Do you know when programming was first taught in India? Or when computer science first made its way into our classrooms? Sure, most of us know that Bengaluru is India’s Silicon Valley, but do you know when India began to manufacture software? Information technology has been one of the country’s greatest successes, and it is to document the development of this story that S. ‘Kris’ Gopalakrishnan, co-founder Infosys — one of the pillars of India’s IT revolution — recently launched Itihaasa, a first-of its kind digital application, charting the history and growth of the Indian IT industry since its infancy in the 1950s.
“Indian IT has been integral to the rise of modern industrial India,” said Gopalakrishnan at the launch. “The Indian IT and BPM industry employs (as per NASSCOM estimates) 3.5 million people, contributes 9.5 per cent of our GDP and has redefined the country’s perception globally. From a single modern computer in the early 1950s, today the industry generates close to USD 150 billion of revenues. I am fortunate to have been a part of this fascinating journey. With Itihaasa, we hope to reach the incredible story of Indian IT to many more people.”
Driven by his passion for technology, Gopalakrishnan decided to use technology to tell its own story and conceptualised Itihaasa as a mobile app, to track business history using research-based interviews, supported by Krishnan Narayanan and Dr. N. Dayasindhu. The app comprises 600 videos to trace its growth. Spread over 37 hours of footage, you can hear 44 stalwarts of the technology world, like F.C. Kohli, Professor Rajaraman, Professor Mahabala, Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji, S. Ramadorai and Nandan Nilekani, among others, chronicling the various developments in India’s IT journey, right from the installation of the country’s first modern computer in 1955, the initial perception among various quarters of the industry, how software exports developed and also an assessment of how the industry could look 20 years from now. Itihaasa — available as a free download on both Android and iOS — also has 350 archived photographs and articles.
“Spread over a year, the interviews and research for Itihaasa unearthed insights that make for a most compelling digital museum,” said Gopalakrishnan. “I thank each one of the 44 leaders who graciously agreed to be a part of this initiative. Without their unstinting cooperation, this story would never have been told.” A two-step process was followed with each interviewee: first a semi-structured, conversational in-depth research interview was conducted, which was followed by a structured video interview published on Itihaasa.
Thus, if you want to know who India’s earliest IT entrepreneurs were, or track the various IT milestones decade on decade, Itihaasa has the answers. With 12,000 tags, browsing promises to be an easy experience. Users can personalize stories across six dimensions — Time, People, Organization, Policy, Technical Terms and Place — thereby allowing the final output to be a personalised walk-through of the history of Indian IT. Itihaasa is replete with interesting nuggets: in the 1950s, IIT Kanpur got the IBM 1620, possibly the first computer that could be programmed using FOTRAN (a programming language) in India, and in 1996 the Indian IT industry first crossed the USD I billion mark. The history of Indian IT is an ongoing piece of research, and thus Itihaasa will be updated periodically. The platform will also explore and publish historical research on other topics in the future.