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Author Topic: A myth called the Indian programmer  (Read 4334 times)


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A myth called the Indian programmer
« on: February 14, 2012, 05:13 PM »
Is there a difference between a  programmer and a coder?
IBM seems to have an idea of the distinction, when working on methods for monitoring productivity.

Interesting post from 2007: A myth called the Indian programmer
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..

May be some hard truths in there, methinks.


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Re: A myth called the Indian programmer
« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2012, 06:05 PM »
I came across a slew of people from India on Orkut in the various programming groups, that had some mad skills and could build complex applications I can't even dream about, if you told them what to build, how it was to look, what features, etc.

For whatever reason they lack the big picture way of thinking, lacked imagination, and couldn't come up with an original application idea of their own...not even a simple one. And I don't understand why. How is this possible? It was as if the creativity had been beaten out of them early on in life or something. It completely freaked me out.

They admired my simple apps as if I were some sort of programming goddess. It made me very uncomfortable to have people with more abilities in their little finger than I have in my whole body, to raise me up on some sort of pedestal like that. They were asking me to mentor them. It should have been the other way around. It's the primary reason why I stopped using Orkut. I could not handle being showered with so much undeserved admiration and attention.


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Re: A myth called the Indian programmer
« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2012, 08:02 PM »
I know things are changed after 2007, afterall we're talking about that article after 5 years.  Why just leave it to "programmer" ? This applies to almost every engineering student in India (except students from IIT/IISC and some of the top colleges). Rest of the other engineering colleges produce what we call here "wall-mart coders". We're brainwashed to crack Google and Microsoft interviews and then end up being a clerk or some highly paid manager. MBA's are at even worst position, they rant about zen and six sigma stuff but never understand how that applies to market. All they do is fulfill the criteria of recruiter to get inside the company. They learn stuff only to get hired. They don't see why some things work, it's just for grades and to land up in highly paid job.

I questioned my professors about the flaws in the system during my engineering time, got beaten and gave up. I learned one lesson out of this - When there is money on the line, do stuff because people above you says so even if it is wrong. You know why people here are fans of Steve jobs and gates? Not because of their money and lifestyle. It's because of their ability to succeed after their drop-out years. Teens in India commit suicide if they get low grades or drop out in engineering or medical college. It's the only less painful option for them, I don't disagree with that either. Society is so tightly monitoring this success and failure of people, It's hard to beat this without taking risk of lifestyle and friends/family. I don't know if these types of extreme situations exist outside this country. Considering how Diaspora's founder committed suicide maybe it could apply to many other places too I guess. Read the plot of this movie on wikipedia and you'll get the picture.

The reason you see "factory coders" here because If you wish to be a programmer here, you have to experiment- with startups and your knowledge. You're putting your life on the line. If you fail, you end up getting low paying job (<200$) or will simply thrown out of system with no way of getting back in, not to forget frustration and other things that come in life. It's all about getting money in bank account for factory coders. Blame social norms and culture for this. In India people have a tendency to look down on others based on how much they earn, their overall assets, what trendy they do. Hell, 99.995% Indian females choose partner based on how much he earns, that's how it works there. If you fight with this system then you're loser for them. I'm yet to do any non-programming job just for the sake of money. I took that risk. My parents think that by working with low paying financial start-up is a sign that I did something wrong in my life. Which is both funny and frustrating at the same time. By no means I'm rich like my friends who compromised on that front and are at position where Indian society thinks they're successful and living happily(whatever that means). I fought that system and lost (conclusion: money and society wins).

The reason many Indians feel comfortable around people who can experiment(referring to app's case) is because society is restricting people for not to take risks, or encourage to innovate. Students are scolded not to execute programs outside the syllabus of college. Anyway, this all is changing right now as per my observation. I see many Indian programmers flying out of this country to take that risk. Check picplum with indian co-founder and many such US based startups with Indian founders. I hope someday, this junk food social system will break.


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Re: A myth called the Indian programmer
« Reply #3 on: February 15, 2012, 02:06 AM »
They admired my simple apps as if I were some sort of programming goddess.

I have built both simple (done in less 1 week) and complex (years of work) applications and the simple ones are the winners. More popular, more loved, more often recommended... I am talking about absolute numbers here, if I were to factor in the time needed to build the application, the simple ones would be so far ahead... Picking the right problem to solve with an application and solving it with a simple tool is not as easy as it looks. They were most likely right to seek your advice.


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Re: A myth called the Indian programmer
« Reply #4 on: February 15, 2012, 04:44 AM »
I've conducted a fair amount of job interviews with indian programmers about 3 years ago when the company I was working for at that time was forced by its owner to hire indian programmers for our R&D departement. I have to admit that the experience was quite disenchanting. Of the maybe 20 candidates I interviewed, only one had the skill level we wished to hire (SW engineer with at least 2 years of experience). In the end, we couldn't hire him because our owner found him to be too expensive! What stroke me was that basically all of the candidates were able to answer all of the programming-related questions (mostly concerning C++ and OO), even about advanced topics. But the code samples we requested from them showed a completely different picture of their programming proficiency. Some of the code I saw made me ask myself if the respective applicant actually really wanted a job. In the end it proofed surprisingly difficult to hire the amount of people we were requested to hire (only 3 at that time). I was working for several months with the first programmer we hired. While she was not an experienced programmer (which is what we were actually looking for), she at least was very careful and precise, and also willing to learn. Later, when additional suitable people were found, we learned that turnover would become a problem in a way which is unknown in Europe. One guy didn't even show up on the day he was supposed to start, but called instead to tell us that he found a different position in the meantime.