Over the past couple of years IT has grown organically, intertwining itself with several other disciplines: design, language, marketing, statistics, analysis and management, to name but a few. As a result, those who have studied in an IT-related field but also have backgrounds or hobbies in other fields can explore options such as gaming, interface design, app development and even online marketing. You do not necessarily have to be a coder to make a mark in the field of technology and we earlier spoke about these emerging tech careers.
But having said that, the traditional jobs are very much in demand. Be it software testing or developing, gaming and animation, to name a few, the demand for a professional in these fields has been steady. We spoke with some doyens in the industry who have carved a niche in what is considered traditional IT careers, adapting with changing times and have raised the bar. So read along as they share their insights along with job-seeking advice.
We also have inputs from LinkedIn, which will guide you in crafting a useful profile and networking with professionals to gain an edge in your career.
Software development and Testing
The IT industry is considered to be lucrative. Development and testing are the core functions of this industry, and attract aspirants with high pay cheques and international exposure. Testing and development work hand in hand, but are now emerging as individual careers.
With over two decades of experience in the IT industry, Manish Tandon, Senior Vice President at Infosys has moulded himself to play every role pertinent to any software company. He graduated from IIT Kanpur and then earned an MBA from IIM Bangalore. After a few years of IT and entrepreneurial experience, he joined Infosys in 1996, and in his own words, he has never felt the need to look outside after that. He has played multiple roles at Infosys, from software development to managing client relationships and managing a complete business unit. Taking up every responsibility with zeal and commitment, he strengthened the testing business for Infosys where he doubled revenues in three years while improving margins, business mix and market positioning.
Manish Tandon, Senior Vice President, Infosys
Aspirants should realise that just being a good programmer may not cut it anymore. You need skills in both the technology and business domains.
– Manish Tandon, Senior Vice President, Infosys
Adapt to changes
Manish Tandon has seen the IT industry evolve, specifically software testing and development. Manish says that the software industry today is doing more complex projects which are not just about the code, but about understanding business processes, anticipating requirements and creating systems which can be used by millions of people. The complexities and the nature of the work have changed dramatically. He says, “Earlier we were primarily doing app development, but today we are doing testing, infrastructure management, knowledge services, analysis and much more. There have been dramatic changes in the nature of the work that clients are looking for. The workforce required has increased; previously the industry used to hire 500 people and today it’s lakhs per year.”
Explaining the evolution of IT, he says, “Application development is moving more to the front end as most systems initially were in back offices. Earlier it was process automation and then we moved to the middle office which is more of analytics, risk management, and data interpretation support, and now we are moving towards the front-end where clients are taking technology and seeing how they can make a business model out of it.” Talking about current trends in software testing, he says, “Quality Assurance plays the balancing act of business risk versus cost reduction while building agility in their organisations to respond to business changes. Also to generate higher effectiveness and ROI, testing as a function is moving upstream so as to also focus on defect prevention rather than just defect detection. Automation, specialised testing and package-specific testing are also in the spotlight as significant drivers for productivity and faster time to market.”
Unfazed by the slowdown
Manish asserts that we aren’t going through a full blown recession, but there is a bit of a slowdown which we will break out of in the next 2–3 quarters. “Obviously there is some impact as you can see the NASSCOM forecast is slightly lower than last year. This means that we will get more business from some of our foreign competitors as the client derives more cost optimisation”. He feels this field offers fantastic growth opportunities. “I think we still have a long way to go in terms of the growth of individual careers. It’s a fantastic place to make a career even now,” he adds.
Consider diversified skills
Today, as the industry matures, the projects taken up are more difficult and complex. So, just technology skills are not good enough and one also needs very good business domain skills. Moreover, you need very good interpersonal and behavioural skills. Manish points out, “Infosys puts in a lot of effort into honing not just the technology skills but also interpersonal and behavioural skills of raw talent. I think this is something that all aspirants who want to enter the industry should know. Just being a good Java programmer may not cut it anymore, so people need to both technology and business domain skills.”
