Kavya Elchuri, 21, can see her future clearly. A year from now, she will be an architect - and, no, she will not be designing buildings. In the vocabulary of geeks, an "architect" is a person involved in research and development (R&D) in an infotech company. The third-year B.Tech student at Gitam University in Hyderabad has already taken a step toward her future: she was one of 106 students selected from a dozen Andhra Pradesh engineering colleges for an R&D training programme run by former Microsoft India Development Center (MIDC) Managing Director Srini Koppolu and Perraju Bendapudi, a partner architect at MIDC in Hyderabad.
During the six-week training programme, Elchuri helped build an online discussion web service akin to Twitter. A year from now, she sees herself working in either a big techfocused multinational like Microsoft or Google or in a technology start-up. "I want to take up a career where I can play a role in building something," she says. "In start-ups, there is greater scope to work directly with seniors and since they are small they depend a lot on those in R&D."
Chances are Elchuri's career will pan out just as she plans. She will probably be snapped up as soon as she graduates, as research and development opportunities are growing in India today with start-ups mushrooming across sectors
from information technology to consumer goods. Many companies say they are spending more on R&D
and hiring for R&D is also up. Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Senior Vice President Swati Rustagi says the company's R&D team has nearly doubled in the past five years from 350 to 650 with the bulk going into the drug discovery and development programme. During the same period, the company's R&D spend has grown more than three times to Rs 510 crore budgeted for this year from Rs 150 crore.
A career in R&D is particularly attractive today because these skills are in short supply. "There is a real shortage of people who set out to build their careers and think only of research and development as their chosen path. Most people want to get into business development and leadership," says Vikram Chhachhi, Executive Vice President, DHR International, a leading executive search firm.
Which are the sectors looking for more R&D? "Any core technology, internet-based companies or those in life sciences, telecommunication or even in core industries. For instance, there is need for R&D in oil and gas, renewable energy and, in fact, the whole area of energy. While it may not look glamorous from outside, many of them can provide very enriching careers in R&D," says Chhachhi.
They are not the only ones. The food business is investing heavily in research and development. "Given the growing consumer expectations for new offerings in foods, there is a lot of R&D work that is happening in food companies," says N. Narasimha Rao, Vice president, Human Resources, at Agro Tech Foods, which makes Sundrop oil and Act II popcorn.
New Economy companies too are investing in a big way in R&D. Consider travel, e-commerce and online commerce sites such as MakeMyTrip and Flipkart. A MakeMyTrip official says its technology development and online marketing teams have doubled in the past three years, taking the number of people in technology-related roles to a fourth of the total headcount of around 1,200. The company typically hires engineers from engineering schools such as the IITs, while product managers are mostly hired laterally.
Flipkart too has been expanding its technical team because all its technology is developed in-house. Amod Malviya, Senior Vice President and head of engineering, says the company has a technology department with 350 engineers. He adds that an e-commerce company needs R&D talent in several areas such as fraud detection, pricing and logistics.
Cigarettes and consumer goods giant ITC sees research and development as a big growth area. It has an R&D centre in Bangalore called the ITC Life Sciences and Technology Centre which employs 345 people, including more than 70 PhDs. ITC officials say R&D needs have grown because of the company's pace of growth, especially in its non-cigarette businesses. The turnover from its consumer goods businesses such as packaged foods and personal care products has crossed the Rs 7,000-crore mark.
Not surprisingly, ITC officials quote Chairman Y.C. Deveshwar's speech at an annual general meeting in 2010 when he said: "As ITC moves into the future, its R&D programme will create new game-changing business opportunities."