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Birth and Growth of India's IT Industry
By Suneetha

Sam Pitroda, widely regarded as the father of the telecom revolution in India, released this historical book by Dinesh C Sharma, a senior tech journalist. “The Long Revolution: The Birth and Growth of India's IT Industry”, while detailing every important milestone in the tech sector, tells us the real story behind what was perceived as IBM's eviction from India in 1977.

Here is an interview with the author Dinesh C Sharma.

Q (Techgoss): How did you get into writing this particular book?
A: (Dinesh C Sharma):  I have been a journalist since 1984. My first job as a trainee journalist with the Press Trust of India 1984 exposed me to two generations of data communication technologies – teleprinter with its paper tapes and the computer-based communication network which was just being introduced in the agency. This was also the beginning of my interaction with the information technology industry as a reporter, which continued over the next decade and beyond.

In the late 1990s, I crossed the fence for a brief while. First I – along with two other friends - floated a dotcom company, then worked as part-time head of India operations of a business-to-business portal for software industry launched by a former investment banker from New York. All these experiences gave me valuable insights into inner workings of the industry. Then while reporting for Cnet.com in 2000s, I realized that interest about the Indian industry was growing in America and yet there were a lot of misconceptions. The same was the case with new generation of Indians who were introduced to the sector in late 1990s. So, I thought of writing a book.

When I did so, the first thought that came to my mind was the story of IBM and Coca-Cola being 'thrown out of India' during the Janata Party regime in 1977. As a reporter, I kept hearing different versions of this story. So, I thought here is my story line – from IBM leaving India in 1977 to IBM's comeback in early 1990s. To the journalist inside me, this appeared to me a killer plot. Barring the IBM's exit and the period of early growth of the industry till 1984, I was a witness as well a recorder of all major events in this period. But when I started researching into the IBM episode, I realized the story actually begins when early computing machines came to India in the pre-independence days. That's how the plot got extended. So this is the first book on the Indian IT industry that tells the story right from the day first computers arrived in India. Much of research and writing for this book took place between 2005 and 2007. I got a one-year fellowship from the New India Foundation, Bangalore, for writing the book. 


Q: Are you still on similar assignments? Can you elaborate on them?
A: Yes, but they are not related to the technology sector. There are suggestions that I do a book on the mobile boom of 2000s, but I am yet to decide on this.


Q: Could you list the 10 Indians whose energies and ideas set the foundation for the Indian IT industry.
A:  While researching for and writing the book, I realized that there are many misconceptions and myths about the industry and its origins. First and foremost, leading lights of Indian science – Homi J Bhabha and P C Mahalanobis – played a major role in development of early computers in the country. They also established contacts with the leading scientists in the field as well as top computer companies. The hardware design and software engineering teams build by them, particularly Bhabha, then became the nucleus from which the Indian industry took birth in 1970s and 1980s.  On the industry side, pioneering work was done by F C Kohli of TCS and Narendra Patni of PCS. Patni actually first thought of moving data conversion work from US to India to take advantage of cheap labour in India, while Kohli established links with giants like Burroughs and laid the foundation of the industry locally. Dr Prabhakar Goel was another pioneer who opened an Indian branch of his legendary company – Gateway Design Automation in 1985, which then got merged with Cadence. Citibank was among the first foreign banks to have started using Indian software engineers in Bombay. Among the policy makers, Dr N Seshagiri played a key role – he first thought of transborder data flow via satellite links in early 1980s. This became the basis of the Software Technology Park scheme, which led to exponential growth of software in 1990s. Another policy maker, N Vittal, forged a new type of government-industry alliance which further boosted the growth of this industry. There are many claimants to the title of 'father of Indian software industry' but I have found that all these people mentioned above were the key players in initial years.


Q: Any humorous anecdotes from the early years when no one was sure how big and successful our IT/BPO industry would become?
A: I have recalled a number of such incidents in my book and it is better that I leave them for readers of the book to explore.

 

Techgoss has been told that the book delivers a great read, and here is an anecdote from the book


In 1982, a software entrepreneur from India tried to discuss the possibility of sub-contracting software development to India for a company in the US. Half way through the discussion, the US Company owner looked puzzled and the Indian was asked to clarify whether he was trying to buy software from the US Company or suggesting selling software to them. When the Indian said he was trying to do the latter, it was treated as a huge joke and everyone in the vicinity was called in to share the joke.

Barely a decade and a half later, India had its own silicon city; India exchanged its images of sadhus bathing at river ghats, snake charmers and people living on trees to a country of highly skilled technical work force which the world needed every moment. The book takes us through several such anecdotes.


(4/2/2009)
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