I read the article “Indian IT firms redefine career path for engineers” on www.livemint.com with interest:
“Indian information technology (IT) service providers such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Infosys Technologies Ltd and Wipro Ltd are following multinational firms such as International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) in building a technical career path for senior engineers opting out of managerial roles.
This is a shift from their traditional focus on promoting employees for managerial roles as they seek more complex projects from customers that need highly skilled people to execute them.
Now, employees can opt to be a designer or an architect and climb the ladder conceiving or building large projects.”
Having worked in product development companies in India (2000-2006), I can attest to the need to develop strong individual contributor (IC) track of growth; we struggled a lot to get our bright ICs to stay IC and not opt for management career path. However, it is always a challenge in India to get people to stay IC since managing people is considered to be a symbol of power (possibly because of our feudalistic mentality from the past) and no one wants to give it up, even when they are certain to be bad at it. Product development companies need ICs much more since their work relies so much on technical brilliance and depth of domain knowledge. It is good to see that services companies now feel the same need; it shows they are moving up the food chain:
“To give an indication of the shift in the complexity of work for Indian IT firms, Infosys in 2000 earned 72% of its revenue from application, development and maintainence (ADM) services—vanilla projects that are increasingly getting commodotized. In 2009, its revenue from such services decreased to 41.6%.
For TCS, India’s largest technology vendor, revenue from such services has reduced to 48.5% in fiscal 2009, from 58.2% in fiscal 2006, the first year it began classifying ADM figures.”
From a career growth perspective, most multinationals offer enough opportunities in management as well as technical (IC) tracks. However, skills needed to succeed and measures of success for each track are very different and sometimes unclear. To succeed in management track, one needs to be good at dealing with ambiguities, taking decisions based on partial data, and be able to deal to managing regular management challenges; measure of success most of the time is very indirect (mostly through the success of the team members) and hence can be very subjective and debatable. To succeed in IC track, one needs to have deep technical and domain expertise, should be good at solving complex technical problems, and be able to provide technical and thought leadership; measure of success is very direct and objective and mostly based on visible results of the individual.
Given the lack of clarity around these 2 tracks, people do what they do best in India when career choice is concerned: they take default career choices (what peers tend to do, what family and friends recommend, what the ‘in-thing’ is, etc) rather than being thoughtful about it. They forget that they need to choose what gives them better return on their talent investment over the entire career, which is a 40 year game (for interested readers, more of my thoughts on this topic are here and here).