Saturday, November 25, 2006

Photos from Bangalore

I know that before I went to Bangalore I was really interested in what the physical environment would be like, so I want to share these photos from the business side of things (the more general side will need to wait until more photos get uploaded). If you'd like to hear more about our personal life in India, have a look at Amanda's blog.

The office building that I was working in was part of an IT campus, right next door to the golf course, that also included IBM and Microsoft (Microsoft is down where the bridge is in the photo). You might think from these pictures that it was a very western environment, and it certainly was inside the buildings , but outside, where building was still in progress, the contrasts became more apparent. The roads were kept clean by people with horsehair brooms who came out at night (the brooms looked just like the one that our maid used, with short handles that meant that you needed to bend over to use them), and when you look at the picture of the building site (right next to our office), note how many people and few machines you see. Construction here is very labour intensive.


Bangalore was a study in contrasts. The house next door to our apartment was palatial (and apparently occupied by late teen boys who wouldn't have been out of place cruising Chapel St, doof doof music blaring), but two doors further up the street the garbage pile was being browsed by cows and goats, and the ironing was being done by the side of the road, with charcoal powered irons. My office had a very pleasant cafeteria, but less than a kilometre away this is where breakfast was being served (sorry for the blurring, but the car was moving!).



Traffic was roughly equivalent to peak hour on Hoddle St in Melbourne, but a lot more chaotic. Horns are used to indicate "I'm here", since lanes, indicators and overtaking are all rather free form. Auto rickshaws fill the gaps between the cars, motorcycles fill the gaps between the autos, and there are usually some bicycles thrown in just for good measure. Rapid construction leaves the footpaths a bit of a mess, so there are frequently pedestrians on the roads, though it doesn't making crossing the road any easier.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Agile assignment in Bangalore

As some of you will already know, I've just finished a three month engagement for a Wall St bank, helping them refine their use of agile development practices. I'm going to refrain from comment on the specifics of the engagement, and instead focus on the things that I learned myself.

1) Indian programmers are just the same as western programmers - same strengths, same weaknesses. Some are good, some are not so good, some are quiet, some are extroverted. I've know this intellectually, but now I know it emotionally as well.

2) Recruitment in Bangalore is just as difficult as it is anywhere else. It might even be harder, since in Bangalore you're competing directly against Microsoft and IBM (who were on the same campus I was on), as well as Google. Most of us don't face that level of competition in our local regions. And sure there are lots more graduates in India, but if you want people with 5 or 10 years experience the ratios are less favourable. Plus Infosys wants thirty thousand new programmers in 2007 (anecdotally), and that might include just a few of the good ones ;-)

3) There are cultural differences, but they are swamped by the twin tyrannies of distance and time zones. Remote offices are dealing with comparative strangers, and between the USA and India there are only a few hours of effective overlap in a day (it's a bit better between India and Australia). Communication over email and phone just isn't the same - you need lots of face to face experience to overcome this.

4) For distributed development you need people who are willing and able to travel. Include that in your profiles.

5) You can't effect rapid change in a distributed group, especially if there isn't a strong consensus to begin with. And forming that consensus takes a long time. The Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing cycle takes a lot longer for a distributed team - there are plenty of opportunities for miscommunication, and it takes a lot longer to sort the miscommunications out.

6) Everyone's ability to influence is diminished by distance. This was certainly a personal challenge, and I don't feel that I really rose to the occassion.

That's enough to get the things that are distracting me out of my head so that I can focus on some pressing work, but I'm sure that more things will occur to me later. When I get a chance to right a blog while I'm online I'll include some photos so people can get a better sense of the work environment here in Bangalore.