Sunday, August 06, 2006

Software Industry: the real life behind the scenes...

Ever wondered if all the software engineers are really successful in life? For that, we should first define life. Everybody has their own definition. Let’s try to put a few common aspects and frame a simple definition. First and foremost, three meals a day, then a good shelter, clothes, good health, some funds in buffer for difficult days, friends and family. Let’s call it as a good social circle. So, most of these would be of no use if you do not have the health to enjoy the wealth, and the time to spend with your family and friends.

Let me give you a real picture from one of the many teams I have worked with over the last six years, and then you can decide if they have been really successful or not (including me). I will not give any analysis or share any of my opinion, which may influence your decision. You can decide it for yourself.

One of the teams that I worked with had about thirty people, with age groups ranging from fresh graduates to senior people who have put in more than fifteen years in the industry. There is a huge divide in the way each of these people look at and perceive things, the way they respond to situations. Those on the lower end of the age group are the ones responsible for the booming food and entertainment industry, fast sales of labels and branded (read imported) goods. While, those on the opposite end are the ones responsible for the unrealistic growth of the real-estate prices and traffic jams due to high volumes of four-wheelers on the roads. And the ones in the middle group contribute towards both the segments partly.

So, what has this got to do with our subject of interest? To understand that, let me pick one individual from each of the three groups, and I will alias their names to Mr. X, Mr. Y and Mr.Z, representing the fresher (early 20s), the around 30s guy, and a manager (mid to late 30s) respectively.

Mr. X comes from a middle-class family; he’s had his share of fun and struggle in life until he got this tag of a "Software Engineer". Overnight, his meagerly pocket money morphs into a whopping "five-figure" pay package, as the media puts it. The guy who used to think twice before even treating one friend in college now has enough luxury (read money) to treat the entire friends-circle on the first month. Every evening seems like a Friday evening, with brand new bike, cool shades, weekend trips, parties, movies etc., Reality strikes after the honeymoon period (3-6 months as a fresher), and then realizes that he no-longer can afford to party everyday. Not that he gets paid any less now, but because the MNCs that pay huge pay-packages extract every penny out of the so called engineers. Also, the number looks big on paper, but the Income Tax reduces that number substantially. (I still wonder where all the Tax-Payers' money goes, because I still ride on the same pot-holed roads, and inhale many other poisonous gasses along with a small quantity of oxygen that keeps me alive... anyway, lets discuss this later and get back to our topic). These MNCs have offices across different time-zones, and every engineer at some point of the time or the other, has to sync-up with his counter-parts across the opposite side of the globe. So, no more free evenings because of tele/video conferences, virtual meetings, product designs, coding, debugging, listening to the swear-words of angered clients, fixing their problems from here, internal competition (unhealthy in most cases), struggle to prove to his manager (Mr. Z) that he is the best, aiming for higher annual pay-hike percentage, extra perks etc.

So, his life is confined to his house (don't read 'home') and office (second house?) and the crazy schedules. Weekends do come to the rescue. At the least, in the middle of all these irregular schedules, weekends are regular. So the parties, personal work, banking, friends, family, fun, movies et-all gets pushed to the weekends. And to plan all these and balance things in the available duration, he spends a lot of time and energy. So, he actually burns himself out in the process of planning his "Personal Life". And, in most cases, after all the plans are in place, they never get realized because he ends up at the office on the weekends too. Why? Because Mr. Z, his manager, was stupid enough to commit unrealistic dates to his clients. He too has to prove his role and presence right.

Is this what we need to work for? Do we need so much of an effort and energy to plan our personal life while still in early 20s? And at the end of all this, he is neither another Einstein nor a Newton. He's just another ordinary software engineer among the millions. Probably, one in a million manages to get a single patent for his work that could be used as a reason to justify all the effort and sacrifice of the "Personal (quality) time".

Now let’s move to Mr. Y, a technical lead, who has gone through the phase of life that Mr. X is going through right now, and has adapted himself to the industry, and tuned his personal life to suit his work-schedule. (Is something wrong here? I thought it has to be the other way, anyway, lets proceed) So, his schedule is very close to that of his clients'/counter-parts' across the globe (he will know the night watchmen of his office better than his wife and kids) as he is the single point of contact for his team. So, he 'motivates' his team to do more work, assigns them modules, gets work done, and synchronizes with his clients and/or counter-parts across the opposite time-zone. Look at his accomplishments, had a few visits to the US/UK, owns a house, a car, beautiful wife, a young child and happy parents who proudly claim among their circles that their son is a "Successful Software Engineer". He is so much INTO this life that he has 'no way out'. It’s similar to the "Abhimanyu's Chakraviewh" from our great Indian epic, The Mahabharat. But who would ever like to get out of such a comfort and luxury? Well these days, many want to, but cannot. Why? Let me take you a little deeper. The house he owns is on loan, the sedan he drives is on a loan, life and health insurance for the family are paid by the company, and so many other dependencies. He cannot afford spend one single month without the pay given by the company. So, he's got into a devil's snare that only has an entry but no exit.

