Sainath's Advice on Saturday, August 20, 2011 :
Firstly, let us try to broadly analyze this - you have mentioned 2 types of companies, a captive center and a typical service based company. Let us evaluate the pros and cons of each.Captive center
A captive center will typically have it's Head Office in the US, UK,etc and the Indian office will be like an extended arm i.e. the staff will be part of the parent company's subsidiary in India, and will be treated as employees of the parent company itself and will be entitled to a host of similar benefits.Why do companies set up captive centers in India?
Simple - to reduce costs. Shifting the work to a cheaper outsourced location improves the financial health of the company quickly and modern day CEOs are just not able to resist this.Payoffs
- Professional management - it is a known fact that all captive centers have a very professional management at its HO in the home country which eventually controls the policy decisions which are implemented at the outsourced captive center also.
- Greater human / employee focus - professional organizations focus on employee betterment and retention. Treat employees as people, not as "resources"
- Better appraisal systems - usually these organizations follow the 360 degree feedback system which is a very democratic way of assessing an individual. It puts power in the hands of your direct customers (internal) since these will be employees and power does not get concentrated in the hands of your direct manager. Also, your annual goals will be synchronized with the organizational goals and the KRA setting exercise will be effective.
- Usually you will have good onsite managers - located in the UK / US
- Relatively relaxed work environment - don't get me wrong, the workload will be high but you will not get slaughtered. You will be given adequate amount of time
- Usually have a fixed staff welfare budget - which is generously used for organizing staff family picnics, parties ,etc
- Usually have a good training budget and organize quality training programmes throughout the year
- Some captive centers, particularly those in the investment banking world, provide opportunities to employees to complete their MBA in Finance and sponsor a sizable chunk of the costs.
- Captive centers are usually 1 generation behind in adopting technology - i.e. their main objective is to adopt a wait and watch approach and adopt the latest technologies only after it has been proven in the market. This is why you will see a lot of older technology based software being used in captive centers.
- Low costs are the key reason why captive centers are set up in India. As long as the wage outflow is comparably lower when thought of in pound or dollar terms, this model will work. However, this model has a limited life span as salaries are rising exponentially. One more factor which works against this model is that is is being copied by other countries where labour is cheaper than India. Over time, the value of the services offered will be the deciding factor rather than cost. Value differentiation can happen only in areas like quality of software delivered, etc and not in relatively simple areas like Service Desk because these functions are relatively easier to replicate. The captive center opportunities will exist for some years.
- A product company like your former company cannot exactly be called a full-fledged captive center, however, it also falls in this category. The advantage you have over here is that you may end up getting quality work to do.
- Occasionally you will feel as though captive centers are suspended in time. If you are unlucky you may actually end up working on really arcane technologies.
However, in the overall scheme of things captive centers are definitely very good places to work and offer a better quality of life in general.Service based companies
Let us now look at service based companies.Payoffs
- Better technology options - by their sheer nature of work, service based companies need to be on top of latest technologies if they have to survive in the market. Now this doesn't mean that just by being in such companies you will end up being technically strong - what it means is that if you are quick to upgrade and are also good at marketing yourself then you may land in projects which employ the latest technologies
- Sometimes, the biggest problem in a project seeks the best person, If you are open-minded and alert, you will be able to create your own opportunities, no matter what. Seek out the most difficult problems to solve - you will automatically become an expert. This one way of thinking has given me huge dividends.
- You can stay focused in 1 core technology area, for ex. .Net or Java or Data warehousing. In captive centers you are expected to work in many different areas which can lead to dilution of skills. It is not uncommon to see a single person work on .Net, Asp(not Asp.Net), VB6, Datastage, MQ Series and Unix.
- Plagued by the "resource" mindset, every developer is a resource, waiting to be "used". Sometimes, the human aspect is reduced or totally absent
- Typically, a service based company is divided into Accounts, each Account maps to an international client / company. The account management structure typically consists of an Account level manager, Delivery Head, Senior Manager/s, Project Manager/s. Within a project you will have the Architect, Team Lead,etc. Architect can also have the entire responsibility across projects. This structure typically leads to politicization in pockets.Meaning, since the 360 degree feedback is not in place, your appraisal is entirely in the hands of your reporting hierarchy giving them too much power over your future. In my opinion this is a major problem.
- If it is an unstructured organization, you may have to do a lot of lobbying if you wish to enter an account and get a position in a good project
- More often than not there will be fights, friction for limited onsite placements, hikes,etc
- I am not sure if a long-term career option is possible in service based companies without lobbying. Sometimes, this can be a challenge for the straight guys for whom "their work does the talking". You may need to create visibility for yourself at the right places even if it does not go down too well with your inborn nature.
- The number of developers is so large that you will be a drop in the ocean and no one will notice you.Personal attention does not exist in these organizations - if you have a concern you will have to shout. In this aspect, captive centres are far better.
- The sword of insecurity indeed lies heavily on your heads - inevitably, an economic boom means that these companies will staff aggressively only to sack people aggressively when there is a recession. In such a scenario, you have to be on your toes and upgrading becomes a necessity to survive, either within or outside of the company if need be. Even career progress becomes relatively secondary to the survival battle at times. To look at it in a different way, this ensures that you stay good in your core skill areas unlike captives, where the relatively relaxed environment will give you a false sense of security and ensure that you get comfortable and complacent. Consequently, your skills will not remain sharp and you will be caught off guard when you need to use your skills in the job market. This depends more on the individual.
So what's the best option?
- You can end up being a well-paid and well fed (pizzas on late nights) worker.
It entirely depends on what you are aiming for in the long term. If overall quality of life is your goal, captive centers are the way to go. If excelling in the latest hard core technologies is your goal, service based companies offer adequate opportunities.
Is one better than the other - I don't think so, it all depends on what you are looking for.Handling embarrassment
Well, the way to approach your former employer is to do it in a professional way. Don't plead, be professional. State your case clearly and tell them that it was a gross error of judgement on your part which you are seeking to correct now. Ensure that you do not have an emotional outburst when you meet them - this can be counterproductive.
Help them to take a decision which is of mutual benefit to both parties, Recruiting you again will save them time and money. At the same time, be aware of the fact that you may face resistance. Sometimes, organizations tend to think suspiciously and rightly so that people who have quit once may quit once again in the short term. You need to ensure that you state your case clearly to your local manager, your UK manager and the HR. Let them arrive at an informed joint decision rather than one person tilting the decision based on his judgement - this way you have a better chance. Again, be professional - remember, you are proposing something that is of mutual benefit to both parties and not asking for a favour.
Have posture and do not request. At the same time, do not be arrogant.
There is no question of being embarrassed - if things work out, great, If not, get going and prepare to gut it out in the organization where you are, whatever the circumstances. Do not worry what will happen unless something actually happens. For example, the fear of a second recession already has people running for cover while most of the base parameters are healthy. Ignore the noise, focus on solutions which is nothing but your skills.Role v/s Designation
Never run after fancy designations. Designations are creating havoc in the industry right now. AVP, Delivery Manager, Vice President, etc with no clear associated JD are leading people astray. Always scrutinize the role, designations do not matter - apart from giving you a false status boost. Look at the western world - people are happy working as developers or Team Leads right into their 40s, they do not seek designations.Please check out my earlier article which gives more insights.http://www.dotnetfunda.com/articles/article1441-choosing-the-right-employer-.aspx