What should India do to produce better engineers: Venkatesh Ramaswamy, ShareChat
Venkatesh Ramaswamy, VP of Engineering at ShareChat, talks about technology, engineers & more
Where does India stand in this technological era?
How much prepared India is to embrace technological innovations?
Are we preparing our engineers properly when even the honorable PM of India Narendra Modi himself emphasized on the need for an Aatm Nirbhar Bharat?
Venkatesh Ramaswamy, VP of Engineering at ShareChat, talks about technology, engineers, and how should India prepare its young generation to emerge as the frontrunner in this technological era
Q. How much has technology evolved in this century, primarily in the last decade?
The last decade has been the honeymoon phase for software engineers. Each year, the rate of new software stacks popping up has been exponential and it has paved the way for a ton of innovation and that is just the beginning.
Compare that to today where you have half a dozen alternatives just for the choice of programming languages and data stores. For deployment, you have a large choice of cloud companies that cater to every single machine image you can think of.
Now, you can go deploy to production with a functioning website in a matter of hours or even minutes.
Finally, let’s not forget that the community has been the biggest contributor to this revolution. Open Source Software (OSS) is the path forward. Being a software engineer today is like being a kid in a candy factory...you have so many choices that sometimes, you don’t even know where to start.
I expect the next 2-3 years will see more growth, innovation, and adoption than the past 10 years put together. I know I’m eagerly looking forward to it.
Q. Which industries have been disrupted the most with this evolution in the 2010s?
All traditional software and hardware companies that have resisted change have been the ones who took the biggest hit.
When you look back, companies such as IBM, Oracle, and HP could have done so much better if only they moved faster. The consulting industry that has traditionally focussed on SAP and ERP solutions has now embraced a variety of skill sets focusing on full-stack development, cloud technology, ML, and AI.
The availability of off-the-shelf software and the variety of options in today’s ecosystems has meant that industries such as fintech, video entertainment, online media, and e-commerce are the biggest beneficiaries of all.
This is just the beginning. The size of a company & money in the bank account are no longer the only factors the people look for in a company before buying their products. A lot of companies are now competing on a level playing field.
Q. Which industries are yet to unleash the power of technology and how could the emergence of various technologies pave a way for them to be disrupted?
Traditional industries such as goods manufacturing, shopping experiences, and shipping logistics have not caught up as much as expected. These industries need disruption and a strong player to lead the way in the adoption of the amazing technology that will change the landscape fundamentally.
For example, the use of computer vision and ML to speed up manufacturing goods can be incorporated in every step of the process. There’s some usage today in the big factories but not a whole lot.
Similarly, IoT can be used to enhance shopping experiences tremendously. The shipping industry has not made much progress for the past 15 years and it’s ripe to be disrupted. All these need some out-of-the-box thinking to kindle the fire.
Q. In this era of technology, where does India stand with this advancement and the workforce potential?
The hi-tech industry always has a shortage of smart engineers and this gap will continue to rise to unprecedented levels in the future.
In a few years, the majority of consumers in the world will be on the Internet, specifically from lower-tier cities and every merchant will want to have a slice of that pie. The falling price of Internet access is going to help speed up that process even faster.
With one of the highest concentrations of engineers who graduate each year, India has a huge advantage when it comes to bridging that gap. The traditional education system needs some revamp from the grounds-up and companies need to embrace that to look beyond the usual means of recruitment.
Q. Speaking about the current crop of engineers in India, how much prepared is an average engineering student to take on the technological challenges?
The sheer number of engineers who graduate gives an initial advantage but with that comes the challenge of quality.
A single smart engineer is worth 2 to 3 mediocre engineers and sometimes more!
The average bar of an engineer who graduates fresh out of college varies a lot across regions and institutions across the country and even across the globe. The biggest challenge for educational institutions and companies is going to be training engineers to match up to corporate life and the company’s expectations from day 1.
There has to be more collaboration between educational institutions and corporations, both big and small, to get more students to interact and get a feel of how different life will be after graduation.
A complete engineer is not just a good technologist but also needs to be an excellent communicator and a team player, something that educational institutions don’t necessarily focus on.
Q. Is there any area of concern in the way engineering students are prepared before they enter the business world? What modifications in the academic structure could help to improve the current scenario?
