Sunday, April 26, 2009

Market for lemons - H1B and competence

I'm finally extremely happy that US is tightening the screws on H1B visas. It may be ironic, but I feel it is the only way Indian IT industry can survive. The reason is simple - Darwin's theory.

If there is one thing that I feel concerned about, it is the dismal technical skills of software engineers. Over the past one and half years, I've interviewed over 70 candidates, but I could clear less than 10% of them. I can't refer most people from the only IT company I've worked with previously, because they are unemployable.

I have listed the probable causes here ...
a) People learn tools, not the concepts. Most CS engineers don't know the fundamentals. Exposed to the IDEs, they don't know what happens during compilation and what happens during linking. Exposed to "safe programming languages", they don't know what basic issues of memory allocation. Exposed to the frameworks and toolkits, they don't know how things happen actually. Abstraction is a great concept while programming, but not for learning.

b) Nobody writes code. Easiest way to filter out people (in my experience) is to ask them write a code snippet on a white board. It's real fun watching them struggle.
One thing is sure: these guys are not programmers. They have no idea about programming. Some don't even indent the code (in my book, that's a shooting offense).

c) People who passed out during the dot-com boom or bust had to be good. We weren't even sure whether we would get a job. So, we had read all sorts of books in the library and yet, get screwed in interviews.

d) All this is driven by mindless, mass recruitment. The typical IT setup works like this: the sales people sell a project to a customer, and then scramble to find the "resources" (as people are termed euphemistically) to allocate to the project. If the customer wants to look at the CVs, then it is possible to embellish the CVs to make them more attractive. If resources are not found, then they find sub-contracts who can provide the resources for the necessary time for a certain cut. If 10 people can accomplish the project, then 15 people are allocated, because the objective of the IT company is to maximize "billability". The customer pays through the nose for all this.

If this sounds unethical ... it probably is.

e) The IT companies screwed up. No amount of training can replace 4 years of slogging and getting screwed by sadistic profs/lecturers in college. To even imagine that their internal training can replace the learning during engineering is a fallacy. Cross-domain knowledge is good ... where cross-domain knowledge is required (say in engineering simulations, FEA etc). But to think that a mechanical or civil engineer after 3 months of training can somehow gain the skills of a computer engineer is a stupid concept.

The job market in Bangalore has become a market for lemons. There is no point in going to consultants or posting ads on job sites. Most CVs are embellished (that's an understatement). The only way of hiring people is through referral.

Programming must be fun, not a chore. This is a broad generalization, but most people have joined CS because of the money and the overseas vist ("onsite") opportunities ... and not because they like or they are good at it. Onsite also increases the value in the "marriage market", and that isn't small.

I look forward to the day when software goes "out of scope" (translation: doesn't fetch fat pay package for not working hard), and some other stream takes priority. Atleast, we can rescue the brand value of Indian IT. Currently, Indian IT industry is like the Titanic, presumably unsinkable, extremely big, very well known, but slowly homing in on an iceberg.

That is why the H1B restrictions are going to be useful. The IT companies will hopefully shed the flab, and try to focus on what made them effective in the first place. This is the only hope. Else, in the next 5-10 years, IT will go out of India. It was good while it lasted.

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At Monday, 15 June, 2009 at 11:13:00 am IST, Blogger Varun Yagain said...

Bingo! You said it right.

At Monday, 21 March, 2011 at 2:13:00 am IST, Blogger davidcscott said...

Good Lord, Sridhar, I like your "philofizing"!


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