“When we hire freshers just out of college, we offer an in-depth training program for 6 months that allows these aspirants to hone their skills. Then, we hire people primarily for their business skills too. So, we might hire a person from other field like the oil and gas industry with relevant business skills and re-train them by adding technology skills to their resume. So, you need a mix of business, technology and behavioural and interpersonal skills.”
He adds, “It’s a fantastic industry to be in. You will work on something new every year, which will bring immense satisfaction to creative types. It will give you tremendous opportunities to experience other cultures as you will be working for clients in various parts of the world. Most youngsters today focus quite a lot on tech skills, which is good, but we need to encourage and inculcate a sense of discovery and individuality too.”
The fields of animation and VFX have long attracted those with an artistic bent of mind. There is nothing more satisfying than having your creation entertain millions, be it a movie or TV series. Of course there is glamour, but beyond that there is lots of hard work fuelled by passion.
Biren Ghose started out as a business architect and his journey of over two decades has taken him through several industries including consumer products, technology, digital media, animation, gaming, and visual effects. At present he is the Country Head of Technicolor India, which is a leader in digital innovation in the media and entertainment sectors. He is also the Chairman of NASSCOM's Animation and Gaming Forum. Biren has seen the Animation & VFX industry in India from close quarters and has been a part of its success story, as it went from being an 18 billion rupee industry five years ago to a 44 billion rupee industry last year. And this, he says, is just the beginning.
Biren Ghose, Country Head, Technicolor India
One needs to have passion, perseverance, performance and pizzazz. Also, it is important to remain grounded, as you are only as good as your next product!
– Biren Ghose, Country Head, Technicolor India
Then and Now
Biren opines that India is less than one percent of the global market because we are only 10-15 years old in this industry compared to other countries. He says, “The platforms in India are mainly TV and film, with advertising gaining importance. By 2016, we are expected to be about 120 billion rupees out of a 1457 billion rupee Media & Entertainment industry. That means we should be eight percent of the total Indian industry. If we can create fundamental change in improving the availability of trained talent, a 12-15 percent share of global animation is an entirely achievable objective. The industry is bound to gather momentum and the power of media is growth in regional businesses.”
Reasons for growth
Even though India is just about finding its legs in the international arena, there are factors that make it a lucrative prospect for outsourcing. With a huge talent pool plus available technology and infrastructure, India is heading in the right direction. “In the global context, animation work is distributed across the ecosystem of production entities based on financing, emerging talent, technology, and efficiencies. India has increasingly found itself becoming an active ingredient in this global production recipe. PricewaterhouseCoopers has reported large double-digit growth rates in training institutes that have mushroomed to cater to industry demands. It is my view that the growth is not all quantitative. Even as the global recession continues to cast its shadow in the short term, the industry view on India is that it will continue to garner a larger share of the pie while keeping the growth rate intact. This is not exaggerated as India has a low single digit percentage of global animation production today,” he says.
Creativity meets Passion
Biren believes that to be successful in this field you need to understand creativity and have an artistic orientation across the processes. Apart from that he stresses the importance of finding your areas of strength and focusing on them—it could be lighting, rendering, rigging, or anything else. You need to pick an area and then develop it. He explains, “One needs to have passion, perseverance, performance and pizzazz. This 4P scorecard differentiates the winners in the field. It’s not just skills, but attitude and disposition. Believe in yourself, believe in the long haul, and believe in mentors and teamwork. Let your pride grow with your accomplishments. Innovation is a given in this field. A student must find his/her sweet spot. Fine Arts helps in early understanding of the domain better, but the tools, technologies, pipelines and workflow can be very specific and different. Abilities in visualisation are a key deliverable.”
