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Bangalore: Silicon Valley or Coolie Valley?

March 01, 2004

Politicians, bureaucrats and residents of Bangalore take pride in the fact that they live in what they call the Silicon Valley of the East. The city is considered high tech because of the number of software and software services companies located here.

But is Bangalore really Silicon Valley?

California's Silicon Valley

In 1933 Frederick Terman, a professor of engineering at Stanford University, mentored two undergraduates named Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, and was instrumental in getting them to start a company.

They went on to form the company Hewlett-Packard. This was the first seed from which Silicon Valley grew.

Today around 2,000 electronics and information technology companies, along with numerous services and supplier firms, are clustered in the area.

Silicon Valley contains the densest concentration of innovative industry that exists anywhere in the world, including companies that are leaders in fields like computers, semiconductors, lasers, fiber optics, robotics, medical instrumentation, and consumer electronics.

Some products that went from dream to reality in Silicon Valley are the first video game, the ink-jet printer, the video recorder, the mouse, the personal computer, and much else that we take for granted in the information age.

Here's a sample of some Silicon Valley firms, familiar to most of us because of their products: Adobe Systems (Acrobat Reader), Apple Computer (computer), Hewlett-Packard (printer), Intel (the CPU in your PC), Netscape (Internet browser), Seagate Technology (the hard disk in your PC), Yahoo (Internet portal), VeriFone (credit card terminals in shops), Symantec (Norton anti-virus software), etc.

Such firms are called technology companies, because their chief resource is the technologies that they develop and own, not the real estate that they are sitting on or the equipment that they possess. Stocks in a technology company are called 'tech stocks.' Scientists and engineers working in these companies are called 'techies.'

Indicative of the inventive spirit is the fact that residents of Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose and other Silicon Valley computer hotbeds, were granted 27,617 patents during the 1990s.

Silicon Valley thrives on risk. Business in the Valley is about placing bets on people, ideas and inventions.

If the Silicon Valley were an independent country, its economy would be about the tenth largest in the world.

Bangalore or 'Coolie Valley'

If you ask the president of any of Bangalore's software development companies what his company does, he'll say "We provide end-to-end solutions for Xxxx." Xxxx could be any or all of these -- e-commerce, banking, telecom. . .

What he means to say is this: 'We'll do the software coding in any of these areas for you. Just tell us what you need. We have a huge mass of engineers who know various programming languages.'

These companies do not develop any technologies or products. They provide development services. They have engineers who specialize in programming languages rather than in technologies.

Their chief resource is the huge mass of low-cost labour that they have taken the trouble to recruit.

Ask them about patents, and you get the reply "Huh, what's that?"

These companies start with zero risk. They do not bet on their ideas or inventions. A company is started after getting some contracts in hand.

A typical engineer in these companies has no specialization in any technology. He does not use his engineering knowledge. You could say his body is employed, but his brain is severely under-employed.

Here is a sample of some prominent Bangalore software companies with what they specialize in: Tata Consultancy Services (end-to-end solutions), Wipro (end-to-end solutions), Infosys (end-to-end solutions)

DSQ Software (end-to-end solutions), Kshema Technologies (end-to-end solutions), Ivega Technologies (end-to-end solutions), MindTree Consulting (end-to-end solutions).

The comparison

Silicon Valley companies are based on 'know what.' They know the market, they know the technology and they know what products to make to earn money.

Coolie valley companies are based on 'know how.' They do the software coding for other companies that have the 'know what.' If you tell them what to do, they know how and will do it for you.

Silicon Valley companies invest huge sums of money on R&D. They generate new ideas and are constantly developing new ways of doing things.

Coolie Valley companies have nothing called R&D. They do not generate any new ideas.

A typical Silicon Valley engineer is a specialist in a particular technology, like inkjet printing or virus detection. He spends all his life working in this technology area.

A typical Coolie Valley engineer is a specialist in a few languages. He is not concerned about the technology that he is working on and is willing to develop any software with the languages that he knows.

A typical Silicon Valley engineer's education and work experience all relate to a technology. When he changes jobs, he changes to another company working on the same technology.

A typical Coolie Valley engineer's work experience does not teach him any technology. He may be a mechanical engineer currently working for three months on banking software, and then the next three months on shoe retailing software.

Silicon Valley is all about the excitement of creating things out of nothing. Companies like HP actually started in the garages of their founders.

Coolie Valley does not know the meaning of creativity. Some companies are started by people who quit other companies and take some of the parent firm's software development contracts with them.

Silicon Valley's entrepreneurs bet on people, ideas and inventions.

Coolie Valley's entrepreneurs bet on certainties. They start a firm after getting software development contracts.

Silicon Valley's firms are about technology management.

Coolie valley's firms are about man management.

It is extremely presumptuous to compare Bangalore with Silicon Valley, so all you Bangaloreans, please do me a favour and

  • Don't call your city Silicon Valley ('pub city' or 'garden city', I have no problem with -- lots of pubs and lots of trees, but very little silicon).
  • Don't call one of your new software companies a 'high technology start-up.'
  • Don't call your engineers 'techies.' They've forgotten their engineering long ago.
  • Don't say you've invested in 'tech stocks' ('body stocks' maybe ?).

If you are from Delhi or Mumbai and encounter a Bangalorean 'techie' spouting off about his work or about his Silicon Valley, you no longer need to develop an inferiority complex.

G V Dasarathi is director of a software products development company


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