As many of my clients and colleagues know, I've just returned from a month-long trek through Northern India. While this was a holiday, I wanted to provide readers here with a bit of opinion about India and web development. Quite commonly, I receive solicitations from Indian web development companies asking me to outsource work to them. As may be expected, the rates are usually the most attractive aspect of such scenarios, usually constituting the main selling point.
Even at $10/hour (within the range of hourly fees touted), that equates to (at this time) more than 600 Indian rupees per hour, which I can assure you is a fairly attractive hourly rate in that part of the world, and massively inexpensive in this part. So, such relationships *should* mean real win-win scenarios between U.S.-based businesses and India-based developers. Obviously, this isn't a new idea, either, as businesses have been attempting to successfully take advantage of this for many years now (via India and other developing nations).
Last year, around this same time, we visited Thailand, marking the first time we'd visited Asia since the '90s. As expected, quite a lot had changed from the tech-landscape of the '90s, when even cell phones hadn't really taken off yet. But, by 2014 when we found ourselves in Northern Thailand, the Internet seemed fairly accessible -- somewhat reliable in hotels and generally present at coffee shops and restaurants. Speeds were okay, although not spectacular (but definitely workable).
Based on that overall favorable impression of Thailand's connectivity and availability, I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 to take along to India, with the thought that supporting clients could be done at roughly the same level as what I'd felt was possible in Thailand. Only, that wasn't quite the result in India.
Our first place in Delhi (an Airbnb room) promised wifi, but that turned out not to be true. We then thought of using coffee shops as a fall-back. We headed out in Delhi to seek out some hotspots, but the results were surprisingly disappointing (a complete failure, in fact, including trying at one Starbucks in the famous Connaught Circus area). This was, for the most part, to be the case for much of the duration of the month. Wifi just isn't yet *everywhere* like it is elsewhere on the planet.
Phone tethering might have been an option normally, but America's speedy 4G phones are actually not usable in India, as they're mostly still on 3G as of this writing (although I suppose one option would be purchasing a fresh 3G iPhone and corresponding plan, and then tethering through that). I became used to telling many Indian kids who were eyeing up my LG G2 phone, "Wait until 4G gets here. You guys are really going to love it!" And, they surely will. As it was, my phone was too new to handle a data feed, so it was exclusively voice and text messaging for me.
There are additional challenges in India, though. For example, in places that did have Internet, sometimes the connectivity would still fail because the electricity would go out. Other times when I was able to get on, it was only because I happened to see a router nearby and managed to sneakily reboot it if that was the issue. Even then, the connections I managed to use weren't always reliable for long periods of time. A few others, where I was able to gain access for a fee, seemed a bit too sketchy to be considered connections via which I'd want to do any business, work on sensitive servers, or access private information.
Of course, I realize that there are indeed big businesses in Delhi and Bombay and Bangalore (etc.) that do in fact have reliable, decent Internet connectivity, and likely some of whom also have implemented practices to mitigate other challenges to long-distance web development and IT work (such as the communication barrier, the time difference, and some security challenges related to accessing U.S. servers from foreign IPs, to name a few items). But, for me, as an Internet development professional, I would not yet recommend outsourcing web development work to India.
My gut is that, while assurances will be given as to connectivity, etc., I think there are too many links in the chain (from a given developer's workstation to U.S.-based web server) to ensure the type of service many Western companies expect. (If you do decide to pursue such an arrangement, though, I'd recommend addressing these issues at the outset.)
However, please understand that this opinion is subjective, for one. Also, it is not meant to imply that the country lacks the expertise. In fact, on that front, I would say that India is better positioned for long-term success than any other country. I say this because one thing that really impressed me within a country that wasn't yet fully "digitized" was their continued grasp of the *very* old analog ways of doing things -- whether it's weighing produce at a food cart with the old manual scales or even some much more advanced manual (non-computerized) processes that can be accomplished there. In one Internet forum, I even read about some eyeglass repair people who can manually recreate computer-made prescription lenses using only visual, optical observations made by holding eyeglasses up to the light in various ways. To me, this represents a kind of lateral thinking that's going on over a wide scale on the other side of the world, whereas the Western world is becoming so digitized that we've forgotten much of the old manual ways. It follows (in my view) that, when the infrastructure finally stabilizes in India and the connectivity becomes at least as ubiquitous as it has been here for the past 5-10 years, the people there will be well positioned to approach tech problems in new ways and pioneer some things that we've not been able to make sufficient progress on here. At least, that's the optimistic view. They have their work cut out for themselves for the moment, though.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 3
I'd mentioned, above, purchasing a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 to serve as my working rig during the trip, and thought I'd offer some commentary on that here as well.
My wife and I both require the Internet and a decent computer for our income. At Marketing Portland, we do both print and online design and development, which means, computer-wise, we really need the ability to run some high-end software such as the Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, InDesign, etc.).
Until recently, working while traveling meant carrying a whole laptop. We'd previously used Dell systems mostly -- the old Dell Studio workhorse laptops (heavy systems, lots of cords, and always 17" screens for us). But, with our latest round of tech gear, some new possibilities opened up to really lighten the load. The Surface Pro 3 is basically the size of a tablet -- not terribly bigger than an iPad, but running a larger processor and a full version of Windows 8.1. With it, you can run full versions of things, just like on a normal laptop (in addition to all of the tablet-type features like multi-touch, etc.). We've had zero problems with it -- running all of my web dev software, the full versions of Adobe Creative Cloud products, and various Windows programs without problems.
Battery life has proven outstanding. I don't think we ever found ourselves in a power-pinch with it, as it gets something like 9+ hours on a single charge. I did select the lower-end machine, as it's not like we'll use it constantly, or do too much multi-tasking. So, ours is the Intel Core i3 version w/ a 64GB SSD. Admittedly, I did want a little more room for files and things, so I bought a couple micro SD cards (one 64GB and one smaller one, just in case I needed any extra room). Actually, it's kind of nice to be able to swap out those micro SD cards, anyway.
The pen takes a bit of getting used to -- well worth investing a half hour or so into the pen tutorials that come with it, just so you know the basics. Thankfully, the keyboard cover we bought (essential) comes with a little stick-on tab to hold the pen. Otherwise, it might be easy to misplace it.
What else? Screen resolution is super (and a nice 12" size, too), and with the various USB and display ports, you can easily take this thing to a hotel or whatever and output to a much larger work screen if needed. At 2 pounds, it really opens up possibilities for the "road warrior" lifestyle -- barely takes up any space in your bag.