A Difference Between Indian and American Programmers

by Krishna on October 9, 2009

There are a lot of them, but I keep coming across one all the time. Here is an example (emphasis mine):

Brad Fitzpatrick, born in 1980, started to learn programming at the age of 5. In high school he went on to create a voting booth script called FreeVote, which he says earned him as much as 27 cent per click on banner ads back then (making for 25, 27 grand per month).

I touched my first computer (for playing chess) at the age of 14. I touched my first mouse (at a science fair) at the age of 19. I wrote my first C program at the age of 21. I have done a lot of programming since then, but the 16-year difference is a huge gap.

The reason is that my family and I didn’t have the money to buy a computer, nor did the schools and under-graduate colleges I studied have them for programming purposes. So I had to wait till my graduate studies. Those institutions have the right facilities today, but back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, India was just emerging from the lost years of the License Raj. The cohort I belong to share the same experience. We probably read a lot more books than a similar American demographic, but programming, not so much. (I remember reading a book on BASIC, but no computer to type it on.)

Time equals knowledge. A vast majority of the senior Indian programmers had their first experience with software development in college. While looking at reasons for the relative low proportion of software products coming out from India, this must be kept in mind. The Indian developers did not know enough programming to start a company or write great software during the early years of their youth, which are usually the most productive.

This is rapidly changing now. With the tremendous improvement in living standards over the past two decades, millions of Indian children are being raised in families that have “the” hardware! The gap in software innovation and entrepreneurship will surely decrease as these children grow up to become software engineers.


Ranjith K Avarachan November 11, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Times haven't changed much .. it will take at least 10 more years to really bridge that gap between American programmers and Indian programmers. In India Might be the children from the Upper Class gets a chance to use computer early but the vast majority of the future potential programmers comes from the middle class families and lower class families and are not yet affordable to afford the idea of a Computer..

Craig McClanahan November 18, 2009 at 4:20 am

Things have changed in India ... but they have also changed in the United States.

If we want to play "my computer experience was younger than your computer experience" games, I'll submit my (now 29 year old) son to the equation. The first time that my wife and I knew he could roll over was when he was less than 1 year old, and I had brought him and my wife to a data center, where I was doing some contract work, one evening. We first knew he could roll over when we found that he had been on his back, but was suddenly on his stomach grabbing on to the cables between the disk drives and the mainframe :-).

More seriously, there has *definitely* been a positive change in the Indian IT envronment over the last few years. In addition to seeing the immense positive strides in the knowledge and skills of the Indian engineers I have worked with in our (Sun's) Bangalore office, it also becomes clear when you compare the kinds of questions I received when presenting sessions at the Great Indian Developer Summit (GIDS) conferences in 2007 and 2009. The first time around, most of the questions were pretty basic, but this year they were detailed, in depth, and very much focused on state of the art technologies.

That is all well and good for the Indian developer community. The advances you describe are *real*. Just keep in mind that the American developer community is evolving as well -- among other endeavors I am helping out my son's startup company build out some of their baseline technology, and the level of software development knowledge and skill among teens and 20-somethings in the U.S. continues to astound me.

Indian developers can astound me too! Keep it up!

Krishna November 18, 2009 at 9:29 am

Craig, I was actually saying that there is a huge gap between the higher standards in US versus the lower standards in India, the reason being that many Indian programmers have not grown up with computers in their childhood.

I didn't mean this post in a competitive sense. As long as both American and Indian programmers continue to improve, it is a win-win situation. Better for the world.

indian programmers March 9, 2010 at 1:00 am

Indian programmers are more efficient and less expensive, and there's a tremendous talent pool in India. My personal experience there is no lack of good programmers in India.

devashish February 3, 2011 at 4:08 am


Mike August 10, 2011 at 9:00 am

I'm 32 in the US and a programmer. I didn't have a computer to use until I was 13. I didn't have money for university so I never went. Please refrain from stereotypes about the United States. We are not just one type of person.

Krishna August 10, 2011 at 9:42 am

Mike, it is not really a stereotype. America is a far richer country than India. Most people can afford computers or they know someone who owns a computer. In India, even today, computers are a luxury.

On the other hand, you do have a point. Not all Americans are well to do. And higher education is also very expensive.

sathya August 23, 2011 at 10:20 am

Dear Krishna,

Still Computers are luxury here in india, to assemble a computer i need 12,000 rupees without licensed OS. For license it takes more. But number people in Software is still increasing.

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