The engineering curriculum needs some major revisions. While most institutions have been smart in introducing new subjects quickly, there is a major need to get more industry-ready concepts early enough so that students don’t have a huge gap to bridge right after graduation.
The transition between college life and the industry is a huge gap and getting that right determines how successful a student is in the following years.
We need to start incorporating industry interactions from the first year of coursework itself. Industry experts should be roped in to come and teach a few courses each year. This will give students a competitive understanding of expectations and they have enough time to adjust themselves.
Companies, today, are struggling with evaluating fresh graduates. A lot of students look at competitive programming to showcase their readiness. I would like to see a lot of standardization across colleges and universities with an ability for students to take coursework over and beyond that. A strong and uniform grading structure will be the next major overhaul.
Lastly, do degrees matter in today’s world? While a degree may increase the probability of students being successful over their careers, allowing people to test independent of their credentials is the right way to move forward.
Q. COVID-19 has affected everything in unimaginable ways. If one has to try predicting how could the new normal look like, what are some of the major changes that are going to stay with us!
The world around us has permanently changed where we like it or not.
While people are adjusting to the new normal, it will never get back to its original level of interactions and productivity has already taken a hit. Our work and life are all completely mixed up. Work never leaves our mind even after we are done and it’s going to take some serious retraining to maintain our sanity.
New engineers and employees who are moving into new companies are going to face the biggest challenges.
Reach out to your colleagues and establish a communication pattern: first message or email them, then call them. Everyone is running a very stressed life so let’s give them some space...unless the issue is really urgent. Don’t struggle thinking you are alone or if you don’t hear anyone else talking about their own challenges. So if you are facing a hard time adjusting, relax! You are not alone and this will change over time.
Let’s take a deep breath and move forward. You got this, so take it one day at a time!
Q. Take us through the growth of ShareChat over the last one year!
ShareChat has had an amazing year of monumental growth. We are one of those rare companies with unprecedented traffic, big enough (and unsolved) problems and everything we touch has a high customer impact. This will continue to rise as we push the envelope in terms of scalability as traffic patterns continue to shift. Expectations are super high.
We have continued to expand in terms of people counts across various roles and our engineers have been at the forefront of the large set of product updates that we push very frequently. I’m proud to have folks who are passionate, eager to learn, and willing to go the extra mile to launch products that are constantly changing the landscape of social media.
While we have grown quite a bit, we are still very small in comparison to the large numbers of services and flows we support internally. ShareChat Engineering will continue to be nimble, agile, and always driven by technology. I’m very proud of the talented people we have in our midst and I continue to learn from them all the time!
Q. Tell us about your plans (ShareChat) in the next 15-18 months!
Technology is the backbone of ShareChat and our developers are the DNA of our ecosystem. We have some crazy and audacious hiring targets to take care of across multiple teams and roles, both junior and senior folks. Our people count has never been enough to keep up with our growth and we expect to tap into the best talent out there.
Given the current remote situation, my goal is to create as many engineering centers of excellence as possible that allow us to work seamlessly independent of where we are. The focus will also be on innovating during these tough times. Talent lives anywhere in the world and we should not hesitate to tap into them.
Q. For every engineer out there, what kind of skills should they try to hone which would help them excel as we prepare for a post-pandemic world!
Always start with making your fundamentals strong. When you use any piece of technology, make sure you understand the different pieces that make it what it is. Using it for the sake of using it will get the job done, certainly, but will not help add value to your overall foundational knowledge.
A good engineer writes code. However, a great engineer designs, writes documentation, writes code, tests the code, debugs the code, deploys the code, makes sure the product works as expected, and confirms that the end-users are happy. So strive to be a well-rounded engineer and not a one-trick pony.
Competitive programming, certificate courses, and reading blogs are excellent sources of information but do not overdo any single source of learning. Try and constantly build your knowledge by learning, taking a break, and coming back to it.
The mind responds to things better when we allow it to learn over time with breaks in between. With so many different tools and tech stacks popping up every day and technology getting outdated so quickly, these simple ways of learning are going to help you in the long run.
Lastly, many things will continue to be the same even in a future post-pandemic world including a lot of remote work. Key aspects such as communication, both written and verbal, that a lot of engineers typically don’t focus on are going to be critical to make sure that geographies and time zones will not be a problem.
Now, go out and conquer the world!
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