations and solutions for design, and further to creation of products and services, they well need infrastructure. The government also has a role in not only ensuring the right environment but in also lowering the tariffs on IT products.

Realistic approach

Dr Barrett envisages a world of knowledge economies which are not dependent on low wages in the IT sector but the ability to deliver ideas, communications and decisions for various other industries and institutions. This presupposes the need to have Net access for everyone anytime, anywhere.

The Internet will be the hub of commerce, communications and information. Soon this will involve rich digital media—doctors conferring with other doctors at diverse locations, networked real time 3D modelling and so on.

The challenge lies in making IT realistic and user-friendly. For this Indian software engineers will have countless opportunities. Even Intel is hiring new engineers, so is Quark, so are many others. There is a future in IT—you just have to be good and committed enough.

A major problem highlighted at the meet was the lack of manufacturing facilities in India. Barrett said that India does not compare favourably with China, or even with some other Asian nations. Intel has a checklist of 100 items including road and air transport, quality of water and electricity and ability to support facilities, and India fares poorly in that. Thus a lot of engineering and designing takes place in India, for hardware manufacturing, IT majors tend to go to other shores. This is where more efforts are needed.