Now this is going to be a very lengthy discussion, and I can only put in my two cents. I hope the community (YOU) can also add to this constructively, and we will keep posting more about this issue.

People, and fresh engineering grads, are becoming deathly afraid of becoming labelled as “coders” in Pakistan, and this is an Issue that I think needs resolution at large. Lets put a basic complaint aside: this issue isnt one of salary – it is with the mere act of actually having to write, read, or otherwise deal with source code.

I’ll be frank in saying this puzzles me. Why are more …

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Why people are afraid of becoming Coders, and what companies need to do about it

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Now this is going to be a very lengthy discussion, and I can only put in my two cents. I hope the community (YOU) can also add to this constructively, and we will keep posting more about this issue.

People, and fresh engineering grads, are becoming deathly afraid of becoming labelled as “coders” in Pakistan, and this is an Issue that I think needs resolution at large. Lets put a basic complaint aside: this issue isnt one of salary – it is with the mere act of actually having to write, read, or otherwise deal with source code.

I’ll be frank in saying this puzzles me. Why are more and more kids from Fast, Lums, Nust expecting to immediately get into higher end tech jobs without being willing to experience the entire SDLC? Why do they feel proud in thinking that “coding” jobs are more suited to people from other (and perhaps “lower”?) univs?

The question I want to ask today is, how did this general aura of misconception and fear regarding coding jobs develop in the first place, what is the impact this is having to the industry, and what are the ways of crossing this chasm?

Another similar issue is with all of these kids who graduate from a basic Engineering degree, and head immediately into an MBA marketing, and start expecting middle management jobs such as Product Management as a result of it. Their take is always that the two degrees by default have given them enough expertese in the tech industry to be able to take up those jobs.

That is clearly wrong, because it is really the guts of looking at the myriad of customer issues during the entire lifecycle of projects that prepares individuals for managing decisions. The MBA can only give them a frame of reference to start that decision making process.

Before we go into my own two cents, however, lets go through the general POV of both sides:

Here is the student / employee perspective that I have heard:
• coders are unable to become a force that contributes to the success / growth of a company
• coders are typically disrespected within companies in that their input is not weighted very highly
• coding immediately limits your career growth
• coding jobs are non-rewarding because no one within the org recognizes and congratulates the efforts
• Most of coding today involves simply configuring tools, or using toolkits and frameworks to rapidly put together things.. these do not suit our intelligence anyway.
• “No Im not interested in coding in the least… I just studied Bsc be.cause I hear the IT industry pays well, but hey! Im worth more than coding because all of my friends think so… the IT companies should tnus give me high end work”
• (worse) “Look, I know in my MBA they taught me all about consumer goods, but my BSC means that I know everything abt technology, so I deserve a high end job in the industry”

Here is the employer / management perspective that I have heard (regarding people shying away from coding jobs):
• The kids coming in are not interested in becoming a member of an industry of professionals – they ask too much with too little experience
• We serve customer projects that are too important and sensitive for the design and arch to be left to new grads – I wish we could find competent people who can design apps well but they are far too rare
• Given the high turnover rate of this industry, people are jumping jobs every 5-6 months anyway… we will just find a way of getting the work done from them by having them do the minor coding to get the job done
• A lot of these kids expect exorbitant salaries because they expect the investment in their education to pay off immediately, but no one has taught them that ROI is a gradual process and proportional to the amount of investment (i.e. the higher the salary, the longer it will generally take to get ROI)
• None of the kids in general present any business case or good justification of why they are a good product to invest in… they are not even self-aware, yet just demand whatever they see their friends do
• “I am trying to run a business… none of these kids understand their roles in professional businesses anyway so they should just code”
• (worse) “respect? Well, respect is earned!” (when said about internal resources)

See the gap? One of the biggest issues is this lack of clear panel-based discussion among the industry stakeholders, and more and more people could use blogs as such a medium

Very few companies here actually take feedback from their employees, and very few employees give objective feedback (instead they make it into a “hissy whine” service like “companies should have free orange juice… it encourages coding” or “companies should give a day off on all major cricket matches”)

Very few fresh grads are seeking career advice from the right people, such as industry veterans or professional career counselors… instead a lot of kids are taking career advice from the wrong type of people : parents and friends.

Why are parents and friends the wrong people for advice? Well they are not always wrong – especially if your parent is an industry veteran. However, these people will be too biased towards your benefit alone that they might end up encouraging the wrong type of behavior. I know I have cringed at a job applicant saying “well, I discussed your offer with my friends, and they think I should be getting twice of this – so Give me that” Ugh.

A professional career counselor will give you advice that will actually help in your career in the industry by teaching you about the type of behavior that helps you succeed.

