S. Somasegar | Indian software developers must innovate to stay ahead

S. Somasegar | Indian software developers must innovate to stay ahead

Chennai: Microsoft Corp.’s more-than-a-decade-old research and development centre in Hyderabad with over 1,500 developers is testament to the world’s largest software maker’s faith in India. But China’s growing crop of English-speaking programmers could intensify the pressure on Indian developers to produce more original software, S. Somasegar, senior vice president of Microsoft’s developer division, said in an interview. Edited excerpts:

While India obviously has a lot of raw programming talent, do you think our education system is doing enough to allow the talent to be exploited?

In this country, our education system is geared to help students in a particular way. For example, in the Imagine Cup (a recently concluded Microsoft student technology contest), we saw kids from countries where they have a little bit more exposure to – ‘Hey, I have this idea, how do I turn it into a business plan?’ – that’s a place where we feel there’s a gap in certain parts of the world. In universities in India, I feel we can provide a little bit of nudge to help them point in the right direction.

What kind of competition is China offering to programming talent from India?

From an evolution of development capability perspective, at least from a Microsoft perspective, India is slightly ahead of China, only because we’ve been here longer and the language (knowledge of English) does make a huge difference. The good thing about China, though, from my perspective, is that once they are focused, they drive hard – very, very, very hard. The day we can say India is the unquestionable leader in the world of IP (Intellectual Property) creation, software creation, technology creation, core innovation, that’s the day I’d feel we are ahead of the curve – we are leading the pack. Today I can’t tell you that.

The trend seems to indicate that the first Internet access point for much of the world is going to be the mobile phone. Is the mobile platform going to be a focus for you?

You’re right, and our fond hope is that it’s all going to be smartphones, but that’s going to take a bunch of time, and the right price points to go with it. But the rate at which technology is advancing, the rate at which price points are dropping, and the kinds of capabilities that end-users want, we are focused first and foremost on the smartphone category – we’re not focused on the feature phone category today.

Have you looked at low-cost personal computers to increase your penetration – that’s a market numerous players are addressing today?

The rest of the world is all excited about the mobile form-factor (the form of the computing device). But the PC is not going anywhere. We’ve got one-plus billion installed PC bases in the world today. That means one out of every seven human beings in this planet has access to a PC. But the remaining six people don’t have it. It’s just not clear to me that this one form factor is the one that’s going to get us reach to the other six people. Maybe some other form factor – today we think it’s the phone; tomorrow it may be the slate. We are trying to figure out what resonates with the customer. My intuition tells me it’s going to be something like a phone device.