As we move towards a more connected world, traditional job roles are being augmented by new, emerging functions, but not everyone is well equipped to take advantage of this. Those put off by the usual IT education courses and career prospects now have a far wider range of options to choose from. Those with backgrounds in the arts and sciences are also finding niches for themselves, whether they are within IT organisations or on a consulting basis through external agencies.
We have featured here a number of careers which aren’t necessarily part of mainstream IT, but are poised to grow in the coming years. We have spoken with experts who thought ahead of their time and are today regarded as pioneers. While speaking with them what comes across is that it doesn’t matter what educational or social background you come from. Passion, experimentation, and a willingness to adapt and take chances will take you far on the path of success. They all illustrate how crucial it is to develop an awareness of trends and emerging gaps in the market, and to apply all the experience you have gained and the skills you have imbibed as you set about taking advantage of them. Most of our chosen experts come from engineering backgrounds, which is still the first choice for most students. So read along as they share with you their journeys, talk about current industry trends, and offer their advice about the skills that are worth acquiring today. No matter what path you choose for yourself, these insights will hold you in good stead.
As a bonus we also have inputs from Google, one of the world’s most sought-after employers. You’ll learn what it takes to be a part of Google and thrive in it.
The way we communicate with our computing devices be they PCs, smartphones or even tablets, isn’t merely a happy coincidence. There is a lot of thought and effort that goes into making the experience seamless. And that’s where an expertise of an Interface Designer is required.
Viren Jhonsa likes to describe himself as a dreamer. Even as a young child he knew he wanted to be in advertising, and after graduating and obtaining a Certified Webmaster’s degree, he went on to join an advertising agency. He started design work, in his own words, as a “brochure layout guy” and then went on to fill several roles. Finally, he found his calling with web designing and from there became a user interface designer. He likes the thought that his work can influence thousands or for that matter even millions of users. In his career span of over 14 years, Viren has been involved in the fields of User Experience, User Interface and Website Development, amongst others. He currently holds the title of Head — Design, UI, UX at Reliance Entertainment – Digital.
Viren Jhonsa, Head – Design, UI, UX, Reliance Entertainment – Digital
The goal of user interface design is to make interaction simple and efficient in terms of accomplishing goals. The design must balance functionality and visual elements.
– Viren Jhonsa, Head – Design, UI, UX, Reliance Entertainment – Digital
The small world
Smartphones are deeply entrenched in an individual’s life and there's very little that the hand-held devices aren't capable of. This has meant rethinking how data is presented to suit smaller screen sizes, as well as taking into consideration the devices' other functionalities. As Viren explains, “Analysts predict that by 2015, mobile phones will overtake desktop computers as our primary means for accessing the Internet. In order to keep pace with this rapidly changing landscape, designers and developers—and the people who work with them—need to start thinking about mobile as a primary project goal; not something tacked onto a desktop-centric project as an afterthought. Yes, your website might look beautiful to the average PC user, but when compressed into a 3.5-inch (or smaller) screen, it not only becomes hard to read, but also hard to navigate. This means you are losing valuable customers and getting a bad image, as your bounce rate (those who visit and leave without exploring) will be much higher. You need a simple interface design specifically targeted at mobiles.”
Looks vs. Functionality
Ease of use and navigation will also determine the success of a project. “When designing an app or website, functionality is often placed above everything else. For the most part, this is a good thing. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore good design, or just slap together a generic-looking interface. Good User Interface (UI) design adds to the overall satisfaction of any web app. It is, in many ways, similar to good web design. The principles of colour theory, negative space and layout all still apply but UI design requires a bit more thought in many cases due to the interactivity it requires,” he says.
Nature and Scope
The goal of user interface design is to make the user's interaction as simple and efficient as possible, in terms of accomplishing user goals—what is often called user-centric design. Good user interface design facilitates finishing the task at hand without drawing unnecessary attention to itself. The design process must balance functionality and visual elements (e.g. a mental model) to create a system that is not only operational but also usable and adaptable to changing user needs. The scope goes beyond just smartphones or tablets. Interface design is involved in a wide range of projects from computer systems, to cars, to commercial planes; all of these involve the same basic human interactions, but also require unique skills and knowledge. As a result, designers tend to specialise in certain types of projects and have skills centred around their expertise, whether that be software design, user research, web design, or industrial design.
