Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Reverse Brain Drain

In my school days, I had attended a debate where the topic on discussion was the Brain Drain that was happening from India of the unique talent that was being churned out by our eminent schools like the IITs and the IIMs. The biggest beneficiary was the United States with it absorbing nearly 60-70 % of the Indian talent.

Then started the Information Technology boom that triggered off another mass brain drain wave. Uncle Sam was waving at every middle class Indian to come and make the Land of Plenty his/her home.

However, we seem to be seeing a reverse brain drain in the last three years since the GDP growth rate of the country went above the 7.5 %. The very same people who went to the US are planning a grand return back home and US is not a very alluring country for the new generation Indians.

Times Of India had an article that underlined my feelings and was highlighting the fact that information Technology workers do not find in the US the same rosy appeal that was present the last decade. Be it in terms of Research, Academics, the phoren LifeStyle, Consumerism, the 'Hip-n-Hep Cool Factor' of the movie industry, or the Infrastructure, India seems to be coming up with an answer for all of them with a counter attraction. However the most important change is that India is also providing its citizens with the all important MONEY to enjoy and bask in all this.

Enjoy the full article at Times of India

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Information Technology Predictions - Stars on the Rise

I was perusing the Sunday Deccan Herald when my eyes fell on the weekly horoscope column by Lalitha Murali, titled "What's on the cards?". Though not a believer of the stuff written in these columns, they do come handy when I want to rid myself of the boredom that sets in on Sunday evenings.

I went through all the Zodiac signs till my sight was arrested at Virgo. What was written was something as below :


Did you see what I saw ? Yes, 'Job Seekers and those in the IT field do well'.

When did the planets start prophescizing solely for the Information Technology workers. Or did they too undergo a software version upgrade to acquire this new capability?

Definitely some thing to scratch our heads about.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Why America is Not Ready?

Was stumbling over the Net in the hope of finding something worth while to read. Stumbled upon an odd looking blog that had a post titled " Why America Is not Ready". I thought it must be something to do with why America is not ready to invade Iran or something of that sort. Nope. It was a beautifully compiled article on why America is slowly falling out of competition in the world economics.

And guess what. The author was a business student who was to give his international Business paper in an hour. Well, I suppose the pressure brought out the best in him.
I am reproducing certain excerpts of the article with my comments

Why America Is not Ready?The question is almost right, but not quite. We're wringing our hands over the wrong thing. The problem isn't Chinese companies threatening U.S. firms. It's U.S. workers unable to compete with those in China--orIndia, or South Korea. The real question is, "Can Americans compete?"

Reason 1

We're not building human capital the way we used to. Our primary and secondary schools are falling behind the rest of the world's. Our universities are still excellent, but the foreign students who come to them are increasingly taking their educations back home. As other nations multiply their science and engineering graduates--building the foundation for economic progress--ours are declining, in part because those fields are seen as nerdish and simply uncool. And our culture prizes cool.

How true is this. I remember in Middle School that being on the honor roll was not "cool" and being good in science or reading on your spare time automatically put you into the not so popular crowd in School. I think we may be getting away from that now. But at the same time will students in engineers always be seen as the geeky kids, and the math nerds.

Reason 2

Three sub factors are changing the game.

First, the world economy is based increasingly on information, bits andbytes that have to be analyzed, processed, and moved around. Examples:software, financial services, media.
Second, the cost of handling those bits and bytes--that is, of computing and telecommunications--is in free fall. Wide swaths of economic activity can be performed almost anywhere, at least in theory.
Turning theory into reality is the third factor: Low-cost countries--not just China and India but also Mexico, Malaysia, Brazil, and others--are turning out large numbers of well-educated young people fully qualifiedto work in an information-based economy. China will produce about 3.3 million college graduates this year, India 3.1 million (all of themEnglish-speaking), the U.S. just 1.3 million. In engineering, China's graduates will number over 600,000, India's 350,000, America's only about 70,000.

The result is that many Americans who thought outsourcing only threatened factory workers and call-center operators are about to learn otherwise. That is a giant development, because information-based services are the heart of the U.S. economy. With 76% of its jobs in services, America's economy is the most service-intensive of any major country's. Of course many of those jobs can't be shipped abroad:Chefs, barbers, utility and NFL linemen, and many others know they can't be replaced by even the smartest person in Bangalore.

But growing numbers of other service jobs are not safe. Everyone has heard about the insurance-claims processors, accountants, and medical transcriptionists in India and elsewhere who've taken away U.S. jobs by doing the same work for much less money. More alarming is that the value of outsourced jobs is steadily rising. Morgan Stanley is hiring Indian bond analysts, fearsome quants who can make or cost a company millions. Texas Instruments is conducting critical parts of its next-generation chip development--extraordinarily complex work on which the company is betting its future--in India. American computer programmers who made $100,000 a year or more are getting fired because Indians and Chinese do the same work for one-fifth the cost or less.

Reason 3

There is no other fundamental mover of economic development than science and technology," Three centuries of technology breakthroughs are the root of today's abundance in the developed world, and those with a technological edge--America, Japan, and Western Europe--still have the highest standard of living.

Inspite of this a worrisome sign is that the brightest students from many Asian countries are staying home to get their Ph.D.s rather than coming to America, as they did in rising numbers until the mid-1990s. Those foreign Ph.D.s have been the driving force in scores of America's most successful and innovative tech firms, but now we're getting fewer of them, and other countries are getting more. U.S. policy too is moving in the opposite direction. The number of available H1-B visas, which allow highly qualified foreign workers to remain in the U.S. for up to six years, has been cut from 195,000 to just 65,000 a year, based onsecurity concerns following 9/11

Reason 4

The No. 1 policy prescription, almost regardless of whom you ask, comes down to one word: education. In an economy where technology leadership determines the winners, education trumps everything. That's a problem for America. Our fourth-graders are among the world's best in math and science, but by ninth grade they've fallen way behind. As Bill Gates says, "This isn't an accident or a flaw in the system; it is the system."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Information Technology + Indian Advertisement Brains = Awesome Ad

I received a mail from Ravikiran, one of my school mates who is doing great guns in the Information Technology field these days. It had the subject line titled "Awesome Ad". I was intrigued. I followed the link. And awesome it sure turned out to be...

It was an Flash based ad promoting the popular Indian website www.MakeMyTrip.com. The website's chief revenue source is through the online booking of airline tickets for its customers. Started a few years back, its segment base then comprised of people traveling abroad. Information Technology related companies and their employees were the money spinners for this company. However with the Indian domestic airline market seeing a spurt in growth in the last 8-12 months with new players introducing their brand airlines into the Indian airspace segment, the company is on a strong platform to cash in on this new avenue of growth. So how do you target this new audience of middle class Indians who have taken to air-travel like never before, thanks to the rock bottom air prices?


