Dr. Santanu Paul, MD and CEO, TalentSprint.
A growing number of women have taken up leadership roles at the India units of global technology firms. Very often, they come from a strong engineering and technology background and drive tech roles, not just a business function. A study by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), also found that the unemployment rate for women engineers in India in 2016 was about 40 percent. Among those who are employed, 45 percent reported that they have to compete with their female colleagues to get the one 'woman's spot' available.
To talk about this and about the TalentSprint's contribution towards this initiative, Dr. Santanu Paul, MD and CEO of TalentSprint spoke to BTVI. Here is an excerpt from the interaction.
Q: How do you think we can encourage more & more women to enter the engineering workforce? Tell us more about your women engineer program.
A: TalentSprint is an interesting company and we have been around for 10 years. You know we've been working with young professionals, working with people who want to aspire for great things in tech and finance. So, our model has always been that we know how to create programs, for you know sort of young people who can come and train. And then linked to an industry demand/s, creating a one-stop-shop for getting certified and then getting recruited. But about five years ago, we started an experiment on the side which came from a very simple idea. Worldwide, the more advanced tech company is, the more advanced the technology is, the more R&D and innovation they do, there's a clear inverse proportion to number of women engineers especially at the deep tech level. In other words, if you are a service company doing I.T. services like typical large Indian companies do, you have a 30 percent woman population at the young level especially below 30. But if you are a private company with a very advanced product and engineering is very complex and sophisticated and high end, there is a drop from 30% to 10 percent or even less.
The more advanced a tech company is, the more they're likely to hire pedigreed institutions like MIT, Stanford and has the best brains. The idea of sending your daughters to very advanced tech programs to become world class scientists or engineers is the problem everywhere in the world. Women are generally encouraged to take up a safe and convenient career and Indian IT service is a very convenient option. But no woman is ever encouraged to become the best software engineer because that’s not on the radar. It’s not on the maps for anyone. For any Indian parent, if their daughter has a job in an X company with a starting salary of a three and a half lakh CTC per year, it's like going to the moon and you are delighted for pick up and drop service. But no one wants to try for Google, Amazon, Microsoft or any R&D or innovation job. Nobody wants to attempt because just this thing is too hard. The thing that life is too hard.
Q: Do you think women in India lack access to resources for global tech careers? Where exactly is the block?
A: Let me trace history. Most people don't know this but if you look at the history of computing itself in the U.S., globally and in Europe, UK in particular, it all started in 1950s with the big IBM mainframes coming in. You may not know but for the first 30-35 years, of computing, women programmers outnumbered men programmers by 2:1 globally. By 1985 it began to turn. By 1995-2005, it had become 2:1 the other way. And women had been outnumbered. There's a long history behind why that happened. What we're doing really is correcting that and dialing it back. Now how do you achieve that? I will talk in the Indian context. There is a lack of resources in the families. They have limited money. For instance, if you can buy one laptop, it is going to go to the son and there is no question about it. Right. And you've seen this time and time again. Even if we see the high fees schools, it will be sons and for girls, it'll be the low fees. And it is typical. It’s a functional economical constraint. With boys, the expectations are high and with girls, they are low. So, if a kid gets a three and a half lakhs salary opening in an X company, it is already well beyond their imagination to begin with. People are easily comforted, relaxed, happy and content. I think a combination of restraint financial constraints, easy contentment and boys getting priority over girls has been the story of India.
With US, the story has been different. Initially if you look at the period till 1985, the action was on hardware and it was assumed by the guys that the real men do hardware and girls would be doing secretarial work, that is programming which is number crunching. This is because secretaries were women historically in the industry and somebody who manages data is actually a secretary. So women should do computing. But by 1985, the first set of laptops and small computers were being introduced by the market and they had reached the household. The boys started learning to compute as soon as they jump in class 7-8. The girls never got into computers. They get to know about computers by the time they finish class 12. After class twelve, the boys came in with some computing knowledge, programming knowledge and they were the stars of the class. The girls came in with zero baselines which was not an issue before because the guys didn’t know anything either but now they came with more knowledge. And the bias started to shift with the boys more in computing. So with the arrival of the PC itself and their coming into the homes and how people allocate resources to boys and girls as parents and families change. Then came the transition that the jobs in software started to be more than hardware and as the salaries increase, the men are interested in the history of pretty much anything.
Q: What do you think is the future of the job market? How is it changing? What do you think it will be 10 years down the line?
A: Personally, the kind of jobs we are used to are going away. So, I think the easy jobs, the easy bringing jobs are going away and the hard-premium jobs are coming in. Automation is the reason. The whole India story is like huge skill gaps. we've been saying this for 10 years, 20 years. But the industry is a very funny thing. Psychology. If it doesn’t reach the desired skills, it solves the problem on its own. It doesn’t wait to close the skill gap. So, if you can’t find people to do some kind of work beyond the point, it will just go for automation. The lack of finding intelligent, good engineers in high volume has gotten a saltwater machine. Still, you know, there is a gap between what you learned in college and the entry-level job that you got from a services company. The low-end jobs are gone. And the colleges are not getting any better. They're probably getting worse and hence, the gap is just widening. So, in some sense it is like two islands drifting, and automation is going to make the gap wider and wider. If you are one of those kids who can create automation and the ones who are able to create new technology then it would bring them salary. You are the new premium talent. If you're somebody who doesn't have a skill to create technology but to go along and displace you, then you are the victim of automation.
