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Why we shouldn't outsource so much IT

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  • Why we shouldn't outsource so much IT

    I know we have a lot of IT professionals here. I've been saying for quite some time that I think while it may well be economically expedient to outsource at a micro level doing too much isn't good from a macroeconomic view. IT is strategic. Not only to our corporations but to our long economic security as well as our physical security.

    I thought this was a good article and thought I would share it. If you are an Information Week reader you may have seen it already.

    Why We Need IT




    I received lots of sharp, thoughtful, and sometimes funny feedback to my last blog, Seeding IT's Future." Some readers applauded, some snorted and some wanted to know what I was smoking, and whether they could have some too. In between, some interesting questions were raised, and points posited, that I'd like to address, along with what I think are some erroneous assumptions about where my blog was coming from.

    First, my commentary wasn't driven by or about, unemployed or disaffected workers. It was fundamentally a direct response to the kvetching that is starting to ratchet up from businesses that fear an IT worker shortage. Sorry, kids, but you'd have to be blind not to see some irony here. The same people who ship jobs offshore however rightly or wrongly, who hire permatemps to duck having to pay benefits for full-time work, and who post job openings that specify what one writer summed up as asking for "21-year-old graduates with 10 years of .Net experience who will work for journeyman wages," are wondering aloud why no one wants to go into, or stay in, IT? Why not ask what are they smoking?

    If they want American workers--and the interviews, stories and Webcasts I've seen indicate that they do--then yes, businesses have to provide some incentive, some evidence that there is life left in this field. Otherwise, they should stop complaining, start lobbying for even higher H1B Visa caps, and focus even more of their recruiting overseas.

    Second, IT does too matter. For those who will immediately whip out the "Why do we have to protect this job category, or industry, when we didn't protect other job categories or industries?" argument, I understand what you are saying, but I think IT is a little different. Reader Tom Recane ticked off a host of industries that were shipped overseas with barely a whimper of protest from anyone but the impacted workers, citing steel, textiles, shoes, and consumer electronics. He also said that "We have to explain why our industry should not be packed up and shipped to Bangalore." Of course, Tom is right. It's true that employment needs change, technologies move on, and fundamentally, no one is entitled to a job--unless you subscribe to communist theory, are a lifetime appointee or a political hack, I guess. But to answer his question about what differentiates IT, I think it is this: At the end of the day, ownership of none of those industries he cited were critical to the country's future.

    Steel was once critical to the economy, but there are a number of materials used in place of steel today--lighter, stronger, cheaper. I live in the heart of what used to be the shoe and wool mills here in New England. DEC got it start in one such mill right down the street from my home (which was probably built for mill workers), only to be pushed out and replaced by Monster.com, which is itself under pressure today from hipper, younger online career sites. I bet you can check the history of business by tracking the occupants of that old restored mill. Back to shoes: We all wear them, but it is irrelevant to the country's future and security where shoes are made.

    My colleague, Johanna Ambrosio, cautions me to not to be so sure about IT's future. "If you had asked anyone (in or out of the steel industry) 30 years ago when this started happening, I'd venture to guess that congressmen and Coca-Cola deliverymen would have all said the country was going downhill, that steel was strategic, etc.--the same arguments you make today about IT. The truth is, we won't really *know* the impact of IT's 'downfall' for another 30 years."

    Pretty hard to argue with such logic. But yet I do feel IT is different. More and more of what you use now and will use is going electronic, utilizing computer technology and or being automated. This is true even from a biological standpoint. Computers aren't just becoming ubiquitous, or being inserted in or on us, they are creating whole uses for old products, better ways to do or figure out things and entirely new product categories, jobs, and even industries. I cannot imagine it becoming less vital. (Check out our podcasting series of interviews with Ray Kurzweil to get a look at the future.)

    While the types of technology, skills, and jobs may change over time, technological capabilities are critical to the future of this country--economically, culturally, defensively, and personally. No, we don't need a million American programmers to do what Indian programmers can do at minimum more cheaply perhaps, but we do need some people who understand programming and know how to write applications. As someone recently said, it was engineers who gave us Google and Yahoo, not business types. And look what both have spawned. Even Johanna put her skepticism aside long enough to note that if there is even a chance IT could matter longer, why not hold onto the piece of the information economy we do own? Why not indeed!

    If we lose this fundamental base of technical knowledge, on what will we build the next generation of technological breakthroughs that have enabled us to remain the leading economic power in the world? This is why I think we need to maintain some semblance of an IT workforce, and industry. And I think the business leaders who are worried about the lack of computer science majors know it too.

