In March 2006, in the middle of my tenure at DataSoft (a Dhaka software company), we found ourselves searching for a pre-Sales Engineer - someone with both technical knowhow and customer savvy. We interviewed many candidates with no luck: usually the ones who spoke well did not understand technology, and the geeks could not express themselves well (as a test we asked them to present a talk on a topic they chose.)
We struck gold after the fifth or sixth interview. Khaled: a brilliant fellow, articulate, a patient listener who could earn the customer's trust, but technically sharp - he seemed to have it all. Towards the end of the interview I asked one of my favorite interview questions:
"What do you see yourself doing three years from now?"
"Living abroad, of course! I will get out of Bangladesh the first chance I get - probably within the next year."
His answer struck me with blinding force. All these years I had been on the other side of the fence (having left when I was 16.) Suddenly I realized what others who had stayed back and tried build the country had faced when so many of our talented and well-educated kids left.
Within the past week I heard of two other cases of bright, one-in-a-million types who have left the country. One had started a well-thought-out Web 2.0 startup 3-4 years ago. I saw one of his papers in a Microsoft MSDN guide and was very impressed, only to be told the bad news that he was no longer around having first gone to Malaysia and then to the US. Another person I heard of got a job at Microsoft even before he graduated from college and took off. This person was apparently quite the genius. And every year our ACM champions get picked up by Google, Microsoft or other global companies.
Ok... so what? Those who want to leave will leave, right? Perhaps. But perhaps some of them would have stayed back if the right incentives were offered. In whatever IT strategy we have as a nation, we have never tried to address this issue. People like the cases above should be offered golden handcuffs. They ought to be treated as princes (or princesses) and every resource should be put at their disposal so they are able to build a globally successful IT business from right here in Bangladesh.
Only then will we get that success story that we need for the dam to break and our IT industry to break throgh to the next level.
In the meantime, let us also not forget our IT pioneers - the ones who have stayed back and who are fighting on the IT frontlines every day, sometimes against very difficult odds - with the respect, resources and support that they deserve. It is because of them that we even have an IT industry in Bangladesh.