Monday, June 12, 2006

Top Microsoft blogger to resign

A business blogger who changed the wider world view of Microsoft is leaving the software giant for a Silicon Valley start-up.

Robert Scoble's blog about his life and events inside and outside Microsoft became the unofficial corporate voice of the company.

Many turned to his blog to find out how the firm reacted to big news events.

His blog won praise for its neutrality and readiness to point out Microsoft's mistakes or praise its rivals.

Conversation piece

Mr Scoble's blog, called Scobleizer, is widely seen as helping to humanise Microsoft and shift its stance from arrogant and aloof to one that is more inclusive and accepting of criticism.

It also commented on broader changes in the net world and how they affected the company.

The blog was seen as a pioneer in the way that companies present themselves to the world by giving a human voice to what can be faceless corporations.

The success of Scobleizer kicked off a number of copycat blogs which aimed to expose the inner workings and opinions of other companies to more public scrutiny.

Within Microsoft, Mr Scoble helped to run the Channel 9 news site that aired video interviews with hundreds of employees to gain an insight into the projects they were working on.

Mr Scoble will stay at Microsoft until the end of June and then move to start-up PodTech.Net. He joins as vice-president of content and will help prepare video interviews with the great and good of the technology world.

In a fitting twist, the news about Mr Scoble's departure broke on another blog before he had chance to tell regular readers via his own journal.

In a posting on 10 June, Mr Scoble explained the reasons for his departure and said it has not arisen because he had fallen out with his employer.

"I love Microsoft and Microsoft did not lose me, at least as a supporter and friend," he wrote in the entry.

Google has no plan for its own browser

Google Inc. has no plans to build its own Web browser software to compete with rival Microsoft Corp.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Reservations - Repurcussions

The social cost of quota
Most people from reserved categories passing out of IITs have lower competencies than their general category counterparts.

Most of them perform badly in the internal exams and as a result when they pass out they neither have the confidence nor the skill to create or help build world class technology companies.

When we talk about reservation we forget the 'social cost' of reserving that seat and just look at the single individual who gains through reservation.

The 'social cost' of reserving a single seat in an IIT is that it compromises the ability of the country to create another Infosys or Wipro which in the long run would have generated hundreds of jobs, many of which would have gone to people from the OBC sector itself.

A similar argument can be made about how a more competent doctor can save more lives than a lesser competent one. Reservation benefits only a handful of individuals at the cost of hundreds of others, which is definitely wrong as a national policy.

Please note that I am not saying that the so called 'lower castes' are less competent, just that anyone (even the so called 'upper castes') who comes through reservation would have less competencies than those who face a much tougher competition.

I would agree that there are exceptions, but then exceptions really prove the rule.
A canard that is often raised rebutting the above argument is that reserved category students have to pass the same examinations as the general category students and hence they are equally competent.

This argument is completely bunk - there is one hell of a difference in competencies of a candidate who just passes an exam as opposed to one who aces it. At least in the IIT I went to, most of the reserved category students (even though they passed) fared poorly in the examinations, often with grades nearing five or six (out of a scale of 10).

To say that their competencies are equivalent to guys getting grades near nine or 10 is not correct.

Another good counter-argument that can be made to this point is that a bulk of the general category students leaves the country for the US, but as far as I know the want of going to the US is something which cuts across caste lines and is equally prevalent in students from the reserved category.

The only reason that you find more reserved category students taking up Government jobs as opposed to going abroad is that there are reservations in Government jobs whereas admissions to universities abroad is purely based on merit. Even then, I must say that a lot of the people who go abroad have been instrumental in getting jobs to India.

Yet another argument often made is that even though the reserved category candidates make be found lacking when they join IITs, but surely the excellent professors at most IITs can make up for that and turn them into good quality competent professionals.

From what I know, the faculty at IITs cannot rectify the 12 years of bad primary and secondary education. This has been publicly accepted by the Director of IIT Delhi, and from whatever I have experienced is absolutely true. A huge number of reserved candidates fail to turn into competent professionals and mostly end up working in reserved Government jobs.

The reason is that education at most premier institutes is very challenging and the current course load takes up almost all of one's time. As you would probably know IIT Kanpur has the dubious distinction of many students committing suicide because of this high course work, and I guess many of these are from the general category.

There is no way the reserved category candidates (or for that matter any candidate) can absorb the course load and at the same time work on improving his high school math.

The second assumption here is that professors would actually be interested in teaching them high school math. Most IIT's face a severe crunch of good professors.

