Thursday, January 15, 2009

Booms, Myths and Catastrophes of Software Jobs – A Bird’s Eye View From Berth No. 72

Prologue

This is a guest article written by my friend Dada, who is quite popular through his series of aamjunta blog posts. I requested him to write a guest blog for me, which he readily agreed. In spite of his busy schedule, he has written this excellent article. I feel very privileged to receive an article from aamjunta in my blog. This article has all the trademarks of a typical aamjunta article with thorough and insightful analysis of the software practices in India. I hope the readers would enjoy this article as much as I enjoyed. I am indebted to you for this article, Dada!


Article

[...] Oh! you are not a software engineer? My son-in-law is a software engineer and is currently placed in America. Before going to America, he was in France. Recently, he has purchased a flat in Hiranandani, Mumbai :) [...]

That was a casual statement of an old man on the first night of the two day train journey, on my way to Chennai in Dadar-Chennai Express last December. Though it was not that cold in Mumbai in December, it was cold enough to use blankets in a Sleeper Class bogie in the night. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a blanket with me; was unable to sleep due to the cold. I woke up due to the cold and sat up on my berth for the night (side lower, last/first, Berth No. 72). Thought of reading a novel to kill some time, but could not do as the regular lights were off. The casual comments of the gentleman came back to my mind…and time passed on…. At about 1am or so, saw a young man sitting alone some 10/12 seats away from my seat; looking calm and composed (he boarded the train from Pune). So, decided chat with him and spend some more time :) . Since my seat was at the end of the bogie and the side one, it was good enough for two people to sit and talk in the night (with less disturbance of course). Called him “Hi friend, whats up?, come, will have a chat”; he too gladly agreed to come over. He was a Software Engineer, hails from Chennai, joined some 3 years back in Pune. Asked him, casually, “so, you are going home in holidays?No, was his answer, and he tried to change the topic. I could guess he was uncomfortable with that question. I did not repeat the same question again.

After some 30 minutes of our casual conversations, we became friends, started sharing our experiences, life, etc. Suddenly his voice changed, and choked. “I was fired in October, and am struggling to get a job since that time. Going to Chennai, to try my luck there”. He could not speak any more. I could not understand what to say and how to console him. Gave my water bottle to him and tried to change the topic. I offered him my help through my contacts, gave some contact person’s email ids and asked him to send his CV once he reached Chennai. It was almost 5.30am; we decided to go to sleep. He offered a shawl to me to cover. Thankfully, I could manage to sleep with his shawl.

Woke up very late in the morning (around 11.30am) had tea, and biscuits. Bought 2/3 news papers and started looking those. “Satyam Debared from World bank” the headline of The Hindu was not only catchy, was worrisome to me. Decided to go through that news article. I could not believe what I read. How come these things happen? Do they follow some ethics? What kind of industry it is? I could not read much. Stopped reading all news papers, instead stared thinking what could have been done? Why is the problem? And where is the problem?

My last night’s conversation with the young man and the old man added fuel to the fire inside me. Started thinking, went to dream mode and memories started flooding me. I could visualize everything that had once happened to me, my friends and acquaintances: went back to late 90s to compare the situation. During my own campus interview, every one in my college was after software jobs. Hardly any one was opting for a core job. Companies even left empty handed; reason -- they can’t beat the software companies in salary! Time has changed, and so is the situation. But, hardly the mentality of young engineers, professionals, parents and societies at large have changed. Body shopping is very much the reality and so is the craze and fight for software jobs. People spend years and years in cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune for a software job. They do all kinds of courses starting from Testing to .Net, Java to Oracle and C to C#, appear in infinite number of interviews, register in N number of placement agencies; spend enough time and money on these.

Not that they fight for a job, they fight for their survival, their future. Some time they get some thing good on their own, some time with the help of some one else and some time they fail. The process of getting a job is not ethical always. Some use false experience, false degrees, and prepare false certificates to get a job. Giving false information in the CV and fooling companies is not a one man’s job though. This is full fledged business. There are many people involved in it. There are agencies operating only for this job in cities like Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, etc. They provide all logistic support starting from giving false experience certificates to false degrees for a certain price. Their charges are different for providing different kinds of services. They handle all calls with precision, such that their clients do not face any problem in showing or proving their last job or experience. But the catch is once you are through and get a job with the false information; you will not be able to leave this, even if you want to go clean. You might be getting a job by some wrong/false information, but that false information will be there through out your life; in your blood. You will have to repeat the same wrong thing again and again while changing a job, while sending your CV; you have to tell more and more lies and do more unethical practices, till you retire or get caught. Tackling such kind of illegal and unethical practices is really a big problem for genuine industries. Some get trapped in the process, and some clear.