Glamour? Think again
There are many students who are attracted to this industry because of the associated glamour. It’s easy to think that a course in animation will land you a job, but simply knowing the software will not take you far. Biren has a word of caution for students: “Movie makers across all fields in the industry take great pride in their work, as the end product becomes a widely known consumer brand, eg. Madagascar, Tin Tin etc. If you are associated with the brand, it will naturally boost your confidence and family and friends may see this as a ‘cool’ occupation. But at the workplace this is as demanding and pressurised a job as any. An animation studio has a unique character; on one hand it has an informal ambience; working spaces, the canteen, the ‘play’ areas that are meant to relax in and encourage a balanced life. On the other hand it’s a pressure zone where directors and producers try and achieve a constantly higher level of performance vis-a-vis time, output and quality. It has a creative focus with a strong work ethic. Artists are generally helped to grow, encouraged and motivated. Also, it is important to remain grounded, as you are only as good as your next product!”
Gaming isn’t mere child’s play anymore, building and designing games for consoles has evolved into a serious career option. There are several industry specific institutes that help impart the skills required to make it in the gaming industry.
Any reference to the gaming industry in India would be incomplete without the mention of Rajesh Rao. When he established Dhruva Interactive in Bangalore some 15 years ago, he became the pioneer and set the ball rolling for game development as an industry in India. He comes from a computer engineering background and prior to Dhruva, headed a multimedia company. It was then that an evangelist from Intel coaxed him into looking at gaming, and as they say, the rest is history. Rajesh has also been active in promoting the game industry in India and been seen on advisory committees with NASSCOM, FICCI, National Institute of Design and iGita.
Rajesh Rao, Founder, Dhruva Interactive
We have been positively impacted by the downturn, as US companies have accelerated their off shore initiatives. India is going to have a very robust gaming market.
– Rajesh Rao, Founder, Dhruva Interactive
When Dhruva Interactive was established, it had a hard time convincing people to join. Recollecting those early days, Rajesh says, “Our early hires were from areas like animation and multimedia. While some joined out of curiosity, we had to convince others that this was a great industry to be in. Most of them hadn’t even seen a console before so we had a game room in our office. From there things have evolved considerably.”
The gaming industry in India depends largely on work outsourced from studios around the world. Even then, it wasn’t affected by the global slowdown, and on the contrary gained more work. Rajesh explains, “Since 2008 we have been seeing a huge influx of work, because the gaming industry worldwide was not outsourcing in an optimal way in the past. This was mainly because the global gaming industry is still at a stage where the 'all under-one-roof' model is slowly crumbling under the more evolved model of specialised people coming together for a project and then going away. So the industry is in the process of transition and is embracing things like global distribution of development. Also, the downturn actually helped, because most of the companies are listed in the US and they were under pressure to maintain their profitability. So many of them accelerated their off shore initiatives at that time that as a result, we have been positively impacted.”
Create the Future
One problem that the industry has faced is that there is no local market for games in India. Companies abroad think twice before sending work, as they prefer people with gaming sensibilities. This, Rajesh says, is bound to change thanks to the growing domestic market. “There are many enthusiasts who love playing games, but unless they have intrinsic talent, competencies and skill sets, they will not be able to be on the development side of gaming. The good news is that the industry needs a very diverse set of talents: programmers, artists, designers, sound engineers, script writers, etc. People who get into the gaming industry today have great opportunities to become leaders and influential people five to ten years from now, as India is going to have a robust market. The key thing is to be realistic about assessing your capabilities and making sure that you get trained in the right manner.”
Make the Right Choices
While being an enthusiast is a definite plus, that alone isn't enough to establish a career in this field. You need to do your research, he says, “The best way is to do a quick self assessment and there are a host of online resources where you can learn about various career options. Alternatively, you can approach some of the good gaming institutes which offer counselling and aptitude tests. Another avenue is to join forums like the NASSCOM Gaming Forum that has city chapters and conducts meets where you can interact with developers and gain knowledge about the field. Here you can also find out what’s happening in the industry and where you can fit in. Testing is perhaps the easiest to get into. It’s typically a good place to start, and you can work your way up. Typically in the west testing is done inside a game studio. In India there are companies who are only into testing and nothing else. Game testing experience shows that you have a degree of commitment and desire to be in this industry. If you have the profile of an artist or programmer and you say that you also have experience as a tester then it always works as a plus.”
