The End of an Era

Software developers, I've got one word for you:

That's right. Your job is going to India, princess. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.



It's a fascinating thing to watch children grow up. There are stages in life where their ignorance is an amusing reminder of our own. Every child goes through a phase where they think you can't see them because they're covering their own eyes. “It sure is dark around here! I bet no one sees me.”

It's the same with outsourcing. Sure, you read about it in the press. Alarmist titles like, well, “Your Job Is Going to India!” Or, “America -- Land of the Ji, Home of the Knave.”

For those of you playing along in the home game, Ji (“gee!”) is a Hindi word that's a title of respect. So, instead of Sir Charles Barkley, you might say Barkley-ji. A native of India is far more likely to say Gandhi-ji, of course, unless it's their fourth Guinness.

But no one I talk to in everyday life seems to take it seriously. We're like kids covering our own eyes, ignorant of our impending doom.

Your job is going to India. Period. Well, semi-colon. It could go to China. Or Borneo. But India's most likely. Let me count the ways:

  1. They’re cheap. Everyone focuses on this. After all, eight developers for the price of one is hard to argue with -- it’s a veritable Wal-Mart of developers over there. A three-hour cab ride from Mumbai to Pune is $25. I don’t think a cab in Manhattan would even slow down for you for that little.
  2. They're brilliant. I can't believe the amount of time I spend debating this with otherwise rational people. “Americans are creative! We invented the computer! Heck, we invented C++! Java! C#! Oh, and did I mention Logo? Or the mind-numbingly lame ML? Let's see Hindustan match THAT!”
    1. Puh-LEASE! Americans are awesome at inventing technology and then being overtaken by other countries with more efficient production. Cars. Radios. Air Jordans. You name it. (And please don’t be the one person who inevitably writes in arguing that American cars are engineered better than Japanese ones. Don’t be that person. Not today.)
    2. And just think about the sheer odds against us! The US produces about 1.3 million college graduates a year, from a population of 290 million. India graduates 3.1 million college students a year, culled from a population of 1.07 billion. They’re far more selective. Just the raw number of graduates is daunting! As if that’s not enough, more than half of them are working the local Hyderabad Starbucks waiting to be discovered. It’s as close to a geek L.A. as it gets!
  3. They're entrepreneurial. Americans have traditionally been entrepreneurial, an advantage we’ve long enjoyed over many other cultures when it comes to capitalism. But India’s different. In general, Indian culture accepts entrepreneurial risk-taking much like the US. This is one of the main reasons outsourcing is so hot there.
  4. They speak English. I’m bracing myself for the deluge of comments griping about Dell tech support. You’re missing the point. We’re not talking about tech support. We’re not even talking about talking. These are coders we’re talking about -- room full of socially awkward youngsters, fridge full of Mountain Dews, the works. But they can code in English. Compile in English. Bid your next contract $3 million dollars lower, in English.
  5. They’re learning. This is the thing: even if you believe that India is currently not as good at software as the US, they’re learning from American-trained developers. Every year gobs of senior developers and software managers return to India from Microsoft alone. I know these people! I’ve worked with them! They’re great managers, and they will train a generation of highly capable Indian software developers. And don’t even get me started on just how motivated these young Indian graduates become when they’re chosen as part of the elite few to join a software company. It’s like they’ve hit the jackpot in Powerball Calcutta. You don’t know the meaning of motivation until you’ve paid a 22-year-old a bajillion dollars in local currency, contingent on his continued stellar performance.

Microsoft’s India Development Center (IDC) is growing like gangbusters – it’s like they can’t buy enough of Hyderabad. One of IDC’s main goals is to replicate the successful software development model of the Redmond campus. And Microsoft’s just one example – everybody’s doing this. The 2.3 IT companies that aren’t are going to start next month.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. And prepare to train your replacement on your way out.

Don’t cover your own eyes. Your job is going to India.

What Will Really Happen

I’ve exaggerated a little. Not all of us will lose our jobs, of course. Just most of us. Those left behind will have much lower salaries. The math is simple – the inevitability, manifest. You can choose to deny it or try to defy it, but it doesn’t make the laws of supply and demand any less true.

Most people think that they are paid (or should be paid) the value of their contributions to a company. This leads to whiny dribble I sometimes hear from Microsofties about how a portion of Microsoft’s $53 billion cash should be paid to the people who helped create that value (inevitably, they feel they’ve personally created a few millions’ worth). I totally agree with the spirit of that utopian dream – it’s a noble ideal that you should be rewarded according to the value you add to a company. It appeals to our inner sense of fairness. But the reality is that you’re paid your replacement cost. You are paid what it would cost the company to find another person who could add just as much value. So, in general:

developer.paycheck = min(developer.valueAdd, developer.replacementCost)

I’m not saying this is a good thing. I’m not saying this is a right thing. I’m saying this is a capitalistic thing. And I’m saying this is the truth. The equation of our capitalistic software development economy is getting cheap professionals added to it annually by the truckload. You bet this is going to hit your salary.

Brace For Impact

This is all fine and dandy, but it’s also horribly depressing. Stay tuned – next week, I’ll cover things you can do to brace for impact. For the pessimists: it’ll be a futile attempt to avoid certain doom. For the optimists: it’ll be a positive piece that will give you practical guidance and imbue you with hope.

Don’t ignore the issue. You need to prepare yourself.