Saturday, January 19, 2008

In Search Of Excellence

Don't tear down brilliance. You can't. Instead, enshrine mediocrity. Thats the mantra of Ellsworth Toohey in "The Fountainhead", which is my favourite book. It's a mantra that works because when the majority is bent towards mediocrity, then it becomes the de-facto standard and any attempts to shift the axis is met with extreme defensiveness and hostility. It worked in the book and it's the way it works in real life as well.

I work in an industry that is driven by serving the developed nations by taking the low-level work off their hands and leaving them to do more thought intensive work and creative work. In the process, jobs are created in India and we Indians work on less than 5% of what the foreigners get for the same work. And we are expected to be grateful for it.

I agree with the business and economic concepts that since India has so many people to support, we must take anything we can. But my mind refuses to accept this doctrine when it applies to me. I am not a secondary citizen of this world and I should not be judged by the country I am born in.

My grouse is that, as an offshoot of being a developing nation, our standards are very low. A majority of our graduates are unemployable (as shared by NASSCOM chief with the vice-chancellors of major Indian universities last year), we neither have the drive to get out of our lucrative low-level IT nor the guts to get into product and manufacturing roles. We see an Apple coming out with an iPod. It says: Designed by Apple in California. Made in China. My laptop, camera, GAP tee: Made in China. The chips in the Apple products come from Samsung (Korea). There are Korean and Taiwanese companies working in the chip design, solid state devices, flash memories business and they are major suppliers to the biggest industries in the world. And India? We still do IT services, fleece our employees and felicitate our (already super rich!!!) industry doyens. A Tata Nano might pop up from time to time. But thats about it.

Even within the scope of my job, when I try to innovate, it is met with stiff opposition. When I have an idea that will benefit our product, I have to sell like I am a salesman trying my best to meet the quarterly target. Inspite of your most sincere efforts, they shoot it down mostly citing delivery commitments or purely because of their lack of understanding. And I wonder, what the hell is wrong with the world?

Im not saying Im a brilliant technologist. But Im better than average. I bring a tenacity, will to learn and ability to pick up things fast, ability to see the big picture and grasp the fundamentals of a system, ability to have a knowledge of change and impact on any part of the system. I know all this coz Iv slogged my guts out. Think working 18 hours a day x 7 days x 6 months.

Around me, I see people doing all sorts of crap. They either are only interested in their work deliverables and care a damn for team problems, think about offloading responsibilities, just dont take any responsibility, treat a problem as someone elses problem, care only for their KRA and not about how some change might cause a non-maintainable state of the system, work less and show more et al. It SUCKS!!!

And Im told: learn to adjust. WTF???

What adjustment do you want me to make? Compromise on quality of analysis? Take up and do the work of 3 people when I already am doing the work of 2? It is here that the sustainability of mediocrity and its power takes full effect. By twisting the facts and indulging in groupism, often the mediocre elements have their say in the final decision making.

Adjustment is Ok as a temporary phase. But continued mediocrity is unsustainable. It harms the project, the product and ultimately the customer. I am not bothered about working 18 hours a day. Im old-fashioned. I will follow blindly the people I believe in and trust. But when you are correct and able and it has no positive impact, it is disillusioning. And when the customer is knowingly impacted, when a person coming to maintain the project will have a super-tough task ahead of her/him, it is not acceptable.

What is my crime? That I choose not to be mediocre? Or that I want to do my best and it takes effort on all our parts to do that? Or that I work in Indian IT?

Im not unhappy with my work. Iv done very well within the limited opportunities and I always knew I would. I have the respect of most people and their silent acknowledgement of my abilities.

Im just not able to understand why we deliver substandard products, follow substandard processes and keep doing it again and again.

P.S: I wanted to take this post in a completely different direction, but I guess the quality of my writing is going to the dogs. Paradox eh???

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