We’re digressing though. Why are people running away from coding jobs? My take is the following:

• Companies continuously fail to flatten their job roles. Job roles are in no way an indication of the importance of someone – the amount of liability on you is. Yet companies continue to treat design, architecture, development, testing, usability, ergonomics, marketing and sales as diffferent “levels” of people, and this creates the wrong type of DNA and culture
• Both companies and employees are trying to create the wrong DNA. This is again a corporate culture issue, but too many companies will go around trying to make an internal environment like Merryl Lynch or ABN Amro when they only need to be like Google or Ebay. In other words, they are just creating an internal culture that might be too closed and restrictive for a technology business anyway. This creates the false impression that “non-manager” is worthless and not important enough to listen to.
• Employees and grads stop learning outside of school. This goes down to basics, and extend what I said above. very few people look at anything outside of a formal course and certification to be a learning experience. If they did, our industry would not believe so blindly in “certifications”, because if they did they would be able to defend what they learn in interviews.
• Employees and grads isolate coding as an independent activity of the technology value chain. This might make sense if managers thought like that, but it is dangerous for engineers to think this way. More on this below.

The impact of this is too striking and clear to miss. Our industry keeps chugging along with outsourced work but as the margins on that keep shrinking we are soon going to realize that there are actually very few engineers here that can actually do any high-value work.

The reasoning is simple enough:High Value work is proprietary, and being proprietary involves parts that require pure engineering – not just testing or maintenance but actually creating algorithms, data management and security schemes, and more.

Before people can be trained to do that, I argue that they need to know their programming. How can you be an architect, designer, system anaylst, usability expert, without understanding precisely the codebase, technology stack, and engineering lifecycle you will be asked to support?

What you might call “coding”, then, I call the basic building blood and DNA of great engineers – the engineers who deserve high salaries and recognition. Its like that joke about the doctor who tells his patient he cant treat her because he left a certain subject as an elective.

I feel strongly that a nation is built on the quality of their engineers, because that professions’ spirit resides in creating solutions to the problems that affect people.

Often I feel that over time we are heading to a point of paralyzing our ability to actually create any solution at all. With more people thinking they are “better” than coding this problem will only be exacerbated.

Here are my recommendations for people who want to take a serious step towards a solution.

• Companies should invest in building a strong DNA. Culture is an investment, and the returns are vague, but I can tell you from my operations consulting experience that the returns can be massive and rapid if it is done right. At the minimum, company leaders should empower HR to evangelise a certain credo internally, as well as incentivise internal evangelists to lead your change. Typically though, you should think of training your middle managers on professionalism and mentoring employees and set policies that mandate mentoring, equal opportunity and distributive right for all employees. Companies that do it right, such as Rozee.pk, can perform fantastically even with a small team.
• Employees and fresh grads should seek professional career counseling and placement offices. This can be an invaluable asset in helping you find your perfect jobs. The consellors can use their contacts to help place you in good companies, and also follow up with the right amount of guidance and support. From what I hear the people at Brightspyre do this at their offices.
• Companies should hire motivational speakers. It is important for engineers and employees in general to get a quick broader perspective of how technology is shaping society, and for them to believe in the value of their experiences. One professionally delivered speech by people who know the art of capturing and moving audiences can be very effective. The CDF Professional Coaching Center offers motivational speaking products.
• Companies must demand that their employees grow every three months. This is again easy to do, but companies need to set clear objectives for all employees ina quarter that helps them advance further in their careersc This is not always a job role shift, but can be implemented using non core programs (see my post on Multidimensional Employees as an example). This will allow everyone to look at the coding experience as a part of a larger growth ladder
• Companies must implement some degree of rotational Management Training programs for all employees that spend 1 year with the firm showing excellent performance. This can have a huge impact on turnover and job alignment, and all good companies outside of IT have them in place. iT companies should stop looking at everything as an overhead, and hire operational consultants to do this who actually know something about organizational development. I could refer some if you asked me.
• Finally, all employers should adopt formal behavorial interviewing techniques in their hiring process. This industry doesnt reward actual knowledge, but the impression of actual knowledge, which is basically a notion that follows the principles of scarcity. If you, the candidate dont actually know the subject, just speak very little actual knowledge and just show off a lot with big buzzwords, and you might get the job just by showing off your ego. People who actually know something about a subject debate openly in blogs and might be too humble to show themselves off in person (ahem…). Companies need to train thei HR Managers on structured behavorial and functional interviewing that can weed out the people who actually know a subject with people who dont. Its not simply about asking your engineering lead to test the programming candidates, you need to build a team of tough ice-cold professional interviewers for this. Again, I can refer some great trainers to companies for this.

Phew, now thats a few days worth of writing finally up on the blog. If you also believe in the importance of having a panel discussion on this topic, open up!

Please write your thoughts and ideas (LUMs people: I’d like to hear your down-to-earth thoughts, but be constructive!). Spread the word… get your uncles and friends and business colleagues who are stakeholders to come here and participate and share their expert opinions too.

