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.