Simple....Take 1 part of Bollywood (the Hollywood of India) stuff and 1 part of creativity and stir them well. What you get is a creative idea that is embellished in this 'Awesome Ad'. The concept aims to goad and stir people into giving up the hugely popular Railways mode of transport and start embracing Air Travel. You gotta watch the ad to realize what I am saying. Follow this link.

Awesome ad - Enjoy !!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Chips Ahoy !!! India grabs the World Semiconductor Industry

India, a software giant - Emphatic YES. India, a hardware giant - Ummmm...Maybe

Well, the self doubt when somebody is posed with the above question is soon to be erased. According to NASSCOM*, the next big thing that's making the world sit up and take notice is also catapulting India into the big league of frontier technologies: CHIP DESIGN.

Say hello to a small but growing phenomenon that is slowly finding its place in the sun. Indian companies are leaders here. MosChip at Hyderabad, eInfochips at Ahemadabad, Sasken offices in Bangalore and Pune, Arasan Chip, Bluefont Technologies at Bangalore are the new kids on the block. Texas Instruments, which started designing chips in India more than two decades ago, has nearly 1,300 engineers working at its global centre in Bangalore on wireless LAN and semiconductors. Intel has opened up a chip research centre in Bangalore.

What constitutes Chip Designing?
* Design the chip
* Make the die (done at a foundry, also called a fab)
* Break the wafer into individual integrated chips
* Package the ICs
* Market and sell the ICs

Why is India an attractive place?

If India has become a hot chip design nation, it's because multinational chip producers are unable to cope with the amount of work, shrinking product lead times and rising costs. So they are outsourcing a greater part of chip design to India.

Notes MosChip's chairman and CEO,K Ramachandra Reddy: "India will definitely be an important player in the chip design business as the abundance of engineering talent coupled with low costs makes it an attractive destination."


"To get these skills we may not be able to hire and train people quickly in America' said Intel president and chief operating officer Paul Otellini at a press conference. No wonder that Intel recently announced its decision to invest $1 billion in India. Billing rates for engineering services employees in India at $25 and hour are a third of the rates in America. For instance, 80 engineers at the Hyderabad-based Pinexe Systems designed and engineered the chip that powers the iPod, Apple Computer's MP3 player. The team delivered the chip in 18 months and at a cost of $2 million --- half the development time and one-fifth the cost in the US.

Also, writing code for the chips is done by the software companies in India. Bangalore houses 47 of India's 60 chip design firms that are "doing cutting edge design work". This number, incidentally, has only been rising and includes some big names such as Motorola, IBM, Cisco, Lucent and Sun, among others, besides some Indian names such as Accel, C-DAC, Ittiam Systems, Wipro Infotech, Tata ELEXSI and Tejas Networks.

FABLESS** Chip Design Model
Traditionally, the chip design industry was the domain of big players who did everything on their own, from chip design to fabrication. The reasoning was simple. First, designing a chip was a skills-intensive industry, and needed a large team. Second, massive investments were needed to create the infrastructure to fabricate the chip, which is why many firms could not activate plans even if they had the expertise to design a chip.

Then a couple of Taiwanese companies came along and challenged this structure and turned it on its head. Taiwan Semiconductor created standalone foundries that allowed chip design companies to outsource their fabrication functions. This separated the capital-intensive fabrication phase from the people-intensive design phase. Small companies which had the talent but not the required capital found this ‘fabless’ model attractive; it allowed countries like India to get into chip design. Today the industry is highly fragmented, and has hundreds of players concentrating on different aspects of the value chain.A Indian Model with a Chip on her BindiA Indian Model with a Chip on her Bindi

With the going so good, it is just a matter of time before India claims a huge slice of the $257.7 billion in semiconductor industry ( Source : Gartner )


Useful Links
Chip Design is the Space to be in

Chip Design is moving to Asia

Foot Notes
*NASSCOM - National Association of Software and Service Companies -
NASSCOM is the premier trade body and the chamber of commerce of the IT software and services industry in India.

**Fabless - The technique of designing chips in a way wherein chip designing ( laying its architecture ) is separate from the process of mass producing it. Each can be done by different parties.

Monday, February 20, 2006

SP Road - The Diagon Alley of Computing in Bangalore

I had been to Bangalore to attend a function of my cousin's. That gave me an opportunity to visit SP Road, the Diagon Alley equivalent (of Harry Potter's fame) for computers and computer accessories in Bangalore. The street never ceases to astonish me even after having visited it umpteen times. There is a certain magic, a certain vibrancy about it that keeps any gadget lover well entangled in its wonders.

Shops with electronic gadgets, computers, accessories are lined up on both sides of the 200 metre long street. No shop is more than a few 6x6 meters in dimensions. Yet the kind of gadgets they showcase make the geek in you smack his lips in anticipation. The latest gadget in the US or Singapore or Europe is available the next day in this market. And at very very competitive rates. Be it the 1 GB IPod, the latest Sony PlayStation or that snazzy iRiver MP3 player.

There are however certain rules as you shop in this street.

1. Even if you have only two items on your shopping list, do not buy them at the same store.

2. Always make it a point to enquire if there is a cheaper model that he can offer.

3. Enquire the rates of items at 6 shops and purchase the item in the 7th shop.

I wanted to purchase laptop cooler pad. I asked for one. He showed me an imported branded one that threatened to lighten my purse by Rs. 1500. I opted for Rule 2. Promptly he showed me a Desi version that was identical in design to the branded one. "How much for this one?". "Rs 700, Sir". My jaw dropped !!! I just paid him 700 bucks and got away with it.

I got home and rang up my cousin who is a techno freak just as me. I told him with all the excitement I could muster about the miracle deal I had just pulled off. I told him how I had enquired at 5 shops and at the 6th one, the second from the start of the street to the left, I had bagged this deal. He calmly shot back. "I bought the same laptop cooler last week from the shop right across the street to yours and paid just Rs 600 for it. Didn't you enquire there ?". My high flying deal had just crash landed.

I promptly added Rule 3.



