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Programming The Almighty Buck United States IT Technology

The Changing Face of Offshore Programming 670

Posted by michael
from the giant-sucking-noise dept.
teambpsi writes "BusinesWeek Online has an opt-ed piece on the trend in offshore programming pricing going up, with domestic rates going down. As a contractor, I've seen the downward pressure on contract gigs now to rates lower than what I was charging over five years ago. Dell Computers recently announced that it was bringing its customer service back on-shore, I wonder if this might be the start of some bigger trend -- maybe 'buy american' could be our new battle cry ;)"
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The Changing Face of Offshore Programming

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  • Accents (Score:3, Funny)

    by The Snowman (116231) * on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:17PM (#7853130) Homepage

    From the article: Some US customers have complained that the Indian technical-support representatives are difficult to communicate with because of thick accents and scripted responses.

    Tech support for corporate customers with Optiplex desktop and Latitude notebook computers will instead be handled from call centers in Texas, Idaho and Tennessee, Dell spokesman Jon Weisblatt said Monday.

    Let me get this straight. People cannot understand Indian accents, but they can understand Texan and Tennesseean accents? Obviously they've never been to either state ;-)

    • Re:Accents (Score:2, Funny)

      by roninmagus (721889)
      Hey now, I live in Tennessee, not far from Gallatin, where the Dell plant is..

      And you, sir, are most definately correct. ;)
    • Re:Accents (Score:2, Funny)

      by JewFish (315210)
      "All yalls bases are fixin to aint be yourn"

      but seriously folks I go to a Tejas institute of higher education, and you should see all the Injun CS grad students with Texas/Indian accents.

    • The real reason Dell moved corporate support back to the US was because they have run out of the engineering talent pool they have so proudly talked about using. This talent is moving quickly to non-voice BPO work with companies such as IBM, MicroSoft, Oracle, Accenture, etc. They have been using liberal arts grads, undergrads, etc. Computer support is difficult without the background. We've seen this before. Dell's follow-up announcement the day after stating they were committed to India was to quell i

    • It isn't just accent. It is huge, huge, huge cultural differences. Sometimes you would be able to understand their words more easily if it weren't so difficult to believe what they are saying.

      About two weeks ago I was helped by a Microsoft tech support person in New Delhi, or maybe Bangalore, I forget which. Some otherwise correctly running Windows XP computers had trashed themselves so that it was impossible to run the Recovery Console. The MS tech support guy had absolutely no clue about how to fix th
      • by GCP (122438) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @05:35PM (#7854863)
        I don't deny the caste consciousness still strongly present in many Indians, but I don't think it's relevant here. We Westerners are exempt from the system. I've worked in India and with Indians in the West, and among the many perplexing cultural differences I've run into, the inclusion of *me* in their caste system was never one of them.

        I think that what you encountered was just an individual personality. I've had these experiences with Indians, too (especially bureaucrats who wanted to prove their importance), but I've had similar experiences with people everywhere. I've managed a tech support group in the US and some of my own people acted this way (until I either stopped it or got rid of them.) It wasn't correlated to their skill level either, just to the degree to which they seemed to feel the need to prove to others that they were smarter (which seems to afflict geniuses and idiots in roughly equal proportions.)


        • There are Indians who do treat foreigners as untouchables. I experienced the Brahmin arrogance while in India, and it was easy to recognize again in the technical support person.

          The major point of my comment is that those who employ Indians are experiencing a much larger problem with cultural differences than they generally realize. Microsoft seems to have no mechanism for recognizing these kinds of problems, so no one in authority will learn of them, and they will continue.

          For more elaboration abo
    • by fm6 (162816) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @04:36PM (#7854482) Homepage Journal
      Here's the funny thing about the accent issue: call centers have been outsourcing to India for years. Aside from saving money, 24-7 operations find it useful to have a call center where the time's half a day ahead of the U.S.

      So why don't you hear a lot of people complaining that their airline or credit card company customer reps can't talk good American? Because there are plenty of well-educated Indians who speak fluent western English. All they need is a little practice on their idioms and pronunciation, and you can't tell them from a native of Duluth. Not over the phone anyway.

      So it's perfectly possible to run an operation out of Bangalore or Dehli without communication problems. And yet you hear all these horror stories. I have a few myself: I subscribe to techwr-l, and we often get lame questions from Indian writers, usually basic grammatical stuff even a American 4th grader or a Slashdot editor would know.

      My inference is that the companies driving the offshoring trend aren't satisified with the pay differential between San Jose and Bangalore. So they don't hire people with degrees from India's universities or engineering schools. (Which produce a lot of good people -- I've worked with some of them.) They hire folks whose educational achievements culminated in one of those "learn programming in 2 weeks" schools. Their English is hard to follow, not because of their accents, but because its one of the highly-localized English dialects that Indians use amongst themselves.

      Here's another horror story. If you're a tech writer in the San Francisco Bay area, you've noticed a lot of headhunters trying to fill a very strange job in San Ramon. What's in San Ramon? A bunch of engineering outfits that decided that rents in Silicon Valley were too high -- never mind a limited local talent pool, if people want to keep their jobs, they'll commute or move. One of these outfits is the development arm of what used to be Pacific Bell, now a nameless subsidiary of SBC.

