WEEKEND THOUGHTS # 13

CHAKRA

Hi All,

Before I introduce this weekend's author, please allow me to clarify certain points. "Weekend Thoughts" - how does one get to post an article on this. What does one have to qualify to be able to publish his/her article. Do we need a minimum GRE/TOEFL score ? Is there a qualifying test ??

The answer is pretty simple. If you are reading this intro you are already qualified to print your own thought column.

The fact is, this is an attempt to introduce each of us to the ORNET community. There is no restrictions on what you can write (of course, it's constrained by net-etiquettes and ethics :-) nor there is any quality control process.

So, please read and enjoy the articles; but do remember to send us your thoughts at one of the following addresses - misra@maroon.tc.umn.edu or ssahoo@ingr.com.

This weekend, I proudly present, from Redmond, Washington DEBI PRASAD MISHRA (DP) ... (drum rolls, please)

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Surjit Sahoo

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When Surjit laid the article down on my lap to post it in ORNET, I wanted to read the entire thing myself before the posting. Besides getting the general feeling about the working conditions in India and how it is detrimental to the effectiveness of an individual worker (say scientist or sociologist); a few other points came into my mind.

If the working condition in India is wrong then can the culture by itself revive it to a point such that it gets at par with the conditions of the developed countries in the World? I have learnt from James Lovelock, author of "Gaia" that mother earth takes care of its own perturbations over time. Does that really reflect in a culture? If it does, then what is the trend of the modern Indian culture? Is it moving towards this achievement?

One example comes into my mind. An Oriya working in Maharashtra or Gujrat or in any other state, does not get similar privilages as the locals. Same thing happens when caste comes into picture. Talk about discrepancy in sex. Is a woman psychologist in India ever going to work in a high security prison? If she does, will she get similar treatment as the male psychologists?

Culture is something we have grown up with. But System is something that we can create. What I feel is that the problem doesn't lie with the culture. It lies with our generation. We are either escapists, or we accept what already exists. We don't think about a CHANGE. Those of us who are escapists, do think about the negativities. But we tend to keep away from it as long as we can. We even culture that wherever we are.

Those of us who accept what was laid down for us, tend to enjoy it. We stay within the system and grow within it like VIRUS. Then we pass it onto the next person in the line.

We have been circling in the viscious CIRCLE where there is no way out (presumably). We either need one more Mahabharata to get out of it OR we need courage and spirit to create, modify or change the system using brains and not brut force.

Enough of my blabber. Please feel free to comment either over the net or your comments are always welcome and I am proposing a POSTVIEW column where we can post followups.

Debasmita Misra

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Self Introduction  by  Author
=============================

Debi Prasad Mishra, (DP)
15306, NE 63rd Way
REDMOND, WA 98052            
206-869 5358

A Software Development Lead at

   Microsoft Corporation,
   One Microsoft Way, REDMOND, WA 98052   
   206-936 3691

Education:

Schooling all over Orissa.

I Sc from BJB College, BBSR (1977)
B Tech from IIT, Kharagpur in Computer Sc & Engg (1982)

Worked in India 1982 to 1990.
   ORG Systems, Boroda   Hardware R&D
   Telco, Jamshedpur
   Wipro Systems Ltd, Bangalore, Software
   Unitel Comm / OSEDC, Bhubaneswar
   Softek Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, Systems Software
   Citicorp Software, Bombay.  TP Architect

Spent a year and half in London.
  Citibank, London     Distributed TP Software

Took up residency in Australia in late 1991
  Bankers Trust, Sydney  Software Project Lead

Relocated to US in Sept 1993
  Microsoft Corp.

Married to Madhavi Mishra, M. Sc from  IIT, Kharagpur.
   Works as Software Engineer for SpaceLabs Medical, REDMOND

Two children. Ankita (6) and Ritvik (5 months).

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The Weekend Article
=====================

When Debasmita asked me to write something for the weekend column two things came to my mind. First, I felt the appreciation that he surely had a big heart and spirit not to negatively react to my earlier mail on Ornet. Next I had to think what to write. Bigyani's mail had brought so many old memories back that there was this overwhelming feeling to write about some of those. But finally, when I sat down to write, the issue what is always in my mind came out and I just had to write THAT. And THAT is about our country and state. So here is my 200KB blah blah. I thank you for having read so far and would surely understand if you had to drop out in the middle.

EMPOWERMENT OF THE INDIAN WORKFORCE =========================================

Right since my college days, I have waited for the day when I would wake up to the news of such and such great innovation by some fellow country man working in some lab or industry or university in India. And I have not seen many since. And over time all great work by Indians I have come to hear about has been mostly in the US. There are so many spheres of life in which we see this happening. That it is so difficult to find examples of truly creative work in India. Be it art or science or engineering or medicine. Or even the industry. So what happened to the Indian creativity? And it is the scientific and engineering innovations that I think about most.

