Why Egypt’s Revolution Should Haunt the Indian IT Industry

14 02 2011

The revolution in Egypt is a historic event. A ruler of 30 years was overthrown by angry youth, who were not even born when Mubarak became President. These youth did not come under a common banner, nor did they have a leader. The despair was building up perhaps, for years. Social media like Facebook and Twitter helped them to find that there are many who felt the same. Some courageous young men like Google employee Wael Ghonim came out in the open. They got support from elders like Mohamed El Baradei and even the oldest political group, Muslim Brotherhood. The repressive Mubarak govt, tried to curb them by arresting Ghonim, blocking Internet and banning Al Jazeera to telecast news etc. Yet, these young people took control of Tahrir square and without worrying about the consequences were able to overthrow Mubarak in 18 days.

The anger and frustration of this youth emanated from many sources. Firstly, they felt stifled and did not feel free. Secondly, despite so many years of freedom, the unemployment was running high and their economic lot had not improved. Thirdly, their ruler Mubarak and his cronies around him had amassed huge wealth and stashed them abroad. Fourthly, the geriatric rulers just could not feel the pulse of the youth.

Before the Internet era it would have been necessary for these angry citizens to meet, discuss, organize themselves and then plan a revolt. Meeting even secretly and organizing themselves in a dictatorship like Egypt would be at great risk to life and property. Thanks to the social media, it is possible for people to meet virtually, just as they are going about their jobs and yet plan for a revolt of the kind Egypt saw.

Indian IT services companies today are large with the big ones having employees of more than 100,000 each. These companies thrive on a very young employee base. Average age of employees in many of these companies would be around 27 years. The average employee of these IT companies is part of the Internet generation.

Most large IT companies, as per company policy, do not allow access to any of the social networking sites. The stated reason is to maintain confidentiality of client information and to improve productivity. The unstated reason is not allowing their young employees to connect, form unions and express dissent of any kind.

Yet, employees are active on the social networking sites using their smart phones, home computers or even wireless modems on their laptops. When 3G will be launched India wide and gains popularity, this will become even easier. Being young they are, many might be today using them only for dating and generally socializing, but if the despair builds up these networks can easily find other uses.

Although, the despair among the employees in IT companies is nowhere near the boiling point reached in Egypt, there are a few areas which need attention. Firstly, most companies particularly the older ones are very hierarchical and do not allow the young employees to complain or give suggestions. They are just expected to take orders. Dissent is not encouraged and often punished. Secondly, the top management is from a different generation and often quite disconnected with the aspirations and frustrations of an average young employee. Thirdly, the CEOs reward themselves with huge salaries and commissions even during recession, when the salaries at lower levels are frozen. This is noticed and employees just gripe about it. Fourthly, cronyism is rampant and meritocracy is just for lip service. Their legitimacy is often questioned by the young employees, in private. Lastly, just like Mubarak’s focus to keep US happy, the top managements are focused on keeping the analysts and shareholders pleased, even at the cost of employees.

The HR departments of most IT companies are just efficient recruitment engines. They are quite occupied doing routine administration and processing. They just do not have the understanding nor the capability to manage the large human communities these organizations have become.

The HR managers will be found wanting if an Egypt like revolt erupts in their organization. They will have to go hiding behind their pile of PCMM certificates and 360 degree appraisals.

– G. Mohan

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2 responses

20 02 2011
arijit

Internet definitely makes gathering easier..however the event in Egypt was secretly and later openly tolerated by the Army who were afraid of a Korea like handing over from father to son. The same use of facebook in Kashmir or Iran faces more violent oppression.

I think no body at the top wants disssent..sometimes only for the reason that the juniors maybe talking through the hat!!! A good general in Army requires at least 25 years to make and though he seldom risks his life when he becomes a general..the soldiers do not crib about this..as that old hand is not required in the trenches but the old brain is definitely required in the war council. Many times after revolutions people have tried to change this perspective and have tried to drive war by vote….they have all gone back to officer training schools…not really to create an elite but to give time in soaking up the knowledge.

In IT…a progrmmer who comes back home in biting cold in 3AM in the morning might envy and curse the CEO…but he will defintely fall even sicker if he is asked to keep the routine that an effective CEO does. So i think each fights their battle at his own corner… and decisions that impct many come with larger power and responsibilities and that is balanced by larger share in the kitty. Nothing very original in that thought…and many times the CEO loses his job first when the trend slightly goes downhill.

Revolutions need more than dissent….only dissent does not give leadership or solution. A vision and courage is required for that..and a natural selection process that will also see attrition of a few leaders…through death, profit, desertion,oppression..till the fire has tempered the right steel. Any dissent in an IT company…run by disgruntled consuming minds yelling for a long-term in US is a joke and will not take more than 5 pink slips to stop. This is not being unfair..or denying justice…as the testing of leaders is as much a part of natural selection as the ultimate failure or success of every mutation. Lenin was much awae of that and said that without political leadership every proletraiat movement will result in a trade-union negotiation.

Organizations do not fall by dissent..they fall by brilliance…brilliance shown by competitors or their own persons who they fail to assimilate…they also fall by arrogance…but possibly that is the in-built cause for the first scenario.

23 02 2011
Shiv Basu

The thing is, I failed so see the analogy. In Tunisia and Egypt, the military did not side with the rulers. That is because in both of these countries, the military, especially the lower ranks face the same problems as the common man. Socio-economically, they are one and the same. (At the same time the western allies did not hesitate to show their support for a peaceful democratic revolution). In Bahrain, on the other hand, the military has sided with the rulers; that is because in Bahrain, the military lower ranks are comprised of foreigners – people from Pakistan and India; who don’t have anything in common with the protesting mass. Let’s wait and watch how Libya is going to fare in this mess.

If we use the analogy with the Indian IT world:
Afro-Arab Ruler = Indian IT CEO
Afro-Arab Ruling Class = Indian IT Senior Ranks
Afro-Arab Military = Indian IT Middle Ranks
Afro-Arab Common Mass = Indian IT Lower Ranks
Western Allies = Customers

You see, the protest in the Afro-Arab world came from the young educated common mass, which I have equated to the lower ranks. In Indian IT, this group comprises of the least disgruntled folk – rather the happiest chunk. Fresh out of college, nice paycheck, desk job, business casual job environment, top end of technology, social networking — gets them pretty motivated and satisfied. You are not going to see a revolution here. The disgruntled folk are the ones in the middle ranks; that I have equated to the military. But it’s a military that follows orders, does not have any ammunitions really, and is pretty well disciplined (become institutionalized rather), with no support from either common mass or the western ally. Any revolution from this group won’t survive.

That’s why I don’t see a Tahrir Square happening in Bengaluru.

The following part is on the lighter side, and I could be kicked out for using “unparliamentary” language.

In the argument between whether we need young leaders or experienced ones. We do need young leaders. Not like Rahul Gandhi, his vision of India is not much different from his Grand-ma’s… “garibi hatao”… blah, blah, blah. Leaders who are young at heart, I mean. Leaders that will inspire the ballads to sing:
“Bundeley harbolon ke munh humney sunaa yeh scandal thaa,
Raaj bhawan ke andar mahal mein apsaraaon ko nachayaa thaa,
Khub laraaaaaaa
Khub laraaaaa
Khub lara bistar pe woh assi saal ka buddha tha”

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