Search This Blog

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Google's Gaffe

Over the past seven years, since I stepped out of college, I have realised that here in India, at least, the most important requirement for being selected for any job is 'good communication skills'. It does not really matter if the position in question is Rocket Scientist or Software Developer or Business Manager or Salesperson. The chief criterion remains the same.

It does not really matter if a candidate for the position of Rocket Scientist knows little about Rocket Science or if the one who wishes to be selected as a Software Developer is not too well versed with the tools of his or her trade or if the aspiring Business Manager does not know too much about Business Management or if the one who wishes to become a Salesperson for a B2B (business-to-business) IT (information technology) solution has sold only carpets in the past, as long as they all have 'good communication skills'.

The question now arises as to how do companies identify those with 'good communication skills'. It is quite simple really. Any one who uses two hundred words where twenty would suffice, with a fancy term, a 'buzz-word' thrown in here and there, is obviously 'the one' (a la the Matrix series!). It is almost needless to add that the ability to make a mountain out of a molehill encompasses the capacity to lie through one's teeth.

Later, these people are described as 'dynamic', 'proactive', 'go-getters', etc., and move up the corporate ladder, less on the basis of any concrete results they might have been able to achieve during their tenure with the organisations employing them, than on account of the visually appealing Power Point presentations they prepare and, once again, knowing where to drop in a buzz-word during the course of glib talk that is passed off as corporate discussion.

Coming to think of it, at least some of this happens overseas, as well, and even has serious repercussions, as is evident from the dot-com bubble burst in the US, when millions of dollars went down the drain because the money-bags, also known as investors, poured funds wherever 'dynamic', 'proactive', 'go-getters' with 'good communication skills' asked them to, after being suitably impressed by the castles they built in the air through their fancy presentations.

Closer to home, the shenanigans of these 'star performers' have led to the cancellation of call-centre contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars by companies like Lehman Brothers, Capital One, and Apple cancelled plans to out-source, even after having hired a few people in India.

It is for such reasons, I believe, that Daimler-Chrysler expected their Mercedes Benz cars to sell like hot cakes just because they were launching these in India and, therefore, making the cars available at a much lower price than the cost of importing these that any Indian desirous of owning a Mercedes Benz, earlier, had to bear. It took them a long time to realise that Indians purchase these cars for the prestige value (as a means of showing off their success and wealth, in layman's language). It was then that they introduced the expensive S-class and Maybach cars and, soon thereafter, started making profits.

Similarly, I recall that the armchair-hunters who occupied senior-level management positions in Satyam Infoway decided to give away free coupons for internet access at the company's i-way cyber cafes, many moons ago, based on the premise that this would help increase the market-size by bringing in more first-time customers, who would then get hooked on to the internet surfing experience and hence bring in more business for the company, in a country where very few people own computers and still fewer have internet connections at home. On account of not being in touch with the situation on the ground, they did not realise that small, 'mom-and-pop' businesses operating as cyber-cafes were already providing internet-access at about half the rates of i-way at similar bandwidths and, more importantly, also allowed users to download or upload data from storage media like floppy discs, compact discs, flash drives, etc., which the i-way cafes did not. This was, obviously, not the only reason for the company getting into hot water at a later stage, but definitely symptomatic of the larger malaise that it was afflicted with.

Why then, you may ask, is the Indian economy doing so well, despite the 'dynamic', 'proactive', 'go-getters' with 'good communication skills'? I suspect the major advantage that India has in the services sector and, especially, IT Enabled Services, at present, is cost. The growth of services, obviously, has a salutary effect on all other major sections of the economy. As other countries like China beat India at costs, as they surely will, I believe, in the coming years, when they manage to build up sufficient numbers in terms of an English-speaking work-force, the scenario should change dramatically. China, of course, has a far more disciplined and hard-working manpower.

