Sunday, May 14, 2006

Before I Move On

I was up at 5am today-- the sun rises ridiculously early. Also, everything is lush and green- there are leaves. In the brief time I was away, spring arrived.

A few observations about India: Indians "talk funny" because English is usually not the main language. It is the language that united the country, but there are thousands of different tongues throughout the nation. Tamil is the main language in Chennai. Most Indians communicate with each other in Tamil- not English. Most of our employees know two other languages, in addition to Tamil and English. Also, the Indians that have lived abroad speak much better English than the ones still in India. They truly have their own dialect.

Swatstikas: They are everywhere- on buildings, vehicle stickers, signs, all over. They have been around well before Hitler and they are still used today.

Piercings: Old women with multiple nose, ear, and lip piercings-- or almost more shocking: infants and toddlers with pierced ears- both girls and boys.

Numbers: Indians have different number units when accounting, like "lacs." Rather than using a system like 1,000,000,000 they use a counting scheme like this: 10,00,00,000. I about went crazy going over the financial data at the accountants when I tried to compare things to the Norwegian books. Norway is far from perfect, using,00. The switching of commas and periods drove me insane trying to create an Excel spreadsheet with a Norsk version- since semicolons are used in place of commas for conditional statements).

Work life: Good employers usually provide free lunch, and free pickup and drop off to and from work for employees that work outside normal work hours (live evenings and weekends).

Numbers: In Tidal Park, there are currently 15,000 IT professionals working in one office building. They are in the process of building FIFTY of these buildings! Tidal already charges Western leasing rates. Companies can receive STPI status- freeing them from ten year's of taxes in India. Microsoft is planning to start an office here. These people are hungry and motivated. I had a sad feeling that Chennai will never be the same as I was leaving. I really don't see how creating IT supercenters here and in Banglalore will really help the 70% of Indians who still live in rural areas. Think about that- 70%. It is like a preindustrial inversion of most of the rest of the world. Chennai is already overcrowded and its infrastructure is in shambles. Sure, there will be a trickle down effect, but it is only a matter of time before companies stop hiring a crew of a dozen employees to open doors, and install automatic doors. At some point, big business values will take over.

Life is cheap: It still disturbs me thinking about small children clinging to the handlbars of a motorcycle as they sit on the gas tank as they are driving around town- or seeing an entire family on one. Helmets are rarely used. Seatbelts are almost never used. Cars pass bicyclists and pedestrians within inches. There are no parks or green zones. The rivers look like sewers. There seems to be no garbage pickup. All this, and Chennai is considered one of the least polluted cities in India. Yet nobody seems to complain.

The work force: We are really dealing with a very motivated work force. They have no social welfare system, and all you have to do is walk down the street to see its effects- elderly women stringing flowers together, people picking through garbage- poverty is in your face in Chennai. Even opening doors seems like a good job in comparison. I worry about the future of the US. Kids seem to be motivated as consumers, but not as earners. Poverty is very relative in America. I worked with countless welfare recipients who owned cell phones, had cable TV, and air conditioned apartments (and a car). I have never seen a malnourished American-- usually it is quite the contrary.

Education: Everyone I interviewed had multiple degrees- usually with a masters of some sort. I realize their system is different than in the US- and education is much cheaper in India. But they value education, while in the US, post-secondary education is becoming more and more like health care: prohibitively expensive.

Social values: I am guessing when there are life or death issues staring you in the face as you walk/bike/motorcycle down the street, that it becomes frivolous to think about drinking alcohol or using drugs. People are faced with constant reminders of how bad life can become- why make matters worse? It really makes me think about how much waste of talent, money, and resources there is in the US. As a perfect metaphor, I saw shops that repaired cell phones- or TVs (and even sold used ones). Most people in the US/Europe consider modern consumer electronics to be disposible. My guess is we really use it as an excuse to step up to the plate to fulfill our role as good consumers again.

1 comment:

Sparky Dog said...

man, I dig your posts. I work with Indians both here in the US, and have my support groups overseas. It is amazing to see. However, I can say two things that our customer support and our support for our applications has worsened considerably since they have outsourced to India based resources.

However, generally speaking, Im not sure I have ever met a more honest, generous and humble group of people in my life.

Your insight is enlightening.