When Bangalore whizkid Sabeer Bhatia, who went on to become a Silicon Valley
posterboy, was asked about the most “valuable asset” that he got from
India, pat came the reply: Education!
The success of this young man, who played hardball with the world’s richest
man Bill Gates, clearly underscores the fact that Indian engineers can rival the
best in the world.
Education being primarily a state subject, has seen phenomenal growth in
Indian engineering colleges, and like in any other industrially advanced
country, India also has engineering institutions that can be calibrated in terms
of quality. Ask NR Narayan Murthy and you’ll hear him sing praises of IIT as
being not only the best in the world, but even “out of this world”. He
still regrets that his son wasn’t able to make it through to at an IIT, though
he easily made the mark at Cornell. This image is strengthened by the
observation that a number of Indian computer scientists have made it big in the
US as entrepreneurs, by going up the corporate ladder or being successful in
Here’s a look at a virtual who’s who–FC Kohli, S Ramodorai, Arjun
Malhotra, Vinod Khosla, Vinod Dham, Vijay Bhatkar, Arun Netravali, RS Pawar,
Kanwal Rekhi and many others populate that esteemed list, which can rightly be
called the Titans of Tech. And it is not a matter of coincidence that these
titans got their academic grounding at one or the other top tech school of the
country (See box: The Most Preferred Technology Schools).
The Educational and Training Enterprise in India which operates at all
conceivable levels from pre-school to post-doctoral is of a monumental size.
Key Recruitment Parameters
Dataquest set up a panel in late March to ascertain the parameters that the
industry placed importance on before picking up a student from a tech school.
The panel was put together to ensure that every segment–from hardware,
software, services and the SMEs of the IT industry–was represented. An
enriching discussion ensued and went way beyond the allocated time slot. Hard
parameters like technical skills of the students and content of the course
featured among the important variables.
“A look at the structure of the syllabus helps us determine the level of
technical thinking versus innovative thinking that the student is likely to
have,” said HV Krishnamurthy, consultant and former head, (HR practice),
Another factor that most of the participants pointed out was the faculty’s
relationships with the industry. This is a good proxy for assessing person’s
awareness of the latest in technologies and trends and how he will impart those
skills to an incumbent technocrat. The other aspect of this relationship is to
see how many live projects that the faculty and students work on. Guest and
visiting faculty from the industry also made a good proxy for assessing the
industry orientation of the institute, opined the group.
Softer variables like the candidate’s communication and presentation skills
along with his sensitivity to cross-cultural issues, ability to be a team
player, to be a self starter, level of confidence and, in some cases, even the
availability of the placement brochure in electronic format also formed a part
of the hygiene factors that increased the comfort factor for the recruiter.
Among the other skills that recruiters feel are important for a candidate
include “aptitude and attitude” for the job. Says Vivek Punekar,
general manager, (HR), HCL Infosystems, “It is critical to ensure that a
candidate is fit for the job. For instance, the aptitude for a coding job is
strikingly different from that needed for a technical support function.”
And therefore a number of organizations run the applicants through an
occupational personality test too.
The ability to think laterally is another valued skill. A large number of
technology companies that recruit from these schools take the applicants through
a two-tier testing process. While the first assesses their technical skills, the
second assesses their ability to think standing on their feet. “To know how
candidates get to a solution is often very insightful about their ability to
think analytically,” says Jacqueline Lynam, director (people sourcing
strategy), Sapient. Graduates from schools that encourage out-of-the-box
thinking are thus in demand. Reasoning and analytical skills also come in handy
as the career of these young graduates progresses.
Once the responses from the HR managers were in, a list of the top tech
schools was compiled. Dataquest then initiated contact with the institutes to
assess their health on a number of parameters. These mainly included their
admission procedure, the number and academic prowess of faculty, placement
record, industry interface and physical infrastructure, including library and
hostels. The two other parameters that formed a part of the discussion with the
heads of the institutions were exchange programs and student activity like fests
As we progressed through our interface with these top ten institutions a
number of common threads emerged. One, computing at the campus was being made
seamless. Whether or not the student was a computer science student, the need to
have access to a computer everywhere was immediate and institutions recognize
this and are working towards the same. Another aspect was whether the
institution was government funded or otherwise. Faculty and students alike felt
the need for adding facilities to the infrastructure and the process of addition
is continuous, this at no level implied that the existing infrastructure was
Another common aspect was that more and more students are opting for
technology specific certifications or courses like Cisco, Microsoft and Oracle
certifications. And in a number of cases the institutes encourage the students
to take up the same. They either arrange for such classes in the evening on
campus or co-ordinate with external centers for the same. “These definitely
enhance the employability of the candidates,” feels Prof. Sanjeev Gupta,
chairman, MCA program, IMT, Ghaziabad.
