In the early 1990s, if you had looked at the potential for an IT industry in India, the answer could easily have been: "Not possible, because there aren't enough decent colleges and universities around". Yet, the IT industry happened. I find the build up of the requisite human capital of this industry to be rather interesting. Going beyond IT, more generally, if you look at the tripling of India's GDP and the immense internationalisation in this period, it seems to have taken place against daunting odds given that higher education is dysfunctional. For almost all students in India, the knowledge they command when stepping into the labour market is not substantially different from the knowledge they had when finishing 12th grade; the undergrad / masters degrees add next to nothing. This could have held back India's growth. It didn't.
How do we explain the tripling of GDP? The bulk of human capital in India has been built by self-motivated people. This was largely learning-by-doing - as economists have always known - supported by a little timely training. This process can be speeded up through the use of high quality certification exams, that really challenge the exam-taker, and that push forward to international standards of quality. Both processes - learning by doing and certification - are largely independent of formal education.
I read a column by Robert Cringely which links up to these issues. He talks about a certification in computer networking : ``Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert'' (CCIE). As he says:
The CCIE is Cisco's top certification category and VERY hard to earn. Being a CCIE doesn't mean you have Len Bozack on speed dial, but it might as well. Cisco products dominate the Internet and CCIEs are Cisco gurus, so if you are serious about the Internet as a nation you'll have CCIEs hanging about, or that's the theory. Conversely, if you just talk a good game as a country with technological aspirations, maybe you won't have many CCIEs at all -- maybe none. It's one way to determine who the posers are.
Cisco publishes the number of CCIEs by country every quarter. Here's what it shows for India:
It shows a nice exponential build-up, despite roughly zero progress on higher education in this period.
In the case of finance, I know that the headcount of FRM certification is a useful measure of the number of people in India who actually know some finance (does a time-series exist?). I don't know anything about the CCIE. Is it a very Cisco thing? If this is the case, fluctuations in the number of CCIE would partly merely reflect the success or failure of Cisco in India. My informal impression is that Cisco is much less important in price-sensitive-India than they are elsewhere in the world.
The Cisco data also has numbers for other countries. I'm curious what blog readers think about (a) The extent to which the headcount of CCIE can be interpreted as a measure of the presence of high quality skills in the country and (b) A common sensical interpretation about inter-country comparisons - e.g. China's count is 8x bigger than India but China hasn't made the same impression in the international software market.