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Avoid Being Outsourced

Avoid Being Outsourced

Products and markets have well-defined life cycles that vary in amplitude and length, but follow historical patterns. As Bob Hendry described in his editorial in last month's issue ("Is IT Outsourcing Worth It?" [Vol. 10, issue 10]), the IT outsourcing craze is in full swing. Certainly the heads-down programmer jobs are rapidly flowing out of this country, but for two centuries the backbone of American success and industrial might has not been labor but rather innovation. During the industrial revolution we made great innovations in industrial technology and went from a small colony to a world industrial power. Continuing innovations as well as the enormous labor migrations of the 1800s carried the U.S. and its allies to victories in the World Wars, where victory was closely correlated to the volume of weapons manufactured and weapon innovations. Decades of American leadership in manufacturing technology and output have led to its current military and political leadership roles.

Not long after we made great leaps in electronics technology and the U.S. became the world leader in that industry, then the electronics manufacturing industry moved to Japan, South Korea, and other Asian countries. The countries manufacturing electronics then sent their citizens to U.S. universities so that they could also become competitive in research and development of electronics. Now nearly all the world's electronics are developed and manufactured outside the U.S.

A simplified version of the cycle for a single technology niche looks like this:
1.  The U.S. innovates new technologies.
2.  The U.S. manufactures products based on those technologies.
3.  Manufacturing leaves the U.S. and goes to countries with less-expensive labor.
4.  Innovation moves overseas and declines in the U.S.

Software development is currently moving from Stage 2 to Stage 3. The movement has been in progress for many years, but the recent economic downturn has greatly sped up the process. It's easy to look at that information, take a doom and gloom attitude, and start looking for a career change. Don't! IT in America is not dead and will never die. Heads-down programmer jobs may move overseas, but companies and governments will always have the need for in-house analysts and developers. Some of that is driven by secrecy, preference, industry knowledge, organization size, or even citizenship requirements. The jobs may be fewer, but that just means you'll have to fight a little harder to have one of them.

Rather than fleeing IT and becoming a nurse practitioner or diet counselor, shore up your defenses and continue in the industry you chose to work in. Here are a few tips to avoid being outsourced (Tips 2 and 3 should apply to everyone, even if you aren't facing outsourcing):
1.  Avoid taking positions that could be done offsite, where telecommuting is an option. If a company will allow some work to be done offsite, why not send it 10,000 miles offsite and save a lot of money? Positions that require a lot of face-to-face time, like business process analysis, technical leadership, and mentoring, can't be done by telecommuters and are insulated from outsourcing.
2.  Be reasonable when it comes to negotiating your salary or accepting pay increases. Not giving raises, and even asking for pay reductions, is one way for companies to reduce salaries and avoid being forced to outsource in order to stay competitive.
3.  Make yourself invaluable. Have a positive attitude, show that you are willing to sacrifice a little for your employer, and do a good job.
4.  Train yourself. Learn technologies and techniques that will help you in your job. Don't assume your employer will train you rather than bringing in someone with experience in a new technology. Also, training yourself shows how much your job means to you...or doesn't mean to you.

More Stories By John Olson

John D. Olson is a principal of Developower, Inc., a consulting company specializing in software solutions using Sybase development tools. A CPD Professional and charter member of TeamSybase, he is co-editor and author of two PB9 books, and the recipient of the ISUG Innovation and Achievement Award for 2003.

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