The United States of Ameerpet
Packed into a 3 sq-km area is the most intense, intricate and ingenious IT ecosystem in the country. Lakhs of students come here to increase their employability, says Devina Sengupta
A million institutes, but which one clicks?


F THE PROFUSION OF BILLBOARDS IN THIS small pocket of Hyderabad had been neon-lit, Ameerpet would have looked like a mini Las Vegas. For Sudha Rani, this three-square-km neighbourhood that packs in hundreds of IT institutes and over one lakh students, signifies a last-ditch attempt to start a software career. The 24-year-old has an MCA degree from Andhra Pradesh’s Kakatiya University, but that wasn’t good enough to win her a job. Back home in Warangal, her mother and two sisters are desperately hoping she will get a break. That’s why Sudha has landed in Ameerpet. Students come here to learn a host of software programmes at a fraction of the cost they would pay to study at a reputed institute. “My whole class is learning Java, so I am doing it too,” says Sudha, adding, in halting, broken English: “What to do? College did not teach anything. I just want a job, any job. But should be IT.” Ameerpet picked up on the desperation of thousands of students like Sudha when, almost a decade ago, it morphed from a quiet, residential neighbourhood into a renegade IT hub. Every crumbling building here seems to be crammed with institutes offering courses in SAP, Java, Oracle, C, C++ and a host of others. The training institutes range from a hole-in-the-wall place to large sheds converted into classrooms that pack in a few hundred students. There is at least one new institute springing up every day, but most are low on credibility and use unauthorised software.

the country (metal detectors, electronic beepers and guards manning its entrance ’round-the-clock), Naresh is more corporatised than its competitors. The four reception desks disseminate information and brochures at breakneck speed. “For Java it is Rs 3,000 for a 4-6 month course followed by a 45-day test period where you will be taught interview skills as well,” rattles off a woman sitting behind one of the desks. The institute has its own placement officers and HR managers. K Sunny, an HR manager, says: “Our students come from Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra and Maharashtra. We even have students from the UK, US and Nigeria here to learn Java.” Classes are conducted in a large shed where professors use projectors and need microphones to reach out to the hundreds of students packed in, row after row, segregated by gender.


The training institutes range from a hole-in-the-wall place to large sheds. Most are low on credibility. Students come for low-cost courses and experience with ‘live projects’ smuggled from all over the world


VERY DAY, HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE LIKE Sudha throng Ameerpet. They come searching for low-cost courses; for the experience of working on ‘live projects’, which are smuggled from all over the world, or for a crash course to upgrade their skills. Employees from toprung IT companies come here, on the sly, to teach and pocket a few extra thousand rupees as they moonlight. Schoolchildren from the US don’t come, but send their homework to be done by the institutes of Ameerpet, while college kids send their university projects. Everybody comes to Ameerpet, even students from Nigeria, the US and UK. Most come to receive training, skill and experience, while some come to teach. Together, they have created the most intense, intricate and ingenious IT ecosystem packed into a single neighbourhood. “These coaching mandis are the result of a failure in the formal education system in India, and a reaction to poor government policies,” says Mohandas Pai, director, human resources, at Infosys Technologies. “While the government has ignored the needs of the IT industry by not increasing the number of seats in premier educational and training institutes, places like Ameerpet are providing a necessary service.” Surojit Biswas, zonal head (East) for individual learning solutions at NIIT is not so forthcoming when asked to comment on the IT ecosystem at Ameerpet. “We have a centre at Ameerpet, too, but we will not enter into any tieups with any of the training institutes there,” he says. “We cater to completely different markets with well-researched programmes, skill sets and a curriculum that is verified. We are well aware of the industry’s requirements.” But there’s no doubt that the institutes at Ameerpet equip students, who have limited means and inadequate educational qualifications, with knowledge in the latest IT technologies, and make them more competitive and assimilative in the workplace. And allow them a chance to dream big. Naresh Technologies is one such institute. With ‘hustlers’ who fan out into the street luring newbies, and with all the trappings of the best IT institute in

