Bombay Companies

Wired has an excellent, very thorough article on the outsourcing of computer jobs to India. It’s required reading for all current and future techies. And accountants. And financial analysts. And every professional who could work from home. The bottom line? It’s time to become a higher evolutionary.

The loss of jobs isn’t going to happen overnight, but it’s going to feel that way. Now I find myself dispelling beliefs I once held:

Myth #1: Government workers and defense contractors are safe.
I think if you find someone who has worked in the aerospace/defense sector long enough, they can tell you that wasn’t true before India’s tech boom (remember Falling Down?). The problem is that the government changes both the amount they spend on defense and where they spend it. 9/11 was a good example of this. Those programs that could show they improved homeland security received the lion’s share of funding.
     Typically, you’d enter the commercial sector during the lean times, but that will be increasingly difficult, especially if you’ve been working with obscure or nonstandard technologies. The same goes with switching to another aero/defense project. As the competition heats up, and DSS gets its act together, your clearance won’t matter as much as your expertise. During the boom times, any programming experience would do; now they’re thinking, “I can get him 6 months earlier than the uncleared guy, but he can’t obtain 5 years of J2EE experience in that time.”

Myth #2: System administrators need to stay here.
Some do. However, that argument misses the big picture. For example, at my last job, we had a few sysadmins. Care to guess what their purpose was? If you said, “Support the software engineers (who will be outsourced)”, bully for you! As the software development jobs leave, they’ll take the supporting admin jobs with them. Yes, there are a lot of admins who support servers more than people, but I think this will just open up a market for intelligent remote system monitors. I predict we’ll be hearing this conversation repeatedly:

Manager: $40K for a remote admin package? Are you nuts???
Vendor: It will allow you to replace your $80K admin with a $12K one.
Manager: Will you take a check?

If you combine this with server collocation and platinum support from your hardware vendor, it’s still not as good as what you had before… but it’s probably good enough.

Great. I’m depressed. Now what do I do?
Raise your game. While grad school has been a virtual career requirement for most of the science and engineering fields, computer science has been spared for some time. Now, as specialization becomes a critical employment factor, it will be much harder to substitute experience for education.
     Now, I really feel for those with a family and mortgage to support, it’s going to be hard for them to switch careers or take the time needed to improve their skills. They’ll have to make some sacrifices, including saving enough to cover extended unemployment.
     For the rest of us, I think this is the best part. It gives many of us the perfect excuse to do what we love, guilt free. If you’re already doing that, I think that’s the best sign that you’re going to make it through this industry shift just fine. You’re already in a state of continuous improvement, so this won’t require a lifestyle change. This will merely weed out all those who don’t truly love their chosen field. A lot of folks jumped on the comp-sci bandwagon during the Internet boom, looking for cash instead of a career. They’re not going to make it. But I have a lot of hope for the Class of ’06 computer science graduates who stayed the course because that was what they were meant to do.
     If, like me, you really don’t love what you’re doing, I have faith that you’ll excel once you start. Go for it. Finally realize that dream of becoming a poetry professor at an all-girls school.