by March 9, 2000 0 comments

Often enough in this column I have despaired about the stateof things in this country, about how we need to make the future more rosy.

Well, this time around I have good news.

A couple of weeks back, I spent a Sunday morning withstudents from some Delhi schools, checking out software projects that they hadworked on. Frankly, Sunday mornings are the worst time to get me to do anything.I’d rather not wake up at all on a Sunday. But I am glad that I made anexception that day.

These students had gathered for a competition. There weresome really good and original ideas–natural language processing to encryptionand map making to alternate desktops–that they had worked on, some for a yearand more, before the results were put on display. Sure, a lot of them lacked thefinesse that comes from spending a few million dollars in human interfaceresearch and graphics design. But as useable implementations of original ideas,they were easily at par with the best I have seen elsewhere. And most userswould have no problems working with these applications, as they were presented.

Naturally, I was curious. Where did they learn their skills?What motivated them to spend those long hours to produce these nifty pieces ofsoftware? What came out was perhaps not surprising. All of them had honed theirskills on their own. None of them had learned it at their schools, and none hadattended courses run by any computer institute. For most, the motivation was assimple as the need to learn, or to get into an IIT. And again most had no ideaof what to do next with their masterpieces, now that they were completed.

What I found, ironically, left me with feelings of bothelation and concern. Elation, because it gave me reason for hope about thefuture of computing and software development in this country. If what I saw wasa fair representation of the state of affairs, then I will venture to say thatthe future is in safe hands and is bright with promise. I will say that Indiacan become an even bigger software superpower than it is today.

I am concerned too. There are pitfalls on the way that needto be smoothened out, so that these attempts do not become flashes in the panthat are few and far in between. Isn’t it strange that in all the cases, thecomputer curriculum taught in schools was found to be totally inadequate? Isn’tit equally strange that not one of them picked up their skills from a computertraining institute? And finally, isn’t it disturbing that all those excellentideas, and many more like them across the country will never find applicationbeyond one competition or one class project? Ideas that could have helped makethe life of many a computer user easier will in all probability remain just that–ideas–after that one brief flash of glory at a class presentation or aninter-school event.

The challenge before us is to ensure that these ideas andenthusiasm don’t die a premature death. The challenge before us is to ensurethat in our rush to get dollar denominated projects from abroad, where thesebright minds will end up coding the sub menu item of a sub menu of a menu insome huge project, we do not kill the originality that they are capable of.

Krishna Kumar

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