Not everyone has the luxury of earning a shiny degree from a fancy institute, but that doesn't mean they're any less talented or skilled. It's just that sometimes the circumstances win and people with promise have to settle below their level, because in the world that we live in, a college degree matters more than your potential. Zoho, a Chennai-based software firm which caters to customers all around the world, caught on this trend very early on when it realised that engineers from some of India's most prestigious institutes weren't able to perform as per their expectations. In order to keep up with the quality of its company, Zoho decided to take matters into its own hands and founded the Zoho University (ZU) initiative.

The University, which took birth 12 years ago in 2005, trains turns software programmers out of high-school graduates and then hires them for roles at salaries on par with engineering graduates. The initiative's more than a decade old life is testimonial of its success and popularity among the Indian youth.

In today's times, when India is finally waking up to fact of shortage of quality engineering talent in the country, accompanied by the proliferation of automation and advanced technologies, Zoho's University model is gaining a lot of traction.

Founded by IIT Madras alumnus Sridhar Vembu in 1996, Zoho has gained worldwide recognition for making cloud-based products such as Zoho Mail, Zoho Docs (like the one Google offers), accounting software Zoho Books, and some 30 others which are being used by heavy weights companies such as Amazon, Suzuki, and Air Canada etc. According to company research platform Tofler, Zoho netted a whopping Rs. 1,557 crore (around $240 million) in revenue in the FY16.

Zoho has a simple strategy at work when it comes to its Zoho University initiative. The Chennai-based firm visits government-run schools in and around cities such as Coimbatore, Madurai, Pollachi, and Chennai in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and scouts talent by conducting aptitude tests and one-on-one interviews. Those who make the mark are offered seats for the 18-month programme at ZU, and a job commitment to be realised at the end of the period provided successful completion of the courses.

At ZU, the students are made well-versed in English, mathematics, software engineering skills, and programming languages, all the things that would help them in their day-to-day job duties at Zoho. During the programme, students are paid a stipend of around Rs. 8,000 a month. The institute is housed within Zoho’s offices in Chennai and in Tenkasi, Tamil Nadu. According to ZU, they have successfully trained about 500 persons so far and around 100 students are enrolled with them right now.

At ZU, the course is revised keeping in track with how the technological world is progressing. For example, when ZU began in 2005, the students were taught PHP, MySQL, and Java. But the latest batch began by learning Python, then moved to Java with Postgres, mobile development etc.

At the end of year, ZU students are assigned to teams within Zoho for an internship based on their performance and interviews. Students who show impressive performance during this period are eventually hired by the company. The students are hired into two salary brackets—approximately Rs. 4 lakh per annum and Rs. 6 lakh per annum—based on their performance. According to Zoho, today 15 per cent of its 4,500-strong workforce is from Zoho University, with 30 of them holding leadership positions.

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