The Brahmins

The cognitive and personality profile, and overall achievement package, of Indians as a group is a rather interestingly unbalanced one. Sometimes they do spectacular things, like discovering the infinite series for trigonometric functions of sine, cosine, tangent, and arctangent as early as the 14th century, producing a good number of real geniuses like Ramanujan and Satyendra Nath Bose, and reaching Mars orbit on its first attempt, being the first Asian nation to do so, and doing so at a small fraction of the cost expended by NASA. An IMO gold medalist I talk to once said to me that there are probably more Indians than Chinese with IQ 160+ due to very high Brahmin IQ that has stabilized (meaning regression to a stable high Brahmin mean as opposed to the low Indian mean) over millennia of inbreeding within caste. I thought maybe. Certainly, I do sometimes get the impression that Indians, at least in science, are better than Chinese at breeding the type of genius with the right combination of technical ability and scientific discernment that manages to discover radically deep and groundbreaking science in a very independent and spectacular fashion. The Chinese have produced geniuses of the highest order (or close) in science the 20th century, like Chen Ning Yang in theoretical physics and Shing-Shen Chern in pure math, with Yang-Mills and Chern classes ubiquitous now in the literature of their respective fields, which are now very intertwined. However, they did so only after much training, exposure, and reinforcement based on the whole framework of modern science developed in the West over many centuries, and ancient China, on the other hand, did not produce in pure science anything near what Indians did, a sign of lack of genius and of poor taste, both in its rare individuals and at the collective societal level. On this, I like to think that Indians are Greeks and Chinese are Romans.

In sharp contrast to China, India in practical matters has been largely a complete fuckup, or at least vastly outmatched by China. It is well known that the ancient Chinese invented gunpowder and paper-making, whereas nothing of equal direct impact came out of ancient India. In modern times, China developed nuclear weapons way faster than India did, and even before that, defeated India in a war in 1962, which, even worse for India, was entirely her fault. Economically and infrastructurally, holistically speaking, India, exemplified by its frequent power outages and accident-prone train system, could be regarded as a few decades behind China, which is further confirmed by that India’s life expectancy and infant mortality rate is, today, where China had been at 20+ years ago. Given that the two had been around the same level in 1950, India’s development has unambiguously been a complete failure.

How to explain this? On this, I recall how my Chinese friend’s mom had said that it’s not because China’s elite is smarter than India’s elite, but because China’s grassroots is smarter than India’s grassroots. This is well-confirmed by international IQ studies which tend to put China’s average IQ at around 105 and India’s around 82, which is a 1.5 sigma difference. So even if India’s +3 sigma is as smart or smarter than China’s +3 sigma, there are too many dumb, dysfunctional people holding India back, from their needing to be fed while doing the routine work rather poorly. So, the smart, (usually) high caste Indians opt to go to America to escape India’s dysfunction, so ubiquitous that even the ultra-rich at home cannot immune itself. The best and brightest in that category tend to go through the IITs at home for undergrad, the most reliable ticket to a high paying tech job in the United States. That stratum of Indians has established by now quite a presence in top American tech companies and universities (just about every top STEM academic department in the US has several prominent Indian profs). For example, Microsoft and Google both have Indian CEOs, and plenty of Indian engineers and managers, with many of them in high ranking positions, especially at Google. In contrast, there are few Chinese in top leadership positions. When I learned that Google has several Indian SVPs but no Chinese, a guy from China responded with humorous ease followed by sarcastic insult: “不用担心,阿里巴巴的SVP全都是中国人,百度的SVP也全都是中国人,没有一个印度人。(In translation: Don’t worry, Alibaba’s SVPs are all Chinese, Baidu’s SVPs are all Chinese, not a single Indian) What does India have? Tata? Infosys?” This is, based on my experience, similar to how people react to the astronomical success of certain Indian academics, entrepreneurs, and business leaders in America. They will say: “Sure, an individual brilliant Indian does extremely well in America. But what does India as a nation get from that?”