      You need massive databases to run an RBOC, and this one has fallen way behind on database development. People complain of billing errors and outdated listings. There's a hair salon in San Rafael that can't get SBC to put its Yellow Pages listing in the proper category -- for two years running it's been listed under "Massage". Which sounds funny, until you consider the kind of lowlifes who respond to a massage ad for "Curl Up With Kelly".

      So these guys in San Ramon are scrambling to update the software. They need a tech writer who can document their work. Said writer needs to be able to read source code in half a dozen languages, including the venerable Revelation Basic [4reference.net]. Oh yes, and the writer has to work for $25/hour.

      Well, I have the skills and I need the work. But that's hardly a reasonable wage, especially considering the two-hour commute. (It's a short term contract, so relocation is not practical.) I'd be better off working at the Starbucks down the street.

      When I pointed out the absurdity of offering entry-level pay for a job requiring advanced skills, I was told that all the costs were measured against the alternative of moving the whole operation to India. Which is total nonsense. I'm sure there are plenty of Indian operations that could engineer a fancy database from scratch, and do a good job very cheaply. But SBC doesn't even want to spend that much money. They want to continue hacking 20-year-old code running on legacy platforms. Do they think that India is swarming with experts on the PICK database system?

      The whole offshoring thing is just the latest development in a nasty long-term trend. Even before the dotcom bubble burst, Wall Street was dominated more and more by numbers dweebs, people who have no understanding of the industries and businesses they're investing in, and have an idiotic obssession with the bottom line. They hate costs more than anything. Even if you're turning a

  • ... as in, "returns on investment!" and "returns on the stock price!"

    If there's a move to put customer service back onshore at Dell, or other "in-sourcing" trends, it's because the costs are lower, or the higher costs are offset by either good publicity / happier customers.

    Mind you, I'm as pro-capitalism as they come, so being driven by the battle cry of "returns!" is a good thing, IMHO.

    • by The Snowman (116231) * on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:38PM (#7853289) Homepage

      Mind you, I'm as pro-capitalism as they come, so being driven by the battle cry of "returns!" is a good thing, IMHO.

      I think capitalism is the best socioeconomic system mankind has come up with yet. But some people get into it a bit too much -- mainly the CEOs at the top who think making ten million per year isn't enough, so they do various things to hurt the people at the bottom of the ladder (cut wages/benefits, outsource, etc).

      I like the "survival of the fittest" aspect of capitalism, but I would rather have the citizens survive than a business. Outsourcing is painful, but I think eventually, as the author of one of the articles says, equilibrium will be reached. Hopefully few of us Americans get hurt in the process.

    • Mind you, I'm as pro-capitalism as they come, so being driven by the battle cry of "returns!" is a good thing, IMHO.

      When someone starts a company, (s)he does it with the purpose to earn the salt on his/her potatoes, makeing the world a better place could be a second objective, but mainly it's like any other job.

      I'm not a capitalist, but at the moment capitalisme is the most succesfull. It would be nice if we would be working to better ourselves and rest of humanity, but so far no one has figured out ho

  • About Dell. (Score:3, Funny)

    by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:20PM (#7853151) Journal
    Dell didn't move all there support back, they only moved the support back for there business clients.

  • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@[ ]u.org ['bea' in gap]> on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:21PM (#7853159)
    Don't expect any success with simply screaming "Buy American". Offer a better value proposition.

    You are closer to the customer, not thousands of miles away.

    You understand their problem better than some Indian programmer who doesn't truly grok the underlying American business practices being codified into software.

    You are operating in their time zone.

    etc.

    That will win business a lot better than trying to shame a potential customer into paying more just because you are an American.
    • by JediDan (214076)
      Very true.
      Dealing with customers every day I continually hear them expressing their love/hate of tech support, but as long as the person they are speaking with has little or no accent, they immediately calm down.

      No slant against the other nations of the world intended - indeed our company offices in India have great technical support records, but there's a reason we don't have customer support services based over there.

      It'll be good to see what the trend is for non-software merchandise as well. This chris
      • I would think that the hard part about offshore tech support is trying to support widely used platforms, requiring large amounts of staff. Back in my beginning IS days, I was the night operator for an HP3000 data center, and HP's "follow the sun" tech support never failed to deliver top-notch help, whether I was speaking to a native English speaker in Australia or someone with a very thick accent (I presumed Indian). When you have a specific, narrowly-focused product to support, it's easier to hire 10-20
  • Buy american (Score:2, Insightful)

    by inc_x (589218)
    Although the "Buy American" campaign seems to be a great success in Iraq (thanks Dick!), I don't think it will go down too well in Old Europe.
  • by samdaone (736750) <samdaone@hotmail.com> on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:22PM (#7853172) Journal
    This is keynesian economics at its best. Acutal supply and demand. Now that contractors and programmers in the states are worried that all their jobs will move over seas, they are lowering their prices. Chances are US based companies would rather do business with someone they can get of hold of, and I don't know how the legality of the system works, but you can sue people for breach of contract and such here, I do not know if you can do that with overseas contractors, is it more of a "buyer beware" methodology?

    Now you can expect the overseas operation to start lowering their prices or adding more value to their service, and vice versa until it eventually balances out, and once that happens most US based companies would probably prefer to work with someone based locally.

    Doctors may not have to worry about this problem of oversea contracting since you still need to see them in person to do the best type of work. Lawyers on the other hand may not have the same benefits :)
    • by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:28PM (#7853211) Journal
      Why doesn't freetrade work for the consumer? After all my goverment wants to make it illegal/claims it is currently illegal for consumers to import drugs from canada.

