IT Survivors – Staying Alive In A Software Job

Before I started working for myself, I spent some years in some of the top IT companies in India and still have many friends working in various software companies. I wrote a blog Recruiting like crazy, about the same time last year about how Indian companies are recruiting like there’s no tomorrow and the possible consequences. However I was avoiding writing this particular piece as it seems like an unpatriotic thing to do, to tell the world how bad the working conditions in software companies in India have become. And there’s always the risk of excerpts being used out of context to bash up IT in India.

I am now writing this because I just keep hearing horror tales from the industry and it doesn’t seem like anything is being done in the matter, so I thought I will do my bit and write.

First and foremost, before stereotypes about India kick in, I would like to clarify that I am not saying that Indian software companies are sweat shops where employees aren’t being paid and made to
work in cramped uncomfortable places. The pay in software companies is very good as compared to other industries in India and the work places are generally well furnished and plush offices. India being a strong democracy, freedom of expression is alive and well and Indians are free to express their opinions and voice their concerns. Yet, I say that the software industry is exploiting its employees.

IT work culture in India is totally messed up and has now started harming the work culture of the nation as a whole. Working 12+ hours a day and 6 or even 7 days a week is more the rule than the exception.

Consequences:

  • A majority of IT people suffer from health problems.As most of the IT workforce is still very young, the problem isn’t very obvious today but it will hit with unbearable ferocity when these youngsters get to their 40s.
  • Stress levels are unbelievable high. Stress management is a cover topic in magazines and newspapers and workshops on the subject are regularly overbooked.
  • Most IT people have hardly any social / family life to talk of.
  • As IT folk are rich by Indian standards, they try to buy their way out of their troubles and have incurred huge debts by buying expensive houses, gizmos and fancy cars.

Plush offices, fat salaries and latest gizmos can give you happiness only if you have a life in the first place.

The reason I feel this culture has emerged, is the servile attitude of the companies. Here’s a tip for any company in the west planning to outsource to India. If you feel that a project can be completed in 6 weeks by 4 people, always demand that it be completed in 2 weeks by 3 people.

Guess what, most Indian companies will agree. The project will then be hyped up as an “extremely critical” one and the 3 unfortunate souls allocated to it will get very close to meeting the almighty by the time they deliver the project in 2 weeks. Surprisingly, they will deliver in 2-3 weeks, get bashed up for any delays and the company will soon boast about how they deliver good quality in reasonable time and cost. Has anyone in India ever worked on a project that wasn’t “extremely critical”?

I was once at a session where a top boss of one of India’s biggest IT firms was asked a question about what was so special about their company and his answer was that we are the “Yes” people with the “We Can Do It ” attitude.

It is all very well for the top boss to say “We Can Do It “.. what about the project teams who wish to say “Please….We Can’t Do It ” to the unreasonable timelines…I was tempted to ask “What death benefits does your company offer to the teams that get killed in the process?”. I sure was ashamed to see that a fellow Indian was openly boasting about the fact that he and his company had no backbone. The art of saying No or negotiating reasonable time frames for the team is very conspicuous by its absence. Outsourcing customers more often than not simply walk all over Indian software companies. The outsourcer surely cannot be blamed as it is right for him to demand good quality in the least cost and time.

Exhaustion = Zero Innovation

  • How many Indians in India are thought leaders in their software segment? – Very few
  • How much software innovation happens in India? – Minimal
  • Considering that thousands of Indians in India use Open Source software, how many actually contribute? – Very few

Surprisingly, put the same Indian in a company “in” the US and he suddenly becomes innovative and a thought leader in his field.
The reason is simple, the only thing an exhausted body and mind can do well, is sleep. zzzzzz

I can pretty much bet on it that we will never see innovation from any of 10000+ person code factories in India.