One need not wonder if he/she comes to know about the fraud or unethical practices in companies. Some one takes telephonic interview for some one else, some false CV is being made with a purpose, mostly to click a client side offer. There are people hired by the companies specifically for this kind of job, to attain telephonic interviews, to prepare CVs, to clear on-line tests required by the client. To beat that, some time the clients make video conferencing, instead of telephonic interviews. But, people on the other side are very clever. Some one stands behind the camera and writes the answers in the white board in detail; enough for the person to answer to the client. Poor client, pays for an expert and gets a ...... :(

Even then… the software industries flourish, pay maximum salary in comparison to other industries; which is good for the people, for the employees, and for the country’s economy. But, if you see the other side, it creates a disparity in the job market, between the core job and the software job, between the manufacturing industries and software industries, which is bad for the country’s growth and for the future. Since the capital requirement to operate or to start a software company is very low, many companies take birth daily. Like opening, the closing or the failure is also very easy, leading to catastrophes. The rise and fall of a software company is really a mystery. The successes are sometimes myths. Unless balance is maintained and have checks, the booms and the catastrophes will continue giving birth to more e-frauds/frauds, unethical practices, greed and lay offs. Some kill them selves (like one of my friends did in last May), some kill their families, some become psychos, some fight back and the cycles continue. Even then, people still feel crazy about this, girls prefer software engineers the most (as boy friend or life partner) so also the would be father-in-laws. Poor hard core techies… :(

Suddenly my phone rang. It was 7.15pm on my watch. I woke up from the dream, from the subconscious musing of 5 hours. Started packing my belongings to get down, was refreshed, and recharged a bit, after thinking a lot. Thanked IRCTC for berth no 72.

Aamjunta... what do you think? Dreaming for a software job? Be careful; don't get into any of the unethical practices. I'm sure, you will get a job. All the best :)


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Bachelor of Arts by R K Narayan - Quick Review

I just completed reading this second novel of R K Narayan, The Bachelor of Arts. This novel is radically different from his first novel Swami and Friends. It tells the story of a person called Chandran and his struggles in his life from the college days. The novel keeps the reader engaged throughout and is a pleasant read.

I could see lot of similarities between this novel and the movie Vaaranam Aayiram. It is sad to observe that even a director like Gautham Menon uses a novel for his basic plot and does not acknowledge it afterwards. It would then go down with critics as a lift. As I have already written a review for Vaaranam Aayiram, I need not say much about this novel.

Overall, this novel is a good one. It helps one to plan life properly in order to aviod many hiccups. However, one should not expect much fun as Swami and Friends.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bond with the Best

I have a cool friend from my undergraduate (UG) college days in PSG Tech. For the past 10 years, I have been in touch with him. His name is Vinoth, affectionately called Bond and more affectionately as Makkaa. "Makkaa", meaning friend, is a typical tamil slang used by him often. He hails from Tirunelveli. I have not been that close to him for the past 5 years, but he has always been in touch with me through mail. He even wished me for my birthday last month. This blog is just a small tribute to the great qualities of Bond.

Bond is a guy who is very passionate about life. The way he narrates each incident which interests him has no match. He starts with his favorite verse, "மக்கா, நேத்திக்கு அங்க போன்னேன்ல டா ... அங்க என்ன நடந்துச்சுன்னா ..." ("Makkaa, yesterday I went there right ... there what happened was ...") something like this. He keeps the listener interested throughout his narration. One can forget all the worries in the world when talking with Bond. One can enjoy his narration far better than actually watching the movie. He gives time to talk with a friend, if he has some other urgent work to do. Further, he is a very good listener and gives suggestions if required on any problems.

Bond also takes criticisms very lightly. Being undergraduates, we had lot of fun in college and soft guys like him are prone to constant leg-pulling from other classmates. He never lost his temper those days and used to just smile and walk away. He has made a huge number of friends. In fact, one can very readily concede that no one who meets Bond dares to dislike him. He never takes anything to heart and behaves very lovingly even after unavoidable arguments with his friends.

Bond has travelled to many countries over the past 5 years and has always updated each one of us in UG class without fail. We were a class of 82 in UG. For him, all the 81 of us are friends. He also sends us pictures from his recent trips and events. He likes to ride his bike, is a trained martial arts professional, and is quite passionate to learn and do new things in life. He has always been there to help his friends.

Personally, I have interacted with Bond quite a lot during the UG days. I have also gone to his home in Tirunelveli once with my classmate Aravinth. Being a guy who loves to have a dig and fun always, my interaction with Bond during UG days was quite eventful. Being a fun-loving guy himself, Bond used to like my antics and has always supported me during my funny arguments & fights with my classmate Deeran (Korangu) & others many a times. I can not remember a single incident now, but we had quite a many.

