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Tech industry in India skyrockets

Tech industry in India skyrockets


Journal Gazette: Dina Bass

08 June 2015

Foreign students gain degrees in US, return home

Kunal Bahl’s American dream was coming together in late 2007. He had Ivy League degrees in business and engineering, a debut job at Microsoft and a roadmap to the career he’d always wanted in Silicon Valley.

Then his application for a U.S. visa was rejected and he was kicked out of the country. Lucky for him.

Back in India, he got over the shock and founded a company in New Delhi with a childhood friend. Today Snapdeal.com is one of the most highly valued startups in Asia’s third-largest economy, valued at about $5 billion.

The 31-year-old is one of the thousands of a generation of engineers and entrepreneurs who quit America for home – some by choice, some because of U.S. immigration barriers – to find a technology industry with more green-field opportunities than Silicon Valley. Many Indians aren’t leaving at all, or are going to the U.S. for degrees from Harvard and Stanford with no plans to stay after graduation.

The two governments don’t keep tech-sector reverse-migration data. But Sonali Jain, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Pembroke, who studies the phenomenon, calls this “a very upbeat moment in time for India” that encourages homecomings.

The constraints of the U.S. H-1B visa program do that too. Microsoft, Google Inc., Intel Corp. and others have been lobbying Congress for years to lift the annual cap on the number of foreign nationals who can get into the country and be employed on these skilled-worker visas, but lawmakers haven’t budged.

India’s booming startup culture probably wouldn’t feel any affects if the H-1B floodgates suddenly opened.

The super-growth potential these days is east, not west. While only about 19 percent of Indians are connected to the Internet, their numbers are mushrooming. Economic output is expanding at an annual rate of more than 7 percent, and by some projections the country’s population will reach 1.6 billion to surpass China’s by 2050.

India is hard to resist. Google engineering executives Peeyush Ranjan and Punit Soni recently left the company and California for home, moving to Bangalore to join Flipkart, India’s largest e-commerce company and Snapdeal’s main domestic rival.

The trend is a dramatic shift from the 1980s and 1990s, when a graduate education and employment in the U.S. were the brass rings for engineers like Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive officer.

Now for anyone interested in programming or e-commerce or mobile-device apps, India “is like the late 1990s in the U.S.,” says Bahl, Snapdeal’s CEO, who regularly fields inquiries from Indian graduates of his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, eager for jobs in India.

“It’s only recently that we are seeing the best people return,” he says. “Everything is new. There is a lot of headroom and low-hanging fruit.”

Jun 8, 2015
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