This is an open letter to several of India’s IT offshoring companies, who are suffering the problem of too much idle manpower to utilize this lean period to contribute towards Free and Open Source Software and in the process gather free PR and Marketing, as well as expose their employees to excellent mentorship.
Dear Project Manager/HR Manager/PR Executive/Big Kahoona,
Today’s new article on Infosys and other Indian outsourcing companies like TCS, Wipro, Cognizant, Patni, HCL. etc. describes the strategy to re-deploy their workforce, who are on the bench in internal projects like billing, HR software etc. This is an admirable move - though it is hard to believe that large (100,000 employee) organizations like you have been getting along so well on software, that needs a 1000 people to fix now. The benefits are yet to be quantified - probably in terms of some obscure statistic that weakly correlates with productivity.
I have a simple proposal - this in several cases is actually complementary to your strategy of working on internal projects. The pitch is this:
Deploy any number of benched developers and testers towards carefully selected Open Source Software projects(similar to what IBM does with its regular staff), that do and may play a large part in the software services sector. The company shall benefit from a) access to free mentorship from some of the best developers in the world**,** resulting in superlative training b) free PR and Marketing for the company at a worldwide level c) development of the very software/tools/methodology ecosystem that powers long term sustainability of the services sector.
This is not a far fetched proposition - in fact IBM has been powered by this strategy for a long time now, going as far as to commit a billion dollars to Open Source. Realizing the contribution of Open Source Software to the business ecosystem in general, Microsoft has started contributing to the Apache project. This is also perhaps the time I should point out that Open Source Software is not just about Linux - it embraces such fundamental blocks like the compilers to a software-as-a-service items like CRM.
In 2006, the training budget for Infosys was in the range of 100-125 million USD, which I can extrapolate to have increased substantially by 2009. This is pretty much the same case for all offshoring organizations who emphasize on quality employee training. Taking up this move gives the employees access to mentorship from some of the most brilliant developers in the world. This is not an unsubstantiated claim - as proof I offer up the projects put up for Google Summer of Code 2009, and the developers who have offered to mentor students. Please note that I am not asking you to take part as a mentoring organization for GSOC, only that you understand the methodology involved.
Frequently, contributing organizations to OSS are linked with innovative development - you all would gain exposure as an innovative organization whose employees are not the typical run-of-the-mill coders.
Now, the question might be - what projects to work on? As I mentioned earlier, you are liberty to pick what you want, but here are some of my ideas, which I feel are directly related to your lines of business.
- llvm : A next generation compiler architecture that can work on many languages (like C++, Java, etc.) and that is officially used by Apple in the Mac and iPhone.
- Mono: An implementation of the Windows .NET framework on linux.
- Asterisk: World’s leading opensource PBX telephony architecture. This can pretty much be classified as an “internal” project.
- R-language for data analysis: used by companies like Pfizer, could be the biggest competitor to SAS
- SCILAB: Biggest competitor to MATLAB
- TikiWiki Groupware: Internal project?
- and many many others…
In conclusion, I think a long, hard winter is upon us - and it is time for all of us to be smart about our long term strategy, and choose the Ant rather than the Grasshopper.