Skills and Career Prospects
Viren is optimistic that there will be increasing demand for UI Designers and every organisation will look at employing a UI or UX expert. If you wish to take this up as your career, you will have to be fluent in HTML, XHTML, CSS3, HTML5, Photoshop, and various wireframe tools such as iRise, Balsamiq and MockFlow. Apart from technical knowledge, Viren places equal importance on having hands-on experience with using devices such as mobiles, tablets, notebooks and PCs, where interface designing is required. He says, “User Experience design comes from the everyday problems and frustrations people have, and the creativity they adopt in solving them. Today's users expect applications which are oriented to their needs and make it easy for them to carry out their daily tasks. This demanding requirement can only be fulfilled by specialists who understand users, their tasks, and the underlying technology. If you do what you're supposed to do and you're boxed in, you're going to do that very well. But if pressed to do things that aren't in your normal job description, the challenge can push you to a new level of achievement.”
Social media management
The clout of social networking sites is at an all-time high and they have transformed the way we communicate and share information. They influence opinions—little wonder that marketers can’t risk overlooking this medium to communicate with their customers.
When Hareesh Tibrewala established Social Wavelength in 2009, most brands were not even aware that they might require such a service and didn’t think beyond creating a Facebook page. Hareesh used his past entrepreneurial skills to rope in the first few clients, who he admits gave him business only on faith. His task was then to prove the worth of the medium by bringing value to their brands. Today, Social Wavelength handles social media for some of the most prestigious brands in India. Hareesh is a bachelor of engineering from VJTI and has a Master of Science degree from the University of Southern California, USA. He has been a serial entrepreneur, first launching a human asset management company and then an e-commerce site before co-founding Social Wavelength.
Hareesh Tibrewala, Joint CEO, Social Wavelength
There are two things that you require. First, to understand social media at the grassroots level, and second, to practice. You need to be active and experiment.
– Hareesh Tibrewala, Joint CEO, Social Wavelength
A force to reckon with
Facebook has changed the way the world communicates. With over 900 million active users, it has helped spark revolutions and has given rise to a plethora of other social networking sites. It also has brands and marketers clamouring for people’s attention. This has birthed the field of social media management. Hareesh, who had been in the technology field, was always clued in to events around the world and was a witness to what was happening in the US. He was sure that the trend would be seen in India as well, but soon realised just how clueless people were. “There can be nothing scarier than being approached by people saying that they want to get in on social media and want us to create a fan page,” he says. “The first task is to actually sit with them and articulate objectives and goals. It is not merely about getting on to Facebook or Twitter; you have to have a clear objective, whether you want to create brand awareness, generate leads, drive footfalls to your store, take care of negative communication, conduct market research, or know what people are saying about your brand. The first challenge is to set an objective and then go about achieving it. That is where I think a lot of brands go haywire. If you are not clear about where you want to go, how would you get there?”
Talk of Facebook dying and the whole social networking bubble bursting casts a shadow of doubt over the future of social media, but Hareesh is not worried. “Whenever there is a new opportunity, a lot of people jump into it and a sense of hype is created. After that there is stability, so the same will happen with social media. There is a fundamental faith in the medium, as people have taken to it to connect to each other and so have the brands. To me, Facebook and Twitter are all brands; today it is Facebook but it could be something else tomorrow,” he says. Social media is like a culmination of PR, corporate communication, market research and advertising.
Being a social media expert
Hareesh cannot emphasize enough how social media is more than just creating a fan page, updating your status or tweeting. Every person who joins the Social Wavelength team undergoes compulsory training. “Social media requires a large ecosystem. There are brand planners, campaign guys, copywriters, visualizers and designers. We even have platform experts, who know these platforms be it Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc inside out, and a discovery team who keep looking for new emerging platforms. Apart from this we have people who listen to conversations and analysts who make sense out of them. Alongside, we have space for coders and app developers who can create apps that will allow people to engage with the brands in social environments.”
