Most Indians think that IT is a sunrise industry which has put India on the world map—with good reason. But it has a large dark side, as this story shows. I can vouch for the story’s veracity, as I heard it first-person from someone I really trust.
He could have got a lucrative job in India and continued his comfortable upper- middle class lifestyle — SomDev was a first class Engineering graduate from a first class University. But, everyone who mattered advised him that the US was the place for higher education. That, and his wanderlust, got him a seat in MS (Industrial Engineering) in a topnotch university near New York.
Som graduated creditably in his MS; he now wanted to get some experience working in the US, before making long-term career commitments. So, he prospected for a job in the industry that was relevant to his qualifications. But, the green shoots of economic revival had barely begun in the US, and Manufacturers were still not hiring. After all, who would hire a foreigner with no experience and only an OPT permit? Some agonising months passed. He grew weary of the Friday night calls from his parents which would always open with “how’s your job scene?” (How was he to know that the entire biraadari was harassing his innocent parents with the same question, 7 days a week?)
Soon after he got his degree, he had received lots of offers from head-hunters of Indian BPO companies operating in the US. They made their sales-pitch in Telugu syntax coated in phony American accents. He had rejected them all then: he wanted to work in the domain of his specialisation, not in some faceless back-office that supported software. Now, his resources were dwindling; so was his resolve. Suddenly, working with the IT nerds made economic sense. He swallowed his pride and called up all the nerdy-hunters. He received a flood of offers and he chose the one that sounded less loathsome. They said they would train him for free for 1 month— plus Food and Bed free. Thereafter, he would be assigned to a client and he could start earning dollars. He would bide his time with these dollars till he got a manufacturing job of his choice. Som bit the bullet and signed up.
The Training Centre in Massachusetts was a house in a residential suburb. His co-trainees, all 27 of them, were desperados like Som. In fact most of them were worse— in both qualification and desperation! They were all mercilessly stuffed into the 6 or 7 small bedrooms of the house. The training program was just a pre-recorded CD that you played repeatedly in the basement; the virtual instructor, (as you might have guessed) spoke in Telugish and f*** you, if you didn’t like it.
The Centre’s boss (a non-techie nerd) had only one instruction: “You should not go out!” Was it the Boss’s concern for the Desi trainees’ safety in the big bad USA? Social media access was blocked and Boss was also watching over people’s shoulders, especially when they were on the cell phone. IT Security, perhaps? Food (of the chicken and Biriyani kind) and limitless beer was on the house, so the inmates were not motivated to find out why. Som soon guessed why: the BPO had cut corners by running a commercial establishment in a residential building — stuffing more people to a room was strategic cost reduction! Pity, the municipal authorities wouldn’t appreciate such strategy. If the neighbours saw so many people hanging out from a building and squealed to the municipality, it would be bad for business. Som felt nauseated: professional compromises were tolerable; but not legal compromises.
That night, Som cried silently in his bed (he didn’t want his roommates to know that his ideals were shattered). In reality, Som had signed up for a sweat-shop modeled on the factories of England during the Industrial Revolution! How was he going to explain this to his parents, who were so jubilant when he said he had an IT job? There was no going back now. Worse followed….
A couple of days later the Boss called all the trainees and explained how to create one’s CV in the way clients would appreciate . In other words, how to fudge one’s CV so that clients were led to believe that the employee was more experienced / qualified than he actually was. Som’s portfolio was to show that he had several years of experience in the Health-care Industry. An absolute distortion of the truth. That night Som didn’t cry. He resolved that he would rather starve than be part of the racket. Next morning, he quit his job.
Som didn’t starve. He actually phoned a family friend in a neighbouring town who picked him up and gave him shelter. The friend laughed off the whole story and said “now you know whom not to trust! If you had asked me I would have told you that this company has 7 suits filed against them already.” He guided Som to take a certification course in his own area of specialization, so he could find a job closer to his heart.
Of course, not all IT stories end that way. Most of Som’s colleagues continued in the sweat shop and got further entangled in the web. After all, how many desperados escaped from Fagin’s school in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist?
Biraadari = One’s tribe or community
Telugish = Slang for English spoken with the syntax and pronunciation of a native language- in this case Telugu (Telugu +English)
Biriyani = A popular rice dish in India
Oliver Twist = The story of an innocent orphan kid who gets stuck in a school for thieves run by Fagin the criminal during the worst times of the Industrial Revolution — written by Charles Dickens in 1837.