      Why is it ok for large companies to benefit from freetrade but wrong for regular people to?

      As for your doctor comment, some hospitals are sending xrays/mri scans oversees to be read.
      • by The Snowman (116231) * on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:46PM (#7853350) Homepage

        Why is it ok for large companies to benefit from freetrade but wrong for regular people to?

        How much time and money do you spend lobbying Congress? I thought so.

        As for your doctor comment, some hospitals are sending xrays/mri scans oversees to be read.

        Processing of medical records goes overseas too. There was a recent story on Slashdot about a woman in Pakistan basically holding sensitive medical data hostage over a contract dispute. Also, within the last year or two an M.D. in Australia or Hawaii or somewhere operated on a patient in the U.S. with a robotic arm and a fat data pipe. I think that was more proof of concept, but still, they may as well outsource surgery now too. Hire a nurse at a fraction of an M.D.'s salary to oil the robot and turn it off if it goes on a crazy killing spree, and save some money :-)

      • by michael_cain (66650) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @02:54PM (#7853825) Journal
        Why doesn't freetrade work for the consumer? After all my goverment wants to make it illegal/claims it is currently illegal for consumers to import drugs from canada.

        In many cases it does. Relatively free trade is why you can buy a DVD player for $40. It's why you can buy a variety of relatively fresh produce from Chile at the grocery in January. It's why the Big Three US auto makers had to improve the quality of their products when people discovered that Japanese cars didn't start falling apart after three years. If the US government removed sugar supports and import restrictions, the consumer would be able to buy sugar at half the price they pay today.

        Prescription drugs are an interesting situation. In many cases, the drugs sold in Canada are actually manufactured in the US, or in Canada by US companies using the same processes and quality control they use in the US. But in Canada, prices are capped by the government. Much like trade arguments over steel in the past, the drug companies are opposed to anyone, including the end user, being allowed to import a competing good from a country where it is priced below cost. I'm not an advocate of the drug companies, just pointing out that they have an argument of sorts.

        Of course, the health care system in the US has far too many aspects that tend to drive up drug prices. Enough people are in the situation where (a) their health care is paid for by someone else (employer insurance, government, etc) and (b) they have the freedom to "shop around" for doctors. Enough people that it is profitable for the drug companies to advertise directly to the consumer: "Is Lipitor right for you? Ask your doctor!" And in too many cases the doctor will prescribe the drug because they know that if they don't, the patient will "take their business" somewhere else. Collectively, US drug companies now spend more on advertising than they do on research.

        It is an interesting mental exercise in economics to think about what might happen to drug prices if consumers paid their own bills. If the answer to the question "Is Lipitor right for you?" was, except for the wealthy, answered with "No, it's too bloody expensive, I'll take this cheaper drug that has 80% of the same benefits," would prices go up or down? Keep in mind that in many cases elasticities are non-linear, and total profit can be maximized by selling less at a higher price. Major league baseball discovered this years ago -- total ticket revenue is maximized at prices that leave about 15% of the seats at the ballpark empty.

    • by cduffy (652)
      I don't know how the legality of the system works, but you can sue people for breach of contract and such here, I do not know if you can do that with overseas contractors, is it more of a "buyer beware" methodology?

      International legal battles can be done (though only if the amount in contention is over a certain minimum), but it's very, very expensive.
    • This is NOT "Keynesian" economics. As written, I doubt the poster has a firm grasp on the differences in classical and keynesian theory.
    • In case you hadn't noticed, look how many indian doctors there are who came to the USA, Canada and England in the 1950s through 1970s, and I suppose still today. The work couldn't be outsourced, but the labor could be moved closer to where it was required.

      And health care is still absurdly expensive, but that's another story.*

      (on average, 75% of your health insurance dollar becomes either profits or overheads, with only 25% going to care for you or anybody else in your insurance pool, I believe)
    • by Ezubaric (464724) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:50PM (#7853368) Homepage
      I don't think you realize what "Keynesian economics" is.

      Also called "Reaganomics," it's when you run up a deficit during times of an economic slump. It encourages the economy to rebound and more quickly get back on its feet. If you balance it out by underspending when the economy is good, you average out to stronger growth (because if you spend too much when the economy is good, you'll overheat).

      What you're thinking of is perhaps David Ricardo, who developed the idea of comparative advantage. Even though one country A might be absolutely better at doing everything than country B, country A can't do everything, so it specializes in what it does best (activity 1) and country B do the things that country A does well but not best (activity 2) and trade for can trade activity 2 for activity 1, making everybody better off.

      But what you're talking about above is more like assymetrical information, where you don't exactly know the true cost of the product or what the market is willing to bear, so until it's resolved, prices are unstable.
      • No. Running up a defecit is not Keynesian economics. Running up a deficit either during a slump or to encourage a slumping sector/industry is called Keynesian Pump Priming. Keynesian economics [econlib.org] is a complex economic theory practiced by many economists today. Keynes was a visionary in the field of economics whose theory would later help to explain many of the economic irregularities present in the 70's and 80's around the world. If you learn economics from an undergrad-level text, you're generally learni

        • This is pretty much just splitting hairs. Many people refurn to such practices as "Keynesian spending." Just because it wasn't newton who investigated much of simple harmonic motion doesn't mean it isn't a "Newtonian" system.
  • battle cry? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Slowping (63788) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:23PM (#7853179) Homepage Journal
    maybe 'buy american' could be our new battle cry ;)

    Wasn't that Walmart's battle cry for years... until it became convenient for them to forget it in favor of another battle cry that generated yet more money?
  • by GeckoFood (585211) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [doofokceg]> on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:27PM (#7853206) Journal

    Dell Computers recently announced that it was bringing its customer service back on-shore...

