Let me start with a story I had heard about long ago when I was at Adobe.

There was this guy who had come in for interviews for a technical role. He passed all the tech interviews with flying colors, the team liked his personality and felt he would fit in well, and the manager was all smiles. In the last HR-style round with the group head, he was informed that the team works on products that are completely owned by the Bangalore-based group and that there won’t be any travel to USA. The guy was taken aback. He told the group head “Sir, please let me go to USA for just one day. If I have a USA stamp in my passport, I will get one crore dowry.”

Needless to say, the guy was not offered a job.

I’m sure you can draw your own lessons and observations from this incident, because it will come into context below, about a discussion we’ve been having on Twitter. It all started with @debabrata who read my previous blog post on the magic of foss.in and asked:

why this ‘5 years limit’ applies to Indian software pro ? In other countries people are happy being programmer after 20 years .

I asked the tweeps for their opinions, and it got very interesting.

@cruisemaniac said: society defined age to get married and settle down = ~27 = 22+5 failing which u’re an outcast!
and: also, post that age, ur risk apetite goes down due to family and other commitments…

to which:

@HJ91 said: True. Very true. Outcast is the right word, and its sad. Outcast. Insulting, hurting and pathetic.

Wow, this feeling runs deep.

so I asked:

You mean risk appetite or time commitment? … how does risk appetite relate to interest in coding?

And the replies came pouring in:

@mixdev: One of the reasons why brilliant people end up being (just) tell-me-whatto-do-n-leave-me-alone software engineers

@cruisemaniac: I’d say both… U cant risk a new tech and venture 4 fear of financial security… U want tat cozy safe zone and pay packet.

@cruisemaniac: time is a big costly commodity 4 us… we indians cant afford to spend it at our will with spouses and children at home…

@mallipeddi: It’s very hard to keep getting bigger paychecks yr after yr if you’re a 30 yr old coder. You’re expected to become a mgr/MBA

@abhinav: I believe the reason is our society. We tie success to degrees, and later, more ppl you manage more successful you are.

@abhinav: Where in western societies your idea fails, here it is you who have failed! Our society doesnt appreciate risk takers

@abhinav: Yes, more money, higher status, easy life. And most importantly, more dowry!

@mixdev: Because our goals are set by the society & achieving them also in their control. You get bored faster.

@debabrata: I guess to the great extent our society dictates us what we want to be unlike the west

I found it surprising that the situation why people cannot remain coders in India is almost the same as why people want to become entrepreneurs! It’s like this: The passion for coding will remain only when you’re doing cool and interesting stuff. But big companies (at least in India) want only stability which implies boring tedious jobs with standard languages and libraries. There is no room for experimentation. So the coder will have to move to a smaller company or a startup if he/she wants to continue to like coding (I’m ignoring the case of research laboratories for obvious reasons of numbers).

But moving to a smaller company or startup is, by definition, not encouraged. As @abhinav mentioned, there is societal pressure for more money, higher status, fancier cars and bigger houses. There is nothing wrong with wanting this, but don’t force it on other people! Alas, it is hard to reason regarding this. I remember having a long argument with an uncle of mine, he was, hmm, “strongly” suggesting that I buy a car and I reasoned out why it makes no sense (after all, most peers of mine use the car only for weekend drives, not for everyday commute) but it fell on deaf ears.

So I’m conflicted here: Are there not enough people who are actually interested in coding, or is it that the interested people are being peer-pressurized into “moving up” into managerial roles and hence lose touch with coding? Or are we completely off the mark here?

Update 1: As suggested by Peter, read this entry tited “Stuck in Code” by Ravi Mohan for his tale on this topic.

Update 2: A related article in NYTimes recently titled “In India, Anxiety Over the Slow Pace of Innovation”