India: R&D Inc.

Another day. Another Press Conference (PC).
Another MNC product. But this one had a decidedly Indian twist to it. No, the twist was
not because the PC was held in Delhi. The twist was also not because the food was Indian.
The twist came, strangely enough, from the product. Called Ankoor, it was the first-ever
processor to be designed in India. The Texas Instruments (TI) DSP (Digital Signal
Processor) will be used in a variety of consumer products from cellphones to walkmans, on
the one hand, to PC devices like hard disks, on the other.

Little wonder then that the TI top brass
could not stop raving about the great market the little processor had and how DSPs are the
single-largest selling category of processors in the world today. But somewhere along the
line, they also did not forget to harp on the fact that Ankoor is the first processor ever
to be completely designed in the TI design center at Bangalore.

That was the key for the half a dozen or so
IT journos who had seen it all, heard it all. An Indian product that ranks at the cutting
edge of technology. No doubt that post conference Srini Rajam, MD of TI (India) Ltd, was
excited about what all could be done at the Bangalore center. About how TI is all set to
grow the Bangalore center even further and how this meant a major breakthrough for India
as a country. All true statements of the ‘feel good’ kind that leave you with a feeling of
having finally arrived. And now it is only a matter of time before Indian strength in
design is recognized and we become players in the global market.

Signs of this happening are already
aplenty. Look, and you will see ECAD is the new engine of growth. Yes, the core software
development work continues to grow from strength to strength, but the future today belongs
to the small set of engineers working away at the design innards of sundry processors in
swanky MNC offices strewn around the country. Jaswinder Ahuja, VP, Cadence India, cannot
stop raving about the great opportunity design presents to the Indian industry. As does
Rajam, for whom Ankoor is just a seedling. He sees a tree of growth for him, his company,
and his country in this area. But somewhere in the euphoria of another Eldorado discovered
is a lurking fear and that is: is this too good to be true? Pry, and you will find out
that even this pot of gold has its own set of cracks. And if something is not done about
these today, they could become the obstacles on the road taking India to its tryst with
design destiny. Plain and simple, the problem that is so minor today is the one that most
people would not expect to be there in the first place. It is a manpower issue. Says Rajam
"We normally do not have any problems recruiting bright young kids from the top
engineering colleges, but our main problem is we do not have enough middle-level design
engineers who will actually form the leadership in a design effort." TI was the first
of the starting block in India and yet it has just one engineer with the experience to
lead a design effort from scratch. The others can only be behind the early leaders. Added
to the problem of lack of seniority is the perennial situation of manpower turnover.
Today, the market situation is such that even an MNC cannot be sure of retaining its core
team. And there lies the crux of the problem.

It takes between seven to eight years for
an engineer to accept responsibility as team leader, but given the plethora of job
opportunities out there, very few engineers would like to stay in the country and develop
that expertise. Grass is still greener on the other side of the Atlantic and when dollar
beckons, most young engineers are inclined to take a stab at that opportunity. This leaves
companies back home with a lot of hope and a drive but very few drivers to help them
fulfill that drive. The immediate aim then is to retain and create a pool of talented and
experienced individuals who can help the country realize the potential of ECAD.

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