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Academia to the Industry – How to stay ahead of the game?

I happened to watch a Hindi movie called ‘Aarakshan’ the other day and was shocked to see how the education ‘industry’ is portrayed. I am not saying that the movie reflects the absolute reality, but it does bring some disturbing facts to light. In the last couple of decades, the education system has undergone unprecedented commercialization including large number of universities opening up across India. However, it feels like the gap between academia and industry has widened especially in fast moving fields like IT industry. Currently, as of 2011, approximately 350,000 engineering students graduate each year in India with over 2.5 million university graduates. As per the study conducted by McKinsey recently, an alarming 25% of these engineering graduates remain unemployed. In a separate report, NASSCOM projected a shortage of about 500,000 knowledge workers in the IT industry. These two contrasting reports are one of the many indicators of a deep incongruence between the demands of the industry and the quality desired OF its work force.

UN is predicting that if developed economies and developing economies doesn’t come up with coordinated strategy for jobs and growth, world will be pushed towards global recession (http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/policy/wesp/index.shtml). UN is predicting that developed economies will have negative growth in 2012 and about 1.1% in 2013 while developing economies like China, India & Brazil will drive growth of developing world at around 4% which is still lower than original prediction.

What does this mean for fresh graduates? Will the job opportunities drop? Will companies not hire new blood? Will there be no exciting startup initiatives? Will the VC's stop funding new cutting edge ideas? No, these and other new avenues that create jobs will continue to open up but the rules of the game are going to be more stringent. The competition in the field will get fierce and intense. The good news is that there are things that you can focus on which will help you not only survive but thrive in any market conditions. This article focuses on three key elements, which will help you differentiate yourself from the ‘crowd’.

1.   Be Innovative

As vague as the definition of ‘innovation’ might be – it does get recognized when something different happens in the market or when you come across a product that ‘wows’ you.  I think we all can agree that Innovation has led to many of the products that we now use in our day-to-day life and curiosity has fueled human being to be innovative. Many of the companies we see today have thrived in the global market because of their innovation such as SalesForce.com through their Software as a Service Approach, Apple through many of the products such as iPad, iPhone but primarily about bringing that entire experience together, Flipkart for bringing Amazon.com like buying experience to India with an amazing web site. However, the ones, which managed to fetch my attention, were companies like Tata. They have been innovating which is also known as ‘Frugal’ innovation where you not only develop products for the masses and needy people but to make sure that it can reach to rural places. Tata Nano is one such example that everyone is aware. They also have invested water purifier, which costs only $21, doesn’t use any electricity and filter lasts for up to 200 days. What is more fascinating is recent tie-up of Tata with SunCatalytix who have invested a way to generate electricity with just a jar of water.

While companies who are innovative thrive in any market condition, if you are creative in your approach (irrespective of what you do) and if you bring ideas which are relevant to ever changing market place - you are sure to be noticed and put you in a different comparison bucket.

2.   Be Passionate

“Passion alone determines what one should or should not be doing because it enables one to overcome all obstacles” (unknown source). I think this statement sums it all up as to why following your passion is so important. A great example is Henri Ford who was born to a farmer. At 15, he dismantled and reassembled the timepieces of friends many times and was very passionate about machines. After his mother dies in 1876, his father expected him to take over the family farm but he was absolutely not into farming at all. He argued, fought with father and finally, left home to work as an apprentice machinist in the city of Detroit. From then on – he worked several different jobs and founded Ford Motors. He was one of the most successful people of that time and built one of the most successful companies of that time.

While being passionate is important, knowing what you are passionate about is equally important. Also, it is important to understand what big problem of the world serve as your passion such as climate change, sustainability, poverty, education, health care, emerging markets etc. You have to experiment with some, you may have to develop more awareness, travel with your eyes & ears open, look into your past to see what personal issues you have faced which you would like to solve. If you find your passion and make that your profession – you will always be ahead in any competition.

3.   Learn-ability and Adaptability

If you have chosen to be in the IT field, you are in one of the most non-static field in the industry. If you or your organization
don’t have or maintain learn-ability, you will very quickly lose competitive advantage that you may have. Gone are the days when companies used to make really long-term strategy and execution plans. In the current global market place, what you need is an ability to learn, quickly experience and adapt to changing global and emerging markets.

So remember – know your passion, be innovative in whatever you do and keep your eyes and ears open to quickly learn what’s happening around you and adapt to changing situations quickly.
If you do this – you will help yourself by changing your ‘comparison parameters’ and automatically put you ahead in the game.

Note: Target audience for this blog is college students who are worried about placements, and confused about how many things should they learn which are not covered in their syllabus.

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