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The other side of IT boom

Gopi Rajagopal

Anand Parthasarathy in his article “Thanks, for making it happen here” (The Hindu, Bangalore edition, December 12) makes several interesting comments. Before commenting on his views, some background information. I have a little over 15 years of experience in the computer industry. Of this, two years were in a university computing centre and nine years in the computer industry in the U.S. I currently work in Bangalore.

The author says the computer industry has given our youth “pride and dignity.” Has it? These are individual traits and it is hard to make such a sweeping statement about thousands of people.

However, one counter argument can blow away the author’s claims. A typical call centre job requires its employees to work graveyard hours when the rest of the world is sleeping. Any doctor or website can explain the problems that a person faces when his/her circadian rhythm is disrupted. Problems such as bipolar disorder, cardiovascular problems, and perhaps even cancer, are some of the possible side effects.

Yet the call centre industry continues to extol the virtues of working in such jobs. What can be dignifying about a job which requires our youngsters to take on a false name and speak with a false accent? Isn’t our sense of identity our most important asset?

Secondly, there are various kinds of jobs in the computer industry. They include customer support, back office operations, product sustenance, research and product development. By and large, most jobs are concentrated in the first three areas. Product sustenance involves supporting products that are no longer the latest in their field. Companies in the U.S. and other countries send such jobs to India since they would prefer to have their employees in the “mother country” design and develop new technologies. Not exactly “cutting-edge” work.

Several companies in the service sector, including some of the largest in the field, keep hundreds of their employees “on the bench,” sometimes for months, waiting for new projects. Is this an effective use of their talent? Is this enhancing their pride or dignity?

There are exceptions, of course. Companies such as Ittiam have done pioneering work in their area.

Public sector industries

The author’s attitude towards the public sector requires examination. While it is true that India has poured hundreds of crores on inefficient public sector industries, they have not all been failures. Companies such as BSNL and BHEL have competed successfully against the private sector. Other public sector industries have done even better.

Designing and building large nuclear power plants without incurring cost and time overruns is cause for pride. This is exactly what the Nuclear Power Corporation achieved when it built the TAPS-3 and TAPS-4 units. ISRO designs and builds satellites for various purposes. Its remote sensing satellites provide a resolution of 1m which is among the best in the world. Its multipurpose INSAT satellites are unique because they provide support for communication, broadcasting and meteorology.

ISRO’s expertise in making rockets is well known. The recent successful test firing of its cryogenic engine which will power the new GSLV rockets provides India with the capability to launch heavier satellites. NPCL, ISRO, BARC, IGCAR and others have helped India overcome the crippling embargo that has been placed on India by Western nations.

Is this not innovation? Is this not cutting edge technology? ISRO’s SITE & STEP experiments were among the first of their kind in the world. All this work has been done by scientists and engineers who are paid a fraction of the money that people in the IT industry get. One can see the value for money.

Aping the Western way of life is certainly nothing to crow about. In developed countries, people value their way of life, their history, culture and heritage. Using the latest buzz words or wearing the latest fashions is not a merit.

It is true that the IT industry has provided jobs for thousands of people. However it has brought its share of problems. Real estate prices in Bangalore are among the highest in India. People who don’t work in the IT industry have little hope of living in their own home.

Bangalore’s pollution and traffic problems have worsened, partly due to the nouveau riche insisting on driving cars, all alone, to work. The concept of car pooling is non-existent. For all their faults, several public sector industries in Bangalore provide bus service to their employees, thus preventing thousands of motor cycles and cars from taking to the road.

It is important to see both sides of the picture. Glitzy product launches and slick PowerPoint presentations should not distort our view.

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