One thing that strikes me in my conversations with the bright young generation of college students and fresh graduates in family gatherings, at the French class etc, is the narrowness of their goals. For example I was talking to my niece who is in her 5th semester Comp Sc. in a very good engineering college and was shocked to find that she chose to limit her life to a job in an IT company, with a starting pay of around 20K, had no plans for further studies, because she felt that her basic B.E. in computer science was “enough” to get her a job in a reputed IT company.
Here’s a young person who is smart, has tremendous potential and has no pressures to start earning immediately. Should she not be setting her goals higher or even hitching her wagon to a star? What was disconcerting was not her attitude but the realisation that she is perhaps representing the majority of undergraduate students in India. There is so much pressure throughout their schooling, that students don’t want to study any more at the slightest given opportunity, especially when they can land a job that guarantees a “good life’. Additionally the system has nothing better to offer them as an incentive for further studies - all the job opportunities they have are in the IT companies, where they get sucked in 9 to 9 in a job that gets monotonous after 2 years of initial euphoria ( for most) and leaves them no time for any other pursuits. But most are stuck there for there is no ”greener” pasture – it is all the same in all companies, give or take a few thousands. There is ample compensation in terms of money, foreign travel and associated dollar income but is their full potential being utilized?
India is blessed with a rich base of human capital, but the system is merely blunting the potential of college students and causing them to burn out by their middle age. Companies hijack them from campuses ( one company has offered jobs for all the 1st semester students in Anna Engineering college, another recruits 100 per year from each reputed engineering college). There could have been some brilliant inventors, scientists, teachers and authors among them, but it seems that today the system wants only engineers and programmers . I think the ad for GNIIT shows this brilliantly – well dressed HR folks of IT company waiting at street corners to grab an unsuspecting guy with a GNIIT certificate – 600000 IT jobs and not enough GNIITians to fill them!!!
For years, degree colleges offering pure science courses have had few takers and even the paltry few who join are mainly those who haven’t got an engineering or medical seat. People prefer to get an engineering degree from a mediocre college than a science degree from a reputed one. Who is going to teach science to the next generation? Who is going to carry on research work in our prestigious laboratories? More engineers? Doctors with five years experience are still earning about 15 k while a raw engineer starts at 20 k plus and other benefits. Why blame the kids when the system is bad? IT companies are able to give the young people the motivation in terms of a huge purchasing power and promise of a good life – even if there is nothing beyond it that is still enough compensation for the individuals. But can the system sustain on this lopsided growth – do we plan to become so rich like the gulf nations or some of the western nations which are able to attract immigrants to do other jobs?
And what about the engineers themselves – they are some of the best talented kids of the country. Are they satisfied to be mere software clerks or as a magazine called them -“IT coolies” ?( of course it was talking about the hordes of warm bodies that were being shipped outdoing the Y2K. I am sure it happens for other projects now.). Do these young people know where they want to be 10 years , 20 years, 30 years from now – apart from a lakhpati, crorepati. Are they happy with that vision?

Adelbert Chamisso has written a touching story about Peter Schlemihl, a man who is lured by the devil to sell him his shadow in exchange for a purse which would give him unlimited supply of gold. Soon after he realises that he is a non person without his shadow, which all the gold at his disposal cannot buy back. The shadow is an image of one’s real person, a constant reminder to be in touch with oneself and not lose it. Perhaps that is why most IT jobs ensure that their young employees do not see the Sun or their shadows!
9 Responses
  1. Shashi Iyer Says:

    a really good post...
    most people in the IT industry prefer to retire at 40!
    i guess one does realise that an IT job is a compromise he goes in for... not a good one though, i must admit.

  2. Paavai Says:

    good post Usha, you may want to read my post on knowledge and cash

  3. Anonymous Says:

    First timer here. Nice one. Yes I think IT and quick money is causing a bit a brain drain in lot of areas. IT has lured all people including those in Chemical engineering and Metallurgy.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Good one Asha.. i was really looking for a getaway answer at the end of ur blog.. but sadly couldnt find any.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Simple explanation. Maslow's heirarchy (sometimes called Maslow's Pyramid) of Needs.
    At the bottom are biological needs- food, sleep, sex, shelter. Only when these are fulfilled does the organism aspire to the next level- security needs- thinking about tomorrow, saving for a rainy day etc. When these are successfully traversed, the organism looks for Love/Belonging- emotionally based relationships, the need for acceptance, hankering after "belonging" clubs, societies, nations, communities.
    Next; Esteem needs- respect and recognition. Wanting to be applauded.

