Before founding my current company, I was on the technical staff for a large telecom provider. In the early 1990’s about half of our tech team were hired on the H-1 visa’s from India, all very sharp and good engineers. As the tech economy heated up, the quality of our Engineers from India dropped off significantly, to the point where many were actually let go after trial periods, at a time when we desperately needed technical help.
The unlimited supply of offshore engineering talent evidently had its limits. To illustrate I share the following experience.
Around the year 2000, in the height of the tech boom, my manager, also from India, sent me on a recruiting trip to look for grad students at a US job fair hosted for UCLA students.
In my pre-trip briefing we went over a list of ten technology universities in India, as he handed me the list he said, “Don’t worry about a candidates technical ability, if they come from any one of these ten universities they are already vetted for competency, just make sure they have a good attitude, and can think out-of-the-box.”
He also said if they did not attend one of the 10 schools on the list then don’t even consider them, as there is a big drop off in talent at the second tier schools in India.
Upon some further conversations I learned that India’s top tech schools are on par with the best US undergrad engineering schools. In India there is extreme competition and vetting to get into these schools. The dirty little secret was that there were only a limited number of graduates from these universities. Initially, US companies were only seeing the cream of the Indian Education system. As the tech demand grew, the second tier engineers were well-enough trained to “talk the talk” in an interview, but in the real world they often did not have that extra gear to do demanding engineering work and so projects suffered.
In the following years, many US-based engineers in the trenches saw some of this incompetence and were able to convince their management to put a halt to offshoring R&D projects when the warning signs were evident. These companies seemed to be in the minority. Since many large companies treated their IT staff, and to some extent their R&D staff, like commodities, they continued to offshore based on lower costs and the false stereotype that these Indian companies could perform on par with their in-house R&D teams. The old adage you get what you pay for held true here once again.
This is not to say there were not some very successful cost savings made possible by Inidan engineers, but the companies that benefited were the ones that got in early and had strong local Indian management, like my boss, who knew the limits of Indian engineering resources.