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Book: Digital Republic: India’s rise to IT Power – by Mathai Joseph

Mathai Joseph is one of the most respected people in Pune’s software industry. An EVP at TCS, Director of TRDDC, visiting prof at CUM, Eindhoven, Warwick and York, he has experience at the top levels of both industry and academia, and he has seen the rise of India’s software industry from it’s birth.

Power Publisher’s has just released a book, “Digital Republic: India’s rise to IT Power” by Mathai Joseph which should be an interesting read for anyone in this field. Here is a description of the book:

This book analyses the rise of Indian computing. Interleaving history and memoir, it describes key moments and decisions that led to the slowdown in the 1960s and 1970s and the changes in the 1980s that fuelled the ascent of the software industry to pre-eminence in what has become one of the world’s most important industries. Along the way the author reflects on the nature of science, the importance of computing and the interplay of theory, experiment and technology. He discusses the wide differences in the academic perception of computing in India and the rest of the world and how it affected the growth of Indian computer science as well as the computing industry.This memoir is not a technical history and reading it does not need technical knowledge. It is a personal account of the unparalleled explosion of an industry seen through the eyes of someone who was there from the beginning.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

‘You realize every job you create in India is one less job here,’ said my American friend Luke. ‘Does that worry you?’

Luke patriotically drove a Detroit monster of a car. I asked him where the sub-assemblies for his car came from.

‘Many from outside the US nowadays,’ he admitted. ‘Designed by a US company, manufactured elsewhere. Costs here are too high for component companies to operate successfully.’

Not so different from what is happening in the IT industry, I said.

‘Come on,’ he said disbelievingly, ‘Manufacturing has been stratified over the years into layers to give companies manufacturing scale and an international market. How can you even compare that with the IT industry?’

The IT industry is also being stratified, I said. It no longer makes sense to design, implement and maintain a large system in the US or Europe: the costs are too high to keep a system running by paying US salaries. You have to keep lowering the costs of your product to stay competitive; moving system maintenance to countries where it can be done more economically is one way of doing this.

‘It’s not just maintenance: new software system development is also being sent outside the country.’

No one complained when the manufacture of auto components grew in other countries, I said. Why this concern about the same thing happening in the IT industry?

‘Because the jobs you are now taking are from people like me, not from an anonymous blue-collar worker in Missouri or Kansas.’

More excerpts are here and here

Here is Mathai talking about why he wrote the book:

The question I am asked most often is ‘What made you write this book?’ I know of two good answers (and there must be many more). First, we now take the success of computing and information technology in India for granted but things were very different when we started. It is important to have an account of what computing was really like in its early days in India. Second, most events are about people, so knowing more about them helps to understand what happened, and why. The people who seemed to play a central role in an era may be forgotten in a few years while those responsible for creating the changes that have endured are the ones who really matter.

Another answer is really a question: information technology now accounts to close to 8% of India’s GDP and employs over three million people. Yet there are just three books about this phenomenon that I know about (they are listed in the Acknowledgements). Just three books about an industry and a technology that have changed India more than any other?

Many will disagree with what I have written and I will try and respond to them here. My real plea to them is: write your own account of computing in India. The more that is written about this phenomenon, the better history will be able to draw conclusions.

About the Author – Mathai Joseph

Mathai Joseph did his PhD at the University of Cambridge and joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1968. He was appointed to a Chair in Computer Science at the University of Warwick in 1985. He joined TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) in 1997 as an Executive Vice President and was also Executive Director of TRDDC (Tata Research Development and Design Centre) until his retirement in 2007. At various times, he has been a visiting professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, Eindhoven University of Technology, University of Warwick and University of York. He was Chairman of the Board of the International Institute for Software Technology from 2005-2007. He has written several books and numerous papers. Mathai Joseph was the first person from India to be elected as a Member-at-Large of the ACM Council in 2008.

For more information, see http://mathaijoseph.com/

(Anyone interested in writing a detailed review of the book for PuneTech, please get in touch. Thanks.)