Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Indian Software Engineer

The Indian Software Engineer is a strange animal. The CEO of a software organization once shared with me how adaptable the Indian Software Engineer is. Apparently he acts like an American in the US, an Arab in the Middle East, a Japanese in Japan and an European in Europe. Send him anywhere and he will give up what he is to become what they are. The Head Honcho obviously meant it as a complement but I am not so sure it is such a good thing to be so flexible.

I worked in a software organization many years ago and it was enough to put me off from working full time in any organization. I discovered among all the different varieties of employees you find in different organizations the software engineer is the peskiest. All he is worried about is what kind of daily allowance he will be paid in his overseas visits. They compared notes with their friends in other software organizations and landed up on my table to crib and haggle. Their never ending refrain was if my friend is getting $ 55 in another organization for his daily expenditure, why I must get only $ 50.It was most annoying. The CEO of that particular organization complained to me that when the visiting software engineers were invited to the homes of their clients, they went empty handed. ‘Teach them some manners,’ she requested me. ‘They can at least buy some flowers.’ But all her nagging was in vain. They continued to go empty handed wherever they were invited because she never stopped whining about that one.

I met another software engineer a few years ago on a flight. He was sitting next to me. We started talking and he poured his heart out to me. I was partly responsible for it. I pose all kinds of questions to strangers to get to hear their stories. When I was a student in XLRI, a friend got very riled with me and accused ‘You are very evil. You manage to coax out all my secrets and I always regret it afterwards. I am sure you tell it to others.’ She was only partially right. I do coax out the stories from others but I never tell it to anyone. I just use fictional names for them and write it all down as a story. Then my friends tend to recognise themselves and get very upset. I always try to convince them since what they told me was in confidence, even those who know them would never associate the story with them. But by that time they are too incensed to listen to reason. Anyway this guy who sat next to me must have forgotten all about me by now so I will go ahead and share his pathos with all those who are going to read this one.

He was from a small town in Rajasthan and he was working for the biggest IT organization in India. He had over two and a half years experience and his boss was a sadist. So he hadn’t been sent on an overseas assignment even once. The poor guy was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. ‘All my friends who joined software organizations have made the down payment for a flat or a house with the daily allowance they got in their overseas trips except me,’ he cried out, so loudly that even the travellers in the seats in front turned and looked at us. 'Now he has put me on another domestic assignment and I don’t know what to do.’ I advised him to change his organization or at the very least change his boss. I also learnt that day why the employees of the software organization I worked in were always pestering me about their overseas allowance.

The funniest story came from a participant in my creative writing workshop. This guy had also joined the same organization I mentioned in the last paragraph. They sent him to Tokyo for a couple of years to develop some logistics software for an automobiles giant. He had to live in a poky hole in the wall and got mildly depressed. After he came back, he was never the same. He started doing a lot of weed, enrolled himself in the workshop and wrote some excellent poetry. His manager was really hassled with him because the employees in the organization had to pass some strange exams set by another global software giant to get promoted and this young man would flunk all of them. But at the same time they couldn’t ask him to leave as the managers in the client system loved him and didn’t want him replaced at any cost. Besides software organization are the biggest skinflints and sacking this maverick would have meant paying for the training of the replacement. So the association continued like Anna Karenina’s marriage.

Then one fine day this young man woke up on a working day and instead of going to work rolled a joint. Afterwards rather than go to work, he headed to the railway station and got into an unreserved second class compartment of a train heading to Howrah. He ignored all the calls his frantic manager made. He stayed in Kolkata for a week in some cheap lodge and ate in roadside dhaabas, got a bad stomach and almost died. After he came back he realized he was behaving strangely because of his strange organization and he needed to get rid of it. So he moved some family contacts to get a huge student’s loan to enrol in a second rate course in a second rate British university. When he announced his decision to quit all hell broke loose. The same manager who was always criticizing him gave him a cash reward for being the ‘Best Employee’ of the month. The young man had made up his mind and refused to get tempted. Now he lives happily in a British university town with his English girlfriend.

The most harrowing experience I had as a trainer was also in a software organization. This was in a Chinese organization and I was asked to facilitate a two day workshop on Performance Management. This organization was unique as the Chinese were Managers and the Indians Developers. The Indians were an interested lot and asked a lot of questions. The Chinese didn’t like this as they felt I was an authority figure and shouldn’t be questioned. Besides they were the managers and if anyone had to ask a question it should be them and not the Indians. So every time an Indian Developer asked a question, they would start talking in Chinese with each other. When this happened, the Indians would look at me and say wearily ‘ Yeh aise hi hain. Inka kuch nahin ho sakta.’

I don’t know how I got through those two days.

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