If you are someone sitting in the US, UK… and wondering why the employees can’t stand up, that’s the most interesting part of the story. Read on…

The Problem

The software professional Indian is today making more money in a month than what his parents might have made in an year. Very often a 21 year old newbie software developer makes more money than his/her 55 year old father working in an old world business. Most of these youngsters are well aware of this gap and so work under an impression that they are being paid an unreasonable amount of money. They naturally equate unreasonable money with unreasonable amount of work.

Another important factor is this whole bubble that an IT person lives in.. An IT professional walks with a halo around his or her head. They are the Cool, Rich Gen Next .. the Intelligentsia of the New World… they travel all over the world, vacation at exotic locations abroad, talk “american”, are more familiar of the geography of the USA than that of India and yes of course, they are the hottest things in the Wedding Market!!!

This I feel is the core problem because if employees felt they were being exploited, things would change.

I speak about this to some of my friends and the answer is generally “Hey Harshad, what you say is correct and we sure are suffering, but why do you think we are being paid this much money? It’s not for 40 hours but for 80 hours a week. And anyway what choice do we have? It’s the same everywhere.”

So can we make things change? Is there a way to try and stop an entire generation of educated Indians from ending up with “no life”.

Solutions

1) Never complement someone for staying till midnight or working 7 days a week.

Recently, in an awards ceremony at a software company, the manager handing over the “employee of the month” award said something like “It’s unbelievable how hard he works. When I come to office early, I see him working, when I leave office late, I still see him working”.. These sort of comments can kill the morale of every employee trying to do good work in an 8hr day.

Companies need to stop hiding behind the excuse that the time difference between India and the west is the reason why people need to stay in office for 14 hours a day. Staying late should be a negative thing that should work against an employee in his appraisals. Never complement someone for staying till midnight or working 7 days a week .

2) Estimates:

If time estimates go wrong, the company should be willing to take a hit and not force the employee to work crazy hours to bail projects out of trouble. This will ensure that the estimates made for the next project are more real and not just what the customer has asked for.

3) Employee organizations / forums

NASSCOM (National Association for Software and Services Companies) and CSI (Computer Society Of India) are perhaps the only two well known software associations in India and both I feel have failed the software employee. I do not recall any action from these organizations to try and improve the working conditions of software employees. This has to change.

I am not in favor of forming trade unions for software people, as trade unions in India have traditionally been more effective at ruining businesses and making employees inefficient than getting employees their rights and helping business do well. So existing bodies like NASSCOM should create and popularize employee welfare cells at a state / regional level and these cells should work only for employee welfare and not be puppets in the hands of the companies.

If the industry does not itself create proper forums for employee welfare, it’s likely that the government / trade unions will interfere and mess up India’s sunshine industry.

4) Narayan Murthys please stand up

Top bosses of companies like Infosys, TCS, Wipro, etc. need to send the message loud and clear to their company and to other companies listening at national IT events that employee welfare is really their top concern and having good working culture and conditions is a priority. Employee welfare here does not mean giving the employee the salary he/she dreams of.

Last word

I am sure some of my thoughts come from the fact that I too worked in such an environment for a few years and perhaps I haven’t got over the frustrations I experienced back then.

So think about my views with a pinch of salt but do think about them. And if you have an opinion on this issue, don’t forget to add a comment to this article.

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Harshad Oak
Harshad Oak is the founder of Rightrix Solutions & IndicThreads. He is the author of 3 books and several articles on Java technology. For his contributions to technology and the community, he has been recognized as an Oracle ACE Director and a Sun Java Champion. Contact - harshad aT rightrix doT com & @HarshadOak
Harshad Oak

Harshad Oak

Harshad Oak is the founder of Rightrix Solutions & IndicThreads. He is the author of 3 books and several articles on Java technology. For his contributions to technology and the community, he has been recognized as an Oracle ACE Director and a Sun Java Champion. Contact - harshad aT rightrix doT com & @HarshadOak

  • tanaya dutta

    nice article.i needed some ideas