Indian programmer woes

Stuck inside of Bangalore with the COBOL blues again.

Published September 14, 2006 6:03PM (EDT)

Infosys, the Indian software giant, announced in July that it would be hiring 25,000 new employees in 2006. Tata Consultancy Services, an equally huge I.T. competitor, is predicting 30,000 new hires in the next 12 months. For American software programmers, the added competition is likely to be sobering (though it should be noted that not all those hires are in India -- Infosys is hiring in the U.S. and the U.K., and Tata is planning a huge ramp-up in China).

But a link from DesiPundit to the blog of Amit Ranjan, who runs the New Delhi office of Silicon Valley start-up Uzanto, suggests that Indian engineers may also be looking askance at those huge numbers.

"Software engineers (especially those who are particular about the kind of work they want to do) should be a trifle careful before taking these headlines at face value," writes Ranjan. Among other things, "most of the companies that hire these huge army of engineers are not necessarily doing very challenging or rewarding work. They are simply encashing the business opportunity created by labor cost differentials in different parts of the world. Which usually means that they are doing low grade work. Next time you go to face an interview at Infosys or TCS, ask your interviewer this simple question -- How much intellectual property does your company actually own? I bet, he will want to hide behind the curtains than answer your question."

Even worse, for programmers looking to work with the latest hot tools, "don't get shocked if you are asked to work on 1980s software platforms like COBOL, Pascal etc. Many of the business applications that these companies service and maintain are of that vintage. I am aware of a few cases where employees left in sheer desperation because of these issues. It's a small chance but it could happen to you."

Seems like there's angst enough to go around the world in the global economy. American programmers worry about losing their jobs to Indian programmers, while Indian programmers stress about getting stuck fixing COBOL programs as nameless peons in a faceless body shop. Everybody wants an upgrade, but the program appears to be stuck in a loop.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Globalization How The World Works India