As a result most of them are already overloaded of taking additional undergraduate courses, which leaves them very little time for research - (which is absolutely important to build world class institutes and to keep them up to date). I don't think it is feasible to expect them to take extra classes for reserved category students also (assuming they would be interested in teaching high school math) without completely sacrificing their research time.

When I finished my Bachelors in Computer Science from IIT Guwahati, the salary that I was offered was almost thrice of what my Professors earned over there. It is not the case that these professors don't have any options. They can very easily find jobs in the corporate sector as well as institutes abroad which can pay them 10 times as much.

The only reason they stay put is because they want to. And one of the big motivations for them to stay put is the bright students they get to teach. With 50 per cent of the seats getting reserved, our professors will be forced to teach high school math (instead of Gödel's Incompleteness theorem) to these students.

I have no doubt many of them will leave. When these handful of good professors who remain in our IITs leave, it will be the end of the IIT system as we know it.

I have spent about a year and half at Trilogy E-Business systems, one of the best tech companies working out of India, and for another year and a half I helped build Drishti-Soft systems - another high tech startup based out of Gurgaon and founded by some of my IIT Guwahati colleagues.

With little of what I understand of building technology companies, there are three big reasons why India is not able to build many big technology companies. (Please note that I am talking mostly about technology product companies and not the services stuff that is done in companies like Infosys and Wipro):

1) Lack of a big enough domestic market - It is simply not possible for a startup in India to penetrate the US market due to the huge costs involved. The only way out is to start of with domestic markets, build scale, increase expertise and then compete in the American market.
2) Lack of manpower - Indian software companies doing work in high-tech face an acute crunch of skilled manpower. What we really need is at least 50 more IITs and not a decrease in the qualified manpower which the reservation initiative will result in. Let the Government create more IITs and reserve 25 of them completely for the so called 'lower castes' - I am sure no one will ever oppose the move.
3) Lack of Infrastructure - Even the so called 'millennium city', Gurgaon routinely faces five to six hour long power cuts. There is no way a tech startup will be able to take hold if they have to keep their already scarce manpower in fixing secondary power systems like invertors and generator backups.
In fact all three of the above are also reasons why China has the potential to make it big in IT.
Rapid industrialisation and much higher Internet connectivity has resulted in a huge domestic market, they have many more number of technical institutes comparable to our IITs and the Chinese have in the recent past made mammoth investments in basic infrastructure like roads and power.
The only thing which is holding the Chinese from having the Indian IT industry for breakfast is their lack of hold on the English language. But for a country which has become used to rapid change and the going by the understanding the Chinese leadership has shown about the need for Chinese to become fluent in English, I am mostly scared that they will catch up soon.
Please note that IT is not just another industry for India, it is the biggest hope of our country. Companies like Infosys and Wipro have spawned an entire middle class with high disposable incomes.
The current consumption driven boom being seen by the country is a direct fallout of these huge disposable incomes. This boom has not only helped the middle class but has created thousands of jobs for the poorest of the poor - who have found employment in hundreds of industries which have grown to satiate this new found demand for goods.
If our IT jobs go to China, and going by the current state of events they surely will, this boom will come crashing down and with it our hopes of a new and prosperous India. India will surely be a sad place to live in then.
Instead of taking steps to strengthen the Indian IT industry, the only thing that Dr Manmohan Singh is concerned about is decreasing the quality of manpower by increasing reservations and shackling our industry by imposing quota in private sector jobs.
The reason I specifically mentioned Dr Manmohan Singh, and not Arjun Singh, is because by virtue of his post as a Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh needs to take responsibility for the actions of his Government. He just can't have his cake and eat it too. And, with all due respect, if Dr Manmohan Singh does not want to take responsibility, then he has no business being our Prime Minister and needs to step down.
The so called 'lower castes' do not have a right to a seat in higher educational institutions - they only have a right to get an opportunity for a seat in higher educational institutions and the way to give them that opportunity is through good primary and secondary education and making higher education economically accessible through soft education loans.
If the UPA Government gets away with the quota on higher education, there will be nothing stopping it from implementing the same for jobs in the private sector.
These initiatives are purely vote bank politics and have the capacity to destroy the social fabric of the country and the potential to kill thousands of future jobs, thereby committing huge sections of our people to perpetual poverty.
The medical students, through Youth for Equality, have done a commendable job and have shown great leadership through their initiatives against reservation.
For every thinking Indian who is fed up of the country getting run over by our politicians, this is the best time to act. Let us start by coming out of our houses and supporting youth for equality in all their demonstrations. Let us start by making sure that we vote this sorry bunch out the next time.
This article is written by Nishant Soni an IIT alumni from Guwahati. I have found this at the link