Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Software Culture

Software Engineering in India, if plotted on a graph of Time vs. State, would be a Sinusoidal wave. It has had its crests and troughs, majorly as repurcussions or aftermaths of the pressure generated across the sea. I represent a small speck in the vast number of Indians who surf the wave of Software Engineering, and the ride is pretty much what it is - A Ride. It has made its mark in India and has swept the Indians off their foot. It has been the solace of many a souls that would have done God-Knows-What otherwise. It has changed the face of Indian Economy, both in the sub-continental and international scale. The only other cult that I could think of that has made such a massive impact on Indians is Cricket. Not that I mean to compare Cricket and Software Engineering. If I do, I am sure the former will win. But when it comes to life itself, there is nothing to beat the effect of Software Engineering on Indians.

When the wave of Software Engineering started reaching the shores of India, I was probably crawling on all my fours. By the time I learnt my ABC's and moved on to bigger things, the intoxication of "My son is studying to become an Engineerrrr or Doctorrrr, and I will be a proud Fatherrr one day" had taken over most Indians. I chose MPC (Maths/Physics/Chemisty), because I liked the Pythagorous theorem, Newton's laws and the colour of Copper Sulphate, in that order. I did not choose Biology because I could neither draw a straight line without a ruler nor could I remember Complexi Nameosis. Why bother to call an earthworm an earthworm, when you can call it Lumbricus terrestris? Not my forte! Though I excelled in biology in my class, I had the wisdom to know it was more a drive for the first rank, than any serious love. Physics was waiting for me with open hands, those generous fingers and sensuous eyes with which it invited and enveloped thousands and thousands into its gravitational bosom. The Newtons and Einsteins of this world manifested themselves in me and soon, I was working 16-hour days in the foot steps of DAV (my hi-scool), the magical three letters that will suck your life out of you only to make you search for it elsewhere. The effect of Physics and Chemistry on me was phenomenal, Computers was not even an option then. I was lost in the mechanics of heat, the entropy of this universe, in the electronic rain and in orgaaaaaa-nic chemisty! Oh I loved it! The carbons and hydrogens and oxygens were my lifeline and boy, I loved it.

I mention DAV, because it was the first place I came in direct contact with computers. I opened up the DOS prompt and that was my first peek into the other world, one in which I would eventually belong. Quickly, I learnt to list files and write programs that told me 2 + 3 was 5. I was awed to learn that input and output devices existed and that I could actually touch them. You would want to know that my friends were already playing video games by this time, and some of them even had their own computers. I once pressed ctrl+alt+del because the computer asked me to, and lo, it shutdown! Obviously I did not know what that was, and I broke sweat. It was in the lab and I sincerely thought I had done some unrecoverable mistake and terminated the computer's life. By the time I gathered the guts to call the lab technician and told him my heinous deed, I was a nervous wreck. When he coolly switched on the goddamn thing with the swipe of a finger, and the monitor whirred to life, I knew I had fallen in love with the magic box, then and there.

I could never forget the counselling session for engineering admissions. It was the peak-est time of Indians craving for a seat in Computer Science or in Information Technnology. All around me, it felt like a slow-motion of students marching towards glory, those with seats in Computer Science. Fathers called for last-minute advices, Mothers prayed in temples, Sisters waited to show-off, families sat on the seat-edge. The whole of India came to a stand-still those two months in 1999, when all engineering seats were being fast-filled, especially those in computers. Management and Sponsored seats were suddenly an option for the poor government worker struggling to rake in money. I was probably one of the very few who wanted to do Mechanical Engineering in Anna University (I wanted that combo) and got it. "My son got a computer science seat, you didn't get one?" - Silence. "Infosys and Cognizant and TCS are calling and you chose Mechanical Engineering?" - Silence. "You really want to be a mechanic?" - (Gosh!) Silence. "Anna University? That's fine. But Mechanical Engineering? You are an intelligent boy, you should have chosen Computers" - Silence. All I wanted then was to do a phD in Thermodynamics. Seriously.

Seniors getting placed in Software Companies was the talk of the campus. They came in thousands and took in thousands. People talked of huge bench strength, strong onsite-offshore model and I heard of new terms like "Organizational Behavior", "Architectural Baseline" and "Growing Economy". The dual degree was offered in the second year and most of us grabbed the opportunity. This would change my life forever, the B.Tech in Information Technology in addition to B.E., in Mechanical Engineering. The C's and C plus plusses were romantic. Java was almost healing. I lost myself in computers, not because the world around me lost in it, but because I really liked it. But most of the people were caught in the wave, pushing themselves along with others, the synergy of the booming economy.

The time after graduation was one of the best! Indian culture became open-mided, and this concept of a "typical software engineer" came up. A typical software engineer is supposed to be ending every sentence with a "man" or "dude". He dresses like a hippie, except that the clothes are new. He wears faded jeans, talks of rock and jazz, comes to office with red eyes and unkempt hair, and has a small paunch. He parties, smokes, drinks - all a part of the software cult. Posters are everywhere - "Failed 10th? Failed 12th? Join G-NEET. Become a Software Engineer". Software was chosen as the last resort if you don't succeed in anything else. Why care when it is waiting? There were ads showing software managers wearing Armani Suits grabbing any guy who comes out a software learning centre. Sadly and oddly, they really did!

And the hunt was on! "24, Fair looking female, decent family, well brought-up, looking for a US-return Software Engineer" or "23, South-Indian Mallu girl, looking for a Software Engineer in US". All you had to do back then, to get yourself married was to go to the US. Even if it is just for three months, you did! Software Engineers were seen as visas themselves to settle the girls well in a foreign country. And it was rolling. "Where are you working? Haan? What is that? Mera beta working in Infosys. You know, Narayanmoorthy! Send your bio-daata to him, he will get you a job in Infosys". Mr. Narayanmoorthy became a household name. He deserves it, but not in this fashion. Then the recession hit! And it hit hard! "Hey, they tell me all Indians are coming back. Really? How can US do this to us?" - Because it's their f-country and they have the right! "Dude, I heard people are being laid off? True?" - Don't scare the hell out of me man.

The complaints against them pile up. The normal government worker is not able to accept the fact that they are being paid high. But it's not a 9-5 job. "These software engineers! They just sit in one place and they are paid so much!" - Why complain? No-one is paying if there is not a price for it. Software Engineers do work their a$$ off. So what, if there is a small party over the weekend? Is it wrong because you cannot afford it? "It spoils Indian Culture" - What spoils? Partying or beating up women for it? "Arey beta! I am too scared to look for a software engineer now. What if he loses his job?" - The most knowledgeable scheming Indian Aunties who start fretting about a girl's marriage the moment she is born, so you can't really blame them. Doctors are busy ragging juniors to death. Lawyers are busy protesting in courts and beating up students. Chartered Accountants are busy crunching numbers and planning. Software Engineers are busy partying, huh?

And the wave rolls! It goes on. I live in this world because I like it. I do want to do my masters, but I want to do it with experience, may be as honours or in research. I do want to work in computers because they run the world. They make satellites work, they generate your bills in shopping malls, they help you send mails to your children overseas, they help industries store data, they help in researching markets, they make software for your kid's learning, they are cool.

As I said to that guy who interviewed me long back - "I liked C, fell in love with C++, and married JAVA".