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A Software Developer’s Life Cycle
L. Gopalakrishnan
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Tech Ladder in India – is it real or unreal? Most people in India think that the tech ladder does not exist here. On the contrary, I believe it is a reality in India and it’s just a myth that it exists only in California. Why should it be otherwise, especially when local markets are on a level playing field in the new globalized world economy? Why should it be otherwise, when India is the cooking pot for the software required by the whole world? The result is the cloning of wants and needs of technology professionals played out across geographies irrespective of borders.

Let’s begin at the ladder a technology professional climbs – a.k.a the Software Developer Life Cycle [SDLC]. It’s comparable to any other life cycle, mapping out the birth, growth and maturity phases of a technology professional. Let’s not talk about the end, as the learning phase of an IT professional ceases only with physical death in this ever-evolving field. This case’s peculiarity is that depending on the individual, a rebirth could actually take place before death (!) with a hardcore technology professional metamorphosing into a management specialist. Let’s examine what prompts this and otherwise. The following SDLC travelogue is based on my seventeen years of experience as a software engineer. It has been a labor of love for me, as you will see.

Seventeen years of fine experience has been distilled into a graph. The graph is not a whimsical plotting of milestones but rather a deliberate plotting based on facts and figures. ‘Number of Years’ is on the X-axis and ‘ Tech Depth’ on the Y-axis. The area in between chronicles the rise or slump of a pure technology professional.

You (read: ‘technology professional’) are out of engineering school and your head is brimming with ideas. You join a company and try to fit in with what you learn in the workplace. Initially your knowledge curve rises as you learn new aspects at the workplace. You understand the processes, its working and try to assimilate the system at work into your own individual system.

You understand technology by understanding the business of the organization first – how the processes work and how people react to them. Next you start to deliver . This is the first stage of the tech ladder where the foundation is laid for future advancements. Acquiring more skills, you make a genuine effort to become known in the organization as ‘Mr. Fixit’. You understand everything clearer and you deliver more. In four to five years, you will be at the end of the latter stage. Then the conundrum begins– which way to go? Do I need an MBA to progress? Do I need to become a Project Leader or do something else?

Trust me! If you don’t acquire skills you don’t move up the ladder and a plateau is reached. Even if you acquire skills they become obsolete in seven to eight years. One has to be prepared for constant learning and relearning. This is the trial by fire, which weeds out the chaff from the grain; that is sieves the uninterested tech professional from the one with burning passion to learn and achieve.
In many service companies while on the move up the tech ladder you are suddenly crowned with the Project Leader (PL) title and next you do a lot of customer liasoning, people management and slowly you forget technology, the very technology that got you here in the first place. You take a dip and this is represented by the red line, which goes down from the point you become a PL.

Maybe you learn a lot of management and acquire the flair for communication but the technology curve takes a beating .You could go the other way around - do more coding, do more architecture or design and improve on technical depth. But that also has some limitations as one begins to feel stuck in a rut, insulated in a comfort zone leading to complacency and ultimately boredom. This is represented by the green linear curve of stagnancy, which hits a plateau dropping off from the red line. This represents a growth in your technical career.

So what’s the solution for die-hard tech fanatics? How does one of this tribe rise up in his or her career? I believe the panacea for this problem lies in understanding the depths of your company’s products as well as those of your competitors, coupled with learning yet more technology to provide more business solutions. This makes one a ‘tech all-rounder’. The key factor in your advancement will be the ability to provide solutions. Otherwise there will be conflict in your actions and your company’s expectations.

At the end of the day you ultimately must provide what the customer wants. The more you do this, the more you progress as a techie. Eventually you become a Guru or the technology pillar for your company and maybe even for the industry. Therein lies your ultimate success as a techie.

The above are the technicalities of making it as a star tech professional. Period.

L. Gopalakrishnan is the Director of Platform Technologies Group, Oracle India Development Center.
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