24 May 2016 13:16 IST

Rise of the digital economy has given way to new talent demands, says Riverbed V-P

"R&D is the new frontier and India is leading the way"

It's not just outsourcing and software development which is growing in India. The new frontier is Research and Development (R&D) and India is leading the way in this niche as well, says Nagendra Venkaswamy, Vice-President (India and SAARC), Riverbed Technology.

Citing a study by consulting firm Zinnov, he said: “nearly 40 per cent of the $31 billion spent globally on engineering related R&D is accounted for by India.”

And we, at Riverbed Technology are in the process of expanding our engineering team as also look at establishing a new R& D facility in Bengaluru. Excerpts from an interview:

There’s been a great deal of focus on India’s engineering talent, the struggle to find specialised IT talent and so on. What are the challenges and opportunities for engineers in this country?

India’s IT engineering talent gap has remained a challenge for decades, but there has been little discussion around a suitable path to address it. The increasing ‘war for talent’ fuelled by the influx of VC-funded start-ups, as well as India’s growing prominence as a global hub for R& D, have reinvigorated the conversation. I think we’ve reached a tipping point.

There is no shortage of opportunities for skilled IT engineers; the challenge lies in ensuring the next generation of engineering talent is equipped with the skills required to meet industry demand for agile and strategic thinkers – those able to apply technical knowledge to solve real-world problems for customers.

This is no small task, and there’s no “silver bullet” for solving it. But instead of continuing to bemoan the skills shortage, IT companies have a tremendous opportunity to lead a change.

What in your perception have been the notable trends in hiring IT talent?

The legacy mentality amongst IT companies that once hired on credentials/degree alone is giving way to a new view on talent. Companies have over time realised that good grade alone is not enough to make one a good employee.

The rise of the digital economy has also given way to new talent demands – and a new era where technical skills must be complemented by business and social skills. Adaptability, risk-taking and the ability to think from a broader business perspective have become imperative. Hence, companies are taking a more strategic approach to talent acquisition, becoming increasingly inventive to attract and retain valuable candidates.

What key factors are drawing engineering talent to Riverbed in a competitive market?

Riverbed is fostering a unique culture within its India R&D team that rivals many of its larger peers. It’s a philosophy grounded in the company’s start-up roots – and one that backs the traditional hierarchical business culture of Asia – in this environment, every person counts, and innovation can come from anyone, regardless of title. Our engineers are challenging the status quo, setting a new bar and working towards achieving it.

What are your priorities – both from talent and business point of view?

India is a market that is ripe with opportunity for Riverbed. We have a relentless focus on improving user experience in the new digital economy. We do this by delivering technology that accelerates the performance of applications and networks, and makes the management of it all simple, fast and secure for our customers. We’re also focused on building and expanding our world-class R&D team in India. We’re solving some of the toughest challenges businesses are facing in the digital era.

What do you think young engineers should consider when sorting through the “clutter” of job opportunities – from start-ups to IT giants?

Engineers just starting out in their careers have opportunities that were unheard of even a decade ago. The flipside of this is that they can get a job without being keen on building a career in the space. Each organisation – be it a start-up or an IT giant has its own appeal. Culture is one of the most important factor in choosing an employer.

Given the rate of obsolescence in the tech sector, candidates should look for organizations that are fast, make decisions quickly, value feedback and have an open structure. At the same time, security and stability are critical in the long term. Most importantly, for engineers who are flexible, can adapt and are looking to build a career in technology rather than just a job, look for employers who can provide opportunities to work with customers directly and give you a vision of the whole product rather than being a cog in the wheel.

How can corporates/government play a key role in nurturing the next generation of engineering talent?

The Aspiring Minds National Employability Report cites that out of 1.5 lakh engineers who graduated in 2015, 80 per cent were unemployable. This signals the enormous mismatch that exists between the academic knowledge imparted through technical institutions and the real business needs of the industry, pointing the need for greater collaboration.

The good news is that developments in this area are already happening. Many multinationals have established alliances with academic institutions on specific initiatives covering faculty upgradation, internships, curriculum revision workshops, research incubation, etc., aggregating the architects of the new economy. Both Central and State governments are offering tremendous support towards this move.

Restructuring in engineering education must aim to meet the challenges of a greater knowledge base and emerging technologies, develop depth in management and creativity in problem-solving, as well as understand the risks and uncertainties of the times.

It is evident that science and engineering knowledge cannot be accommodated within the context of the traditional four-year degree.

Completing a degree course is only one step towards a career in engineering.