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Friday, December 23, 2005

FOSS Movement : Winning The Hearts & Minds Of The Indian Programmer

Gervase Markham highlights that the US companies, being squeezed by low-cost, high-work-ethic competition from Asia, are looking to cut overheads by outsourcing their IT jobs – most of these go to India, as the country leverages the widespread knowledge of English, a legacy of its colonial past. In terms of the global IT landscape, it is perhaps more significant. As it is becoming uncontestedly clear that NPDI efforts shall be outsourced more aggressively in the coming months, there is also an invisible battle that is going in to win the battle for the hearts and minds of those tens of thousands of Indian software developers. Just as in the American market, on one side are the large commercial enterprises like Microsoft, hoping to tempt them with visions of a smoothly-integrated development system from a single vendor. On the other side is the free software movement, talking about the importance of liberty, unrestrictive licensing and control of your own computing environment. At stake is the ability to harness the brainpower of an entire subcontinent of hackers. During his recent trip to India, Bill Gates talked about recruiting top class Indian talent through innovative competition – this created huge publicity. By contrast, the FOSS.IN conference, a week beforehand in the very same venue, received comparatively little publicity.
My Take: Cultural factors are said to be preventing FOSS’s ability to attract a lot of Indian talent that could flow into major projects. While these may be attributed to some hazy factors like the difficulty of Indian developers to engage with the community, education system not encouraging creativity all that much, Indian developers mostly most comfortable with a structured work plan and clearly-defined boundaries ( While this may appear to be true to an extent – the perception needs to be examined more closely – typically when opportunities for personal advancement are there – this may not be all that pronounced, also note that most of product development happening in the country are for western companies – where by nature the system calls for such a conformance). This style of working is not a good fit for the self-motivated, somewhat chaotic style of the free software bazaar. I think that the FOSS movement needs to be lot more serious in its organizing abilities – marketing, events, sponsorships and in bringing order of magnitude better publicity in terms of their presence & products – India is also a very brand conscious market (talking of the educated elites – FOSS can make a dent here – only by doing this). The country itself offers huge opportunities for deploying technology in the mass market, rural areas, SME and large enterprise segment – cutting edge products/solutions developed and deployed here by the FOSS movement would certainly enhance their ability to attract more talent – High visibility initiatives are certainly needed – that has to go beyond mere philosophical talks – In fact the FOSS movement should even go the extent of setting up a big institutional base in India, where the mass developers could come from - make the country’s FOSS movement responsible for some flagship initiatives, to galvanise the movement and bring in a sense of heightened importance – failing which it runs the real risk of being sidelined in its quest to attract top class talent. Bill Gates recently said that, "a time will come when revenues from India in Microsoft will be in proportion to its population in the world". The FOSS movement need to create such powerful forward looking statements – how about a statement like - 30% to 40% FOSS efforts could happen out of India in next three years, FOSS movement should capture one-third of opportunities in the Indian market - I am also told that Indian service majors are not doing much to promote FOSS movement - while I can’t talk on their behalf or comment on this – I can definitely tell two things – The service majors are largely led in their focus by what they sense as the needs of their customers – today and tomorrow & they have the constant challenge of retention related issues. That’s where the FOSS movement as an instituition becomes a crying need – enough ecosystem components exist in the country – high tech instituitions, lot of home returned high class talent. At the moment, The SAP’s, Microsoft’s, Oracle’s,IBM’s, Intel’s and the Amazon’s besides the Indian majors are getting way ahead in the race to attract Indian talent.

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