My first job out of college was a fairly large, multinational corporation. In order to save money on engineering costs, they had an office in Bengalūru, India (at the time known as Bangalore). Although at the beginning I didn’t really interact with any of the engineers from the Bengalūru office, eventually the company started building a team of developers over there which served a similar function to that performed by my team.
The explanation we were given was that the overseas developers would be more focused on the older product and in performing maintenance tasks, freeing our team up to work on the latest and greatest. For a while, this was how it did work.
As the years went on, however, there was a push to educate the Bengalūru developers on our newer product. The idea was that as fewer and fewer customers were using the older product, the team in India would be responsible for performing maintenance on the newer product while the team in the US would be working on new features.
The problem was, the Bengalūru team could never seem to fully get up to speed on the new product. That wasn’t to surprising; the US team built the product from scratch, so we were extremely familiar with it. Expecting any team, no matter how talented, to match our knowledge and productivity would be completely unreasonable. There was also much higher turnover in the Bengalūru office (shocking to think that treating a team of developers as lower-cost labor to work on the less appealing jobs would somehow result in higher turnover), so it seemed that whenever a developer finally learned enough to become productive, he or she would leave to find another job.
Eventually, management hatched a plan to fix this problem: they would send me over to India to train the team in person.
I love to travel, so an all-expense-paid trip to somewhere I’d never been before was an opportunity I jumped at. There were definitely some logistics — I had to apply for a work visa, mainly — but I got it all sorted out and before too long was on my way to India!
The trip was in many ways a study in contrasts. The company put me in a five-star hotel full of opulence and deference. And every car that came in had to be checked by an armed guard. When I went out with my co-workers, we went to brightly lit, happening areas which were as nice as well-developed areas in the US. But when I went for a walk on my own I found many areas that were much less flashy. I’m sure you could find plenty of places in the US with similar contrasts, but it’s definitely not what I’m used to (both the decadence of the hotel and the squalor of the run-down areas).
I had a driver, because traffic in Bengalūru is chaos. His name is Abhay. He didn’t actually live in Bengalūru, he lived in a village outside the city. He would drive quite a ways in order to then drive me to work.
I liked to sit in the front seat, both so I could experience the drive more and also so I could chat with Abhay. When I left the hotel, one of the attendants would open the rear door of the car for me. Abhay would then get out and open the front door for me. We often shared a smile and a silent chuckle at the confusion of the attendant. That said, the hotel attendants took nearly everything in stride. I think they expected Americans to be somewhat eccentric, and I’m sure I did nothing to change that stereotype.
I’ve got quite a few more stories from my time in India to share, once I get around to typing them up!