Meanwhile, another company that appears to have succumbed to the charms of 'dynamic', 'proactive', 'go-getters' with 'good communication skills' is Google Inc.! It is not Google's fault, perhaps. Whichever company comes to this part of the world, employs this kind of people at the senior level, who, in turn, go on to employ similar folk at a level junior to them and the chain-reaction continues, until the whole place is teeming with them.

Now, let us examine a very interesting aspect of all that the 'different kettle of fish' have done for Google. In order to make its search-engine even more useful, Google has region- or country-specific home-pages. Any of these pages, I suppose, gives precedence to pages from the particular country or region it serves, while displaying the search-results. This is, obviously, a brilliant idea and one that I would like to congratulate Google for. What is even more brilliant is that each of the country-specific pages provides several alternate interfaces, in different local languages. For instance, the page specific to India has alternate interfaces available in Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi and Tamil, while the page specific to Pakistan can also be accessed in Punjabi and Urdu, besides English.

Punjab is one of the largest provinces of Pakistan and I am sure that Pakistani Punjabis would indeed have enjoyed using the Google search home-page in their own language, only if they could read it! The text on the Google Pakistan page in Punjabi has been written in the Gurmukhi script, which most Punjabis in the Pakistani part of Punjab can not read (except, perhaps, some members of the small Sikh community there). Most of them read and write the Punjabi language in the Shahmukhi script.

Incidentally, Punjabis in the Indian part of Punjab do read and write the Punjabi language in the Gurmukhi script. So, Google could very well have provided the Gurmukhi interface on its India-specific page, but did not, in spite of the fact that Punjabis form a sizeable percentage of internet-users in India.

Therefore, the bright folk that Google has employed in South Asia have left their indelible stamp on the respective Google search pages for India and Pakistan and Google owes an apology to Punjabis on both sides of the Indo-Pak border.

Update: February 22, 2009. The Gurmukhi interface has recently been made available on Google's page specific to India, even as it had been removed a long time ago from the page specific to Pakistan. Nothing is known regarding any apologies or the possibility of a Shahmukhi interface being made available for Pakistani Punjabis.


Sidhusaaheb said...

I did’nt know google is now available in punjabi…what next !
Cyberkitty | Homepage | 03.22.07 – 4:35 pm | #


Next, they need to provide a Punjabi interface option on Google India (in Gurmukhi script) and write the Punjabi page on Google Pakistan in a script that people there can actually read (i.e. in Shahmukhi script), besides tendering an unqualified apology to the Punjabis of India and Pakistan!
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 03.22.07 – 5:01 pm | #


How nice to find an Indian weblog that didn’t mention Shilpa Shetty once. You should write the “Letter from India” for Private Eye.
Daphne Wayne-Bough | Homepage | 03.23.07 – 7:18 am | #


A GOod One SIdhu, Keep it up, this one is pretty informative as well as opinion based.
MP | Homepage | 03.23.07 – 10:23 am | #


Very incisive observations. I have read a post lately and I quote: “There are only a few people around us who can communicate clearly; in writing or speaking. I can (well I think I can: I was a national level debater and am a published writer). These two things help me every day in what ever I happen to be doing in life or career.”

Now what specific skills are needed depend on what you happen to be doing in life and or work.

Now knowing you as I do, I am certian that your skills are much better than many around. This post itself is the testimony.
Shirazi | Homepage | 03.23.07 – 5:21 pm | #


@Daphne: That’s a non-issue really and thanks for the compliment!

@MP: Thanks!

@Shirazi Sa’ab: That’s what I am trying to say…They just want to employ liars and cheats, who are incompetent, but can fool others into believing that no one can do the job better. So, obviously, when such people get down to work, there are going to be goof-ups as apalling as the one made by Google that I have described here.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 03.25.07 – 12:55 pm | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

Interesting post Sidhu, is someone at Google listening?
Mridula | Homepage | 03.26.07 – 11:14 am | #


Doesn’t seem like it…both pages remain the same as before.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 03.26.07 – 2:45 pm | #


Well , this one was really interesting post. ” good comm skills” …hell it is the buzzowrd everywhere…I hear it everyday..being in engineering college myself..

