I've built twenty-something plus development groups over my career. These experiences often provided emperical support for the generalization that Asians are particularly smart people – and a few prominant counter-examples as well but let's not dwell on that right now. So why is it, since there are so dang many asians who are particularly smart and like doing geeky smart stuff, that there are no innovative software companies that were created by Asians in Asia and impacting the rest of the world in a positive way? Where is the Asian Bell Labs, Microsoft, Oracle? I can't name a single example. Europe's got SAP and a few others. What gives, Asia?? This question never really bothered me or came up until I came face to face with having to justify "Why America" – and found it wanting.
A few years after accidentally launching my first business, I stumbled head first into the contractor/consulting business. I was the guy who would get called in when a big project was failed or failing and people's jobs were on the line. Good work for a single guy who can travel with little notice. Clients thought they were paying me to salvage and deliver a working first release of their major new product, but, in reality I spent the vast majority of my time structuring and building the team and getting the right process, technologies, and supporting infrastructures in place. So at the end of my contract when I ride off into the sunset with a completed system, the client is also left with a functioning team that helped build this product and could take it forward. They were again in control of their own destiny. Only a few ever figured out that THIS was the biggest value I delivered and more than I like to think managed to squander that investment and go back to bad habits. Horse, meet water. (Sigh)
So in the course of doing this I built up a cadre of other great developers and consultants that I would call in to help on projects. A particular pair were my close friends and now married with children couple from Bangalore, Vaidhy and Usha. I met Vaidhy while working as a systems architect at an R&D group funded by a large Scandanavian Telecom company right when the boom was getting underway in 1998. He applied for a position as a C++ dev even though he only really had experience doing C style work for a very large firm in Atlanta. Now we were doing bleeding edge C++ stuff and combining it with Smalltalk, Perl, and Tk and gods know what else our boss, Ed, would run across. But it was fun, cool, and truly innovative stuff.
During my interview with Vaidhy it was clear he didn't have the experience but I have a knack at identifying potential and knew he'd make good in 3 or 4 months. About maybe 6 weeks later he was already past where I'd hoped he'd be for the year. I'd like to think my amazing C++ architecture talents sped that process along but clearly I had found a very talented guy. His wife, Usha, later wrapped up her Masters degree and I ended up giving her her first job (post boom) at the security firm I was CTO which she took on and handled extremely well given she had no prior experience doing web services. Let's just say their daughter shows every sign of ruling the universe and I made sure to place my bid for an arranged marriage before she was born. See – I REALLY know potential.
After 9/11, things changed for America. And it wasn't the terrorists that did it. America changed itself. The Patriot Act was a giant mess of bad laws that had been rejected many times by Congressmen who had some understanding of the meaning behind our Constitution. That was all pushed aside to respond to the "threat". What no foreign enemy was ever able to do we managed to do to ourselves by putting so many poison pills into law and destroying the very thing that makes America unique and great and competitive.
One of the more spiteful and stupid responses was to suddenly make it much more difficult for incredibly talented people like Vaidhy and Usha remain in America. The hassles they had to put up with to renew visas were absurd and required leaving the country and re-applying for things resulting in short trips to Mexico and Canada with legitimate concerns that the may not be allowed to return. I experienced this distress myself when returning from Canada as tour manager for a female Japanese punk band from the UK (honest!) with a Vietnamese-American (I presumed) model that we picked up to assist while in New York. When we pulled the van through customs and upon hearing the request that everyone who is not a US citizen please raise their hands – I did a double take as her hand went up! She'd lived in America since she was two years old and had known no other country in her life. She had her NY drivers license but not her green card or passport and had never bothered to get citizenship. The US customs agent (a young asian male actually who seemed quite jealous) threatened to detain and deport her to Vietnam! Finally an older more reasonable gentleman stepped in after I started making plans to rebook the end of our tour and let her back in and us on our way to make more rock and roll history in Detroit – but that's another story. That was 2005. Now you cannot go in and out of Canada from the United States without a passport. Insane.
One day Vaidhy and Usha said they had had enough. "We can live like kings in Bangalore and not put up with this nonsense. Why stay in America?" Why America indeed? I had no answer which I found compelling so I got us contracts elsewhere. During one of these we discussed what was different about what we were doing and whether it could be done in Asia. Why weren't there Asian companies doing cool stuff? The answer ultimately came down to opportunity and exposure – or the self imposed lack thereof.
In every Asian country the education system points the best and brightest to do well on their national exam. The top kids go to the top university. The top grads of the top universities get jobs straight away in the top tech firms. There, these potential geniuses will learn whatever technology their company has selected – either C# or Java. They will soon master what is needed to perform their particular assignments well. So well in fact that, after two or three years, they will be promoted to manager and manage 20 other kids just like they were – and never write another line of code again!
So Asia's filled with potential starved for exposure. There are no technical career paths in Asia. Your value is determined by how many people answer to you, not by what technical capabilities you bring to bear for your company. So this spelled opportunity to me. After seeing so much of my value to my clients go to waste because of corporate politics, determining that there was a huge untapped source of geeks yearning to be geeks – I decided that I would go build a world class dev group my way and do innovative technology in Asia with Asians just to prove it could be done.
I've been here six years now and am quite satisfied that I've made my point. The whole business model is spelled out on my company website so I won't repeat it here but I hope everyone will steal it and run with it cause I'm ready for phase II and need there to be more talented dev groups happening to take advantage of it. Indeed I sponsored the very first Barcamps in Thailand for this very purpose.
And that's how the second incarnation of Proteus Technologies came about in Asia. The story of the first incarnation is far sillier... one day.Share on Twitter Share on Facebook