Indian IT Culture Needs a Revolution

Abstract

I opened my eyes to the Indian IT industry back in 1995. I observed many changes in the industry; I worked with small and large companies, traveled and worked in India, South Asia, and the U.S.A. I observed the work culture of Indian IT companies and I think we need to change our attitude towards work.

Note: This article is not to generalize or criticize any person's behavior or target a person on a job designation. It's just a gesture to light the candle and open up minds to think about and change the IT culture that is impacting our lives, or at least make people aware, so they contribute in building a better work culture or educate their colleagues about it.

Background

India is a top-ranked country to provide IT brains across the globe. We Indians provide our services to the world's finest companies; making programming languages (Microsoft), search engines (Google), social networking (Facebook), e-commerce (Amazon) and even air buses (Boeing).

While we showcase the IT Expertise that the entire world is depending upon and praising, our work culture actually needs some healing from the inside. In my last 16 years of work experience I have not met even a single IT Professional who is content with where he/she is, what he/sahe has done/achieved, or is presently doing or will do.

This disatisfaction I am talking about is not mostly related to job profile or pay package, but rather the work environment and company culture and so on. As per Herzberg's Theory from the book of Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, “work environment and company culture” are referred as Hygiene Factors (FYI, PMP exam covers these in greater detail).

The Problem

The biggest problem in the Indian IT culture is late work hours which are now taken for granted. Someone might argue about it by saying; but we never start early. True; even I was never in the office before 9 – 9:30 AM when I worked from India's largest metropolitan city office for over four years. Coming late justifies going late, but the question I have is: How late? And for how many hours do I have to be there?

I learned that some managers want their team to stay late, even become available for late evening, night, midnight calls with the client; no matter what time zone your client is in. Is it feasible for everyone?

Many times I noticed that we push extra hours every day to meet the deadline. In such cases; if that happened too often I would question the estimation process. How are tasks estimated? Did you, as a developer say that you can't do this in X number of hours (9 hrs. per day as per Indian IT Standards)? Ask your manager to estimate properly or question their estimation.

What kind of work environment are we creating, is it appropriate to sit that late and work? I am sure no client would insist on that. Many teams have an onsite lead/manager and even they enforce the offshore teams to join the late night calls. My question is why do we need an onsite manager then? Pack their bags and send them back home.

I observed that the following factors make people sit late at work:

  1. Managers cultivate a culture that the team must sit late or else it impacts your career.
  2. Incorrect estimation of project tasks that cause long work hours.
  3. Unrealistic project deadlines.
  4. Unproductive team and members.
  5. Lack of business requirements.
  6. Lack of support from the onsite team.

The Solution

From the manager's point of view, I would suggest you need to handle your team with consideration and empathy and see the magic of bonding. Don't nurture the late work hour culture. The human mind is made up of cells and after a certain number of hours it stops functioning, unlike your Excel sheet. Sorry if someone feels offended, but this is the bitter truth.

From the engineer's point of view, I would suggest, don't sit late; go home early; spend some time with the family or learn new stuff. I often hear people saying, "What will I do at home?" Actually this way you are encouraging the late work hour culture. When you have your family then you will realize the value of time.

To create a healthy work environment:

  1. Estimate tasks properly
  2. Value an individual and their personal life
  3. Don't expect everything from one person
  4. Make them productive by providing the right resources and tools
  5. Provide help as and when needed and mentor them

Work Life Balance

“Work Life Balance” is a term that seems to not be found in the Indian IT vocabulary. I remember once I was phone screened for Microsoft Redmond USA and the hiring manager asked me “Vidya Vrat, how do you manage the work life balance?” Whereas in my homeland, during an interview people would rather ask “Can you put in extra hours to deliver?”

This is a cultural shift and India is not changing. But for whatever period I have worked in India, I can share with you all what I have done and I wish we slowly could contribute to change the culture.

  1. I did not sit late on any working day, unless there was an emergency.
  2. I focused on delivering on time and I knew how to estimate before I started my work.
  3. I only accepted the amount of work I could accomplish in a given number of hours or days at 9 hours per day.
  4. Don't assume anything. For example, don't just assume you will only develop. You need to support Unit Testing, QA and bug fixes, client demo and so on. So did you estimate the hours?
  5. Ignore the bad influence from a team member or manager.
  6. Be honest with your client, if you are on a call, don't just nod your head; if you don't understand something ask.
  7. Most important: Learn to Say No.

Someone will lose his job

Many IT companies today “lead by fear.” 

True story: I remember many years ago in a company I was leading a mid-size off-shore team, and my off-shore manager was coming to the morning status meeting. Every day before leaving, he liked to give only one piece of great advice. “Guys, work hard; or someone will lose his job.” Was I afraid then?

Well, I am no different than any other IT professional; I have a family, career aspirations and need money to provide support and a decent life style to my family. But, what I learned is not to be afraid of someone's threatening words; instead, be fearful of your own actions (Karma).

Every day, once that gentleman was gone, I used to tell my team, nothing will happen to your job; you do the best you can and stay focused. Apparently due to various circumstances that gentlemen lost his job.

How do I save my job?

Well, there are various job security techniques people are using, some of those are:

  1. 100% sure shot formula #1. Always be the “best kid” of the manager or higher management.
  2. Kill the competition; if someone better comes in your team, make his/her life hell.
  3. Tell on/blame other people.
  4. Work the hardest before appraisals.
  5. Work on a feature that no one understands and don't document the code, so it only stays with you.
  6. Don't share your technical knowledge or project knowledge with anyone.

    ** If you have been into a Knowledge Transfer (KT) session, you might know what I mean. Most of the candidates don't share anything, even though they are leaving the company.

    This is called an extra layer of security, what if the current company offers a better package?

My Mantra of Securing a Job

First of all, you don't need to be afraid of your manager or losing the job. A bad manager is afraid of losing his job and so makes you feel scared. Let me tell you the fact a technical person has a 99 percent chance of landing a better job than where you are right now. I can tell you this affirmatively, not only from my personal experience but from what I have witnessed with my colleagues.

I have never worked on any tricks except:

  1. Doing my work the best way I can.
  2. Understand the estimation of the task and don't assume anything related to work.
  3. Constant learning.
  4. Deliver more value as and when possible.
  5. Make myself visible beyond the manager level.
  6. Make a good reputation in your company.
  7. Contribute beyond your allocated project(s).
  8. Be a good human being, friend and team member.

Conclusion

The purpose of this article is not to make anyone rebel. Instead, I feel sad when people compare India's work culture with other countries like the U.S.A., U.K., and so on. Whatever is happening is due to us and our own people. Most of the managers have studied, worked and lived in countries abroad (U.S.A., U.K. and so on) but still they don't value the human life of their own people. When they return to India they push a person until they put in their papers that results in causing a higher attrition rate in Indian IT.

I suggest that an individual, whether engineer or manager, must work together to build a better work environment and not only software solutions.

We are human and we also deserve the Best Practices of Life and to feel its performance as it's always expected from the code we write.

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