Liked the post man!
keep it up!
Aman | Homepage | 03.26.07 – 4:41 pm | #


Now that you know what ‘good communication skills’ mean in the context of the Indian corporate world (never mind what the books say), I suppose you are all set for it!
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 03.26.07 – 5:03 pm | #


Good post… i wonder wen the indian industry sees wisdom… um.. wen it’s time for me to get employed? :p
Sriram | Homepage | 03.26.07 – 5:07 pm | #


Let’s hope so!
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 03.27.07 – 2:32 pm | #


Asma | Homepage | 03.27.07 – 8:37 pm | #


Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 03.28.07 – 10:18 am | #


Incisive post, Sidhusaheb. You are so right about that Punjabi bit being ridiculous. Any way one could contact Google and lodge a complaint?

And the communication skills et al bit really made me laugh. I think its the case everywhere in the world. Its what my mother calls ‘Gallaan di khatee khaana’. I guess you will be able to understand the meaning of this idiom.
sabizak | Homepage | 04.06.07 – 11:22 am | #

Sidhusaaheb said...

I’ve been able to find offline means only, to contact Google. The details are:

Google Inc.
1600, Amphitheatre Parkway,
Mountain View, CA 94043,
phone: +1-650-253-0000
fax: +1-650-253-0001

Otherwise, Google seem to be confident that they could never possibly require feedback of this sort and I have not been able to find any relevant email address or online form.

Meanwhile, they have removed the link to the Gurmukhi interface from Google Pakistan i.e. (though it can still be accessed at ) and are yet to provide a Shahmukhi one there. Also, a Gurmukhi interface has not yet been provided on Google India and the apology is nowhere in sight on either Google India or Google Pakistan.

It feels blessed to have been able to make you laugh! Your Mom’s absolutely right!!

There could be a whole new folk song, in fact, that goes like:

“Baari barsi khattan gya si, ki khat lyaanda?

Khat lyaande ‘communication skill’, jehRe merey stomach nu karde ne fill!”
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 04.06.07 – 5:12 pm | #


What an informative, well-written post! I have learned something new today. By the way, thanks for stopping by my site and articulating some valid issues.
naomi | Homepage | 04.08.07 – 11:47 pm | #


Nice post! Even here in Pakistan…people r being increasingly judged by their communication skills.
Btw…b4 China builds its english speaking workforce, the westerners are going to learn fact they r already learning it keeping in view that opportunities and power are shifting to east
Fariha Akhtar | Homepage | 04.13.07 – 9:49 pm | #


@Naomi: Thanks! I hope those who can make a difference will read my comments there.

@Fariha: Thanks! I hope the day will come soon when prospective employees will be judged solely on the basis of competence.

I still suspect China is going to storm into the ‘outsourcing’ services market that it has lost out only for the lack of English-speaking workers, some time very soon.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 04.14.07 – 8:56 pm | #


great to see a great blogger from Punjab.. or shoudl I say your are from my hometown chandigarh!!

great going!
abhishek | Homepage | 04.27.07 – 10:11 am | #


What makes me wonder is that ‘good communication skills’ are not being considered an important quality to compete by majority of the folks who posted their comments and the author himself.Yes, a Rocket Scientist can get away by remaining on mute mode but majority of other professions require the ability to communicate smoothly and effectively. Let us not forget that the most important element at work is the human element and in my humble opinion that is the one they wish to address when they say ‘good communication skills’(at least here in the U.S where I reside). I may not sound like an idealist but that’s how it works in most parts of the world.
Mannat Gill | 05.31.07 – 2:04 pm | #


Good communication skills are definitely important, in combination with competence in the field of work that a person specialises in.

The point I have been trying to make here is that when good communication skills are made use of for hiding incompetence, there is a serious problem and this is exactly what has been happening in so many instances.
Sidhusaaheb | Homepage | 06.01.07 – 6:13 am | #