Thoughts from my India Visit – Careers

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent a month in India recently (August, 2008) before coming to Shanghai to join Microsoft here. I commented on the education system and related aspects that I observed. In this post, I will talk about my observations on working professionals and how careers are moving (or not). Please keep in mind that my thoughts and observations are based on talking to a few friends and relatives I met during my visits and by absorbing what media had to offer (newspapers and TV channels). While this is not a comprehensive analysis, I tried to be as objective and as broad as possible in my discussions, so hopefully you will get a good flavor.

Things that are still the same as they were couple years back:

  1. You are still treated as a resource if you work in the well-known consulting companies in India. So being on bench is still common, getting assigned to work unrelated to your expertise or training is common too, and signing retention bonds with freshers is still around. Even with all the talk of talent acquisition being difficult and retention being an issue, most companies do not have any talent management or development program in place.
  2. Career Management in India still seems mysterious to me: I met someone who insisted on staying in the same job even though everything indicated a change, I met someone who insisted on changing the job on every salary increase potential, irrespective of time spent in the current job, and the ‘happy campers’ who are too happy and settled in their current role to even think whether they are getting what they want!

However, there were many things different:

  1. The talk of layoff, some true and some rumored, have been very loud, which is unusual (see a recent article). Indian IT companies routinely keep engineers on bench, and are always the soft target for layoffs. It will be interesting to see if this will be a more regular phenomenon or a typical knee-jerk reaction due to softening US economy. Having a large bench strength is not a sustainable option in a competitive economy, so it is a matter of time when this has to give way to sub-contracting or in-sourcing in India which will benefit mid-level IT and consulting companies. Its time may not have come yet.
  2. Salary increases are going down, which is difficult to digest for some folks. This was inevitable, even though there are many factors to blame (US economy comes to mind immediately), and people are still not internalizing the fact that cost advantage that drove business to India is slipping away with every major salary increase because the value proposition of these ‘resources’ is not increasing proportionately (read this for a more articulated post on the topic).
  3. Many people talked about doing something for society, much more than what I have heard before. Is it because my peer group is becoming more affluent, or because people now genuinely care about the issues they see around them and now have means to do something about them.
  4. Even though I couldn’t figure out the mysteries of career management in India, I was happy to see that most of the people I met were enthusiastic when talking about the need to manage one’s career and the fact that it is a hard but important thing to tackle. They were willing to share their ideas and happy to listen to my thoughts on the subject!

One of the barometer of careers has been the job ad supplement in Times of India (called Ascent, which is a weekly supplement), and I did feel it losing some of its fizz; there were the regular ads of Infosys and Google Adwords and stuff, but they were not as full of cutting-edge technology and IT companies’ ad as I remembered from past.

Now that I am reasonably settled down in Shanghai, I hope to post more regularly here. Stay tuned!

PS: I did miss my Wall Street Journal (and continue to miss in Shanghai), though Mint (with its tie-up with WSJ) came quite close to fill the gap. I had my usual dose of a crappy hindi movie (Bachna Ae Haseeno) and a great one (Rock On)!

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