One of the many memories of the rookie hack days is being packed off to Bengaluru in the early 1990s for the annual Nasscom conference. IT services then were just coming into their own, thanks to efforts of evangelists like Harish Mehta, a founding member of the then fledgling association that would unify IT entrepreneurs, and the late Dewang Mehta, president of Nasscom from 1991 to 2001. The 24-hour train journey from Mumbai was worth it not just for the IT head honchos I met and heard for the first time, but also for the chance to hear N Vittal, the visionary secretary of the Department of Electronics, address the entrepreneurs and techies gathered.
Fast forward to 2022, when two stalwarts captured the journey to world-class and world-scale that had picked up steam in the early ’90s, in their books. One is Harish Mehta’s The Maverick Effect: The Inside Story of India’s IT Revolution.
Vittal, perhaps the first bureaucrat to believe in the Indian IT story, had his inimitable expansion of Nasscom. “N stands for nuts, A for ass, S for stupid, S for screwball, C for crazy, O for oddball, M for mad. And I am the leader of the group,” he had said.
Harish does well to capture the journey via such anecdotes—and hard numbers. “When we seeded Nasscom in 1988, the IT services export revenue was all of $52 million. In 2017, this number had touched $154 billion, a 10,000 times growth in less than 30 years,” he writes.
The other book that ploughs a similar furrow is Against All Odds: The IT Story of India, by Infosys Co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, along with two younger IT professionals, N Dayasindhu and Krishnan Narayanan. The authors, like Harish Mehta, acknowledge Vittal’s role in making “the king’s horse fly” by cutting red tape and flagging off the game-changing software technology parks in the early ’90s.
The king’s horse occasionally stumbled, courtesy global events (the dotcom bust of 2001, the global financial crisis of 2008) and isolated scandals back home, like the Satyam fraud. Yet, the galloping never stopped, and by the time the Covid-19 pandemic struck, note the authors, “the Indian IT industry embraced the new normal of remote work as well as a hybrid model with aplomb, successfully managing client projects”.
The authors believe that Indian IT services are poised to enter the next orbit by becoming “partners in the digital transformation of their clients”. Gopalakrishnan and other Indian IT pioneers are perhaps envisioning the next few decades for the sector; but nearer-term events prompted Forbes India, led by tech editor Harichandan Arakali, to dive deep into the sector.
The cover story is on LTIMindtree, an entity borne out of the merger of the infotech business of Larsen & Toubro and the company Subroto Bagchi, Ashok Soota, K Natarajan and Anjan Lahiri founded in the late ’90s. The first target, in revenue terms: Hit $10 billion in the next four to five years, from roughly $3.5 billion in FY22. As global recession fears grip economies, CEO and MD Debashis Chatterjee hasn’t forgotten the lesson of the Covid-19 pandemic. “When there is a crisis, stay close to your clients,” he tells Arakali.
In Against All Odds, Infosys Founder NR Narayana Murthy is quoted saying that along with improving work productivity and enhancing innovation capabilities, “our job is to attract the best and the brightest”.
Tens of thousands of those people find themselves at a crossroads, as IT firms either lay off or go slow on onboarding as cuts in global tech budgets loom. To find out what is it to be an Indian IT worker in the current climes, don’t miss Naini Thaker’s ‘Trouble In Paradise’.
(This story appears in the 21 April, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)