Editor's Note: Readers Respond On The Outsourcing Debate

Technology Staff Editor
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A few weeks ago I asked a question related to the most emotional issue in the IT industry today: Is outsourcing hurting the US tech worker? I expected a flood of responses and I got a flood of responses. Of course the majority of emails were a resounding "yes," such as this one from Robert: From my personal experience I think it seriously hurts opportunities for newly graduated students, especially for students trying to work their way through college and gain experience. It can take a long time to find an entry level position, personally I ended up working in other fields until I got one. And this note from Jarvis: I can tell you for a fact that outsourcing has hurt people, me included. I was living in Los Angeles for the past eight years. I was working for different major movie studios, in their DVD departments. I would program DVD's, HD-DVD's and Blu-Ray movies for studios. We would get a lot of work, but also at the same time a lot of work was being sent out of house, even by our own company, we had affiliates in several different countries. This was a failure of our management not listening to their own people. I had told them on several occasions that we need to ramp with people now to train them, for the wave that was coming. But they would not listen and then complain that people are doing too much OT. The answer to all of this was to outsource and have supervisors deal with language, training, and time zone barriers. When I would interview around some people would tell me straight out why should I pay $65,000 a year when I can outsource these project for less then a quarter of that. How can you argue with that? I can't live off $16,000 a year. More and more tech jobs are being outsourced and it will finally hit home in a few years is my prediction. Right now I have since moved out of California and started back in school in the medical field. I have met a lot of people in my classes that are doing the same. And I encourage friends to get out while they can. And this letter from Paul: I have been in the IT industry for 30 plus years. I am a recognized expert in IBM mainframes and project management. My company, founded 26 years ago, has had many successful consulting engagements. We successfully developed and brought 20 mainframe products to the market place. Work was continuous and at one time I employed 15 people. I keep hearing about a shortage of qualified people. I am well qualified, but often go six months between engagements and the offers I am getting now are less than they were 10 years ago! The few IT managers that are willing to talk to me (off the record), tell me their budgets are under pressure and they are encouraged by the "headhunters" that they can get H1-B people capable of doing the same work at a much cheaper cost. I have met a number of these H1-B people. Some are good, some are not. However, they are cheaper, live many to an apartment, send the bulk of their money home, and do nothing to build a solid long-term workforce in the U.S. In fact, it is my belief that they are eroding the workforce. While I believe in the free enterprise model, I guess I am also a protectionist. I feel we are doing major long-term harm to our workforce and that it will take years to repair, even if H1-B visas were cut to zero today. What I didn't expect to get in my mailbox were strongly written "no" responses, some from US-based tech workers who aren't convinced the visa program is hurting the industry or their career paths. As reader Kevin B. notes: Simply put: "no." Outsourcing seems like a big deal to people who do tech work at non-technical companies (banks come to mind). The simple fact of the matter is that outsourcing existed way before "off shore" outsourcing did. True tech companies aren't outsourcing anything. Sure, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, and all the rest are opening centers in other countries but that's because they're doing business there. Virtually nobody I know who actually has useful technical abilities is having any real trouble landing a job, unless they're living somewhere that has no real tech sector to speak of. Good engineers are in high demand, and the pay shows. Are things as outrageous as they were in the late 90s? Of course not but landing a six-figure income doing little more than maintenance programming is downright common in Silicon Valley and other major hubs. My group has at least 10 open engineering reqs (on a team of about 50 people), and the company as a whole has hundreds of openings. The story is the same at most Silicon Valley companies -- especially startups. I'm fielding four job offers right now, and all of them are for at least $100k and include an average of $25-$50k a year in bonus/stock awards. My resume isn't all that impressive and I don't even have a CS degree, so someone who is good certainly shouldn't have an issue. It is true that H1B holders, on average, get paid less than US citizens, but this isn't really because of their H1B status so much as it is a cultural norm for people raised in India and China. Their technical ability isn't any better or worse for the most part. I fully support