    Another poster spoke of the specifics of Dell, so I will not touch that. However, Capital One is beginning to bring back [some of the] work it mailed off to the other side of the planet, as they have been losing accounts hand over fist by customers pissed off about not being able to converse with support personnel due to a language gap. Sure, the labor is cheaper, but is it cheap enough to compensate for lost business? Apparently not, in the case of CapOne.

  • Gosh, is it even surprising?

    Please, gentlemen, repeat with me: "supply and demand". "Supply and demand". "Supply and demand".

    A good course in general equilibrium microeconomics would serve highschoolers much better than chemistry or physics topics, you know.
  • by vkg (158234) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:30PM (#7853227) Homepage
    Protectionism is stupid. American manufacturing workers have had to adapt to their jobs moving abroad since the end of World War Two, and it's caused enormous economic hardship here - but given hundreds of millions of people abroad new hope and new life. Sweatshops may suck, but they're better than making a living picking through garbage dumps, and that's often the alternative people face.

    In the long run, this is one world, and one market: individuals should be free to trade ideas with anybody they want, and in most cases goods and services too.

    Why shouldn't somebody in India, or Taiwan compete with me for my clients? No reason I can think of: it might suck for me, but it's going to be great for them, and probably for my clients too; the competition helps everybody except the losers.

    America enjoys it's massive economic and social advantages for two reasons: the huge natural resources of it's land, and the incredible hard work and ingenuity of it's people. I think that asking the Government to step in and interfere with free trade in an otherwise free market (as software is now) simply to keep domestic prices high is exactly what landed us with a moribund and over-subsidized farming system, a largely uncompetitive and second-rate automotive industry and so on.

    Repeat after me: government interference in markets, other than to address market failures or personal safety, is bad for the market, and bad for those who buy and sell in it in the long run. We have a history of lobbyists destroying the global competitiveness of their industry: don't become one of those people.

    So what does that leave for the domestic programmer? Well, at one end of the spectrum, there's the stuff which is too small to outsource: the transaction costs in specification and organization are too large to make it more efficient to outsource.

    And on the other end of the spectrum, there's the stuff which is too important to outsource: areas where people will pay a premium for domestic labor because it has to be done fast, and a risk of misunderstanding or second-rate work makes outsourcing unattractive.

    But in the middle? Get used to the pressure, folks, as generations of your forebears have in other industries as the rest of the world began to catch on... First mover advantage only lasts for so long.
    • by cubicledrone (681598) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:39PM (#7853296)
      Sweatshops may suck, but they're better than making a living picking through garbage dumps, and that's often the alternative people face.

      And this is what we should aspire to: the object of an honest day's work is either a sweatshop or a garbage dump.

      Now let's all sing the company song...
      • Indian and China have about a billion people each. How, exactly, are those people going to be fed, clothed and housed? Nobody has much of an idea.

        They won't stay as peasant farmers, as the huge migrations to the slums of the cities has demonstrated, so yes, for now, those are the options: low wage factory labor, or starving in the slums.

        India has a new program to try and roll out city-style services (telecoms, water etc. ) to the villages to try and encourage people to stay put, and I'm very hopeful about
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I agree. I'm an American programmer who constantly worries about my job security as my company starts outsourcing more and more to India. So what do I do about it? I try to figure out what advantages there are to other labor markets and how to beat them. No use whining. If basic programming can be sent overseas then start studying topics that can differentiate you. SW archicture and requirements gathering. Take executive training courses. Study sales and marketing. You can keep coding, but you need
    • Why in the hell is the parent modded insightful? To summarize, in order for our labor forces here to compete with foreign outsourcing we would have to be willing to work at or below the labor rates in a third world country! WTF is good at all about this scenario? The last time I checked, the United States was not a third world country and you most certainly cannot buy goods and services, pay your rent, and in general live at third world rates.

      Charge me $50.00 a month for rent, $1.14 for a full dinner at

      • Really, it did. All of those jobs have gone abroad, and as is fairly obvious, eventually it will happen to software too.

        You can't fight that.

        Protectionism is pushing against the tide. I don't necessarily like the results any more than you do, but those who deny the future fail to prepare for it.
    • The reason that protectionists believe that protection is the only way to keep jobs in the US is because those are the same people who believe that the labor union is still a useful and necessary force for protecting American workers.

      Unfortunately, we have ourselves in a pickle now, because labor union -> unnaturally high labor prices -> unnaturally high goods prices, and any measure to bring those labor prices back down will lead to massive (and legitimate) economic strife.

      Still, the labor unions a
      • Protectionism only works short term.
        It removes the incentive to really innovate and improve and compete.

        If you aren't competative it is just wasteful to use your money that way.

        If you can't compete on one product, make or do something else.

        If you sit and try to force people to protect local sources, you'll get eaten up by Walmart, and those local sources die anyway.

    • by TRACK-YOUR-POSITION (553878) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @02:18PM (#7853557)
      A few things you're forgetting: India and Europe both heavily subsidize health care and education--which are probably the two largest factors in the high cost of labor in the United States. These countries are actually practicing crypto-protectionism--government intervention to reduce to price of exported products with social programs for workers. To blame American workers when foreign governments give their workers unfair advantages is a disgusting lie.