The bitter fact is that Bond is not with us in this world anymore. He has left this world having drowned in the Bay of Bengal while trying to fetch a ball from sea. I heard that his final rites are over. This news was a shock for me over the past 2 days. I still can not believe that he is not with us at this moment. But, he still lives with all his friends as the sweet and pleasant memories he has left over the years.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Plans for the Year Ahead

The new year has started in a disappointing note for me as I am receiving bad vibes in both personal as well as professional life. I have decided to achieve/follow certain things (I will not call them resolutions as they are rarely followed) in 2009. These norms have been framed after a thorough research. They are listed below and I sincerely hope I follow them.

1. Considerably reduce the amount of technical books read.

2. Increase the amount of fiction/non-fiction general books read.

3. Keep the number of technical papers read to a bare minimum.

4. Focus more on fitness and keep engaged in some stuff always.

5. Look for developing new professional/personal relations.

6. Keep a fair distance from any sort of controversy/politics (situations as well as persons) in both professional and personal life.

7. Roam a bit more in Mumbai.

8. Take one long break to home from research in order to regroup.

9. Plan one visit across India to historical places of interest.

10. Be happy and actively post a lot of blogs consistently. :)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Swami and Friends by R K Narayan - Book Review

Swami and Friends was the first novel written by RK Narayan. I completed reading this novel yesterday. It is part of a collection of 3 novels called A Malgudi Omnibus, others being Bachelor of Arts and The English Teacher. I just started reading Bachelor of Arts. In this review, I will not give summary of the story as it will spoil the thrill when one reads the novel.

As is the case with all Narayan works, this novel is also set in an imaginary town in South India called Malgudi. Swaminathan is a young boy less than 10 years old. This novel narrates his experiences with his parents, grandmother, friends, residents of Malgudi, and even his new-born brother when he is in second class. However, Swami and his friends are the prime focus of this novel.

Swami is a quite different child than the present day children. He lives in a village and he is extremely innocent which sometimes makes him look mischievous as well. His fate lands him in trouble in whatever he does. He has his own perception of the world and tries to be the conqueror in spite of his own shortcomings like fear, innocence, etc. Circumstances make him a mis-fit to any school in Malgudi.

On the other hand, his friend Rajam is a city-born child who acts beyond his age quite similar to the present day children. He is very ambitious and courageous with least respect for the elders. His father is a policeman which is also a reason for his courage. Apart from being very good in studies, he is very adamant to achieve things which are beyond his reach and is not bothered by the consequences of his present actions.

There is another friend of Swami called Mani who is a village version of courageous child. Even though he is courageous, his innocence mostly overtakes that. He is very close to Swami and offers him lot of advice even when not asked. He also carries a club which he feels will protect him in adverse situations.

The incidences which involve these three close friends form the crux of the novel. Swami has a strict father, a kind grandmother, and a mother who loses interest in him once she gives birth to a new baby. The novel is pretty slow to start with and provides every small detail which form the base for the fun later. I will just provide some of the instances which I thoroughly enjoyed from this novel.

Ultimate fun awaits the reader in chapter 12. Swami and Mani listen to a freedom fighter's talk. The freedom fighter blasts the English rulers very much. He tells that if all the people of India go and spit on England, that is more than enough to submerge the whole England. I personally think it is quite true, unless one disproves it by actually making millions spit on England. Swami also thinks it is true and asks Mani if they can attempt that. Mani replies saying Europeans are very bad guys and they will shoot them. This chapter progresses in such a manner and engages reader with non-stop fun.

Swami's encounters with the Board school headmaster is also equally enjoyable. The attitude of that headmaster took me back to my school days when some of my teachers used to carry canes to beat students and treat the students as their slaves. Swami becomes a super-hero when he grabs and throws the cane away when the headmaster attempts to beat him. After that, his conscience makes him feel sad and leads to other troubles.

Malgudi Cricket Club (M.C.C.) which is started by Swami and his friends took me back to my school days when we also tried to start a cricket team called Danger Boys. The letter they write to Binns sports shop in Madras and the other happenings are great to read.

On the whole, Swami and Friends is an amazing novel and I do not think I would be reading a better novel ever. The novel took me to my school days and I could relate many of the Swami's experiences to my own. This novel is an unadulterated and absolutely thorough portrayal of a child's life. It is rather unfortunate that most of the present day children have their so called intelligence suppressing innocence associated with their age.

Having said that, I am sure that one can find many children like Swami in Indian villages even today. This novel is a must read for any one who want to roll back their years and enjoy the innocent moments of their life.