Even such brilliance of these elite Indians is somewhat questionable. On TopCoder, which plenty of Indians obsess over on Quora, now infested by low status Indians, India is ranked, as I am currently writing this, only 11th out of the 31 countries on there, with only two red (the highest category) coders, despite having more than twice the number of members as China, the second most populous nation in this algorithmic coding contest. They’ve actually done better in recent years. I remember back years ago when I participated, I, having been on the lower side of yellow (the second highest category) coder, would have ranked close to the top among the Indians. Of course, one must not discount the possibility that the best Indians have better things to do than practice for a contest where one solves artificial algorithmic problems, which is consistent with my having seen and worked with many Indians who are very competent at real software engineering, with quite a strong sense for systems design and real world production code, which are rather orthogonal to, and much more consequential than, what one sees in those contrived coding contests and interviews. Still, the dismally low performance of Indians on TopCoder still raises suspicions, because TopCoder, like the International Math Olympiad, which India is complete garbage at, is a 100% objective and fair contest, whereas success in the real world software engineering, determined by promotions and professional level, has a political and context component. It’s not just the Indians at home; even in America, where the smartest Indians tend to go, the Chinese kids beat the Indian kids by a wide margin on the elite math, computing, and physics olympiads, even when the Indian kids seem to have improved a fair bit over the recent years. From this, one can only conclude that Indians are naturally not that strong in the abilities which these contests load on, though of course they may be relatively much more talented in research and engineering, for which these contests are very imperfect predictors.

You, the reader, have probably noticed that up to now, we’ve focused mostly on brains and technical ability. Yes, they are essential, but personality characteristics (both individual and collective) and “soft skills” also matter, especially if one wants to rise to a leadership position. From my personal observation, Indians are, in general, very good at projecting confidence and assertiveness from the way the talk and present themselves, much better than Chinese are, at least in the American cultural context, even when you discount the language barrier Chinese face relative to Indians. I’m talking not only about how one says things in terms of word choice, but the vocal tone and body language behind it. Sure, you can disdain this as superficial, but it matters. Perception matters as much, and in some cases, more, than substance. There is also that Indians seem to have a stronger network and help each out more in the career world. Collective intelligence or ethnic nepotism, you be the judge.

I have stories to tell on this. First of all, I remember vividly how when I interned at the place as an Indian schoolmate, he was the only one who scheduled, successfully in a few cases, coffee meetings with executives, as an intern (!!!!!), when it never would have occurred to me, or probably almost everyone else except him, to even try. One can sort of link this to collective intelligence, in that it is an indicator of discernment with regard to who matters (the executives) and who doesn’t (the engineer worker bees) within the political organization. And needless to say, you rise up in the organization by aligning yourself with the people who matter. Yes, my telling a full-time engineer this was met largely with a response in the likes of: “He knows who matters and who doesn’t. And even if he completely fucks up, he has nothing to lose, he’s only a 2nd year college intern. In any case, he gets good practice interacting with people who matter.” There is also that multiple people I know have complained about blatant Indian favoritism in interviews in the likes of what is described in this Quora answer. Yes, others have told me that when Indians interview other Indians, the bar is much lower. It’s not just in interviews. Another guy told me about how he once worked for a company that turned into ruins after Indian managers protected some Indian fuckups from getting fired. Personally, I have seen a case of Indians getting promoted way faster than those of other ethnic groups on a big team with an Indian director. So sometimes, I ask myself the verboten. Could it be that Indians really are far higher ranked in tech companies than their ability and contribution, because they are much more self-promoting and collectively nepotistic than those of other groups? Moreover, could it be that many people secretly think and resent this but are too afraid to say out of fear of being publicly vilified for “being racist” and having their careers ruined from alienating a national group increasingly powerful in corporate America? And that gradually, other groups, as they awake to the rigging of the game and get past, reluctantly, their moral objections, will quietly do the same, transforming tech companies and the American workplace at large into literal prison gangs contend, destroying whatever is left of the ideal of meritocracy and fair play in this country, ever more mired in identity politics?

Don’t get me wrong. There is much variance in personality and character and ability in those of any ethnic group, including for Indians, and much overlap between ethnic groups. Like, I know of this really brilliant Indian who donates most of his tech salary to very worthy causes, leaving little for himself, and he would be the last person I would expect, based on his characterized as autistic personality, to successfully climb the corporate ladder, though through sheer talent alone, he should do just fine in the appropriate position. Moreover, I have interacted with several Indians who had been very kind, tolerant, and helpful towards me. However, averages can differ by a standard deviation or more, with enormous social consequences.

