Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Smart Skills
Log on to future in software
Usha Albuquerque

A click gets us the information we need, a few more and we have a report written or a memo faxed. Don’t bother to go shopping, the computer will do it for you. Forgot your boyfriend’s birthday – not to worry, the computer will remind you. Buying a plane ticket, making a hotel reservation, finding out about the latest music video – check the Internet.

How did we manage without the computer?

With the increase in the range of functions of a computer, has come the increasing need for trained people to provide it with the necessary inputs, both technical and informational. Indian software engineers have made a mark in India and abroad and it is for this reason that the software industry has been registering a growth of 40 per cent a year. Many companies are involved in exporting software, which is today almost the highest export earner, while multinationals like Microsoft, Motorola, IBM, Texas Instruments, Siemens and Sun Microsystems are setting up facilities in India, as India produces about 20,000 computer science graduates every year.

Moreover, with the expansion of satellite links, the country is preferred for software development jobs. This is because companies in the USA can e-mail their requirements to India, in the evening, and engineers in India work on their problems and e-mail back the solutions as the offices open in America the next day.

With this kind of growth, it is not surprising that software development is the fastest growing sector and will be requiring around 2 lakh professionals over the next five years.

Work wise

There are two main kinds of jobs in computer software: Manufacture and Software Development.

Manufacture involves systems programming to enable the computer to work. It combines the application of computer science and telecommunication principles with creativity, high technology expertise and analytical reasoning.

Software development: Existing operations are developed by updating, improving and refining them, or new programmes are evolved for general use in the future. This involves the procedures of analysis, design, construction, and implementation.

Software is a set of programmed instructions that enable a computer to perform specified functions.


Software development is, therefore, a continuous process that requires additions and modifications of programmes for computers that enable them to handle a variety of jobs according to our changing needs. These include:

Systems software: Programmes that control the computer’s mode of operation.

Applications software: User-friendly programmes specially devised to comply with a customer’s specific needs, or the day-to-day activities of an organisation.

Application packages are general usage programmes, such as those that allow us to do complicated calculations, or write reports, make presentations, draw, etc.

There are so many different jobs and applications for the computer that anyone with an interest and aptitude for handling a computer can make a career in computer software.

At the higher end, there are the software engineers qualified in computer/ IT or electronics engineering, or Masters in Computer Applications (MCA), but even if you are a science or commerce graduate, a career in software can still be pursued, through training in a particular language or application process, available at hundreds of computer training institutes around the country.

So, for design/software engineering: A degree in electronics/computer engineering is required.

For applications programmers: graduation in any discipline and proficiency in various computer programmes and languages, including, Java, COBOL, C, C++, FORTRAN, ALGOL, and other languages.

For systems analysts: A graduates degree, combined with knowledge about various systems and prevailing trends in the industry, apart from a number computer languages and programmes.

Training talk

The software engineering courses, and the BCA and MCA programmes are offered by engineering colleges and universities. There are also private institutes like the NIIT, Aptech, Tata Unisys, and so on that offer a variety of programmes. The best way to judge the credentials of an institute is to check its accreditation by the Department of Electronics (DOE-ACC). The DOEACC-accredited courses are available at different levels from ‘O’ and ‘A’ level to advanced courses at “B” and “C” levels

There are also courses conducted by authorised training partners of software multi-nationals like IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Lotus and so on, that provide good alternatives. These courses are followed up by certification exams which are recognised worldwide.

Many young people get drawn to a career in computers by the promise of high salaries and good career growth. But you must keep in mind that an ability to surf the Net and send email does not establish computer skills. For a career in software, you need, intelligence and logical thinking; interest in high technology, and the power of deep and sustained concentration. A quick way to assess one’s aptitude is to see whether one can make flow charts and write small computer programmes. Many people simply do not have this knack. You also need to have skills in numeracy, imagination, patience and persistence and the ability to sit for long hours at a computer terminal. If you are an extrovert, a software job is not for you, unless it is in the area of marketing.

Placement prospects

Software professionals mainly get jobs with software design houses, handling software systems and applications and in development of software. Many are involved in customising the data and facilitating the use of software in managing the flow of data. Opportunities for work exist within a wide range of computer companies as well user organisations. These could include banks, insurance and telecommunication firms to small consultancies and software companies. As the quality of Indian computer professionals is being recognised the world over, a large number are also getting assignments abroad to work on projects overseas, or with computer companies.

So, whether it is Infosys or Wipro, Microsoft or Sun Microsystems, there will continue to be a need for computer professionals for many more years to come. If you plan to get into computer software, start with maths in school.

The writer is a noted career expert