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3/18/2009
08:20 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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India To Have More IT Pros Than U.S., Infosys CEO Says

What if, three years from now, India has more IT professionals than the U.S.? Would that be wonderful for India and terrible for the U.S.? Would it mean the U.S. has taken another giant step toward being a nation of purely non-producing consumers? For India, says Infosys founder S Gopalakrishnan, it would mean that "in the IT revolution, we are at the centre."

What if, three years from now, India has more IT professionals than the U.S.? Would that be wonderful for India and terrible for the U.S.? Would it mean the U.S. has taken another giant step toward being a nation of purely non-producing consumers? For India, says Infosys founder S Gopalakrishnan, it would mean that "in the IT revolution, we are at the centre."To give that comment as much context as possible, here's the full quotation from Gopalakrishnan as cited in a news article from Mumbai: "In the IT revolution, we are at the centre. We are underinvested, but that is an opportunity. A lot of investment is being done in R&D here because of the availability of talent. Our education system provides for that."

His comments appeared in a very brief news article in the Economic Times of India under the headline, "India to have more IT professionals than US in next 3 yrs." The article went on to state that it will be hiring 20,000 engineering graduates this spring and summer, up from 18,000 last year, and that this year's incoming recruits will receive salaries 8.3% higher than last year's starting salaries.

I'm going to speculate that in the context of that discussion about the massive growth in new hires at Infosys, Wipro, Tata, and other Indian IT companies, Gopalakrishnan speculated that if India can continue to sustain such growth levels, it will have more IT professionals than the US in a few years.

Let's think about that - is it a good thing or a bad thing? Here are some arguments for each:

-- India in the world's largest democracy and in the past 30 years has made enormous strides in raising the standard of living for hundreds of millions of its citizens; this growth will continue that trend.

-- Indian IT companies have evolved from initially offering decent quality at much lower prices to offering very high quality at very competitive prices to being a major source for global innovation.

-- Businesses in the U.S. have made extensive use of the powerful resources the Indian IT community offers, allowing those U.S. companies to expand in ways that otherwise would not have been possible.

-- The wealth that India's IT sector has created has allowed the entire country to become a huge consumer of a wide range of American products, from heavy machinery to consumer electronics and music to education.

-- At the same time, there has been an undeniable disruption in the careers and prospects for many American IT professionals. And while on an individual basis this upheaval has been painful and difficult, it also represents another step in the cyclical nature of industries ranging from textiles to steel to cars: industries change and evolve, leading to shifting demands for skills and experience.

-- The worldwide economic downturn has led some political leaders to threaten protectionist measures aimed at somehow trying to alter or suspend the forces of the global marketplace. These threats and the jerry-built contortions thrown up to support them have not worked, do not work, and will not work; they only serve to delay the ultimate reckoning and, in the meantime, diminish the ability of the supposedly "protected" country to compete.

And finally, this might well be the most significant point: what is, after all, an "IT professional"? Is it a help-desk pro, or the person who leads the team redesigning a global supply chain? Is it the tens of thousands of people who work at Google here in the U.S. and round the world, or is it the medical doctors deeply involved in designing the best system for E-health records? Is it HP CIO Randy Mott as he conducts CIO-to-CIO workshops around the world to share best practices, or is it a 21-year-old graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology just hired by Infosys to help a team handling application maintenance? Or is it the 16-year-old high-school student here in the U.S. who's hacked his parents' Tivo system to quadruple its storage capacity and who never would consider that he knows anything about "IT," doesn't want to know anything about "IT," but who nevertheless lives almost every facet of his life more deeply immersed in front-edge technology than his parents could ever have imagined?

So, in 2012, perhaps India will indeed have more people identifying themselves as IT professionals than the U.S. does. If so, good for India and good for us. Because nothing stays the same in this crazy world, and I would bet a dollar to a dime that in 2012, we will all have a very different view of what an IT professional is than we do today.

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