Thursday, February 16, 2006

Book Digitization - India's answer to Google, Microsoft

Google is pushing ahead with its much hyped up and highly controversial book digitization project. The company said it aimed to make every printed book as accessible as a click to a website, with the ability to search through the entire book looking for a particular phrase or word. To make this happen, Google signed up the University of Stanford, Michigan, Harvard, Oxford — and the New York Public Library — all of whom agreed to let Google digitise their holdings and make them searchable. That opened up a Pandora's box with Google getting into legal wrangles with the book publishers.
India too, has started a book digitization intiative. Here the initiative for the drive is non-commercial, though and has complete government backing. The aim of the project, named the 'Digital Library of India', launched in 2004, is chiefly to preserve the rich legacy of the printed word in India.
The Digital Library of India was launched with the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science as the nodal agency with the backing of the Union ministry of Communication and Information Technology and the U.S.-based Carnegie Mellon University.
Repositories of rare collections including Kanchi University, Sringeri Mutt, the Academy of Sanskrit Research at Melkote near Mysore, the Tirumala-Tirupathi Devasthanam, SASTRA Tanjore, various Tibetan monasteries as well as Rastrapathi Bhavan have been translated and can be found at the DLI project site, who partnered with these institutions.
In a separate initiative, the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi has also begun digitising its huge collection of half a million titles including a priceless collection of newspaper cuttings.
State-level initiatives include the digitising of all 17 volumes of Epigraphia Carnatica, with help from the Indian Council of Historical Research. Mysore is also home to the Vidyanidhi project, which seeks to create a single national database of PhD dissertations.

It surely makes more sense if each country's government took initiativeslike these. Not only are they a step to protect national treasures, but also can be extended to prevent monopolies like Google and Microsoft from commercializing the works of thousands of authors and making money without sensing the need to pay anyone.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ten Point Agenda of the Information Technology Department of India

I happened to drop by the official site of the Indian government's Ministry For Information Technology at http://www.mit.gov.in/ I almost fell for its unique name confusing it with the better known MIT.

Of all the things that interested me was the Ten Point Agenda that Dayanidhi Maran, Minister for Information Technology had envisioned for the country during his 5 year tenure. My worst fears that they would be outdated turned false to my relief. The agenda is indeed wisely setup and the union government seems to be on track to achieve a majority of them. (refer to my previous posts and some of the future ones that I will posting)

For your curiosity, I summarize the Ten points as stated by the minister

  1. I shall do my best to expedite the Convergence of Technologies.
  2. I shall be stressing on E- governance.
  3. Broadband Connectivity at reasonable prices to all.
  4. Leapfrog to Next Generation Mobile Wireless Technologies.
  5. National Internet Exchange and Indian Domain Name.
  6. Migration to New Internet Protocol IPv6.
  7. Security & Digital Signature and Cyber Infrastructure Protection in the fields of finance, judiciary and education.
  8. Media Lab Asia program of the government to focus on seamless communication connectivity to rural areas, extend quality healthcare services to remote areas using telemedicine and internet, improve literacy through distance education using Information and communication technology, promote development and availability of low-cost PCs.
  9. Language Computing in major regional languages.
  10. Outsourcing Skilled Manpower and R&D Thrust.

For a detailed agenda, go here

I would have loved to see two more points up there.

One, a point to prod and promote Indian software companies to develop indigenous software application packages that capture niche market areas and get adopted as the de-facto software in that field. That would speak volumes of the abilities of Indian coding geeks.

Two, a point emphasizing the need to come out with hybrid applications and services that would result due to the intermingling of the Information Technology field with the emerging BioTechnology and NanoTechnology fields.

Well desires are limitless. Hope to see them in some form in the upcoming agenda of the Indian Information Technology ministry.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

E-Waste - Information Technology Scourge - India bearing the brunt

Ali, the local scrap dealer ( raddiwala ) had come home. He was on his routine weekly visit to collect the old newspapers, plastic items meant for recycle and any other waste items that he felt could fetch him money if given to the recycling units. I noticed that he had 2 HP Laser Jet toners and a old broken computer with him. Curious, I asked him if they fetch him any money. He told me that it was his lucky day that he got hold of them that day and that they would fetch him anywhere between Rs. 150-200 ( Approx. USD 3.33 to 4.44 ). My curiosity was further heightened. Is e-waste* so precious?
A quick search on the Net revealed startling facts. Toxics Link, a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, says India generates $1.5bn worth of e-waste annually, with 1,050 tons of electronic scrap dumped by manufacturers and assemblers. Developed nations too find it cheaper to use developing nations as dumping grounds.

E-waste could comprise of all the following
Home Appliances, IT equipment, entertainment equipment, telecommunications equipment, data, audio and video media, CDs, DVDs, tapes, printer consumables, ink cartridges, toner, cartridges, laser printer drums, laser printer developer units, printed circuit boards, batteries, Mobile phones

E-Waste is precious to recyclers because of two factors
  • They are used to extract the re-usable parts and these make their ways to the second hand computer flea markets spread out in every Indian city.
  • Extraction of Gold and silver metal used in minute quantities in chips, motherboards.

But at what cost ?

A glance at the media reports reveals shocking and spine chilling reports of India turning into a e-wasteland.

  • Thirty million computers are thrown out every year in the US alone, and many are dumped in India
  • About 80 percent of the e-Waste generated in the US is exported to India, China and Pakistan
  • Home to more than 1,200 foreign and domestic technology firms, Bangalore figures at the top in the danger list of cities faced with e-waste hazard. As many as 1,000 tons of plastics, 300 tons of lead, 0.23 tons of mercury, 43 tons of nickel and 350 tons of copper are annually generated in Bangalore
  • Domestic e-waste including computers, refrigerators, televisions and mobiles contain more than 1,000 different toxic materials**.
  • Other e-Waste scrap-yards exist in Meerut, Ferozabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai.

The Result
  • The process of extraction uses all kinds of chemicals, like acids - which then get dumped into the soil and go into the groundwater.When you burn things like PVC-covered copper wire, you have emissions of very toxic chemicals like dioxins, which get released into the local environment.
  • The people actually doing the brunt of the recycling are people on less than half a dollar a day - women and children working in very shanty-like, disastrous, inhuman conditions
  • Chemicals such as beryllium, found in computer motherboards, and cadmium in chip resistors and semiconductors are poisonous and can lead to cancer
  • Chromium in floppy disks, lead in batteries and computer monitors and mercury in alkaline batteries and fluorescent lamps also pose severe health risks

However, we can take heart that the authorities responsible in Bangalore are waking up to this new threat.

  • Bangalore authorities have cleared the establishment of a 120-acre e-waste disposal facility at Dobbspet, 45km from the city.
  • Alarmed by the electronic pile up, a consortium of corporations have set up Asia's first e-waste crematorium, the Indian Computer Crematorium, in India's technology hub, Bangalore. Here e-waste is neither buried nor burnt. Disposal is done through a mechanical dry recycling process.
  • Recently, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board has given authorisation for two commercial enterprises to handle e-Trash in Bangalore-E-Parisaraa Pvt Ltd and Ash Recyclers.

I asked Ali, "Don't these people who break apart these items aware of the poisonous substances present in them?". He replied,"This job is their bread earner. Neither they nor I am aware of the health risks".

