The engineer's crisis: Sunstone's program for mid-career techies (Part 2)

Rajul Garg and Dinesh Singh have devised a cost-effective solution for the beleaguered Indian techie.

In my last post , I talked about a serious crisis on the employment front facing techies in India (and potentially the world over) where engineers are less sought after by Indian companies than those with management degrees or vocational training. Here, I want to explore a potential solution that could rehabilitate the engineer into the future workforce.

India's Sunstone Business School is an unusual graduate program for working techies, which tries to tackle the engineer's crisis via a contextual, immersive education through a global faculty made up of primarily working professionals. It's the first of its kind in India, and potentially the world.

Sunstone's success comes at a time when the MOOCs (massive open online courses) wave is sweeping the world and has even attracted droves of Indians, something that I had previously written about here and here.

All of Sunstone's courses are taught online through a combination of webinars, role-play videos, discussion forums, and chat sessions — which means that it has the potentially to be infinitely scalable for very little incremental costs, the stuff of dreams for VCs.

This means that someone like Bennett McClellan, who has a doctorate in management, an MBA degree from Harvard Business School, and is a former managing director of PricewaterhouseCoopers' media and entertainment business in the US, is able to teach a Sunstone strategy course from his home in Los Angeles.

Rajul Garg, co-founder of Sunstone, says that what also makes this management program unique is its approach to course content — problem based and coaching centric, rather than lecture based and teaching centric.

"Most people equate an MBA to strategy, finance, and accounting," he said. "But these are just tools. Business problems are not black or white, but gray, and even most case-based approaches give you a lot of data that is artificially sliced to focus on one area, be it marketing or finance or whatever."

Instead, business reality requires pulling levers in all of these areas, but with varying degrees of force, said Garg. Having people who have built or managed companies in operational roles teaching Sunstone's curriculum equips the student with a very real-world skill set.

Someone like Garg is perhaps best equipped to provide a solution to the embattled techie, since he knows a thing or two about the world of technology. An entrepreneur who grew up in the rough-and-tumble environs of Ghaziabad just outside of Delhi, where his father was a government employee in the labour department, Garg made it to the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, which has one of the world's most competitive and challenging entrance exams.

Post-IIT, he embarked on an entrepreneurial career that had some misses and a few hits. One such (resounding) hit was the sale of GlobalLogic, a software firm that he co-founded, built, and sold for $420 million last year, making it the largest tech deal of the year in India. By then, he had already launched Sunstone, along with fellow IIT-ian Dinesh Singh, who is a McKinsey alum and has an MBA from Cornell.

As my article previously mentioned, these are early days in terms of an internet-leveraged education. Building a brand name takes time, and while the IIMs may not be interested in testing out the kind of model that Sunstone has architected, newer B-schools like Amity in Delhi may just decide to go that route. With a nationwide brand, they may well become a threat for Sunstone.

For now, though, Sunstone is the only game in town catering to mid-career techies who are desperate for a management education that is contextual, relatively inexpensive, and where enrolment doesn't mean quitting one's job or uprooting one's family and moving to another town. It is also taught by entrepreneurs and industry professionals with the kind of pedigree that prospective students and VCs salivate over.

Of course, Sunstone's promise need not be confined to just techies. In an era where the MBA as a product is increasingly up for scrutiny, and considered too archaic, theoretical, and expensive (an IIM education costs Rs. 15 to 20 lakhs, or $25,000 to $33,000 versus Sunstone's degree, which is a bargain-basement Rs 2.6 lakhs or $4,193), Garg and Singh may just have the antidote to what ails graduate management education globally.