Pratik BhaktaFeb 26, 2020 12:41:08 IST
Shirshendu Karmakar works for a leading Silicon Valley startup, codes like a wizard and earns top dollars for the cutting-edge software solutions he provides.
The 34-year-old is living the proverbial American dream but in Bagdogra, a small town in the Himalayan foothills of West Bengal, thousands of miles away from the Silicon Valley hub of San Jose.
With software services moving on to the cloud, the world moving towards open-source solutions and fast internet reaching every corner of the country, Indian techies like Karmakar are choosing to work remotely, joining the ever-growing ranks of the gig economy.
Cloudy with a chance of remote work
Dharamsala, Patna or Coimbatore, geography just doesn’t matter as long as there is a fast internet connection and engineers are armed with the right set of tools.
Sahil Kumar, a 29-year-old software engineer, specialises in user interface designs for apps and websites. He has been working remotely for a year now and has had an American client as well as one in Delhi-NCR.
“It makes my work timings flexible, I can give enough time to my family and also at the same time get to work in the latest technology initiatives across multiple companies,” said Kumar.
“Sometimes I work out of a co-working space, sometimes out of a Starbucks and sometimes out of my work station at home.”
Helping these engineers find clients are platforms like GoScale and Pesto, which are tapping into this growing trend of Indians looking for global opportunities from the comfort of their homes.
GoScale connects engineering talent with startups or tech companies looking to build and scale-up platforms quickly. It also allows companies that do not have a physical presence or registration in India to hire Indian talent.
This offers freelancers a chance to work for the best in the world. They get paid by the hour, their work gets measured through digitised timesheets and the more dedicated and efficient they are, the higher the price they command.
“I get to live with my family and work independently, as an engineer I get to work on innovative, cutting edge products and also work with different teams learning from them and contributing equally,” said Karmakar. He worked with Tata Consultancy Services and LinkedIn before going freelance.
GoScale not only connects companies with engineering talent, but it also plays the role of an ideal middle layer. From payroll to insurance and other legal requirements, the company manages everything.
If a foreign company wants to hire Indian talent, GoScale helps it as well. The platform gets engineers on its rolls and makes them work for the client company. This helps foreign entities hire engineers from India without having to set up an office or register an Indian subsidiary.
“Look at the increasing housing rentals, tightening visa norms and falling standard of living in Indian cities, all these indicate towards a world, where people will prefer to work from their hometowns or small cities, remain connected at all times and try to have a better life, we are setting ourselves to grab that opportunity,” GoScale CEO Raghu Bharat said.
Founded in 2017 by Bharat, Shubhanshu Srivastava, Nirmaan Agrawal, and Dheeraj Lalchandani, all engineers, Delaware-headquartered GoScale has offices in Hyderabad and Bengaluru. The bootstrapped startup has 150 engineers who work for more than 35 clients, from India and all over the world.
From established companies like Swiggy, Ola Electric, Blackbuck and Grab to early-stage smaller startups like Fintso, Rapidue or Israeli startup Coralogix, GoScale provides them with engineering talent.
“We have 24 people with expertise in DevOps working for Swiggy and they have sent a request for 20 more, the demand for such engineers is huge,” said Bharat.
Pesto, a Gurguram-based startup backed by Matrix Partners, is also a player in the remote working setup. It encourages Indian engineers to find work across the globe, be it the US, Germany or Singapore.
Geography should not be a barrier. People should be able to command salaries at a global scale if they have the talent and remote gigs offered that opportunity, Pesto cofounder Ayush Jaiswal said.
“We have seen a five-time jump in salaries for engineers who are working for foreign clients, compared to what they were making in Indian companies,” said Jaiswal.
Pesto also trains engineers in languages and tools that can help them find such gigs. There is a big talent deficit in the industry and that is the opportunity the company wants to tap.
While applicants do not need to pay anything upfront, Pesto takes 17 percent of their salaries for three years once they get placed.
“We do batches of 50 people and take them through a rigorous three-month program and then we place them at various companies where they can work remotely,” Jaiswal said.
In the comfort zone
The arrangement works well for the other side as well.
Engineers prefer these gigs because they are always learning something new, they get to command premium salaries and can set the pace of their work.
“You cannot keep jumping from one company to the other in search of exciting projects, it starts off well then always slows down,” said Kumar. “I have tried my hand in real estate, media and auto retail, now I prefer to work on projects independently.”
This concept of remote engineers got wings in the West since it allowed American startups to dip into the Eastern European talent pool, without bothering with visas, work permits and other such tiring formalities.
This gave rise to marketplaces like Upwork and Toptal, which connected engineers with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
The Nasdaq-listed Upwork has a market cap of more than a billion dollars. Toptal is also said to be a unicorn, with an estimated revenue of more than $100 million.
Bharat believes this is the future of work, with urban centres becoming unliveable, talented engineers will prefer working out of their comfort zone.
Technology and seamless connectivity will only enhance such practices. With the coming of 5G, the little bit of latency in networks today will also be gone.
While there are thousands of engineers in India, finding the ones with the right talent set is tricky.
Industry insiders say that Indian engineers have a very strong services background but their understanding of products and designs is restricted. India has not seen many product companies being created, it is only now that innovation is being driven in the field by the new generation startups.
Remote working also needs a special set of soft skills still missing among Indian developers and engineers. In many cases, family pressure to work a traditional white-collar job at a designated IT park also drives young tech enthusiasts to the mainstream.
Also, remote engineers are still considered a supporting mechanism in the Indian work environment. They will continue to act as boosters to the in-house engineering team. They will always be looked at as specialists, who can solve sudden problems, help companies scale and build platforms at short notice. For strategy and planning, leaders will always look at their tech teams.
Deepak Abbott, who was a senior vice president at Paytm before he quit to start his venture, said remote engineers can only contribute that much. There would always be a need for a team that can work with the founders and evaluates these techies working remotely, he said.
“These remote coders are important for developing platforms but my relationship with them is purely transactional, I also need people to brainstorm with, so I will still need a core engineering team,” he said.
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