Teamwork is one quality that Rajesh cannot stress enough. “It is so important to be team player. Programmers, artists, designers—everyone has to work together. Another thing we look for is the ability to stay objective and there should be a zest to learn new things. Nobody should say 'I have three or four years of experience, I am doing well and am at the top of my game'. There is no such thing; you have to keep evolving and keep learning new things.”
Chief Technology Officer
A Chief Technology Officer needs a never-say-die attitude and passion for learning. The CTO has to stay connected with the latest technology and keep a keen eye on what the market is trending towards. He has to quickly adapt to changes and help the company exploit them to its best advantage.
From working with leading IT companies such as TCS and HP, forming his own software company and being acquired within a year, and shuffling between India and the US, Sunil Thomas now holds the position of Chief Technology Officer of Web18, part of the Network18 Group. He graduated from Thadomal Shahani Engineering College in Mumbai and made full use of the various educational programs offered by HP when he worked there. He honed his managerial skills with an MBA from Washington University. With about two decades of experience, he reflects a cool attitude, calmness and composure. He has played an important role in setting up a tech culture and New Media division at Network18, by launching and growing a number of online products including Burrp, Askme and Yellow Pages Online.
Sunil Thomas, Chief Technology Officer, Web18
You need to have good leadership skills and face new challenges. You don't have to be the smartest person in the tech world but should be focused on your goals.
– Sunil Thomas, Chief Technology Officer, Web18
Staying on Top of Trends
Sunil started his career as a software developer, and he believes it was TCS where he got his grounding in software development and also his first taste of leadership as a project lead. Today, his responsibility is to stay on top of the tech curve and decide technology investments for the company. Talking about his role, Sunil reveals, “A CTO has three major roles. One is deciding technology directions for the company like the products that the company can invest in, and keeping an eye on what the market is trending towards in order to prepare the company for that shift. If people are working on a particular product for a year and they suddenly see that by definition they are one year behind, then catching up is very difficult. A CTO has to ensure that the company is already prepared for such changes.” He further reveals, “Another part is around engineering execution. This can be done by putting processes in place, and setting up a good environment and work culture so that the engineering team delivers on the roadmap. Tech teams have their likes and dislikes; what motivates one may not motivate another. The third big role is to be in line with the business and give it the tools it needs. Eventually, tech has to aid businesses; it cannot be tech for the sake of it and should be capable of making things faster, better, and cheaper, to attract more business.”
Challenges and Skills
After 10 years of experience in the US, Sunil feels that engagement brings passion to the job, and this is a key ingredient for a successful company. He also points out that hiring and retaining talent is yet another challenge. He said, “Skills depend on the job we are hiring for. The skills required for each job are different. When you need to be on top of the tech curve, it is difficult to get skills readymade. If you are looking for an engineer then there are thousands of them with good resumes, but it is also important to have that never-say-die spirit, love the job and have a good attitude. So, even if the tech skills for each job are different, the attitude is common.” When asked about the skill set required for the position of a CTO, he replies with a hint of smile, “I think it requires you to be a leader who can go into new areas with his troops following and face the new challenges that the world throws at you. He may not be the smartest person in the tech world but should be focused on his goals. The problems and difficulties that one may have to face are unknown and sudden, so a good leader should be connected to technology and mould himself and execute whenever needs be. Sunil points out that in a tech company, technology skills are important, but for a CTO an MBA also helps. In his words, “If a Chief Technology Officer can read even parts of a balance sheet then it’s much better. Managerial skills broaden the scope of a pure technologist. Now, you don’t get these skills only from the MBA schools, you even get them with diverse exposure and your interests. What an MBA gives you are some basic tools.”
Evolve with time
The industry is changing rapidly, and our professional lives are evolving too. Talking about the role of a CTO, Sunil says, “I don’t want to say that the responsibility has increased or decreased but the relevance has definitely increased. Today, the CTO has to be aware of the latest and upcoming trends. There is so much risk involved. The world is moving faster and the competition is fierce. One gets very little time to adapt to changes later. If you put on blinders and sit for three months and do not move along with the changes then the consequences could be troublesome. Awareness is important and a CTO should be able to adapt his organisation and also get the people to adopt these changes.” Having started his career as a software developer, he believes learning programming gives you a head start. It teaches you to get the logic right and break big problems into smaller ones. Finally, one should never stop learning new things.
