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Posted on: Saturday, November 7, 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.

posted on Saturday, November 7, 2009 9:33:11 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Thursday, November 5, 2009 by Rajiv Popat

I write this from the Plush; huge and amazing campus of Infosys Bangalore where TED India 2009 is being hosted.

Before I even start with this post; let it be known that I love TED and have been watching TED videos for three years. Being at a TED is an experience any creative mind should indulge in and I would highly recommend TED to anyone who as I say - aspires to make small or big dents in the universe.

TED India; much like all other TEDs was an amazing experience.

I have been blown away with the hospitality; arrangements and the insightful talks.

But this post isn't about reporting TED events or doing a shameless plug for TED.

This series of posts; dear reader; is about 'entertaining' a few thoughts that whisked through my weirdly-different mind during the last two days spent at TED India. It is also about sharing, raising and discussing a few of my very own personal questions and perspectives that I carry back with me; besides the amazing things that I learnt from TED India speakers, fellows and participants.

May The Best Man Win.

If you happened to be at TED India one of the things that you would have found striking is the amount of conversations and talks around; India, Indian Culture, How India is different from the west, How Indian infrastructure is growing; how corruption in India works; how the Indian poor are being helped by Indian NGO's and how nothing in India is perfect but in spite of that things still 'work'.

The amount of discussions and content around the whole mechanics of how India works; what India is up to and how India is coming up; in TED-India were fascinating; but if I can be brutally honest here; they were also a little overwhelming.

Put simply; by about the evening of second day; as I saw almost every speaker and participant touch the topic of 'India' and how it works; I was starting to miss talks which touch universal problems like happiness; education; drawing inspiration and many more like it in a rather fascinating and engaging way . What was also happening by then; was that a few question were starting to find their way through my mind:

  1. Were the TED India speakers and even we (me included) as TED-India participants spending just way too much time on understanding the differences that are either going to pretty much automatically find a way to co-exist or are going to be wiped off in a matter of few years?
  2. Are we not rapidly moving towards a world where the best of efforts and products cross the dip; stand the test of time and eventually survive; irrespective of the country that they originate from?
  3. Are we not already in a world that is so mind-blowingly fair that just one rule stands - may the best man, woman, organization, thing or effort, win.

No seriously.

Before you knit your brows at the questions; and go on the defensive; consider this:

If you happen to be the best social worker out there; you will figure out a way to help those who most need your help; irrespective of the country that they belong to.

If you are the best architect; you will find a way to build the best of the buildings that people find fascinating.

If you are the best musician; you will find a way to touch people's heart with your music in a way that moves them.

If you are the best software developer; you dear reader; will find ways to build the most remarkable software out there.

So the next time you see me at a cafe; I do not care if it is in India or California; lets get together and talk about insights that makes you the best whatever-it-is-that-you-are. If you are not the best let us exchange ideas, thoughts and experiences about what can; as professionals; make us; the best at whatever-it-is-that-we-do.

Everything else; is just details.

May the best man, woman, organization, idea or product win.

Now; tell me what makes you the best? If you are not there yet; how are you working towards getting there? What have you learnt from your failures so far?

I will take what applies to me. As an educated man I will try my best to filter the inapplicable and entertain your thoughts without accepting them.

I do not care where you are from; where you are located or how amazingly different we are. Seriously.

Go ahead. Start the conversation.

I am listening.

Are you?

posted on Thursday, November 5, 2009 6:56:26 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]