RYING HIS LUCK AT NARESH IS Prabhakar Patakamura. Despite having an MCA degree, this youngster from Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, used to deliver credit cards, earning Rs 3,500 a month. His parents are farmers and he has three siblings to support. Asked why he picked Ameerpet, Prabhakar says he came here because “everybody from back home, the entire village, came to study at Ameerpet”. He sees the IT industry as the only one which will give him a decent life and income. An aspiration that makes hours of sitting in a stuffy, tightly-packed room, trying to absorb every word the professor throws out, much more bearable. Unlike students at the arguably more legit institutes, it’s not just youngsters trying to better their employability that come to Ameerpet. Even the currently-employed battling margin costs, where companies may have slashed time and funds on training, post-slump, come here. Naresh Ravindra, an MTech from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University Hyderabad, has been a Tata Consultancy Services employee for the past five years. He was sent for a software upgradation course to Delhi and asked to learn it in two days, largely from a PowerPoint presentation. Unable to do so, he came to Ameerpet for a crash course at Durga Software. “My friends at other IT firms have also come here for the same reason,” says Ravindra. “Companies think we are robots, and it is either their way or the highway (when it comes to training).” Another aspirant, Durga Prasad, cites instances where employees from different companies had ‘outsourced’ their program coding to the institutes at Ameerpet, for as little as Rs 500. Prasad, a former IBM employee, quit his job in 2009 to help his brother, a former HCL employee, run Durga Software. Today, the firm trains around 400 students a day on the SCJP (Suncertified Java Programmer) course. “I used to earn around Rs 65,000-70,000 at IBM per month and now make Rs 3.5 lakh. There is no reason why I should have second thoughts about quitting my job,” says Prasad. In fact, Ameerpet takes outsourcing to a whole new level. Some of Ameerpet’s clients include Class VIII students in the US who outsource their mathematics homework to India (The going rate? Rs 500 for 30 sums); engineering students in colleges abroad outsource their final projects, and Indian students, pursuing an MS degree in the US get their programming written in Ameerpet. All for a fee, of course. But none of this would have been possible without Ameerpet’s NRI ‘connection’. Some 15% of the institutes here are funded by NRIs who think of themselves as entrepreneurs. A professor who teaches at one of the institutes says, on condition of anonymity: “Some NRIs allow instructors in Ameerpet to work on dummy projects, which students at the institute erroneously believe to be live projects.” NRIs in Silicon Valley pass on their login IDs to family and friends who run training centres in Ameerpet, and these are then used to log on to so-called ‘live projects’ which can only be accessed by purchasing. (A testament to Ameerpet institutes’ shady ways is a banner urging companies to not buy live projects.) AJEEV RAVULAPATI, WHO RETURNED from the US in the mid-90s and worked with the Indian arm of Sun Microsystems, set up a training institute with friends, called Software Jobs School, in Ameerpet. Students at Software Jobs School apparently work on projects for Rajeev’s friends who run websites like e-Prarthana and Beyond Basiks. Around 1,500 students have completed courses in the past eight months from Jobscape, even though it is barely two years old. The institute has 45 teachers, many of whom were given pink slips by Indian IT firms during the slump, but earn

well upwards of Rs 8,000 a month. The training institutes close ranks when asked about software piracy and dubious training methods — perhaps emboldened by the fact that there is no check on such irregularities. Certificates continue to be ‘sold’ for as little as Rs 50 and colleges allegedly turn a blind eye to Ameerpet because they cannot guarantee internships for their students with their current skills. “There may be people who are still without jobs, but at least they got a shot at it after being trained here,” says Ravi Kiran, a software professional who enrolled in one of Ameerpet’s institutes. The training institutes also promise ‘experienced’ instructors, with banners proclaiming teaching by “Professor Srinivasan, 16 years’ real time experience” and such. For employees of reputed IT companies, Ameerpet has been a boon for making a quick buck on the side. Professor Pratap, who teaches Oracle at the Webnology Institute, is a former Dell employee. Now working for a smaller IT firm, he lets slip that his employers don’t know about his frequent stints at Ameerpet, since that would be illegal. What if they find out? He shrugs and says what he does on weekends and holidays is not their business. Another professor reportedly takes sick leave to come and teach here. The money’s good, of course: Rs 500-Rs 1,000 for just an hour of teaching. It’s sometimes more than what the teachers make at their regular jobs. “Credentials of these professors are dubious, no records are maintained and it’s a great way of making some extra money,” confirms S Abhirama Krishna, director, South State Business School in Hyderabad.


