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Chitra Sood, staffing director, MSIDC
From 20 employees in 1998 to now -- nine years later -- over 1,400 employees and still counting... That, in a nutshell, sums up the galloping growth story at Microsoft India Development Centre, Hyderabad.
Equally interesting is the fact that MSIDC is Microsoft's second largest product development centre outside its headquarters in Redmond, Washington state, USA. This helps in attracting talent big time. However, apart from a recognised name, a company also needs to be sensitive to its employee aspirations to retain talent.
While MSIDC's employee strength has multiplied almost 70 times since its inception the attrition rate -- at the below-industry mark -- of seven per cent speaks volumes about the company's human resource policies.
"Attrition has not really been a significant challenge for us at MSIDC," says the genial staffing director at MSIDC, Chitra Sood. She was in Mumbai recently for the IIT Bombay Tech-Fest 2008 to preside over a few contests sponsored by Microsoft.
She was also at the fest to check out the people showcasing their vibrant ideas.
"We get an opportunity to peek into great ideas that are buzzing around. Events like these really provide an opportunity to bring people from the industry and talent together."
Interestingly, this year MSIDC has hired more than 30 per cent of the students studying at IITs through its campus recruitment programme.
In an hour-long interview with rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore on the sidelines of Tech-Fest 2008, Chitra spoke about MSIDC's campus recruitment programme, their policy of hiring freshers and honing their talent, of attracting more women to work at MSIDC and their immediate recruitment plans.
A brief overview of the Microsoft India Development Centre, MSIDC, Hyderabad:
MSIDC is the product development centre of Microsoft based out of Hyderabad. It is a pure product development centre where engineers work on end-to-end product development of key Microsoft products and technologies.
For any software development company to succeed they need the best talent. Microsoft develops products that are used by millions of consumers worldwide. The talent we have needs to understand software development and have a passion for it; a passion for software development from the perspective of solving real-life customer problems.
So it's really that talent that helped us to put up a development centre in the US. And as you know India with its huge talent reservoir was an obvious choice for a company like ours to establish a development centre here.
MSIDC's campus recruitment drive:
From 1998, MSIDC has worked on key products and technologies and as the staffing head of MSIDC it's all about my ability to reach out to this talent wherever it is.
So we do visit campuses during the campus recruitment season, year after year. In addition to that we participate event like this (IIT Mumbai's Techfest 2008), which in our view are really places where we see innovation as it is happening on the campuses.
It is here that we really have an opportunity of interacting with and understanding this talent. We get an opportunity to peek into great ideas that are buzzing around. Event like these really provide an opportunity to bring people from the industry and the talent together.
We have interacted with talented candidates in a similar festival at IIT Madras called Shastra, a few months back, and now we are doing the same at Techfest 2008 (in Mumbai). What's interesting to us is that people from MSIDC come here, become a part of evaluating and judging the process. And to my mind it's just not meeting the students and talking to them but also providing an opportunity to them to interact with the people from the industry.
That's the reason we go out and seek out opportunities like these.
Key to MSIDC's success in scaling from 20 employees in 1998 to 1,400 today:
It was an interesting journey indeed. Personally too it was an exciting journey to see our employee strength move up so fast. The evolution though is a thoughtful process. The journey started with an understanding that there was talent in the Indian market that we could reach out to.
From the beginning we were very clear in our mind that as an organisation we would commit resources, that is people, to working on new technologies and products.
The key to employ and retain the best of the talent is to address the fact as to how do you provide a meaningful career and growth opportunities for every person who joins your organisation. So every time you are evolving, constantly thinking as to what would be your next step in this journey as a global organisation.
Here I am not talking only in terms of ladder-level growth but about the ability of our resources to learn advanced technology platforms and be able to contribute their bit to it.
Personally, I have been very pleased with this journey because we have been able to reach out to young talent in India. For this we must have covered over 25 to 30 colleges across India. According to an AC Nielsen study we were the most preferred employer amongst engineering graduates for four years in a row.
Do you specifically hire engineering graduates? Do you have plans to recruit freshers and undergrads from science stream as well?
The way we look at it in Microsoft is: it's not about the degree a person has. It's really about understanding computer science. Because the business is about software development we see if a person understands structures, databases and algorithms. Now that could come from their educational background or come through their deep interest and understanding of the subject.
I have personally known of instances where we have hired people who didn't have an engineering background but were very good in software and product development. We always look out for people who have a good aptitude and understand computer science fundamentals. Passion for technology is what a candidate must have.
You could innovate change, build products and actually change people. These three things together are all that we need. We are not really saying that we need this particular degree or this qualification.
If I were an undergrad and wanted to apply for a position in MSIDC then how do I go about it?
The best way to reach out to us is through our website. After that we have a process to take them to the next step where we typically have two to three interviews once we are sure that the person has the necessary qualities to get selected. These are not group discussions. These are not panel interviews but a one-on-one with suitable candidates.
What we really try to do is assess in our interview process as to how much could a candidate use the knowledge s/he has gained to develop products.
