A letter from India

Few days ago, my friend from India sent me an article written by an Indian software engineer sent to newspapers in his country warning about changes in the industry. In the article he wrote that India has became a destination for software outsourcing in the late 1990s. At that time, software engineers were heroes with high salaries that most people in India could never dream of. During those days, software engineering education was very tough with millions students took the entrance examination but only few thousands were selected. Only the most talented and hard-working students could pass the entrance exam to study software engineering or computer science. That is why the quality of these people reflected highly in the software industry, resulting in success stories of the software outsourcing industry.

As millions of dollars were pouring in this new industry both government and profit-minded people took notice. Of course, the small annual supply of top software engineers was not sufficient to meet the huge demands of the world. Government was quickly passed policies demanding state universities to focus on software education with high quotas on number of graduates. Many profit-minded people were quickly setup special schools to train software engineers. In just few years, the number of software graduates jumped ten-fold, from 5000 per year to 50,000 then 500,000 and still continue to increase today.

The Indian engineer wrote: “Where did those graduates come from? They were not people who pass the old entrance exams. They would never passed it unless somehow the entrance exams scores was lowered to meet government's quota (ten-fold increase in number of graduates per year). Where did professors come from and how did they get to teach software engineering? Since universities could not find qualified professors in a short time, they required Math professors, Science professors, Philosophy professors, and even Sport Professors to teach software and computer. To make it easier to pass, exams were changed into more memorizations, more theories and formulas and less coding. With poor training the result could not be better than less than average. Today India had 500,000 graduates a year, of which 10% would actually be talented, and hard-working. The rest were just barely know anything as they learned from memorization to pass the tests without any practical skills. Many end up being a liability to the company that hired them. Thus the industry with their competent engineers was getting diluted by a huge influx of less competent, less skills graduates.

Most software companies had to “retrain” them so they can work. “Old” engineers are requested to spend more time to mentor “new” engineers. In the end quality go down to the lowest level. Few years ago, the Indian prestigious software organization (NASSCOM) had complained to government that “India is now run out of good software workers because more than 75% of them are not qualified to work in the industry”. This situation has now reached a point where it is no longer profitable for companies to continue hiring these graduates anymore. Many projects have become unmanageable, unproductive and the business is on the brink of being unprofitable. The poor training forced software companies to open their own training schools to ensure that their graduates could meet their standards. However, it would take several more years to get good workers but the damage is already done. Western customers began to complain about so many failed projects, high numbers of defect in software, late delivery, bad code, bad quality etc. And many begin to look elsewhere.

The engineer wrote: “Today, the talent of Eastern Europe and China is available to the western world. Many countries are looking at software outsourcing as the new economic driver. This business is so good, it brings billion of dollars in a country each year with minimum investment. There is no factory to build, no lands from agriculture to allocated, no street have to be built for transportation and government do not have to spend any extra budget etc. The only investment is a good education and some countries already have it. Today it is easy to outsource to Poland, Hungary for better engineers at the same price as India. China is also growing more aggressive in outsourcing but there are few people who can speak English today. Given them few more years then everything could change.

The engineer concluded: “This is the beginning of the end of outsourcing in India. I believe that within the next two years, India will lost the outsourcing business to other countries. If it is not China or Eastern European countries than it could be some unknown country where government has the wisdom to improve its education with emphasize in quality. If their students have talents and hard working then they can spoil the dream of many Indian. As an Indian engineer, I am afraid that it may not be long until it happens ...


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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