Sometimes I worry about my chosen profession. I've already ranted a bit about I fear that software development might one day be taken over by machines. Well, as possible or impossible as that might be, a potent reminder of far more concrete threat for my job is looming on the horizon was provided by the New York Times yesterday: migration of IT jobs to parts of the world where service labor is cheaper.
For those who can't follow the link above, let me summarize: the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers provided a recording of a conference call between senior officials at IBM discussing strategies to migrate jobs out of the United States. The reason: trained programmers that cost a $60,000 salary here in the United States can cost $5,000 in places like Bangalore, India. Because we now live in a networked global economy, that programmer in Bangalore can do just as good a job as a programmer in London or New York. Better yet, that programmer can do the work when major clients in the United States and Europe are asleep.
There is almost a cosmic sense of irony at work here. Part of the reason that IT jobs pay so well is that colleges and universities in the United States never produce enough programmers to meet demand. Never. (Too many people want to be come low paid lawyers.) The fact of life in IT staffing is that a large part of the Internet revolution was founded and/or built by people from other parts of the world -- many of them here on H-1B visas. That rarity drove IT salaries sky high as the computer technology began to transform society. Those high salaries attracted hosts of foreigners to this country, many of them from the best universities in their respective countries. Now, the circle is closing and some of them are going home. Jobs will be going with them. It just makes too much sense for large software companies to simply transfer their own foreign employees to developement centers in their own countries, where much lower standards of living allow them to make less, but still live very well. Corporations get the same service for less money; it is simple economics.
Now do I fear for my job immediately? No. The United States still has some advantages in the face of this change. Infrastructure is one. A history of innovation in this area is another. Proximity to global leaders in the business arena is a third. But still, it is something to worry about.
I guess I need to think about keeping my skills sharp. It is perhaps a legacy of being born within that magical 25 year period after World War II that I have some memory of perpetual job security -- the sense that you choose a career when you are about 20 and stick with it for 40+ years. I have to think that in some measure, those days are gone. There is too much competition. One always must keep some sense of the horizon of employment opportunity because there is some person in India, Africa, South America, or even some small island in the middle of the ocean who could one day have a shot at doing your job.
The solution is not about avoiding that change, but having the next move, or at least a fall back position, ready when the moment comes. Humans are a resilient species. We scrap, we move, we change. It is often not as easy as we like, but we survive.
on 2003-07-23 at 4:11 p.m.
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