fast-track citizenship programs for H1B holders (America needs as many talented, bright individuals as possible) and more freedom for H1B holders to change jobs. I think that the few companies that abuse the H1B system need to be stopped, and I think the solution is simple: only grant H1Bs to firms offering direct employment. The simple truth of the matter is that the job market for talented engineers is extremely strong everywhere in the world right now. The perception of tech being less "sexy" than other fields has caused the value of skills to go up. Strongly encouraging young people to go into the tech sector is going to yield exactly two things: Lower quality engineers, since people are only doing it for the money rather than love of the profession (this is what happened in the 90s). Lower pay for engineers, since our talents won't be as scarce. Engineering should be viewed with the same lens as you would medicine or law. It should be a career path where a small number of highly intelligent, well-educated professionals work. Attempting to reduce technology workers to the level of assembly line grunts is not the way to go. This is an industry built on knowledge and talent, not hourly labor and work units. So, again, I say: "no," outsourcing isn't hurting my employment opportunities. The average salary of "tech" workers in the bay area is $90,000, short of the medical profession's $180,000 and the legal profession's $150,000, but well above the regional average of $65,000. For the country as a whole, engineering jobs are at least 30 to 50 percent above the average. The hours are better, the work is more rewarding, the pay is better, and the benefits are better. And here's additional insight from Ravi, a visa holder working in the US: I currently work at a big IT company on an H1B visa. While there could be partial truth about some of the facts regarding loss of American jobs because of outsourcing , I still feel its highly exaggerated . I came to this wonderful land of opportunities on an F1 visa to pursue my masters in computer science at Northern Illinois University during the fall of 2001. As you can imagine there could not be a worse time to pursue a career in IT because of the dot com burst and the whole economy as such. After graduating in the summer of 2003, I had great difficulty in securing a job mainly because of me needing a visa sponsorship. When I finally was successful in getting a job, it was just because of my educational background and it had nothing to do with my H1B visa. Since 2003 summer I have been a job hopper (to dispel another myth that H1B s are like indentured servants) as I was lucky enough in finding jobs that helped me in accomplishing my career goals. In all these jobs, the hiring manager was the last person to know about my visa status as he/she would hire me based on my skills and I would accept the offer based on how rewarding it was. Just three years after my graduation I find myself as a technical sales engineer which has been my dream job and I am extremely happy to tell you that I draw more than many of my native American counterparts of my age . And then there's this note from Barbara who makes a few valid points as well: I couldn't read your article and not respond to it. I am an international student, getting my masters degree from an American university and I work with software development - the interaction design part of it. Let me tell you one more thing about the H1B visas: companies are obligated to offer a foreign worker the base salary for the career he/she is in, plus pay for fees to obtain the visa itself (which run around US $6.000) - fees that the worker cannot pay for himself, out of his own pocket. Things American never note when they criticizing outsourcing: If Americans were at all interested in (and for that matter, qualified for) those tech jobs, they would have them. It's not cheaper, or practical to employ foreigners. A note on illegal immigrants: if the opportunity wasn't there, and the government actually enforced the law, the illegal immigrants wouldn't be "taking the jobs" of Americans such as cleaning floors and serving coffee at 3am. Americans think they are too good for those jobs anyways. As a foreigner, I too would rather have those people legalized and paying taxes, like I do. According to a recent article I read Americans aren't very interested or successful at tech jobs as their math skills are too bad and because math teaching on the K-12 education is lame. It doesn't get any better in the engineering schools where a lot of them switch majors because they are frustrated with how it's taught. Now a personal note. During my past couple summers in undergraduate and my first year of grad school I have had internships, in my area of study, while my fellow American colleagues were out by the pool tanning all summer long, perhaps working at an Applebee's part time. Hmm, I wonder got a better chance of scoring a nice job. For being a foreigner we have the continuous feeling that we must do better than American students in order to succeed on the job market (since employing us implies extra fees and commitment), so that's what we do. Now, don't you tell me we are not deserving of the H1B visas.


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