Ravi Mohan's Blog

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Tech Company Caste Systems

From Businessweek

The suits inside Google don't fare much better than the outside pros. Several current and former insiders say there's a caste system, in which business types are second-class citizens to Google's valued code jockeys. They argue that it could prove to be a big challenge in the future as Google seeks to maintain its growth. They deem the corporate development team as underpowered in the company, with engineers and product managers tending to carry more clout than salesmen and dealmakers.

So a 'caste system' in which 'business types' are second class hurts?

How about the 'caste system' in place in most companies where the suits are on top? I guess that is the 'natural order of things' ? :-)

The outlines of the 'caste system' in place in most 'India Development Centres' can be deduced by examining one expense item - tickets for international flights. Most 'business types' fly first or business class while the 'India Developer Assets' are packed into Economy Class. To see something even more interesting, examine what kind of tickets are bought for Caucasians vs Indians.

Do I mind any of this? Not really. Any game is played in a particular fashion because all players agree to play it that way. It is upto people playing the game to make sure the rules are fair.

What bothers me is the intellectual dishonesty in the implication that "business types on top" is natural but "techs on top" is not. I would have thought that the effectiveness of any company's internal structure would be judged by how successful it is. And by that metric Google is outstandingly successful. So may be the 'new caste system' is 'valid' after all?

I wonder if anyone is working for a "casteless" company? What would such a beast look like?

Update: Slashdot has picked up the businessweek story


Vinay said...

Casteless company in India ! You really think thats possible ?

I dont understand whats it with Indian companies that makes it suck so much. Ive given up trying to understand.

Anonymous said...

One of the "interesting" (IMO stupid) comments I have heard in support biz class travel for the suits is that "they can strike business deals" up there. i guess it is the same reason golf club memberships are sponsored and 5 star hotel accomodations. there is a bigger chance to strike a business deal in an average bar.


Ravi said...

Vinay, I certainly believe in the *possibility* of 'casteless' companies. How *probable* it is may be a different question.

Manoj, I too have heard this (pseudo) argument before. This might be true at the CXO level but your average Project 'Manager' or India Ops 'Director' is just blowing smoke, I think.

If this effect exists, it should be easy enough to measure and calculate the probability that a first class ticket brings in a project and the amount of money made by such projects.

The trouble with most of these stories is that they are anecdotal. I think most managers don't do any "business deals" high in the sky (unless they are talking of negotiating with Messrs Cognac and Scotch) and consider "first class travel" a privilege of 'rank'.

At a company where I worked, a huge (multi million $) project deal was struck because a *techie* was drinking in a bar and met some friends who wanted some work done. So perhaps the tech folks could expense their drinking bills? Any company that offered this perk would have no problems recruiting!