Making a mark
Social media requires people from diverse backgrounds and presents excellent growth opportunities. If you are good at communication, if you understand the medium, and have an understanding of what the brands require, then you can scale great heights. Hareesh says “There are two things that you require: the first is to understand social media at the grassroots level; to understand its essence by looking up information online, browsing videos and reading blogs. The second is to practice. Just having blog, Facebook or Twitter is not enough; you need to be active and experiment. A person who has a blog might not have a lot of followers, but the fact that he is out there shows that he is aware of its power and knows how to use it. Know the medium inside out, as the more you understand it, the better a job you will do. Also, be open to trying out new things. We encourage lateral shift, as finally the idea is to put the round peg in the round hole and the square peg in the square hole. If I have a desire to do something and I can deliver then what can be better?”
Mobile application development
This relatively new career option is growing rapidly. Opportunities range from testing and programming to graphic design and business development. With the advent of connected mobile devices and demand for mobile content, it appears to be a lucrative option.
Taking up gaming as a career seemed preposterous in the 1990s. Not many envisaged the increase in PC penetration, spread of the Internet and rise of mobile devices. Vishal Gondal took his fi rst steps into gaming at the age of 13, and started his first company, FACT, at the age of 16. In 1999, he founded Indiagames, which has grown from a five-member team to 270 people in 2011. UTV Indiagames is involved in publishing and developing games across mobile, online and interactive TV platforms. The successful properties developed by UTV Indiagames include the IPL Cricket and Bruce Lee franchises. UTV Indiagames is the first company in the world to have crossed 100 million downloads on the Nokia Store. UTV Indiagames was acquired by Disney last year, and Vishal is now the Managing Director, Digital, Disney UTV.
Vishal Gondal, Managing Director, Digital, Disney UTV
First get a good smartphone and use as many apps as you can. Before you start creating apps, you need to experience them; get an idea of user interface and design.
– Vishal Gondal, Managing Director, Digital, Disney UTV
The right time
Mobile app development opportunities have come about due to the growth of mobile phones and smartphones. We have apps for just about everything, be it education, banking, health, entertainment, and news. Vishal reveals, “India had 20-30 million PCs and that created a huge opportunity for software development. So just imagine the amount of software required when we have about a billion phones and mobile devices connected to the Internet.” He believes that there is going to be a huge demand for apps in foreign and regional languages. “I think this is the perfect time for anybody to get into the mobile development arena,” he says. Vishal points out that the challenges involved are no different than with any other product, and revolve around quality, and understanding the needs of the customer.
Opportunities on the way
App development involves numerous career opportunities right from entry-level testers to business development managers. “Entry-level people can test applications. Then there are people who reformat applications, for instance if there’s a wallpaper of the latest movie then they have to ensure that it supports 18 different phones and screen sizes. At a slightly higher level, there are opportunities on the programming side. Then there’s the need for artists, visualizers and creative people to come in and design these applications. There are also numerous opportunities for product and business development managers.” In India, games are the most popular apps being built, but video and music apps are also becoming important. Vishal also points out that we will see a lot of enterprise apps because businesses want to be phone-enabled.
Know your forte
For those who think mobile app development is the place to be, it is important to know where specifically within the development domain their interest lies. Vishal says, “It is important to know which segment you are looking to work for, that is designing, programming or product development, but I think the primary requirement for people is to know apps well. A lot of the time we come across people who want to pursue a career in game development but don’t remember the last time they even played a game on a phone. I think the starting point should be to start using a lot of these apps and to get an idea of user interface and design. There are a lot of resources online that talk about building apps and there are many groups and forums you can participate in to get queries clarified, ask basic questions and chat. I think you need to engage in online gaming and application development communities.” Furthermore, programming knowledge is important only if you are actually creating the software for iOS, Android or other platforms. Then, testing comes into the picture, wherein one needs to think of all possible scenarios and see what could cause a crash. Programming knowledge isn’t essential for those who want to pursue a career as an app designer. Vishal describes mobile app development as movie making, wherein a group of people with different and relevant skill sets come together.