    Otherwise, it's India, China, and the next Third World country in line that will be reaping the rewards of technological success stories. India gets it--the government is working with industry there to move beyond mere contracted piece work. They want to spur innovation and generate the ideas for the applications their people are now building because that's where the money is, where the power is.

    Maybe the next generation of IT workers turn out to be have radically different skills, but there has to be a next generation of IT workers. Part of the point of my previous blog was that it's the businesses who are working with future technologies who are best positioned to know what skills are going be needed down the line. They hold the cards. People who want careers in IT are waiting to see them. Some of this morphing into the next evolution of IT will be made up as we go along, and people who want to be in IT will have to learn to deal with that. As many readers pointed out, IT is not for the complacent.

    John Yin suggested that "instead of trying to reverse the tide we should figure out how to ride the tide," and on reflection--his choice of wording is correct, mine was wrong. And yes, part of this process, as he noted, "is figuring out what value-add that U.S.-based IT talents can make. Without such a vision and strategy at national level, not only we cannot reverse the tide, we won't be able to ride the tide either."

    So it's not about being too much of an idealist to understand how businesses work, and it's not about protecting displaced workers who think they are being picked on and haven't learned from history. It's about our need as a country to play a dominant role in the high-technology advances of the future. We cannot abdicate IT entirely to other countries and expect to remain an economic power in the world. And if we cannot convince people to go into IT as a career, the issue will become moot, perhaps faster than you think.
    Go Cards ...12 in 13.



  • #2
    Good article. Thanks for posting it.

    That hits home for me right now as I look for a new job. It's important to keep picking up new skills whether it be in the same company or someplace else if necessary.
    "Need some wood?" -- George W. Bush, October 8, 2004

    "Historians will judge if this war is just, not your punk ass." -- Dave Glover, December 8, 2004

    Comment


    • #3
      I agree with both of you guys, and with the author of the article, to a degree. I think the critical point is that COMMODITIZED services are those that are sent overseas. We will continue to see commoditized IT skills outsourced, but so long as we continue to INNOVATE, IT will remain a strategic imperative. This is the position that we need to defend.

      Now for the scary part...

      India's technical colleges are no longer second-fiddle to the M.I.T.'s and CalTech's of the U.S. I saw a presentation at work that was overwhelming - Indian college students are graduating with technical degrees (comp sci, engineering) at an astounding rate. They are considered to be far & away the brightest technical minds in the world, and they're keeping that knowledge at home instead of bringing over here.

      If we fall behind on the innovation front (biotechnology, AI, etc. etc.), as some might say we already have - that's the real threat.
      I leave for two days...

      Comment


      • #4
        We shouldn't outsource anything
        Be passionate about what you believe in, or why bother.

        Comment


        • #5
          QUOTE(madyaks @ Nov 10 2005, 12:59 AM) Quoted post
          We shouldn't outsource anything [/b][/quote]
          It's a good movie.

          Comment


          • #6
            Yaks-

            But you outsource your political thought to the DNC every fucking day.

            Comment


            • #7
              QUOTE(Indu WangZi @ Nov 10 2005, 01:02 AM) Quoted post

              Yaks-

              But you outsource your political thought to the DNC every fucking day.
              [/b][/quote]

              There's the Indu we've been missing [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/smile.gif[/img]
              "Whaddya mean I hurt your feelings?"
              "I didn't know you
              had any feelings"

              Comment


              • #8
                QUOTE(SunuvaNun @ Nov 10 2005, 01:03 AM) Quoted post
                QUOTE(Indu WangZi @ Nov 10 2005, 01:02 AM) Quoted post

                Yaks-

                But you outsource your political thought to the DNC every fucking day.
                [/b][/quote]

                There's the Indu we've been missing [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/smile.gif[/img] [/b][/quote]
                ++

                I am telling you, he was under the weather.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Yeah...I've been off my A-game for a while. It's starting to come back..those trolls need my A-game.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    QUOTE(mmitchell19 @ Nov 9 2005, 10:06 PM) Quoted post


                    If we fall behind on the innovation front (biotechnology, AI, etc. etc.), as some might say we already have - that's the real threat.
                    [/b][/quote]

                    Could agree more. While it hurts my own business to outsource more commodity type services I think its ok from a macroeconomic sense.

                    Its the 'innovation' and development of new technologies that are essential.

                    However, if a kid in college doesn't view his chances for employment as being good in this field he may not go into it...and then that hurts down the road...that's my take on the author's point of view
                    Go Cards ...12 in 13.


                    Comment


                    • #11
                      QUOTE(madyaks @ Nov 10 2005, 12:59 AM) Quoted post

                      We shouldn't outsource anything
                      [/b][/quote]

                      I don't agree with that at all...even though would be GREAT for my business.
                      Go Cards ...12 in 13.


                      Comment

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