    Only when all these levels are met and transcended does an individual approach the apex: self-actualization needs. The drive to "be all u can be". According to Maslow, A musician must make music, the artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualisation. (Motivation and Personality, 1954.)
    Maslow writes of self-actualizing people that:

    They embrace the facts and realities of the world (including themselves) rather than denying or avoiding them.
    They are spontaneous in their ideas and actions.
    They are creative.
    They are interested in solving problems; this often includes the problems of others. Solving these problems is often a key focus in their lives.
    They feel a closeness to other people, and generally appreciate life.
    They have a system of morality that is fully internalized and independent of external authority.
    They judge others without prejudice, in a way that can be termed objective.

    .......And then the ultimate: Self-transcendence.
    Self-transcendence refers to connecting to something beyond the ego or to help others find self-fulfillment and realize their potential.

    Although Maslow tentatively placed transcendence at the top of his hierarchy, this element has been discounted by most modern psychologists because they feel it really belongs in the domain of religious belief.

    In a society where parents ride their kids to achieve at all costs, and achievement is measured by how much more our son is earning than that brat of the snooty Aggarwals next door, the youngsters are stuck at the security/esteem needs level- sole indicator of which is their monthly paycheque.

    lets not pretend to be understanding and forgiving for these idiots, untainted by intelligence or imagination as they are. hell, lets just be snooty as hell and declare that even if they knew how to actually spell self-actualization, they'd still be competing over the same shallow criteria

  6. Usha Says:

    Sashi, IT jobs may be a compromise but not a bad deal - the compensations are good. It is the system that loses the creme de la creme to just one sector, most of which caters to foreign companies.

    Paavai, I read the post. It is true that the system no longer encourages pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

    Dubukku, exactly my point.

    Vikram, perhaps one solution could be to build in a lot of incentives to make other sectors equally attractive. Who is going to bear the costs is the question.

    Abhilash, very interesting insights as usual. I completely understand the motivation for the young whiz kids. I was only talking about the long term effects of this on the system - The system has created this self destructive shift toward one field of knowledge and where is this going to see us 50 years down the line? As some body said, the job market dictates the educational preference of most young people around the world; In india the American job market decides it. So is n't it time we think of the needs of our job market too in stead of letting the majority of the bright ones move to one area to serve the needs of other countries?

  7. Anonymous Says:

    So the GNIIT commercial says that there are 60000 IT jobs & not enough GNIITians. Contrast this to Gartner which says that India will lose 47% of it Outsoursing revenues (IT & ITES) by 2007. Reason: Wages are becoming too high, & lack of infrastructure. Businesses are cyclical, & the real challenge is to continue to be relevant not because of this cyclicity (is there such a word?) but in spite of it.

    The IT industry is young in India, & the world in general as far as Application Development is concerned. There are no established process/delivery/development models. The markets for the products are elsewhere - one reason why "high end design" work is not done here, there are no solid metrics defined & it is difficult to change what you cannot measure. One of the reasons that IT seems more clerical than it really is our own lack of understanding of the many dynamics involved in running a software business. Writing code is a part of it, & believe me, writing quality code that keeps up with the business is difficult. Balancing out volume, cost & quality is a challenge that faces the IT idustry just as any other. We need smart, intelligent people in this business.

    Goals, imagination & the like have
    always been outliers - these have always been personal & have never had much to do with a given business booming at a time. I think on the average today's 20 year olds are not particularly better or worse compared to yesterday's, it is just that they have more information at their disposal on the average.

    Everything we do has its own challenges; so the next time you meet an IT person, ask her if she could solve "Towers of Hanoi" at the first go; & if she says she has, just stand back & admire!


  8. Usha Says:

    Aha, captain!! back from hiding and what an entry!!!
    Very valuable insights as usual. Thanks for your indulgence and valuable time on the thoughts of an insignificant lieutenant!!!
    Tower of hanoi - impressive indeed!! I am already standing back in admiration.

  9. Hip Grandma Says:

    brilliantly written.i've given this a thought.i'll think again.that's a promise.