Date archives "January 2010"

Who Cares What Your Dreams Are

I asked my friend a question the other day, I don’t think they got why I was asking it though. The question I asked was: At what point is a country sufficiently developed enough that the people are able to pursue a career in a field that actually interests them instead of doing what pays the best.

Yes, it was an uncharacteristically deep and loaded question for someone of my nature. But it was after several bottles of super-strength (not below 6%) Kingfisher and in these circumstances such musings are often liable to surface from hidden depths.

You see, in India, for most of the lower-middle classes (and particularly in the rural areas, the middle classes) it’s the parents who decide what degree the child should pursue. It doesn’t matter if the child has aspirations of being a nurse, an accountant, a fireman, an electrician, a designer or a retail manager; the parents will tell them what degree to do.

For the most part the parents will choose an Engineering based degree because this gives them a greater chance of earning more money. One of the most popular courses is called Bachelor of Computer Applications (BCA), which is basically a programming degree because until recently, there has been a strong demand for programmers as the IT outsourcing boom continued.

Parents will put their children on these courses (and in cases where the students can choose, they will put themselves on the course) because IT pays so well compared to all other industries and is also accessible to the less wealthy – unlike a career in banking, law or medicine which is still the preserve of the wealthy kids who have had a very good private education.

It doesn’t matter if the student is particularly interested in IT, programming or computers. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have any aptitude towards the subject. All that matters is that it can potentially give a high paying job. Interests and ultimately job satisfaction considered optional, or maybe even a bonus.

Actually, a job as a career adviser in India is probably the easiest job in the world. “Programmer. Next!” “Call centre. Next!” “Programmer. Next!” “Call centre. Next!”. I might make enquiries!

To further their chances of employment based on academics, the vast majority of students will do two degrees, usually 3 years of Bachelors of Computer Applications and then another 1 year to do their Masters of Computing Applications.

So now we have the case where a company takes on trainee programmers, fresh out of college and holding high academic marks with their multiple degrees, yet because they have no passion or enthusiasm for the subject they are hopeless as a software developer. I’ve seen a number of freshers who’ve been so spectacularly bad you wonder how on Earth they got through university (or even managed to get dressed in the morning).

(On a separate note, I would love to know how job worthy kids in England and America are when they come out of university)

The tragic part of this is that often families will take out large loans to send their kids through university, doing courses the child has no interest in but in the hope (and sometimes expectation) that they will get a well paid job based on the degree. When this doesn’t work out and the developer has no aptitude towards software development, sometimes through no fault of their own, they have basically wasted three to five years of their life and the family may have put themselves in to huge amounts of debt.

In the company I work for, if a developer fails to make the grade we try and accommodate them by training them to become a software tester, but you can’t force someone to be good at something if they’ve got no passion or interest. In our most recent programming recruitment drive of 15 freshers, who were highly qualified on paper, after 5 months only one remains as a software tester. We had to let the others go because they failed to make the grade.

Often I will interview an SEO analyst or a designer and when I ask them why they are doing this as a career the reply is “I wasn’t good enough to be a developer”. I know of people who might have three degrees in computing but since their aptitude is zero they are employed to press CTRL-C / CTRL-V (that’s shorthand for copying and pasting for you non-nerds out there!) all day. As a ‘career’. I’m certain they have great talents, but it’s not in IT and it probably wouldn’t pay them as much.

I do think that India might be shooting itself in the foot for the future development of the country. Too many students are following computer and programming related degrees and will fail to make the grade in the business world. Their skills and talents lie in other areas – area’s which India will undoubtedly need over the coming decades, but right here, right now, software development pays many, many more times than anything else (a Policeman with six years of service would earn less than a trainee programmer fresh out of college), and I think that’s going to be a problem in the long run.

Essentially I believe that the IT industry is sucking India dry because it’s not producing a wide enough variety of talented students in different fields, it’s producing millions of mediocre programmers.

