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The Muse

September 13, 2005

Problems for Indian Managers...

I read that Bush bhai is going to address the nation tomorrow, maybe even apologize for the poor response to Katrina. I hope his speechwriters did a spell check, and that he practices pronouncing, else I will have to mention that in my next post.

The FEMA/Horse dude, I mean director, officially resigned yesterday. Good for him, and us. The media is just getting started on whooping some politician ass. I just saw the tail end of a piece on ABC that showed how some Louisiana Senator caused two helicopters and eight army men to wait for 45 minutes while he went into his house and collected his belongings, including a laptop. And if that was not enough, they reported that he got pissed that someone broke his house window. And so it keeps going...

And speaking of the media, I've noticed a spurt in the number of Indians [as in desi's] in US TV. I don't mean to be a racist, but I cannot help observing this. I saw an ad for a cereal in which there is a desi "intern", then there was some show on NBC where there is an Indian "doctor", then I saw an "engineer" on CSI. Then there was a t-mobile ad, in which the background music was our very own "didi tera devar diwana". I also remember some people in ads for a Volkswagen commercial...Guess people have started to acknowledge the number of people here. Which might be good or bad, but its happening all the same.

Onto some reports I just finished reading from my various subscriptions [decent ones]. Guess what business executives in India think is the number one constraint in their organizations growth? According to this article by McKinsey Quarterly, its the lack of qualified labor. That does sound surprising when all you keep hearing about is India's seemingly vast labor pool. But, for those of us from India it does make sense. We have so many colleges that almost everyone who applies is guaranteed admission into some engineering or technical school or the other. The lack of quality is inevitable with this vast increase in quantity.

We might end up falling over ourselves if we continue to churn out so much supply. The study estimates, for example that in Hyderabad by 2008, demand for qualified engineers will hit 138 percent of supply. A direct quote - "Graduates of the top schools, such as the seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the six Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), are world class, but elsewhere the level of quality declines steeply." [They forgot Mepco Schlenk, my alma mater, but that's ok].

The other factor I think, is the increasing salaries of professionals. Project Managers salaries have risen by around 20% and Programmers by 13% in the past four years. The primary motivation for companies to move into India is the cost benefit. Increasing salaries will definitely hit operating costs, as is explained in another study.

Another issue is the lack of communication skills or just the ability to speak English. Here, I think the Southern part of India really takes a hit. If people speak English in colleges here, its called showing "Peter", an euphemism for saying to shut it and shove it and not show off. Its another matter that these very people must speak English when they go job hunting. Sad, but true state of affairs.

I think the one sure way to increase quality of our future engineers is for schools to start associating with the private sector. Look at the US, research and outside projects are an integral part of the curriculum [never mind that you don't actually do research]. This brings in money, and with it accountability. If the school and students don't perform, they company will just go elsewhere. The other thing would be to start getting creative. Technical skills are important, but there is so much more that an engineer can learn. Schools should start giving some useful electives than the usual crappy ones that no one cares about. We seem to have somehow got into the rut of thinking that the terms Engineering and Software Development are synonyms.

And don't forget that most of the good ones end up in the US, writing blogs and giving opinions on what the problems in India are. Hey somebody's got to do it, right?!

September 07, 2005

Loss of life, property....and pride.

The whole word has watched with shock at the images from New Orleans. I was simply stunned to see what was unfolding in front of my eyes. As was the case with almost everyone, my first reaction was not one of sorrow or anger or frustration - it was just surprise...was this America?

Since last week, newspapers and TV have told a tale of incompetence and ineptitude that is unparalleled in the history of this country. [Even while making these comments, some Americans take a swipe at other countries, "this is not Indonesia", "this is not Bangaldesh"...but that is another issue]. While 9/11 was also a tragedy, New Orleans was a failure on all fronts.

There is plenty of blame to go around. The Mayor, for having no plans to evacuate people at all. All he did was go on TV and Radio and start shouting at everyone to do something. While it was good to hear him cuss politicians, he simply did not do his job. The Governor also was totally unprepared. Now she is angry at the President, cries during conferences and visits shelters, but she flunked her duties miserably.

Then, of course, we have the White House. Seriously, I have great respect for some of the people there, but the last few days have shown how much of arrogance there is among them for the public opinion. I mean,come on - here was Katrina - Category 5 hurricane arriving in Louisiana, cities were being evacuated, and offices and schools were being shut down, and Rice was shopping, Cheney was buying a house, Bush was vacationing...that sucks. How far removed from the people are these guys?

The comparisons between Mumbai and New Orleans is inevitable. With all its infrastructure issues and poverty, the Army was there in Mumbai within a day and no one could complain about the law and order scene. That's one thing about India, politicians are well, politicians...but no one can question the efficiency, organization or effectiveness of the Army.

Then, when Katrina hit, the FEMA directors and Homeland Security people were lost on what to do. FEMA, - Jay Leno called it Fix Emergency? - My Ass! - is led by a Director whose previous job was some post at something called the Arabian Horses Association. This shows how much importance was given to disaster management. He is referred to these days as a horse's ass. The Homeland Security director does and did nothing except stand behind the President and talk to the press about how good a job they were doing. Lot of people felt like punching him in the face.

Bush had tremendous support after 9/11, people supported him in his actions, he was give a blank check to cash in, he went to Afghanistan, Iraq, did whatever he wanted, and won an election despite the ongoing mess in Irag. As NY Times columnist David Brooks says, this is the anti 9/11. NO ONE will forget these few days. Other than the human and monetary loss, America lost something it values above all - its pride. And here's where Bush and his cohorts hopefully lose theirs, and start doing something worthwhile for the country.