Networking tips from Linkedin
LinkedIn, with over 161 million members globally, is the world’s largest professional network and has helped many to be more productive and successful. A platform like LinkedIn is not only for professionals, but even students can use it to gain a foothold in the industry.
Hari Krishnan, Country Manager at LinkedIn India, has held key positions in companies including Cisco Systems, Yahoo! India, Travelguru, Stylkist and MySpace in his career spanning over a decade. He holds a BE (Honours), Electronics & Telecommunications Engineering from the University of Bombay; an MS in Telecommunications from the University of Colorado; and a MBA from INSEAD. Hari has also won several accolades for his leadership skills.
Hari Krishnan, Country Manager, LinkedIn India
Students have used the platform to reach out to professionals, get internships and secure their first jobs. You can connect with alumni of your school/ college.
– Hari Krishnan, Country Manager, LinkedIn India
Not just a social network
LinkedIn is often sidelined as just another social network, but as Hari points out, “At LinkedIn, we always make sure that our members see value in our offerings. While there are various sites to keep in touch with friends and family, LinkedIn is a purely professional platform and our communication with our members emphasizes this. We have consciously worked towards educating professionals about the value of curating and updating their online profile-of-record to manage their career effectively. We encourage members to identify connections that add credibility to their network rather than fixating on a large number of connections which might not add as much value. Our focus has been to be accessible to professionals wherever they may work—on a PC, mobile phone or tablet.”
Leveraging the network
Hari emphasizes on the fact that LinkedIn is a platform for building a professional network outside of your workplace. He says that you need to leverage the various tools offered by LinkedIn to build a strong, credible and comprehensive professional identity. He shares some tips about building a strong profile: “As a professional, you can keep yourself updated about the current trends and happenings in your industry. You can read and share articles, follow select news sources, share your point of view and also see what your peers are saying on a particular topic. As a professional who wants to be on the radar of employers, it pays to be engaged. Leverage tools like Groups, Polls and Answers. Many hiring managers prefer professionals who have volunteer experience, so if you have worked with an NGO, make sure to display it on your LinkedIn profile. Another great way to get noticed is to position yourself as an expert in the industry. Share your knowledge by using tools like Polls and Answers. Additionally, go through the LinkedIn profile of the person you are meeting for the first time. Knowing his/ her professional record makes for a great conversation starter.”
LinkedIn for Students
There is a general perception that LinkedIn is meant only for professionals, however, even a student can leverage it. “A college graduate should first create a complete profile, as this increases your chances of showing up in search results. Also, it’s important to have a short headline that will help people understand you in a professional context. You can start by connecting with members of alumni groups of your school/college. If you want to reach out to someone in your extended network, request an introduction from your common connections. This is one of the best ways to reach out to professionals. You can seek guidance form industry experts by asking them questions through the Answers tool. Several students have used LinkedIn to get internships and secure their first job. One of our members got a chance to work on an international project at AISEC and an offer to be on the research team for an international publication for the Commonwealth Games, at age 18.”
Make your profile stand out
You need to ensure that your profile is concise and free of errors. “Nothing builds credibility like third-party endorsements. The most impressive LinkedIn profiles have at least one recommendation associated with each position a person has held. Think about soliciting recommendations from professors, internship coordinators and colleagues,” he says. “Set your LinkedIn profile to “public” and claim a unique URL for it (for example: www. linkedin.com/in/yourname). This makes it easier to include your LinkedIn URL in your email signature, which is a great way to demonstrate professionalism. A final way to enhance your profile is to add links to examples of your writing, design work, or other accomplishments.” The profile functions as a dynamic online resume, so you can take advantage of links, applications and other things that cannot be done on plain paper. A profile online should be just as informative and carefully prepared as your resume.