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India’s on fast track to tech superpower status


Nvidia hailing India as a “global tech superpower” raised many eyebrows, given the country’s history of superstitious beliefs and caste discrimination. Yet the progress is real, and India still has much untapped potential that could see it justify its ambition to become a top-three global economy ahead of Germany and Japan.

Pulkit Mathur, once a dentist, has transitioned into an entrepreneur in India. He currently oversees two tech companies, Queppelin and Vossle, which focus on Metaverse, immersive experiences, AR, VR, and gaming, and has witnessed India's transformation into a tech powerhouse firsthand.

Nvidia’s assessment, he believes, “is based on sentiment and soft facts. Some of the top tech CEOs are Indians.”

He adds: “The number of captive centers [owned and operated by clients] in India is growing. India is now the go-to destination if a large enterprise is trying to set up a tech R&D center,“ he said.

India now has the world's second-largest internet user base, with 881 million connected people. That still leaves 37% of the population without internet access.

CEOs of Indian origin now run some of the world’s largest tech corporations. India is the go-to outsourcing destination for IT, with the most prominent companies reaching a headcount of 600,000, and also is the largest exporter of the industry’s services.

And what is the secret sauce of this success? India outproduces other nations in one of the most valuable resources – tech talents – to such an extent that many graduates are left without a job in a highly competitive environment.

“India produces the highest number of engineers in the world. In the last five to six years, the quality has increased drastically, fueled by the exposure to online learning and remote work culture. Indians are also the fastest adopters of technology,“ Mathur said.

He is proud that Indian engineers are behind many popular software products, such as ZOHO.

“Aspiration and hunger to succeed in Indians has led them to this,” he said.

India recently hosted world leaders for the G20 summit and landed its first spacecraft on the Moon.

At the time of writing, the main headline in one of the most popular Indian news websites, Aaj Tak, boasted: “India will leave many big countries behind, this big dream of PM [Narendra] Modi will be fulfilled in the next four years, IMF also approved!”

And many agree. India's GDP is projected to grow 6.1% in 2023 and maintain this tempo at least until 2028, International Monetary Fund forecasts show.

“India has been a growing economic superpower in multiple spheres for years now, and technology is pretty much their main focus. In terms of global technology rankings, I consider India to be the third option after the US and China. India's own companies may not exactly be dominating the tech world, but their workers and executives are doing wonderful things worldwide,” said John Xie, co-founder and CEO at Taskade in California.

Unemployment – not a weakness, but a potential

India has both the largest number of engineers and the most extensive infrastructure to prepare them, including 2,500 engineering colleges, 1,400 polytechnics, and 200 schools of planning and architecture.

Each year, more than a million students in India register for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for admission to various technical undergraduate programs in engineering, architecture, and planning.

India produces 1.5 million engineering graduates every year, according to a survey by NASSCOM in 2019. That is 7.5 times more than the total engineering degrees awarded in the US.

Yet, 80% of Indian engineering graduates struggle to get a job, and lack of skills is blamed for that, India Today writes. Employability among Indian engineering graduates was about 57 percent, according to data by Statista.

Whichever the reason, oversupply of poorly trained workers or insufficient demand, nearly a quarter (23.89%) of young Indians aged between 15 and 24 were jobless in 2022, while India recorded an overall unemployment rate of 8% in July 2023.

This large and young population, eager to adopt new technologies, is seen as an untapped potential for a growing economy.

Adarsh Benz Lal, an Indian on his way to start a Media Tech company and editor at oddplug.com, believes that eliminating the digital, socioeconomic, and gender divides will enable an inclusive, knowledge-based economy.

“India's technology journey has been shaped by visionary policies, high-caliber institutions, and determined entrepreneurs. With its vast talent pool and digital foundations, India is poised to become a global innovation hub. Staying committed to equitably upskilling its youth through quality education and R&D will be key to realizing this technology leadership,” said Benz Lal.

He added that outsourcing pioneers, such as Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys, honed India's IT services model and employed millions in the country. The startup ecosystem is thriving, backed by active venture capital investments. Prioritizing R&D spending and infrastructure, currently at 0.65% of GDP, can help tap India's full potential.

“Tech hubs like Bangalore are global magnets for innovation, housing R&D centers for major firms like Google and Apple. While the US and China often steal the limelight, India has a deep talent pool and is home to some of the world's largest software services firms,” said Ajay Porwal, SEO expert from Udaipur, Rajasthan, and co-founder of DroidOwl.

Education for all via the free platform

India is already known for its educated, English-speaking workforce. Yet India’s government made further strides to make education more accessible.

It has launched the free Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA) that is accessible to anyone in the world. Already, 1.48 million schools and almost 300 million students in India are served by DIKSHA, offering 36 local languages and English.

DIKSHA contains textbooks, videos, explainers, practice questions, and other learning materials for students from all grades. No registration is required to access the courses.

diksha

“This initiative revolutionizes education, offering free materials and bridging the rural-urban educational divide. It embodies India's spirit of 'frugal innovation,' doing more with less,” Porwal from DroidOwl said.

Further upgrades are planned as the Ministry of Education announced that the software firm Oracle will revamp DIKSHA using Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) to enhance accessibility and reduce IT costs.

A Personal Adaptive Learning (PAL) assistant, based on AI, is also being tested to provide an individualized learning experience to each student and help reduce drop out levels.

“Policies like liberalization in the '90s and the establishment of IT parks laid the foundation. Reforms like the National Education Policy 2020 have aimed at making education more practical and skill-oriented,” said Shoumya Chowdhury, CEO of the website knowworldnow.com from Delhi. “Platforms like DIKSHA have helped democratize education by providing free learning materials to millions of students.”

Not everything revolves around government policies, educational reforms, and money funneled into the development of the Indian tech sector.

“The people deserve a lot of credit too, and in my experience as a startup co-founder, people from India are some of the hardest and most disciplined workers today,” Xie from Taskade added.

Challenging road ahead

The road ahead won’t be easy. While basking in the spotlight of global attention, challenges persist for India.

Many experts have cited infrastructural bottlenecks, highlighting that even access to the internet is not ubiquitous across the country. Regulatory hurdles continue to constrain startups and hinder business expansion. Additionally, the tech sector has yet to ascend the value chain, transitioning from outsourced IT services to product creation.

The regional powerhouse, China, is also unlikely to relinquish its substantial market share to India without resistance, even if capital flows are shifting.

“The interplay of history, policy, and an innate spirit of adaptability has steered India's tech journey. I believe the next decade will be even more transformative,” Porwal hopes.


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