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Article by Mohan Babu


Of techies and travel

Most travel requirements are driven by a client’s need, it is therefore a highly contentious issue beyond the control of most techies, says MOHAN BABU. It is generally billed to individual projects and paid for by the client   

Face-to-face interactions and travel for work still remains the prime focus in the field of technology consulting, even with the advent of tools and technologies of modern communication like cheap VoIP phones, videoconferencing, etc. During the mid-nineties, before the advent of widespread outsourcing and ‘global delivery,’ staff-supplementation, that is body-shopping was the most popular model. Companies that wished to augment their IT workforce would contract a body-shop that would, literally, go halfway across the world to look for suitable candidates, process their visa and paperwork and make sure they landed at the client’s place.

Towards the end of the nineties, management and technology gurus began to predict a total shift in paradigm with the advent of newer technologies to enable remote meetings and communication. This theory got a boost with tightening immigration and security laws in the West after 9/11. The current trend of global outsourcing and geo-political changes notwithstanding, travel continues to be an integral part of a typical IT worker’s landscape. Though travel is not as widespread as in the mid-nineties, Indian professionals continue to crisscross the globe.

The glamour of travel to exotic lands aside, there is a human angle to all the travel. Let us take two extreme cases. The first involves a mid-level guy, let’s call him Raj. He has been angling for a foreign trip for a while and was elated when his manager asked him to get ready to travel to Can-ada for a fortnight’s technical requirement analysis for a client’s project. He throws a party for his friends, packs his suitcase and heads for the airport with his family there to see him off on his maiden foreign trip. After Raj bids adieu to his folks and is ready to check-in, there is an announcement on the public address system, asking him to report to the customer relations officer who says there is a message from his company asking to call their hotline. On calling the number, he is told that the client has shelved the project and he has to scuttle his travel plans. Raj is mortified by this turn of events and drives back home with his family.

Another case is that of a manager, let’s call him Kumar, who manages three projects out of a multinational company’s offshore centre in Bangalore. Having been in the industry for nearly a decade, Kumar has literally been-there, seen-it, and is not exactly keen on getting yet another immigration check stamped on his passport. Kumar also has a few personal issues, including the expected addition to his family, because of which he is not excited by the prospect of travelling. However, the ‘problem’ is that he is one of the few people in his division to hold a ‘coveted’ US H1-B visa. Every time an onsite requirement comes up, his bosses look to him. After dodging the bullet a couple of times, Kumar feels that he is really under the gun and is torn between his personal obligations and the expectations of his employer.

There is one common thread running through both the stories that travel remains a highly contentious issue, beyond the control of most individuals. Though individual developers, architects and managers remain in control over most aspects of their work lives and careers, aspects related to travel remain out of their control. There are probably several reasons for this. Most travel requirements are driven by a client’s needs. Travel is generally billed to individual projects, in turn paid for by the client. To further complicate the matter, are issues related to international travel, including visas and immigration control. It is not surprising to find individual techies bemoaning their total lack of control over travel.

I posed a question on issues related to travel to several managers at Indian companies known to me and most of them just shrugged their shoulders and accepted these anecdotes as a way of life for techies. Many also indicated that larger software houses are beginning to make serious effort to mitigate the need for constant travel by prodding wider adoption of technologies including video, voice and teleconference.

They, however, also conceded that adoption of such technologies is still at a nascent stage. Individuals and clients still seem to prefer the comfort of eye-to-eye meeting and the ‘touchy huggy feeling’ of shaking a hand and explaining a system problem to an architect and to see him/her design the system.

Till more of us technocrats and managers begin to push for adoption of remote meeting technologies, the Kumars and Rajs will continue to be on the tenterhooks.





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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