Here is the latest news from the Indian IT industry.
Almost three years ago when I had started this blog, I wrote this post on a problem of the Indian IT industry. I'm sure not many people read my blog at the time. Then after all these years, I came across this news report. The events reported are a direct result of the problem I wrote about, and I feel compelled to write something more about it. When I left the IT industry to come back to academics, I had decided I would refrain from writing cribbing posts exposing the bad side of the Industry. However, I think it is my duty to warn the engineering students of our country planning to go into a company like Wipro, Infosys, TCS or Satyam: most of them do not know what they are getting into. I do, because I have been there. I will just share some of the things that I saw during my three years in the IT industry.
Stir after Wipro asks techies to join BPO
TIMES NEWS NETWORKKolkata: They were aware of the slowdown, but none thought it would sting so soon. Assured employment as project engineers by Wipro in 2007, these budding engineers didn’t know their careers would go into free fall.
Hundreds of students from different engineering colleges staged a dharna in front of the Wipro SEZ area in Sector V on Saturday morning after the company asked them to join its BPO shop at half the salary they had been offered initially. At the dharna, the students were waving copies of the company’s revised letter, which they got a few days ago.
“As project engineers, we are supposed to get Rs2.75-3.25 lakh a year, while as a BPO employee, this has been reduced to Rs1.2-1.6 lakh annually. We will be demoted to a BPO staffer. We’re aware of the meltdown, but are not willing to compromise on job profile,” said Gourab Saha, from JIS Engineering College, Kalyani.
According to students, the company had given them offer letters to join as project engineers after campus interviews in 2007. They were promised jobs in February 2009 after they passed out of college.
In a letter to the selected candidates on November 25, Wipro management invited them to join the BPO division in Kolkata. “You would be aware of the current economic environment across all industries including the IT sector. IT analysts and experts claim this scenario is likely to prevail for a while. We have looked at various options to absorb you without much delay,” the letter says. The nature of job is that of a “technical helpdesk engineer” instead of “project engineer” as promised earlier.
After getting the letter, confused students rushed to the Wipro office on Thursday to meet HR officials. The meeting was futile. Company officials allegedly took a take-it-or-leave -it stand and said they were not going to consider the cases of those unwilling to join the BPO.
Students then staged the dharna in front of Wipro office on Saturday expecting the Wipro management to take a flexible stand. Many among the agitators were ready to work for a reduced salary, but not in the BPO division. “We told HR that we are ready to accept a reduced pay structure. But the company should give us the designation offered initially,” pleaded Saikat Chakravorty, a student from Institute of Technology and Marine Engineering.
The agitators are ready to wait another six months. They pleaded with the company not to cancel their appointments if they did not join the BPO. “At present, it is mandatory to join the BPO, otherwise they will strike off our names. During Saturday’s meeting, we told them we were willing to wait a few months to join as engineers,” said Sayantan Mukherjee, a student from Bengal Institute of Technology, who went to talk to Sonal Bharadwaj, regional HR head of Wipro. “Bharadwaj gave us a patient hearing but didn’t promise anything. We’ve been asked to get in touch with HR by December 2,” said Sayantan.
Wipro Technologies vice-president Pradeep Bahirwani said: “Due to current business scenario we estimate delays in joining dates of some batches of recruits. We are providing them an option of a role in our BPO division. The objective is to let engineering graduates commence work without delay.”
- The freepool: This is a group of people who have no work to do at the moment. Most engineering students who hear about it ask me delightedly, "Do they pay you in full in the freepool? If they do, then why, it's the most wonderful job in the world!" Let me tell everyone that it is not. I know of people who spent one full year in the freepool after being recruited. This is bad due to several reasons.
- Firstly, after about the first month of enjoyment, the frustration that sets in is enough to cause psychiatric problems. Just imagine: you have to come and sit at a desk in your office for 9.5 hours every day and you have nothing to do other than reading junk mails, forwarding more junk mails and browsing websites. Even most of the popular websites are blocked in these companies. People either just go crazy and remain stressed and irritated all the time or try to develop hobbies like blogging and digital photography. Sometimes they come in, record their attendance and then go out and watch a movie and come back (believe me, I have done it more than once), but how many movies can you watch? What's worse, in some companies you have to come in night shifts to do this sitting-at-your-desk thing as they do not have enough cubicles/computers during the day. To put it mildly, it is hell.
- Secondly, people forget everything they learnt in college during this time. Even writing simple programs seems difficult after a few months. On paper, the companies do arrange trainings for these people. Now what does a training look like? A person blabbering about some topic while 15 people connect remotely to his slideshow via the network and listen to him via VOIP. Sometimes the network connection breaks for someone: nobody cares. Sometimes the voice isn't clear enough. Nobody cares. I once asked for a face to face training and my manager (I could write volumes about this particular manager and the nonsense that he speaks, but this post is about more serious issues) responded, "In this current competitive environment, the focus has shifted to increased productivity, and we cannot afford to have a face to face training. You need to augment your learning curve by our e-learning courses." Fine, you think. Why not stop cribbing and try to make the most of these trainings? I thought the same way. So after some sessions on Siebel Analytics, I asked the management for the software so that I may practise hands on what I learnt. Only then it became evident that I cannot have the software as it was licensed for project use. It is the same with any licensed software. So we are supposed to learn the theory via phone and do the practical mentally. Yet we cannot say we don't know that software when we are asked to work on it suddenly after six months. "You have been trained, haven't you?" the managers ask.