And if all these were not enough, he has hardly had any quality time with his family and friends in many months. He can hardly make time to even drop his young child to the play-home. All the time he spends at home is only for sleeping and refreshing. Even if he takes a vacation, he has to move around with an official phone and laptop, and constantly keep in touch with the office. What an irony. Technology that was supposed to make things work quicker, better and give us more "Personal Time" is actually screwing it all up. All this begins to have an impact on his health, negatively. He hardly has any physical activity, any good diet, and above all, irregular sleep cycles. His immune system is weak, making him prone to a variety of deceases and he cannot withstand the changes in climate. So, all the leaves he is entitled for are spent on resting during the sickness. No wonder this industry terms them as "Sick Leaves". You see, they expect you to fall sick ATLEAST 12 times a year. And as if he's not had enough of it, he has back pain, wrists are no longer powerful, muscles are sore, gets tired if he takes the stairs instead of the elevator, and retains absolutely no energy to spend with his family once he returns home everyday. And the weekends are spent resting and making up for the sleep lost during the weekdays, that too if he manages to stay away from office. He tries to fight it out and even thinks of changing the industry, but it’s next to impossible.

Finally, let me take you into the life of Mr. Z, a manager. Some of them happen to go through the above two phases to become a manager, while some have come from different industries to become managers here, given the fact that Software Industry has really grown only in the last 10-15 years. By this time, Mr. Z has undergone all the fights and struggles and even tried a lot to switch domains, but he's realized it too late. So, he has given up the fight and has compromised with the situation and life as he has a family to look after. His children are now in school, and he cannot risk their education by moving out now. At around 35, he looks like he is 45, and has not much of spirit left in him to do anything revolutionary. The adrenalin does not rush up any more. He's compromised and accepted to just float along the stream like a piece of dead wood. He's diabetic, got high-blood pressure, has hardly any resistance and immunity to common ailments, and makes full use of the medical insurance every year (Now you know why these companies insure the employees for such big amounts). He cannot see clearly without his costly lenses, cannot walk more than half a mile, cannot sit in a place for more than 30 minutes, and hardly gets to interact with his school-going children, when this is the time they need his attention the most. He wakes up after they leave to school, and returns from work after they sleep. He cannot make it to their school for any kind of functions, sports day etc., Why, because the day his son is proudly receiving a prize for faring well in sports, he is busy making plans to bid for a new project that would rake in a few more millions in revenue to the company. Has he gained anything in this process? Yes, more appreciation from the upper management, more reputation, but only at the cost of the growing distance between him and his family members. He has made so much money by now, but everything is spent on maintaining his health and keeping himself alive with an effort that is not justified in any sense of the word. What is the use of staying alive with all the money when he does not have the health or energy to use it and live life? What happened to all the plans that he once made as a fresher in the industry? What happened to all the dream vacations that he once planned of?

Being just one among the thousands of managers in this industry, life goes on for him without a real challenge, without a question. He is a manager, but will never really make it beyond that. A few dare to become exceptions, but right from day one, challenge and change the routine to really live life. They are called heroes. But there are only a handful of them, and they go on to become the top-dogs of the packs. The real kings of the prides. They are the ones who dare to do things differently, right from the day they step into the industry. They decide their destiny, and chase their dreams without compromising on either their health or their personal life. They master the art of living with the right balance between work and personal life. And that’s exactly the reason they become highly successful. "The real Successful Professionals".

This is from my real life experiences in the industry over the last six years. Now you decide who is the real successful person, and if you really want to be in this industry. If yes, as what? One in a million, or one among the million. Your life, you are the master.


At August 07, 2006 10:08 AM, Blogger Vikram said...

Excellent post. I really admire the way you have portrayed things as they are. Technology has really screwed the most of us. And there is no way out - or so it seems. But all you need to do is DARE and decide fast on what you really want to do. How you really want to live. My heartfelt congratulations to you for coming up with this brilliant write up.

At August 07, 2006 11:35 AM, Anonymous Meenakshy said...

excellent writeup.. i can relate so much to my own life on that.. :)


Post a Comment

<< Home