Why it’s hard having a Tech Office in Dhaka

Zunaid Haroon, a Bangladeshi Canadian, is the founder and CEO of Core Analytx – a software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based business intelligence (BI) and analytics services for SME and large businesses in Toronto, Canada. Currently, the company has 16 employees and serves customers in the USA and Canada.  The core product analytx studio is a tool that is a big data processing engine and allows the users to use a frame work of  data insight through visualization, mathematical analysis for root cause and forecasting. Core Analytx provides services and solutions using the product. Recently, we came to know about his failed attempt to set up a tech team in Dhaka for his startup.

It all started in 2008, while he was working for a start-up company managing their entire offshore application development team in order to deliver professional services to clients in the USA. It was his first time working with offshore resources in India working from Canada. This experience allowed him to discover two things:

(1) Offshore resources can only deliver desirable results when presented with clear and specific instructions. Therefore, regular run of the mill professional services work or support work that needed straight up coding were much cheaper than the local competition.

(2) Software engineers are not encouraged to think creatively. Perhaps this is more an endemic problem in the way education is delivered where achievements are measured in following instructions with very little opportunity of exposure to creative thinking or independent studies in colleges and universities.

In late 2009, Zunaid left to start his own consulting firm on the back of a few contracts. While his partner worked in deliverables, he focused on sales. In trying to apply his previous experience with offshore resources to Bangladesh, he understood his mistake: Technical knowledge cannot be easily transferred but one can be trained with proper resources. Here are some of the challenges Zunaid faced when working with his Bangladeshi team:

(1) While technical skills are critical for success, attitude is equally important. Although employees were paid above the industry average, they lacked basic professionalism. They failed to consistently show up on time, focus on learning on the job, and deliver on time. The fact that there was no local management is likely to have exacerbated these deficits in professionalism. The key to fostering productivity in a tech team would be to run a very disciplined work structure. Companies like Infosys and Tata have their own dedicated hostels, which help promote a professional mindset among employees. Zunaid believes that this model would be beneficial to Bangladesh as it would remove distractions and provide a process driven work environment.

(2) There was a palpable lack of dedication among employees. Almost all of the resources did freelance work at night, which took a toll on productivity. Employees would come in late to work and fail to perform effectively. When confronted, the simple response was “everyone does it.” It is important that people thinking of developing a local tech team really focus on fostering dedication among their hires and work on company culture from day one.

(3) Unlike their counterparts in India or the Philippines, Bangladeshi offshore resources encountered tremendous language barriers.

(4) Bangladeshi employees took long vacations around the two Eids and refused to align their holiday calendars with Euro-American ones. This generated significant challenges in terms of product delivery and coordination.

(5) Employees did not have up to date knowledge of software engineering methodologies. Given that complex software development requires collaborative efforts between multiple team members, such a knowledge gap hampered effective collaboration and required unanticipated training.

Despite the challenges, one thing Zunaid realized was that raw talent and intelligence is present in Bangladesh. Zunaid confided by saying,

“I just did not know how to harness the talents and deliver a successful initiative. One big roadblock I had was funding challenge in Bangladesh as the country was not known to the rest of the world for the right reasons, yet.”

The last 6 years have been transformational for Bangladesh. Although Core Analytx chose to build its operation in Canada, Zunaid never lost interest in following the technology industry in Dhaka with the hope that the industry will soon make the leap to the next level by accommodating international partnership.

Recently, in discussion with several software firms, Zunaid feels that the methodology knowledge gaps have been reduced and many software firms have actively embraced methodologies such as scrum and agile in software development.  More importantly, a culture of professional commitment and delivery focus seems to have arrived.

SD Asia Desk