IT Outsourcing and the "Unemployable" US Tech Professional: Page 2

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The Cowboy Attitude

What about the most damning perception of US tech grads, and US tech pros in general: Are they indeed lagging behind the international competition?

“I think there’s a pretty strong sense of that,” Lewis says. “Of course a lot of this is, folks abroad have lower expectations. They expect to work more hours for less pay. Whereas folks here look at the ultra-wealthy and think, ‘Why not me?’”

This perception may not match the reality. “I suspect that, once on the job, American tech grads will work just as hard, produce code that’s just as good, with maybe a little bit more of a cowboy attitude,” Lewis says. Cowboy, in this sense, meaning freely inventive rather than submerged in a strict team approach.

This cowboy ethic casts the tech hiring question in a new light. While Vineet Nayar of HCL may think of American grads as unemployable, his firm may in fact be a poor option for US developers.

“The entire conversation is apples and oranges as to whether or not an American developer would work out well in HCL. Probably not – HCL is far more regimented,” Lewis says. “Americans don’t generally deal well with regimentation. I tend to think of it as one of our cultural virtues.”

For offshore outsourcers, their development model’s sheer predictability – the exact opposite of the “cowboy” mode – is central to their sales pitch.

In contrast, “If you are an [American-based] employee programmer, you’re more likely doing Agile development, you’re doing Scrum, you’re doing high interactivity stuff where the quality is just a quarter of the story,” he says. “Your ability to interact with other human beings to understand what they need is a bigger part of the story. So it’s fundamentally different.”

Mature IT Pros vs. H1B Tech Workers

Foreign-born tech experts with H1B visas have long been viewed as competent and inexpensive alternatives to American talent. But Borough says that over the last 5-7 years, companies have changed their view on this group.

“We used to hire lots and lots of contractors with a visa, no problem. We were never going to hire them permanently, we wanted them to do a job,” she says. “This is really dominant on the East Coast, in the insurance, banking and healthcare sector.”

Tech employers are now shying away from this, Borough says, because sheparding foreign workers through the Byzantine green card process is just too expensive and time consuming.

This isn’t, however, good news for American IT staff. “More and more of my customers are outsourcing to third parties in India, Argentina, and Manila. They would prefer to outsource than hire H1B candidates here.”

There is a ray of hope for US IT staff. As the recession’s deepest dip recedes, firms are now willing to consider permanent, domestically-based hires. “It’s not contract – they want one perfect guy to add back to the team,” Borough says. Because of the tight job market, that one hire “has to be exceptional, has to be almost walking on water.” As the economy keeps improving, a cohort of contractors will then be hired; only after that cycle is completed will more fulltime staff be brought on board.

When that long awaited period of fulltime hiring happens, will it favor the American-born IT professional, those with years on the job?

Again, a nagging perception challenges these US staffers.

The [Indian] folks came over with more training, with more education,” Borough says. “The education system in India is amazing, and it is in their deep, deep value system that education and intelligence is the top value, not money.” These immigrants “kept a good work ethic, and they did not overspend. Therefore they’re not overpriced in the market.”

In contrast, “My 35- to 45-year-old homegrown American citizens have settled in, and they haven’t continued their learning,” she says. Not that there’s any problem with their work ethic. “They do work, they’re working a good 10 plus hours a day – some more than that, since we’re all virtual now.” Yet they’re burdened by the classic hyper-busy American lifestyle, including kids’ sporting events (practically a “part time job,” she notes) and countless other obligations. “They’re not going on for their advanced degrees or reapplying themselves as a whole into recertification – until they get unemployed.”

Their Indian counterpart has somehow been able to continue his education even while churning through a marathon work week. “I believe they stayed curious all the way through and I don’t believe they got themselves so wrapped up into the culture,” Borough says.

Of course, as Borough conceded, any comparison of American and Indian IT staff resident in the US must acknowledge a key demographic trend. Indian-born tech pros who immigrate to the US tend to be among the most professionally advanced in a country of one billion people. Only the better Indian IT workers tend to make it to this country. So comparing these elite staffers with the general US tech workforce is necessarily limited.

IT Outsourcing, Everywhere

The point, ultimately, isn’t that one group or another dominates the IT job market. It’s that the market over the last ten years has changed profoundly and is now fully international. That means that the American educational system must operate at a higher level if the US is to keep up. It also means that for those workers already in the IT workforce, the global footrace runs a little faster every year.

Workers in New York compete with workers in New Delhi. IT pros in downtown Chicago must be ready and able to work (virtually) with staffers in Poland or Vietnam or Manila.

“Every American – no matter what their field -– needs to understand that they are competing in a global labor market place,” Lewis says. “I suspect that most Americans entering the work force now haven’t completely figured that out.”

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