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Re-engineering The Engineer

by Rakesh Khanna - COO, Syntel Inc August-2015

Every industry today is in a state of flux. Digital technologies have opened the playing field for new avenues to interact with customers, new channels to cater to their needs, and new platforms to get instant public feedback. This has also led to the emergence of new competitors some of who are currently playing on the fringes, while many others have already started making inroads into revenue streams of established players. Times are changing and the changes are happening at a fast pace. Consumers have already moved to digital, while many corporations are scrambling to catch up and stay relevant.

Changing IT Landscape

Given the changes around us, it is essential for IT services industry to evolve in order to keep pace with changing customer needs. The majority of the incremental IT spend by customers over the next few years will be on digital technologies.

What does this mean? Looking ahead, not only will the incremental spend on traditional technologies reduce, but funds from the current allocation will also have to be diverted towards digital technologies. IT services players need to quickly develop expertise in digital technologies to stay relevant to their clients.

More importantly, this means that IT services players like Syntel can no longer be just "problem solvers," but also need a great deal of expertise in helping customers solve the problems they have. Our clients increasingly look to us not only for implementation expertise, but also to help them understand the digital world better while helping them craft a relevant IT strategy. Today, customers ask how best to use social media, how to leverage mobile devices to streamline operations and create a revenue impact, and how best to utilize cloud to reduce operating costs.

Realigning Skill sets

Market trends and changing customer requirements have crucial implications for graduates looking to join the IT services industry. Technical skills in relevant technologies are still important, but there is an increasing emphasis on "soft skills," which add a real premium on top of baseline technical skills.

So, what are we increasingly looking for from our new recruits at Syntel?

1. Problem structuring skills- Given an ambiguous situation and multitude of information, can a candidate structure it well to define the problem for the client? i.e., What problem should the client be trying to solve, and for who?

2. Communication skills- The time has come and gone when a "tech guru" with limited communication skills could prosper in the industry purely on the basis of what he did sitting behind a screen. Right from the stage of negotiating a deal to delivering it, customer interaction has become extremely important for technical experts. Besides, with the advent of the Agile software development methodology, communication skills have become extremely important for people to succeed.

3. The ability to adapt and learn- This has always been important, but never more so than now. Technologies are changing at a fast pace, and it is very important for developers to keep themselves abreast of changing technologies and continue refreshing their skills. At Syntel, we believe in hiring developers who demonstrate an ability to learn and adapt quickly. We believe that we can always teach technology to our employees, but we cannot change their mind-set. Therefore, this is an increasingly important quality we seek in candidates.

Who Moved My Cheese?

These changing trends are far more crucial for those engineers already working in the industry. These shifts directly impact their career and prospects, and may just be occurring faster than they think.

Change can be unnerving, especially if you have are used to a particular kind of work life or haven't updated your skills in the last few years. However, this change is here to stay and the faster they realize this, the easier the transition will be.

Borrowing from Dr. Spencer Johnson's book, Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, I would advise engineers to remember that "the quicker you can let go of the old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy the new cheese."

How to Stay Relevant?

Existing employees in the IT services industry need to ask themselves: Is my existing skill set still relevant to the industry? Or, am I facing a staffing challenge having to say "no" to more projects than "yes"? What skill sets are in demand Where are the maximum staffing opportunities? What can I do to upgrade my skills or to acquire new skillsets? For example, someone who is an expert in mainframe technologies needs to acquire knowledge about cloud computing to become relevant in the current legacy migration market. How can my employer help me? At Syntel, we have up-skilling and re-skilling workshops to help our employees stay relevant. How can I improve my soft skills?

These are challenging yet exciting times. Not many get to witness such a change in their lifetime, and how we fare depends on what we make of it. For many of us that need to evolve, there's no time to waste!