In Depth

On the Twitter war between Sachin and Rohit Bansal and engineering talent in India

NS RAVI
30th May 2015
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Editor's note: An article published in 'The Wall Street Journal' this morning has become the bone of contention between the co-founders of India's two most valuable 'upstarts'. The article titled India’s Snapdeal Says the Country Doesn’t Have the Programmers It Needs has led to a social media battle on Twitter between Sachin Bansal, the Co-founder and CEO of Flipkart, and Rohit Bansal, Co-founder of Snapdeal. The twitter war in question here is the one that started when Sachin Bansal tweeted the following in response to the article:

And, here's Rohit Bansal's take on Sachin's tweet.

The following is an industry veteran, Ravi Gururaj's take on the whole issue in his own words. The editing and comments (in brackets) are of the editor.

When I first read the (The Wall Street Journal) article in the morning, I did not find anything too objectionable in SnapDeal's statements. (It) sounded to me like SnapDeal (was) playing for some PR to help bolster their US recruiters working on hiring some top talent in Silicon Valley - mirroring the hiring Flipkart has done in a few instances recently. They also cribbed about how hard it was to hire great product talent locally. Well, what's new?

Last week I met a few top Silicon Valley CEO/founders in the bay area. Guess what they all listed and complained about as their top challenge - 'scaling up talent in Silicon Valley is damn hard!' One (executive) even joked to me that California's engineering talent drought was much worse than it's water drought! He also lamented how hard it had become to retain as well - folks were constantly being tempted with all forms of 'candy' by rivals. This was from a CEO who had raised several hundred million (dollars) recently and who, many claim, has built a company with an exceptional culture and low attrition. During our chat he even asked if setting up an R&D team in India might help him leverage India's emerging product talent. I, of course, deftly warned not to expect any cakewalks in terms of talent acquisition in India. Now that we have some great local product companies who have awesome roles as career options and additionally many of our startups are now well funded with greenbacks too and (are) more than able to defend against any raiders than even before. His reaction - "flat world indeed!"

After Sachin's tweet the debate amplified. So I went back to re-read the WSJ article to see what I had missed earlier. How come I had not picked up on the slight to India in the piece. I noticed only two direct quotes from Rohit in the article.

If you think about the landscape in India, not too many product companies got built here,” said Rohit Bansal, co-founder and chief operating officer of Snapdeal.

I think Rohit's statement is factually correct and a fair, casual assessment. He was speaking retrospectively and said "not too many". Can anyone please provide me real evidence that India already has "too many" software product companies? Of course we have several superb product companies with many more in the pipeline; but at a macro level I agree with Rohit that the software product industry is still relatively nascent.

His second quote was:

Many of these people moved to the U.S. because opportunities for doing (such) high-quality work were not available in India,” Mr. Bansal said. “Now those opportunities are not only available in India, but (India) is a more exciting place.”

Here again I read Rohit as referring to the generation of engineers who went to the US over the past two decades in search of challenging work at innovative software companies and who are now in senior engineering positions. That seemed factually correct to me. Talk to any IIT alumnus who graduated anywhere from seven to 15 years ago and ask them where a good portion of their engineering class was located?

Rohit did make (it) clear (that) the Indian landscape has changed dramatically now and that we have super opportunities to offer the most talented engineering minds from anywhere in the world. What's the argument with that statement? I did not read it as a knock on India.

The WSJ article title is certainly misleading as it leaves one with the impression that Indian ecosystem is bereft of product talent and that seems to have rightfully got Sachin's ire up. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have great talent working at some of our best companies - absolutely! So I think Sachin was right to correct any misperception that the article title may have created, but he could not resist the temptation to combine in a small dig at his rivals too!

Of course Flipkart does enjoy a super solid reputation for hiring top engineering talent and many of their senior folks have been active in giving back to the community in terms of technical talks and workshops etc. In comparison, Snapdeal's engineering talent has not been as visible in the community and they don't, for whatever historical reasons, enjoy the same reputation or level of visibility for rockstar engineering talent as does Flipkart. Maybe that situation will start to balance out over time if Snapdeal succeeds in importing global rockstar engineering talent in the coming quarters.

Editing by Abhash Kumar

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