      With the massive American trade deficit (which will eventually annihilate our economy, which will make life suck for you whether or not your job goes to India before that happens), one would expect the value of the dollar to fall. But Asian banks have been proping up the value of the dollar by buying United States Treasury bonds, to encourage more exports to America. This is great for Americans who have lots of money and property and don't need to work for a living--it means fantastically cheap products at WalMart. It makes life suck for you if you have to work for a living. Once again, foreign government intervention screwing over American workers. Free trade has nothing to do with free markets!

      Not too mention that Americans are expected to compete with workers who are restrained by American laws--no environmental standards in factories, no minimum wage laws, nothing. Why on Earth did we pass these laws if we aren't going to enforce them for all products that can be purchased on American shelves? So even American government policy encourages jobs to go overseas. (No, I'm not suggesting we eliminate the regulations--I just think we should enforce them for all products bought in America.)

      So it isn't a free market at all. It's a market in which foreign fiscal and treasury policies are forcing American jobs overseas and American regulations produce an unfair disincentive to build factories here. Basically, every other government says "Screw America!" and the U.S. doesn't give a shit as long as a few key corporations get rich. Repeat after me: Globalism has nothing to do with free markets or capitalism.

      The other insanity in your post is that you think workers (you say programmers, but all workers are just as screwed over by anti-market globalism as programers. Michigan is hurting a lot worse than Silicon Valley.) are going to just acquiesce to these changes just because you keep saying the magic words "free market". Repeat after me People need to eat, and will do whatever it takes to ensure they get food and shelter. If you tell people that there is no way for them to meet their needs within the free market, they have no choice but to destroy the free market! Why do you think those lobbyists always succeeded in argiculture and auto manufacture? Because no one cares about maintaining the global competitiveness of jobs that are going overseas anyway. Thank heavens that those lobbyists are always able to shut up fools like you--America would be vastly poorer than we are now if we purchased every last one of our cars and vegetables overseas.

      History is clear on this. There is no example of a great empire that maintained growing trade deficits indefinitely. There are many Empires that have fallen because they gave away all of their gold for luxury and consumer goods for the middle class--see Spain and Britain. The Chinese sell us DVD players we throw away next year, and buy industrial capital to make themselves economically stronger indefinitely. If this continues, China will be stronger than the entire Western World--and then, because some American leaders upheld their narrow and simplistic view of Capitalism, we will lose something much more precious--Democracy.

    • by Malcontent (40834) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @02:48PM (#7853776)
      I'd buy your theories if there was an actual thing as free markets or a level playing field.

      Other posters have pointed out some flaws in your logic mainly about how the other countries don't have the same environmental standards and how they subsidize healthcare and education but there are other factors to consider too.

      1) subsidized education. American workers have to charge more because they paid for their own education.

      2) Different labor laws. In india people can be fired willy nilly and female workers can get abused with no recourse. In the US corporations can get sued if a female employee get abused or if people are terminated without cause.

      2a) Overtime laws, familiy leave act, etc.

      3) Although companies are free to move work overseas the workers themselves are not free to follow the jobs. I can't go to canada and take advantage of free health care or cheaper drugs but my boss can go there and outsource my job.

      Since there is not a level playing field not only is protectionsism NOT stupid it's required.

      BTW whose people who used to pick from the dump and now are working in a sweatshop will be back at the dump when the company leaves for even cheaper labor in cambodia or africa. Depending on outsourcing from the US leads to a boom/bust cycle and the corporations chase ever cheaper labor all over the world. Nike or Walmart are not going to tolerate demands for higher wages and as soon as some poor country someplace offers $.10 less and hour they will pull out and move.
  • "By American" has been the battle cry of factory workers for years, especially factory workers in the automotive industry. Yet how many foreign cars do you see on the road every day? Consumers and corporations both go to wherever the lowest price is.
    • I still buy amercian if there is an option. I refuse to purchase foreign items, unless i have too.

      F-em
    • "By American" has been the battle cry of factory workers for years, especially factory workers in the automotive industry. Yet how many foreign cars do you see on the road every day?

      How many of those "foreign" cars were built by Americans? Quite a few. Japan learned a few things related to the automobile industry. First, it is cheaper to make cars in the U.S. and sell them here than it is to make them in Japan and ship them. My mother always chides me about being "pigheaded" about my "Buy American" atti

  • Buzz word compliant (Score:2, Interesting)

    by synergy3000 (637810)
    It is all buzz word compliant. I bet if you had set up shop in some low cost city in the US and claimed you had outsourcing capability you would have had plenty of contracts lined up. Heck, call your company Outsource Synergies. Of course you don't have to let them know that what is outsourced is your ATT billing and only because ATT did so. You can hire local programmers, admins at a decent wage and still make a profit. It is all about the buzz word. In certain cases the buzz word does become the re
  • I am not afraid. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Apoptosis66 (572145) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:43PM (#7853327)
    I work for a major company which is now trying to outsource my J2EE programming position to Brazil.

    Its almost too funny watching it go so wrong.

    Our group has for years fought with the business group over software requirement specs. What we end up building almost always diverges from what they had in there minds. Yes we create software requirement specs with mock up and all that. Yet most of these are in business speak, and can be interpreted in many different ways.