Facebook comments:


  • A very well written article. Well said!

    The point is pakistani programmers in general can’t be called as “coders” because IMO who just “write” code by following the system design,architecture and db design of other people. He doesn’t inject his own innovation where as a developer often injects his own thoughts while writing a system. in Pakistan a poor programmer is asked not only for programming but database design,dealing with clients as well and it would be pretty offensive for such people to be labelled as “coders”.

  • Great points.

    Coming from Silicon Valley, I remember how it was once unsexy to be a programmer or engineer. The success and publicity of companies like Google, Intel and Microsoft have changed that. In Pakistan, the strongest employer brands are those that make a deliberate effort to advertise and market themselves. Sadly, IT companies have lagged behind in employer branding.

    The results as that candidates who preceive themselves to be superior want to work for employer brands that they consider superior. Marketing and Brand Management is considered sexy. Everyone seems to want to be a Brand Manger these days. The feedback we have gotten from HR Managers through ROZEE.PK is that LUMS graduates have exagerated superiority complexes and are difficulat to manage. In fact, LUMS has seen a huge drop in IT enrollment over the years which reinforces the lack of IT sex appeal amongst the most brand concious candidates.

    This is tragic at a time when when coding jobs are paying extremely well and the IT industry finds itself in a huge shortage. The Pakistan Software Export Boards is projecting around 200,000 IT jobs will be created by 2010 if the continued industry growth is sustained (50% year over year). Currently, our universities produce only 20,000 IT graduates of which the industry considers 2000-3000 of a quality they can use.

    I predict a steep rise in demand of “coders” along with salaries for these positions. It will bring sexy back. :)

  • Hi Monis, good to hear from you.

    Finally we hear some feedback straight from the people in the business about LUMS — wish someone had said that when half of lums was on my case :)

    Anyway, I agree that demand is high but perhaps salaries alone wont bring the passion back — I think people look up to Brand Managers because of the sense of authority and ability to influence peopel at large that those positions depict.

    If we get some international success stories of products that make it big — because of truly the innovations brought about by the engineers here — THAT might create case studies of how engineers can change and influence the world in a big way. That might bring the passion back.

    Here’s hope.

  • Some excellent points to add

    i think there is a huge gap in what the universities are producing and what the IT industry wants . There is no clear direction in the universities as to what actualy is happening out side the realm of universities. the job placement cells if there are in the universities have actually no clue of what are the demands of IT all they do is post the vacancies. Rhere is no counseling service to the coming out students, to guide them on what their strengths are how to shape a career, which field to go into when to plan further education. I met a person who had left his job for MS and after completion was looking for jobs. and he said he is actually giving interviews to people who were his junior in graduation, my answer was but this is obvious you go out of industry for 1.5 years people below you will go up the ladder, he said no body told me that when i was going for an MS.

    the second point is that no body is willing to work in a flat structure. we in our organization had a lot of trouble due to this and then we had to introduce titles to remove this flatness, our counter parts in US have people working as developers for 15+ years and here after a job of ere 2 year the developer will start feeling there is no growth. maybe our HR executives need to be trained to handle this flat structures and portray them as a good point.

    very good article indeed. lets see if we can develop such a forum where a student an employee and an employer can go for advice or even mutual discussion

  • sorry the first sentence was
    “Some excellent points, to add”

  • Unlike INdia ,Pakistan don’t have concept of outsourcing at individual level and most of professionals to follow wht is being done at offices rather make efforts to learn something different. Many IT professionals in Pakistan are not aware of technologies like AJAX,JSON and languages like PHP, Ruby and Python.

  • Adnan: Good point.

    Qazi: Interesting to hear you guys had trouble with Flat Structures — its actually fairly easy to implement with non-core responsibilities (see my post on Multi-Dimensional Employees).

    Maybe Green & White can be such a forum one day, but for that more CEOs and HR Managers will have to participate in their perspectives.

    Maybe you could go and ask your managers for their comments on this post here? That will get the ball rolling in the discussions…

  • Osama, IMOo, MY managers will not have any idea about ‘blogging’ neither they know I have a blog. Even if they have then they will get negative impression of my statment as they will think that I consider them ‘Ignorant’.

  • Very pertinent and well-written. I posted the link on Falcon_Spirit@yahoogroups.com.

    This particular problem is not limited to Pakistan but somehow in Pakistan the “trends” are more subjective and detached from reality (or should I say they have a lag of 5 years). By the way software industry has been complaining about fresh college graduates everywhere … my company has development center in India and it is very hard to find & keep “good” programmers … those who can communicate well and get the job done.

  • Ghous Fakhri

    Well Monis, you are right at some ‘distinct’ place(s), but I don’t agree with you completely.