Taking another example to illustrate this, I’m desperately looking for a content writer who has English as good as mine (and it should be noted that my English is pretty terrible so it shouldn’t be too difficult!). Since most universities teach in English and English is a second or even first language for most people you’d have thought this would be quite easy but even if a student had an aptitude for the English language, they’d have gone to study programming because English as a skill isn’t seen as being as ‘valuable’ as programming, so due to the laws of supply and demand, I will pay a good content writer more money than a programmer because they are a rarity and hence more valuable!

So this takes me back to my original question and the blog title. Who cares what your dreams are in India, become a programmer and earn more money. Or that’s the plan for now anyway.

Christmas and New Year in India

Wow, OK, I feel like I haven’t updated this blog in a while so let’s start off the new year by talking about last year. Backwards I know.

Christmas was the first time I’d spent it away from my family. Every year since the age of 18 I’d come back to my parents hometown for the Christmas and New Year period, but after spending two months back in England I was itching to get back to India – which may come as something of a surprise for some people!

Christmas in India can be summed up in a word: Understated

The weather is warm, it doesn’t feel Christmasy, there’s no cheesy tunes on the radio or being played in the shops (which could be viewed as a good thing depending on how you feel about Christmas songs!), there are no Christmas trees, no exchanging Christmas cards and no decorations.

Since India is predominantly a Hindu and Muslim country, I’m surprised that they have a national public holiday for Christmas as so few people actually celebrate it. Maybe they are just more enlightened though because they have public holidays for all the major religions here, or, as my friend just pointed out 11% of the population is Christian and 11% of 1.2bn is a massive number.

So, I worked on the 24th and it was like any other day and then for the first time in many many years woke up on Christmas day without a hangover, but it definitely felt just like any other day.

In an effort to make it slightly more special, I had booked a table at a fancy 5 star hotel restaurant. Rs 1,500 (about £18) per person for all you can eat and drink (including wine and beer) buffet. They laid on all the usual Christmas fair, even pigs in blankets, which were yum! They had turkey, roast potatoes, mince pies, everything infact, except for Christmas pudding. There was an entire BBQ selection outside, loads of cheeses (top tip: edam cheese is horrible) and because Indians are very serious about their desserts (and getting diabetes), several tables worth of cakes, ice cream and other sweets (no ‘profit roles‘ this time though!).

Apparently a lot of the 5 stars in Chennai do this kind of thing on Sundays for lunch, all you can eat and drink for around Rs 1,000, so going to have to check that out!

Once our lunch was finished, I came home, decided that this was a fake Christmas and did my laundry 😀

New Year was another understated affair, there’s not really the going out and celebrating culture that we have in the West and the few bars that there are in Chennai were charging scandalous cover charges just to enter, so that was ruled out. Anyway, turned out my friends either had other plans or couldn’t be bothered doing anything, so I opened a bottle of Extra Strength Kingfisher beer (“alcohol strength not below 6%”), watched James Bond, and forgot about midnight 🙂

Last year I made some resolutions, did I stick to them? What do you think. My Tamil vocab has expanded to around 20 words and phrases and I earned a nice amount from my websites.

All in all, 2009 was pretty good and better than 2008. Even the stressful visa troubles doesn’t seem so bad when I look back on it. I think 2010 will be even better 😀

Do I have any resolutions for this year? Well, kinda, but they are more like goals and things I want to achieve than resolutions, so here we go…

  1. Save up and buy a car (sorry, mum, I need to get a car and drive in India, but if I die, you’ll get £15,000 from my life insurance!)
  2. Lose some weight…again. I did well last year until I went back to England and put it all back on again. Bah. Stupid western lifestyles
  3. Go and see a bit more of India – some people dream of visiting India, I can visit the Taj Mahal in a weekend
  4. Bump my online earnings up to $1,500 a month. Currently I’m making between $500 and $800 a month, I want to double that at least
  5. Give more money to charity – I’ve discovered an altruistic side of me in 2009, but I also think the population of India should be doing more to help their fellow people
  6. Take a holiday to Thailand or Singapore

I think that’s all for now, I’ll let you know in 2011 how it goes!