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You Own the Monkey, and You Train it Your Way

Microsoft Corporation, which makes software (basically strings of digit 1’s and 0’s embedded in silicon chips in computers) for computers, is worth billions and billions of dollars. The corporation is so rich that its founder Bill Gates practically doesn’t know what to do with his vast wealth. So, what does he do? He has started with his wife a huge foundation named ‘Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’ for helping the disadvantaged all over the world.

Google Inc., which was born barely eight years ago, as an Internet (pathways to what you want to know as well as what you want to buy) search engine is flush with greenbacks (dollars). It has amassed so much wealth in such a short span of its existence that its employees and investors are also deemed rich. Google has also started a ‘Green Energy’ initiative of its own as public relations stunt

Yahoo Inc., which is relatively older than Google and does the same the same sort of things as Google does is in relative distress. The company is in distress because its profits aren’t rising compared to Google’s. So, Microsoft Corporation wants to buy Yahoo Inc., for 45 billion dollars. For Microsoft, the amount is pocket change.

Start-ups, and ups and downs of start-ups in Silicon Valley, are nothing new. Gordon Moore of Intel made Silicon Valley very sexy when he propounded the famous law that bears his name. When Netscape blazed its way into the scene in the mid-1990s with the first graphical Internet browser, there were ‘wows’ all around. But, what happened to it eventually? The company has practically vanished from the scene. Browsers with new features appeared on the scene and took away its business killing it along the way.

Software cannot run without hardware just like a menu alone can’t give you a meal. On the hardware side, Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics had their moments of spectacular glory. These companies will survive but their survivability will more be so and so and not definitely cause ‘wows’ although the companies still employ thousands of employees worldwide. Then there is Cisco Systems, which controls a significant market-share in server and router markets. Without servers and routers, the Internet can’t operate.

How about Intel, which makes most (about 85% of the worldwide market) of the microprocessors and chip-sets used in providing the brainpower of computers and intelligent devices? Intel will be doing alright as long as no upstart company comes along stealing the thunder. It has a lock on the international market. The rest of the market is in the hands of Advance Micro Devices, which hasn’t been able to get its act together for one reason or another.

Intel has come up with a new Itanium (part of the name rhymes with ‘Ita’ that is manufactured in brick fields all over Assam) microprocessor that packs a whopping 2 billion transistors in a space of less than one-quarter inch. How much will the new microprocessor sell for? Perhaps, more than 200 dollars apiece, wholesale. How much ‘educational experience’ (hundreds of PhDs at a minimum) went into the development of the microprocessor? How much education goes into the manufacture of a piece of ‘Ita’? You figure that out. My father used to sell one thousand pieces of ‘Ita’s for 60 rupees. That was nearly 60 years ago.

There are three or four things that stand out in this game of constant change, more appropriately, in the high-tech industry. First is the silicon technology itself (until some new technology arrives blazing its way on to the scene), which is at the heart of the revolution.  Where is all this money coming from? To comprehend the dimension of a billion of anything, consider the fact a billion means the digit ‘1’ is followed by nine digit ‘0’s. The money comes from all over the world. For example, if you consider the computers given to each of the 1st divisioners of the last matriculation examination in Assam, Microsoft got a royalty for the software installed in each computer given unless the suppliers of souped-up computers did away with legality. That’s just aspects of its royalty revenue.  The third aspect is selling what you have - a whole bunch of them. The fourth aspect is good management of company’s resources by good allocation of resources.

Let’s ask why the Western nations have a monopoly on things happening in the world, and we are trying to imitate. The short answer is rampant corruption and subservience to old ways - the Colonial ways. The long answer follows.

Exploring and learning never were, and never were meant to be, confined to all the books that had been written, and to the study of bygone and living personalities. Knowledge of humankind is constantly evolving based on learning and experience; new knowledge refutes some of the old on the way to more and better collective learning and experience. That is the nature of beasts that they are.

Moreover, learning and experience together have added dimensions to it - both commercial and economic. For example, if you did well in science or engineering in Assam in our time, you become a veritable ‘hero’ of your time. Nobody cared to know what you could do for the State or the country. Your future path to progress was (and with it prosperity) practically in your hands.

On the other hand, if you weren’t in science or engineering but in arts, the (your) path to progress was limited. You were left no choice but to compete in the entrance examinations of the State or the Central Governments, or teach at a college or a university. If you bagged a Central Government position, you became a ‘whiz kid’ in American parlance or ‘Avatar’ in Indian parlance. But, while a whiz kid like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs didn’t complete undergraduate education, but became known by their spectacular achievements, an Avatar was likely to command an enchanted audience for his or her lifetime. Folks back home are still talking about those ‘toppers’ thirty years ago as if they topped something monumental…

Anyway, things aren’t so easy now. This is the new age of ‘Creative Destruction’, which, according to economist Joseph Schumpeter, is the age when the decomposed remains of old and failing companies form the compost for the crop of start-ups. But, you would say, ‘what’s a start-up a company when I haven’t seen a real one yet? What’s compost anyway?’

That is far from the reality on the ground. Everybody wants to be somebody over so many bare and naked bodies, and in the process of trying to get there, we never get around to learning or knowing what compost is. The word is a ‘metaphor’ for all things we’re supposed to know. Who in his right mind would do that? Are not the ‘khetioks’ supposed to handle that kind of smelly stuff?

The Vice-chancellor of a university in Assam- his head, presumably, in the rarefied air of the university - said to his friends and colleagues that they must speak in English otherwise, horror of all horror, they would be denied a chance of working for a MNC. I heard that from many others as well. Multi-national companies are in the business of earning money - lots of money. They don’t care if the money comes the ‘Chinese’ way, the ‘Vietnamese’ way, the ‘Hindi’ way, the ‘Assamese’ way, or any other language way. With hard-working and competent employees working for them, they (MNCs) will be happy to get a sizable ROI (Return On Investment). Are you ready to provide that? Do you have the smarts to do that or you’re simply smarting off your English?

Do you have imagination to explore new territories, and the curiosity to know what you don’t know? Are you hung up on the ‘language’ you know? Are you ready to try new ideas and new processes? Are you ready to take risks? Are the degrees you earned more important to you than what you are capable of doing with confidence? Do you come to an Indian Hindu ‘sraddha’ ceremony wearing a suit and a tie? Do you send a general letter of your father’s death, and in that letter you include your and all your siblings’ professional degrees? Get real. Then you need re-education for you and your next generation to survive in this evolving new and complex world of ours. Are our schools, colleges, and universities ready to take up the challenge? Can the State Government of Assam provide a clean administration? Can the top police administrators, instead of marveling at their omnipotence and glory and getting involved in corrupt practices, do what they are supposed to do - protect life and property of citizens to establish the rule of law? Can you assure us that what happened in Beltola a few months ao would never happen again - Never Again?. Therein lies the long answer.

Kalyan Dutta-Choudhury