BANGALORE, India The contrasts are the first things that strike you here in this city aiming to become the next global center of electronics design. Cows lumber in the dust past new glass and granite office buildings shimmering in the heat, pausing to dine on piles of garbage in the street.
Travel just 40 kilometers outside town to the so-called Electronics City still being built and the contrasts are even starker. Here the many low rise offices randomly sprinkled around Bangalore bloom into giant corporate campuses behind castle-like walls.
Like Bangalore, the oddly-laid out streets in Electronic City are choked with a flood of buses, pedicabs, mopeds, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians angling for an inch amid a constant chorus of horns. Men and women pack into whatever shady spots they can find at grimy roadside food stalls, and clumps of idle people overflow at street corners where vendors ply with scythes at piles of green coconuts, a favorite snack.
But squeeze past the security guards into the carefully controlled environment of giant corporate compounds, and you are in a different world. Here, insulated from the chaos, managers plan world-class quality programs in air-conditioned comfort. The grounds are manicured and liberally watered, the cafeteria is clean and well stocked, workers take classes in best practices and everything gets measured, assigned and dispatched.
It's a place of great poverty and potential where India's strengths and weaknesses are laid out for the casual traveler to see.
The cities are stuffed with plenty of bright, polite often talented people, many of them looking for work. Outside both towns, vast tracks of land await development. Connecting it all is an infrastructure which suggests a government that is at least overburdened and possibly incompetent.
In some neighborhoods, holes in the street at regular intervals disgorge piles of unconnected cables. Power cuts are common everywhere. New buildings stand between the crumbling remains of old ones overgrown with weeds and the aluminum and tarp shanty towns that crop up in vacant lots.
Streets lack lanes to separate pedestrians from trucks and bicycles from cars. Foul smelling rivers choked with garbage run through town, if they run at all.
But inside the walls of the corporate compounds a mission statement is clearly articulated by everyone from junior managers to chairman of the board. They want to own the product development process from end to end and earn a share of the revenues and productivity increases they deliver with every product they touch.
That's a far cry from the industry's conventional picture of India as a low cost rent-an-engineer service. Outsiders see Bangalore as the distant job shop where, for one low fee, pre-specified software gets coded and the chips and boards and boxes they design are painstakingly and patiently tested and verified.
But India is more than a well of young and patient English-speaking engineers in a still-primitive country. It is also a place of great ambition and persistence in a land rapidly on the rise.