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IT is 'India Tomorrow'

The year was 1976. The Hyderabad-based International Crop Research Institute for Semi Arid Tracts (ICRISAT), was looking for qualified computer-literates to run its key departments. A team of young men and women who applied for the jobs were instantly appointed. Their skills were honed in its excellently equipped computer centre. Imported cars came to the houses of the employees to ferry them, not only to the work spot, but to cloud No.9 as well!

After a while, when one of the women chose matrimony, the organisation bid a tearful farewell along with her family, though not for the same reasons. The computer centre's head was heard to lament: ''I hope she has not set a precedent. What will I do if others follow suit''

The sense of loss in letting go of a valuable employee was writ large on his face. As for the woman, distant horizons offered other lucrative jobs with a considerable pay hike.

The sky was the limit for those computer professionals. They were in such a demand!

That was the lure of computer knowledge, now called information technology (IT), a ruling industry, which has spread all over the globe, like a lotus with a million petals, each petal an opportunity, an opening, a service, a job, an entertainment, an education, a profession, an avocation, a vocation and even an obsession.

``I am into computers you know!'' was the catch phrase on the lips of every youth those days. The proud parents beamed with joy! IT was a passage to a high-flying life style for many. The training institutes that surfaced all over the country meted out computer proficiency. Young and old alike, people thronged the places, young to get better jobs, the old to better their jobs. IT was an all-pervasive force. Everybody wanted to be in the mainstream of the happenings.

Opportunities galore were there. Money, comforts, new jobs and overseas trips were added to create a savvy feeling. ''This is where one should be!'' That feeling lasted for a good two decades. Training institutes flourished, and people were nourished.

During this plush period there was the dotcom flood and the Y2K boom, which made the computer professionals feel they were in control of things. Things couldn't be better!

Amidst this rosy picture there were other things happening, which were creating a different hue altogether in the industry.

Bumper crops of computer professionals, qualified and not so qualified, were strewn all over the field. Too much production resulted in a recession. So production stopped. The Y2K demand was also over, and the software professionals were idle all of a sudden.

The 11/9 disaster resulting in the Washington Trade Center collapse made the US close doors to IT professionals from India, as a sheer safety measure.

The placement companies were also adding their worth to this chaos by sending underqualified people to the US who bounced back by dozens. The US, being the biggest hirer, this 'no jobs' situation was a big disillusionment for those who were studying or working toward this as a goal. Even if there were other avenues and openings in India, the misguided vision was too blurred to see them, due to the mist-filled eyes.

The strong focus on improving American English and its accent to meet the US demands also could not be shifted to accommodate other markets like Europe, Japan, etc. Time was already invested. It was not possible to turn the wheel back to learn other languages, be it a spoken one, or a computer one. Greener pastures were ignored due to sheer lack of incentive. ''If the highly qualified ones are not wanted, where is the place for us'' was the feeling of the young learners.

Parents, too, dissuaded their offspring. "IT is no longer a career. Go back to our agriculture.'' They said. But because of the mass technology yield these youngsters were not tuned to anything else, even if IT offered new applications in the field of agriculture. The mindset was too deep.

Y2K boom and the high employment rate by the Indian software giants resulted in yet another unforeseen occupational hazard. Continuous computer operations were creating health problems. Quick burnout, back trouble, even marred relationships. Over the years many young men and women met and married in the same field. Long working hours, different time schedules, etc., ate away into their emotional well-being. Much money was earned, but who to spend it on, or when? Woes were aplenty.

So the impressionable young ones decided to stay away from the field. Is this the truth? Far from IT? No. The truth was far from it.

How can an industry that has been feeding millions of people globally die?

It is in the news for a downturn simply because it was in the news for exactly the opposite reasons a couple of years ago. Why aren't people talking of other industries, which have, lower growth rates and are laying off more people than IT is doing? It is just that IT was doing triple digit growth rates until 2001 and once it came down to lesser digits, it made a great topic for discussion and analysis and for lots of journalist copy.

There is still so much to be automated and so many organisations to be computerised. The slowdown is simply a part of general global recession. Nothing specific to IT.

``India is a big name in the IT industry. Its professionals have a place in the global sense, despite the slowdown,'' say the IT gurus. Our vast population has a great potential of becoming an IT-skilled labour force that can meet a new knowledge based economy. Computer knowledge is an important prerequisite for jobs, and is a value addition for many businesses.

While Y2K saw the US as a major market, there are now markets like Europe, Japan, Canada, France, Germany and Italy, which account for a good percentage of the global IT position (as told by NASSCOM).

Add China, Scandinavian countries and countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and you have a good IT services market right before you. This is the broad perspective. Our Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, was right when once he remarked:

"IT is India Tomorrow!"

(To be continued)


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