We need engineers with the guts to question our relevance, says Infosys

Code to the future.
Code to the future.
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For years, a job at Infosys, India’s second-largest IT services company, followed by an opportunity to live and work in the US, was the ultimate aspiration that drove middle-class teenagers to unknown engineering colleges across the country. With automation and tighter visa norms, many of these mundane coding jobs are vanishing. Unfortunately, Indian engineers are not entirely prepared for future jobs at the IT giant.

Quartz spoke with Richard Lobo, executive vice-president and HR head at Infosys, about how work and life at the Bengaluru-based behemoth are changing sooner than Indian colleges can keep up with.

Edited excerpts:

What is that one job that is going to be the future at Infosys?

There are three skills that would be important. First, skills related to experience—user experience, customer experience, digital experience. Here, we are looking for people who are creative and can design things, people who work on the interface and how things look like.

Second, we want people who can focus on security because data, and privacy, are becoming extremely important and as the digital world expands, most people are unable to keep up with the other side—with people who can illegally access your data or break in.

The third area is automation where you use artificial intelligence or machine learning to automate things. For me, the ideal hire should be able to span across at least two of these three areas.

What are some of those roles called?

People call them many things, like a security network expert, digital strategist, interface designer, data scientist, cloud engineer…But these are all terms that constrain people. I would like these people to be called “technology enablers” instead of slotting them into these categories, which are more useful for job portals.

Infosys-Richard Lobo
Richard Lobo.

Are you calling them technology enablers at Infosys?

No, we are also calling them by the titles I mentioned earlier. We are also as constrained as anyone else because if we make it too vague, people won’t join. But what we are really trying to tell people is you span across specialisations. You do more. You could join Infosys as a software engineer and you add these extra tags and skills as you go along. The important thing for your future growth would be how many tags you add against your name.

Job definitions are no longer as important as they were in the past.

How do you convince your significantly large mid-level employees to re-skill? Do people become rigid and less eager to change as they rise up the ladder?

That is something I worry a lot about. If you ask me, there would be no such thing as a middle layer in the future. Certain managerial skills, such as taking information from one place and putting it in another, or scheduling things or managing people, will not be required by too many companies in the future. Some large companies may retain them for a few more years but gradually these roles are going away.

Eventually, this middle layer will be defined by two categories of people: those who have kept up with the requirements of the future and those who have not.

How ready is the mid-level for that change? When we move out of college, we are used to a linear model where you get a promotion every few years, you get a hike and you manage more people. But the world demands a non-linear model. In this world, a kid fresh out of college may know more than what you know today. You need to be ready to learn what that kid knows and realise that what you knew 10-15 years ago is not that important today.

If managers are going to disappear, who will manage people?

I think managing people doesn’t really require a manager. Managing people is working together to get something accomplished. At various points in time, someone in the team will manage the rest of the team. And that person may not be the most senior, just the person who is most relevant at that point and to that task.

There are other aspects of management, such as deciding on a pay rise, etc. Those things will remain, but the number of people you need to do that will be very small.

Does this mean Infosys won’t be able to create massive numbers of jobs for tech graduates anymore?

If anything, Infosys will generate more jobs. Because the penetration of digital technology is still very small—30% globally, I would say—so there will be more work and the world still does not have enough people to do this new type of work. But the kind of work people are doing currently in the IT industry will change.

So what are you doing about it?

Earlier we used to hire from engineering colleges and give them a formal training with basics of coding and programming and so forth. Now we are hiring artists, graphic designers, people who have done liberal arts. The future needs people with different sets of skills coming together.

And, we already have a 200,000-plus workforce that we are re-skilling and repurposing.

Infosys hires a lot from tier-2 tech colleges across the country. Will that stop?

I strongly believe you can get good people from anywhere. We definitely need the best technology minds, but other people can also be trained. Our most successful people did not necessarily come from top colleges. We are, however, adding different kinds of colleges to our hiring pool, both in India and abroad. India is not the best place where you can hire creative talent or design talent.

Which are these new colleges?

To name a few, Rhode Island Institute of Design, Trinity College, Purdue. We are also looking for some partnerships in Europe and India.

Are you going to look at the IITs?

To be frank, we were not going to the IITs because their graduates were not joining us for regular jobs. A couple of years ago, we began looking for someone called the “power programmer.” It means someone who is really good at programming. It is an entry-level role but pays much more than the usual software engineer job.

This means you won’t be sending a lot of people to the US anymore? Working on-site used to be a big selling point for engineering aspirants.

The ability to move people freely across the world will be constrained over the next few years. So people will still go but not in numbers or frequency we are used to. People will have to do their early careers in the country they studied in. Later, based on skill and tech, options remain in the US. But the old model has changed.

If you were interviewing a newly-graduated techie right now, what is the one question you will definitely ask? 

Suppose you do not join an Infosys or a Tata Consultancy Services, what would you do?

The answer to that question would help me determine their risk-taking appetite. I see kids from engineering colleges who want to create something, or join startups, or do interesting things with their minds—those are the people we should be hiring.

What do you want that candidate to ask you?

I would want the candidate to ask me how relevant would Infosys be as a company five years from now. Because if we don’t change as a company, then we won’t be around.