Q: Tell us about your association with IIIT Hyderabad.
Santanu: We have two programs with IIIT. One is a summer school which we run for non IIIT college students on the campus but the more popular is the one we had with a group of working professionals with 10 plus years of experience, trying to redefine themselves in the light of technology disruptions. So, the second program is becoming bigger.
Q: How dod you think AI is going to change the job market in terms of young career growth across the globe? What role does AI play?
A: Let’s start this with an example. If you ever talk to an uber driver and ask them who is their boss, they would say the app. They would never deviate from that because it has the power to give them incentives, the power to switch you off, take you off line for two hours and cut off your access. So, they have more respect for that than anyone else. Today, AI is creating a world where people who create AI algorithms are becoming incredibly successful entrepreneurs, becoming the millionaires and billionaires and uber is an amazing example of the same. Without AI, you don’t have uber. But with uber and AI, you can actually bring a lot of people without really education into income creating environment systems. So, AI is generating self-employment income and it is becoming more and more possible because AI is creating self-organizing systems where people can attach themselves to an algorithm which gives out work and a better life.
Q: Can you explain about your Fintech blockchain thread? How will it help?
A: So, there's a parallel trend. We realized about two years ago that the other big field which is getting transformed is financed today. For example, if you go to lending companies and ask for a loan of lakh rupees for 30 days, you can do it easily. It is just four hours of applications with document uploading via pictures. So, clearly, a lot of these activities like underwriting, loan decision is getting automated because Algorithms are better at doing this because it sees more data. So, therefore, I realized that the financial service industry today employs about 1 million people in India, and these jobs are at a threat just like radiologists going away. Psychology is becoming more popular. The same shift is happening here. So, in finance, tech is going to disrupt more. An Economist article from the month of May talks about the fact that how the technology companies are killing finance companies and banks, like the banks are getting eaten up by tech companies. So, this disruption is coming and it's already here. So, I figured that a typical bank and finance professionals will be living in a very different world where the technology is going to issue orders. You are going to ask computers if I should give loan to this person or not, at what rate, how many EMIs because computer would be making a better decision than human. So we figure that we need to create a world where the finance profession is naturally coming from using technology especially AI-ML block which will take over the world.
We are forming a new program on fintech front but it is designed for working professionals not designed for entry level. We are under pressure to create something for entry level talent but I'm still not fully able to visualize the answer to that because I need to know who's hiring. Entry level positions run on recruitment trends. And because of the NPA, technology, finance sector is busy redefining itself and sorting out its future. I think in two years’ time from now I'll have more clarity on what kind of jobs are being created in this new way. I think right now the jobs are being removed rather quickly.
Q: Do you think disruption is good at various levels?
A: There's a very active debate globally on this problem. The one school of the debate says we've been approaching something called the idea of singularity which means that the laws of intelligent renews itself so fast that in our lifetimes we will see computers playing chess so much better than compared to us and it is just one example. But the other school says that technology has always been disruptive. It says that whenever it kills off a bunch of jobs, soon it creates new jobs. I am also hopeful that we'll see a new category of jobs that'll come from this and I can begin to see where they will be. They will be in how to help people. If you look at swiggy, it is just a system set up to help people with affluence get rid of a nuisance called cooking. They can say It's not about my time to be in the kitchen, so I will outsource it to this algorithm which could find me food reliably. What's happening with a bunch of people who didn't have income and are getting income delivering to your doorstep and a whole bunch of people who didn't think they could actually become cooks and actually make money like all housewives looking after a family with low income are now actually running home kitchens, which can actually have don't have a restaurant any different brands. So, the disruption is happening. People might say it is killing restaurants but may it will thrive home kitchens. Maybe the whole bunch of people who didn't have income will start having now. I don't think the answer is black and white nor do I see it as truly bad or truly good.
Q: Do you think PPP can work well?
A: That was the idea with skills at least like National Skill Development Corporation was a PPP model but I think it started off with the risk capital mindset. But ended up as giving people loans and now busy collecting the money back. The mindset has always been a problem in India. In that way, China is way different than India. They say, we need to become the AI capital of the world and they start working in that direction without deviating. In India, everything is a fad. We start off making a lot of noise and then two years later the problems start to surface, we aren't able to push through the problems and solve them. Policymakers begin to panic and then go back to dig the power of their decision. Some people call our 5-year cycle to be a problem but I don’t buy that. I think what's about is the resilience to push through difficulties. We don’t have that.
Q: So, who is Santanu as a person? Tell us more about yourself, your family and interests.
A: I think my interests are in many things. I think I became an entrepreneur because I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I had a corporate career which was happy and successful but I felt I didn't want to do that. I wanted to do something in India. From the experience of hiring, I learnt that that Indian education system needs an overhaul. Indian educational institutions were like a crude oil which needed distillation and refinery and that’s what made me to turn into an entrepreneur. Talking about interests, I like listening to music. I like Hindustani and Carnatic music and I have a good collection of the same, in some 5000 CDs. I like reading. I finish at least one book every week and I have a deep love for writing as well. Someday, I would love to be a writer as well because I enjoy that process. Being a Bengali, I have a deep love for food as well which makes me very fond of cooking as well. I love to travel as well. My family comprises of my wife who is a biotech entrepreneur and two daughters and both of them have an inclination towards entrepreneurship. One is studying in US and other one is in high school.