Being an Engineer in India
India is an emerging powerhouse that has become the world’s sixth largest economy. And to drive the country’s development even further, the government has made energy, infrastructure and technology its priorities for the coming years. This means that engineers are in high demand. But in a country with over 1.3 billion inhabitants, 29 states, 22 regional languages and a myriad of local customs and practices, skills are not the only criteria for working and innovating in Gandhi’s homeland.
France, Germany, the United States and China may be the best-known countries for engineering but India is climbing high up the ranks, propelled by very fast economic growth which reached 8% in 2017. In phase with this development, India is investing in the latest technologies to modernise its overall economy and develop smart solutions for its energy infrastructure and transport networks so that its population has a modern, comfortable and sustainable lifestyle.
In the space of just a few years, cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai have become high-tech hubs and are now home to some of the best engineering schools (e.g. the Indian Institute of Technologies and Mahindra École Centrale) as well as engineering giants such as Mahindra, Microsoft, General Electric, Airbus and Schneider Electric.
This momentum has created high demand for well-qualified engineers. According to Sreejesh Sundaresan – a 36-year-old graduate in electronic and instrumentation engineering from Mahatma Gandhi University and a technical manager at Assystem Axiscades – “This is particularly the case for IT/ITES skills which are needed for microprocessor design, the IoT, on-board systems and the development of software, mobile applications and visualisation technologies”.
As is the case in all industries, an engineer’s career path will then depend on which sector they work in, but Sreejesh adds “To be a good engineer, you have to be willing to learn, deploy and work with the new technologies that will emerge throughout your career”.
So, in terms of skills, technologies and processes, being an engineer in India is much like anywhere else in the world. But the living and working environment can be very different. Which means that before applying for a job there it’s best to know the pitfalls to avoid and some of the country’s specific business practices and behavioural codes.
It all comes down to trust
In India it’s very important to show hospitality, both at home and at work: “Hospitality is part of the whole business negotiation process. Meetings often begin with a tea or coffee and something to eat, which it’s polite to accept. Relations and feelings play a more important role in decision-making in India than in other countries”, explains Sreejesh. “Indians are generally more prepared to take a risk on someone if they trust them. This means that a person’s credibility and reliability are essential when it comes to negotiating an agreement.”
Sreejesh also explains that Indians have an “inductive” thinking system, which for people from deductive-thinking cultures can make them seem as if they aren’t concentrating or aren’t getting to the point. “In the Indian psyche, reality can only be understood in its general context. For Indians to fully understand [a person, an event or an idea] they need to have a personal, social and historical context to place them in. So sometimes you need to be prepared to answer questions that seem a bit off-subject.”
As Indians are generally prudent, when they study a new business proposal, they’ll base their decision not only on the subject matter but also on the person putting forward the proposal. In other words, information about a person “has a major influence on whether a new idea will be accepted. So you really need to take this into account in the negotiation process”.
Decision making can therefore be very drawn out in Indian companies. And it is made even longer by other cultural aspects – the cast system for instance. There is a very clear-cut respect for hierarchy: “Only the Chairman or top executives of a company will take commercial decisions”, says Sreejesh. “And often you’ll see people stand up when their manager enters the room. If you’re not sure whether or not you should stand up, always take the most prudent course of action.”
The little things that make all the difference
It is also important to remember that India is very multi-cultural. It has 29 states, and language, religion, dance, music, architecture, food and customs differ from one region to another. An engineer who is a newcomer to India is bound to mix up these cultures not only in the street, shops and restaurants but also at work. But Sreejesh is reassuring on this point: “People are usually quite flexible and will respect the culture, lifestyle, language and religion of each individual.”
Attention to detail can often make a big difference, such as using the right official title when you’re addressing someone. You should say Professor, Doctor, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. followed by the person’s surname. And, unlike in Europe, a person’s surname says a lot about their social background. Sreejesh goes on to say: “An Indian’s name gives a lot away about that person. For instance, a Singh is generally (but not always) a Sikh. And the suffix “-jee” (like in Banerjee) indicates that the person comes from a high cast.”
This type of detail is important when negotiating. Whether it’s for a new business contract or buying a car, Indians want flexibility in the negotiation process. So making a simple proposal without offering the possibility of reducing the price or making other concessions may seem too rigid to an Indian.
And politeness extends to every aspect of business, right down to how to exchange business cards. “If someone gives you a business card, make sure you put it away respectfully and don’t just shove it in your trouser pocket”, Sreejesh warns. “And make sure you both give and receive business cards with your right hand.”
Another sign of respect that’s important if you want a successful career in India is the language you use when talking with your team members. “When you’re doing business in India it’s acceptable to use English. But to have a successful career in the country, an engineer needs to be able to talk with their colleagues and be ready to learn several languages: at least English, Hindi and the regional language of the state they’re working in.”
Lastly, 30% of India’s inhabitants are vegetarian and some people even refuse to eat with non-vegetarian colleagues. And beef is banned in many Indian states. So, if you want to work in India you may have to go without some of your favourite foods…