English is India’s Number.1 Technology Problem
Yes, you read the title correctly. It sounds absurd, I know. One, because English is not related to technology. Two. Several Indians speak English (according to BBC, about 10% which is a whopping 125 million people). Three. There are a thousand other reasons and well, this title just sounds stupid. But wait…Just hear me out.
Over the last five years, I have successfully run a IT Security products and services company. As part of our training initiatives (Web and Mobile Security), we have trained over 6500 developers across the globe, with at least 50% of that number coming from India. In addition, I constantly interview technology grads for internships and employment opportunities in my company, we45. In all of these cases, I see an overwhelming commonality, the English Language.
Technology projects/products (of any nature/vertical) are rarely about purely technology. They are about understanding and solving hard business problems and operational challenges of a few (or a few billion). This involves comprehending the business problems, engaging with stakeholders, communicating with stakeholders and escalating problems quickly and efficiently, among others. While one might argue that this is a job for a “Project Manager” or a “Team Lead”, information has to flow up the chain for all of these things to happen efficiently and effectively. I find, that an overwhelming reason for this that (when probed) is given by most engineers, is “communication”. They find it difficult to communicate confidently, in English with the concerned stakeholders and higher-ups to update/escalate/generally communicate, causing delays and perennial problems to technology projects all across the country.
The other challenge is learning. From school, we are taught to ignore “language subjects” and focus on “core subjects” (Math, Science, etc.). This is a fundamentally flawed attitude that permeates to all aspects of an individual’s career and prospects. While an individual may ace Math, Science, History, etc., at a school and probably university level (we all know how those textbooks and exams are), the individual falls short in the real world. When one is solving hard technology problems, one must refer to textbooks from foreign authors (in many cases, creators of cutting-edge technologies), or read questions in forums (where a large number of contributors are of western origin), or watch videos, etc. where the vocabulary, accent, speed and tone often flummoxes a budding technologist who has been trained all her life to ignore trite Language subjects and focus on the so-called Core. When you don’t understand Language well, How on earth do you hope to comprehend “core” beyond a university level?
Like it or not, people that communicate well, get ahead. Now, I am sure you know of several people without a shred of social or linguistic skills, become doyens in their field, but often that is the exception and many of us don’t work with such intent and passion at our technology goals. However, good (or dare I say great careers) are often shaped by how well you comprehend concepts, apply these concepts and disseminate these concepts, either orally or in written form. At least two of these three critical tasks requires a sound understanding and application of the English language (at least in India, where its the transactional language of business). This is the sad truth and those that ignore it, do so at their own peril. India still transacts with the world in English. We need to figure it out really well.
There are many reasons for why India hasn’t yet become a hotbed for amazing technology products (mostly, we still use, not create new technology). There are many reasons for why several Indian engineers find it hard to move up the value chain and deliver higher quality results to their customers. There are many reasons for why India is still mostly rooted in services mediocrity and is unable to challenge more established countries in technology initiatives. I am not sure about the other reasons, but one significant reason that I see (and experience) very often is the English Language and our quality of its comprehension and application.
Abhay is the CEO of we45, a focused Information Security company. He can be reached at abhay(at)we45(dot)com or on LinkedIN at https://www.linkedin.com/in/abhaybhargav