Software Engineers or Coders from Times of India

Started by Private User on Friday, April 23, 2010

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Private User
4/23/2010 at 4:04 AM

The following is an article from Times of India. Interesting view by the
author of this article.

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
Bangalore. 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 geographies.
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 Nagpur. 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.

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