I actually feel somewhat sympathetic for India and the Indians here. Somebody, on this, even said something along the lines of: “India is just such a shitty place that the Indians here have nothing to lose, so they play dirty political games and engage in the most spineless social climbing.” What can be done to resolve this? Immediately, I cannot think of anything other than drastically reducing the number of abjectly impoverished, low IQ Indians in India by simultaneously improving economic conditions and enforcing birth control on the poor and unable, so that less suffering and dysfunction is spread to the next generation. India could, instead of drinking the democracy Kool-Aid, learn from China, in a way compatible to its own culture and circumstances, just as China did from the West and the Soviet Union, to great success. Its elite needs to correct many of its deeply flawed social attitudes, and not only that, actually act accordingly with full force; otherwise, the excessive damage India does to itself, America, and the world at large with its internal dysfunction and exported corruption will always far outweigh what its elites contribute to science and technology. I can’t be optimistic on this though, barring some really radical change.

9 thoughts on “The Brahmins”

  1. I agree with most of what you’ve mentioned. There’s an imperfect correlation between IMO/Putnam/contest math performance and research performance, though, for Indians. Two easy examples:
    1. Indian American kids do well at contest math, but get crushed by the Chinese. This trend reverses itself soon enough when you see the undergrad Morgan prize for Math:
    2. Indian kids suck at computing contests, but do pretty well at research as seen by results from the ACM Doctoral Research awards.

    As an aside, I work at F/G, and have been screwed over by shameless Indian politicking – high V Indian women in Silicon Valley are the worst offenders – and plan to leave the Bay Area because I can’t stand being surrounded by the very BS and intellectual dishonesty that I fled.

    1. Where/what is F/G? Also, judging from your handle, I would have expected that being Indian would immune yourself from being screwed over like that, unless, perhaps, you display open disapproval of such shameless politicking those Indians engage in. Interesting how you feel the high V Indian women are the worst, why is that?

      On the other topic, I myself feel like lack of intense interest in those contests is a sign of good taste. Those problems are very artificial. I remember there was an Indian kid in my high school who didn’t even make AIME, but ended up learning plenty of serious math in college, more than I did. I liked those contests and did reasonably well in them, but I grew out of them eventually. You might notice that here I blog about real math, but not contest math, which I treat like more of a game. I’ve certainly met some kids, many of them Chinese, who excelled in those contests to the level of making MOSP, who struggled with actual math, which is so much deeper and more abstract, or showed little or no interest in it. My theory is that real math is more verbally loaded while contest math is more math loaded, and crudely speaking, based on personal observation, verbal is associated with crystallized intelligence, while math is associated with fluid intelligence. I myself lean towards the former, though surely, the latter is also very helpful in many contexts.

      1. “Where/what is F/G? ”
        FB/Goog – supposed bastions of meritocracy.

        “Also, judging from your handle, I would have expected that being Indian would immune yourself from being screwed over like that, unless, perhaps, you display open disapproval of such shameless politicking those Indians engage in.”

        No open disapproval – am often oblivious to the politicking while it is occurring, only to realize that I got screwed well after the fact. Also, being Indian provides little insulation if other individuals profit from throwing you under the bus (happens all the time when there are non-linear returns to creating “impact”).
        Also, Indian nepotism in FAANG companies is more about supporting co-ethnic people from University/workplace networks in order to get future reciprocation. It’s a group strategy predicated on individual self-interest, not really about supporting one’s ilk.

        “Interesting how you feel the high V Indian women are the worst, why is that? ”
        1. It’s good to be a woman in Silicon Valley these days
        2. It’s good to be female leader in the making in Silicon Valley these days
        3. It’s risky to challenge a woman’s position in SV, since nobody wants to be deemed unfriendly to women in tech

        High V Indian women know all of this, and are willing to be pushy/sound like leaders in meetings (high V), and lack the scruples of American women in terms of doing the right thing. Many an Indian female mediocrity can be found in director and above positions in FAANG companies, making well over a million a year, and without the depth to back it up.

  2. “My theory is that real math is more verbally loaded while contest math is more math loaded, and crudely speaking, based on personal observation, verbal is associated with crystallized intelligence, while math is associated with fluid intelligence. ”

    Agree entirely – that’s my theory too. Tangentially, I am personally quite okay at SAT/GRE V (98th or 99th percentile), but struggle with verbal arguments during meetings. The high V folks that I mention probably are somewhat worse than me in terms of standardized testing for V, but have a facility with words and quickness to their responses that I can’t match. I do think of them as being more verbally adept than I am, though the quality of their reasoning is often poor.

    1. I’m guessing FAANG represents Facebook Amazon Apple Netflix (?) Google?

      > Well over a million a year?

      Are you sure about that? My guess would be director at one of those is about 500k / year. VP might be 1 million / year. I would guess that to make 1 million / year, one probably has to be at least a VP.

