Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Time for the consultants?

When the Indian IT hiring scene is as bad as it is today, it's time to sit back and think. Why is it so difficult to find people?

Demand and supply, you say. There's few people who really understand coding and these people are hugely in demand. That demand has encouraged those that didn't really care enough about programming to enter the fray; and it might sound extremely arrogant of me to say, but we Indians seem to revel in doing things we don't really care deeply about.

From Arranged marriages [1]to Higher Education, Indians seem to prefer to "study whatever is fashionable for the job market", rather than following their heart. This hasn't just happened; our history has shown that the socialist days of the past meant limited jobs, and even more limited opportunities. A bad education could make one absolutely miserable in terms of money; trades like journalism, the fine arts or even sports were littered with lowly-paid degree holders who had learnt the hard way that there just wasn't enough in there. The next generation was obviously huddled into lower risk career options; an engineering degree, computer skills and programming lessons. They didn't dare to question their huddling, perhaps, and in reality, they bought the study-for-a-job argument.

Engineering degrees started to get a huge demand for Computer Science and Electronics degrees, and those in the rest of the streams like Mechanical and Chemical Engineering took extra classes to learn C++ and Java. Not from a burning desire to learn, but to make the grade for the Computer jobs.

With the advent of the tech outsourcing boom, companies started to look for people and initially, the Electronics and comp sc. students weren't enough. So they would hire engineers from other branches, who went through a rigorous training program and learnt the ropes. Everyone who knew anything about computers qualified.

Soon, even the engineers weren't enough so companies were hiring among any graduates of any school that had seen a computer at a distance less than 5KM, though this requirement could be further relaxed if a project was slipping past.

Switch over to now. There are a few good men and women. And there are a huge number of qualified but unenthusiastic engineers in jobs that don't suit their temperament, but who's looking at temperament? This is a science, not an art, they all say, and slap you with the 10,000 page ISO900x manual and the CMM process document. Anyone can do this, if we break it down.

But can we? Is software development so simple and definable that we can write a manual and expect that a team, ANY team, will deliver to expectations? Not one single manager worth his or her salt believes that. It's eventually about people, and about having the right people. The code gurus are the real people we need, those that can take a requirement to its logically intended software end. Not necessarily the superheroes, though they are preferable to the "junta" crowd, but "developers".

So where are these code gurus? Some are managers now, since companies don't allow you to evolve much or earn more as developers. Some get disgusted with the sheer lack of quality work and either turn into entrepreneurs or join marketing or sales to beat the boredom and learn something. The rest are treated very highly by their companies and manage their projects fairly well.

There's a problem there, though. These guys, though useful, aren't well paid. Because the Great Indian Software Dream has only one career path - managerial. If you want more money, you become a manager. You're defined by the number of people you lead, which is such an irrelevant measure I splutter everytime I'm questioned why I hate it so much. Good coders often don't give a damn; they want to build something, not someone. But if money calls, one has to go up the manager route, does one not?

Maybe it's time for them to turn consultants. Then they can demand higher pay (per hour) than they usually get, work for short periods (3--6months) and spread over multiple companies. They'll not have to turn managers to get paid more, and so can continue to do what they love most : code. Lesser office politics, and perhaps less red tape to deal with. Delivery is all they're hired for, and that's all they get.

Yes, startups will want these guys. But startups should understand the demand-supply equation - don't let a person go because they're not willing to work full time. Heck, even pay them partly in stock (yes, you can still do that in India) if it makes them want to stay.

It might just be the age of the consultant quicksilver software developer. I think I'd like that as a career sometime :)

I'm just afraid of what happens if the consultant market gets muddy. If hiring a consultant is as tough as hiring full-time, you'd always prefer the latter. Enter blogging and networking: only the fittest among the networkers/bloggers will survive. And Googleable-names will be the top consultants.

1. Arranged marriages aren't always decisions taken by parents for their children; in fact most counter arguments claim that every individual has a choice to say "yes" or "no", in all but the most remissive clans in India. Yet, the concept remains that parents provide the choice(s), individuals only approve whoever they like. There's a huge difference between attempting to find someone (and most likely, finding yourself in the process) and having someone else do that for you. Oh, it is changing, by the day. But it speaks tomes when you find those that didn't even care enough to try and find the person they will live with for the rest of their lives.

1 comment:

Bishu said...

Bang on target...I must say.I guess the Indian IT companies are learning their lessons in the harder way.Hope it's not too late.