It all starts at home. The constant bickering to make big in life, big enough to escape the clutches of abject poverty or the “middle class” lifestyle and earn a name for the family. Long back, the escape route was IAS, Engineering and Medicine. And for the past couple of decades it has become more specialized i.e. Computer Science.
It was the IT boom in the mid 90’s in the west which generated a huge demand for IT professionals, especially at the lower and middle level which they themselves could not suffice. Like for all unanswered questions, the world eagerly looked at east and we obliged. Our engineers of all shapes, size and streams learnt the art of coding and rushed to the Silicon Valley to support the galloping industry. We still continue to do so. They got their crew and we got the moolah and the “respect” which every family here in India craves for. There was a time when anybody who knew C++ or Java could land up with a job in US. If not US, then our own home grown blue chip companies Infosys and TCS who were working for the US companies also wanted a huge pool of IT professionals. This resulted in the mad rush to study computer science, programming and the trend continues.
In the course we lost some brilliant mechanical engineers, civil engineers and may be scientists who switched their professions and joined the IT industry. School going kids are brainwashed to chase the great American dream by their own parents and relatives. Irrespective of the aptitude and natural inclination of the children, they are forced to focus on getting into the computer science stream of a good college. The Vice Chancellor of one of the prominent private university in Delhi NCR recalls that during the recent admission season he found extremely difficult to convince aspiring engineering students to take up courses other than IT. Their four different Computer Science and IT undergraduate courses are running full but for few other non IT programs there are no takers.
The sudden huge demand for the IT courses back then took the education industry by surprise. It lacked the bandwidth to supply enough seats in the computer science stream. In spite of lack of infrastructure and qualified faculty the institutes responded by creating large number of seats in computer science stream. The private institutes were more enterprising in this, for the fear of losing students they launched many new courses in the IT stream to generate more seats. This resulted in poor infrastructure and inadequate faculty. The faculties then were drawn from different streams to run the IT courses. The result was half baked semi literate IT professionals who were churned out in hordes. Lack of aptitude for such highly technical work was not a problem since it was high paying. Nobody complained at that moment because the industry wanted engineers for lower level coding jobs only.
“Exaggerating skill sets or qualifications by candidates is another menace the IT industry has to deal with.”
Things have changed for the past few years; the industry has moved to the next level and is racing at breath neck speed. The demand for manpower skilled in new technologies has increased manifold. The action is in Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and New Mobile Technologies etc. This is unlike the past when just the basic coding skills helped us survive. The lower level programming is commoditized now, with a huge pool of manpower mostly from Pakistan, Taiwan and other developing nations gunning for this market, our engineers are overpriced and low on quality. In the domestic market also the rules are getting rewritten. The Indian startups and the IT companies are now fighting multinationals in an extremely competitive environment. They also need top quality performers. The sweatshops which mushroomed over a decade churning IT programmers in six months are unable to deliver the required quality now. A large percentage of four year B.Tech/BE programs are drastically falling short to deliver. Aspiring Minds a training company based out of Gurgaon came up with “National Employability Report” in 2015 where they claimed that only 3.67% of the qualified engineers that year were employable. A Bangalore based company, Merittrack, which is into testing services; in their 2013 report claimed that in 65.7% of the Institutes in India there is no correlation between the grades achieved in graduate examination and the performance in the cognitive ability test they conduct. An HR professional of a midsized IT company based out of Bangalore claimed, on the condition of anonymity that it is a nightmare to hunt for talent and right candidate for the entry level position. Western Kentucky University in US sent back 25 of our students recently for lack of programming skills which was necessary qualification for admission to the graduate course. Exaggerating skill sets or qualifications by candidates is another menace the IT industry has to deal with. There has been a lot of cases where either or both the candidates and recruitment agency have been found guilty.
Who is to be blamed for this huge mismatch? Yes of course, the society at large for creating this illusion that a job in IT is the ultimate nirvana. And thus driving students without enough liking and inclination to the subject chase coveted seats in the top engineering colleges. Once rejected they had no option but to opt for second rung colleges. Coaching institutes should be equally blamed for selling the dreams of a seat in IIT, which can hardly absorb handful of students in computer science. Media also cannot escape the responsibility of properly not apprising its readers of the real situation. Industry with their “use and throw” policy doesn’t look beyond their selfish interest. Government with a soft approach towards this sector for many years has made all the stakeholders believe that they can get away with anything.
But the chunk of the responsibility should be taken up by the engineering colleges themselves which produce thousands of IT professionals every year, especially the private ones. Though they were smart enough to jump the band wagon for their share of profit but forgot the real purpose of their existence. Outdated courseware, bad infrastructure, untrained faculty and little industry interface has been the most critical factors for this mess today. The students have repeatedly complained lack of faculty who can teach latest topics on technology. Faculty complains of facilities, reasonable pay, academic freedom and lack of any training to keep them abreast of the current topics. The schools complain of the faculty not inquisitive enough to learn new topics and passionate enough to teach the students. But by all logic for all the above anomalies it is the Institute’s responsibility to put the house in order. They are so entangled in other affairs that they hardly have time to rectify the core issues. If they are charging the students to impart quality education they should very well deliver. Hiring teachers with the right aptitude and skills is their responsibility, paying well to get the right ones, retaining them, training them, allowing academic freedom is all Institutes job and they can’t escape this crucial function and moral obligation.
Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google expressed in a conversation with McKinsey & Company in 2013 that India will have good home grown IT companies very soon. We have been appreciated by the industry leaders for the talent and hard work. If our own poster boys Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella can reach the pinnacle of the most awed IT companies of the world. If Bill Gates calls IIT’s a great institution, if a large number of employees in Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems etc are Indians we must be doing something right. We just have to replicate what is being done right at various stages of making of a computer engineer on a larger scale. We should not push students to go for something they really don’t like; schools should ensure that they identify the aptitude of the child before they embark on higher education. Coaching institutes should be regulated so that they don’t make superficial claims and fleece the students. Institutes imparting higher education in IT should invest back some of the profits to raise the level of these courses. The industry should invest time and resources to work with the colleges to align the courses keeping in mind the future requirement. Robust systems to screen students and initiatives by NASSCOM like the National Skills Directory should be encouraged to combat malpractices. Sounds simple, but it requires a lot of courage and efforts from different stake holders before we get our own Google and Microsoft. Let’s hope for the best.