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In The Forest People and The Mountain People, anthropologist Colin Turnbull paints contrasting pictures of two societies. In the mountains, resources were scarce and people were always on the brink of starvation. The culture they evolved was horrific. Mothers abandoned babies to roving packs of feral children as soon as they had any chance of survival. Violence, brutality, and betrayal were the order of the day.

In contrast, the forest had plenty of resources. A person had only to spend half an hour a day providing for their basic needs. The forest culture was the mirror image of the mountain culture. Adults shared in raising children, who were nurtured and loved until they were quite ready to care for themselves. If one person accidentally killed another (deliberate crime was unknown), they were exiled, but they only had to go a little ways into the forest, and only for a few months, and even then the other tribespeople brought them gifts of food.

XP is an experiment in answer to the question, “How would you program if you had enough time?” Now you can’t have extra time, because this is business after all, and we are certainly playing to win. But if you had enough time, you would write tests; you would restructure the system when you learned something; you would talk a lot with fellow programmers and with the customer.

Such a “mentality of sufficiency” is humane, unlike the relentless drudgery of impossible, imposed deadlines that drives so  much talent out of the business of programming. The mentality of sufficiency is also good business. It creates its own efficiencies, just as the mentality of scarcity creates its own waste.

– excerpt from “Extreme Programming Explained – Embrace Change” by Kent Beck

Don’t you think ‘The Mountain People’ very truly, symbolise Indian software companies and their work culture, whereas ‘The Forest People’ symbolise US software companies? Well, sadly, the first statement is definitely true, but equally sadly, the second statement might be false!!!

Since these are the words of Kent Beck, so its safe to assume that he might have seen the ‘mentality of scarcity’ among the US software companies. It is also obvious that, since most Indians had never seen the ‘abundance’, which is common in US and other developed countries, it would be asking for too much to expect the ‘mentality of sufficiency’ from those companies or the managers in those companies. But it is a little disappointing that ‘The Forest People’ displayed ‘mentality of scarcity’ when it came to work.

By the way, if somebody thinks that there are (some) Indian software companies which are akin to ‘The Forest People’, then they are plain lucky. Because in my entire career of 8 years in India, in various companies, I never came across such an Indian company. But yes, I was lucky enough to work in a Fortune 500 US based company, which definitely didn’t display the ‘mentality of scarcity’ and I actually enjoyed my span and work there.

But sadly, to re-emphasize, it was not an Indian software company. Will my dream of working in an Indian software company having ‘The Forest People’ ever come true?

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