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Indian engineers repatriate

Posted: 15 Jul 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:engineer? outsourcing? management? ceo? management?

Vinod: Here was an opportunity to prove not just yourself but your country to the rest of the world.

It's not true that you can't go home again, as author Thomas Wolfe once wrote. Indian expatriate engineers are proving, in droves, that you can go home again. They are returning to the Indian subcontinent, the newly minted hub of outsourcing, after earning their stripes - and healthy paychecks - at jobs in other countries, mostly in the United States.

These returning expats find not only work and good pay, but also the comfort of their indigenous culture and spiritual practices as they reestablish relationships with friends, family and community. The adjustment back to their country's way of doing things may take awhile, but at work, procedures and corporate culture are pretty much the same as it was in the United States. Still, it is often the case that what benefits one group is a disadvantage for another, and electronics engineering is no exception.

Speaking broadly, when an Indian engineer returns to India for a job with an American company that is establishing or expanding operations in India, both the job and the employee transfer to India. There is no job to fill in the United States.

So sensitive is the issue of outsourcing and expats returning to India, jobs in hand, that many top semiconductor and EDA companies refused to allow their engineers to answer questions for this story. Indeed, with a force as volatile as economics shaping India's incipient technology boom, feathers are bound to be ruffled.

Some engineers, though, were able to speak on the record. Sridhar Rajagopal, for example, worked at Intel Corp. in Chandler, Arizona, for eight years and relocated to Intel India in Bangalore. "I came back to be closer to family and have my kids grow up closer to their grandparents," he said. His colleague, Prasad Kowdle, also worked at Intel's Chandler site for 16 years before transferring to Intel India in June. "The decision to come back was based on the opportunity that was at hand to be part of the globalization excitement in India," Kowdle said.

Indeed, "the semiconductor industry in India has really matured and the kind of work going on there is top-notch," said C.S. Balasubramanian, another engineer who returned to India after a 20-year career in the United States that included stints at National Semiconductor Corp. and Honeywell.

"When an opportunity like Insilica came my way, I had no hesitation in taking up their offer," said Vinod Gopinath, whose work experience in the United States includes IBM, among others. Insilica was co-founded by Vinod Dham, an Indian engineer who, among other accomplishments, was part of the team that designed the Pentium.

"When you're looking to ride a wave there can be none better than the one at home. Your options are better. There is more pride. The challenge is greater. You spent all your time in another country just proving yourself. Now here was an opportunity to prove not just yourself but your country to the rest of the world," Gopinath said.

Turning point

Intel's Rajagopal might not have had the choice of returning to India if Intel had not been doing processor development out of Bangalore. Such work marks a turning point in India's technology development history, even if most of this work is done by engineers employed by global firms.

The need to cut costs while maintaining R&D initiatives has prompted companies like Intel, IBM and Texas Instruments to invest in their India operations like never before.

As a result, experienced Indian engineers are growing more confident that both entrepreneurship and technological development can take root in India's technology landscape, even if the sector is still largely dominated by application software.

Navin Agarwal worked at a tech firm in Milpitas, California, before joining SiNett Semiconductors Pvt. Ltd in Bangalore. "It feels good to be here. I find work here to be as exciting as it was in the United States. Indian companies are now globalizing in the true sense. Being in such a place has its own advantages," Agarwal said. "There is something in the air here."

Another SiNett engineer who returned to India is Vaishali Umredkar, a senior hardware design engineer who wants to raise her five-year-old child surrounded by Indian culture and traditions. Talent like hers will likely set her apart from the overabundance of application software engineers. "It feels great to be back except when traveling by road," Vaishali said. As long as the "something in the air" Agarwal alluded to is not too much dust and pollution produced in overcrowded cities - an issue of concern for all of India - returning engineers may not miss the United States too much.

Sriram Sethuraman put in six years at Sarnoff Corp., in Princeton, New Jersey, before joining Ittiam Systems, a DSP services and solutions startup in Bangalore. He said he never intended to settle down in the United States, and has returned to India now because he discovered "similar or better job satisfaction prospects and increasing scope in the multimedia area in India."

"I have not lost out on anything on the professional front," Sethuraman said, adding that he's also gained the satisfaction that several of Ittiam's IP offerings are already in the hands of consumers through Ittiam customers.

- K.C. Krishnadas

EE Times

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