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Opinion: India achieves another milestone

Posted: 29 Oct 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:broadband?

Driven by national pride and powered by an economy and workforce that has benefited from a decade of foreign investment and resurgent education, India has introduced the Chandrayaan-I lunar module. Because of this, it loosened the shackles of poverty, social stratification, political and religious strife and emerged from the long shadow of China and Japan. It is symbolically at least, and if only for a moment.

Make no mistake about it, the shackles remain. A week spent in Bengaluru, India to launch TechOnlineIndia.com at the Embedded Systems Conference made that abundantly clear. The simple acts of getting from point A to point B or acquiring and maintaining an Internet connection became exercises in "expectation management" in the face of aging road and transportation infrastructure, sparsely distributed broadband and overburdened, often failing power grids. Just pray it doesn't rain. Then things really get difficult. "Difficult" is a relative term. It's hard to stay frustrated with such matters too long when abject poverty is apparent on every corner. Acceptance, patience and perspective are attributes necessary for any visitor. If you don't bring them with you on the plane, there's plenty to go around on the ground.

Politically, the world's largest democracy may also be the world's most fractured. A national government with its own set of issues tries desperately to control and guide 28 states that have their own, often conflicting local political agendas. Each state also competes vigorously for both government assistance and foreign investment, while locals criticize the state's incompetence. Opinions flow freely in India. Finally, from a religious point of view, the murder of Christians by Hindus has reinforced the raw and volatile nature of the conflicts that linger.

To be fair, with one-sixth of the world's population of more than six billion, it's unavoidable that every extreme of the human condition and aspiration would have a platform in India. Looking past the glaring problems, it's clear that the drive and ambition of a demographically advantaged nation bursting to find its voice in the global arena is starting to bear fruit, almost in spite of itself.

Good performance
While there may be anecdotal evidence that indigenous design outsourcing houses have their issues, those teams that have been set up in strictly controlled environments by external companies are performing nicely. Guided by the experienced engineering talent these companies bring, those teams are benefiting from the steady influx of hundreds of thousands of engineering graduates every year from India's growing technical institutions, and the thirst for knowledge these graduates exhibit. It's no coincidence that TechInsights launched TechOnline India.com: India represents the largest single consumer of TechOnline's e-learning material outside the U.S.

This bottom-up push toward innovation by a youthful engineering demographic intent on overcoming the limits of its political and societal boundaries contrasts sharply with the situation in the United Arab Emirates, where the exact opposite is the case. There, a well-financed, cohesive, tightly controlled government machine is laying down the infrastructure and incentives necessary to attract other talents to compensate for the lack of a local engineering pool.

China's presence
In between these two model extremes is where China is, which has done extremely well with its own characteristic mix of tight governmental control and indigenous engineering talent. Looking at the evolution and relative successes of these three models over time will be a fascinating study in geopolitical and economic science.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., we continue to bemoan the absence of our own moon shot, despite the obvious candidates such as energy independence. While Chandrayaan-I forges ahead, buoyed by the energy of its country's ambitions, we sit paralyzed by our own political and economic inertia. On a macrolevel across-the-board, the dreams of the past have given way to a fear of the future, but on a microlevel a huge opportunity awaits to integrate the U.S.' design engineering experience and expertise with the energy, dynamism and thirst for knowledge of India's young engineers, many of whom have only emerged from college in the past five years or so.

I'm no economics major, but I'm a strong believer in the power of a free society with that organic, bottom-up drive to change a nation's future. So for my money, India is a good bet and we'd do well as an engineering community to partner in its development.

- Patrick Mannion
EE Times





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