Once when I was in Bhubaneswar, I helped a couple from Belgium who were touring India and had been robbed of their money, tickets and clothes during their overnight travel from Madras by Madras Mail. I took them to the Police Station and then to a hotel in my scooter (three of us). Before we parted they asked about me and also about my profession. They seemed very surprised to know that I had an engineering degree and that too in Computers. It took time for my statement to sink in and then they took a good look at my scooter and its not so fancy state, and asked if cars were very expensive in India. They also narrated how they had an acquaintance who had a degree like I did, how highly they thought of him and how visibly extraordinary he was. I remember telling them that the front desk person at the hotel and the police man most likely had degrees too.

I don't know if it is true, but somewhere I had read that although India has low literacy rate, it has the world's highest per capita number of graduates. Note that it is "per capita" and not absolute. Astounding, isn't it? No wonder that the Belgian couple see fewer computer engineers back home. Graduates are dime a dozen in our country. But what for? Why doesn't this translate to more innovations, better economy and a better lifestyle for the people?

For the state of the nation, we hear a lot of reasons. Population and lack of facilities. The fact that in India living life itself is a full-time job, so where is the time to do a lot of constructive things. And many more. Yes, these are big hurdles. But then, true innovative minds are expected to have the sheer determination to overcome these hurdles. Japan has less per capita land. So population can't be the thing. Orissa is not as populated as Japan is. As to facilities, that is a part of the development process. So is it that our researchers and scientists just lack that motivation and determination?

I have always felt that our current culture and work environment have to take the blame for this. And the most important part of the work environment that has got to change is about empowerment of the individual contributor.

Let me elaborate. We have a strictly hierarchical responsibility structure in our workplace. It is far from flat. What is more, anyone in an elevated level, takes it that he has a right to drive various work efforts under him. He/she can't be faulted on this. Because, it is the work culture. That is how it has been. More often than not, this right of the superior eats into the sense of ownership the person on the job has for the job.

If he is a bureaucrat or a technocrat there is a layer of bureaucratic management above him who at each level think that they being at an elevated stage have more to influence the piece of work. And there is also a political engine at the core and the top bureaucrat knows that even he can be swayed.

I am not saying that this style of management is not required. There are many areas of government, industry and education, where such a culture is necessary. But, the Indian work place knows no other culture (except a few modern thinking companies).

Of all the things that stifle creative thinking and aggressive pursuit of a dream, the worst is not being in control and not having a free hand. A true researcher, and a true scientist, can only innovate if (s)he had the resources and if (s)he could direct himself at solving the problem. If his/her efforts are dissipated in interacting with this "upper layer" and arguing his/her case for every small progress, or trying to satisfy the people around him/her, then (s)he would have little energy left to solve the problem.

The person who is "in-charge" or entrusted to do the job, knows that his/her voice counts a little. (S)he wants to do it, but then every now and then there is a hurdle (not from the job) but from the layers above him/her. So all his/her college day dreams to do something have to cool down. In distributed computing world, we call this a non-scaleable architecture. This will work for a small size of population. But not for millions and surely not for 900 millions. There is a bottleneck in the hierarchy. Every problem, however small and whatever be its type (technical, economic ...) should be resolved at the lowest level possible. If not, it will choke the system. And the person on the job has to be empowered to do as much as (s)he can.

This is true in all walks of life. The effectiveness of the individual is lost in this.

Now, where is the solution? What do I propose?

Nothing.

It is a cultural thing and time will fix it. It will only happen through examples. Not by teachings. The issue needs a lot of focus from everyone to make the change faster. True educational reforms (not measured in terms of per capita graduation) would help it.

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REVIEW/COMMENTS  by  Sambit Sahu
================================

The article shows the author's concern for creativity and innovativeness in India. The author is right in doing so, otherwise how would our country improve. Definitely, our country cannot provide the kind of opportunities that other advanced countries like US ,Japan and others can. There may be several reasons , and the author stresses on "current culture" and "work environment". I would like to modify "current culture" to "current system" (they may mean the same thing). The system in countries like USA is such that a person can be perceived to be creative (forget the reality) because of the opportunities and recognition one gets. People in India may be doing equally creative work, but the perception may not be there. However, I agree with the author that the system here is definitely more conducive for creativity and a researcher has better access to things for his research and less bureaucratic hassles to take care of. One fundamental thing however we should not forget that each country's "system" evolves from its problems, neccessities, heritage, culture and many other factors. The system as we have here probably fits this country and what we have in India probably fits it there. One extremely important thing in building up a good system is the attitude of the individuals that form the system.

The author has suggested that the system can be improved through "examples". He also stresses that that the issue needs a lot of focus from everyone. I quite agree with him on the possible solutions. It all boils down to the individuals that form the system. A country can grow if its individuals are rich (in values and knowledge).

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Your comments are always welcome...

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Debi Prasad Mishra


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