      > Tangentially, I am personally quite okay at SAT/GRE V (98th or 99th percentile), but struggle with verbal arguments during >meetings. The high V folks that I mention probably are somewhat worse than me in terms of standardized testing for V, but have a >facility with words and quickness to their responses that I can’t match. I do think of them as being more verbally adept than I am, >though the quality of their reasoning is often poor.

      Heh, I’m still somewhat uncertain what aspect of verbal facility those verbal IQ tests actually test. They seem pretty noisy to me. In any case, you’re right; those Indians in management are really good at BSing, in the English language, in a way that (superficially) exudes assertiveness, confidence, and leadership. As I wrote, it’s that combination of words, body language, and the tone of voice (and perhaps also physical appearance), something that the typical Chinese utterly lacks. Of course, this is a quasi-subjective factor much influenced by social conditioning within the American cultural/corporate context.

      As for reasoning, you’d be surprised at how much variance there is in social/political thinking among those who are judged as high verbal by IQ tests. I’ve seen plenty of high V high M people with some strange, not terribly grounded in reality, ideas about how the world works, who are abysmal at discerning bias and very dogmatic/rigid in what they hold onto. Like, I’ve seen enough cases of democracy/market fundamentalism in actually really smart people. Denial of IQ/HBD is far rarer it seems, but it still happens. Of course, in America at least, the job of high V folks is often to fool people, and maybe in the process of doing so, they fool themselves too.

      1. You should check out the blind app to see what SV comp is like these days.

        “Are you sure about that? My guess would be director at one of those is about 500k / year. ”
        Maybe at one of the second tier companies like Intuit or Oracle. A few first-hand data points from the last 6 months:

        1. E5/FB/Seattle/6 years of experience: 410K/year
        2. M1/GOOG/MTV/7 years of experience:630K/year
        3. M2/FB/MPK/14 years of experience:720K/year (this is a step below director)

        All the above are engineering roles.

        Aside: a close relative at F/G, who has been at the company for a while, made a little over 750K last year. He is an E5, so a lot of this is driven by stock appreciation, but he timed his changes spectacularly and negotiated hard with multiple competitive offers at every stage.
        I am the same level as him, but make about 40% of what he makes because I am bereft of strategic thinking and am a push over. Close relative tries to coach me every now and then, but will give up soon since I am a loser.

  3. Eh, I wish I knew more people at such levels who I can trust are not exaggerating their compensation. It’s the norm to do that as part of the status inflation game. Of course, at the higher levels, I would say at least staff level at Google (or a rare very well negotiated senior) there is much variance.

    Yeah, considering how F/G stock has gone up quite a bit the past decade, well over 1 million / year as director, if you count appreciation of the stock, might be not that uncommon. Still, from my experience, I would put the numbers at 170k fresh grad, 220k next level, 280k senior, and 400k and 500k with more variance based on performance and individual negotiation for the next couple levels. I would estimate that the median for director or equivalent at these top big tech firms might be 600k. And Oracle director I would expect to be merely 300k.

    Again, I would say to have a reasonable shot at well over 1 million / year, one ought to be distinguished/VP level, though this is based on what I would characterize as “intuition grounded on reality” developed from experience at the lower levels. I just think 1 million / year for director is a bit too good to be true.

    Or maybe, Indians are just so good at cashing it out in Silicon Valley by playing the negotiation/promotion/career game, merits be damned. Surely, it’s relatively obvious that there are plenty of highly competent engineers at the lower levels contributing way more than they’re paid, because they’re not the types who self-inflate and ask for more.

  4. Your number for E3 looks about right, but for E4 and above is on the lower side based on my recent data points. Of course, my data points are biased – mainly Indians who play hardball.
    Btw, don’t want to crap over the entire set of Indians. There are some truly exceptional Indians I know that have done very well by doing the right thing (strong technical ability + impeccable decision-making) for
    their companies while also being consummate diplomats. They are typically more pedigreed, have PhDs from strong schools in more quantitative fields/subfields, and got into great companies in the pre-leetcode era.

  5. IME, Indians have no qualms trampling other indians on their way up. There is some nepotism amongst Gujjus and Gultis ( both also commit enough fraud to make politicians blush) but on the whole there is less nepotism than you assume. As far as networking goes, I think nothing beats the Chinese network ( MITBBS comes to mind). The chinese would do far better if they stop interacting with other chinese only, stop reading only chinese language newspapers, stop sending their kids who are born in the US to china for months at a time so that “they can learn the culture” as if the kids are not exposed to enough culture here (as seen at the beginning of the sentence).

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