- Finally, let's say an economic crisis hits after the one year you spent in the freepool and they start laying off people. You are going to be among the first targets because the company does not even know your capabilities. Soon, you will be on the streets looking for a job, but you have already forgotten many of the things you learnt in college. Finally you get a call for an interview. One of the inevitable questions is, "What are the projects that you have worked on for the last one year in your previous company?" I will not bother about the details of what the reaction might be if you say you were in the freepool. I will just state one unwritten rule followed in the industry, "If someone is on the freepool, that means they are incompetent." This same rule is followed even in the same company that kept you in the freepool for no fault of yours. No prizes for guessing whether you'll get the job.
- Unplanned recruitment: The same companies that are asking recruits to join some inferior post at half salaries now or deferring their joining date were recruiting like crazy a year ago. Without naming any company or person, I would like to quote what an HR manager of one company told the people going for recruitment at the engineering colleges. "Our current strength is 1200 and we want to touch 4000 by March 2008," she said, "Recruit as many as you can, even if they can't answer much at the interviews." Everyone working there knew that there was no work for those many people, and none was likely to come. Everyone, except the HR people (most of the HR people are incompetent by definition). If anything, the economy was becoming worse. And now, after that figure has been reached, they finally realize that they bit off more than they can chew. What Wipro did can be seen in the news story above. The other companies are doing similar things too. Yet, a year ago, they were offering never-heard-of starting salaries to engineers out of college. Actually the salary offered to campus recruits in my company was higher than the salary that I and my batchmates were getting after working for three years. You didn't need to be an MBA to predict that this wasn't sustainable. In fact, I have a strong suspicion that these policies were framed by MBAs. After the Wall Street meltdown, everyone knows what they are capable of.
- Inferior quality of work: Believe me: 90% of the work done at any major Indian IT services company is, to put it in American slang, Micky Mouse. That means they are insultingly simple tasks which can be performed by a bunch of high school kids. Thinking is actively discouraged. Creativity is sneered at. Challenging problems are avoided. Every project, every resource (which means the employees) and every action is evaluated on one criteria: the profit of the company. Which is perfectly fair, as long as they don't use brilliant students as pawns. Do the engineers of our country really want to work in these sweatshops where sometimes people have to work 24x7 just because the company wants to save money by keeping a resource in India and paying him an Indian salary but making him work at onsite timings? Many people join the IT industry for the onsite opportunity dream. Be careful, with the increase in the number of resources, going to onsite is a matter of chance now, and the chances are getting slimmer every day.
- Unnecessary expenditure: They don't have money for face to face trainings. They do not have money to give pay hikes to the existing employees. Yet, the amount of money and time they spend on unplanned and unnecessary activity is awe-inspiring. Let's take a real life example that I saw: suppose there are ten people in your project and there are no vacant seats nearby to take more. You know twenty more are coming within a month out of which five are due to arrive in a week. What will you do? If I were the manager, I would move to a room where all 30 can be seated. Not the real managers. They will move the whole team to a place where there is just enough place for 15 people. After a month, they will again move to a place where all thirty can be accommodated which is actually the initial location of the team with another team moved away. The amount of bureaucratic hassle for implementing these two changes would be monumental. Tens of emails would go back and forth, the IT department would be bowed down with machine movement requests and at least one workday would be lost for each movement. But, as I said earlier, thinking is prohibited there; innovative solutions frowned upon. The company is so short of money that when one of my teammates lost the support mobile phone, he was told to buy one for the company by our manager (I wonder who pocketed the insurance money). Yet just look at the money they waste on unplanned activity!
- Lies: Maybe that's the industry norm. Maybe the managers lie in every company, in every sector. Yet it never failed to surprise me how our manager could lie with a straight face about upcoming projects, requirements, budget constraints and other nonsense. He even had figures ready. Again, maybe profit matters most. But when one shoves a campus recruit into a dead technology project after keeping him in the freepool for six months saying "This is the hottest thing in the market. This is the best thing to happen to your career," maybe its time we looked at our ethical values and redefined good business practices. I can go on and on, but let me just say that right from the person who comes for the pre-placement talk in the college, to the person who takes your exit interview the day you leave the job, and everyone that you meet in between, are glib liars. There are a few honest exceptions, but they are few and far between.
"Take it or leave it," they say. It's time we made the management of these IT companies face the same choices regarding their jobs and salaries.
(Any comments talking about any specific company by name, or phishing about the company that I worked for will be deleted. If you know me personally, you know the name of the company. Keep quiet. If you don't know me personally, well, I'm not going to name my ex-employers.)