Saturday, March 22, 2008

how to save the world's back office

"What India needs to do to survive as the world's back office boils down to this: It must first adjust its value system, and then it must broaden and strengthen its education programs to increase the supply of trained professionals."
An incisive article on the changing IT outsourcing scene in India: click here.

On may argue that the back office work might move on to other developing countries as India will take on more research and development. But I doubt we are ready to fill in there yet. An internal re-alignment of current businesses is more likely (path of least resistance). This will leave a vacuum (in expectations as well as reality) that will therefore cause some turmoil and heart-burn. The question is - how does one prepare for this and what will be the best way to take advantage of the shifting forces.

Monday, March 17, 2008

righting education

It is a favourite debate of policy historians. Do a Google search for it and you will get a glimpse of the apathy towards the education scene in India. The right to elementary education was made a fundamental right in 2002, but not much has come of it.

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan initiative to fill the elementary schools was initially successful but the condition of the education system has led most children to drop out and no one takes the program seriously. A good initiative reduced to dregs. The name given to schools under this scheme is "Education guarantee centers" - very drearily minimalist sounding. Most teachers were hired on a temporary basis. These signs are not reflective of provisions under a fundamental right.

Now, after many failed attempts, there are talks of a new bill about education being introduced this year (not surprisingly, considering early elections might be called this year). A similar bill a couple of years ago was supressed, with no one ready to take the burden (financial and otherwise) of ensuring quality education.

Even if this new bill is passed, I am skeptical about what the bill aims at. I'm not even considering how well the bill might be implemented, but my question is if this is the right way to expend resources.

The Census website tells me that there are about a 160 million children (as of 2001) in India aged 0-6 years. Given that our population has increased by about a 150 million since the last census 10 years ago and assuming that lower deaths counts much less than increased births in this growth, I think there might be 250-odd million children between 0-15 years old. I cannot see how, by just providing good schools, the government can hope to educate one-fourths of our billion-strong people.

The challenge is going to lie on the other side - getting children to come to school (and their parents to send them) and making sure they invest time and energy in the learning process. Something the government should try is pushing this as corporate social responsibility and engaging in some sort of public-private partnership. Small, independent initiatives have a tendency of coming up with new ideas. The ones that work can be replicated elsewhere.

Scaling a transformation like this across the many cultures that are embedded in our land can be tricky. Like I have said before, the government should lay the framework and then get out of the way and let the people do what they will.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

coming full circle

We will all have to, eventually. Collectively, as an entire race. explains it brilliantly. (Pssst.. you can download the video for your iPod if you are averse to sitting any longer at the computer than you absolutely have to, like me.) They also recently won an award at SXSW.

On a related note, also seen on my iPod recently: the impressive TED talk by William McDonough titled "The wisdom of designing from cradle to cradle". Following the same theme as his book Cradle To Cradle, McDonough also talks about real life projects he is working at using the same principles of design he expounds.

How complicated we make our lives.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

hp on print

An interview with Vyomesh Joshi, the Exec-VP of HP's Digital Imaging & Printing business about their plans for the changing times. He talks of new ideas and radical changes and draws (sic) a very exciting picture.

It's a great watch, about 11 minutes:
You can download the video for your iPod from that link, or watch it online.

That brings me to the GigaOm Show, which I do recommend. I've been watching it since they launched - an episode odd a week available as a free podcast in iTunes. They've got some good commentary on the Silicon Valley scene and very engaging interviews.

One of the previous shows was with Vinod Khosla. I've read/heard so much about the man but never seen/heard him. Understated and extremely impressive, I must say. Do watch this one too.

speaking of crayon physics deluxe...

... continuing from my previous post "crayon physics deluxe"...

Representations of reality have long been used to teach (or study) reality. Intentionally, or unintentionally. Books and words are the most rudimentary representations. The affect of the television and other modern media have on the perception of reality are a hotly contested (and continuing) debate. Crayon Physics Deluxe, we saw, is a fabulous (and state-of-the-art) way that could be adopted to teach one aspect of reality to children. Other possibilities it opens up seem mind-bogglingly endless.

But what of video/computer games? If an entire generation is brought up playing strategy games where ploughshares win over swords every time, I wonder whether we'd have a different world.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Have you ever noticed that some people tend to start almost all their sentences with "so"?

"So, what time will you be back?"
"So, we don't really like that."
"So, let me finish my story."

And using it not as a conjunction or an adverb, but either as a foot in the door in a conversation or to get that moment's thought before actually saying something. I've noticed this habit (which even borders on the compulsive in cases!) common among the techies here which makes me inclined to believe it might be an Americanism. Who is to say.

It is quite amusing. I hadn't noticed it creeping up until one day I suddenly realised that everyone around me is starting off with "so"!