View Full Version : The New Face of the Silicon Age

Friday, February 6th, 2004, 07:54 PM
The New Face of the Silicon Age

How India became the capital of the computing revolution.

By Daniel H. Pink


From left: Aparna Jairam, project manager; Kavita Samudra, senior software engineer; Aditya Deshmukh, project manager; Srividya Kanan, technical architect; Lalit Suryawanshi, senior software engineer.

Meet the pissed-off programmer. If you've picked up a newspaper in the last six months, watched CNN, or even glanced at Slashdot, you've already heard his anguished cry.


He's the guy - and, yeah, he's usually a guy - launching Web sites like yourjobisgoingtoindia.com and nojobsforindia.com. He's the guy telling tales - many of them true, a few of them urban legends - about American programmers being forced to train their Indian replacements. Because of him, India's commerce and industry minister flew to Washington in June to assure the Bush administration that Indian coders were not bent on destroying American livelihoods. And for the past year, he's the guy who's been picketing corporate outsourcing conferences, holding placards that read WILL CODE FOR FOOD will code for food and chanting, "Shame, shame, shame!"

Now meet the cause of all this fear and loathing: Aparna Jairam of Mumbai. She's 33 years old. Her long black hair is clasped with a barrette. Her dark eyes are deep-set and unusually calm. She has the air of the smartest girl in class - not the one always raising her hand and shouting out answers, but the one who sits in back, taking it all in and responding only when called upon, yet delivering answers that make the whole class turn around and listen.

In 1992, Jairam graduated from India's University of Pune with a degree in engineering. She has since worked in a variety of jobs in the software industry and is now a project manager at Hexaware Technologies in Mumbai, the city formerly known as Bombay. Jairam specializes in embedded systems software for handheld devices. She leaves her two children with a babysitter each morning, commutes an hour to the office, and spends her days attending meetings, perfecting her team's code, and emailing her main client, a utility company in the western US. Jairam's annual salary is about $11,000 - more than 22 times the per capita annual income in India.

Aparna Jairam isn't trying to steal your job. That's what she tells me, and I believe her. But if Jairam does end up taking it - and, let's face facts, she could do your $70,000-a-year job for the wages of a Taco Bell counter jockey - she won't lose any sleep over your plight. When I ask what her advice is for a beleaguered American programmer afraid of being pulled under by the global tide that she represents, Jairam takes the high road, neither dismissing the concern nor offering soothing happy talk. Instead, she recites a portion of the 2,000-year-old epic poem and Hindu holy book the Bhagavad Gita: "Do what you're supposed to do. And don't worry about the fruits. They'll come on their own."

This is a story about the global economy. It's about two countries and one profession - and how weirdly upside down the future has begun to look from opposite sides of the globe. It's about code and the people who write it. But it's also about free markets, new politics, and ancient wisdom - which means it's ultimately about faith.

Our story begins beside the murky waters of the Arabian Sea. I've come to Mumbai to see what software programmers in India make of the anti-outsourcing hubbub in the US. Mumbai may not have as many coders per square foot as glossier tech havens like Bangalore and Hyderabad, but there's a lot more real life here. Mumbai is India's largest city - with an official population of 18 million and an actual population incalculably higher. It's a sweltering, magnificent, teeming megalopolis in which every human triumph and affliction shouts at the top of its lungs 24 hours a day.

Jairam's firm, Hexaware, is located in the exurbs of Mumbai in a district fittingly called Navi Mumbai, or New Mumbai. To get there, you fight traffic thicker and more chaotic than rush hour in hell as you pass a staggering stretch of shantytowns. But once inside the Millennium Business Park, which houses Hexaware and several other high tech companies, you've tumbled through a wormhole and landed in northern Virginia or Silicon Valley. The streets are immaculate. The buildings fairly gleam. The lawns are fit for putting. And in the center is an outdoor caf bustling with twentysomethings so picture-perfect I look around to see if a film crew is shooting a commercial.

Hexaware's headquarters, the workplace of some 500 programmers (another 800 work at a development center in the southern city of Chennai, and 200 more are in Bangalore), is a silvery four-story glass building chock-full of blond-wood cubicles and black Dell computers. In one area, 30 new recruits sit through programming boot camp; down the hall, 25 even newer hires are filling out HR forms. Meanwhile, other young people - the average age here is 27 - tap keyboards and skitter in and out of conference rooms outfitted with whiteboards and enclosed in frosted glass. If you pulled the shades and ignored the accents, you could be in Santa Clara. But it's the talent - coupled with the ridiculously low salaries, of course - that's luring big clients from Europe and North America. The coders here work for the likes of Citibank, Deutsche Leasing, Alliance Capital, Air Canada, HSBC, BP, Princeton University, and several other institutions that won't permit Hexaware to reveal their names.

Jairam works in a first-floor cubicle that's unadorned except for a company policy statement, a charcoal sketch, and a small statue of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of knowledge and obstacle removal. Like most employees, Jairam rides to work aboard a private bus, one in a fleet the company dispatches throughout Mumbai to shuttle its workers to the office. Many days she eats lunch in the firm's colorful fourth-floor canteen. While Hexaware's culinary offerings don't measure up to Google's celebrity chef and gourmet fare, the food's not bad - chana saag, aloo gobi, rice, chapatis - and the price is right. A meal costs 22 rupees, about 50 cents.

After lunch one Tuesday, I meet in a conference room with Jairam and five colleagues to hear their reactions to the complaints of the Pissed-Off Programmer. I cite the usual statistics: 1 in 10 US technology jobs will go overseas by the end of 2004, according to the research firm Gartner. In the next 15 years, more than 3 million US white-collar jobs, representing $136 billion in wages, will depart to places like India, with the IT industry leading the migration, according to Forrester Research. I relate stories of American programmers collecting unemployment, declaring bankruptcy, even contemplating suicide - because they can't compete with people willing to work for one-sixth of their wages.


Daniel H. Pink (dp@danpink.com) is the author of Free Agent Nation and the forthcoming A Whole New Mind.

Friday, February 6th, 2004, 07:59 PM
Americans are losing their jobs to India abroad, because of the Bottom Line. Good. It's high time Americans wake up and smell the coffee about Capitalism: Capitalism knows no master. It's all about profit and acquisition - not about a happy, functional society at all. (Or maybe it does know a master... need I say?)

It was WASPS, blind crusaders for the religion of Capitalism, who "outsourced" their labor - so now the USA is no longer the industrial/agricultural powerhouse it was 50 years ago. They moved their jobs to the banana republics of Latin America and Southeast Asia, so they could turn a higher profit. Now their kids can't get jobs.

Maybe once things get a little worse here, Americans will really wake up and demand we do something about this mess.