Manas Fuloria1

We need to talk of Digital Normal and AI Normal

The digital normal involves an explosion of digital use cases and the rise of newer technologies to address these use cases, says Manas Fuloria, CEO and co-founder, Nagarro.

With a rapidly changing tech scenario and continuous upgradation of skills, how is the industry able to cope with the issue of employability of new engineering graduates?

The young engineering graduates of today are independent thinkers and self-driven, much more than in the past. This entrepreneurial energy saves the day! While the formal curricula of universities have largely not evolved enough, the good students have typically been picking up new technical skills without worrying too much about the limits of these curricula.

Nagarro supports these students, particularly those in smaller colleges, by offering them the Career Boot Camp while they are still on campus. This live training program, offered in conjunction with Coding Blocks, is aimed at building programming skills and making students industry ready. The training provides hands-on experience and exposure to industry situations through work and study programs. It focuses on a problem-solving approach to learning new concepts.

Of course, once students join the company, there are even more training programs that they can take advantage of. Depending on how well prepared a student is and how much hard work is put in during training, the student will likely be deployed in a live, exciting project within 3 to 9 months of joining. The way each company onboards new graduates varies, but the best companies take great pains to give new graduates a great learning experience and to make sure that they are able to contribute meaningfully to the projects they join.

How employable are talents from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in terms of meeting the new-age technology requirements?

I think stereotypes can be dangerously misleading. Today, a student in any part of the world—cosmopolitan or mofussil—can stay abreast of the latest developments in any field with just a computer and a network connection. We see this when we run hiring drives across the country. Of course, we find talent in the big cities, but we also find talent in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.

Depending on how well prepared a student is and how much hard work is put in during training, the student will likely be deployed in a live, exciting project within 3 to 9 months of joining.

In fact, with Nagarro’s Work From Anywhere, most Nagarrians have left our major office locations and moved back to their home cities. And when we look to see which cities these are – it’s not just the likes of Bangalore, or even Bhopal or Bhubaneswar, but also smaller places like Bareilly. We are following them there with Nagarro offices and communities that we call “Hives”. The Hive creates a local network for socializing, brainstorming, and even doing social work while collaborating remotely on global projects with colleagues from all over the world. It’s a wonderful chance of having both the comfort of your hometown and a truly global job in the fastest-growing IT services company.

How will you describe your talent acquisition strategy in India and elsewhere?

In India, we have been known for more than 20 years as a great place for young people to learn and build strong engineering careers. We are a very flat, non-hierarchical, and global company. We don’t draw organisation charts. We realised early that young professionals don’t want to work in traditional hierarchies and traditional structures. They must be empowered with data and guided with nudges. It’s not about being treated like a typical cog in the machine but about being in “self-serve” mode in the organization. Young engineers join us for the quality of work and exposure, and for the chance to work in distributed autonomous teams where they can contribute and learn directly, rather than working in a traditional, bureaucratic organization. This aspect of Nagarro is at the heart of our talent acquisition strategy.

We are looking for talent no matter the location. It may be in the farthest town on the edge of the country or the edge of the world – it doesn’t matter as long as they have Internet access.

The digital normal is leading to massive disruption and the emergence of newer technologies, making skill upgrades and cross-platform training very important. What is the company doing to keep pace with the need for new skill sets?

I think we need to talk of the “digital normal” and then we need to talk of what lies beyond – what we may call “the AI normal”.

The digital normal involves an explosion of digital use cases and the rise of newer technologies to address these use cases. But even here, it is not just about the technologies, but about understanding the human experience and the business context and being creative while using these technologies. I think that is an important aspect.

This emphasis on human experience, business context and creativity will only accelerate in “the AI normal”. AI is going to make software easier to write. Just check out the demos of OpenAI Codex, which uses GPT-3 natural language processing to take in commands and then spits out code! This is a revolution of the sort that we have not seen in some time. McKinsey has somewhere estimated that AI will lead to a 30x increase in software productivity! After that, will we still have as many jobs?

IT engineers today need to confront this reality. And so do our companies. Nagarro has a comprehensive “Savvier Nagarrian” series of learning tracks to prepare ourselves for this future. It is not about just learning a particular language or framework. AI will soon likely translate a program from one language or framework to another in a few seconds! So, we have to look beyond the writing of code. We have to become experts at creativity, generating ambitious ideas, managing various stakeholders, having a keen sense of human experience, understanding business context and building on it, helping our clients win in their markets, and so on. These will be the skill sets of the future.

We are a very flat, non-hierarchical, and global company. We don’t draw organisation charts. We realised early that young professionals don’t want to work in traditional hierarchies and traditional structures.

What are the skill gaps that exist in the employable population across India?

Before I begin, I must say that India is a huge country with a huge population. No answer I give will be applicable to the entire employable population across India. The general capability of the Indian employable population lies on a bell curve, and a very broad bell curve at that. I feel that in more developed countries like Germany, where you need standardized training and a certificate even to simply give haircuts, the bell curve is narrower and may be shifted to the right, towards a higher skill. But in India, we have all sorts of people – very highly skilled virtuosos, totally unskilled folks, and a ton of semi-skilled people in between.

Now, with that caveat, let me address the question – what are the skill gaps? Some people may answer this question in terms of technical topics and hard skills, but I would answer it a little differently. The fundamental skill gap is with the regard to creative problem-solving abilities. This can directly be traced back to our education system. I think there are five aspects of our education system and education tradition that kill creative problem-solving abilities. One, it treats education as something to be done by rote from books, completely divorced from the real world. It usually does not require us to build anything or create anything. Many electrical engineering graduates wouldn’t even be able to change an electrical fuse.

Two, the system and tradition demand absolute respect from the teacher so that no real discussion takes place. Doubts are not cleared, and new areas are not explored. Minds are stunted. Three, the system does not require teamwork of any sort, which is essential to creativity. And four, most of the poorer schools attract teachers who are doing this because they couldn’t get another job. Many of them have very little passion or ability to share.

Again, this doesn’t apply to each Indian student or school, or teacher, of course, but it is largely true. I think most industry leaders would agree with my characterization.

What about the skills that even senior industry leaders themselves have to adopt throughout their careers?

I think the moment you stop learning; you might as well give way to people who are hungrier to learn and grow! Just a couple of years ago, I had to learn how capital markets worked when Nagarro was listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. I’ve never really dabbled in the stock market, so this was all new to me. Even more recently, I got myself a voice coach on the advice of a friend. I was making some science videos and he felt that for them I needed to find a different voice within myself. The voice coach I got is fascinating! Her lessons are very useful, not just in terms of how to speak better but also how to feel and live better. I am so happy that I can discover some great learning like this when I am past 50 years of age.

I think there are five aspects of our education system and education tradition that kill creative problem-solving abilities. One, it treats education as something to be done by rote from books, completely divorced from the real world.

The best industry leaders are voracious learners, I think. I remember a story my brother once told me about Mark Zuckerberg. It’s from many years ago, so I think no one will mind my sharing it. One day Mark came into Facebook and began speaking in Mandarin. Someone asked him, incredulously, “Mark, where did you get the time to learn Mandarin?” Mark said, “Do you watch TV? When you are watching TV, I am learning Mandarin”. There’s a lesson in this that I try to remember to this day, even if I am not at all disciplined to that degree!

Manas Fuloria

CEO and co-founder, Nagarro.

aanchalg@cybermedia.co.in

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