Four months ago, I set out on the journey of a lifetime. I was moving to India from the US for personal and professional reasons. Having spent 17 years in Texas, I had become well-adjusted to the lifestyle there. As I set out on this journey, people warned me of the professional risks I was taking. I heard scary warnings that I would be unsatisfied at work and would be compelled to return to Austin, which I had grown to love. But I didn't change my mind.
When I think of bureaucracy, I think in terms of red tape and slow decisions. That has not been the case where I work.
I moved to a startup in Bangalore that has been making waves in the professional upskilling industry. Being passionate about education, it was the perfect fit to finally live my dream. And moving closer to family was something I had contemplated for a long time. What could go wrong, right?
Here are the myths that I feel need to be debunked after having worked here for over four months. This is not a statistical sampling of all work cultures in India, but my hope is that this at least reflects the startup culture here.
Myth 1: Work in India is not exciting. You work on boring stuff
"Working on boring stuff" could not be further from the truth. We regularly discuss the future of learning and innovation. Teams are energized by new ideas, with ownership given to whoever is driving the idea.
The engineering team is deep in the Docker, CI/CD and cloud trenches, looking to automate, invent, and improve. We debate how we can improve our micro-services architecture to gain more speed and agility. If that is not exciting, what is?
Myth 2: Bureaucracy kills productivity in Indian companies
This is partially true but not in the way you might think.
What's positive: I am pleasantly surprised at the speed with which senior leadership moves. There are questions like, "We made this decision two days ago; has this gone live yet?" Breathless is the way to describe the pace I feel here.
And what isn't: There is a layer of inefficiency that creeps in at the foundational level. Unpredictable internet service tends to create a drag on the speed of execution.
Now when I think of bureaucracy, I think in terms of red tape and slow decisions. That has not been the case where I work. I have had to sprint to keep up with the rapid decision-making, and wouldn't have it any other way! The leadership team trusts each other and genuinely wants the company to make a difference, with no place for finger pointing and domain defense.
Myth 3: Teams are inefficient and take frequent breaks, leading to poor productivity
Ever since we moved to an iterative model, the teams are healthily obsessed with their delivery speed. While teams do hang out together often, it hasn't affected productivity.
I haven't seen politically charged arguments as often as I was told I would. The majority have the right intent -- make their team and the business successful.
I'm amazed at these teams' drive to push the company forward, sometimes at the cost of their personal time. They're ready to work through the weekend at a moment's notice, diving in to get the job done. I've never heard a single complaint. This is a new experience for me and I have honestly never seen such openness to change.
Myth 4: Attrition is unacceptably high; this hampers progress significantly
I am speaking only of my organization, but we have had less than 10% annual attrition. While I strive to get that number as close to zero as possible, this is on par with the ~10% annual attrition I've seen in the US, and better than the 20% attributed to India.
I'm not speaking for the India market as a whole, but I've found the fundamentals of employee retention are true here too. Engaged leadership with a people-first strategy, commitment to employee growth and exciting work are the key factors that drive retention.
Myth 5: People drag each other down to move up the ladder
In a statistical spread, you'll find all types of people. So far, I haven't seen politically charged arguments as often as I was told I would. The majority have the right intent -- make their team and the business successful. One example is when I took half the team from one manager and put them on another project; the team adapted, and so did the manager.
Areas that need improvement
1. Work starts late and ends late leading to poor work life balance
Most folks who work in a startup/ IT are younger. Also, as a culture, India has a tendency to start things late. Most of our employees arrive between 10 and 11 am, and leave late. I have maintained my routine, but there are days when I stay late to ensure progress is made.
2. Recruiting is hit or miss in India
Relatively true with inexperienced hires. There have been instances where someone accepts an offer and does not show up on their start date! This is frustrating at times, but I liken it to the new college grad in the US that tends to be difficult as well. That said, there is indeed a recruiting challenge, but that's a good problem to have, considering the high level of liquidity of opportunities in India.
Employees badge in and out. This is a relic of the past.
3. Processes can be very old fashioned
This is the first company where I have seen employees badge in and out. This is a relic of the past. Also, top leadership do have offices here; which is not quite the norm in startups in the US. I have given up my office and asked my team to use it for meetings, which was well received, but the cultural aspect is hard to change.
After five months here, I would have expected to join an organization that had some positives and negatives compared to my previous gigs—just like anyone would when starting a new venture. It's been a pleasant surprise to learn that the positives have outweighed the negatives by some margin. This gives me hope that the future here is bright, since the greatest companies were built on a foundation of a very strong people culture. I'm looking forward to being part of this success story!