Re: Infosys, TCS, or Wipro?

By Susam Pal on 28 Oct 2011

The "Infosys, TCS, or Wipro?" post is doing the rounds again and some hatred as well as love is arriving via email. I can understand when someone dislikes the way I have expressed the whole matter in that blog post. But I fail to understand the motivation behind some employees of these organizations trying to justify that working there is almost as good as working for a company where one can work with a team of very talented engineers. The earlier post was discussed and debated on Hacker News and Reddit. In this post, I'll address some of the points discussed in these debates.

  1. India needs IT services companies: The most popular argument by Indian commenters has been that India needs IT services companies because they make a lot of money and boost India's economy. This is a straw man. I have never said anything to the contrary. In fact, I agree with this point. However, in my opinion, students who have learnt their engineering well during the engineering course and who now want to improve their engineering skills in their professional lives should not work for one of these companies. They should join a startup or a company known for hiring skilled engineers.

  2. Business problems vs. engineering problems: Another popular argument has been that a software company is not a place to demonstrate your engineering talent. Many argue that it is a place to solve business problems, not engineering problems. I disagree with this very firmly. Business problems and engineering problems are not mutually exclusive. The reason why many employees of these companies feel that solving a business problem wouldn't involve solving an engineering problem is that they are not skilled enough to even realize whether a particular business problem has an engineering solution. I've mentioned in my earlier post that engineering problems are there in every software company. It needs the mind of an engineer to identify those problems and solve them correctly. Not all string parsing problems should be solved with a chain of string library functions stitched together. Some string processing and parsing work can be done more efficiently and reliably by coding a simple DFA. Not all data should be maintained as records in an array. Some need to be maintained as graphs. A superficial knowledge of regular expressions can be dangerous if one does not know what kind of patterns they cannot express.

  3. Business problems and engineering problems: If you want to solve business problems and keep your customers happy, Infosys, TCS, or Wipro might be the right place for you. If you want to solve business problems, keep your customers happy, and learn a great deal of engineering while doing so, you need to find another workplace where you can work with a team of skilled engineers who you can give you constructive feedback on your work.

  4. Engineering in Adobe, Amazon, Google, etc.: A popular myth that prevails among many is that there is no engineering work to do in the Indian offices of Adobe, Amazon, Google, etc. I'll reiterate that there is engineering work to do in every software company, even in Infosys, TCS, and Wipro. It really depends on the people whether they want to take engineering seriously or not. Some people would somehow develop the required software by stitching together library functions and give up or look for inefficient workarounds when a particular task requires inventing a new engineering solution. There is another kind of people who are ready to invent new engineering solutions with all the engineering knowledge they have. They do not hesitate to reinvent the wheel when the existing libraries do not meet the requirements of the particular problem at hand. Such engineers are more in number in startups like Gluster, Parallocity, SlideShare, etc. and companies like Adobe, Amazon, Google, Phoenix, RSA, etc. These companies also collaborate with universties to learn new techniques and concepts to solve business problems. These companies do not look for inefficient workarounds when faced with a brick wall. They challenge themselves and do everything possible to solve a problem in the best possible way. These are the places where fresh engineering graduates can hope to learn a great deal of engineering from people around them.

  5. Passionate people can do engineering anywhere: Another popular argument is that it doesn't matter where you work. One can do engineering anywhere, be it Google or Infosys. I agree with this. But then, given a place like Adobe, Amazon, or Google where the culture and the environment encourages good engineering and another place like Infosys, TCS, or Wipro where people are generally clueless about good engineering, where do you think you are going to learn more and improve yourself faster?

  6. But not everyone can join Adobe, Amazon, Google, etc.: Well, I never said that everyone should get into a reputed software product company. Not everyone wants to make a career in engineering. Some people have other goals in life. They just want a regular job. It sounds perfectly fine to me. My post was written for those who aspire to make a career in engineering. In my opinion, they should try to get into a reputed software product company or a startup that is known to hire skilled engineers. If they aren't well prepared, the only thing they can do is to prepare well to fulfill their aspirations. Some people say that they should join Infosys, TCS and Wipro to earn a living while they are preparing and I think it's a great advice. I'll suggest considering contributing some new features or bug-fixes they would like to see in some open source project. Apache Incubator has a lot of budding projects. They can also consider authoring their own open source projects. They can also try solving problems at TopCoder, CodeChef, SPOJ, Project Euler, etc. to improve their algorithm skills. These are good ways of preparing in my opinion.

  7. Infosys, TCS and Wipro have good engineers: Many people have told me that there are good engineers in Infosys, TCS and Wipro as well. I agree. I never mentioned that 100% of the engineers in these companies are clueless about engineering. I mentioned that the majority of them are clueless. In fact, drawing from my personal experience, I quoted a figure that only 1 out of 200 are capable of good engineering in these companies. Like most guess work, this figure could be wrong but I am pretty confident that the bigger picture I am trying to paint here isn't.

  8. Training: Many claimed that I am wrong about the poor standard of training programs in Infosys, TCS, or Wipro. I must tell them that I have attended some of these training programs myself. Among the many horror stories pertaining to training in these companies, let me share only one with you to make my point. In the training assessments, the instructors set question papers containing problems with code that invokes undefined behaviour and ask you to predict its output. "It invokes undefined behaviour" is not provided as an option you can select as the correct answer. Such training and knowledge is not only wrong but also very dangerous. This kind of flawed knowledge leads to the development of unreliable, fragile, and insecure software.

  9. Meritocracy: A few friends of mine expressed that I should have mentioned that these companies do not practice meritocracy. Anyone with sufficient number of years of experience can get a promotion in these companies. It didn't occur to me while writing the earlier post but this is true.

  10. Leaving Infosys, TCS, or Wipro: Some commenters commented that people like me just leave these companies and discourage others from joining them. They feel that we choose the easy way out. They would rather have us stay in these companies and improve them. Firstly, getting a job in a reputed company with a strong engineering culture is definitely not the easy way out. You have to be passionate about your area of interest in technology. You have to work hard and prepare yourself for it. Secondly, Infosys, TCS, and Wipro were made by their founders with a particular vision of providing IT services. They have achieved what they wanted with great success. The improvements that you want us to make in these companies may not be consistent with the vision of the founders. It makes more sense for us to join companies where the vision of the founders is consistent with our aspiration for doing good engineering work.

  11. Solving algorithm problems vs. editing configuration: This has to be the strangest argument I have come across. Someone mentioned that a person who solves algorithm problems earns no more than someone who only edits configuration files. After seeing both sides of the software industry, I find this false. Solving an algorithm problem is one thing. Solving an algorithm problem efficiently is an entirely different thing. I have seen people who can solve difficult algorithm problems efficiently in a company with a strong engineering culture earning at least three times to five times more than those working for Infosys, TCS, or Wipro.

To summarize, the earlier post was meant for and only for people who have what it takes to work at a place where they can solve engineering problems. I have known many such people who were good engineers but weren't aware of the reality in companies like Infosys, TCS, or Wipro before joining them. That post was meant for these people.