Tech & Travel: 5 Truths You Need to Know Before Working Abroad in India
From one tech traveler to another
My Story: From July ‘14 to Feb ‘15, I travelled the world with my computer on my back through 12 countries.
In Brisbane, Australia, I helped Caesars Casino design an iBeacon Scavenger Hunt app. In New Delhi, I helped create one of India’s first point-of-sale mobile payment apps, @PayWithRuplee.
Hopefully I’m a little wiser for it all.
This is what I learned on my journey through India.
(1) Understanding the locals
There are two aspects of the Indian culture that universally everyone finds confusing.
The ‘Head Wobble‘
The wobble (explained in this video) is often confused to mean ‘Yes’. More than likely, it means something closer to ‘Ok, I understand’ or ‘Maybe’.
If you ask “Can I have something by 1700 hours tonight?” and they respond with a head wobble, they are saying “I understand you want this by 17h”. But they have not said they will have it done by then.
Despite what someone can accomplish, you’ll almost always get a ‘Yes’ answer
While working in India you may be disappointed when someone misses a deadline. The problem is ‘Yes’ is the default answer. When other cultures might push back and ask for more time, Indian people will say “Yes” and struggle to meet that deadline.
Communication is important. Make sure you understand what your Indian colleagues are telling you.
(2) On noes! My internet!
Whatever job you’re doing you should be prepared to have unreliable internet. Bad connections, power outages, and spotty wifi are normal.
You can still do video calls, phone calls, and back-and-forth messaging, but if you drop off suddenly and don’t reappear for an hour, thats normal.
You need to manage peoples expectations about your availability.
When I first arrived in New Delhi, I had a client call with Chicago. The only phone I had was my Google Voice which required my laptop and wifi. Despite being in an office building and having solid wifi, our 10 minute call lasted an hour with at least 10 disconnects.
(3) No cellphone = no public wifi
Internet connections are tightly controlled. You need an active cellphone to get ALL public wifi (yes, especially in Starbucks). For every public wifi, they will ask to send a unique code to your cellphone. Theres no way around this.
As soon as your arrive in India, or travel to any new state in India, buy a new cellphone plan! Ideally buy them in the airports ✈, because it will never be easier than buying it there.
If they ask for a reference of someone you know in India, ask someone from the kiosks or someone else in the airport. People are very friendly and will gladly help you.
(4) Wireless USB Cards can be your friend
Here’s who Wireless USB Cards will work best for:
- Those planning to travel around a single State for an extended period
- If you’re commuting in India’s traffic
- If you’re worried your homestay or hotel won’t have wifi
[Important Note] Wireless USB Cards and Cell Phone plans only work for a single state. As soon as you leave that state your plan stops working. If you’re planning to travel around one state for awhile, it could be worth your time to invest in a Wireless USB Card.
Buying a Wireless USB Card requires you already have a cell phone and you have a local resident for reference on your application. For this reason, if you already have a local friend, this will be much easier for you.
Commuters: If you’re working and living in a major city, you’re going to be spending long hours commuting. Use this time to get work done so when you finally arrive home, you can use your free time well.
(5) When it’s important, plan ahead to find your next temporary office
Look ahead in your schedule to find when you’re going to have important phone calls or meetings. As best you can, figure out where you’ll be and if you’ll have access to an office, hotel or *Starbucks when you’re there.
* Starbucks in every country, in every city, is consistently AMAZING. It’s seriously better than your hotel or office. There may not be many in India but if you can find one, use it.(Remember you’ll need an active cell phone to connect to all Starbucks around the country.)
Lastly and most importantly, relax and enjoy India. It’s an amazing place for an adventure!
Thanks to Natasha Jain, Neeraj Jain, Surya Kallumadi, Mandeep,
Dipesh Kapoor, Nidhi Sharma, Kaur Prabhjyot and everyone who made India such an amazing place!