Contributed by Citizen Mohit (do read his blog for the complete, unedited text)
There is a very old joke about Bangalore that a friend of mine told me the day I reached Bangalore for the first time after its new found status of India’s IT Capital. It goes like this (told in Hindi first for maximum impact):
Bangalore mein kuchh Chaalees Hazaar (40,000) kutte hain; Itne hi kareeb software engineer hain. Sadak par ek patthar utha kar maarogey to ya to kutte ko lagega ya software engineer ko. Aur Kutte ke galey mein patta ho ya nahin, software engineer ke galey mein jaroor hoga!
(Bangalore has about 40,000 dogs; about the same number of software engineers. If you throw a stone randomly, chances are, it will hit the dog or the software engineer. While the dog may or may not have a strap (a.k.a. leash) around his neck, the software engineer will definitely have one.)
Alright, the half of you can stop laughing now. The other half are of course, the software engineers.
While there are no official figures to support this (meaning I have not researched), I can safely say that more than half of the current youth does something that can be slotted under the title of ‘software engineer’. If you are not a software engineer, there are all chances that either your brother or sister, or your spouse or your best friend or your neighbor or someone else you know closely is on.
It’s funny. What started out as a profession that needed a whole lot of technical expertise, was supposedly ‘niche’ and somewhat glorified, has now become as mundane as any other profession, or most other once-upon-a-time-talked about professions. And not just mundane, it’s become one of the most accursed jobs to have as well. In a way, the software engineer of today is what the babu of the English government was, back in the pre-independence era.
For one, most of a software engineer’s hard work, his day’s energy and all his knowledge goes into productive work (mostly) for the United States (or some other country). His only contribution to the country is the tax that he pays (which is a significant amount) but no one cares for something that you do once a year and that too just a day before the extended deadline. But there is no satisfaction value to his hard work; he is not like his Airtel or Reliance engineer friend who can boast of working to increase the country’s communication bandwidth.
Not like his stock broker friend who invests in the local stock markets (even though he might be working for a Franklin Templeton); doctors, of course, have that halo value; journalists can boast of reporting corruption; even a management professional working for the countless multinationals that have made their way into the country learns stuff about the local market because local is how he deals. But the software engineer learns everything about the US industry but ZILCH about the corresponding Indian industry. He may know loads about the US insurance industry but how things work in the Indian market are quite different.
It started as an esteemed profession (it still is, but a tad too common). Everybody and their bagal waali aunty ka ladka (neighbor’s kid) worth their “Hello World” program wanted to be a software engineer. The charm of sitting on a cushioned chair, complete with the ergonomic works, in an air-conditioned office, the potential of getting the Gurgaon flat (or the Bangalore, Hyderabad or Chennai flat, consistent with your geography) along with the Tata Safari as ransom, oops, dowry, an overall enhancement in the family status, the not-so-proverbial but very filmy samaaj mein gardan oonchi (high status in society) and the ultimate dream of flying “abraawd” (which, for a desi, means any country apart from Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma and Sri Lanka) was just too much of an opportunity to overlook.
And thus started the revolution that would take India from the spiritual tourism pages of the Time magazines to the business section and even the cover story. Young college pass outs left their hometowns for their dream jobs in often far away cities. But is it a Dream Job?
In these far off big cities, the software engineer is no longer looked at as the nice kid who made it from a humble background; he becomes just another bachelor who only rents apartments to cast an evil eye on the landlord’s daughter, or the neighbor’s young wife or to cook non-vegetarian food in the vegetarian landlord’s “pure” house. He also has a tough time with auto drivers; now auto drivers can anyway be a pain; but when they see these 20-somethings with loads of cash, they often hear stuff like “you have taken away our jobs coming from other states”.
Sky-high rents are another reality that becomes a reality only when he gets married.
And if you want to see the software engineer, where do you go? His office is a good answer but you won’t be allowed to enter his actual office area these days with the security arrangements such that I cannot go to my friend’s seat who works for a different client because my tuin-tuin card does not have the access for that bay. Well, so you go to the malls. Those people that you see all over the mall; some sipping their Café Coffee Day some-difficult-to-pronounce-ccino; others waiting in the multiplex line ready to dish out close to a grand for a movie for two (with popcorn and Pepsi, large please).
And is that enviable chance at a life abrawd really that enviable? The Software Engineer neat stuff all around him but does not buy it because he is there only for a year or two; to save for a lavish lifestyle that everyone expects him to have back home. So, he settles for a lifestyle quite opposite to what he had back home. While he shops only branded stuff from the best shops in India, he is always on the lookout for ‘deals’ and sales announcements and buys the cheapest stuff without caring for a brand name in the US! Not to mention the weird looks he gets from all the natives for taking their jobs away. A few “lucky” ones have seen protesters at bus stops with signs saying “I was Bangalored” and “Say No to Offshoring”.
In a way, it seems that the software engineer of today is what the babu of the English government was back in the pre-independence era. The babus joined the British government in a hope for a good job and a prosperous life for their family. They did their work and even though a large section of the population would have lived off servicing that class, they were often considered as people who just wanted to make money by turning towards the tide. A large section of the youth turns towards software jobs today because that is the area where the largest number of jobs is.
Does that make The Software Engineer a selfish lot? The kind that works for itself and does nothing? (And which is the Other kind of people anyway?) So the abroad-going-software-engineer population is rising (and perhaps not with much returns for India) and so are the numbers who don’t get a basic meal a day. Both are realities of today’s India. I know that the software engineers definitely want to see their country progress. There are small ways in which the software engineers can help the country – even while you spend most evening tracking your Twitter account.
Like making government offices and services tech savvy. Or even teaching your mom the basics of the internet to make banking easier.