Want good engineers? School them yourself!

Steve Hamm

We've seen a flurry of stories in recent months about the poor qualifications of Indian tech-school grads. India's Infosys says it only hires 2% of the one million or so people who apply for jobs there each year. Most of the large Indian firms provide several months of "finishing school" training for the so-called freshers who they hire each year straight out of college. Others are helping colleges design their engineering curriculums. But I recently talked to the president of a Chinese tech outsourcing company that’s doing all of them one better: It’s actually running the software engineering departments at a couple of Chinese universities. If you want good tech grads, why not train them yourself?

The company is Symbio, and the guy I talked to was Jacob Hsu. Symbio was started in Maryland in 1994 by two dozen Taiwanese who got their start in offshoring when they established a programming center for IBM in Taipei in 1987. The company established operations in Beijing in 1997, expanded dramatically in 2003, and moved its headquarters there in 2004. It concentrates on writing software applications for the likes of Microsoft, IBM, CA, AOL, and BMC. With 1100 employees in China, it is now one of the largest outsourcers there.

Hsu and his colleagues decided they needed a feeder program to prepare college students to work for them, so they recently established software institutes in the Harbin Institute of Technology and Shandong University, both in the coastal city of Weihai. That’s where Symbio is about to establish a new development center. Says Hsu, who grew up in San Francisco: “Other companies have university partnerships; we run the university departments.”

This isn’t something Symbio undertakes lightly. “We’re a human potential factory. We’re in the talent management business,” says Hsu. “In the next couple of years the companies that win will be the ones who manage talent the best.”

I’m sure he’s right. The only thing I’d add is that, ultimately, the companies that win will be the ones who are best at recruiting, training, and managing talent all over the world. Being good at it in China or India won’t be enough.

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