My birthday, July 13, landed on a Friday this year. I was amused to find that “Friday the 13th” is regarded as a generally unlucky day in India – one similarity the country shares with the U.S. – and my coworkers reminded me of this fact leading up to the day. Regardless of the inauspicious circumstances, my work teammates did their best to ensure a comfortable and happy first birthday in India, coming by my work station to shake my hand and enthuse, “Many happy returns of the day!”
Right as I was about to check out of the office, one of my supervisors motioned that I should stay for a few more minutes.
“For cake,” he explained.
Sure enough, five minutes later another coworker brought in a beautifully decorated small chocolate cake. My teammates and other people in our work space sang happy birthday, I cut the cake and for the last twenty minutes of the day the “Business Development Room” served as a makeshift party space.
The birthday with my coworkers is fairly representative of the overall work atmosphere at a leading Indian IT firm – my fellow associates, and even the firm leadership, are friendly, fun-loving, and helpful. This is a far cry from certain complaints I’ve heard from other expats, bemoaning that Indian work places are rigidly hierarchically structured, full of tedious work and a minimum of personal space. My time in India so far has not been all peaches and cream – as detailed in the last post – but I consider myself lucky that I have had nothing but a fantastic experience with my work, coworkers and professional development.
As a “Pre-Sales” associate in Life Sciences, my teammates and I essentially communicate with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to help them understand the opportunities available with the firm’s IT and outsourcing services. The work I’ve been exposed to so far has incorporated marketing, numbers analysis and general salesmanship, although at this point, I am still on a steep learning curve regarding “life science” industries. The companies we work with are, I find, constantly evolving, merging, acquiring and innovating, and their dynamic nature has made my day-to-day assignments very interesting.
Of course, there are little details of work etiquette that give me constant reminders I am not in the States anymore. After trekking through the morning rains, the common practice here is to lay open umbrellas on the ground to dry. This is fairly inconsequential, although our “Business Development Room” looks quite unique when there are multiple open umbrellas strewn on the floor every day.
Security checks are frequent – although the high-security is also a function of the confidential technical work the firm performs for many clients. To enter the office, I first show my photo ID to security, then swipe the ID card in two separate identification readers and show my laptop to the security guards so they can verify the issue number, before putting my bags through an x-ray conveyor and walking through a metal detector myself. Photography is prohibited in the office, and in certain firm's offices across India, “smart phones” with cameras are not allowed either.
The cafeteria food is perfectly fine by my standards, although those who can embrace spicy food will generally have a wider variety of choices. One fellow first-year associate has lost almost thirty pounds since arriving in India four months ago due to his aversion to spice. I am also fortunate to have a relatively small team of seven associates – we eat lunch together, as well as sharing a mid-afternoon “snack” usually consisting of dosas and samosas.
My teammates are hard-working and conscientious, as I expected. Almost all are under the age of 30, most have MBA’s or another advanced degree, and all are acutely aware of the challenges their upwardly-mobile country faces as it moves towards economic stability. They frequently inquire how I am adjusting to Indian life, and happily give me suggestions for landmarks to visit, bars to check out, and methods of dealing with ever-fickle rickshaw drivers (the main tip: be assertive). From our Monday morning conversations, I have gathered that they all enjoy full social lives outside the office.
The aspect of work I am happiest with, however, is my team’s degree of cooperation and respect. My teammates have made eminently clear that we are all working towards the same goal, and everyone is quick to help with each other’s challenges and embrace their peers’ success. This teamwork can certainly be attributed to good leadership from our team leader – who gave me “The Last Lecture: Lessons in Living,” by Randy Pausch, as a birthday present. However, I think the friendliness and helpful attitude imbued in many parts of Indian culture are major benefits for business teams here as well – benefits I am particularly grateful for as I continue to acclimate to life in Mumbai.
As I’ve mentioned, I am very lucky to be working with a supportive team, and I would be interested to hear other stories of work life in India. Feel free to comment on the Project Firefly website, Facebook page or Twitter with your own experiences and opinions.