From the Blog

“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all” ~ Michelangelo

When I started in the Indian IT industry more than 25 years ago, there were hardly any software services companies. Software was something that you gave away free with hardware. Our first programmers were math or physics graduates who received a few weeks of training in COBOL programming and were put on the job.

They advanced their own abilities through the hard knocks gained by servicing customers. Those customers would come down hard on us when the software systems we developed failed to deliver what they were supposed to deliver. It was rare when the trial balance, in any financial system we developed, would actually tally within a few months of delivering the system. The entire industry was a few thousand programmers learning pretty much on the job.

Today, our industry has more than 500,000 programmers. The engineering colleges have stepped up to meet the demands of the industry. In addition, companies now spend 4 to 6 months in ‘retraining’ newly graduated engineers for their specific systems and purposes.

The growth in the industry and the shortage of skills – except during periods of downturn – have meant accelerated career movements for professionals. People now often move from coding to design to managerial jobs in 5 to 7 years. Consequently, in some ways we remain an industry of ‘trainees’ – trainee programmers are promoted to trainee designers and analysts, and then promoted to trainee managers.

The demands of offshore development are less stringent and can be met adequately with our current approach to professional development. However, for companies taking on complex programs and product development initiatives, this approach does not work.

In his book ‘Outliers’, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000-hour rule. In almost any field of discipline it takes around 10,000 hours of intense practice to achieve mastery. The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany more than 1,200 times between 1960 and 1964, contributing to their gaining 10,000 hours of live playing time. This was the secret to their greatness.

Bill Gates gained access to a high school computer in 1968, at the age of 13, and spent more than 10,000 hours programming the computer. For most people, it takes around 10 years to spend the 10,000 hours of practice required to gain mastery.

As Indian IT services companies aspire to move up the value chain, we need to look at our human resources practices very differently. The focus on mastery has to be far more intense. This would require clear identification of craft disciplines within the field. As an example, the construction industry clearly requires different specializations – architecture, structural design, project management and interior design.

The IT industry needs to recruit and train to these specific disciplines. People need to be provided the time and encouragement to achieve mastery in their respective areas. Individuals need to aspire to become true masters, and their mastery must be acknowledged and rewarded.

This issue is not unique to the IT industry. Companies across many industries make do with mediocrity. Trainees are training other trainees. However, with increasing global competition, companies need to become nimbler, agile and more innovative to stay relevant and lead the pack.

The Connected Age will drive the need for mastery across the board, at the same time facilitating the process of gaining mastery. Do share your own insights and experiences with regards to mastery.

The New Constructs is an initiative to examine our beliefs and assumptions – about life and living – that we need to reinvent in order to create a more inclusive and sustainable world. It is an opportunity for each one of us to connect, collaborate and co-create the world that we will rebuild for posterity. Do post your own examples on the Wall.

Sudhakar Ram is Chairman and Co-Founder of IT solutions provider,”>Mastek. He believes that creating a sustainable world would require a shift in the “constructs” that drive our attitudes and actions.