Foot Notes

*e-Waste - The term e-waste is applied to all waste from or caused by electronics, which is often toxic waste. It is a major concern with respect to wireless technology and computers, which are readily discarded due to rapid technological change, low initial cost and planned obsolescence. Various solutions including recycling, re-use and the standardization of technologies for less rapid obsolescence are applied.

**Sample metal elements
Heavy metals : lead, zinc, chromium, cadmium, mercury
Elements in trace amounts : germanium, gallium, barium, nickel, tantalum, indium, vanadium, terbium, beryllium, gold, europium, titanium, ruthenium, cobalt, palladium, manganese, silver, antinomy, bismuth, selenium, niobium, yttrium, rhodium, platinum, arsenic
Other : silicon, carbon, iron, aluminum, tin, copper

Useful Links

Electronic Wasteland
E-Waste - India Case Study
A wiser approach to e-Waste

Monday, February 13, 2006

TARAhaat - An Information Technology venture to bridge the India's digital divide

How many of us have heard of TARAhaat? Probably none. That includes me. Not until now, until my browser stumbled upon a government website that had tonnes of information on it. I wonder how many such ventures are quietly stirring up a silent rural upthrust to catch up with the rest of the country.

TARA stands for Technology and Action for Rural Advancement. TARAhaat is a business enterprise of Development Alternatives (DA), an NGO focused on sustainable rural development in India, and its marketing arm, TARA.

TARAhaat uses a franchise-based business model to bring computer and Internet technology to rural regions and plans to use these technologies to create revenue streams leading to financial viability for itself and its franchisees.
The business combines a mother portal, TARAhaat.com, with a network of franchised village Internet centers, or TARAkendras. The aim is to deliver education, information, services, and online market opportunities to rural consumers via the Internet and its kendra outposts. It also hopes to provide a cost-effective gateway by which larger corporations can reach rural customers. It will offer information, e-mail and Web services, and eventually e-commerce and fulfillment services, earning revenues through membership fees and commissions.

Interviews with users of TARAhaat’s services demonstrate the venture’s social benefits, including empowering the education of girls, inspiring confidence and higher aspirations among rural children, and enabling farmers to gain market information and substantially higher prices for their crops.

What was specially highlighted were the unique challenges and the special successes this venture has had. Anecdotal information reveals several challenges, and solutions, in teaching computers to rural audiences. Most of these stem from a lack of English proficiency among users.
  • Teaching mouse usage is the biggest initial hurdle. Use of MSPaint has proved a useful tool for gaining comfort with the mouse. Some students have actually used MSPaint for homework assignments in art classes. The diagram here shows a painting done by a rural kid after just a week fiddling with the mouse.
  • Teaching keyboard usage is easier, since most users are familiar with the Englishalphabet even though they cannot form full sentences in English. Most users are ableto write letters or participate in chats with phonetic Hindi fonts. A pamphlet showing how the keystrokes map to Hindi alphabets and how to use this to form Hindi words is available.
  • Software menu systems are a challenge to rural users because of menu command words are in English. Most users have managed well by memorizing the menu systemfor popular programs such as MSWord. For example, they know that the fourth item inthe left-most drop down menu in MSWord is to be used to save their files.
  • Basic courses in computer fundamentals are expected to improve employment prospects for students. However, several students were eager to explore the job options themselves once Internet access becomes available. They fully expect to continue attendingcomputer classes even after summer vacation, because they feel computer skillsare more essential in the job market than the education they may receive in school or college.
  • Student dedication is evident in the fact that some of them commute up to seven kilometers in the hot summer to attend TARAhaat classes, sometimes by foot.
  • Computer games are a big attraction for younger children and some enthusiastically rattled off names of computer games that they are very fond of. When one group was asked if they would pay for playing games when the TARAkendra starts charging them, they were very sure they could get money from their parents for playing these games.Rs.20 did not seem prohibitive.
  • MSExcel and PowerPoint have been popular with school-going children and younger adults. Some school children have done their schoolwork using Excel because it helps them make small tables in a neater fashion. Special animation and sound effects inPowerPoint are a big draw.

A truly special insight into the rigours involved in getting rural India to reap benefits from Information Technology. A spirited venture too. May this venture spawn a thousand more of its kind. Wishing God Speed.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Indian Newspapers - Hopping Online to Have an E-Presence

I am an avid follower of news, be it related to politics, sports, technology, nature or glamour world. I can distinctly recall my school days when I used to spend close to 3-4 hours pouring through the day's newspapers, both the English edition and the Kannada edition. Whenever a news item used to interest me or the details given failed to satiate me, I used to make it a point to visit the community club house in the evening to scan the other national dailies to know more about a news clip.

What surprises me and even my Dad these days is that I hardly spend 5-10 minutes with the morning newspaper. I just browse through the headlines. Don't jump to conclusions yet. I haven't lost my interest in news. Its just that my news sources have changed. And my time scanning news items has increased from 3-4 hours to close to 5-7 hours a day. Now that's a little bit overdoing it, you may say, but when I am not complaining, its fine.

My news sources these days are not the NEWSPAPERS, but their e-editions on the INTERNET. Yes, I have websites that quench my thirst for news.

www.timesofindia.com, www.news.google.co.in, www.deccanherald.com for India specific news
www.nytimes.com, www.latimes.com, www.washingtonpost.com for US news
www.cricinfo.com for cricket news
www.cnet.com, www.zdnet.com, www.wired.com, www.alootechie.com for tech news
www.nationalgeographic.com, www.nature.com for nature news
www.bbc.com for world news.
www.udayavani.com for regional news

These news sites are so up to date, that what I find in the print edition the next day appears stale to me. The other day as I came out of my room in the morning, my Dad called out to me, "Did you see the morning newspaper today? Scientists have discovered a new island in Papua Guinea teeming with species of animals never seen before". I say," Dad, That is old news already. I read that news yesterday afternoon and I have saved the latest on it for you to scan on my laptop". I showed him the latest news update on it at www.latimes.com which included 7 color photographs of the species discovered till date. His jaw dropped. He quips, " I think these print editions will soon get obsolete with the likes of you. Ha ha ha".

Very true, I mulled over the significance of his impromptu statement.

News Aggregators like Google News and Live news updation facilities at most of the sites mentioned above have changed the way Indian Netizens are viewing news. Morning newspapers, in homes that have active Net surfers, are turning into objects that keep alive traditions that were inherited from their parents. TV news channels too are hastening the death of the printed newspaper. Slews of 24/7 news channels offering out of the oven fresh news by the minute are forcing people to re-examine the need for the printed edition.

It is all too obvious that living in a age where time is everything and the need for keeping pace with the ultra fast lifestyle is as essential as breathing, waiting for the morning news paper is a No-No.

