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Educated Indians are abandoning India.

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    Educated Indians are abandoning India.

    FEW OF us bother to seriously find out what is on offer in this country,” Shashidhar said.
    A vast wave of highly educated and talented programmers and technology experts continue to leave for foreign shores, where higher wages and better living conditions make it difficult for native firms to compete.
    Numbers for those software professionals who leave India for good are hard to come by. But the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai, (formerly Bombay), estimates that 6,000 of its 23,000 graduates are in the United States today. IIT Mumbai is one of the six elite technology institutes in the country, modeled after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
    The main reason given by India’s best and brightest for decamping abroad is quality of life. Basic infrastructure in India and the U.S. — roads, electricity, health care and water supply — are hardly comparable.

    ‘Manpower shortage is a critical issue. Right now, we have only 150,000 software professionals on tap, about half the number we require.’ R.H. NAQVI

    Indian software industry official Then there are the salaries. Software programmers are among the highest paid professionals in India. But those wages pale in comparison to the potential earnings in the United States.
    After a couple of years, the best among them make about $800 a month in a nation with an annual per capita income of $370. That hardly compares to the $5,000 a month they can make in the U.S.
    “In that situation, how can you expect people will want to stay?” asks Sarvesh Goorha, a Delhi-based computer consultant.
    For those willing to face the heat and dust of India and make less money, the workplace infrastructure often proves the clincher against a career at home. Mumbai is the only Indian city where you can get a phone on demand. In most other places, phones — let alone software — can take months to install. Most officials of the government-owned telephone utility haven’t heard of ISDN lines. The bandwidth problem is serious; downloads are among the slowest in the world.
    Indians who cannot read or write outnumber the combined population of the United States, Canada and Japan. Most Indians don’t have a phone and more than 70 percent of the populace still live off the land. In a country reaching the 1 billion mark, just over a million have personal computers and between 1.5 and 2 million Internet connections.

    Graduate student Shashidhar thinks the main reason for the brain drain is the lack of a developed venture capital market. “You may have a great idea, but who is going to finance it? Here, you fail and you are a marked man. In Silicon Valley, if your idea was good, you would still be respected.”
    Today, India’s software industry is suffering greatly. The sector needs at least 300,000 new employees over the next two years, estimates R.H. Naqvi, executive director of the Indian Electronics and Computer Software Export Promotion Council.
    “Manpower shortage is a critical issue. Right now, we have only 150,000 software professionals on tap — about half the number we require. The number of seats in the top engineering colleges is not going up that much. Companies should set up training institutes instead of poaching on each other.”
    Indian software companies face a turnover rate of about 20 percent and look desperately for people in a highly competitive market. Meanwhile, the best continue to leave for Silicon Valley and Seattle.
    Thanks to its education system, India continues to be one of the best nurseries of software talent worldwide. Apart from the six IITs and the prestigious Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, there are 32 engineering colleges, 320 universities and 1,482 other institutes offering computer education in India.

    There are some bright spots in the Indian high-tech economy. For the last three years, the Indian software industry has seen an annual 50 percent growth rate. Last year, its revenue was nearly $5 billion, with software exports accounts for almost two thirds of the figure, according to the Delhi-based National Association of Software and Service Companies. The Y2K problem has been a godsend. Indian software firms grabbed the millennial opportunity to establish a toehold in the global IT industry, providing quality programming at bargain prices.
    For all the dire statistics, however, there is a small movement of Indians who return from the United States — usually because they want to stay close to their family. But, coddled by the high-speed life of tech parks in Northern California and Washington state, many have difficulty readjusting to the Indian market. Their tales of woe, mostly about infrastructure bottlenecks, are so frequent that they are posted on a special website.
    There are also significant barriers to cutting-edge development in India. Many firms have often been loath to spend money on research and development. There are exceptions, like Infosys of Bangalore, now a NASDAQ-listed company that produces software for forecasting markets. Last year, Infosys totted up revenues of $121 million. Another Indian Internet company, Satyam Infoway Ltd. was listed on the NASDAQ earlier this month. But again, the few exceptions prove the rule. Cutting-edge work in software needs a venture capitalist who will back an idea. In India, there are few such investors.

    Increasingly, some Indians in the U.S. want a foot in each world. They contract out their software development to programmers in India, thus keeping costs down. That — and an English-speaking qualified workforce — was how the Indian software industry became world famous. Today however, as salaries rise in the Indian IT industry, software firms that bank solely on their cost-advantage face an enormous challenge.
    “Other countries are eager to imitate the success of India, including mainland China, East European and Latin American nations. As the cost of software development in India increases, the price-conscious customer may be looking towards places other than India,” cautioned Rajesh Srivastava, president of the U.S.-based Silicon Valley Indian Professionals Association.
    Twenty years ago, many middle-class Indian parents wanted their sons to become doctors and engineers. Today, they dream their children will become computer scientists.
    This summer, 130,000 high school graduates sat for the Indian Institute of Technology’s entrance test. About 3,000 were admitted and the best among them chose computer science. The rigor of the filtering process ensures that the best are very good and can get jobs almost anywhere they want. Most want to work in the United States.
    “The software industry in India is currently like a railway platform,” said Srivatsan Raghavan, a graduate student at Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology. “People come and go so frequently. No one stays long enough anywhere to do truly innovative work.”

    Patralekha Chatterjee is based in New Delhi.

    It's true but I think the future is pretty good.....there are also lots of good people who stay in India and make the country proud. Infosys and Satyam are great examples, so are companies like Wipro who've managed to make it big in the hardware industry.
    As far as China and European countries trying to emulate India....I think those countries still have a long way to go before they can match Indian standards (of producing top engineers).
    I would like to hear an IIT's viewpoint here --- Queer ???


      There is plenty of talent in India to share it with the world. Indians are not abandoning India; they are just becoming more global. I believe that the next millennium belongs to Indians, just as Greeks and Romans did it some 2000 and more years ago. To quote Mahatma Gandhi “you can take Indians out of India, but you can never take India out of Indians”. I am certain that is to be the case. Indians abroad are as much Indians at heart as those who live there are. Long live Indians, and India.


        Thats being a bit too optimistic. I think India's got just too many problems to become a world leader in the technology sector. Software is definitely a big strength, but manufacturing strength is important too. The quality of Indian products is much better than China's but we're still no where near international standards.
        As much as I hate to admit it, I think the next millenium belongs to China. Their rate of growth is unbelievable. It's amazing how they've been able to sustain it for about 10 years. I think China should be a role model for all of us (as far as the economy is concerned).


          I think , to say that the next millenium will belong to Indians will be stretching imazination a bit too far.A few thousand graduates from IITs and elsewhere, doing well for themselves at Silicon Valley does not alone herald such possibility especially when a good quarter of the one billion population go without three square meals a day, half of them are still illiterate, the country fares poorly on Health Index and tops the corruption charts. All this while most of our leaders can't get beyond ' I am more secular than you' stuff. Surely not the right kind of mix for a country expecting to be leading the world in future.
          I tend to agree with NYA that the Indians are getting global.Quite a few of them have also returned as country heads of well-to-do Multinationals.Some of the others are heading Fortune 500 firms in the US.
          But I also subscribe to the school of thought that says 'Brain Drain is better than brain in the drain'. And the huge technical manpower that India churns out always do not find satisfaction with the present state of avenues in our research labs etc., and so the exodus.

          [This message has been edited by Some1 (edited October 30, 1999).]


            What was your purpose for bringing up this point...