    Now they are attempting to outsource to a CMM level 3 development group. The thing is the Brazilians require the software requirement specs to be in precise use cases covering every function that can possibly take place. In fact they will not even start working on a project until this document has been created and signed off on by everyone and their mother.

    What has instead happened is the business has no idea how to create software engineering specs. They can't effectively communicate this through the middle management hell that is spread out over 3 countries. The Brazilians effectively sat on their asses for 3 months, and documented the fact that they did. Once they finally wrote something it didn't integrate correctly with all the systems that we have in place in the USA, because there was nothing spelling out the fact in the specs. Now the project is late and everyone is pissed.

    Somehow this is better than paying me extra to know the systems, to interpret what business really wants (and sometimes get it wrong), and get things out on time.

    In short I am not afraid, in fact I am looking forward to the time the come back to me needing help and I ask for a big fat raise!

  • Na-yeen-anajad

    Nayeenanajad

    Really, it's NOT that hard!
  • Silly Programmers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Perdo (151843) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:51PM (#7853376) Homepage Journal
    We were all to "special" to form a union back when we had some power. Now we have no power because of the ease of offshoring, but we want to pick up the union battle cry "Buy American!"

    All of you Overpaid twits that were worried that a Union would not help you because you made more money than the average joe, well some jerk in India has your job now, because you didn't want a Union.

    • Re:Silly Programmers (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Skuld-Chan (302449)
      One of the problems I have had forming a union at a domestic outsourcing call center is that the people who have jobs now are way too worried about losing them.

      Which is ironic - the staffing models they use at these places totally gives workers the upper hand. I mean if we all walked out one afternoon they would seriously lose face with out clients.
    • by Colonel Panic (15235) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @03:39PM (#7854137)
      All of you Overpaid twits that were worried that a Union would not help you because you made more money than the average joe, well some jerk in India has your job now, because you didn't want a Union.

      Can you explain how forming a union would have saved our jobs from going to India? Seems to me that as soon as companies got any inkling that a union might form, they would immediately send the work offshore at an even faster pace.

      No, a union isn't the solution (at least not for American programmers). A better solution would be to unionize Indian programmers so that their wages rise faster to meet our (admittedly) falling pay rates.

      In the meantime (and yes, this sucks) as the article suggests, our pay rates will have to fall in order to equalize with rates in India and other 3rd world places. I had a C++ contract back in the summer of 2002 that paid $10 to $15/hour less than it would have the year before and now I've got another C++ contract that pays $5/hr less than I was making in the summer of 2002. But since I was out of work for over a year, I'm happy to have it.

      The problem is, as our pay rates fall so that we can compete, all the things we have to pay for are either fixed in price (like mortgages) or are going up (like electricity, gas, etc.).

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:51PM (#7853382) Journal
    I think I read this article before. Exactly the same things can be said about having something inhouse vs outsourcing it.

    Outsourcing always seems cheaper on paper but it often turns out that it is not as flexible as inhouse or that the costs for being as flexible are actually higher. Not that it matters by this time the manager who signed the contract has had its bonus and is busy on the next bone headed move.

    Let me give an example. Local school wich also gave night classes had a cafeteria. It would do cheap cheerfull dinners so you could go straight from work, eat there and then go to class. Or if your class was early the other way around. GREAT. Then they outsourced the caferteria it promptly closed this great service.

    I seen the same thing in other companies. They outsource the cafeteria lady and all of a sudden the office staff has to do things like arrange cake, late night food for when a department has to work overtime and so on. Worst case I seen had us using our own Microwave and cooker since we were not allowed to touch the equipment in the kitchen since it didn't belong to the company. Great fire hazard.

    There was once a time when companies did everything themselves. They maintained their own cars, had their own doctors, had a few holiday places to send employees too. This was boomtime. Then companies started to focus on their core capabilities and outsource or sell anything that didn't belong. We been in a downward spiral ever since.

    I WANT MY BLOODY DINNERLADY BACK! An old fat woman who knows everyones birthday and gives them a little cake at lunch and puts up a x-mas tree with cookies.

  • by Bozdune (68800) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:52PM (#7853387)
    I moved four projects to India with reasonable success. We did not use a lowest-cost provider; instead, we used a company that charges more than Wipro or Infosys, but fields better talent than they do (in fact, they cherry-pick from Wipro and Infosys for new recruits).

    Here are my conclusions:

    1) We were able to ramp up faster than if we had tried to hire locally.
    2) We were able to overcome personnel issues more quickly -- the vendor was able to add higher-powered programmers very quickly when they got into trouble, and "swarm" the problem with bodies. In our case (simple Web apps) it worked, although there are situations in which it obviously would not have worked (mythical man-month, blah blah blah).
    3) The quality of the finished product was reasonable. Call it B/B-. Which was OK for us, maybe not good enough for some, but acceptable.

    It turns out that if I had hired a much smaller number of local programmers as permanent employees (consultant rates would not have worked) -- very good ones at market prices -- and they had performed up to expectations -- I could probably have brought the same projects in on the same schedule for the same price. I probably would have ended up with a better architecture, and better code.

