India: Engineering & the Returning Diaspora

Neeraj Varma, Director of Sales for Xilinx India, discusses the local market, the returning diaspora and why India is the engineering centre of the world

In the past, Indians were well known for emigrating and never returning to their mother country. Yet over the last few years things have gradually begun to change. In fact since the financial crisis, greater numbers have been starting to move home. “The first reason for this is economic,” Neeraj Varma, Director of Sales for Xilinx India, explains over the phone. “The second, which I believe is more important, is family. They want to bring their kids back and take care of their parents.”

To facilitate this, the quality of employment opportunities within India has improved exponentially.  “Previously,” he tells me, “we didn’t have high value jobs which did cutting edge technology, but increasingly this has changed. Now the work here is no different from what they [the returning diaspora] were doing in the US [or Europe].”

Xilinx is a huge international player in the programmable logic space.  As a semi-conductor company it produces programmable chips that are used across a wide variety of industries from healthcare to telecoms… to the latest NASA mission to Mars.  And out of around 3,000 staff worldwide, nearly 500 are based in India - the majority in R&D in Hyderabad.

This is an impressive tally and although the Western media is full of doom and gloom about the Indian economy, when I ask Varma outright if he thinks the future is bright, his response is immediate: “Oh, absolutely! We have a lot of R&D here and lot of services.  There is also an increased focus on the local market which creates new manufacturing jobs and [plenty of] opportunities for people to have new product ideas. These are all signs which show that India has a very bright future indeed [both in] manufacturing and otherwise.”

“The standard of work is going up [continuously],” he continues. “Cost arbitrage is no longer as attractive as it used to be. [And we’re] increasingly [getting work] because [of our] talent, quality and technology. Back office processing and call centres will continue to move to cheaper markets. [But] the value-based work will continue [to move to India].”

 Skills are of continued importance in this type of market place. The problem, explains Varma, is finding good middle management “project leads”, people who have seven or eight years’ experience of the full project life cycle.  Graduates are not a problem. There are a wide variety of engineering schools across India and Xilinx has a very active university program to ensure that higher educational establishments remain up-to-date with the latest technology.

This is where the returning diaspora provides the missing part of the jigsaw. “India is really good at services,” explains Varma “We’ve mastered the art of services. [But] an engineer who works for a company [In India] may not get close to a product lifecycle, he’ll just be doing a point, small piece [and] doesn’t get the exposure on a managerial level to complete the full life cycle.”

Yet the returning diaspora “have worked in cutting edge technology. [And] they make excellent middle management,” he continues. “We have seen them both as our customers and at Xilinx itself. [In fact] over half of [the people we deal with] have worked in US and returned. This is a very healthy trend to help local companies to really come up with the value.”

Varma regards the local market to hold a wealth of unique potential. “There are not a lot of local products,” he says. “This is something that needs to change. [But it provides] tremendous opportunity for growth.” At present he has four categories of customer. These are the government, private, home-grown manufacturing companies, design centres for big multi-nationals and finally “large design houses” which he believes are exclusive to India. 

“These serve global customers,” he explains “And may be more known for IT services.” He provides the example of Infosys, “but they also have a lot of product design services. [And] when they design electronic products they end up using our chips. These are then produced by their end-customers somewhere else in the world. [This means] the R&D development is happening here, while the global manufacturing is happing elsewhere.”

“India is not producing a lot of equipment,” he concludes “but it is designing a lot. It may not be the manufacturing centre like China… but India is the engineering centre of the world.”


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect


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