News papers too are fast turning e-savvy. Unlimited space for news stories, a platform to elicit readers views, more interactivity, huge cost savings and a global audience are all key attractions that the Net offers in this direction. Times of India has started e-editions of its newspaper that resembles the look and feel of the printed edition. NDTV news site offers live video news feeds for a small price. Even newspapers in regional languages are embracing the Internet to reach their readers faster. Research all over the world in electronic paper and electronic ink is touching a crescendo. That sure will be the way you might be reading newspapers in 5-10 ears time.

And now the next thought you must be harboring is the amount of patience I must be having to visit each of these sites. No way !!!. I subscribe to all their RSS( Really Simple Syndicate) feeds and get the news delivered to me fresh and at my laptop. Just like the good old printed newspaper !!! Fresh and delivered at your doorstep in the morning.

Useful Links

E-Ink & E-paper

IBM - E-Newspaper

World's Print Editions Online

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Information Technology - The funny side of computing

Information Technology is quite a stressful field to be in. In spite of that, the creativity of engineers has been irrepressible. One of the most unusual outlets that it has acquired is through the refinement of old Panchatantra moral stories that our elders used to narrate to us, the Indian equivalent of Aesop's fables.

The most famous among them is the variant of the wood cutter's story doing the rounds. It even has an exciting moral at the end.

[The original Panchatantra story :
One day, while a woodcutter was cutting a branch of a tree above a river, his axe fell into the river.
When he cried out, the Lord appeared and asked, "Why are you crying?" The woodcutter replied that his axe has fallen into water. The Lord went down into the water and reappeared with a golden axe. "Is this your axe?" the Lord asked.
The woodcutter replied, "No."
The Lord again went down and came up with a silver axe. "Is this your axe?" the Lord asked.
Again, the woodcutter replied, "No."
The Lord went down again and came up with an iron axe. "Is this your axe?" the Lord asked.
The woodcutter replied, "Yes."
The Lord was pleased with the man's honesty and gave him all three axes to keep, and the woodcutter went home happily. ]

Once upon a time, there was a software engineer who used to develop Programs on his Pentium machine (of course a lap top),sitting under a tree on the banks of a river. He used to earn his bread by selling those programs in the Friday market.

One day, while he was working, his machine tumbled off from his lap and fell in the river. Encouraged by the Panchatantra story of his childhood (the woodcutter and the axe), he started praying to the River Goddess.

The River Goddess wanted to test him and so appeared only after one month of rigorous prayers. Poor Engineer, he waited for a long time and at last Goddess came!

The engineer told her that he had lost his computer in the river. As usual, the Goddess wanted to test his honesty.

She showed him a match box and asked, "Is this your computer?" Disappointed by the Goddess' lack of computer awareness, the engineer replied, "No." She next showed him a pocket-sized calculator and asked if that was his.

Annoyed, the engineer said "No, not at all!!"

Finally, she came up with his own Pentium machine and asked if it was his. The engineer, left with no option, sighed and said "Yes." The River Goddess was happy with his honesty.

She was about to give him all three items, but before she could make the offer, the engineer asked her, "Don't you know that you're supposed to show me some better computers before bringing up my own?"

The River Goddess, angered at this, replied, "I know that, you stupid donkey! The first two things I showed you were the Trillennium and the Billennium, the latest computers from IBM!"

So saying, she disappeared with his Computer!

Moral for Information Technology Professionals: If you're not up-to-date with technology trends, its better keep your mouth shut and let people think you're a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

India Shining... But for how long? - Part 2

We discussed in our previous post how India took the crucial decision of taking the plunge into the Globalization wave that was sweeping the planet and ride it rather than be washed away by it. We also concluded by saying that three factors are aiding India in attracting outsourcing service seekers to itself. Let us resume by seeing what these three factors are.

Knowledge, Infrastructure and Man Power

MNCs that poured into India to expand their global presence were captivated by the availability of highly skilled labour, abundant manpower and the necessary telecommunication infrastructure to run their offices from India at a fraction of the cost than from their natives, back in the developed countries. That triggered off a rat race to use the resources that India had to offer and we are witnessing it getting even intense a decade and a half after India embraced globalization. Bangalore poised to emerge as the new Silicon Valley of the World, Chennai positioning itself as the Automobile capital of the East, creation of world class MNCs like Infosys, Wipro, TCS, Tata Steels, Baja, etc., all stand testimony to the emergence of India as a global player.

Questions like "How long would the developed countries be able to feed us?" or "Would India be able to sustain its 8.1%GDP growth?" all appear too unworthy to even warrant an answer at this stage. However, a quick analysis would show us that when India ceases to offer the very advantages that were responsible in attracting the MNCs to it, we would cease to be the darling of the MNCs. They will start looking out for newer markets.

Looking at emerging world trends. the rise of new economic blocs in South East Asia, Eastern Europe, Southern Africa and Central South America, we may not even be given enough time to re-align and re-adjust. If tomorrow, say the South Asian economies start flexing their muscles and galvanize the MNCs to trigger off another mass migration, we may be end up facing an uncertain future that the developed countries like US, UK are facing today. Though I am sounding too pessimistic, we must not forget that we have some unique advantages like the huge man power availability, the massive English speaking population and most importantly a billion strong market within ourselves that MNCs will not give up for anything.. These will surely slow down the rate at which other countries can catch up with us. But catch up, they will, eventually.


What can help us tide over such a crisis when it eventually arises ?

I present a two point agenda that I feel would mitigate the effects of such an eventuality.

1. Outsource unto ourselves

Metros like Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad that are spear heading the outsourcing wave in India are confronted with dramatic increases in cost of living due too influx of youth from across the country. Salaries as a result are sky-rocketing. The 'cheap-labour' tag that these cities once had is being re-examined. What is the way out?

Indian MNCs are showing the way by branching out to second tier Indian towns and cities that still present the same advantages as these cities while keeping the cost of living low. A dual advantage here is evident. One, it provides the industry an opportunity to expand nationally and keep outsourcing still a viable option for the world industry's big boys. Two, India can help utilize this unending craving of the outsourcing industry for cheap labour, to create pockets of substantial growth across the country rather than have it concentrated at a few places. States can leverage on this to catapult themselves from being economically backward ones to being progressive states. Wealth creation can happen at a national level.

2. Moving up the Value chain

What applies to trade applies to the outsourcing industry too. When your competitor is catching up with you, you start offering your customers something in addition to the basic services. Something of value, something that pushes up your product or services demand in the market. Something that places you a notch apart from your competitor. I remember when my Dad established his own printing unit. We offered detailed proof correction at no additional cost in both English and the native language Kannada. This was something the other printing units could never fulfill unless they employed someone solely for that purpose.