    So maybe it's a wash. Except, I would have had the following problems:

    1) Hire/fire. When the work was over, I didn't need the teams any more. With the Indian vendor, I could cut back without worry. With permanent hires, I'd have a serious morale problem.
    2) Risk. If my gunslingers ran into a problem, I wouldn't have been able to "throw bodies" at it. My budget wouldn't have allowed for that.
    3) Maintenance risk. The Indian teams can be scaled way back, but I could still keep 3 people on the project for continuity. If I scaled back my own teams similarly, I'd only be able to save one job, and if that person quit, I'd be hosed.

    So there are a lot of subtle factors that play here. The Business Week guy alludes to them, but doesn't really itemize them well.

    • 2) Risk. If my gunslingers ran into a problem, I wouldn't have been able to "throw bodies" at it. My budget wouldn't have allowed for that.

      Since when does throwing more bodies at a problem help? It's kind of like saying that you've got one month to make a baby so you go out and get 9 women pregnant in an attempt to meet the schedule.
  • by bangzilla (534214) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:56PM (#7853406) Journal
    I visited an independent car manufacturing plant in Fremont CA a few months ago. Interestingly they were building Toyotas and Hondas, all right hand drive, for export to Japan. Remember the days when car manufacturing was moving to Japan? Seems that our automobile industry learned how to adapt and is now reversing the trend. Perhaps software engineering will follow suit. It *never* ceases to amaze me how primitive Fortune 5000 IT development shops are. Oh yes, there are plenty of groups, teams, even divisions doing great work with new processes and technologies -- but on the corporate level few can answer basis questions such as "how many developers do you have?" "where are they located?" "On what are they working?". There is little standardization of processes, metrics are a pipedream and reuse is seemingly unachievable. Evolve or die!
  • 'Opt'-Ed (Score:2, Informative)

    by Flave (193808)
    BusinesWeek Online has an opt-ed piece...

    I believe the phrase you're looking for is 'op-ed' as in 'opinion-editorial'. Used to describe articles in newspapers that express a point of view usually opposing the paper's official editorial stance and published opposite the editorial page.

    This is neither an 'opt-ed' piece nor an 'op-ed' piece. It's just a column.
  • by TheOldBear (681288) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @01:59PM (#7853426)
    I'm starting a new position this coming Monday. My new employer was dissatified with the output of an outsourcing / consulting firm.

    They used a mixed model, with US based management and design, and Indian grunt coders - the major difficulty was that the software modules delived to date failed to meet specifications, event the specifications originated by the outsourcing vendor.

    Hopefully, this will have a better outcome than than the last time I was taking over an outsourced project. This past summer, I never was able to obtain a full copy of the source code archive, documentation or specifications from the Ukrainian outsourcing company - I did obtain a sufficent subset to see that over half of their code would need to be rewritten, refactored or simply discarded before the project could be delivered to users.

  • by musicmaster (237156) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @02:07PM (#7853471) Homepage
    A few weeks ago I checked the internet for the outsourcing sites. I was really amazed at the prices quoted (for example: an Outlook clone for a few hundred dollars). So I wondered how this works in real life and what experiences people have with those services.

    A few sites:

  • by Osrin (599427) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @02:53PM (#7853813) Homepage
    ... and it's driven by the declining value of the dollar overseas. Our currency is not going far when you try and spend it beyond our shores at the moment.

    We declinded 19% against the Euro during 2003, sadly it is a trend that looks like it will continue for a little while longer.

    Once the dollar recovers we will start to see jobs and services outsourced again.
  • by ToasterTester (95180) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @03:15PM (#7853966)
    Who was it Alvin Tofler in the book The Third Wave talk about America losing it's manufacturing industry to overseas compaines was no problem. That American is becoming a Services based economy. That worked, but now America is sending its Services based economy and there is nothing to replace it.

    There was never a shortage of American techies, they just wanted cheaper wages so the government created the H1B visa program. Now the .COM boom is over and corporate America wants wages back to pre boom levels. So they start sending work outside the country, to force Americans to accept lower wages. Look at the recent announcement from IBM to send 4700 jobs overseas, and another 3700 potential jobs to go. BUT, if the American workers are willing to accept the same wages as the Indian workers they can keep their job.

    Same going on with the grocery worker strike, Unions on a power trip have pressured companies to raise wages and benefits to the breaking point. Non-union companies come in with lower prices and people are shopping in those stores to save the average 20% difference. Unions did the same thing in steel, automobiles, electronics, and other manufacturing sending American jobs out of the country. American worker became too expensive. Long term effect some old manufacturing town have died or dying.

    Trouble is with corporate American focusing only on cutting costs and increasing margins, they aren't realizing they are cutting the available funds of their customers here in the U.S. People sending all their money to just survive aren't going to be buying much.

    So after all the pain to the American worker we gain nothing. Wages drop, business slumps until they drop prices. Some people lose their homes or can't pay high rents, eventually housing prices drop. So a lot of people get hurt, some companies/industries lost forever, just to adjust everything down.

  • by annielaurie (257735) <{annekmadison} {at} {hotmail.com}> on Thursday January 01, 2004 @04:29PM (#7854455) Journal
    This article from a South Carolina [myrtlebeachonline.com] newspaper sums up what infuriates me about the entire situation. Here we have Federal and state programs such as food stamps being outsourced overseas. One wonders how many unemployed Americans actually having to use the food stamps might be qualified to work on the help desks--not to mention the other projects described in the article. The politician who rants about "using tax dollars to erode the tax base" makes a valid point.

