To engineer or not to engineer?

I’m an Indian.

It’s so funny how, most Indians would immediately sympathise (and probably empathise too) with me the second they read the title and the first line. And with anyone who’s noticed the huge influx on Indian immigrant engineers in the States or anywhere else in the world, this might be some sort of a joke. Something you chuckled at. Well, let me tell you that for someone in the eye of the storm, it is NO laughing business.

Indian society-much like most other societies in the world too- is very fixated on the idea of becoming rich, and leaving behind the type of conditions one was born in to. With an unacceptable portion of our population in poverty, this is a pretty reasonable thing to say. It is also not unreasonable for middle class families to want their children to do better for themselves.

In the generation of my father, being an engineer suddenly seemed a more lucrative job offer than the prevailing professions such as being a doctor or a lawyer. However, it is to be noted that this was because of the boom occurring in the IT market at the time and the fact that Indians provided cheap labour, and were given the opportunity to live in the most desirable melting pot- the United States of America.

Little did it matter that they would often get underpaid or be unhappy; they were in the videsh, with great wide spaces, good laws and earning in dollar notes. Their life would be set. That mindset has persevered for more than 10 years, leading to India becoming one of the biggest exporters and hubs of the IT industry. I can safely say that we haven’t been left behind in the race to being tech-savvy, because I come from the Silicon Valley of India.

Unfortunately, this place is entirely filled with software employees who feel that apart from software, there is no other industry where your child can eat, have a roof over her head and “Be happy”. I hate the Indian parents’ usage of the phrase “be happy.”

Beta, we just want you to be happy“, they say while they dictate your life according to what they feel is best for you, despite knowing you may never want to head in that direction. It is rightly said that parents only make you do what they think will keep you happy, or what would have possibly kept them happy. If you think that the increase in the number of standup comedy artistes or other artistes in the country points to a change in the scenario- Ha. Ha. Ha. No.

The second you’re born an Indian, you’re either going to be sent to Med school, or be made an engineer out of. If your parents are a bit more liberal they might let you be an accountant or a lawyer. But that’s about it. Any other job, and people consider you a useless good-for-nothing who has brought shame on the family by not even being able to have a degree in Engineering. You will have no other goals, and will be specially grilled in the hopes of becoming an engineer or a doctor. If you’re successful, you’re greeted with smiles and sweets and pats on the back. If not, you’re disowned and your parents only speak of you with disappointment.

Then the mom comes in crying with emotional blackmail. I just want you yo be happy. Don’t you see this could make you happier than roaming around in the grasslands being a wildlife photographer?

Couldn’t you fulfill this one dream of mine? Your father asks you teary eyed, then angrily stalks off, perhaps breaking something in the process. What about my dreams, dad?

Sadly, the mob mentality in picking engineering as the career you want for your child will never go away. The race to be a student in India’s most prestigious engineering colleges-the IITs is as intense as ever. Students losing their health (physical and mental), social skills, interest in life, and even their lives over this, is not a good sign for the country.

I will not attempt to break down the industry and processes concerning the path to IIT, the humiliating questions from neighbours and the horrible Indian mentality, or even the coaching centers that earn millions while actually being of no help to your self esteem. It’s sufficient to say that there are nation wide entrance tests in two phases to get through and your rank determines which branch of IIT you can go to with the available subject of your choice.

Now, I have no complaints about this because this system of exams is as fair as it gets. But parents? Oh, no. Even if you do work hard and break your back and get a seat in one of the colleges, unless you are qualified to take the Computer Science or Electronics and Communications (emerging fad amongst parents and students), then you aren’t going there.

Never mind the four years of gruelling hard work, blood, sweat, tears, bile and sanity you had to lose for this. You’ll go to a local college with less than half the amenities just so you can proudly hold your head high and call yourself a Computer Science graduate. Brilliant.

Never mind that India has an engineering job crisis now, not only because of how our biggest market, the so called heavenly “States” have made our lives harder thanks to Trump’s new policies, or because there are more engineers than there are jobs.

Oh no, the job market for this will never die down, they say. Open a startup, they say. Never mind that most startups are down in loss and the number of startups opening has drastically decreased in just the span of one year.

Who cares if you have an aptitude for art, beta? Who cares if you want to go in to business?  It’s the Indian rule: always become an engineer first, and then do what you actually want to do so you’ll always have a back up. Something to fall back on in case your artistic low paying job doesn’t foot the bills for you.

This is same idiotic mindset that pushes budding accountants and historians into science, because you can always come back and do science after humanities, but not the other way around. And then when you do decide to do what you really want-

Why beta? You’ve just spent four years studying this. Do you want to waste all that?

This was your idea!

What do you mean, you want to be an artist and quit college?( That’s the ultimate disgrace in India for a student in terms of academics, btw). Now you’re an idiot who couldn’t finish what she started due to lack of brains. Listen to me beta, you’ll be thanking me once you’re on a holiday on the beach in Durban.

What is this rubbish? Are you seriously telling me that you think every single engineer is a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates? Just joining a big corporate doesn’t make you happy!

“Oh my goodness, a job offer at Facebook or Google for 1 crore? Amazing! Pack your bags immediately!”


Do you know that a lot of Google employees aren’t actually as happy as you think because of how big a corporation it is, how they can’t really contribute as much as they’d like, and that there really isn’t job satisfaction? The problem starts when we get enticed by the big packages and the fun looking photos of Google HQ.  Getting a huge amount of money to remain unhappy and have a midlife crisis? I’ll pass, thanks.

FYI, midlife crises are now a huge thing in India, with a lot of SOFTWARE ENGINEERS dropping out of their jobs to pursue something of their own interest.

According to dazeinfo.com

1.5 Million Engineering Pass Outs In India Every Year, Fewer Getting Hired [Trends] Engineering colleges have been springing up like wild mushrooms in India in the last few years.

So now, thanks to your own stupid obsession with IT, there are more and more IT colleges opening up in India and that increases the demand, decreasing the employability rate, which means that thanks to your own dream, I’m now going to find it hard to find a job, mom!

And I can’t think about how things are now- no no no no. As someone about to enter college, I have to somehow envision the scenario 5-10 years later and then decide. And who knows what would’ve happened by then?

When I bring this up with my mom, I tell her that engineers are finding it hard to have jobs. So she starts off “Isn’t it better to take a core subject like Computer Science, then?” I absolutely lose it on the inside. That’s where the problem lies!

If I want to do anything else, there’s no scope. But if I want to jump on the bandwagon and head towards the IT abyss that only spells disaster from afar, oh yes, that’s the right choice beta, we’re so proud of you.

I give up!

Let’s just call this part one of the rant, a culmination of the frustration of all my peers and bit of mine too.


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