Outlook India recently ran a story headlined "Noida to Islamabad". It suggests at least anecdotal evidence of information technology jobs beginning to move from India to Pakistan. The number of jobs is only 125 but could it be the tip of a larger iceberg? Are western companies finding Pakistan becoming more competitive with India in terms of cost and skills on offer? Let's try and answer these questions.
Noida to Islamabad:
Outlook India report said 125 employees at a US-based information technology service provider were laid off in Noida in New Delhi, India, and the very next day an equal number of workers started working for the company in Islamabad, Pakistan. Here's an excerpt of Outlook India story:
"On the night of November 1, stretching into early next morning, close to half the workforce at the Noida office of a US-based IT service provider was informed that their services were no longer needed. A former employee says salaries for the staff at the Noida office were declared delayed by a day on October 31. The official explanation was that the servers were not working. “They weren’t clear about how many people were going to be laid off,” he says. The next night, they “axed 125 people in half-an-hour.” They all got a severance package—a cheque for October and another two months of salary—and a termination letter. Rumors of layoffs had started doing the rounds four to five months ago. The talk was that the company was opening offices in a neighboring country. Curiously, the day the workforce in Noida was sacked, almost the same number of employees for the same low-level IT-enabled jobs logged into their systems, 676 kilometers away, in Islamabad, Pakistan. Job cuts have plagued the Indian IT sector for about two years now and have begun to get pretty serious from the start of this year. “Bloodbath in Bangalore” has been the recurring headline. But the trend of these jobs going to techies in Pakistan is more recent. Away from all the noise of ceasefire violations and surgical strikes, where Pakistan could really hurt India is in taking away low-end IT jobs. The neighbor has a budding IT industry, growing in its own space, looking to emulate the Indian IT success story where right now data operators and BPO callers come much cheaper."
The story did not identify the company by name.
Pakistan: The Next Software Hub?
There are tens of thousands of Pakistani IT engineers working in the West, particularly in Silicon Valley, the high-tech capital of the world. The popular entertainment industry recognizes this fact by featuring a Pakistani-American software engineer in lead role played by a real-life Pakistani-American Kumail Nanjiani in HBO's "Silicon Valley" serial. Articles like the New York Times Op Ed piece in 2015 titled "Pakistan, the Next Software Hub?" have helped raise the profile of Pakistan's information technology industry in the West.
Afiniti and Careem: Tech Unicorns Made in Pakistan:
Afiniti and Careem are two technology unicorns engineered in Pakistan by Pakistanis. AI (artificial intelligence) startup Afiniti software has largely been engineered in Lahore while taxi hailing service Careem's technology has mostly been developed in Karachi.
Careem is a taxi hailing app that is giving its American competitor Uber a run for its money in a region stretching from Pakistan to the Middle East and North Africa. The company cofounded by Mudassir Sheika, a Pakistani national, is headquartered in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Careem's software has been developed by its technology partner VentureDive based in Karachi, Pakistan. VentureDive was started by serial Pakistani entrepreneur Atif Azim who sold his earlier startup Perfigo to network equipment giant Cisco for $74 million in 2004, according to a report in Tech in Asia.
Washington D.C. based AI technology firm Afiniti, founded by serial Pakistani-American entrepreneur Zia Chishti, has filed for initial public offering (IPO) at $1.6 billion valuation, according to VentureBeat. The company has grown out of the technology used in the Pakistan-based call center business of The Resource Group (TRG) also founded by Zia Chishti.
Bulk of the Afiniti development team is located in Thokar Niaz Baig, Lahore. In addition, the company has development team members in Islamabad and Karachi.
Numbers, Skills and Cost:
Pakistani universities are producing over 10,000 IT engineers annually. Many of them have demonstrated their quality and skills by freelancing for American and European companies. Pakistani freelancers consistently rank among the top three year after year.
In terms of cost, Pakistani engineers cost significantly less than engineers in India and elsewhere. The average salary of a software engineer ($110,000) in Silicon Valley is about 20X more than the average salaries in India ($6,875) and Pakistan ($4,770), according to Glassdoor.
Recent move of 125 IT jobs from Noida to Islamabad in an indication that Pakistan is becoming an attractive destination for software and information technology companies looking for highly skilled talent at significant discounts. It is an emerging center of technology with at least two unicorns, Afiniti and Careem, engineered by Pakistanis in Pakistan. With growing numbers of young homegrown Pakistani technologists, a highly skilled diaspora and an evolving startup ecosystem with incubators, accelerators and investors, the country is beginning to demonstrate its vast potential as a vibrant technology hub of the future. Provincial governments, particularly those in Punjab and KP, are showing leadership in encouraging this trend. The main ingredients are all coming together to make things happen in Pakistan.