    “In fact, LUMS has seen a huge drop in IT enrollment over the years which reinforces the lack of IT sex appeal amongst the most brand concious candidates….”

    Have you and other IT Businessmen in this country ever thought to give it a deep consideration for this. In a batch of more than 550, only 20-30 students are willing to take Computer Science as major at LUMS. In my opinion, the concerned authorities, who govern IT and Software Industry in Pakistan, are still lagging far much behind to “standardize” this industry.

    When a student is about to start her Bachelor degree, she first looks at the status of Alumini. Then she visualizes herself after 4-5 years and compares her with her class-fellows. Other businesses ( financial institutions, fmcgs etc ) create a distinction in between ‘the two’ i.e., an IT/Sw guy in Pakistan and the one who opted for an ACF or Econ major. Only those guy get on top in IT in Pakistan who have some entrepreneur skills….

    However, I must appreciate writer’s detailed and in depth analysis towards the crisis.


  • Well, in my opinion, writer is wrong in his analysis. I am an engineer and CS Professional. What our teachers taught in engineering that during our first 6 months of job we have to be the student of “Chacha mistri” and learn all the procedure and tactics involved. After getting that, we can act as managers and adds on our own knowledge and experience to the whole mechanism.

    And i would also like to quote the example of army. After being graduated from academy, the second lieutenant is placed in different regiments of army for short periods to get the experience and feel of it. And with in 2 years he becomes a captain and is ready for commanding ppl under him.

    Same is the case for the grads of top universities. They want to do coding but not for their life time. Some initial period like 4 ,5 months are enough to move them to next level where they can think, and add value to the company operations by their intelligence(if present) and knowledge. Good universities teach their students to think out of the box. and this is where the difference comes between an “avg” and “good” university student.

    Unfortunately, in Pakistan, the foolish ppl are on the top in IT industry on the name of experience. They have experience of 15 years in IT industry ,after their BA in stats, in working in VB. Let me tell you frankly they cant think beyond that. In pakistan, most of the applications being developed are data base-driven that means inserting data into database and showing them in form of reports.

    It is very unfortunate that the ppl who have right knowledge and wisdom to make difference are the subordinates of the 15-years experienced ppl who cant think and operate on the level of modern world.

    A young engineer from GIK,LUMS,UET,FAst is far more better than these industry gurus(so called). He has the knowledge, determination and passion which are the basic qualities of leadership. In his book, Musharraf wrote that Pakistan doesn’t have the night-vision technology that is used by American helicopters to see at night and americans are not willing to pass through this technology. I am thinking that why cant we develop it ourselves. A team of good top graduates of pakistan both in engineering and CS field with a research aptitude can do it; but not our so-called experience ppl.
    Its again a question of having the right and broad vision, but we can expect nothing from the govt. They can only blame americans for not giving the technology to her “friend” Pakistan.

  • Ghous,

    Given that Monis is the CEO of Naseeb Networks / Rozee I think he would know about the pulse of the industry better than a lot of us.

    I felt from reading your comment that you feel strongly about this. You know the great thing about the blog is that we can all put together ideas and solutions collectively — so Ghous it would be great to hear your thoughts and ideas on how the industry can solve these issues.


  • Rana,

    I have to admit that your comments are unobjective and have fairly strong language, and I was tempted to edit or moderate them.

    Anyway, the true answer to your thoughts are a 4 hour lecture I have been giving to people in person regarding the myths and realities about professional software work, buvt I wont dive into those.

    A couple of things to consider though.

    1- Following one sizable project from conception up through two former client deployments / releases can be a 12 – 18 month experience, so that would be the minimal time for a person to get up to speed with the basic SDLC issues.

    2- You have to recognize that architecture tradeoffs on a sizable enterprise product can mean $MM in costs either way, and a fresh graduate should be able to make himself capable of making those decisions.

    It is great that you have ideas and passion, but there are things that you will learn from the industry that will give you the insight to frame your ideas within — scalability is a good example of this.

    Just 2 cents worth of tips

  • Ghous Fakhri

    Well Osama, there are some good points wish Rana Kashif has pin pointed ! In fact, what I perceive that Software Industry in Pakistan must be ‘Institutionalized’. Meanwhile, minimize the gap between industry and institutions, will play a vital role.

  • Ghous Fakhri

    (sorry, there were some typos in my last post :) )

    Well Osama, there are some good points which Rana Kashif has pin pointed ! In fact, what I perceive that Software Industry in Pakistan must be ‘Institutionalized’. Meanwhile, minimizing the gap between industry and institutions, will play a vital role.

  • Kashif, the misconception that a lot of our graduates have is that you have to be a manager to generate good ideas and innovate. the matter of fact is if you are creative and passionate you can bring excellent innovation at the root level also being a coder in no way means limitation on your abilities. it is just a different tool you have to show your creativity.

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