Learnability is another very important facet that we try to assess during interviews. Because in a career you may be working on a particular product and tomorrow you may be shifted to a different product or domain. It might be altogether a new technology, new software. So how fast is one able to learn or adapt to such changes.
It is based on these evaluations that we shortlist and hire people.
Any immediate recruitment plans?
We are constantly recruiting good talent because year-on-year we work on new products and technologies. Right now we just finished a round of campus recruitment. Apart from that we would continue to hire from the industry. I would also like to emphasise the fact that we go out to campuses and reach out to interns.
We believe that the internship programmes serve as a very important bridge between the students and industry. During these programmes the students understand how an organisation functions. Working as an intern really gives them a background. More importantly, as far as Microsoft is concerned we look at interns as somebody who would be ready for industry after completing their studies.
We have a very successful internship programme. Last year we had about 70 to 80 interns come to us and the conversion rate was very high at about 85 per cent. So it is an important programme for MSIDC.
In February we are going to have an initiative across India where we would be looking out for colleges from all over the country. Then in March we are planning to do a diversity focus event that would bring many more women into our organisation (as of now MSIDC has a workforce comprising 10 per cent women). In the campus hiring programme that we finished recently we hired 16 per cent women. But we want to make sure that we are able to attract more women.
Diversity and inclusive work environment are the very strong values that we believe in at Microsoft. We are trying to start this initiative from March 8 -- International Women's Day -- wherein the sole focus would be to attract more women to join MSIDC.
Apart from this we continue to hire laterally from the industry for some of our other positions.
What would be an ideal diversity mix for you?
Let's look at it this way: Some of the colleges in India have a women population of 25 per cent. While in others it drops to as low as 7 to 8 per cent. So, it's very diverse. In my personal ideal world if colleges could attract 25 per cent women then I should also be able to do the same. However, anywhere up to 15 per cent would be a good number to begin with.
The hindrance here is I can get only as much women into MSIDC as they enroll into colleges. The important purpose of this March 8 initiative is to encourage more women to enroll into computer science courses so that we can hire more.
How many people do you plan to hire in the calendar year 2008?
My hiring numbers are not predicated. I don't have a fixed plan that says that every year we will have an X number of people. It really depends on the products and technologies that we are working on. We undertake hiring at MSIDC in a very thoughtful and measured way.
As a ballpark figure based on our product line and technology roadmap we try to ensure that at least 30 per cent of the talent that we hire is from the campus -- students who are graduating in that particular year.
What's your campus selection programme like?
It's very similar to what's it like during lateral hiring. The only minor difference that we have during college interviews is that at the start of the process we administer a written test to the students. A written test is more in the sense of getting an overall idea about their understanding of computer science and its fundamentals.
Thereafter the process that we follow is exactly similar to the process that we follow for our lateral hiring programmes. This is followed by two more round of interviews, one-on-one interviews; we assess the person's ability to build on her/his knowledge in terms of applications.
Normally, when we are doing interviews, it's not about what you learned from your textbook but what you learnt at your work. When you are looking at a college student what you really do is to build on the projects that they have worked on as part of their curriculum. Then we look at the application that they were trying to work on, or the problem they were trying to solve through their projects.
Have you ever recruited freshers from colleges?
When we hire from campuses we know that the students have gained knowledge during the four years at college. Also, they may have done internships with us or maybe with someone else. But once they come on to the campus the most important thing for them is to have a complete understanding of product development life cycles; how do you actually build on a product or ship a product. Also, the procedure right from the stage a product or technology is conceived till the time it is ready for shipping.
For freshers we have a programme at MSIDC called LEAP, that is, Leap Engineering Acceleration Programme. In this programme, over a period of six weeks, students are put through structured programmes wherein they get to know about all the things that I mentioned above.
More importantly, they are given small projects that are currently happening in the company and they are asked to work around that; develop code around the product, write specifications etc. What we do is take a small sub-section of a big product and expose freshers completely to the entire lifecycle of a product's development stage.
This helps them to know what their real job will be in just six week's time. At the end of this programme when they go out to their respective product groups they know what their product is.
Attrition rate at MSIDC and plans to contain it.
Attrition has not really been a significant challenge for us at MSIDC. Our attrition rates are way below the industry mark. People who leave our organisation would be around seven per cent.
Typically, what we have found is, by and large, people leave us because they want to pursue higher studies. Most of them leave us because they want to improve upon their already existing knowledge, do a Master's degree from a reputed university. And having worked in an organisation like Microsoft they do have an opportunity to seek admissions to the best global universities. It's a part of their overall evolution and sometimes we also help them go for it. We do encourage them to pursue higher studies when they are working with us and we reimburse their fees.
We don't look at this as an issue that needs to be contained. As an organisation we would always look at people who have gone to pursue higher studies come back to us. They are always welcome.
Average age of an MSIDC employee.
At the last count it was about 24 to 25 years. It's the only organisation where we get younger by the day.
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