Industry Speak


PUNEET

A software engineer from Oracle, with 9 years of work experience in Banking and Web technology domains, throws some light on the IT industry.


Industry in Focus

I.T. / Software


Domain

Software Engineering


Career Path


The career path depends on the kind of I.T. Industry a fresher starts his career with. Although IT industry can be broken into various sub-categories but, broadly they can be categorized into two types - Service and Product. Companies such as Infosys, Wipro, TCS, Satyam, etc. can be termed as Service industries. Their chief role is to service clients mainly big multi-national corporations (but, of late they have also started taking government projects such as the one for the Income Tax Department). For an instance, Cisco wants its in-house websites such as employee portals, HR sites, etc. to be built, deployed and maintained but, it does not want to use its own work force to work on this. This is because the latter would require employing extra work force, which in turn would increase the overhead costs. Most importantly, Cisco would want to concentrate in its area of expertise and building web pages would not fit into it. So, it would pass this work to a service company like Infosys. Infosys engineers would not only develop these websites but, also maintain these till Cisco wants it.

If a fresher joins such an industry then he is (most probably) going to start from the bottom. Bottom may sound ugly but it isn't in reality. Bottom most position is given just to assess the capabilities of an individual. It also marks the beginning of something much bigger to come. Good and agile candidates take this really seriously as it is an opportunity to showcase their talents and intellect. One shouldn't be afraid to roll up his sleeves and get dirty at this moment because this is the time where he can gain maximum knowledge with minimum responsibilities. As the cliche goes that with power comes the responsibility, this holds really true in this industry. As one progresses in career, the punch and the load of the seniority becomes really apparent.

Although each organisation gives different names to different designations but, the next step for a fresher is usually a Team Leader or, simply a TL. TL is responsible for nurturing and commanding a small team. His responsibility is to look after the schedule of the project and the individual needs of each engineer. TL is followed by Project Lead, then to Project Manager, then to Business Delivery Manager, then to who knows VP, Director or, even a CEO. It all depends on how well the engineer has performed his duties and how consistent he has had been in his work but, the practical truth is also that as he goes up the corporate ladder he has to deal with office politics. Think of an organisation as a pyramid. The bottom is broad and wide and the workforce is the maximum at the bottom, as you go up the pyramid, the dimensions shrink until you come to the tip, which is essentially the CEO. Practically this means that as you go up the organisation, posts and designations become less and as the number of contenders remain the same, the result is politics and competition.

The other type of industry is the product industry where an engineer works for a company building its own products. Such kind of organisations don't usually work for clients or other organisations, they just cater to their customers. Organisations such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Google, Apple, IBM, etc. fall into this category. (Some product companies have service operations as well such as HP and IBM). For instance, Apple. They hire engineers to build, enhance and sustain its products such as iPod, iPad or Mac. Similarly, Oracle hires engineers to work on its database suite and Google on Gmail, Google Docs, Maps etc.

Product companies are generally known for flexibility. Unlike the services companies, product companies usually don't put check-in and check-out time constraints on employees and few companies even give their employees work from home options but, these benefits are exceptions rather than rule. Usually it all depends on the manager a person works under. If he is flexible and accommodating, life is a bed of roses, if he isn't then get ready to be grilled.

In product companies, a fresher's starting designation can vary but usually and mostly they also start from the bottom. Different product companies will have different designations such as SUN Microsystems has a beginning level as Member Technical Staff, Oracle might simply give a post of product engineer or, Google might have a designation of Software Consultant. Every company in this field follows its own nomenclature. Those freshers who were exceptionally brilliant in their interviews or, have highly impressed the interview panel may get a higher starting designation but, that is rare.

Few other key differences between service and product industries are as follows -

  • Service company employees usually get plenty of foreign travel but, again this may not be generalized throughout the industry or, to the product industry.


  • Salaries are generally higher in product companies.


  • Check-in/Check-out times are closely monitored in service companies but, again I know of a few product companies which levy such rules too.


  • Dress codes are usually relaxed in product companies. Service companies instruct their employee to wear business casuals except on Fridays when they can wear clothes of their choice.
Similarities

  • No free lunches. Sorry!