They’re just bricks in the institutes’ walls



HERE ARE OTHERS CASHING IN ON THE Ameerpet boom. Photocopy and stationery shops, banner and billboard makers, eateries and hostels, video parlours and even cinemas have sprung up in the dusty bylanes of Ameerpet — an economy all its own. Srinivas, who runs a photocopy shop, can also advise you on the textbooks to buy for a particular course and doubles up as an excellent tour guide for Ameerpet. He gets 100 customers a day to the barely 15 that used to come during the downturn. Raju’s tea stall, near Satyam Theatre, is a hotbed for adda, raking in Rs 1,500 a day. K Ashok’s snacks joint is another favourite haunt. “I have made changes in the menu to attract North Indian students as well, and make around Rs 7,000 a day,” says Ashok, who also repairs mobile phones. And if students are involved, can spoken English classes be far behind? Realising that most of the people come from rural areas and may need honing of their communication skills, English classes have also sprung up, attracting students like Maheshwari Rageni. The youngster knows that a Java course from INetSolv Solutions was not enough for her to snag a good job. “Back home, we were taught in our mother tongue, which puts me on the backfoot when it comes to clearing aptitude tests,” she says, proud to have enrolled at a spoken English class now. The most remarkable — and telling — sight is of large clusters of shy and hesitant students moving around together, almost as if there’s safety in numbers. A part of this is because whole villages and smaller towns have upped to Ameerpet and naturally cling together under the bright lights of the big city. Hostels provide lodging keeping this in mind, clubbing students from Orissa with those from West Bengal, for instance. Lopamudra Mohanta and Rinki Patel, both from Sambalpur, Orissa, are glad for this, and have never felt out of place for the year that they have lived in the ‘Girls Inn Hostel’. They are ready to stay on for as long as it takes for opportunity — and a job — to come their way. “We have friends from our town in the same hostel, which makes us feel comfortable. But if we were to do a course at some reputed institute like NIIT, we would instantly be marked and treated as different,” they say, stating another reason they picked Ameerpet. Clearly, sometimes reticence about one’s background (and assumed backwardness) is a bigger deterrent than course fees. Perhaps the comfort level also comes from the knowing that they are not being overcharged for courses; that they can attend demo classes every single day and have the option of mixing and matching, both lessons and roommates. Course fees are also staggered, which makes it easier on the pocket. There’s a lesson here for India Inc. That there is a talent pool outside metros waiting to be scoured. As a trainer at an Ameerpet institute puts it: “It’s like having a plasma TV and a basic one in front of you. The basic one may not give you the superior quality and status symbol of the plasma, but does it mean it is not doing its job at all?”


Why buy a project when you can use friends and relatives’ login IDs and passwords to access them?


Training institute banners vie for students’ attention


Students get a taste of the real world

Cram Factories

New-age gurus
The teachers are mostly employees of IT companies across the country. Some of them come to Ameerpet on weekends, often on sick leave, and earn up to `1,000 an hour. Training institutes have also employed people who lost their jobs during the slowdown. They earn `10,000-30,000 a month. Senior students too pitch in with lessons, for `5,000-8,000. a

Up close with some Ameerpet institutes
Naresh Technologies is best known for its Java course. Students can also learn C and C++, and lessons cost between `1,000 for a three-month course and `2,500 for advanced ones. A six-month Java course costs `3,000. b Durga Software sees almost 400 students a day enroll for courses like SCJP, C++ and C. Course fees range from `2,000 to `4,000 for four to six months. c At INetSolv Solutions, students can learn dot net for `3,000 for a 4-month course, and Java through a five-month programme which costs `6,000.

Ameerpet then...
In the 1980s, the only claim to fame in this quiet, residential neighbourhood was a Gold Spot factory. During the IT boom, many training institutes came up here, but about 320 of them shut shop in the 2008-2009 slump.

...and now
One new institute opens every day, say residents, with all of them crammed into a few old buildings. At any given time, one lakh students train at these institutes, and the students live in and around the area. The boom has also spawned its own ecosystem.

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