Service providers in the outsourcing industry need to be constantly on the prowl to effectuate a steady movement up the value chain to not only negate advances of competitors but also expand business. More importantly, it helps undo the adverse effects of an early advantage not being an advantage any more. Let us suppose, China, which has started a massive English training program at the primary level for its population, starts narrowing the gap that currently is present between India and China in providing Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES). Ten years from now, India can survive a Chinese English speaking graduates onslaught, only if we are by then, providing something of value to the outsourcing service seekers, that China will find highly difficult to provide or at least require a few more decades to specialize in, by which time, we can move a rung further up on the value added services chain. An example would be our transition from just providing Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) services to start providing Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) services.

I always go back to my 3 pots analogy to simplify my idea. Consider you have 3 interconnected pots. Two empty and the third brimming with water. Now if you place them at 3 differing levels with the water-filled one at the topmost level, water will flow from the first pot to the second. When the second fills up, the third which is still at a lower level fills up. However if the second pot on being filled up, is immediately replaced with another empty one, the third pot has to wait till the second one is full again. This, I am sure would need no explanation and answers the basic question that prompted these two posts.


As a final note, all the outsourcing we see is due to the world economics in action. Several factors, some listed by me, some not listed, some directly attributable, some indirectly playing their part, are all shaping the future. Wealth re-distribution is the only thing that is constant. Tomorrow, in the distant future when the Indian masses demand a luxury of the kind the developed world is enjoying today, wealth will start trickling to some other part of the globe. Unless, we introduce a second pot then, in other words, diversify and look beyond plain outsourcing as our revenue earner, we have to prepare ourselves for the not so rosy future that the developed nations are finding themselves face to face with.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

India Shining... But for how long? - Part 1

In response to my articles on India assuming the role of the world's back office, Santosh, a college mate of mine posted a comment, "How long , I mean for how many years can these western countries feed us, there would be some limit for this. Many other countries are also coming up in competition to open back offices and software development?". I am sure it is tempting to dismiss such questions with a one-liner like ,"For as long as we offer cheap labour and quality". Very much true. However, I decided to scratch the surface a little more to analyse the factors that are currently driving work to India and the factors that might eventually be India's undoing in attracting such work in the future.

Globalization is one primary reason why the outsourcing insdustry in India is having such a gala time today. India is marching ahead at a stupendous 8.1% GDP growth, something that none of the developed world is showing.

The cold war era saw governments in control of industries and trade in their respective countries. This was driven by the principles of Socialism and Marxism that were in vogue in many of the Russian satellite countries and even many of the NAM ( Non Alignment Movement ) countries like India, Egypt and the African nations which had gained Independence just then. Perestroika* and Glasnost** were being voiced the globe over, thanks to erstwhile USSR President Gorbachev's tireless propaganda. The political and societal mood in the countries that had just thrown off the colonial yoke, was one of adopting methodologies that aim at equal wealth distribution and thus prevent exploitation, something that the citizens of these nations had endured for nearly two centuries.

80s saw the USSR disintegrate. Socialist priniciples that had been ineffectually adopted had gone horribly bad in several nations. Globalization was a new phenomenon that started catching on with the world leaders soon after the Cold War era ceased. Harping on principles like creation of a global village, wealth for everyone, stable societies and stable economies. 'globalization' struck the right note with many a country. World Trade Organization (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank(WB) with backing from the MNCs imposed garangutan conditions on developing economies while granting them the much needed billion dollar loans. These conditions involved privatization of industries, liberalization of economies.

India was on the crossroads of whether to take the plunge or not. It was a make or a break situation for the country. Finally, Narasimha Rao's government took the hard decision and brought in the new generation economic reforms in the 90s that paved the way for India to become one with the global economy. MNCs started pouring into the country as they did into various other countries across the world that had swallowed the pill of globalization. India has managed to utilize globalization to its benefits, while numerous for numerous other countries, globalization has come in as a scourge. What did India do or have that these other nations did not ?

Await my next post to find out why India managed to while others failed to hitch hike a ride on the outsourcing bandwagon. Let us also answer the pertinent question that threw open this discussion in the first place.

Footnotes

*Perestroika : An economic policy adopted in the former Soviet Union; intended to increase automation and labour efficiency but it led eventually to the end of central planning in the Russian economy

**
Glasnost : A policy of the Soviet government allowing freer discussion of social problems

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Lord Hanuman to the Rescue

India's Fledgling Animation Industry

My brother brought Hanuman - The Mighty Warrior, a 2 part Video CD animation film while returning from his outstation trip. Claimed to be the first 2D animation movie, completely made in India, by an Indian and based on an Indian epic character, the movie bowled us all over. It has even been recorded officially as India's first indigenous animation film in the Limca Book of Records. The media is all awash with promotion clips and stills of the movie, showing Hanuman, the monkey God epic character, depicted in the movie as a fun loving, adventure seeking character. Chiefly aimed at the child audience and priced at a very reasonable Rs 169 ( approx. USD 3.7 ), the movie I think has done ample justice to both the theme and the quality of animation in the film without sacrificing on the story line front and ensuring that the young audience's attention stays glued throughout the entire movie span.

Animation was totally an unheard of industry in India till 90s. However today India is pitching itself as a key player in this multi million dollar industry. I was intrigued. Why is all the hype with the animation industry now and not earlier?

One thing is evident. The Indian audience's mood for animation movies was largely un-gauged. Under the shadow of Bollywood ( India's movie industry ) looming large, it was considered too risky a proposition by producers to invest money in animation movies. To add to the fear factor, was the failure of two movies. One, 'Bhaggmati - The Queen of Fortunes' which was two and a half hour movie with 60 minutes of animation and including live star casts of the likes of Hema Malini, Milind Soman and Tabu. It flopped badly. The other was 'Legend of Buddha', a very low budget animation movie released only in select metros. It was not received very well either.

However things seem to be turning much better than being hunky dory for this information technology driven film industry. Major studios are being opened up in India dedicated to pure animation. ZICA, (Zee Institute of Creative Arts) in Mumbai, PentaFour Graphics in Chennai, Ittina Animation in Bangalore to name a few. Even big time producers who have the money power like Sahara Productions and Percept are stepping in. 'Takshaa', a training institute in animation is being setup at Bangalore headed by Bill Miller of the ‘Shrek 4D’, ‘Shrek 2’ and ‘Madagascar’ fame.

Add to all this the outsourcing of animation movie making from the US film makers to India that is gaining speed. PentaFour Graphics produced the highly acclaimed movies like 'Sindbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists', 'Son of Alladin' and 'Alibaba'. A friend of mine who is trying to etch out a career in this blooming industry pointed out that producing a 15 minute animation clip in the US costs anywhere between $ 20,000 to $50,000 while the same can be produced in the Indian studios for a mere $3800 or less.

