Ravi Mohan's Blog

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Thought Experiment

I recently had a conversation with a friend who works in ICICI, one of the largest banks in India. Contrary to my "image" I am deeply interested in Business and the "enterprise"; I belive the practice of outsourcing the software at the heart of an enterprise to body shops flogging mediocre programmers is indefensible. My friend was kind enough to enlighten me on how banking really works and the context in which Indian Banking operates. The next few blog entries will be devoted to insights which spun off rom that conversation. First though, I'd like to focus on the gaps between image,ideal and reality

As with all industries (e.g the outsourced software "industry") there is an image, ("intellectually challenging work done by extremely bright people trying to change the world" in the case of the Indian software industry) which people outside the industry believe and a not-so-cool reality which only insiders are aware of. The reality of India's software "industry" is that most "hackers" working in it are comparable to the illegal immigrants from Mexico who come to swanky Wall Street offices early in the morning to vaccum and dust. The difference is that the average mexican immigrant who does these jobs does not fool himself into thinking he is doing "cutting edge" work.

The interesting thing is that beyond these two perceptions ("What does IndustryX look like from the outside?" and "What is IndustryX really like (from the inside)?") there is another question "What could IndustryX be like if we tried to really deliver superior customer value and create first class working environments and did first class work?".

Very few companies are trying to envision and implement the last question in any industry,whether it be software, banking or anything else.

Let us do a thought experiment and envision a future in which India did less of the "janitorial" programming, and becomes a true "software super power". In such an imaginary point in the multiverse,

  1. India would be home to innovative companies like (say) Apple and Google
  2. .
  3. At least one popular language (like, say, Ruby), Operating Sytem (like Linux) , or widely used tool (like say, emacs) would be invented by an Indian.
  4. .
  5. People all over the world would expect a newly announced fantastic advance in software to have an Indian (vs an American) origin. At least afew "iconic" thought leaders (of the calibre of Linus Torvalds or Steve Jobs) would be Indian.
  6. Many Indians would be publishing the "killer books" in various subfields of software theory and practice. Take the best technical book you have read. Now imagine it having an Indian author to see what I mean.
  7. India would have annual events like the DARPA Robotics Car Race, with relentless pushing forward of the frontiers of knowledge and possibility every year.
  8. The most talented and ambitious students from other countries would apply in droves to Indian Educational Institutions and the selection commitee would have the luxury to pick and choose the best.
  9. Harvard and MIT would learn from IIMs and IIT and try to imitate their methods and "best practices".
  10. Bangalore would be the California of the world, with the most innovative people , companies, and ideas finding their natural home there.
  11. People all over the world would want to immigrate to India and acquire Indian citizenship. Our consulates in the USA and UK would be forced to impose quotas on work and other immigrant visas.
  12. The core of a new software system would be designed and implemented in Bangalore and the "janitorial" work would be "outsourced" elsewhere. (Yes, I see you ROTFL :-) I told you this is all imagination. A man can dream can't he? :-))
Ah well, time to stop dreaming and do some useful work. But the future is not all doom and gloom. There are a few faint glimmers of light in an otherwise dark horizon. More on that later.


Jhangees said...

Is there even a glimmer of hope in your mind that you would ever see all this come true in your life time?

Ravi said...


No. :-) I don't think India will become an "emulated" super power (at least not for the next 100 years)
A "thought experiment" is just to explore an idea. It is a "what if" to flex your mind and perception.

"Hope" has nothing to do with it.