The un-promotion of the techie tribe…

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This article is a follow-up to the post we published earlier – IT Sector : Why Promotions Are A Function Of Experience Rather Than Skill/Expertise?

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Famous Indian Fetish – Management roles

I have had experiences to represent my organization at Fortune 500 customers. Across all of them, without any exception, I used to hear one common grouse about the famous Indian fetish for "management". I wonder how much does the employing organizations contribute to the halo around "management roles’. While I respect the place of "IT services" firms in India’s export story and the growth in its economy, they are surely among the visible culprits when it comes to talent management.

Before calling it another "IT Services Bashing", lets put the problem in context.

The rush to management ranks from technology is also a function of lack of a technical career path in the services firms. A techie who is good at programming should aspire to build superior code and then architect & design superior systems that are scalable. That sounds natural for a person who loves his/her job. However a smart techie is burdened with coaching the rest & often times assisting the project manager in reporting. He/She eventually becomes a lead. A good technologist becomes a layer between code and the customer.

Unfortunately, the opportunity cost of this decision is an off-balance sheet & off-measurement item for the short & medium turn. So what else could have been done to motivate a performing technologist?

From 1962 to 2009, IBM has had 218 "Fellows" who are accomplished technocrats chosen as a batch of (usually) 3-4 per year by the CEO, to solve problems as complex as "world hunger". Then there are another 500+ engineers who are IBM Distinguished Engineers, guiding teams on complex technical challenges. Consider Google. They democratized the fellowship further to include PhDs from universities who then go one to solve complex technical challenges in front of mankind.

These examples aren’t entirely fair comparisons to be made. IBM is a quasi-services company while Google is a product firm which places premium on innovation. However there are lessons to be learnt. Attrition by frustration and dwindling innovation potential apart, we are institutionalized a method to "kill" the engineering premium of, well essentially, an engineering driven industry.

The telling statistic on patents would reveal how much India Inc. cares about motivating technical innovation amongst its ranks. The top 10 firms (by patent awarded) account for  approximately 21000 patents in 2009 (Source: IFI patent intelligence), while in India we filed for around 28000 patents in the same year (and these are not awarded patents, mind you!)

One may argue that, services firms by definition are rewarded for repeatable processes in volume and not innovation, we should ask  question if we are content with outsourcing innovation to developed and aggressive asian counterparts and just be their arms and legs in the future too.

Till such time we institute a path for technical excellence within our knowledge intensive organizations, promotions will be on contrived methods like experience in years. In fact, the reality is harsher and dumber. Our firms use a bell curve to plug in its employees, as a way to "scientifically" explain the injustice of grading performances. Least do we realize that standard deviations and bell curves are to measure deviations from standard averages (post-facto) and not tools to forcefully spread employees around fictitious deviations.

  1. Adhikari Arjun says

    u n fair.

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