Hope to see the Indian animation industry turn into another leaf of success in India's Information Technology forte. Hanuman might just provide the industry with the giant leap required to forge ahead.


Useful Links

Two Animation movies - A Preview

Chat with Bill Miller of ‘Shrek 4D’, ‘Shrek 2’ and ‘Madagascar’ fame

Monday, February 06, 2006

Back. Office of the World - Part 2

Part 1 of this series analysed India turning into the back office of the world and the economic effects this event is unleashing here.

India is truly a conundrum to the average Westerner. A country long perceived to be the land of snake-charmers and holy cows is today morphing into being the fulcrum on which back office operations around the world rely on. Yet, these new job sections have cast their own shadow on the social, cultural and political ethos of this land.

Social and cultural effects
It goes without saying that jobs higher up on the paying scale definitely contribute towards the creation of lateral jobs. It might seem that with numbers ranging from 4 to 7 million people, the call center industry in India employees just a fraction of the billion strong population. However it has been estimated that for every job that a call center creates, at least 3 jobs are indirectly created ......as a side effect. For example, companies hire cleaning staff, cafeteria and transportation employees. In addition, businesses buy or rent properties, hire or buy limousines or shuttles, and spend on entertainment, travel and training. Also, we need to take into account the Indian nuclear family concept that comprises of a minimum of 4 members in the family, with just 1 bread winner on whom the family is dependent. Each individual employed in the call center industry is feeding 3 other individuals. With this background knowledge, the numbers benefiting from this industry start turning substantial.

Call center jobs are high paying jobs that are associated with enormous prestige among middle class circles. You must see the pride with which parents rattle out the names of the call centers MNCs that have employed their sons and daughters. College under grads joining call centers have starting salaries that are at least 5-6 times that of their parents last drawn salary. In a close knit society this can mean lots. Everything from matrimony to the standing of the family in the community undergoes a Brobdingnagian change.

The youth too love these high paying jobs as it gives them economic independence, confidence in aping the West ( something that Hollywood films impart ) right from the way you blabber English to the way you down the pint. Most importantly, however, these jobs provide a spring board to fling them towards newer jobs and opportunities where English knowledge plays a decisive role.

Political Effects
Political parties too love this industry. It creates huge employment opportunities, minimum investment in terms of real estate and infrastructure required and boosts the state economy. It invites Foreign Direct Investment in millions of Dollars, Euros , Pounds and Yens. Local political leaders get the opportunity to interact with global CEOs who come visiting. It is no wonder then that political parties leave no stone unturned in gaining power in states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab which are current key players in call center industry in India.

Anti Climax
While all this discussion would indeed have convinced you that call center jobs are here to stay and pay rich dividends to the country, we need to pay attention to industry experts who are playing the devil's advocate. Their chief argument is that with so many call centers mushrooming, poaching of quality employees from other call centers, by dangling the higher salary carrot in front of them, is assuming alarming proportions. A sky rocketing of offshore outsourcing costs as a result of this, will kill the benefits of offshoring to India. This, they say, will be the start of another mass movement of Indian jobs to other South East Asian countries who will then be offering the same offshore outsourcing benefits as India did, a while ago. Sounds blasphemous ? Well, we better be on our toes and let time be the judge.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Empowering Rural India - E-Choupals

A class-mate of mine who just completed his MBA had come to visit me today. I was seeing him after nearly 6 years. It was a happy re-union. We reminisced on how enjoyable our college days had been. Gradually, downing some pancakes that my Mom had made, our discussion settled on MBA projects. His project involved a survey on 'Information Technology Rural Initiatives'. My interest was aroused. He had based his project on the e-Choupal concept which he had been describing to rural folk and eliciting their responses on whether such a project would benefit them. He had also gone a step further and signed up petitions from the villagers requesting the government to hasten the implementation of such projects in their villages. I thought his act was really selfless.

After he had left, I decided to enlighten myself on what this project was all about and what success rates it had achieved. Thought, I'll share them with you.

E-Choupal* : It is a case of empowering the rural farmer with knowledge on the market place, prices for his crops, the prices of seeds, fertilizers, etc. This enables him to get the best price for his crops and avoid middlemen and at the same time procure best quality raw materials at lowest prices.

Kick started in the state of Madhya Pradesh in the year 2000 by ITC, a large corporation in India, it involves providing a set of 10 surrounding villages with a computer linked to the Internet via VSAT. Each such unit benefits 600 farmers. Via this system, an educated, computer literate farmer, called the Sanchalak uses the internet and the site www.e-choupal.com to discuss matters with other farmers in the state and country, lookup prices etc and fix prices in the local market.

Today e-choupals cover 7 states reaching out an estimated 3.5 million farmers spread over 31,000 villages via 5000 odd e-Choupal installations. Plans are on to expand e-Choupals to benefit 10 million farmers by 2008.

For the full story, go here

Useful Links
E-Choupal analysis by Tuck School of Business, USA


Foot Notes

*E-Choupal : Choupal refers to meeting place, common among villages. E-Choupals are electronic versions where the meeting place allows interaction among a larger group.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The enigma that is software engineering

One of the common questions that is thrown at me by people from non-Information Technology field is,"What exactly do software engineers do?" or subtle variations like, "What exactly is software engineering?". Quite simple you might think, but not in India where the information technology industry is still in its infancy in comparison to the tralatitious industries. The added difficulty is also posed by the presence of the large sections of the population who are blissfully ignorant of what information technology is all about.

I had been to a college in the nearby city of Davangere last week to deliver a lecture on 'Upcoming trends in Information Technology and what career options are available'. The audience consisted chiefly of 10+2 students. After the lecture, the chairman of the institution invited me to his office. Sipping tea, up popped the question that has hounded me ever since I left college. "What exactly is software engineering?". He was a civil engineer who had started his own finance company that dispensed private loans. I thought of a different approach this time. I asked him,"Sir, what exactly do you currently know about the software field?" He smiled and started, "My knowledge about software is zero. However what I fail to understand is the concept of software engineering. I can understand civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, textile engineering and even electronic engineering. But, I am unable to fathom what software engineering is all about. All software engineers I have met, talk about coding. Software engineers say they sit in front of computers and code. All I see them is work in their companies from morning to night and at the end of the month, take home a fat salary. No raw material goes in, nothing ever comes out. However these companies report earnings that run into millions of dollars. The whole thing has made me very inquisitive"

I sighed. Software has brought about a vast change in the field of engineering in the way it has been perceived traditionally in India. It is this paradigm shift that is the basis of all confusion among the older generation. Engineering for them was never about being glued to your chair for 9-12 hours a day. It was not about zero raw material input and wholesome output that delights your customer. It was not about earning obscenely fat salary packages. Engineering was planning in the drawing board and then getting down to the field, rolling up your sleeves, spitting on both hands and getting down to implementing the design. This has been the case with almost all traditional engineering fields. Software engineering defies all these ground rules of what engineering is supposed to be. It is a totally different ball game. You design projects on the computer, implement it on the computer, and deliver it through the computer to the client. It requires a trained eye to see that every single principle of engineering is still adhered to, albeit a different manner. Every thing from requirement gathering, design, testing, and quality measurement that are the cornerstones of engineering also hold true to software engineering.