What you need to know
While hiring, Vishal looks for programming knowledge only if the person wants be a programmer. The rest is basic understanding and aptitude. He didn’t take any classes, but he loved gaming and programming, and eventually the hobby turned into a business. “When I started, all I had was a computer and a few books; not even an Internet connection. Today, students can use the various tools available online to hone their skills,” he says. “My first bit of advice is that aspirants should use as many apps as possible and get a good smartphone be it Windows, Android or iPhone. They need to experience apps before they can create them. Moreover, be active on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets, find relevant groups, and participate in forums.”
The world of gaming can be quite engaging, not to mention addictive. For those who aren’t fond of console games, lighthearted social games have evolved as a perfect solution. The fact that they can be played in the company of family and friends has added to their popularity.
Shan Kadavil holds a bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering from Model Engineering College, Cochin, and is an entrepreneur at heart. He started out as a programmer and went on to establish Dbaux Technologies, a cloud/ appliance based product company. However, there is nothing he enjoys more than the challenges of building scalable organisations, mentoring talent, and fostering a fun and productive culture within the organisation. Little wonder that as the Country Manager at Zynga India today, what also finds a place of pride on his resume is his Farmville score.
Shan Kadavil, Country Manager, Zynga India
Developing a social game is significantly shorter and faster than PC or console games. Social games allow you to iterate and improvise constantly even after launch.
– Shan Kadavil, Country Manager, Zynga India
Gaming goes social
The social networking phenomenon has also given rise to a wave of social gaming. India has over 10 million social gamers. While it’s true that these games were made popular by social networking sites, they have now emerged as social networks in themselves; platforms that allow players to bond over common interests. Speaking about what makes them popular, Shan Kadavil says “Social games offer fun, entertaining and enjoyable social interactions that are inspiring more people to play. With social games, you make a connection with your friends whenever you play and that connection is creating a new daily habit of play for more people. After we launched FarmVille, Zynga saw a new audience for games emerge.”
Gaming vs. Social games
When you think of gaming, you invariably think about console games. While both forms have to undergo the same stages of development, there are a couple of things that set them apart. Explaining this, Shan says, “For one thing, developing a social game is a significantly shorter and faster process than PC or console games, which are lengthy, more complex and hence take longer. Another significant difference is the fact that social games allow you to iterate and improvise constantly even after launch, based on player feedback. This makes social games dynamic and exciting to work on.” Shan wants to connect the world through games. He says, “We believe social games are the future of gaming, both on the Web and on mobile devices. People want to connect with their friends for brief moments during the day and share experiences no matter where they are. Also, we believe that the future of games is free to play. There are three major shifts happening in the market right now—the app economy, the social Web, and the user pay economy. Zynga is able to leverage all three of these. We want to inspire people to put more play in their day.”
Social game development
Shan is quite bullish about the opportunities in the social gaming arena. He believes that social gaming will be big in the coming years and is also positive that India has the talent to cater to the demand. That’s one of the reasons that made Zynga open an office in India, Shan says, “The social gaming industry in India is growing rapidly and going through changes in all aspects of game design. I believe that a career in social gaming is as exciting as playing them as long as you are creative and passionate about bringing play to people. A game studio requires strong talent across a range of skill sets from engineering, game design, art, product management and quality assurance.”
When looking for a candidate, Zynga looks for people who have a solid understanding of their discipline be it art, engineering or management. They also need to have the ability to learn, adapt and lead change. Apart from that Shan says they also look for candidates who are creative thinkers and amazing problem solvers. He says, “Besides having a passion for developing games, at Zynga we look for those who have the right mix of excellent analytical skills and high creativity so that they are able to excel in the dynamic and fast-paced manner in which we work.” But it’s not as easy as it sounds and Shan cautions students to do thorough research about the demands of this profession before taking the plunge. And if you have made up your mind about this field then it’s a good idea to start putting your thoughts down on paper. He says, “Like any other career, you must be passionate about games if you want to be a game developer. One also needs to keep himself/herself up to date on the industry and the developments that impact it as a whole. I would advise students to start experimenting; make a game on paper, and make games with your friends. Your first game will probably not be the best one you ever make, but it is an important step.”