    Then there was this article [slashdot.org] not long ago on Slashdot, describing a Pakistani medical transcriptionist who decided to cash in on the Great American Dollar Giveaway by blackmailing a patient from a California medical center. At least a US transcriber could've been tracked down and legal sanctions brought to bear.

    I think there are some fundamental issues that transcend coding. How much are we willing to give up in the legendary new "race to the bottom?"
  • by michael_cain (66650) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @05:36PM (#7854872) Journal

    In part, the offshoring (and all outsourcing) trend is driven by the fact that it is difficult in the US, and other developed countries, to decrease nominal wages. A firm may have to cut the price of its goods by 10% in order to compete. But if the firm's workers have not become more productive, so that the value of their labor has decreased by 10%, it is quite difficult IN PRACTICE to cut their wages. In general, the only way to do so is to lay off the existing workers and hire new ones at a lower wage rate. Doing this effectively, at least in the US, tends to put the firm in violation of age discrimination laws, as the highest-paid workers are generally the oldest ones. Outsourcing an entire department avoids that particular problem. And as long as you're outsourcing, you might as well look for the cheapest alternate source that you think can do the job.

    Several of the comments above have been from consultants who say that the rate that they can successfully charge for their services has decreased sharply. What the firm pays a consultant is determined for each project; changes in the supply of and demand for consultants comes into play each time, as does the firm's view of the value of the project. The same is not usually true for an employee. Last year we had a hot project in a new, highly profitable area; this year we're doing maintenance on older, less profitable products; but the firm will have difficulty changing the wage rate every time they move someone to a different project.

    One area where this plays out in a particularly frustrating fashion is with teachers. My kids' high-school teachers are no more productive than my own teachers were 30 years ago. The classes are just about the same size and the material they teach is roughly the same. Pundits point at standardized test scores and assert that the quality of the product has declined in the last 30 years. That's true in another sense as well -- I am almost sure that the average real wages earned by people whose education stops at high school (real wages being a measure of the value of their contribution to the economy) have decreased over that period. Simple economics would suggest that real wages for teachers should have declined (which may, or may not, have occurred). Given that the value of many of the benefits that teachers receive as employees (health care, pensions) have increased sharply over time, the real salary rate should have gone down a LOT.

  • by penguin7of9 (697383) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @06:10PM (#7855057)
    The changing face is simple: over the next few years, India will develop its own, stand-alone software industry. US firms won't be outsourcing to India, they will be competing with Indian companies.

    Furthermore, multinationals will not be "outsourcing" to India anymore, meaning sending sporadic, low-level programming tasks there, they will be expanding their subsidiaries there and doing R&D in India, just like they are doing R&D in the US and Europe.

    Will this mean downward pressure on the salaries of US programmers? You bet. But it's only fair: companies like IBM make more than half their revenue outside the US, therefore it stands to reason that they should employ more than half their employees outside the US. Right now, the percentage is still much lower.
  • Cost efficiency (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ya8282 (731399) on Thursday January 01, 2004 @10:37PM (#7856706)
    I work at an overseas CMM Level 5 IT company in Korea that started offshoring recently and have been working with a team of guys that we brought from India. Though I just started with the company as a software developer, I almost immediately became a member of their team and a full-time interpreter -- though I was much closer to being a manager as many people at the company prefer not to deal with them.

    I can't say much positive about their attitudes and work either, though I don't want to stereotype all ethnic Indians. Whenever I visit their cubicles, they are browsing the web or chatting with their buddies rather than completing their assigned work. I wasn't receiving any respect from certain members of the team, mainly because I had fewer years of experience in software development. However, it certainly did not appear that they had the four years of experience in Java cited on their resumes. I was reviewing their code and fixing major logic errors in code and the grammar mistakes and typos made in the comments. This was work they could have easily done themselves in the very lax 3 week deadline they had to fix their 3-5 test cases. Instead, I spent two weeks fixing their code and writing the documentation that they had "written". I asked one guy to fix a mistake in two of his test cases, pointing out the error and explaining how he could fix it, and he got really angry at me and sent me e-mails about me being the newbie. Since I was not the manager he refused to change his code.

    My co-worker has been also working in India for a few months and he does not appreciate the attitudes of certain programmers either. Some of them decided to change some of the code our company had written causing several bugs to appear in the build. None of the developers would take blame for it, though it was probably obvious who had changed it from the PVCS logs.

    These experiences have led me to decide to transfer departments and work with people that have experience that actually counts, even if they are not involved in software development (which I hoped to pursue by finding an overseas job and obtaining experience with the company).

    There are two questions companies should consider when making the decision to offshore (outsource) to India which directly relate to cost efficiency:

    1) Do we fully understand their culture and will conflicts in culture present a problem? In other words, how much additional money and resources will be spent on interpreting and managing their work, making sure that they maintain a certain level of quality?

    2) Are we just outsourcing to become trend-followers, blindly following the reocmmendations of McKinsey, Gartner, and Accenture to find cheap labor in India and China? Do we know exactly how much domestic labor will cost in current times (older BW article [businessweek.com])?

    It's my opinion on getting them to be efficient workers is that you need an Indian motivator/manager who understands their culture very well, is older than them and has a more impressive resume. Then, have someone from your company who is very knowledgeable about business processes and the related field, in this case software development, communicate the requirements to the Indian manager.

    My manager has been assessing the quality of their work to present to our CTO whose initiative was to increase our offshoring in India. Does anyone have a good way to measure the the value of a software developer which includes factors such as cultural differences and communication problems?

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