During the past 5 months, I have made a couple of interesting observations. I am not sure whether these observations depict a general trend (which would probably be the case if my immediate social network is a representative sample of the IT industry in Pakistan), or if these cases are outliers (which would probably be the case if I hang out in strange company), but in either case, let me share my observations with you so that if this is indeed the shape of the things to come, then I can say “See-I-told-you-so” and feel smug about it after a couple of years 😀
Observation 1: There is a third wave of IT professionals coming back to Pakistan
The first wave happened when the dotcom bubble burst and truckloads of mostly Java programmers came back to the subcontinent. Many of us witnessed that and worried about our yet-to-start careers going bad, though it all worked out at the end.
The second smaller wave happened after 9/11, when a lot of Pakistanis started questioning their identity and came back in droves with their lifesavings in tow. This wave was responsible for a lot of small IT shops being set up, and also contributed to the boom in the property market besides the IT industry.
In the last five months, I have talked to quite a few people who are planning to come back to Pakistan. It is probably a small number to base any big conclusions on, but I think a “brain-gain” is in the making. These are the people who survived the dotcom era, stayed in the US, got married and had children – they are people from the initial batches of the better IT institutes all over Pakistan who graduated in the mid-nineties. Some want to come back because they don’t want their children to grow up as first generation Americans, and others want to come back because their parents are getting older and weaker, and the culture that they grew up in puts a lot of value in family ties and parents in general. Then there are those who have acquired a taste for capitalism and are coming back to be closer to cheap labor. Anyway, this is my first observation – the crop of the 90s is preparing to come back to Pakistan at an unprecedented rate. Is this a misconception or do you agree with it?
Observation 2: An underground IT culture is brewing
Programmers in Pakistan have been freelancing and moonlighting for a few years now, mainly because they aren’t getting paid enough at their daytime jobs, but I have noticed a recent change in this trend. A lot of people who jumped into freelancing during their final year at college have decided to stick to freelancing for foreign firms rather than going for a “regular” job with an IT shop. The people belonging to this underground culture are proud to be free, hang out at coffee shops and attempt to imitate/recreate the valley culture. They are proponents of a 4 hour work week, and why not, they can earn much more in a week than they would if they joined a software shop as a developer. They are good at what they do (which is the only way to survive in a free market) and they are growing in numbers – and that is not all. Some dinosaurs (children of the 90s) with much more experience than these newbies are quitting their 100K+ Rs. per month jobs and are joining this culture. The freedom of working for yourself from your home on your own schedule has arrived in Pakistan.
I have more substantial facts to back this theory, which include two friends who have quit senior management jobs to go solo (which is different from opening up your own shop, though it is usually the first step), and three people that I have interviewed who have been “spoiled” by freelancing and will only take a job if it matched the deal. But the bottom line is, people are taking freelance consulting as a serious career, with many of the good ones never applying for a job. Am I misinterpreting the tea leaves? Do you belong to this culture? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.