What makes Indian software developers the best in the world?by Cheryll Barron / April 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
The emergence of India as a software superpower is still generally attributed to the cheapness of its programmers and software engineers. But the underlying reasons are more complex and interesting, lying in the subcontinent’s intellectual and pedagogical traditions.
Software is ubiquitous. It is at the core of processes in every strategic industry, from banking to defence. And the depth of India’s advantage in software suggests that it poses a bigger challenge to the western economies than even China. China, strong in manufacturing and computer hardware, has been almost as unimpressive in software as Japan. Indeed, no developing country has ever taken on the developed world in a craft as sophisticated and important as software.
Indian software aptitude rests on both the emphasis on learning by rote in Indian schools, and a facility and reverence for abstract thought. These biases of Indian education are usually considered mutually exclusive in the west, where a capacity for abstraction is associated with creativity. In India, learning by rote is seen by most conventional teachers as essential grounding for speculation.
An educational tradition that spans learning by heart and exalting excellence in higher mathematics is just right for software. It fits the mentality of computers. These are, after all, machines so fastidious as to refuse to send email with a missing hyphen or full stop in an address. Yet no product on earth is as abstract, boundlessly complex and flexible as software. It cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched and is, to borrow Nabokov’s description of chess – a game invented in India – a “spectral art.”
India’s software accomplishments reflect those extremes. Indian firms dominate a world elite of over 120 companies recognised for producing outstandingly accurate software, those which have earned a CMM Level-5 tag, software’s equivalent of the Michelin 3-star rating. These establishments – of which America has less than half the Indian total – are certified to be following an exacting, detail-ridden methodology developed at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh for producing reliable code.
At the other pole of cyber-sophistication, most of the reigning US technology giants – Microsoft, General Electric, Texas Instruments, Intel, Oracle and Sun Microsystems – have established software design and development facilities and even R&D laboratories in India to take advantage of the world-class brains produced by the Indian institutes of technology, willing to work for an eighth of the starting salary of their US…