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Decline and Fall.... again?


With unemployment rampant and 'offshore outsourcing' in renewed vogue, let me take this occasion to dredge up the old xenophobic fear...  Is the American Programmer doomed?  Everyone else can do it so much CHEAPER.

Everyone in NYC has certainly felt the pinch, or known someone who has.

For that matter, the bubble burst has raised another similarly dire question: where are we going with this job anyway?  When job qualifications are focused on the latest and greatest skill set, is it really possible to build a career or is it just a habitrail wheel of constant retooling?

There was a similar thread on Slashdot recently.  I guess I didn't get my bitter fill.

Charles "sorry to scare the kids" Lewis

Charles Lewis
Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Although a programmer in, say, India costs about 1/3 as much as a programmer in New York, 10.5 time zones means that every communication takes three business days. This drives up the time it takes to do anything by about 100% over having programmers on site.

And it's hard to make sure you're hiring all smart people over there in India. You may have bozos and it takes forever to figure that out (or the other ones cover for them). This adds another 100% to the cost.

Which is why I've heard again and again from people that outsource programming to India or Russia: it costs 1/3 per hour but takes 3 times as long. So it's no real savings.

Given the communication difficulty, I've also found that it is completely impossible to get the quality above a certain level no matter how hard you try. You can get internal application quality stuff but if you are trying to get shrinkwrap quality software written, you're never going to get there.

Basically: the link between programmers and the rest of the team is one of the highest bandwidth links you need. Putting programmers on a different continent gives you low bandwidth exactly where you need high bandwidth.

On the other hand, once India and Russia figure out how to do the other 85% (besides writing lines of code) that it takes to create a real software product, look out!

Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, March 05, 2003

I should add... I met Ed Yourdon and chatted with him about The Decline and Fall of the American Programmer. He said that nowadays he feels he was just 20 years too early, and he thought Japan would do it, not India, but he stands by his concept that America can't remain competitive at writing code. Almost all the other gurus of his caliber think he's wrong.

Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, March 05, 2003

I apologize for posting to this NYC forum, as I am from San Jose, but this line caught my eye.

*snip*
Although a programmer in, say, India costs about 1/3 as much as a programmer
in New York, 10.5 time zones means that every communication takes three
business days. This drives up the time it takes to do anything by about 100%
over having programmers on site.
*snip*

Does this mean that the only thing keeping programmer jobs over here is that management and customers are over here too?  Bear in mind that it takes relatively little capital to start a software company (compared to, say, an automobile manufacturing plant).  There are no fixed costs, and variable costs are dominated by programmer salaries (I'm assuming that the cost for your building is O(cost of rent), which should be well under programmer salaries, and costs of computers are both a variable cost (due to planned obsolescence) and small)

I'm also curious that the original post mentioned something about Russian offshore development.  That doesn't seem to be as big as Indian offshore development on the west coast, is Russian offshore development really big in NYC?

As for the "people have been saying this will happen for 20 years, and it hasn't yet" comment, I seem to recall the same rebuttal being used against arguments that the internet bubble was about to burst. 

Mike Schuresko
Thursday, March 06, 2003

There's a Long Bet. Esther Dyson has her money on Russia.

http://www.longbets.org/5

Thomas Holaday
Thursday, March 06, 2003

Just in case you didn't notice, you can vote, publicly and permanently, for or against that Long Bet.

Thomas Holaday
Thursday, March 06, 2003

There's a pretty good article by Scott Ambler about this issue in this month's (April 2003) "Software Development" magazine.

http://www.sdmagazine.com

Paul Wendell
Thursday, March 06, 2003

What's the name of the article?

Charles Lewis
Friday, March 07, 2003

While outsourcing to India or Russia may make sense with a project with clearly defined requirements, I often find myself engaged on projects where this is clearly not the case.  Customers change their minds.  Business requirements change quickly.  I'd be surprised if outsourcing to another continent will work in these cases.

GML
Friday, March 07, 2003

The April issue isn't on the website yet.

Thomas Holaday
Friday, March 07, 2003

Sorry about that.  I read it in the print version of the magazine.  The article appears in Scott Ambler's regular column on Agile Design.

Paul Wendell
Friday, March 07, 2003

Mike: its also that most customers are over here.  India's market may be growing, but it doesn't yet have the consumer power of the US markets.

Sterling Hughes
Saturday, March 08, 2003

>>On the other hand, once India and Russia figure out how to do the other 85% (besides writing lines of code) that it takes to create a real software product, look out! <<

Joel, I'm not sure about India (Indian guys here should know this better), but Russians know how to create a software product, and they already do more then just writing lines of code.
Have you ever heard of FineReader, for example? (OCR software)
Also, there are some very well known software products that were actually created by Russians under NDA for US companies that sell these products.

Slava
Wednesday, March 12, 2003


Looks like Money magazine is also sees some bad news here:

http://money.cnn.com/2003/03/13/news/economy/jobs_offshore/index.htm

From the article:
"A recent survey of 145 U.S. companies by consultant Forrester Research found that 88 percent of the firms that look overseas for services claimed to get better value for their money offshore than from U.S. providers, while 71 percent said offshore workers did better quality work. "

Granted, these statistics aren't specifically for programming, the article does specify IT as a major field for overseas outsourcing.

Charles "joining the teamsters" Lewis

Charles Lewis
Friday, March 14, 2003

I just put up something last night about the human/culture benefits of agile processes, but included a bit near the end about the difficulty of outsourcing (even domestically) such work.

http://webseitz.fluxent.com/wiki/AgilityVsConflict

Bill Seitz
Friday, March 28, 2003

"Although a programmer in, say, India costs about 1/3 as much as a programmer in New York, 10.5 time zones means that every communication takes three business days. This drives up the time it takes to do anything by about 100% over having programmers on site."

And if you hire Indian project managers to come to the states and learn your requirements and then stay up till all hours of the night transmitting them back to India?

Or if you import the Indian Programmers to work - in the states - for maybe 1/2 of what a programmer here would expect (including room & board). They'll head the project and work with the programmers in India.

At least, that's what I'm seeing.

Besides, it doesn't matter what it *actually* costs. It matters that the middle managers can sell the idea to upper management as a cost-savings exercise.

Plus, if you're already outsourcing the work to a company that gets things wrong half the time anyway, what do you lose by outsourcing it halfway across the world to a place?

www.marktaw.com
Saturday, March 29, 2003

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