What it takes to work at Google
Google is a brand that needs no introduction. The various services and products coming out of the Google labs have transformed the Internet. It has been a true game-changer and continues to be one. No wonder then it’s also dream workplace for individuals who want to make a mark in technology.
A BCom graduate from Mithibai College, Mumbai, Jayashri Ramamurti went on to pursue a PGDPM&IR, Management (Postgraduate Diploma Program in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations) from the reputed XLRI, Jamshedpur. She has an experience of over a decade in managing HR for companies including Titan, Arvind Mills Limited and Hutchison Max Telecom Limited. Since 2006 she has been the Head of People Operations, Engineering and Products, Google India.
Jayashri Ramamurti, Head of People Operations, Engineering and Products, Google India
We take our interview process seriously, because we believe that if we hire the right kind of people then most things fall into place.
– Jayashri Ramamurti, Head of People Operations, Engineering and Products, Google India
What does it take?
Google has engineering facilities in Hyderabad and Bangalore, apart from sales offices in Mumbai and Gurgaon. Some of the projects underway in India include Map Maker and Geo. There are opportunities not only for engineers and programmers but even salespeople, product managers, interaction designers and more.
Jayashri elaborates, “The ability to work with a team is critical irrespective of whether you are in engineering, sales or even HR, as we rely heavily on collaboration. The ability to deal with change in a fast paced environment is also typically what we look for. Somebody who is used to being at a senior level in a hierarchical setup will probably find difficult to adjust. We are very fl at and don’t believe in too many hierarchies. The ability to deal with a fl at kind of structure is something that we typically look for. Another important aspect is strong coding skills. We look for people who are very much in touch with coding. At Google even managers spend a lot of time coding.” Apart from technical skills and aptitude they also give preference to people with well-rounded personalities. They look for people who are passionate about some hobby or talent—anything from music to trekking or even a socially relevant project.
Joining the ranks
You might have heard stories about the elaborate interview process at Google, which can take a couple of months. Jayashri explains that it’s just a precaution. She says, “I wouldn’t say that it is easy, but for the right candidate with the right skills whose fundamentals are good, Google is certainly an option. We take our interview process seriously, because we believe that if we hire the right people then most things fall into place. If that means going through more rounds of interviews, then so be it. We like to do due diligence in terms of getting feedback from people within Google about a candidate before we take the final decision. So we take our time over every hire, but we try to keep the candidate informed as much as possible about expected timelines”. She states further, “Typically, a candidate goes through about four rounds of interviews. For freshers we have a written test as well. The level of expectations is different for a college student than for someone who is experienced. But even they go through a fairly detailed process. We visit college campuses and even have students approaching us directly. Even they go through multiple rounds of interviews and the process is more or less the same.”
Interning with Google
Google is a great place for internships. If you are able to prove your mettle then you might be absorbed into the company. Jayashri says, “Ideally we would like to have longer internship projects, as then that gives us an opportunity to give them more long drawn out projects. So we do go to colleges and solicit applications and we also interview people for internships. We take our internships very seriously and give projects that are meaningful, because this is a very good source of data for us. We evaluate the internship projects and those who have done well end up becoming full time Googlers. Even in that case they have to go through interviews.”
Google as a workplace
Google offices are well known for the facilities provided to employees. “People have a lot of fun working, but a lot of serious work happens behind all that fun. We encourage innovation irrespective of which function one is in, not just engineering, but across the organisation. So I would say it’s an innovative, fun kind of organisation, but there is also a lot of transparency and collaboration. There is a lot of internal mobility; we have people moving from one role to another, which may be very diverse even in geography. We encourage people to move, we provide them with the tools that will enable them to do so and we make them aware of the opportunities”.
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