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An abridged history of the technology industry in Pakistan, three

When the time came for us to graduate things had started to get exciting. GUI tools were getting more impressive. Borland was getting the whacking of a life time at the hands of Microsoft in everything other than development environments and was returning the favor in IDE’s (Integrated Development Environments). The era of Word Star and Word perfect was coming to an end but Lotus 123 still reigned supreme. PC servers and desktops were getting faster; local area networks were getting common. Technology solutions for automating routine, dreary and mechanical tasks were quite widespread in small and midsized businesses. However the most powerful desktop machine, the Intel 386, was still reserved for giving dictation to a typist in the office of the CEO, the MD and the head honcho.

IBM’s AS/400 was the rage in the industry and you couldn’t escape from that platform if you went industrial. The standard career path for most computer scientists was a few years in consulting/software house mode, followed by a few more in industrial mode, followed by an escape to warmer pastures in the Middle East or colder pastures further out west. If you switched to retirement mode, you took over as the head of technology at a respectable MNC with your three annual bonus salaries, your provident fund, your company car and your health insurance.

When our class came out in December 1992 we had a number of decent options. Six of us ended up at IBM, Pakistan. I escaped within four days.

Other than IBM, you could do Systems, Infotech or Infosys (a sub dedicated to building software for Citibank in Karachi), AKU ISD, brokerage houses investing in technology, Ora-tech systems (the ORACLE reseller in Karachi), chartered accountant shops, network deployment setups, Crescent Software, FAST Foundation, FAST ICS, Ultimate solutions (the first FAST origin startup in Karachi that we were aware of), Wavetech (the Altimash Kamal rupee printing press) or heading out to IBA or LUMS to grab a quick MBA. Of the 30 graduating students in end December, about 20 had offers and had been placed by end February. The rest knew what they wanted to do.

My most memorable event during my first year of service: The gentleman who ran the software exports group for my employer and did a fair amount of work in that area took a stand and said that GUI (Graphical User Interface) development still had a decade to go before it would have a future or a place in Pakistan. Till then monochrome (think black backgrounds with green characters), DOS and character based front ends were our best bet.

1994 and 1995 were both great years. Somewhere in that period PSEB came into being and PASHA took form in the minds of its founders. Aizaz Hussain at Systems, Omer Morshed at SHMA, Mansor at Infosys, Shabbir at Nobel Computer Services and Rodney Rahman at KPMG did two interesting things. The first was the foundation of PASHA, the second was an informal consortium put together by the last three under the name of PakSoft. The triggering event for all of this was the Pakistan stall at Comdex 94 in Las Vegas which was quickly followed by Pakistan’s participation at CeBit 95 in Germany.

I think most technology companies in Pakistan were doing, pitching or trying to pitch for work abroad. Newer arrivals like Techlogix and Cressoft with strong links in the US were focusing primarily on the US market. However the two events clarified the software exports opportunity in the mind of Pakistani participants and it helped that Indian companies, right next doors, had started getting serious attention in international press.

And a year after the “GUI development has 10 years to go” stand, GUI development had arrived in Pakistan.

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