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What do grads of India's prestigious IIT schools think of Japan's efforts to go digital?

From right, Soumyadeep Roy, Gopal Aggarwal and Lav Shinde are seen at Tonichi Printing Co. in Koto Ward, Tokyo. (Mainichi/Tamami Kawakami)

TOKYO -- The Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) produce some of the world's best --and most famous -- IT professionals, Google parent company Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and new Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal among them. Meanwhile, the business world's hunger for IT workers, especially IIT graduates, only grows, not least in Japan. So, what do IIT alumni working in Japan think of this country's digital transformation, and what issues remain? The Mainichi Shimbun spoke to some graduates of the schools to find out.

    Amandeep Singh, a 2015 graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, works at a Tokyo-based venture capital firm specializing in startups. He told the Mainichi Shimbun that while Japan has quality IT workers, the pay is not much more than for other professions -- a fact he sees as problematic for Japan's digital transformation. In India, IT workers have comparatively good employment conditions.

    Singh's alma mater is famous for its computer science and electronics courses, among other subjects. The first of the national institutions was opened in 1951 in the West Bengal city of Kharagpur. Now, there are 23 IIT schools across India. It is said that 50 students compete for every place offered in the schools' admissions tests, and they now bring together the country's top science talents.

    Behind the growing popularity of IT-related fields is, according to Singh, the high wages. He told the Mainichi that many foreign firms outsource their operation in India, and these employees "earn 100,000 yen minimum" (about $860) per month, or some 10 times more than the base rate. "This is just average."

    Indian business newspaper The Economic Times's online edition covered recruiting of IIT graduates who entered the job market in December 2021. It reported that U.S. ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies Inc. offers new IIT graduates base pay, signing and other bonuses totaling some 20 million rupees (about 31.2 million yen or $269,000).

    Professor Parag Kulkarni, who got his PhD from IIT Kharagpur in 2001 and works at Tokyo International University's Institute for International Strategy, told the Mainichi that parents in India used to dream their children would become engineers or doctors. But the IT field is getting the attention it is today because of success stories like Alphabet's Pichai and Twitter's Agrawal. He added that there were very few IIT schools across India until the 1990s.

    What advantage do IIT graduates have? Saurabh Sharma, 37, completed his master's at IIT Kanpur in 2010 before coming to Japan, and now engages in clean energy technology research and development. He cites the strength of the bonds among alumni.

    The connections, he said, aren't just among students when they are at IIT, but are carried with them throughout their lives and also passed on to the next generation. The IIT alumni association has a Japan branch, too, and a social media group made up of former students and related individuals has about 200 members.

    Tokyo-based Tonichi Printing Co., which prints the Mainichi Shimbun and other newspapers, has hired IIT graduates as IT engineers since 2017, and currently has six on its staff. When the Mainichi visited the business, it was met by Lav Shinde, 26, Gopal Aggarwal, 27, and Soumyadeep Roy, 25.

    When Shinde and Aggarwal were on an internship at Tonichi Printing in 2016, their boss asked them to make something to share employee schedules with. Until then, reservations for conference rooms at the firm had been done on paper.

    The pair worked together for about two months to develop an application that could manage and share employees' schedules online. After being hired by the firm, they and other IIT graduates worked to improve the system, and now they are finishing an efficiency-boosting app for around 200 staff to use. The team has also developed a tool which can extract data from pictures of business cards taken with smartphones and other devices for Tonichi workers to share, and it's also been sold as a consumer product.

    Regarding Japan's digitization, Singh said the country's "purchasing power is very strong." He said 4G was adopted successfully in Japan because people can afford it, and this advances digitization. In contrast, "in India, if you have an option of 4G, 3G, 2G, most people ... will go for 2G, 3G if it is cheaper."

    According to Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare statistics, there were 71,284 foreign nationals working in Japan's information communications sector in 2020. Broken down by nationality, Indians are included in the "other" category comprising 12,229 people. But it appears the number of Indians working in the sector was far below that of China, the most highly represented nation with 33,533 workers, and other places.

    A 2019 Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry report stated that if demand for IT services sees just middling growth (about 2 to 5%), Japan's IT worker shortage would hit some 450,000 by 2030.

    Among IIT students, the most popular destination for work is the United States. IIT Hyderabad assistant professor Kotaro Kataoka said, "Japan is gradually becoming an attractive option, but the reality is people don't have a burning desire to go there. If graduates who found work in Japan tell their juniors about what work and life is like in Japan, then I hope the quality of Japanese firms will be appropriately appreciated."

    (Japanese original by Tamami Kawakami, Foreign News Department)

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