March - 2007 - issue > Sage Speak
Indian IT pros and the tunnel-vision endemic
Shubha Sharath
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
After a recent round of interviews/talks with the young and enthusiastic IT professionals, I was tempted to ask them, “Where are you headed in life”?

‘Penny Wise Pound Foolish’ is all I can say about these youngsters who fail to visualize the big picture in life. In an effort to realize their dreams too soon, too fast they seem to miss the more important and finer aspects in their career!

As time goes, technology advances, and different skills gain importance in the job market. One such important skill is the language/communication skill. In an effort to improve their technical abilities and make quick big bucks, they hop from one job to the next; they do not seem to be keen on improving either their language or communication skills. How often do these youngsters with at least five years’ experience in the IT industry get to interact with a client? How often are they given an opportunity within an organization to do a presentation, run a team meeting, or be present in a customer meeting?

During an interview I would expect the candidate to ask questions such as those mentioned above in order to improve their overall personality and gain better prospects in the job market. Instead I have been asked questions such as, “How much can I save per month?”, “I would like to save at least $2000/month (being employed in India with 3-4 years experience!)”, “My friend in the U.S. gets an increment every 6 months and I would like to get the same benefits” and so on. On such occasion, I’ve been reminded of a saying, ‘Hire people more for their judgment than for their talents’ and had to reject such overly ambitious people who are driven to the point of being greedy! I can’t help but sympathize with such a tunneled vision in their career!

I must give credit to their technical abilities though. It is because of these huge number of IT professionals that India is gaining recognition worldwide. Their contribution is significant to the Indian economy. But the individuals as well organizations will realize over time that technical expertise is not the sole contributing factor; ‘communication’ too is equally significant.

Communication can make or break a project or even an entire organization for that matter. In small and mid-size companies only the Project Manager gets to interact with the client and the team members have absolutely no visibility into the goings on. They are not involved in the complete SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle). Once a coder always a coder! Companies’ responsibilities require that an employee be given an opportunity to work in different phases of the project each time, especially in the ‘Requirements Gathering’ phase. Being in the industry I realize it may not be practical to do that, but at least the employees should be given an opportunity to acquire knowledge of the entire life cycle of the project. Are companies trying not to impart knowledge lest the employee quits? Or are they trying not to expose people with poor communication skills to their clients lest they lose future contracts? Many organizations in India pride themselves of being CMM/CMMI certified. Do they even realize that CMM/CMMI/People CMM lay a strong emphasis on communication? Organizations have to work very hard towards training their technical teams to communicate better. They depend on heroes within the organization and when the key person in a project quits they scramble for a replacement. Organizations should try to breed a whole bunch of heroes and foster leadership qualities – that way they will have little to lose when a key player quits.

The most uncomfortable situation for an Indian employer is when the employee interacts with an overseas client. Although people are adept technically, when asked a question they are unable to express their ideas clearly. Listening patiently is as important. The common mistake most people make is interrupting in-between when the other person speaks. It puts them at a great disadvantage. Good communication is an attribute that one can develop provided he/she has an interest to reach new heights in his/her career. Having worked in the U.S. I can pretty much pinpoint the greatest attribute an American possesses. Of course, it is his/her communication skill!

Also, I have observed that the general attitude of an American IT professional is sincerely zealous and definitely does not come out as an overly ambitious individual. At least they are not always thinking in terms of ‘Return on Investment’. They still have some loyalty left towards their employer and do not hop jobs at the drop of a hat. Indian youngsters are always trying to emulate Americans. The young professionals only need to emulate an American’s dedication, loyalty, interpersonal skills et al, and try not be a part of the rat race.

At the end of the day, I may be asked “If communication is so important then how can companies in India employing people with such poor communication skills be successful?” Well, I would think it is a just matter of time before they realize that there are other factors to success than just being technically astute.

Here are my 2 cents to the IT professionals Wake up youngsters; you are being deprived of some very important aspects in your career. Don’t let your employer shirk the responsibility of training you on effective communication skills. And try to get exposed to the entire life cycle of a project. You will reap the benefits of it not just today but in the coming years of your wonderful future.

“Who speaks, sows; Who listens, reaps”

The author is the chief technical officer of BroadField Solutions. She has over a decade work experience in both U.S. and India. She currently heads the IT efforts in an Indian organization and can be reached at sharath.shubha@gmail.com.
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