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Posted on: Saturday, 07 November 2009 by Rajiv Popat

What Are You Spending On - Programmers  Or Infrastructure?

If you are a regular reader of this blog you probably know that I do not do not usually do not do travelogues in this blog; unless of-course my travel results in meeting a really interesting individual or finding a meaningful insight which I can share with you dear reader.

This one did. This by no means is this post just a travelogue. Read on.

In a recent visit at Ted India I spent three days in the beautiful and plush campus of Infosys.

Before I start this post; let me go ahead and mention that Infosys is an amazing organization; and is often referred to as the one of the best software firms of India with high employee satisfaction. The guys at Infosys were not just kind enough to sponsor Ted but were actually kind enough to give some of us a very elaborate Infosys campus tour; even though we were not registered for the tour.

The intent of this post; dear reader; is not to criticize Infosys; put the organization on the spot; or bore you with a detailed description of the entire Infosys campus tour; but to leave you with a few facts; a few questions and a thought worth harping on.

Ready?

Here we go.

Fact one - Infosys campus is huge and beautiful.

As you read hear me say that the Infosys campus is huge and beautiful; dear reader; you have to keep in mind that this comes from someone who has seen some amazing campuses in his career as consultant across the globe. Just so that you know; I've worked in campus ranging from filthy rich oil companies at Texas; all the way to the Microsoft Silicon Valley campus.

The Infosys campus with its plush green environment, clean roads and huge intimidating architectural structures which look like palaces of Paris or the epcot center building; beats anything I have seen till date. Try cycling through the campus and your panting breath will tell you how huge the campus is.

There are guest houses, swimming pools, bowling alleys, super markets, saloons, multiplexes, cycle stands where you can grab free cycles and pretty much anything you can think of.

It's clean beyond imagination; huge beyond imagination and has buildings which are shaped beyond imagination.

Fact two - Pillars Without A purpose.

As we tour through the Infosys campus; we are accompanied by a Tedster who happens to be in the business of reconstructing old buildings.  I stand in awe looking at the huge marble pillars; when suddenly; I am told by this gentleman; who can differentiate a fake pillar from a real; that the marble isn't real marble.

They are in all probabilities a synthetic material; he tells us.

The guide agrees.

Turns out, the pillars aren't even a structural necessity. They just happen to have been constructed using a compound that 'looks' like marble purely for beautification purposes.

Fact Three - Domes without a meaning.

Infosys buildings seem to copy or replicate structures from around the globe. The primary training facility resembles palaces in Rome or Paris.The primary planetarium looks exactly like the epcot building. In fact, most TEDsters; me included; actually start referring to it as the epcot building.

Turns out; the epcot building is a perfect rectangular box like any other building from the inside. The epcot-like-dome is a facade on the outside of the building purely for beautification purposes.

You can see the taste; the diligence; and the pride Infosys folks have when they are talking about their campus. It almost feels like being in the silicon valley of India --- till I make a request to one of our tour guides.

What I decide on doing is applying my litmus test of finding out if a software development firm is truly remarkable; on Infosys. Promptly I express my desire to see the offices where developers work.

Fact Four - Infosys Refers To Software Development As 'Production'.

After a little bit of thinking our guide is kind enough to get permission and give us a quick tour of the Infosys 'Production' area. I ask him if this is a common term used across Infosys. Turns out that software development is actually referred to as 'production' across Infosys. I cringe.

Fact Five - The Programmer Bill Of Rights Happens To Be Non-Existent At Infosys.

Shivers run down my spine as I walk into the 'production area' which looks like any other 'cubical farm' of any other organization. Engineers work on desktops and tube based monitors. They sit in cubical with very little division or privacy between four cubical.

You can see effort; or lack of it thereof; that went into designing the office. Compare it with the effort and money spent on building the amazing and intimidating domes; and you will realize that workplaces received very little attention.

Clearly; seems to have been outsourced to an architect or a designer who knew nothing about software development.

And The Point.

Put simply; Infosys workplaces are just like any other software development shops around the globe. Absolutely nothing special or different about them.

The work environment pretty much seems to violate every right in the programmer bill of rights.

I watch the engineers code away to glory as they work on a project; which is about writing software which controls the wing of an air-craft; in averagely mediocre offices; on desktops; with single monitors and not very quite work environment. Had I blind-folded you; took you in; and opened your blind-fold once you were in the 'development' center; chances are you would not know you were at Infosys.

If you have not yet figured out where I am going with this; here are some questions to play around with dear reader in your head as you read along.

Lets face it. Programmers are what build Infosys. While most programmers look decently content with their work environment; why does Infosys spend all this money building Domes around boxes, copying the epcot building, or building with fake marble pillars when the environment where the developers work most of the times are barely mediocre?

Does Infosys; like most other software development shop around the world; miss the whole point?

To be honest here; dear reader; this post is not so much about Infosys; as it is about the sorry state of software development world and how we as software development shops treat programmers.

Of all the companies I have seen; worked with; or read about; I am yet to find a company other than Google, Fog Creek and Microsoft which realizes the important of giving the basic necessary infrastructure to development teams which ends up making their developers genuinely productive.

Now; if you happen to be a young and budding engineer or even a veteran looking for a job; chances are that you are going to find yourself in a cubical farm. Even if they do not explicitly mention it; chances are that your organization too considers software development synonymous to 'production' as it spends spends millions in marketing, management and building hollow pillars which look like marbles; well at-least metaphorically.

Lets face it; dear reader; There is not much you can do to change any of that; yes you can try to change your organization but chances are; you company may have already run out of budget to do anything and there will not be much they can do.

Having said that; if you are a young and budding entrepreneur; setting to start your own company; might I suggest that before you hire that architect who designs hollow pillars and fake domes for you; spend some serious time understanding software development; what your developers truly need and get them those quite offices with privacy; aeron-chairs; powerful laptops; dual monitors and a silent work environment which allows them to get in the flow.

And that; dear reader; is what will make your campuses much more beautiful than most other software development firms out there.

I wish you good luck.