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For students with 'learnability,' a future in IT via India

Add the Indian IT powerhouse Infosys to the list of companies recruiting at American colleges this year. The fast-growing company sees a diverse workforce as its future. Some American students see a passage to India as a passport to a better job back home.

Matt Sorge graduated from MIT in January with a degree in mechanical engineering and a respectable 4.2 (out of a possible 5.0) grade-point average (GPA). When company recruiters descended on the campus in Cambridge, Mass., last fall, Sorge bypassed the big American automobile companies, a common first stop for many MIT mechanical engineers, and spent most of his time talking to Infosys Technologies Ltd., the Indian information services and consulting firm.

"I have very limited background in computer science, but they told me they were looking to hire for potential. I liked that," Sorge said.

Come July, the 23-year-old "military brat" from Lawton, Okla., will head to Infosys' corporate training center in Mysore, India, for an intensive 16-week crash course in software engineering. He's one of 100 students tapped for what Infosys said is its "first major college recruiting effort in the United States." The company plans to recruit a total of 300 students right out of school over the next 12 months.

I have very limited background in computer science, but they told me they were looking to hire for potential. I liked that.
Matt Sorge
MIT graduate headed for India
The fast-growing company, which doubled its revenue from $1 billion to just more than $2 billion since 2004, hailed the American talent search as a "very important landmark" in its 15-year history. The company's chairman and chief mentor, N.R. Narayana Murthy, called it "the first global recruiting initiative of its size to bring foreign talent into India" and essential to Infosys' ambition to build a global business, with a workforce as diverse as its client roster.

The 300 hires are a drop in the bucket measured against the thousands of college graduates expected to be hired for IT jobs this year by U.S. firms. Or for that matter, the record 25,000 new employees Infosys plans to hire this year. But the announcement marks a shift worth noting, says Azer Bestavros, professor and chairman of the computer science department at Boston University (BU).

"I think it is the first time American students are looking elsewhere for experience," Bestavros said. "So it really is a reversal of what has happened throughout history, certainly throughout computer science or information technology history."

Computer science grads are in high demand this year, as the industry continues to rebound from the tech recession of the past few years. While offers are not on par with the extravagant starting salaries and stock options of the boom years -- "Thank God," Bestavros says -- the "best and the brightest" computer science undergraduates at BU, for example, are fielding offers for $60,000 and $70,000, while graduate students can command up to $100,000 for their first job. "It's to the point where employers are coming through me to try to get students [first]," Bestavros said.

Infosys is casting its net wide in search of talent, scouting students from all disciplines, including liberal arts majors who demonstrate a high degree of "learnability," said T.V. Mohandas Pai, a board member who oversees human resources as well as education and research at Infosys.

"Writing computer software is all about logic. People who come from liberal arts backgrounds can be trained in computer science. When they go on to jobs, they not only have the domain expertise but superior problem-solving and language abilities," Pai said.

The new grads will be sent to the company's corporate training center in Mysore, India, for an intensive training program in software engineering. Pai said that what trainees learn in this 16-week course is equivalent to what a student would learn by earning a bachelor's degree in computer science.

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Those who complete the program successfully will be offered jobs in one of 14 Infosys offices in the United States. Trainees receive a stipend and living expenses during their training in India. The company declined to disclose the amount. The Infosys jobs in the U.S. pay market rate, Pai said.

The search for American IT talent is sure to raise more alarms about the IT industry's migration to offshore locations.

Bestavros, for one, does not buy the hype that the best jobs are going overseas. "These are not students who plan to immigrate to India. They're coming back. But they think they will be in a much better position to get better jobs here, by virtue of the fact that they are familiar with the workforce in places like Bangalore, and as such would be hot commodities for companies that may be doing more outsourcing, or really dual sourcing."

His bigger concern is that the U.S. is not investing nearly enough in math and science to remain competitive with places such as India and China.

Nate Linkon, an economics and communications major at Northwestern University with a 3.5 GPA and an impressive résumé of extracurricular achievements, can attest to that. After interviewing with "all the big U.S. PR and consulting firms," the 22-year-old Milwaukee native boarded a plane for the 35-hour trek to Bangalore to work for Infosys' marketing department. While he has no complaints about his American education, he has noticed that his Indian counterparts in marketing come in with a lot more courses in math and science under their belts. "I will say there is a difference with basic skills. When something technical comes up, like analyzing a financial report, my co-workers are faster at figuring it out," Linkon said.

As for his experience so far -- he said he wouldn't trade it for the world, despite a salary about one-fifth of what he could be making in the U.S. Because of the cost of living, he is actually saving money and paying off college loans. His biggest surprise? How quickly he and other young Americans adapted to living there. "After a couple of weeks, we could even tell the rickshaw drivers where we needed to go."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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