Hard truths about software

Posted: August 3, 2010 in NRI
Tags: ,

You probably think I’ve been kicking myself really hard these past five years for chucking up a cushy job in a newspaper and floundering in and recently out of an IT/Corporate Communication job. But, I look at the bright side.

If I hadn’t quit journalism, I would have never seen an ‘interesting’ side of the software industry. A side where us “country bumpkins” were looked down upon by condescending non-resident Indians and their American counterparts; where Indians would be given a crash course in “professionalism” (shades of Enron’s Rebecca Mark?) and where promises made to Indian employees were usually forgotten in a week.

When I spoke to my former boss at HT (who I have to thank for giving me the opportunity to work there), about my new opportunity in an Information Technology firm, he cautioned me: “It’s not worth it. Don’t do it. You have a future here.”

In hindsight, I guess he was right. I had got two promotions in less than three years in a profession where people usually hung around for decades on the same post. But I was adamant. I was tired of journalism; tired of the bullshit I encountered every day. And I had had enough of the politics and pressures that politicians and their cronies exerted on editors. Free press, to me at that moment, was an oxymoron.

How could it ever be called ‘free’ when a story which might have toppled a chief minister was watered down, to ensure that it didn’t jeopardise the business interests of the media house? What about the compromises the journalists had to make and still make? Today, after five years all that seems so irrelevant. I’ve also accepted the fact that journalism then and now are on different tracks and the twain shall ne’er meet, but back then it was frustrating.

So when I walked into an ‘IT firm’ on my first day at work, I thought I had been transported into another world. Away from the humdrum and buzz, away from the acrid, stale smell of cigarettes that permeated a newsroom. No more endless cups of tea and discussions about the government at the tea stall outside the office. I had left all that far behind. So here I was in this all glass environment, looking and feeling like a fish out of water.

I was never a geek (and never will be) and my interest in software extended to my PC, which I used for reading the news, chatting and surfing. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was a complete misfit. And the technical jargon made it even worse.

But it was amazing how these guys with their faux American accents actually conned everyone, with this whole spiel about how kicked we should feel that we were actually working for an ‘American’ firm. It took most employees less than a week to figure out that it was not just their accents that were fake– the whole edifice was.

Whatever my inadequacies as a PR professional, it didn’t explain the behavior and attitude of the NRIs and the superciliousness they treated the Indians with. I found a work culture that looked professional from the outside, but scratch the surface and it was full of holes. Plans made were changed every week.

The marketing ‘strategy’ was hardly what one would expect from US-based companies. Employees were told to call their cousins, friends and uncles and ask for business! It was a bit like the neighbourhood grocer calling you to ask whether we could shop at his place! Budgets promised were never sanctioned because the company seemed perennially broke and projects never got off the ground for the same reason. They didn’t care who spent the money as long as it wasn’t them. After a while the exercise became a joke – If IBM and the Pune Municipal Corporation (speaking hypothetically) funded the entire project, my company would be more than happy to associate with it!

According to ‘them’ Indian workers were ‘gits’ who lacked professionalism and “We are going to teach you the meaning of professionalism.”. Indians should also work their butts off preferably for free, never complain and gratefully accept the crumbs thrown their way.

I felt sorry for the female employees and those on the night shift, who were given neither lockers nor transport, nor dinner (Since it wasn’t mentioned in the employee handbook, they were not entitled to it, was the official credo). Guess what they got for snacks – four biscuits. Yep, you read correctly!

Then there was the system of appraisals and increments. I worked in two media organisations where increments and promotions were given every year at the same time, come what may. While the amounts may have been a matter of debate, it was never denied. But at an IT firm it was a new experience. There were a lot of promises made but none kept. And it wasn’t as if the employees were not performing. There was, just, a new excuse every time!

But we were dealing with NRIs. And you didn’t tell NRIs how to do their jobs. They told you. After all, professionalism was not something we Indians understood. Or so they would have us believe.

  1. nadi says:

    thank you for ‘scratching under the surface’ of this kind of workplace that many young people are aspiring to

  2. janhavi says:

    You are absolutely right in this aspect of the IT world . .
    And it’s just the cream up there at the management level who actually can scratch and find out what’s going on. Employees at the lower levels i.e. developers and functional consultants don’t even know what price their company is claiming from the US clients for their “EFFORTS” and what exactly they are getting..(which is peanuts).

  3. I agree with each n very word; specially the “..Employees were told to call their cousins, friends and uncles and ask for business!” though it hilarious, it’s true.

  4. Pradeep Menon says:

    So true. So true! I worked in an American company for a couple of years, and even if I hadn’t already decided when I was a teenager that I wanted to be a filmmaker, I would have still quit that job, money be damned. I cannot understand how people can slog their asses off for a foreign company. How can they actually take it seriously? I just couldn’t connect to it, even though I was actually not that bad at my work. I also think ‘professionalism’ is the most overrated word in the world. True professionalism is just giving it your bloody best. The rest of it withers away then.

  5. Andrew says:

    I printed a lot of your blog out thanks my friend

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s