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Stop the virus

By George Iype
November 30, 2005 18:32 IST
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'India does not produce enough good computer engineers and those it does are good at theory but not very well equipped to handle the practical aspects.'
--Microsoft Chief Technical Officer Craig Mundie

Mundie's bombshell, dropped during a recent India visit, blows our country's pride – at being an information technology knowledge goldmine -- to smithereens. But just why did Mundie say what he did? What ails our software engineer-developing engines? In a three-part special, we try to find answers. Here is the third and concluding part:

Part I : Techies, we have a problem
Part II: Reboot the system

India produces a large number of engineering graduates every year. But multinationals find that just 25 per cent of them are employable, says a McKinsey Global Institute study.

Microsoft has a large number of Indian software engineers on its rolls, in India and abroad. Of the 2,000 people working at Microsoft's Hyderabad Development Centre, software engineers make up a sizeable chunk.

But Microsoft is not happy with the quality of software programmers it is recruiting every year from India. So, the global technology behemoth does its own quality control.

According to Mundie, "The lack of trained staff is addressed by us through internal arrangements for proper training."

Every year, Infosys Technologies, which employs more than 45,000 people -- most of them software engineers -- conducts campus recruitments across various engineering colleges in the country.

But, a sizeable number of engineers recruited by Infosys these days are civil, mechanical or electrical engineers.

Yes, you read that correctly. Lack of quality computer engineering graduates is forcing companies like Infosys to recruit students from varied engineering disciplines, and then train them in-house to become software engineers.

"These days, aptitude and common sense are the main yardsticks for an IT company to recruit," says S Achuthsankar Nair, former director, Centre for Development of Imaging Technology, Thiruvananthapuram. The Kerala government set up C-DIT in 1988 to be a 'service provider and product innovator in new media information technology systems.'

Even as India forges ahead as a global IT player, Nair says India's institutions of higher learning have a lot of catching up to do in redefining the ambit of computing courses and remoulding their curricula to keep pace with emerging trends.

And companies recruiting freshers and training them to become good computer engineers is proof of that lacuna, experts say.

So what kind of training does a company like Infosys impart to the thousands of engineering students it recruits?

The company's training and development initiatives cover the following:

  • Technical Training: An entry-level, 14-week programme conducted by the company's education and research department. Educationists have certified this programme as being equivalent to a BS program in the US. The education and research department at Infosys offers a variety of training programmes on a regular basis for middle-level employees as well.
  • Quality Process Training: This is tailored to the role of the employee: software engineer, programmer analyst, project manager, etc.
  • Personal Effectiveness and Managerial Programmes: To enhance managerial and leadership abilities, to enable better customer satisfaction, achieve organisational vision and create high-performing, multicultural teams.
  • ILS (The Infosys Leadership System): The ILS and the Infosys Leadership Institute address the issue of sustained growth in general and create a formal and committed system for developing leadership capabilities in employees.

IT consultant Arun Swamy says all major technology companies in India spend large amounts of money on training computer engineers.

"In India, computer engineers are created not in colleges, but in the intensive training programmes that companies offer to freshers," say Swamy.

Nair says overlapping curriculum in different branches of computing, often without a clear focus, has been the bane of our IT and computing education.

"All branches focus on core traditional content plus a set of specialities without very clear vision," he points out.

So, what is the way out?

Way back in 1993, the Swaminathan Committee set up by the All India Council of Technical Education suggested that greater industry participation in the development of technical and engineering education in the country must be emphasised.

The Committee advocated imposing a levy in education on the industry, increased government commitments on funding technical education and good tax incentives for engineering education.

But the Committee's recommendations have been forgotten, and engineering institutes continue to mushroom in every nook and corner of the country without any quality control.

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