Linux is being hailed as the long-awaited magical wand for corporates looking at lowering the cost of building products. But the magicians seem missing, with not many developers skilled to employ Linux in building devices. Naveen Shenoy, MD and founder of Shenoy Systems, hopes his training solutions on Linux and embedded systems can fill the gap between corporates’ demand for Linux expertise and the talent pool available, making the Linux magic happen!
First dip: embedded system solution provider
However, finding that perfect training spell wasn’t instantaneous for Shenoy Systems. It involved a year-long journey, from an embedded system service provider to training solution provider, with one common thread—addressing the immediate need of the embedded industry. Recollecting the initial plunge, Shenoy says: “When I was to start Shenoy Systems, I was looking at addressing an immediate need of the embedded devices sector. With 11 years of experience in embedded systems, I felt there was a demand for an exclusive embedded system service provider, as companies that offered embedded services made the service team work on a project-to-project basis. Such a team lacked in-depth knowledge on embedded systems.”
This resulted in the birth of Shenoy Systems as an affordable and high-quality embedded systems service provider in October 2007, which offered end-to-end solutions for real-time systems (RTS) and real-time operating systems (RTOS), design and development of firmware hardware abstraction layers and device drivers. The earliest clientèle for their consultation/services around embedded systems included L&T, Tata Elxsi, Aspect Technologies and D-Link.
However, the initial journey wasn’t free of obstacles. The company faced funding problems and hitches in the timely delivery of solutions. “Timely delivery of solutions was a problem mainly because Shenoy Systems was a one-man army then. I found it difficult to find appropriate talent to support my endeavours,” says Shenoy, who has technical experience with Wind River, TATA Elxsi, and Park Controls.
Training solutions: The plunge again
But the obstacles turned to be a blessing in disguise. The difficulty faced by Shenoy to find well-equipped talent made him realise the need for training solutions in the embedded systems industry, especially with the rise of embedded Linux. This realisation led to the germination of the idea of providing Linux-based training solutions. Personal experience further strengthened Shenoy’s belief in the need for such a solution. Shenoy recollects: “When I started working on Linux six to seven years back, I had a tough time as I learnt everything myself and then used Linux to build embedded devices. The process was time consuming; it took double time to build the embedded Linux product. Considering time is money in our business, it was a loss for the company,” says Shenoy. He adds: “If I had adequate training I would have been able to ensure timely delivery of products employing Linux.”
The lucrative business model around training solutions was an added attraction for Shenoy. “We decided to take the plunge in training solutions as initial costs were low, plus the business looked promising. We have no regrets as not only have we broken even but also earned profits in a short span,” says Shenoy.
A one-stop-shop for embedded Linux training
In April 2009, Shenoy Systems began offering training solutions in generic Linux, OS internals, BSP (Board Support Package), RTOS and device drivers for individuals, corporates and educational institutions. However, bagging the first orders for training solutions didn’t come easy for Shenoy. They had to prove their worth when compared to academicians and well-established Linux solution providers.
The company promoted the practical experience of its team as its USP to sell training solutions. “We at Shenoy weren’t academicians with only theoretical knowledge. We had the industry experience by which we could enable professionals to use Linux for building products. We could even provide hands-on experience. This became our USP and helped us crack our first deals,” says Shenoy.
Further, the price competency of the training solutions attracted corporates and developers. “While the cost of Linux training courses for companies was over Rs 60,000, we charged one-third of it. Similarly, for individuals or fresh engineers/students we offered training at a lower price,” says Shenoy. Finally, after a month-long struggle, Shenoy Systems got its first clients for training solutions. “Our first clients were L&T, EmSys and Tata Elxsi where we held training in embedded systems, RTOS, embedded C, embedded Linux and generic open source courses,” says Shenoy.
Shenoy today: always innovating
Today, Shenoy Systems has an impressive list of corporate clients that include Arrow, HCL, D-Link, HP, Aspect, Samsung, Tata Elxsi, and L&T Infotech. Further, they have two partners—AayuSmart and Oasis Technology. Currently, the company is involved in a medical device project. “We are working with AayuSmart, our partner, on building medical devices like glucose devices, BP apparatus, ECG machines, etc. These devices will make patient reports accessible to a doctor at anytime, from anywhere. The small 4×6 inch (10.2×15.2 cm) ECG machine can be connected to a cell phone and data can be uploaded on the Internet through GPRS, SMS or Bluetooth. This will be a step ahead from the telemedicine that makes data on the patient available within the hospital premises,” says Shenoy.
The company is constantly working on improving the delivery of existing solutions. “Apart from classroom-based training, we impart audio-ware training that provides a student flexibility to come and learn as per his convenience. Every candidate gets a DVD player and notes. The audio tracks have detailed explanations on the topic, while the notes carry the diagrams and theory aspects. In case of doubts, the on-premise trainer clarifies them instantly,” says Shenoy. Such innovations ensure quality learning, and break time barriers. They are extremely beneficial for working professionals looking for a career shift to embedded systems, embedded professionals trying to gain expertise in the domain, and fresh engineering graduates or diploma holders.
Elaborating on the merits of the audio-ware programme, Shenoy says: “We also provide hands-on experience that enables candidates to walk the talk with concepts they learn from audio. The audio courses are currently available for embedded systems, RTOS and soon shall be started for Linux,” says Shenoy.
However, maintaining quality doesn’t come easy for Shenoy. Security of information/ training material is crucial. “There is no scope for tampering with the training recordings. The DVD player is sealed with a sticker and our staff ensures everything runs smoothly. We are also working on disabling USB ports so that the student concentrates only on the lessons,” says Shenoy.
Side-stepping pebbles en route
“Mindset remains a problem. For instance, if a vendor proposes Linux to a customer, the customer will check with their administration team, IT suppliers etc, for whom Linux is not the default OS. Thus, it becomes a very tough battle to be fought and won,” says Shenoy, who has now deployed the strategy of collaborating with educational institutes to offer Linux training at the root level. They conduct seminars at colleges and talk to lecturers, helping the latter understand industry requirements.
Shenoy Systems still faces reluctance among freshers and experienced people to join them. “Freshers want fatter pay packets while experienced people are hesitant to take on the numerous challenges a small firm faces,” says Shenoy.
Betting on embedded Linux
Currently, Shenoy Systems has two vacancies for handling their audio training module, handling projects, etc. And what are the skillsets required? “We are looking for a person with electronics or electrical background for this profile,” says Shenoy.
In the future, Shenoy anticipates a requirement for about 15 engineers. He feels embedded Linux holds tremendous opportunities for developers, as by 2011 the embedded device market will see exponential growth with most devices running on the Linux OS. However, “Training is a must for developers. It helps you learn from others’ mistakes,” advises Shenoy.
With the mobile, automotive and medical space increasingly using embedded Linux, it is a promising area for entrepreneurs too. “There is a need for Linux embedded devices to be developed in India. We expect a huge demand for such devices from the electronics, networking and medical sectors,” says Shenoy. “An embedded systems startup should work on getting partners and developing an entire ecosystem around embedded systems. Only then will the solutions click with the customers.”
The company is optimistic about the demand for Linux in the future, with the convergence of technology and the obvious cost benefits of using Linux in embedded devices. “The cost advantage Linux provides in making devices will continue to attract people to Linux. With an improvement in support, services and training around Linux, we predict exponential growth for Linux-based devices,” winds up Shenoy on a bullish note.