This past month I traveled for business to the United States, where I visited both Chicago and Californa’s Silicon Valley — it was a memorable experience. The Windy City really caught my attention with its amazing architecture. I enjoyed visiting the John Hancock Center, Shedd Aquarium, and of course, Skydeck Chicago — 1,353 feet high and the only thing between you and a lickety-split drop to the street is 1.5 inches of glass flooring. Exhilarating!
While in Chicago, I booked one of those hop-on-hop-off tour buses and it was entirely worth it! It took me almost the entire day to tour the city. Fortunately, one of the stops was the famous two-story McDonald’s restaurant opposite the Hard Rock Café on 600 N Clark Street. (I hopped off a couple of times there to grab something to eat, as I had a 24 hour ticket and wanted to make the most of it.) I also grabbed a hotdog at the world-renowned Fatso’s Last Stand. It was simply delicious.
As fun as Chicago was, the real treat was waiting in northern California, in Silicon Valley to be precise, headquarters to some of the biggest IT brands in the business, such as Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Apple, Intel and a host of others.
My company’s headquarters are located in Sunnyvale, and being there felt like home. I saw many familiar faces during the work week. The city gives the impression of being a miniature India. It has a large Indian presence, mostly expatriate IT pros. There are also a large number of Indian restaurants, shops, temples and much more. It’s easy to see that Indian IT pros have been well-accepted in the U.S.
On my way back to India I wondered why it is that our IT professionals are so well-accepted internationally. Based on my own experiences and what I hear from others, the fact that so many of us work outside of India is because of the need-and-want factor. Let’s reverse this and look first at the want side of the equation.
Most of the big IT companies are concentrated in the United States, particularly in Silicon Valley, the mecca of information technology. This makes the United States a desirable work location for international IT professionals. As a place to work on cutting-edge projects and reap high salaries, the United States is the big leagues.
Indian IT pro are just like other IT pros — we want to prove ourselves professionally at the highest levels. For many of us, that means establishing ourselves with one of the Industry’s big names. Of course, we also like the higher standard of living offered in countries like the United States.
There is also the challenge of accommodating ourselves to a new culture. Many of us enjoy meeting new colleagues and working on exciting projects that develop our skills. For those who find it challenging to adapt to a different culture, there are often Indian co-workers and a wider Indian community within which to socialize and function. Close cultural support helps Indian IT pros to feel at home.
Software development and IT networking are the two domains covering most of the overseas opportunities for our IT professionals. And it helps that a number of large Indian IT companies such as TCS, Infosys, and Wipro have also established operations in America.
The second part of the equation is the need of IT companies to hire inexpensive and stable IT resources, all while not compromising on quality. Though there are countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico, Hong Kong, China, and others that are slowly gaining pace in terms of providing a skilled workforce for the global market, none of them have yet been able to offer the quality and skills coming out of India. This is especially true in terms of soft skills and professional etiquette.
In the old days, when India was new to globalization, our professionals were often a cause of worry and dissatisfaction for multinational corporations and their customers. This concern was primarily due to a language barrier, particularly in the arena of technical support.
Since then, Indian professionals have improved by leaps and bounds. Such improvement can be heavily attributed to the revolution that the multinational culture has brought to India. Educational institutions these days not only emphasize technical skills but focus equally on the soft skills of communication and etiquette.
Apart from the increased technical ability of our IT pros and our English speaking skills, the decision to relocate to another country is increasingly based on project requirements and stability factors. Which brings us to the topic of work permits.
Unlike unskilled labor, IT pros don’t just cross a border and instantly find a job. It’s a well-known fact that to work in the United States or any other country, one must have a valid work permit. For the United States, it is almost always an H-1B or L1 visa. If you are just travelling to the United States on a business trip, like I did, a B1 visa (Business visa) is sufficient.
India is the largest user of H-1B and L-1 visas. There is presently an ongoing political dispute regarding the number of visas issued annually — there is concern among some U.S. IT workers that Indian IT pros threaten their jobs. The U.S. government is currently looking to impose an increased visa fees on Indian IT companies and workers.
An L-1 visa isn’t carte blanche to work anywhere in the United States. While an American employee is free to switch companies, L-1 visa holders are bound to work only for the company that brought them to the United States.
An H-1B visa holder has a bit more flexibility and may switch companies, but it is a complex procedure. Hence it’s often witnessed that Indian IT pros that emigrate to the U.S. remain with the same organization for longer periods than native born Americans who are free to move around professionally.
Because Indian workers are less likely to leave a company, employers are often better able to utilize their services on long-term projects. This can, and often does, lead to increased responsibility and exposure to new technologies for the IT pro as well.
Sticking around for the long-term can also have a financial benefit. I’ve seen many of my colleagues emigrate to the U.S. on contractual positions and eventually parlay it into a regular job with promotions and salary hikes.
Another reason our IT pros are valuable globally is our ability to function as a bridge between onshore and offshore teams based out of India. We are able to reduce the impact of cultural differences, and help with resource management leading to increased efficiency and output — something which a remote U.S. IT professional may find challenging owing to cultural difference.
Our presence also adds to the diversity of a workforce allowing the free-flow of new ideas and opinions on how projects can be addressed.
There are a number of good reasons why the global IT industry likes to hire Indians — it’s all about getting the work done with low cost inputs and maximum outputs. Indian IT pros easily meet these requirements and in return we get some great opportunities to work and earn in foreign countries.