Job Description


In product companies, work is more individualistic and hassle-free. An engineer has lots of freedom and flexibility. He also has lots of resources at his disposal. Ultimately everything boils down to the number of employees. As a country having a large population struggles with development and economy, a company having a large employee base struggles with resources and economics. The reason service companies pay its employee less than the employee having same number of years of experience and similar technical knowledge in a product company, is that the former has to deal with a large population. A big corporation such as Infosys or, Wipro work on hundreds of different projects and clients, this requires large number of employees, whereas the product companies work on a few products which require fewer number of employees. The lesser the employee base, greater the access to resources. This is also the reason why service companies don't give internet facility to every employee, at best they open the internet services to all only in the evening because if 80000 employees surf internet all at the same time, the whole network will get jammed and choked.

When a fresher joins a product company, he is immediately assigned to a product. The engineer is then required to work on a part of this product, which we call as a module. Usually when he joins, he will be put in an induction program where he learns the process and rules the company follow. He will learn the benefits he can avail, the HR policies and the financial jargons. It is generally a fun training where he learns the do’s and don’ts interspersed with games and gifts. After the induction program, he will get the product training and if necessary, the technology training. Once he has been there and done that, he will get into the groove and the grind. He will be given easy schedules and relaxed deadlines at first to test out the choppy waters but, as the time passes he will start getting pressing deadlines. As the work is more individualistic, he will have to sweat it out at times to get his work done. The usual mantra everyone follows is - get the work done and we will not bother you, you falter and we will be on top of you. It is usually the best to be on schedule to save yourself from your manager's wrath and colleagues' contempt. Product is like an assembly line where each stage is necessary for the whole. You delay on your module, the whole product gets delayed so, to save yourself the ignominy be sure to respect the deadlines.

Meetings become a part of life. Boring meetings, interesting meetings, pointless meetings and frustrating meetings. There is a meeting for every occasion, there is also a meeting for the next meeting. Usually there will be a weekly meeting where the engineer will have to report his progress to the manager and then there will be a group meeting where mostly the manager will tell the product's progress to the team and also few organisation news, policy changes, etc. Take the former ones really seriously as that is where you will be setting your expectation right to your manager. Don't over promise unless you are up to it, in fact, it is always best to keep a realistic setting because you never know what difficulties you may face with the work. Managers can be really mean sometimes. They will turn the tables and use your words against you if you don't deliver, so make sure you say what you can achieve. Showing that you are a maverick and promising your manager a date which is very unreasonable can be a kiss of death.

Another practical aspect of any organisation is office politics, back biting and hood winking. Unless your colleague is a proven friend and a confidant, try to take other's actions with a pinch of salt. In the heat of moment, don't say any of your choicest words about any of your colleagues to another colleague. Politics is such a phenomenon which one has to go through to understand. It is something one has to develop his senses to understand and over a period of time, he does learn. Politics may set in for a variety of reasons. Really prevalent in the management cadre but, it is quite bustling and lively in the technical field as well.

Bottom line is work as you are supposed to work, enjoy it and leave the office in office when leaving for home.


Essential Qualifications


IT requires candidates to be good technically. Technical knowledge such as computer internals, data structures and algorithms, C and Java programming languages are good to have. IT is divided into so many fields that each field requires a different kind of knowledge. Oracle or, those companies requiring database knowledge want candidates with RDBMS knowledge; other companies such as Microsoft would want a candidate to know Microsoft internals and programming languages such as C# or .Net framework; Sun Microsystems would want a candidate to know Java; whereas Infosys would require a candidate with knowledge of J2EE technologies and Oracle combined. So there is no single-size-fits-all qualification in the IT field.

Another point is that now days if a candidate wants to get in an IT field, it doesn't necessarily require an engineering degree, though some companies really emphasise on an engineering degree from a good college.

In a nutshell, what is really required in IT field is aptitude and logic. For that if the candidate is good in just C/ Java and Data Structures and Algorithms, he is as good as the one who has all the right numbers from the right college(s).