I love to quote one of my senior professors in college in this context. His favorite saying was,"All engineering fields are like the planets in the solar system. However software engineering is Saturn among them. It has a halo around its head" Rightly said, having a halo around you does not take away your planet status but indeed makes you stand out among the crowd.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Coming of Age of the Indian Information Technology Trio

Wipro wins $300 million contract from General Motors - 2 Feb, 2006

Infy , TCS major chief vendors in ABN Amro $2.2 billion contract - Sep 2005
( Infy $175 million, TCS - $260 million )

Within a span of 6 months, Wipro, TCS and Infosys, the triumvirate synonymous with home grown Information technology majors has won multi-million dollar contracts. While this was expected given the home turf strength of these companies and the huge cost savings they portray and even deliver to their clientele, what was not expected is the speed with which they emerged as major competitors to the established players like IBM, EDS, HP, ACS, CSC, etc and made a dent on their hold on the Fortune 500 clientele. Their very emergence prompted these other players to turn their attention to India as a source of talented and skilled graduates who could do the same work as computer engineers elsewhere in the world, at a fraction of the cost, while maintaining the same quality standards. The above contracts are also a big milestone in the Indian Information technology saga as they catapulted all these three players from being secondary players in their client companies GM and ABN Amro, to the coveted position of being the primary information technology vendors. And significant also is the fact that these contracts have been awarded not for 1 year, but for a full 5 year period. That should speak volumes of the confidence the three Indian companies have been able to garner from their clientele. It also sends out strong ripples among the world's corporate circles reminding them of the new kids on the block.

TPI, a global sourcing advisory company for corporates, has come out with a report that states that about 128 multi-million dollar information technology contracts will be up for renewal in 2006. The total worth of these contracts is $37.6 billion. 70% of these contracts are currently held by CSC, EDS and IBM. TPI's managing director, Duncan Aitchison has this to say, "With such a significant volume of outsourcing contracts nearing their renewal date, 2006 could witness interesting shifts in the market share of the Big Six* and other providers. As the recent ABN Amro deal demonstrates, Indian providers also now compete for and win the biggest application development and maintenance contracts."

According to the consultants at the Everest Group, while IT giants like Accenture and IBM currently dominate the finance and accounting outsourcing space, "they are increasingly being challenged by the Indian offshore providers".

So with at least 128 contracts up for renewal in 2006, will the big boys be able to hold on and grow their market shares? Or will the smaller players be successful in breaking the stranglehold of the traditional IT service giants?

One thing is certain. After years of dominating the global outsourcing scene, the big boys are in for their biggest fight and the Indian trio is very much capable of packing a punch to take the wind out of the Big Six.


Footnotes
*Big Six in IT outsourcing = Accenture, Affiliated Computer Services(ACS), Computer Sciences Corporation(CSC), Electronic Data Systems(EDS), Hewlett-Packard(HP) and IBM

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

From 'ParaTrooper' to 'Need For Speed'

I still remember the day when I was exposed to the first computer in my life. It was in my fourth grade (1989). My school had made a bulky investment in 2 Eiko computers, one of the few brands then available in India. Six monitors that served as dumb terminals were connected to a single Central Processing Unit (CPU). The CPU had no hard disk. You boot it up with a system disk and then insert an application related disk. There was another standalone system that had the dot matrix printer connected to it. Each monitor was a plain green Cathode Ray Tube. The Operating System was DOS ( Disk Operating System ) by Microsoft. WordStar was the de facto word processor. Educational Software used to come in 5 1/4 inch diskettes. It used to draw ASCII pictures and explain the water cycle, the eruption of a volcano, etc. The only game we ever played was ParaTrooper that involved protecting our base from enemy planes and copters that drop soldiers into our base.

That was then. I consider myself among the fortunate few to get an initiation into computers at such an early age.

However, there has been a sea change in the exposure a present day student gets in the field of computers in India. Most middle class family students have personal computer at home. Almost every school including the ones in rural India have access to at least one computer. Students today use Encarta and Britannica CDs' as knowledge bases. Internet is their first source for home work and projects. They play games that involve concepts like Role Play(RP), First Person Shooter(FPS) and Multi User Dungeons (MUD). Paint brush is used to hone creativity skills among children.

My cousin studying in 2nd grade visited me this afternoon. She came over to my desk and was studying me working over my laptop. I asked her if she would like to play some games. She nodded. I opened up minesweeper, one of my favorite pastimes and vacated my seat for her. You should have seen the 'Are-you- nuts?' look on her face!! "Nooooooooo, this is a boring game. Don't you have car racing ? My teacher allows me to play that after our computer class". She was talking of Need For Speed, the car racing simulation game that is a popular gaming title. I was super stunned. Such marvelous exposure to computers at such young an age. I managed to distract her with some other racing game. However within minutes, she was by my side in the hall complaining,"The computer has hung". I came back and indeed it had. While I went about trying to re-boot it, she landed another bomb shell at me, "I think you don't have enough RAM in the system. My computer sir says that computer won't hang if there is enough RAM", she remarked casually . Can you imagine such words coming out of a kid 8 years old. Tonnes of quality exposure to computers right from their lower classes is the prime reason. I was wondering at what age I came across the term RAM, leave alone the relation between low memory and hanging computers. Definitely not till I was 14 years of age.

Worth mentioning are also the efforts that Information Technology majors are putting in to maximize the reach of computers to the next generation of kids. Infosys and Wipro regularly donate computers to rural schools. NIIT, a computer education company had started an experimental program called the 'Hole in the Wall' in 1999 in an urban slum in New Delhi to expose computers under-privileged children. The modus operandi involved fixing computer screens in school walls in villages and allowing rural kids to have a free go at trying out things themselves on the computers. It was a roaring success and the program has been extended to several rural areas in the country since then. Microsoft too has announced a new initiative termed 'Saksham' which involves setting up thousands of rural computer kiosks.

Computer awareness among Gen-Next in India has come a long long way in one and a half decade.

Useful Links

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