The earnings per head in IT product companies are usually very impressive. This raises the question if engineering education in India should give greater attention to IT products, hardware and software. A related question is that of startup companies. Indians living in the US are very much interested in startups. Many of them have created very successful companies and have, thereby, created impressive wealth.
Yet another issue is of professionals of Indian origin who reach the position of CEOs in major global companies. The recent cases of Satya Nadella http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satya_Nadella at Microsoft and Rajeev Suri at Nokia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajeev_Suri are interesting. Interestingly, both had studied engineering at the Manipal Institute of Technology.
I will discuss here what institutes of technology and engineering should do to improve the chances of their graduates being successful in product oriented and entrepreneurial activities. Professionals of Indian origin who get to head major companies usually have two degrees – a B.E. or B. Tech. and an M. B. A. Not surprising, as high level management and/or entrepreneurial work requires expertise in technology as well as in management, but you don’t always need a degree to give you that expertise. The Wikipedia article on Rajeev Suri says specifically, “He is one of those rare top corporate executives who have achieved heights without pursuing any MBA/PG degree”.
Skipping a P. G. degree and/or an M. B. A. at a mediocre institution is a wise thing. You could be earning a good salary during those years that others waste there! Besides, if you know what you want to do, you can start implementing your ideas earlier instead studying miscellaneous subjects! However, if you skip P. G. education, don't fall from the frying pan into the fire! Be careful not to take up a dead-end job in which there is no opportunity to learn! The salary does matter, but what you are likely to learn in a company matters more!
Another dimension is passion. People who do well with products and startups are often those who pick up ideas and work on them over years with a high degree of passion. They struggle, take risks, and learn on the job. They learn to work with others and to convince influential persons that it is worth betting on their projects. If the persons to be convinced are those that manage venture capital, the budding entrepreneur needs some knowledge about business in addition to his/her knowledge in technology.
One “good thing” about the Indian environment is said to be the respect young people have for older and senior professionals; but these young people who go on to spend a year or two in the US environment usually lose that “good thing”! By all means, respect the elderly professionals, but that does not mean you have to respect only their ideas. In general question every idea including your own, before you commit to them.
What does all this mean for education? Let me articulate a few suggestions:
- What you teach in your institution has to be chosen very carefully. Courses not reviewed for their significance and utility for a long time are great wasters of young peoples’ energies. They make fools of the teachers who are compelled to teach them merely “because it is the university requirement”.
- Project oriented courses are valuable. Usually in such courses, small teams dream up project ideas and implement them, learning any new technology required on the job. The teacher acts as a facilitator.
- Some courses related to business knowledge are valuable. Some of these courses are sometimes scoffed at as “soft courses”. Many teachers would prefer to teach courses with significant mathematical background instead. Evaluation becomes easier with such courses. The teacher can show off his/her mastery. However, management and entrepreneurial activity often demand varied types of knowledge.
- Bad teaching of a “soft course” can be disastrous. It is usually worse than bad teaching of a course with a mathematical background. Soft courses are best taught by very good teachers. Mediocre teachers should stay away from them.
If you want your students to become good entrepreneurs and/or top managers, you need to plan for it. Institutions and teachers need autonomy for this. If such autonomy is available to you, use it! Effective use of autonomy makes all the difference!