Sunday, January 20, 2013

Outsource This!

One of the harsh realities of our modern, globally connected society is that organizations no longer have to restrict themselves to hiring locally.  Many jobs, especially in the technology, communications and marketing sectors, are "outsourced" to developing countries, where salaries are lower and labor regulations are often less stringent than they are in North America.  The result: North American workers must compete for jobs with workers in places like India, China or Korea.

Individuals and unions try to combat this trend through protests, government lobbying and demanding job security clauses in their negotiated contracts.  These tactics meet with varying degrees of success but, on the whole, outsourcing appears to be becoming more and more prevalent.  Standard strategies seem too often tried and too seldom true.  The Halmanator has long been a staunch supporter of out-of-the-box thinking, which is why I applaud the nameless hero who followed the old adage, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em".

An article originally posted in the Verizon Business Security Blog, later published by "The Globe and Mail" and, finally, brought to The Halmanator's attention by alert reader George Ninos, tells the story of "Bob" (whose name has been changed to spare him having to shake the hands of 80% of western workers), an employee of an "American Infrastructure company" whose name has not been published to spare them being publicly revealed as the putzes that they are. 

"Bob" was a computer programmer.  Being a computer programmer myself, I can state with some authority that the best programmers share certain characteristics.
  • They are extremely analytical
  • They have excellent diagnostic and problem solving skills
  • They have excellent technical and mathematical skills
  • They are lazy S.O.B.s
You may find that last one to be dubious, but it`s true!  A lazy programmer is a good programmer, because he will devise all kinds of creative and elegant solutions for getting the computer to do as much of the actual "work" as possible, leaving nothing for the "users" but to click the "Go" button.  This is why mouse-based computing and, consequently, the Apple MacIntosh and Microsoft Windows, became so popular and quickly replaced the old command line interface.  Actually typing "Go" and pressing the Enter key was too much work for most users.  But I digress, as always.

Getting back to "Bob", he is described as "...inoffensive and quiet.  Someone you wouldn't look at twice in an elevator"; another important computer programmer attribute.  In fact, he was such a good programmer that the organization for which he worked paid him over $250,000 a year, a salary that's well above average for computer programmers and almost rivals that of an apprentice plumber.  We know, from the Globe and Mail article, that "Bob" had all four of the aforementioned qualifications in spades.  His performance reviews were invariably positive, being laced with adjectives such as "conscientious", "reliable" and "keyboard god".  His programs were clean, well-documented and error free.  And he did absolutely no work whatsoever for at least six months; probably much longer.

You see, "Bob" had decided to use outsourcing to his advantage.  "If corporations can do it, why can't I?" he reasoned (there's that analytical mind at work, folks).  So he hired a developer from northern China to write his programs for him, a service for which he paid $50,000 a year, which still left "Bob" over $200,000 in the black (and there's that keen grasp of mathematics).  If`"Bob" had any accounting knowledge whatsoever, he likely claimed the $50,000 as a business expense on his income tax as well. 

So what did "Bob" himself do at the office each day besides dent a seat cushion?  Well, he did what countless office workers all over North America do; he surfed the web, updated his Facebook page and browsed a disturbing quantity of cat videos (although The Halmanator suspects that "The Globe and Mail" may have made the editorial decision to substitute the word "cat" for "pussy").  The only difference between "Bob" and your average office worker is that:

a) He spent a lot more time doing these things than most office workers
b) He was much better paid for it

And this, my friends, adds the last of those vitally important programmer qualifications to "Bob's" impressive résumé. 

Sadly, Bob's little deception was discovered when an internal computer systems security audit revealed that someone had been logging into the system daily from China using "Bob's" User ID and password and, well, one thing led to another.  Of course, "Bob" was immediately dismissed for "violating company policy".  Which specific company policies "Bob" violated aren't specified but The Halmanator is pretty sure that they had something to do with not making your bosses look like a bunch of idiots.

You may think The Halmanator is out of line for condoning "Bob's" fraudulent activities.  Well, let's examine that for a moment.  Obviously, I don't know the details of "Bob's" employment contract, but we can safely assume that it boiled down to something like this; "Bob" agrees to provide the company with reliable computer software to run their business, in exchange for which the company pays "Bob" approximately $250,000 a year.  From where I'm sitting, "Bob" made good on his side of the bargain.  He did nothing to harm the company.  By all accounts, they were happy with the quality of the work that he provided.  I'm pretty sure that they were just sore at discovering that they could have gotten the same productivity for about 1/5 the amount that they were paying "Bob". 

Also, since "Bob" was considered the company's best programmer, we can conclude that the anonymous Chinese programmer did better work than any of the other programmers in that company's employ who, while they may not have been paid quite as much as "Bob", were most likely paid more than $50,000 per year.  And that, my friends, is why China will own America before this century is out.


George Ninos said...

Well said Andy!

I see more and more outsourcing as the years go by... to the detriment of local developers like you and I.

However, this exact same trend happened in the manufacturing sector and it was only a matter of time until it happens in IT. The marketplace is constantly in a state of flux trying to equalize global markets. As the need to have developers on-site is diminished, and foreign language/communication skills increase, we will see less jobs in our industry staffed by local talent... it simply costs too much in employers eyes.

I think this shift will happen even faster than it did in manufacturing, since the costs of shipping are almost non-existent... as is the work involved in setting up the outsourcing.

Us developers have held a niche for a very long time and prospered because of it. We'll see how much longer it lasts.

For me, I am once again returning to contract, after 4 years in full-time. If you can't beat them, join them as a wise, and lazy, friend once said! ;)

Tubes said...

I'm amazed who would pay him 250K! He didn't have to go to northern China to get a programmer anymore. At that wage he must have been in a high risk, secretive company. That is probably the bigger reason that he was let go. He was allowing access or influence on company info.

Halmanator said...

He did if he wanted a good programmer. Then again, he could have just contacted me. You may have a point there.