Monday, June 05, 2006

Contrast

Not long after I wrote my little diatribe against the prevailing attitudes in my own part of the world, I come upon this piece from the New York Times (also posted on CNET):
In the last few years, even as [IBM] has laid off thousands of workers in the United States and Europe, the growth in IBM's work force in India has been remarkable. From 9,000 employees in early 2004, the number has grown to 43,000 (out of 329,000 worldwide), making IBM the country's largest multinational employer.

That growth has not come just from taking advantage of the country's pool of low-cost talent. In recent months, the technology hub of Bangalore has become the center of IBM's efforts to combine high-value, cutting-edge services with its low-cost model.

For instance, the IBM India Research Lab, with units in Bangalore and New Delhi and a hundred employees with doctoral degrees, has created crucial products like a container tracking system for global shipping companies and a warranty management system for automakers in the United States. Out of the second project, IBM researchers have fashioned a predictable modeling system that helps track the failure of components inside a vehicle, a potentially important tool.


Distressing? To say the least. It's not so much a matter of IBM's corporate decisions but a case of cultural contrasts. On the one hand, you have a whole culture that's gung-ho about themselves (sometimes to the point of excess); and on the other, you have a culture that's simply complacent.

Some months ago, some friends emailed me asking why IBM wasn't investing into research activities in the country. The same scenario occured again in a mailing list. Why people ask me this is beyond me. I haven't been connected with IBM for over a year now.

In both cases, I got mildly upset. Why, in the first place, would IBM put research facilities into the Philippines? Are we doing any work that is of interest to IBM? Where IBM says Java, people say Visual Basic and .NET. Where IBM says DB2, people say Oracle. Where IBM says Linux, people say Windows. Well, why not go begging to Microsoft and Oracle for research investments, then?

Or is it the old sense of self-entitlement kicking into gear again?

More to the point, where are our computer science PhDs? It's not that we don't have any, it's just that we don't have enough in numbers to form the critical mass for crucial research. We have precious few "pure" computer science students to begin with; most of our schools seem to be more interested in "teaching skills that guarantee jobs." That usually equates to classes that teach Visual Basic, Visual Foxpro, and Microsoft Office. Or worse yet, Turbo C.

Sigh. Such a long way to go. Such a long, long way to go.