Why we need to tap technology to scale up product development talent in India

tech talent

Over the years, India’s software industry has grown from strength to strength, and emerged as an important contributor to the nation’s GDP.

In FY19, the annual revenue of the software industry touched $180 billion, a majority of which came from exports. Of this, $70 billion came from software services exports, while only about $28 billion came from the export of software products and engineering services. 

If we take a look at the top revenue earners in the technology space globally, names such as Facebook, Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), Alibaba, Tencent etc. dominate.

Why is this important? It is important because it gives us a good sense of where our focus needs to be if India hopes to truly dominate the technology world. We reached where we are in the technology space because we had a strong services orientation and conceptualised new business models to serve global markets. Most importantly, we had a large workforce of IT-savvy, English-speaking engineers.

However, what got us here will not take us to the next level. 

The changing industry dynamics

The technology industry has been in a constant state of flux over the last few years. Just a few decades ago, IT was used mainly by enterprises. Then, as the number of devices exploded and the internet became more easily accessible, we saw large-scale democratisation of technology.

This brought wide-ranging changes to the way that technology is developed, implemented, and used. The focus is more on innovative solutions and user-centricity. We’re already seeing this happening on the ground in India if we observe the growth of India’s robust technology and startup ecosystem.

In parallel, there are new advances in the technology world, disrupting traditional industries with easy access to public cloud infrastructures, easier ways to leverage data intelligently, and broader access through mobile. In the changed scenario, there will be greater demand for holistic product building skills rather than just programming.

To ride the next wave of technology, India needs to build a large pool of product development talent with strong technology foundation, good problem-solving skills, product sense, user-centricity, and empathy. 

Changing the way we learn

On top of good technical foundations, adaptability, ‘learning how to learn’, and good problem-solving abilities will prove to be the most important skills in the coming decade. Unfortunately, most of our traditional educational institutions follow a curriculum and pedagogy that is simply not conducive to building these skills to the extent of applying.

So, most learning usually ends up happening either during projects/internships or on the job, rather than in the classroom. 

Companies have also resigned themselves to this reality. They start with the assumption that any graduate they hire will lack the required skills. They accept that they will need to invest considerable time and resources to train new hires on basic product development skills. They just look for decent academic credentials, problem solving, and soft skills, etc. while hiring. Then, they devote a few months to bring employees up to speed before they can deliver. 

This is hardly a sustainable approach if we hope to build the required scale and momentum that will empower us to innovate and create new products and solutions that will shape the future.

Building the right skills

Can we distil some aspects of learning at work and see if we can design a way for people to learn the way that they learn at work? If we break down how learning occurs at a workplace, there are three aspects to it. 

  • One, there is a sense of purpose since you are aware of your objectives and know what you are working toward. All learning is contextual and real.
  • Two, you have the right mentors (your bosses) who are there to provide guidance when required. 
  • Three, if you are a good match for your job role, there is a level of desirable difficulty. This means your job isn’t so easy that you breeze through. Yet, you need to be willing to learn new things in order to perform your job well. Also, there are easy ways to measure your performance accurately and judge how well you are doing at work. 

If we are able to incorporate these elements into any learning programme, it is likely to be more effective. Isn’t an internship supposed to solve this? Yeah, but quality internship opportunities are limited in numbers.

To truly scale talent, we need an approach that simulates the workplace and provides experiential learning at scale. In other words, we need more active learning models where students have an opportunity to learn by doing rather than by seeing.

The only way to implement such a process is by completely automating it such that technology acts like a true mentor – guiding students, monitoring their actions, and providing dynamic coaching. This can be achieved by leveraging deep tech and machine learning sciences to drive personalisation at scale.

We need the right technology platform combined with the learn-by-doing pedagogy and innovative learner engagement to transform learning in the technology space. If India hopes to make a real dent in the next phase of the technology revolution, we need to act now.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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