Posted by: Roger King
computer science education, india, Infosys
This blog is dedicated to advanced Web technology. But today, we’ll take a little break and look at something very different. (Please look at previous blog postings for information about the Semantic Web and Web 2.0/3.0.)
Professional training in computing.
I’m back home now, but happen to have spent the last three weeks in India, visiting a large multinational corporation based in India, and with offices all over the world. It is called Infosys. The home office is in Bangalore, but I was in Mysore, which is a couple of hours away. This Infosys site is the home of their Global Education Center, where they bring thousands of young university graduates from around India to be trained in advanced computing skills. The scale and quality of what’s going on here is very impressive, enough to lend credence to the often repeated refrain that India will soon surpass the West in its development of cutting edge software technology.
Today: universities in the US.
U.S. companies are far less likely to make this sort of investment in their young people. I am a professor of computer science, and over the years, I have seen a wide gulf develop between the narrowly-scoped, somewhat formal computing courses offered by universities and the vast world of complex software components that a modern programmer must master. Very little is built from scratch today in the software world, but university students see little of that vision. They also don’t really learn that very few development efforts sit nicely inside a traditional computing areas like programming languages, databases, algorithms, or distributed computing. They don’t see the interdisciplinary nature of emerging computing applications, in areas like medicine, science, and engineering.
In sum, computing students certainly need a strong, conceptual foundation so that they can develop an intuitive understanding of just how to attack computing problems, but academic computing continues to move further and further away from the real world.
Yesterday: my training.
When I was a young college graduated, long ago, I had a BA in Mathematics, with a sprinkling of computing courses, and had very little in the way of marketable skills. I was hired by EDS (Electronic Data Systems), which at the time was still owned and run by its founder, Ross Perot. I went through an intense training program, something that was admittedly too applied and lacked a sound, broad-based abstract substrate. I learned to program, not to understand the world of computing technology as a whole. I lacked the big picture. It was the opposite problem of what we see in universities today.
But that applied training at EDS was still critical in getting me started in computing, and later when I went back to grad school to finally get some formal training, my applied experience, knowledge, and intuition developed in the EDS training program served me very well as I entered the research world.
Today, U.S. companies are finding it too expensive to make substantive investments in training their young people. Graduates from undergraduate computer science programs are expected to hit the ground running – or rather, coding. Coding, coding, coding, attacking real problems and building real solutions, often in team environments and using a broad swath of existing software technology they often have never seen before. My students come back from job interviews telling me they were grilled on software technology, and often expected to sit right down and build a solution to a real problem – as part of the interview process itself.
But Infosys is doing what U.S. companies are finding it hard to do. Here’s the background. India is covered with engineering schools. Hundreds of them. Some say a thousand or more. It’s an industry there, with young engineers being pumped out by private colleges far faster than India can make use of them. These students are bright, determined, respectful, and extremely hard-working.
But no one is training Indian students to be software people, at least not in the universities. The engineering schools don’t have the faculties to teach computing.
So Infosys has decided to recruit the top graduates from the top engineering schools in India. Then Infosys sends them to Mysore, to the GEC, as it’s called, where they are given several months of nonstop, day and night training. I was there helping to train some of their instructors on the process of teaching database management and related technologies.
The GEC facility sits on a many-acre campus that is beautiful. It is densely landscaped with countless species of tropical trees and bushes. The grounds are manicured nonstop. The building I taught in is reputed to be the largest single building built in India since it got its freedom from Great Britain. The ceilings are vaulted, the floors are polished granite, there is a several stories high atrium in the center, and the outside has arches and pillars and a dome. Inside and out, it looks like an oversized palace. It is elegant, and not at all garish.
Again, Infosys is doing things that aren’t done that much anymore in the West. They have built a campus and a building that are truly works of art. I lived on campus in a beautiful room, ate a couple of hundred yards away at a fine restaurant, went to an equally close gym every morning, and rode golf carts to work. The students live and work in this same environment. Okay, they don’t get to ride golf carts, I admit it.
Visitors are blown away by what has been built there.
Infosys has tapped a large, impressive generation of young people, and as a result, India is building up a vast, powerful human technology machine. Meanwhile, in the U.S., we have much better computing programs in universities, but we are struggling to get students interested in computing and to enroll in our classes. And we neglect the hands-on side of software education. And, compared to Infosys, U.S. companies are not investing anywhere near as heavily in grooming the next generation of computing professionals.
Imagine what will happen when Indian engineering colleges start adding true computing curriculums. Combined with Infosys’s efforts, these will be extraordinarily skilled young people. And there are thousands and thousands of them.
India will do big, big things.