Good To Have Qualifications


Apart from C/ Java, Data Structure and Algorithms, it will be great if a candidate has knowledge about J2EE and database technologies. Again a knowledge of these technologies doesn't guarantee you success and a lack of it doesn't mean rejection. It always depends on what the company is looking for and how you present yourself on the day of interview.


Good Institutes To Study At


Any of the engineering colleges since they usually have computer courses in curriculum (plus your options widen if you have an engineering degree); MCA or institutes such as NIIT.

Ultimately, it all depends on individual abilities.


Other Qualifications


Don't panic. Believe in the philosophy that what doesn't kill you, will only make you stronger. Learn from the last interview, make amends and sit for another one. Keep an open mind. Mostly the interviewers (the good ones and not the ones who know nothing themselves) look for attitude and aptitude. Companies such as Infosys generally like to throw logic questions to the freshers so be sure to brush up Shakuntala Devi or Summers whereas, companies such as Cisco will try to grill you on networking and system level programming. Know what you are applying for and work on it.

Don't flaunt your ignorance. If you don't know something, don't make stories or be assertive about your wrong answers. Admit that you don't know or, haven't got a chance to study it but, also as an addendum say that you will learn it. Take interviews as a challenge, just don't punch the interviewer in the end.

On job it is important that you keep an open mind. Don't be grumpy and gruff. Try to ask as many questions as possible for that not only brings interest to the topic but, also clears the concepts. This is also the best to way to stave off your stage fear, if you have it. It is also important to keep a notebook with you all the time, especially when attending a meeting or training. It is inevitable that you will have bad days but, it is important to keep your chin up because bad mood causes lot many other problems.


Average Salary Range


Every company has a different salary structure. Usually product companies are known to pay more than the service companies but, again this is not a precedent. Companies such as Infosys or Wipro will give a starting salary of anything between Rs. 1.8 L (per annum) to Rs. 3.2 L (per annum) whereas, Cisco might give a starting salary anything between Rs. 2.8 L (per annum) to Rs. 4.6 L (per annum).

Salary hikes and bonuses will be generous in product companies, plus the market correction which happens from time to time brings more to your coffer. Employees in service companies such as Infosys generally make more money by the onsite/foreign visits which may range from 6 months to 5 years.


Additional Comments


Do's

  • Keep updating yourself with new technologies. This opens up and widens your options for future jobs.


  • Be open and try to speak in the meetings. This brings visibility which is very important if one wants to climb up the corporate ladder.


  • Keep the emails civil and to the point. Try to put forth your views as much as possible but, keep quiet if you don't know what to say.


  • Be a team player. Help and mingle with others as much as possible. Don't be bottled up and do take part in team outings and project parties.


  • Learn to say 'no'. Lot of times being too obliging creates its own problems. You will be dumped with work if you are too willing to take the load on yourself.


  • Learn to say 'yes' also. Don't always say 'no' to every work your manager gives you. This brings out the impression that you are cagey and not open to adventures.


  • Be firm but not disrespectful. Be kind to your juniors and don't rebuke them unnecessarily.


  • Be professional. Complete your work on time.


  • Health. Another important issue in IT field. Now days lot many people are ailing from back ache, wrist or elbow ache. Engineers in this field are highly prone to diseases such as RSI. It is important to sit with a straight back. Always take a break of 10-15 minutes on regular intervals. Take stairs and not elevators as much as possible.
Don'ts

  • Don't bite the hand which feeds you. Always talk to your manager in a respectful tone even if he is being downright unreasonable. You hurt his ego, he hurts back.


  • Never leave an organisation on a bad note. You never know when and where you come across your manager or your colleagues in future.

IT can be further diversified into lot many fields (service and product alike). Most of the engineers crave for the much coveted development roles and many of them dislike testing roles. There are also various other roles of sustaining, support, documentation, QA, QE etc. It all depends on the engineer whether he wants a varied experience or, experience just in one particular role. If he is comfortable working in just one such role, then that also has its own merits. In conclusion, choose what works best for you.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by the author are personal

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