Monday, December 10, 2007

In defence of IT

Before anyone wonders, yes, this title is inspired by the book, "In Defence of Globalisation" by Jagdish Bhagwati. And no, this is not a book review. I remembered the book because it defends a phenomenon that has widely been criticised and maligned for all the ills that plague the world today. From International Organisations to NGOs to individuals, everyone blames globalisation for global warming, income disparities, conflict, human rights abuse and the like. The December 17 issue of Outlook Magazine carries much the same tirade against the IT industry and blames it for polluting Bangalore (known as India's answer to Silicon Valley). Not just that, IT is also held responsible for the escalating land prices, changing moral values, and entry of "western decadence" into a city that was once a pensioner's paradise. Of the many articles, two deserve comment, not so much because they represent two ends of the spectrum, but because they manifest an almost irrational resentment towards the IT industry.

The first article is by Dr. C.N.R. Rao, currently Scientific Advisor to the Government of India. Dr. Rao is a respected and learned man. But, that does not give him the right to pass a moral judgement on what people in the IT industry do. And that, is precisely what he does in this article when he laments that,
"Bright people at a very young age, before they are even 20, think of IT as an option because they can make quick money. Lots of intelligent people are doing jobs that are much below their intellectual capabilities. They are like coolies who are working for wages and not producing great intellectual material."
Does this mean that all IT professionals are idiots? Or is he trying to say they don't use the brains they have? Both claims are false and imply that the work Dr. Rao is doing is intellectually superior to that of the IT professionals. Most importantly, can we do without IT? Secondly, in the introductory lines of this article, he calls himself a real Bangalorean. And goes on to say he was born in Basavangudi. Does that mean that all others are outsiders who have invaded what is rightfully his? If that is truly what he thinks, then he is being extremely intolerant and territorial. As Confused says on her blog, Indians have a problem against outsiders in general. And this problem seems to be particularly pronounced in Bangalore. Dr. Rao also seems to be upset that IT professionals are making a lot of money. What else could prompt him to say that "people have lost respect for scholarship. Money and commerce has taken over?" That claim is far from true. If he, or anyone else thinks that IT is a field where one does not need to use brains, they are gravely mistaken.

Moving on, the second article by Subroto Bagchi, COO of MindTree Consulting, is equally critical of the IT industry. This, despite the fact that Mr. Bagchi is very much a part of the industry he criticises. Before I start about why I disagree with Mr. Bagchi, I must observe that he uses many words to convey absolutely nothing. His sentences seem grammatically correct, but make no sense to the reader. There are many things wrong with his article. First, he claims that the IT industry was built by a few anonymous people. I assume he means, unknown or lesser known individuals. He then goes on to examine the antecedents of our IT czars, like Narayanamurthy of Infosys and Azim Premji of Wipro. He comes to the conclusion that "all of them went on to build global organisations for India, without having to work the system. A few forward-looking bureaucrats and politicians helped from behind the curtains." I wonder how much truth there is to that claim. My dad says they all had to go through the same hassles that all other budding industrialists do when they start a company. And he has been in the IT industry for over 30 years now. We must not forget that the first tax sops given to the IT industry are less than 10 years old. In fact, the government started taking IT seriously only in the late 90s. And the industry existed for at least 10 years before that.

Why is IT suddenly the bad boy of Indian industry? Is it because, as Bagchi says, "the IT industry started choking cities, upsetting local culture, creating wage disparities. And in the process of wowing the world, it was creating social isolation?" Is it even fair to blame IT and IT alone for all that is wrong with the world today? Is the IT professional's job not fundamentally different from that of the car mechanic, the doctor, the actor, the politician or the civil engineer? When that is the case, how can we compare salaries in IT with salaries in other industries? Is it not like comparing apples and oranges? Secondly, does a higher salary level for the IT professional mean that his job is qualitatively different from mine, or yours? Can we please stop this IT-bashing and respect them for what they are? Like every other industry, IT has its share of positives and negatives. It is time we stopped treating the industry like an outsider who has taken away jobs from the locals. If anything, IT has contributed to employment generation in a way that not many other industries have. We must remember that IT is here to stay, whether we like it or not.

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