Why are IITians paid more than their non-IITians peers

Information Technology
Job satisfaction
21 Oct 2022

Mohit Sharma (name changed) 22, graduated from Visveswaraiah Technological University in 2017, a local engineering college in Karnataka and joined an India Unicorn startup with a salary of Rs 8 lakh per annum. Subsequently, he realized that his peers who have joined the company from various Indian Institutes of Technology have been offered an annual salary of Rs 20 lakh per annum, double of what he has been offered. 

Mohit says, “The skill set and work-related expectations remain the same from all fresh engineering graduates but still there is a pay gap which exists between Non-IIT engineers and engineers hired from IITs.”This is not just the story of Mohit but the story of lakhs of Non-IITian engineers across India who suffer because of the pay discrimination. 

Moreover, this pay gap continues throughout the career lifespan in India. As per, ‘The Pay Gap Survey’ conducted by Hush, the pay gap is as much as 50 percent for mid to senior level IT roles. The pay gap further widens in core engineering jobs such as manufacturing, construction, and hardware design where IITians have an upper edge.‘The Pay Gap Survey’ had 430 employees across different sectors, of which 23 percent where IITians.

The beginning of disparityIn the last 60 years, IIT is recognized as the most premier institute in India and one of the toughest institutions to get in the world. To begin with, the difficulty level of the IIT-Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), the gateway to securing admission in IITs, somewhere ensures that only the top brain of the country gets into the system. In 2018, 10.43 lakh students sat for the IIT-JEE exams and only 11279 seats were available in all the IITs put together. That’s an acceptance rate of only 0.11%. The acceptance rate throws light on the cut-throat competition amongst the aspirants. 

Therefore, the preparation to crack the IIT-JEE exam needs diligence, hard work and gruesomely grilling of one's brain for hours every day. Hence, the roadmap to the IITs impairs a candidate to adapt to becoming a more ‘coveted’ employee than anyone else. Similarly, more than 80 percent of people who took the ‘Pay Gap Survey’ suggested they would prefer hiring IITians over non-IITians. As they reasoned it out on a perception about IITians being better skilled, diligent and dedicated at work and also who do not crack under pressure. They can easily stand up to solve complex problems whenever the situation demands. 69 percent of the respondent who participated in the survey felt that this pay gap is attributed this gap to the brand that IITs carry and feels that hiring an IITian is a reliable way to ensure that certain quality standards are met. JEE helps IITs maintain very strict quality standards with respect to incoming students. The success achieved by its alumni such as Vinod Khosla, Raghuram Rajan, and Sundar Pichai, etc. have further boosted the brand IIT. 

Finding the needleTo have a better understanding of the pay gap between IITians and Non-IITians, we spoke to a few campus recruiter in both IITs and Non-IIT colleges. One of the recruiter, from a cloud computing software company based in the US who didn't wish to be named, pointed out that the volume of companies visiting the IITs for campus placement is much higher than Non-IIT colleges. He metaphorical explains the recruitment process as in finding a needle in a haystack versus finding it in a matchbox. He adds, 

“Every year we recruit 100 candidates from campus placements, in which 90 percent are from IITs and rest from NITs or Regional Engineering Colleges.

The recruiter also spoke about lateral hiring for software engineers with 2-5 years of experience, where the procedure starts with a Hackathon. There are two types of Hackathon, one with only open to IITs and other for all. 

He says, “The number of candidates who apply in Hackathon from NITs or REC can be as high as 5000 and on another hand, the number of applications from IIT would not be more 1000. Therefore, filtering 10 candidates from 1000 is much easier than filtering from 5000 candidates. Therefore, the time and investment required for hiring an IITian are way lesser than Non-IIT.” Hence, the recruiter prefers to hiring IIT graduates. Another recruiter, who has been hiring in campus placement for the last 10 years suggests a peculiar problem in relation to skill sets. He recalls, “Two years ago, we wanted to hire a candidate with a background of Kubernetes, a niche skill in cloud computing. We were well aware that to find a candidate which such specific skill set will be very difficult to find in NIT and REC due to lack of exposure to the latest technologies. Therefore, we went only with IITs. And, to our surprise, we found a candidate in one of the IITs working on a thesis on Kubernetes.” The campus recruiter also highlighted there is a difference in the educational level between IIT and Non-IITs.

The Brand IITian

Hence, the “brand IITian” plays a major role in creating demand for IIT graduates which leads to the pay gap which exists. Shailesh Kumar, an IIT Kanpur Alumnus and ex-VP of Engineering of a startup in the Virtual Reality space says, “For an early stage startup, their brand image is paramount. The composition of the team and their academic credentials play a big role in brand-building. Also, it comes in quite handy while wooing investors with the promise of delivery. We chose to add IITians in our recruitment mix to build a strong core tech team.” More than 80% of people who took the Hush survey said they would prefer hiring IITians over non-IITians. There is a general perception about IITians to be better skilled at whatever they do and to be diligent and dedicated at work who do not crack under pressure and can easily stand up to solve complex problems whenever the situation demands. 

Bridging the gap 

With a general market perception which favors IITians, it’s not easy for non-IITians to bridge the pay gap easily. However, many people who are not from IITs have successfully maneuvered their career up and bridged this gap by going to a foreign university for an MS or MBA or by acquiring highly specialized skill sets and becoming an expert in one area. Umesh Joshi, an IITian worked at Yahoo for seven years and is the co-founder of Hush. He says, "The developers at Yahoo who were paid more were those who were experts in their domain and were actively contributing to open source developer community. They were the go-to person for their respective areas and were seen as gurus both internally and in the developer community at large." 

“Proven track record that you are as good. Publications, open source contributions, verifiable knowledge and expertise in a domain is what we see to evaluate candidates”, says the head of engineering of a multinational company.

An acknowledgment from your manager that a salary gap exists is the biggest hurdle towards bridging the gap. Most employees struggle at either making the manager aware or convincing him/her that a salary gap exists. As a first step, an employee needs to do a bit of research and quantify the gap and then bring it to them to notice of the manager during routine one on one meetings. A mere claim that a salary gap exists without substantiating it with data will not go anywhere. An acknowledgment from your manager will also indicate that you are valuable to the company and he is willing to work towards bridging the gap. You may need further follow up discussions to the salary correction to actually happen. 

Is the brand IIT diluting?

In a surge to expand the base for higher education and meet the ever-increasing demand of skilled technical workforce, the number of IITs have gone from 5 (Kharagpur, Bombay, Madras, Kanpur, Delhi) to 23 this year with a proposal to add another 6 IITs in the coming years taking it to 29 IITs; one IIT per state. There is a split opinion on whether this will diminish the brand value of IITs or not. The new IITs will have to ensure adequate faculty and research infrastructure without compromising on the quality. The effect of new IITs in the brand value of IITs will be seen in the years to come. For now, this pay gap is here to stay. 

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