IT Outsourcing and the "Unemployable" US Tech Professional

Does the rise of IT outsourcing threaten American tech professionals? What's perception and what's reality in this highly charged issue?


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American dominance of technology continues unabated, as giants like Microsoft, Google and IBM shape the landscape with big ideas and big dollars. Yet one species in this thriving landscape is clearly beleaguered: the American IT worker.

His challenges are numerous. A brutal recession makes hollowed-out companies hesitant to hire. Wages are stagnant. Well-educated H1B visa holders are happy to work for less. A multi-year trend toward IT outsourcing means emerging market talent is just an email away.

Worst of all, word on the street is that US IT workers aren't keeping up with the global competition. The stereotypes, regardless of truth, have gained a degree of cultural credence.

The US tech professional is (according to lore) educated in a dysfunctional school system and distracted by an indulgent American lifestyle (March Madness betting pool, anyone?). In contrast, his Third World counterpart (probably Indian) lives to work and focuses like a laserbeam on his training – which never stops.

A remark by Vineet Nayar, CEO of Indian outsourcer HCL Technologies, encapsulated this attitude. Speaking in New York City in 2009, he opined that the majority of US college grads are “unemployable.” They’re focused only on getting rich, and have less patience than their global counterparts on learning critical IT processes.

His attitude is echoed from within the US. Robert Dewar, a professor emeritus in Computer Science at New York University, told me in 2008 that college CS programs have been dumbed down to the point that graduates are essentially incompetent. Bjarne Stroustrup, designer of the C++ language and a professor at Texas A&M University, said to me that he’s heard of employers – from Microsoft to Apple to IBM – bemoaning the poor quality of CS grads.

If you were the worrying type, you might think these negative perceptions and the IT outsourcing trend places American tech professionals on eroding ground. But tech outsourcing is an emotionally charged issue, touching upon combustibles like national identity and job stability. What’s perception and what’s reality?

IT Outsourcing (And Differences of Opinion)

Robin Borough, EVP of Omnikron Systems, an IT consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, is often involved with hiring decisions, typically for applicants with 5+ years experience. Yet she has frequent contact with college grads and strongly disagrees with the assessment that they’re lacking.

‘These guys were so sharp, and so eager and well mannered – they were phenomenal,” she says, of the tech students she knows from Penn State, CalTech and other top schools. “I’m not finding an attitude of entitlement.” She sees these new grads as socially conscious. “They have no desire to make money – they all want to save the world.” Many are learning foreign languages to enable international careers.

Her positive experience, however, is not universally shared. “I have a very good friend and a longstanding client [an IT employer] who is continually frustrated,” says Bob Lewis, president of IT Catalysts, a consultancy that deals with hiring and other IT issues.

“Most of the people he interviews don’t seem to want to work very hard and seem to be far too open about their career aspirations compared to what they can do for him.”

These candidates’ problem may less a matter of actual ability and more a case of projecting a less-than-stellar attitude. And this lackluster spirit may reflect an undeniable reality: Today’s grads are all too aware of the job market’s limitations.

“When those of us in senior management were growing up, the standard model was: One employer for your career, the employer showed loyalty to employees, which was reciprocated.” Those days are forever gone. Mergers and acquisitions, reorganizations, downsizing – today’s IT professional navigates an exhausting churn.

Lewis once even heard a CEO baldly state, “All of our employees need to understand that from here on in, they’re fungible commodities.” So much for employer loyalty.

For a young IT job candidate to muster an attitude of humility and gratitude in this atmosphere can be hard.

“I think a lot of the hiring managers resent that because, frankly, they’re less realistic than the people they’re hiring.” These managers are unwilling to admit that even today’s “permanent” jobs may be short or mid-term engagements.

“Members of this generation have a far more accurate picture of the nature of the work place, that no one is going to look out for their interests other than them,” he says. “What they haven’t learned is how to disguise that so that they can have an effective interview.” He’s even heard horror stories of young job applicants demanding, “Here’s what I want you to do for me.”

However, what some perceive as a weakness in young applicants may actually be a strength, says Nick Corcodilos, a longtime IT headhunter and owner of Ask The Headhunter.

“Maybe a lot of our new grads tend to be entrepreneurs, and so interested in creating something new that they’re not going to want to fool around with the nitty gritty,” he says.

“But I think a lot of overseas students are so focused on the nitty-gritty, and they grow up in cultures that are not so entrepreneurial, they’re a lot more willing to do the grunt work. But does that say that our grads aren’t employable?”

Next Page: The Cowboy Attitude

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Tags: IT Jobs/Salary, IT jobs, IT manager, outsourcing, IT outsourcing

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