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AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Tough equation to solve

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Tough equation to solve

There is a logical disconnect between this election year's political spin on the recovery, the rosy economic statistics, and economic reality. Despite the full recovery that has been projected for IT, America's most highly prized high-tech jobs are disappearing, sucked into the transoceanic cables and satellite beams that wire the world together.

Viewed through a jaundiced eye, this jobless recovery doesn't look like the economic side effect it's said to be. I'd say it's an engineered lockout of the workers who would normally benefit from a recovery. This might be the first time that workers suffer more harm from a recovery than they did from the recession that preceded it.

I cultivate my objectivity everywhere but here. Tucked away on this last page, I can take whatever stand I please. I'm free to say that overseas outsourcing really pisses me off, and that every employer doing it can expect a piece of my mind.

I could say that. I'd get a lot of back-slapping letters from readers if I did. But there are two reasons that I won't. How can I protest the condition of the IT job market when many times more non-IT workers are truly out of options? And having worn the suit and occupied the corner office during my time in IT, I know that outsourcing is a valuable and necessary option. There is no one position I can choose that doesn't leave me feeling like a traitor to my beliefs or an apologist for the wrong side.

It's too easy to place the blame for outsourcing-related job losses on employers. Before you do that, consider who employers answer to. Shareholders want corporate expenses frozen at or near recession levels so that profits will rise faster than the overall economy. They want back the money they lost, with interest. If you have a 401k or a mutual fund, that's what you want, too. To make investors happy, companies must use outsourcing, acquisitions, and automation to stay competitive without bloating expenses. These remedies are all about swinging the axe. With very rare exceptions, investors don't give a snap about social responsibility.

The boom of the late '90s set the course for this jobless recovery. In some regions, intermediate-level programmers could make US$75,000 per year, with signing bonuses and incentive pay on top. In addition, employers had to pony up for expensive training, taxes, insurance, and stock-plan matching. All of that effort was invested in employees who were likely to quit within a year to turn the goodies from one job into a portfolio for the next. Thanks to that constant churn, I was forced to interview candidates with no work experience just to keep projects moving. I considered it ludicrous that I was in bidding wars over underqualified, overpaid workers.

If I could have, I'd have pulled the plug on that nonsense myself. I would have loved having the option to ship overseas any job I couldn't fill satisfactorily with local talent. I feel strongly that outsourcing is being taken too far -- businesses must give qualified locals a chance to apply for jobs at realistic salaries. But employers must do this Right Thing without sacrificing the free tech support, low-margin products, quarterly software updates, and rocketing stock values I demand as a customer and a stockholder.

No matter how jaundiced they are, our eyes see what we want to see. We're part of a market that won't pay what goods are worth and we won't face the reality of what it costs to develop software or staff a support desk. That makes a cut-and-dried case against employers pretty shaky.


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