The one common consensus among the dons in the faculty is that these courses
prepare the candidates for jobs by imparting skills that are readily useable.
Smart skills, as some would call them. IMT Ghaziabad has taken this philosophy
to launch specializations for its MCA program too. A mainstay in business
programs till now, specializations are all set to make a mark in the technical
programs as well.
“It helps the smaller companies as they dramatically cut down costs that
need to be incurred immediately after an employee joins,” added Gupta. Have
we missed something till now that the Greek poet Archilochus knew ages ago when
he said, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big
Mohit Chhabra in New Delhi with Rishi
Seth in New Delhi Rajneesh De in Mumbai and G Shrikanth in Chennai
The objective of the survery was to find the top tech schools of the country.
In order to ascertain the parameters for assessing the same, Dataquest organized
a focus group discussion. Participants represented every sphere of the industry
from hardware to software to services and also the small and medium enterprises.
A comprehensive list of parameters was frozen at the end of the focus group
based on which most companies base their decisions to recruit from a technology
school or not. Dataquest then created a sample list of 150 top IT companies and
50 companies that spend the most on IT. A brief questionnaire, asking about the
choice of tech schools and the reasons thereof, was administered to the
recruitment decision maker of the target organization. Of these a number of
companies refused to comment on their recruitment policy and nearly 100
companies furnished a list of the tech schools that they had visited for
Based on these responses, a list of the top ten tech schools in the country
was determined and a DQ representative established contact with the heads of the
institutions to assess them on the parameters that were frozen during the focus
Another common thread was an increasing chasm in the number of sanctioned
faculty and the number employed. For instance, IIT Delhi has 455 faculty members
as against the sanctioned number of 690, DCE has a sanctioned number of 169,
with just 120 on the rolls. The situation at any tech school is no better.
“The situation is getting worse as far as faculty is concerned,”
admits Prof. MP Jain of IIT Roorkee very candidly.
The tech-schools are doing a number of things to ensure that this divide
decreases. IITs, for instance, allow unlimited consulting projects to be
undertaken by their faculty. There is a rolling advertisement on the website of
most tech schools urging applicants to apply. Says Prof. RS Sirohi, principal,
IIT Delhi, “We have made the process simple and fast and setup an interview
panel the moment we have a few applicants.” “We also take our new
faculty members through an intensive teaching workshop that familiarizes them
with the art of teaching,” says Prof. LK Maheshwari, director, BITS Pilani.
This is supplemented by taking faculty through subject workshops.
“We have failed to market the IITs as a preferred destination to
work,” Prof. Sirohi said in retrospection. The most often cited reason for
this is the huge disparity in the salaries of those joining the industry and the
academia. But this in a way is a misleading argument. On an average a teacher at
IIT costs the institute anywhere between Rs 8 to 10 lakh, suggests a study. And
add to that a degree of freedom like no other. “Freedom comes at a
cost,” adds Prof. Sirohi. What then can the industry do to help the
academia bridge the divide because they are the biggest stakeholders in this
equation? The one plausible solution is to build a certain amount of flexibility
in the structure of education.
Feels Prof. Harsha Sinvhal of IIT Roorkee, “Institutions need to
collaborate more closely with commercial organizations for teaching as
well.” Something that is not as prominent in the tech schools as it is in
the business schools. “A lot of practical expertise is generated in the
industry too,” opines Sinvhal. Leveraging that information will bring
subject experts to help bridge the faculty divide.
“Learn what you want to learn and teach what you can,” says Prof.
Sinvhal. And in saying so, he suggests that this will create a compelling reason
for the practicing engineers to come back to school, not only to teach, but also
to learn and plug the knowledge gaps. And these gaps will always be there, for
before you can plug them, rapidly changing technology creates new ones. An
ability to plug these gaps may lead to the erosion of quality of graduates and
brand equity in the near future.